(From the Vampire Cheats Death stories)
This cough is getting worse and my head feels like it’ll explode with the next fit, like someone could take the tip of a pin and pop it open with the slightest prick. There’s that light but leaden feeling in my arms and legs, swimming in gauze almost, and my skin is so warm I couldn’t know cool if P-Funk was playing live while Kerouac read poetry.
Can I even remember the last time I was well? It’s like I got sick the moment the doctor told me “Positive” and it’s all been downhill ever since. Whatever immune deficiency it is, I acquired the hell out of it.
So I’m more than a little interested when he asks me, “Do you want to live forever?”
It’s night and I’m walking and it’s almost chill enough out to cool my skin. I stop as I wait to cross the street and it’s like he’s there in the flicker of the streetlight. I should be frightened, or at least wary, but he looks too clean to be homeless and too wiry to be dangerous, and his voice is more soothing than the night air or any cocktail my doctor can prescribe.
“Sure,” I say with a laugh. “Why not?”
“This is not a question I ask lightly,” he says, velvet on felt. “And it is a question I will ask but once more: do you want to live forever?”
I look into his eyes and I feel it all confronting me. The big trip is coming and life is going to take it out on me before I get on board. I’m not going to slip away; this world is going to suck every last bit it can out of me and make sure I know what price I paid for my carelessness. It’s going to teach me a lesson, and it’s going to hurt, and then … who knows what?
And not knowing what’s after this life scares me more than leaving it.
Of course I say yes.
He leads me down Fifth, past the hospital where I’m supposed to be tomorrow at eleven. And then we’re heading down an alley, dumpsters standing like sentries. He stops before a battered door, torn and faded bills and flyers smeared over its face. He stops and turns to me.
“I give you this one chance to change your mind. Leave now and I shall forget you and leave you to whatever fate has in store for you. Pass through this door and you are set on the path.”
And here’s the choice. Just like the choice I had five years ago, when I could have zigged instead of zagging and not been where I am now. One decision, A or B, and everything tumbled out into pieces like a bunch of Legos. And now I’m looking at it again. And those eyes staring back, black as the void I know is coming, the void I fear.
He opens the door and gestures for me to enter. I hesitate for a moment at the darkness inside – I’m stepping into one void to avoid another – but then I feel myself taking the first step, and I’m inside.
The door slams shut, I feel pain, and then oblivion comes swiftly.
I awaken with no idea how much time has passed, but cold. Blissfully cold. But there’s a strangeness to it, more a … lack of heat than a lessening of it. Then again, it’s been so long since I haven’t had some kind of fever, I’ve probably forgotten what cool feels like.
I stand slowly, a tickle on my neck. I reach up and feel the two small marks, still damp with blood. What the hell kind of needle was that?
And then I see him. His smile is still as charming as ever, but streaked with a gruesome clown grin of blood.
“What did you do to me?” I finally manage to stammer.
“You said you wanted to live forever,” he oozed. “I have simply provided you with that ability.”
And then he breaks into a fit of coughing.
And I feel that familiar tickle at the back of my throat, and the pressure begins to pound at my skull as the cough rips through my chest, and my eyes tear up as I glare at him as I hear him laugh through his own coughs.
“Of course, I never said anything about curing you.”
And his laugh-cough roars in the darkness around us, and I see the void now, far away and getting farther, never to claim me. No release from the sickness, no respite from its ravages, no point at which my body will say that it has had enough and end my agony. A pen that will never run out of ink, no matter how light and almost illegible the words it writes may be. Forever fading, but never gone.
Oh, I’ll live forever. And pay the price for all eternity.
When not haunting the CHUD Message Boards, Richard Dickson toils in the belly of the tourism beast in Orlando, Florida. His writing interests include sketch comedy, short stories, and three really great screenplays that will be absolutely super — once he actually finishes them. Honest, they really will. Really.
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