by Jamie Wild
Jamie Wild is a professional musician who occasionally writes short stories. His work has appeared in Chronicle and Weird Tales. He lives with his wife, two kids, and a number of well-behaved cats.
“I don’t love you anymore.”
The screech of tires.
Bone chilling, mind numbing cold.
“I’m leaving. I’m moving in with Ray.”
The tinkle of shattered glass and a gust of wind.
And always the cold.
“Don’t try to talk me out of it.”
Sirens and blue lights.
The all-pervasive cold.
“Don’t just sit there with that stupid look on your face, say something.”
“He won’t make it through the night.”
Cold and helpless.
“At least Ray has time for me.”
“Someone better notify his next of kin.”
The coldness of the grave.
And after what seemed most of an eternity there was only the cold. Slowly it began to come back together for me. Diana—yes, Diana had left—and I’d sped off into the snow filled night. An accident, It must have been an auto accident. But I was alive. Wasn’t I? I couldn’t see, I couldn’t hear, and I sure as hell couldn’t move. I was alone with the cold and the memories. And considering what the memories were, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to be alive. I tried hard to pull more information from my numbed brain, but my thoughts refused to align themselves into anything approaching coherency.
And then there was light. Not in the biblical sense, it wasn’t anything profound, it was just light. As if I were lying in the sunshine with my eyes closed. Still, no warmth, no relief from the cold.
“He’ll be coming out of it soon. This should do the trick.”
Now I could hear, and then I definitely felt an injection. And the cold, god, the cold. I coughed, my body was starting to become mine again and my teeth began to chatter.
“Mr. Farrington, this is Dr. Mardas. You’ve been in a terrible accident, but you’re going to be all right.”
Am I? Can you give be back my wife? Can you give me back my best friend? Can you take away the betrayal? Can you take away the cold?
“Can you hear me, Mr. Farrington?”
I grunted, then tried to talk. Only one word came: “Cold.”
“Yes, you should feel very, very cold right now, you’ve been in cryogenic stasis.”
Cryogenic stasis? That one took me a minute. They don’t freeze you unless you’re—dead, and I’m not—oh shit, I’d been killed in that damn accident.
“How long?” I managed to get out.
“Three hundred years.”
Three hundred years. “Jesus Christ!” Poor choice with the expletive.
“Can you open your eyes?”
I tried, and slowly they came unfrozen. I was in a hospital room. There were two men looking down at me. They were both wearing short sleeves. Apparently, I was the only one who felt the cold. I tried to come up with something to say, but my mind refused to cooperate.
“Welcome to the twenty-fourth century.”
I wanted to laugh, or scream, or do something, but I just stared at the two of them. Three hundred years, I was three hundred years removed from these men. And worse, I was three hundred years from my home. It occurred to me that the Pilgrims had lived about three hundred years before I had. Was that how these people would think of me? Ancient history, and funny clothing.
The coldness was beginning to recede. In its place came a generalized pain. Frostbite?
The man who wasn’t Dr. Mardas produced a syringe and injected me. “There, that should help.”
Syringes hadn’t changed much since my time, but the medicine worked immediately and both the pain and cold receded. I felt almost normal. I tried to sit up, but I needed help from both men before I managed it. They were big, perhaps seven feet tall. At six three I was going to have to get used to being short.
Dr. Mardas looked at the chart in his hand. “I’m afraid she decided against cryogenic stasis. It says here that she remarried three weeks after your death and cashed in her Live Forever membership.”
I closed my eyes and tried unsuccessfully to fight back the tears.
“I’m sorry to have been the bearer of bad news, but we find it best to get that right out of the way. For what it’s worth, she stayed married to her second husband for forty years and had three children. She seems to have lived a happy life.”
Way to go, Diana and Ray, I thought. “I’m sure they were quite happy.” I couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
“Mr. Farrington, I realize that by the standards of your time she didn’t mourn you for very long, but she did have a right to go on with her life.”
I snorted. She sure as hell hadn’t mourned me for very long. She hadn’t even waited until I was dead to take up with Ray; but then if she hadn’t taken up with Ray, I wouldn’t have died that night. I doubted that the affair was in his records.
“Since your death was somewhat . . . unexpected, we’ve set you up with an appointment to see a therapist tomorrow morning at nine.”
“I’ve been dead for three hundred years?”
“English doesn’t seem to have changed much.”
