Archive for July, 2014

Expiration

Posted: July 11, 2014 in Fiction
Tags: , , , , ,

calendar11 “We’ll talk about it when you’re older,” they said almost in unison.

I begged and pleaded, I was relentless. And, like any other nine year old when they wanted to know something that is, only to be explained when you’re older, I wanted to know now! So I launched a barrage of questions.

“Did everyone have a number? Were they all the same color? Were they all the same size? What does it mean?”

My parents knew I wasn’t going to let it go until I had an answer. I had to promise everything but a pound of flesh. That wasn’t a promise but a threat if I talked about this to anyone. Once the promise and threat session ended, mom and dad sat me on the couch. I remember looking up at the clock, watching the second hand sweep around the clock face second by second; it took an eternity to get my answer. What they told me about the number on my leg was anti-climatic–it was a date.

“What kind of date? Do I get super powers? What kind of super powers?” I rapid fired questions until dad hushed me.

“It’s a personal date,” Dad said. “And yours is your twenty-first birthday.”

I fidgeted in my seat and asked, “What kind of personal date?”

“An expiration date,” He said.

“What’s expiration mean?” I asked.

“Where to begin,” Dad said. “It’s when you leave this world for the next one.”

“You mean like outer space, I get to go in outer-space?” I said.

Mom said, “No, it’s not like going into outer-space. Do you remember when Memaw went to sleep and didn’t wake up?”

“Yes,” I said. “I miss Memaw, you said she now lives in my heart. So does the date mean I’m going to live in your heart?”

“Kind of honey, your Date is your turn to go to sleep, just like Memaw,” she said.

A hard concept to grasp this dying thing but it was harder watching my mother spill tears.

Clarity came at twelve when my best friend Tommy died. Tommy never talked about his date, I don’t think he had the same conversation with his parents that I had with mine. I wondered if his parents even told him what would happen. But I knew something was up when his parents had a party for him, for no reason, and invited all the kids from the neighborhood and some of his school friends. It was a strange party, like a birthday party. He got presents, there was cake and ice cream, and us kids played all kinds of games. We all stayed up late and left after Tommy fell asleep.

The next day all the kids from the party were invited back to Tommy’s house. We pulled numbers out of a hat to see who would pick first out of the pile of toys that his parents had stacked on the lawn. Whenever a toy got pulled from the pile, Tommy’s mother cried. Tommy was my best friend and I would miss him almost as much as Memaw. That day proved to be a pivotal point in my life. I decided that I wanted to control when I would die and not by some number that appeared on my skin. I had time and I wasn’t going to have sorrow walk me out the door like it did Tommy.

Mom and Dad, both had extended Dates which is why they decided to have kids. They thought their genetics would pass on an extended date to their children, but it didn’t work that way. That’s why I didn’t have any brother or sisters.

I found it interesting that most people just went about their lives. You could have an accident and die or you could get a disease and pass away before your Date, so why didn’t we treat our Date as a sickness? If you were sick or hurt you went to the doctor or the hospital but no one, even the medical community, talked about Expiration.

Obsessed? No, but I did research and read everything I could find on the subject. I kept it secret and hid any information I found. I kept it the kid’s file–under my mattress–until mom found one of my magazines (The Death Date Chronicles) when she changed my sheets.

There was a case where a man tried to have a second date added to his other leg but that was a dead end. Blocking out the date didn’t work either. There had been a world-wide rumor that if you blocked out the date you wouldn’t die. Tattoo shops sprung up everywhere. They even became mainstream until some of their clients started to die off based on their Date.

Neither parent found my hobby or regurgitation of the stories amusing and the pound of flesh threat was brought up again–much firmer this time.

“You can’t do anything about your date,” Dad said. “You have to accept it as part of your life.”

“Why?” I asked. “Why don’t we talk about it, or try to change it?”

“Honey, don’t you think people have tried to. Why do you think these magazines are only sold to adults and not fifteen year old kids? It’s because their trash and you can’t change your destiny. Honestly,” Mom added.

“Well at least they call it what it is–a Death Date,” I said. “Really, you’d rather make seem it all nicey-nice? Like ‘Expiration’ makes it any less real?”

End of discussion and the start of a month’s grounding. Our argument gave me an “eureka” moment. I bet, I could find a way to change my date. Was it possibly that simple? I made a promise to mom and dad not to do any research again ever–I lied.

I began to look for stories, news articles, anything on the subject of people who changed their Date and survived. I ran across the curious case of Shelia Briggs in an old newspaper in the library. The article stated Shelia worked with ancient symbols, runes, mathematical symbols and something called alchemy; she also delved into witchcraft, spiritualism, and ancient writings. The article went on to say she was found dead in the center of a pentagram at an ancient aboriginal site deep in the Outback of Australia. Pictures of her nude body showed archaic glyphs and formula written and tattooed all over her skin. The autopsy report caught my eye; it stated she died three days beyond her Date.

