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art by M.S. Corley

Curing Day

Dustin Adams has written 1,000,000,000 words. What follows are words 1,000,000,001 - 1,000,001,004.

Every year, a few more kids from my elementary school vanish from people's memories. Today, we've arranged our desks in a circle and Mrs. Witherspoon is explaining that Tracy Peters has gone to a better place.
Tracy was struck by a car while riding her bike. She will be remembered until our next dose of Pathway. Then, only I'll remember her.
Pathway doesn't work on me. Well, the anti-aging portion does: I'm still nine, but I never forget. I'm the fifty-five pound elephant in the room.
I puff a stray lock of curly hair off my eyes and Mrs. Witherspoon scowls at me. The curls are from my mother's side. My father insisted my hair be kept short. Said I looked like a girl when it got too long.
I miss my parents.
Next to me, Tracy's best friend, Charlie, whimpers. Charlie's a girl. Short for Charlene.
I pat Charlie on the shoulder. "I miss Tracy, too." She nods agreeably and I'm struck by a profound sadness. After our next dose of Pathway, Charlie won't remember Tracy. She'll revert to her carefree self, but I'll always remember the short-haired brunette who loved ponies and dresses and--
"But Pathway is coming," says Mrs. Witherspoon with a burst of positive energy. "Soon, we'll have a cure for aging and we won't ever lose our friends or parents." She looks at me. She knows intellectually that I had parents, and she knows they're gone, but she doesn't remember their names.
"Accidents still happen," I say with malice and all the puffy, teary eyes in the room glare at me.
During recess I lean against rusty monkey bars with my hands jammed in my heavily patched corduroys. The air carries that first scent of winter and gentle breezes knock yellow and orange oak leaves free from their branches.
Fall. The perfect season to introduce Pathway to the world. What's left of it, anyway. For a while I kept up with the world's declining population, but my computer rotted away and I can't afford a new one.
"Shamus, want to play kickball with us?"
Kickball loses its luster after the first dozen years or so.
A gust of wind blows my hair into my eyes. I brush it back and I'm glad I can cut it again, tomorrow. After my dose of Pathway, I'll need to fit in.
I glance at the home-run fence, and despite my disinterest I can't help but wonder, with the wind, could I at last clear that sucker with a good, swift kick?
"Sure," I say and take my position in the outfield.
"What Pathway means to me, By Jimmy Nelson."
I slump in my little wooden seat. Jimmy's speech is my least favorite. He wishes Pathway could've saved his cat, Spotty.
He doesn't remember Spotty, but there's pictures of her all over his room, so he knows he had a cat named Spotty at some point. Pathway isn't for animals. They wither around us and fade into aging picture frames along with those who died in car accidents.
Two gray fortress-sized buses rumble into the cul-de-sac in front of the school. My classmates and Mrs. Witherspoon press their faces against the glass windows, fogging them up. Today is unusually cold for the start of autumn. Below freezing.
The CDC has come with our Pathway shots.
Mrs. Witherspoon covers her heart with one hand while the other thumbs her Rosary beads. Pathway is her salvation.
We take turns receiving our shots. Mrs. Witherspoon holds each of our hands, one after the other. We get little cartoon Band-Aids for our shoulders and I wonder what mine will be this year. It's one of the few remaining unpredictable events of Curing Day.
"Shamus, it's your turn. Don't be afraid."
For the first time, I hesitate to sit in the familiar chair.
"I'm not afraid," I say to cover up my very real fear. Am I through with Pathway? Will I become the next empty desk? Will they forget me like they do the others? My little pause leads me to wonder whether I've truly grown weary of the same routine, of living alone, of nothing ever changing.
I dutifully sit and stare deep into the CDC man's eyes. He's the same man who gave me my first shot. I burrow past the blue irises and try to read his thoughts.
Can he see the wisdom in my eyes?
Pathway was supposed to stop us from aging and dying, but instead it froze the planet. I like to believe someone's out there working on a cure for the cure. I still hold out hope that someday I'll grow to be a man and have a wife and perhaps kids of my own. Unlike Mrs. Witherspoon.
"There you go, son."
He sticks a Scooby-doo Band-Aid on my shoulder and gives me an empty smile. He too is a victim of Pathway.
Our desks are aligned in a circle. There's several seats on the fringes covered in layers of dust. They haven't been part of this circle for many years.
Jimmy Nelson died in a house fire last night.
I find I'm exceptionally saddened by this. Despite Jimmy's maddening yearly speech, and his stunted maturity, I considered him a friend.
I sift through my memories of Jimmy and cover a burgeoning smile with my hand so no one sees. I'm remembering the day Jimmy rolled the kickball my way. There was a mighty wind blowing and after making contact with my foot, and echoing that unique, rubber kick-ball poing, the ball sailed over the home-run fence.
When was that? I count back. A decade ago.
I'll have to try again. Make a new memory with a new pitcher. Then maybe I'll forget Jimmy, too.
I feel my face screw up and tears spring into my eyes, and I allow myself to cry for Jimmy with the others--while they're still here.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 11th, 2013

Author Comments

This story came about after discovering there's currently a cure for gingivitis. We'll never see said cure because of the lobbyists. But I thought, what if? I extrapolated that what if to further cures. Aging? What if something went wrong? It would need to be covered up. But what if someone could see the truth? What would his existence be like?

- Dustin Adams
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