“Oh, it’s changed, but we’ve been trained to speak your version of it. The language hasn’t changed so much as to make it impossible for you to communicate. You should be up to speed in a week or so.”
“When can I leave?”
“The reeducation process should take a month.”
“I don’t want to spend a month here.”
“You can discuss that with your therapist, tomorrow. In the meantime, lets get you up and about.”
I wasn’t going to argue that one. I let them give me some outlandish looking, though quite comfortable, clothing, and I took the wallet that they handed to me.
“This has your Identity Papers and credit portfolio. Try not to lose it. If you do, you have a tattoo on your right inner forearm that will serve until you can get new ones.”
I looked at my forearm but didn’t see anything.
“It’s only visible under a scanner. You’re quite a wealthy man.”
“Your investment portfolio did well. You’re worth thirty thousand units.”
When I’d signed on with Live Forever, I’d realized that my portfolio might have to exist for hundreds of years and I’d made it as diverse as I was able. Still, thirty thousand units didn’t sound like much. “What would that equal in twenty-first-century money?”
“About one hundred million U.S. dollars.”
“I’m sure that this is all very overwhelming.”
“You might say that.”
“It’s always harder when death comes unexpectedly.”
The rest of the day was filled with “routine” medical exams and more questions than I care to remember. I’d been revived at 11:42 a.m. I finished the tests at 10:07 p.m. and then they assigned me a room.
I didn’t want to be here. Really, what I wanted was to go home. But in the three hundred years following my death no one had developed a time machine, so I was stuck here. I tried to sleep, but images of Diana holding Ray kept flashing through my mind. I’d never be able to confront them, I’d never be able to tell them how I felt, or ask them how it felt to have betrayed me. Never. It wasn’t fair. I couldn’t have chosen a more horrible moment to have died.
I imagined Diana and Ray’s wedding ceremony. All smiles, no doubt; never giving a second thought to poor, dead Owen, best friend and former husband. Had she worn white? Probably not. I wonder who the best man was? Ray had been mine. They’d had three kids. I tried without any success to imagine what their children might have looked like. And then, all too easily and against my will, I imagined them making love. Had they laughed at me? Had they found it funny that I hadn’t even suspected? A man could go crazy entertaining such thoughts. I almost rang the bell for a nurse. I’d been promised a sedative if I needed it. But really, that wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to get good and drunk and let my rage run its course. It would be a month before I’d be free to do that. If I stayed here, that was. I wasn’t a prisoner. What right did they have to tell me what I had to do?
I got up and put my new clothing back on. I made sure I had my wallet and then I tried the door. It was unlocked. I stepped out into the hallway and looked for an exit sign. Even after three hundred years some things don’t change. In moments I was outside. Fortunately for me, I seemed to have arrived in late spring. There was a nip in the air, but nothing that I couldn’t live with.
I was about as prepared for what I found outside as Cotton Mather would have been had he been plunked down in Times Square on New Year’s Eve 2001. I seemed to be in the middle of a great urban metroplex. None of the buildings in this city, whatever city that might be, were as tall as they would have been in my time. But every single square inch of the buildings was alive with swirling colors and throbbing movement. It was the most surrealistic moment of my life. The spinning and pulsing colors threatened to overwhelm me. I knew a moment of vertigo. I had to stare at my feet to avoid being sick. After a time my stomach settled and I looked to the night sky. It was dominated with what looked to be incredibly large billboards, in orbit, advertising products that I had never heard of and had no useful referent for. Between the signs, laser beams of several different colors crisscrossed. Powering, I imagined, huge jumbo jets or launching payloads into orbit. Since I hadn’t begun my reeducation process yet I had no way of knowing. There wasn’t a single star to be glimpsed through all the light pollution. What a terrible way to live. What was man without the stars to reach for?
I took a depth breath. The air in this city, at least, was as fresh and pollution free as any I had ever breathed. Keeping my eyes on the ground I began to walk. I imagined that around each corner I would recognize a street, walk down it and find that this was all a bad dream and that I was home. I’d had similar fantasies as a seventeen-year-old walking through the streets of Durham during my first semester at the University of New Hampshire. Of course, then, I could have gotten into my beat-up Nissan and driven home. If my car had cooperated and not broken down, it would have taken me the better part of a day to reach my home in the Blue Ridge, but I could have done it. Here, there was no such easy escape. I was three hundred years from home and there was no way back.