It spurred me to spend every available moment trying to learn about lost or forgotten secrets and symbols. I still went to high school, dated (girls, just sayin’), learned to drive and finally graduated. Everything you’d expect a normal teenager to do. I even had a part-time job and started college, although, mom and dad said I didn’t need to bother. You know, twenty-first birthday and all. But, I continued to search for the path that Shelia Briggs had followed. I wanted to find the knowledge that could lead me away from my date with kismet, fate, or the big sleep (call it what you will) that was fast approaching.

It was a sunny day and I drove a couple of towns over to investigate a used book store. I don’t remember how I heard about it but I didn’t have much to lose and decided to check it out. Used book stores are different. They have books that someone bought, read (maybe), and no longer wanted. You can find some really strange stuff like out of print books, books on strange topics, old paper backs, and once in a while an ancient treasure. I walked in and a bell jiggled above the door. I was hoping for a treasure.

Quaint and dark!

Books were stacked and piled everywhere. They created a labyrinth with dead ends, misleading isles.  There were books in cases, on window sills, and any available space that a book could fit or stack. It was the kind of place you could get lost in and I was afraid there were bones somewhere in one of the back isles to prove it.

A stooped grey haired woman stood behind the counter, her hair looked more like a birds nest and the green crocheted shawl covered an old bent spine. She peered at me over the top of wire framed glasses. I thought she was going to smile but all I got was a bit of smirk.

“Can I help you find something?” She asked.

“I’m looking for books on a variety of subjects,” I said. “Mostly old books.”

“What kind of ‘mostly old books’? I have quite a few depending on the subject matter,” she responded.

I looked at the books stacked on the counter and said,” I’m looking for books about symbols or alchemy. Do you have anything like that?”

“I do young man, tell me what do you want with such a book?” She smiled and exposed aged yellow teeth, the few that remained, into a mischievous grin that made her face look like one big wrinkle. It took me by surprise; it was the kind of face you read about in fairy tales like Hansel & Gretel

Man, she must have one long Date!

“Uh, I’m researching ancient writings and symbols for a college paper,” I said.

“Yes, I’m sure you are. Go down the far wall and take the first two lefts, I’m sure you will find something of interest.”

“Thanks,” I said and moved fast down the tight corridor before she decided that I was juicy and oven-ready.

I almost missed the second left, it wasn’t an isle but a gap between two large book shelves. Most people would have walked past it, I did (ended up in the cook book section) so I doubled back and glimpsed a grotto of books in-between two large bookcases. I squeezed through the narrow opening and jackpot! There where books on alchemy, astrology, ancient cultures and languages. Some had to do with Death Dates, some were in foreign languages, while others were a discourse on off-the-wall subjects (Mummify Anything). It was their age and musty smell of forgotten knowledge that linked them in this nondescript depository of historic and dated texts. I searched through the various tomes, one by one, focused on finding the one book that would change my life. I didn’t realize that most of the day had passed until I was brought back to the now by a low garbled noise.

“Harrumph.”

“Hello,” I said

“Young man, it’s closing time and my cat is waiting for his dinner,” said the old woman from outside the nook.

“I’m sorry, time just flew,” I said.

I squeezed out into the isle and she stood there blocking the way out. I got nervous.

“Did you find what you were looking for?” She asked.

“Yes and no, I found so much that I didn’t even know existed but I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for,” I said.

“What’s your name son?”

“Jonny, Jonny Tempus.”

“What are you looking for Jonny?”

“To be honest–“

“Honesty never begins with “to be”, what is it that you seek—exactly?”

I toed my shoe into the floor and with my head hung said,” I read about someone who extended their date and I have been searching for a way to do the same.”

There, I said it. I said to a stranger and I felt different. I felt lighter. I didn’t realize how much my secret weighed me down. I wanted to run, no fly, down the center of the street and yell how I felt. I was reborn. Maybe now I could face the inevitable with my twenty-first birthday just two days away.

“You must mean Shelia Briggs.”

“Yes ma’am, I read about her,” I said.

The old woman smiled,” Every seeker has read about her, somehow, they always find their way to my book store. Follow me young man I have something I want you to see.”

“What about your cat ma’am?” I asked

“He can wait, Moses has never missed a meal but has a belly that could afford to,” she said. “And call me Ana, ma’am makes me feel old.”

I followed Ana back to the front of the store and she shuffled behind the counter, she leaned over and retrieved something. She straightened up putting a hand on her back letting out sigh then placed a large leather book on the counter. Her eyes pierced mine as she opened the cover to reveal bound parchment. I looked away to read the title page–Vitæ Libro or Book of Life. She turned the page over and I knew she was watching me but I didn’t care because I saw what I had sought for all these years; notes and formulas, drawings, and what appeared to be alchemical recipes of some sort that related to Expiration. Most of the script was in Latin and beyond what I had learned in high school.

