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Who Wants to Live Forever?

Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio. An ardent short story reader and writer, In addition to previous appearances at Daily Science Fiction, Michael's stories have appeared in venues such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature. In addition to his day job and writing, Michael chairs the Cinevent Classic Film Convention and enjoys traveling. His website is michaelhaynes.info.

Leon shut down his computer, left his office, and walked to the bus stop as quickly as his aching knees and the icy sidewalks would let him.
"Come home. Please?" His wife Carol had said when they had spoken on the phone moments before. "Our letters came."
On the bus, he wondered about the people around him. How many of them had already taken the test, gotten their letters? Which were going to be able to undergo the Markan process and become unaging, free from disease--as nearly immortal as any person could hope to be?
And which of them had taken the test and been told, like their son, that they were unable to receive the process? That they would forever stay as mortal as the day they were born?
The ride felt longer than usual; it seemed as if someone was getting on or off at every stop. Each time someone new got on, Leon looked at them and considered their fate.
Finally, the bus pulled up to his stop and he walked the short distance home. Icicles drip-dripped from the rim of the basketball hoop that had been left unused since Leon Jr. had moved off first to college, and then to the other side of the world for work.
Inside, Carol sat, head down, shoulders shaking. Leon went to her and slowly knelt by her feet. In her lap was an envelope, torn open, and a sheet of paper.
He touched her knee. After a moment, she placed her hand on his.
"I couldn't wait," she said. "I'm sorry."
Leon reached for the paper with his other hand. It was Carol's test results. He scanned the sheet quickly, his insides clenching as he read.
"Your envelope is on the stand," Carol said, voice barely a whisper.
Leon looked to the side, swallowed hard.
"Maybe..." He hesitated. "Maybe I don't need to know. After all, if we can't--"
"No." Carol's voice and grip were firm now. "You deserve to know."
After a moment he stood and retrieved the envelope. It felt flimsy in his hands. How could something so momentous be so ephemeral?
He sat, then carefully opened the envelope and unfolded the single sheet inside. It only took him a moment to read enough to understand.
Tears gathered in his eyes and the tension inside him redoubled. He looked up at Carol, unsure what to say. It didn't seem fair for it to work out this way. He licked his lips and opened his mouth to speak but no words came out.
"It will be okay, Leon." There was a fresh tear running down her cheek as she spoke.
He licked his lips. "No," he finally said. "It won't be."
A hint of a smile crossed her face. "Ever the pessimist? Darling, we're no worse off than we were a year ago, before all this happened. And whatever will come, we'll go through it all together."
He looked deep into Carol's eyes, considering their possible futures, and slowly he put on a smile as well.
"Yes," Leon said, crumpling his letter into a tight ball. "Yes, we will."
The End
This story was first published on Monday, July 3rd, 2017

Author Comments

This story came out of an annual contest held by a writing group of which I'm a member. The prompt for this story was about a mortal meeting an immortal for the first time, or vice-versa. I iterated through a variety of ideas around the basic idea here and finally came up with this version of the story. I wonder if Leon will have regrets one day and how Carol would react if she found out the truth. But those, of course, would be other stories to tell.

- Michael Haynes
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