And when you came right down to it, I had Diana and Ray to blame for this. I suppose I also had them to thank for one hundred million dollars, but I’d have gladly given the money up to be home and have my life back. God, after all that we’d been through, how could they have done that to me? I needed an object to vent my rage on, but nothing presented itself and I have never been any good at letting rage slip away unspent.
My new watch told me that I had been walking for close to an hour. For the first time it occurred to me to think about where I was headed. My original thought had been to find a pub of some description and get seriously drunk. That still seemed like a good idea. I looked around trying to find one and avoid motion sickness at the same time. I had to walk for another twenty minutes before I found what I was looking for. Music, like nothing I had ever heard, was coming out of the open door and a sign in the large window proclaimed that it was always happy hour here. I took a close look at the window. There was no glass in it, but some kind of, I guessed, force field separated the outside from the inside. The words hung there with no visible means of support.
I shook my head and entered. If it was always happy hour here, then here was where I wanted to be. I could use a little happiness. I approached the bar. The bartender, like everyone that I had seen thus far, was considerably taller than me. It also struck me than everyone I’d encountered was very attractive. Any of them could have been a movie star in my time. I thought about how unattractive people in old pictures had always seemed to me and I began to feel uncomfortable. Not only was I trapped in a time that wasn’t mine, but now I’d have to deal with being short and ugly.
“Cha’ bibin’?” the bartender said or asked, I couldn’t be sure.
Cha’ bibin must have meant what are you imbibing. This was going to be interesting. “What do you have for beer?”
He went through a long list of beers, most of which I’d never heard of. I was very relieved when he finally said Sam Adams. I ordered it and it was in my hand a second later.
“One Bit,” he said.
Once again I was at a loss.
“Payment,” he said, just barely concealing his frustration with me.
I handed him my card. He goggled at it and it quickly disappeared behind the bar. “Jonny, you tarded, flashing a triple titanium card? You wanna’ be ’ceased? This is a good hood, one of the best, but you’ll get ceased even here for a cred line like this.”
“I didn’t know.”
He looked closer at me, shook his head and said, “Jonny, Jonny, Jonny. Let me set you up with a subordinate.”
“Cha’, a smaller cred line. One that wont cease you.”
He smiled. “No situation, Jonny, that’s what I’m here for.” He placed a gold colored card in my hand, under it, I discovered was my triple titanium card. He had made damn sure no one else saw the card. “What limit you want on you bar tab?”
“Put me down for two hundred units. Whatever’s left over when I’m done is yours.”
“Cha’, Jonny, are you sure?”
“It’s just money,” I said turning around to look for a table. This had been a lucky choice. There were enough people in the bar to keep it from seeming empty, but not so many as to make it uncomfortably crowded. I found a small table and sat down, then I took a long pull from my beer. It tasted very, very good. This is what I needed. When I’d finished it, another found its way to my table. I discovered that my newly revived body didn’t have much tolerance for the alcohol. I didn’t really care. I’ve always been a happy drunk, but not tonight. Tonight all I could see was Diana in Ray’s arms. I tried to come to terms with it. But, damn it, it wasn’t right! They shouldn’t have betrayed me like that. Being so far from home with nothing else to think about was going to drive me crazy.
And then the most beautiful woman that I had ever seen sat down at my table. She oozed sex appeal. More probably it was pheremones, who knew what they’d done with perfumes in three hundred years. I wondered what she wanted with an ugly troll such as myself.
“Buy me a drink, Jonny?”
“What’s this Jonny stuff, my name’s Owen.”
“Owen’s a nice name, Jonny. Buy me a drink?”
God, she was beautiful. “Sure, whatever you want.”
She rased her glass towards the bar and another glass found it’s way to our table. “You from out of town, Jonny?”
“You could say that.”
“I like Jonnys from out of town.”
Great, she was probably a prostitute, but she was something. Short cropped pale blond hair, high cheekbones, teal eyes, and some stretchy material that only barely concealed the most perfectly proportioned body that I had ever seen. “Are you a local?”
She giggled. “You funny, what else I be?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why you here, Jonny?”
I pondered that for a moment. Why was I here? I had wanted to get away from the hospital, to spend some time alone and think about my situation. To find a way to come to terms with my rage. But there was the larger question: why had I chosen to join Live Forever? Why was I three hundred years from home? It had all made such perfect sense when I’d signed the contracts. But I had never expected to face eternity so damned alone. I hadn’t expected the two people that I cared the most about to betray me. “I guess because I’m tarded,” I said trying out the bartender’s expression.