“This is amazing,” I said.

“I ask you again Jonny, what is it that you seek?”

“I guess I don’t really know, maybe understanding,” I said. “I wish I had more time but I have learned so much today.”

“She nodded and then demanded,” Let me see your Date.”

“My Date? You want to see my Date? Kind of a personal request isn’t it?” I said.

“Roll you pants leg up boy, I want to see your Date!”

Oh, what the hell!

I pulled up my pants leg and Ana came around the counter and looked at the mark. She felt my leg, touching my Date and calf. At six foot and a hundred and sixty five pounds I was on the thin side–not real meaty. Satisfied, she hobbled back around and stared into space. That moment seemed to extend, as if we both stepped outside of time. I broke the silence of her reverie.

“Thank you, but I have to get home; it is getting late and I bet Moses is starving,” I said.

“Take the book with you,” she said.

“Excuse me?”

“I didn’t stutter, Jonny. Take the book with you!”

“I don’t know if I can afford a book like this, besides, I only have until Saturday.”

“I’m giving you the book. Consider it a gift, though you may think, at some point, it is a curse,” she said.

If you’re sure then—thanks!”

“I need your address, write it down for me.”

She shoved a piece of torn envelope at me and I excitedly scribbled my name and address on it. I left and drove home thinking all the way back that this was the strangest experience of my short life.

I hit the front door hard and the screen door slammed behind me. I heard mom’s voice yell something but raced into my bedroom and shut the door before the words reached my ears. I jumped on my bed and opened the cover. A musty odor, I hadn’t noticed before, filled my nostrils as I flipped through the pages with reverence. It was a sweet smell and I took it in, deep. This was truly an ancient repository of knowledge and there had to be an answer. I stayed up most of that night working translations, looking up symbols and various drawings on the net. Most of the script was in Latin but French and German were also found in later pages. When the sun rose I couldn’t believe how little I had worked through and translated.

I came down to breakfast and besides the bacon and eggs mom had cooked there sat a side of somberness beside the hash browns. I decided that I wouldn’t go to work or school, not today, not ever again. I had to find an answer.

After breakfast, I barricaded myself in my room. Mom came up a few times to check on me and brought me lunch. The effort to learn became a slog. My stomach growled and I looked at my desk clock, midnight, and I missed dinner. I decided to go downstairs to the fridge for something to eat and then get some sleep. When I got to the kitchen, I found dad at the breakfast table.

“Everything alright son?” He asked.

“I guess, I mean as alright as one can expect given the state of our existence,” I replied.

“What? When did you become the philosopher?”

I shifted toward the fridge, “I guess it’s from some of the reading I’ve been doing.”

I opened the door and looked for something to eat and grabbed some cold chicken and the bottle milk that sat on the top shelf, then took the chair across from him.

He looked at me and said, “Our Expiration is a part of who we are and it has helped us to prevent war, crime, and has even limited some diseases. Who wants to sit in a jail cell if you only have so much time to enjoy life? Who wants to fight and kill others or hate when there is only so much time available?”

“Now who’s the philosopher?”

We sat there in silence enjoying the moment, one I wished could have lasted; but all things, good and bad, come to an end. We finished and stood, dad gave me a hug I will never forget. A good-by hug it wasn’t. It was an  I love you more than life itself hug. We both trudged up the stairs and headed to our rooms. Today would be the biggest day of my life.

I woke late to the smell of coffee and bacon. Mom stood over me with a tray and a smile on her face.  She was a hundred an eighty degrees from yesterday.

“Good morning my beautiful boy. I brought you breakfast,” she said.

“Aw mom, do you have to get so mushy?”

“Yes, I do. Now eat your breakfast and come down when you’re ready. Most of the family will be coming over later today.”

“I know, all part of the tradition—right?”

“Right!”

She left but turned to smile at me as I dug into the last breakfast I would ever eat. Damn, I would miss bacon. I finished and dressed then brought my tray down to the kitchen. Mom took it then turned and hugged me like I was nine years old. I teared up, she was trying to be strong for me but deep inside I knew she hurt, hurt like any mother who lost a child. I was still here–still breathing but not for much longer. I went back upstairs to my room and worked on the translations, more to pass the time, I had no expectations of a last minute rescue. Family would arrive later in the day and there would be eating and drinking, storytelling, and people saying their good-byes. Some people called it a wake, I called it the “Big Suck.”

The party was over the top, some of my closest friends slipped in to say good luck and slipped out again. It was too much of a reminder for those who have Dates similar to mine. There hadn’t been but a couple of these parties as I grew up. Like I said, my parent and their siblings all have long Dates; they would all out live me. I could tell Mom and Dad spared no expense. We had a DJ, the food was catered, and there was an open bar. I remember I drank too much but what the hell. I wanted to go out feeling invincible.