“Never seen no tard with a triple titanium card before,” she said seductively.
Had she seen my card before the bartender had hidden it or had he told her about it? Perhaps she was my gift for the lavish tip. I hoped it wasn’t anything so base. I looked into her eyes. God, they were beautiful, such depth. It was as if every secret that the universe had ever held could be hidden there. I don’t know if it was her perfume or the drinks but I just wanted to fall into those eyes. I’d never felt like this before. I appreciate beauty, but it’s always taken more than that to sweep me off my feet. Usually it’s something intangible, for lack of a better word, something spiritual. But with this woman it was definitely the eyes. “How did you get such amazing eyes?”
She smiled. “Just standard issue, Jonny.”
“Cha’, they designed me this way. Deep, dreamy eyes.”
“Designed you, you’re not real?”
“Hey, Jonny,” she said, offended, “just because I’m a synth and my genes were jacked to be stacked doesn’t mean I’m not real.” A single tear slipped from her right eye and her smile disappeared.
I put my hand on hers. I couldn’t stand to see pain in those eyes. I reached up and wiped away the solitary tear. For a nanosecond the universe seemed to fracture and then it reassemble itself into a new order. It was as if I had been pulled out of my body and been shown my soul. And for a briefest of moments I understood the universe, and then it was over. I took a deep breath and tried to steady myself. Was it her or the beer? I just couldn’t tell. Finally, I managed to say, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you. I— didn’t understand.”
Immediately the smile returned to her face. “You sweet, Jonny.”
“Could you please stop calling me Jonny?”
“Try,” she said.
“Thanks, I’m having a rough day.”
“What’s her name?”
“Is it that obvious?”
“I scanned it.”
I nodded. “Diana, like the moon goddess.”
“She was a goddess, Jonny?”
“No, I guess not. She seemed like one at first, but we grew apart. At the end, I’m not really sure that we knew each other.” Why the hell was I telling her this? Why was I being more honest with her than I had been with myself?
“She leave or you leave?”
“There’s a question that I can’t really answer. It’s a bit more complicated than that.”
“Time, Jonny, maybe you just need time.”
“Oh, I don’t think the passage of more time will help me.”
“Jonny, haven’t you heard? Time heals all wounds.”
There was a cliché that hadn’t changed. “Except maybe the ones that it causes.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Did you love her?”
“As much as life itself. We met in college. I don’t think I’d have made it through without her. There were times when I missed the Blue Ridge so damn much that I would have packed it in if not for her. That was when she’d take me up to the Kancamagus Highway and I’d try and pretend that it was the Blue Ridge. It didn’t really work, but just being there with her got me through. I would have done anything for her.”
“Yeah, I think so. Maybe if I hadn’t been so damn quick to rush off, I might have been able to salvage something. But I’ve always been a hotheaded fool. Or maybe just a selfish fool. And now it’s just too damn late. I’m left with sorrow and regrets and nothing else.”
“Did she love you?”
I thought about that for a moment. “Yeah, I’m sure she did. We married straight out of college. It was magical at first, and then I guess I got caught up in the rat race.”
“You raced rats?”
“I sure as hell did, and I was damn good at it. Too good, I’m afraid. I tried to give Diana everything. Looking back on it, that’s probably where I went wrong. All those late hours. I spent so much time trying to give her the good life that I forgot to give her myself. God, it was my fault. She had every reason to take up with Ray. I mean who could blame her?”
“Oh, poor, Jonny,” she said, wiping tears from my eyes that I hadn’t even realized were there.
“I can’t believe she’s gone. I’m never going to hold her again.”
“You can hold me.”
I looked into this nameless woman’s eyes. They were so deep, and she was so tempting. But we were three hundred years apart. This was not my world, and her charms would offer no lasting solace for my grief. As tempting as she might be, I couldn’t do it. I had loved Diana, perhaps not well, but I had loved her. And now it was over, forever beyond my reach. But I wasn’t ready to forget Diana, or to hold someone else. I got up and started for the door.
“Where you going, Jonny?”
I ignored her question as I walked into the night. How could I answer it? What could I say? I didn’t know where I was going. I was three hundred years from home and there was no way back.
Originally appeared in Chronicle #260, June 2005.