We were all having a great time, music wafted through the house and people were connecting, appreciating life. The clock in the living room, an old grandfather clock, began to strike the hour. That’s when everything stopped. The music, the talking, everything stopped except for me. It was midnight and I danced in the middle of the living room ignorant of the time, silence, and the surprised faces that stared at me. Auntie Mabe’s scream made me stop. I looked at her and she fainted. She just crumpled to the floor with not a hand being lent to catch her. Everyone wore a surprised and dumbfounded expression.

“Whaaat?” I asked.

No one said a word.

“Come on itsss party time, woohooo! Turn up the music!”

“What the hell?” Said Dad. “Son do you feel alright?”

“Yea, Dadio, I feel great–with my fingers!” I wiggled them for everyone.

“Jonny, come here sit down,” he said.

“Okie dokie.”

I remember people parted in front of me when I stumbled my way to the couch. I flopped down, on my back, as a crowd gathered round. I looked up at the heads that surrounded me. A kaleidoscope of faces with changing expressions.

“Whatsss the hellsss wrong with everyone?”

“Do you know what time it is son?”

“Yeaaa, Par-tie Tiimmee!” I said.

“It’s 12:05am, Jonny,” Dad said.

“Soooo.”

Then it hit me and I bolted straight up into a sitting position and, I swore, I was stone cold sober.

I won’t go into the aftermath, let me say that in the days that followed doctors, experts, and scientists alike could not fathom what happened to me or what had changed that prevented my Expiration. They wanted to study me and considerable sums of money were offered to entice me to be a guinea pig, I declined. An interesting obituary showed up in the Sunday paper. The old lady, Ana, at the used book store passed away. A week or so later an attorney stopped at our house. It was Ana’s attorney, she told me that Ana had left the book store and Moses to me.

“Do you know why she left me the shop?” I asked.

“No, it was all done very quickly. She also wanted me to give you this envelope. She had strict instructions that the information inside is for your eyes only. You are not to share its contents with anyone.”

“Kinda different, isn’t it?”

“We see all kinds of things in the legal profession. I will complete the transfer of the estate. She left everything, to you. You should find yourself quite comfortable.”

“Uh, thanks.”

The attorney left and I sat on the porch and opened the manila envelope. The first page was a scratchy hand scrawled letter–

Dear Jonny,

I told you that many seekers have passed through my

book shop. They all wanted to extend their life but that is

not enough. There has to be more, there has to be a thirst

for something. I could tell you had desire, a hunger to

understand why. Not just about your Date but about

everything. You spent your time reading the old books. Not

because they held the knowledge you sought, but because

they held knowledge you didn’t know existed. When I brought

out the Book of Life you glowed. The secrets of life

were there in front of you, yours for the taking. Yet, you

turned it down. That’s when I knew it was time to pass it

on–to you. This book is a compendium, a pure pursuit of

knowledge and understanding. Many have added their

discoveries, including me. This is what makes the book

special. If you haven’t yet guessed, it’s the book that

prolongs life. How or why no one really knows. I

think it’s imbued with all of the contributors’ desires to

break the bonds of Expiration. There is a cost,

always is, for me it is past due and time to pay. I will

take your place on Saturday and expire. I’m due for a long

sleep anyway. This ragged old body needs a rest. There’s a

girl next door who will be taking care of Moses until you

arrive. You may like her, in fact, I’m sure of it. There

are instructions for the business in the envelope and the

attorney will handle everything else. I’m sorry I had to

rush this but as you know time is limited and it never

waits. Be safe on your journey, may it be as wondrous as mine.

Ana

I’ve run the shop now for many years and today when I looked in the mirror and smiled, I saw Ana’s face–one big wrinkle. That told me I had to pay up, time to pass along what Ana passed to me. I deciphered most of what the book had to offer and so much more. I’ve even added some of my own discoveries. It’s one hundred and fifty years older than the day I received it, its parchment has yellowed a bit more, but it still has that wonderful sweet musty smell.

Living beyond your Expiration can be a curse. Your friends and loved ones are gone. There is no one to remember you except maybe your cat. Da Vinci, my cat, is rubbing my leg as I write this story. He’s hungry and like Moses, has never missed a meal but has a belly that could afford to; did I mention he’s part of the package?

 

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The Final Flush

Posted: July 3, 2014 in Fiction, Short Stories

 

417726_2680247775304_946602504_nI heard a splash and a loud bang; it came from the bathroom. I quickly ran in and found Davinci with his claws buried into the toilet lid holding it fast. I didn’t ask any questions, I just pushed the handle down and hard. Something screamed, the bone-chilling sound faded as the bowl refilled. Evil was again thwarted.