The Prompt was as follows: “You are given the opportunity to pick the exact time and date that you’re going to die, as well as the cause of your death. You’ve decided to tell your family what you chose” — I hope you enjoy the story. In a seemingly “drôle” or boring time where people worked one thing for many years, they were not aware of the great upheaval that was to come and change lives. So this boy chooses a far flung date, imagining far beyond what anyone then might be imagining. Hope you enjoy.
The fireplace crackles slightly as amber shifts among a collapsed piece of wood. A family sits in front of the fireplace. The father, Richard, elderly in appearance yet young at heart, looks over a newspaper dated 18th of February, 1833. His grey hair is bunched in the back of his head, a five o’clock shadow making way upon his face. “Hmph.. trouble in Spain again” he sighs to himself. His wife, Maria, the second wife, leisurely knits in a corner in a rocking chair and tuts in confirmation. Her swollen stomach evidence of the fruitful consummation of the marriage 4 months prior. His youngest son, Richard Jr, sits in front of the fireplace between the two. He stares at the embers and recants in his mind again the events of the morning.
Heading to school, a privileged affair by far thanks to his father, he paired up walking there with a group of boys who went to work for the chimney sweepers. The usual bunch, Tim, John, Joe and little Joe. They were always up for good laughs. Little Joe was the eldest and soon too old to be helping the chimney sweeper due to his size. He was simply growing too quickly and the chances of him getting stuck in the chimneys was getting too high. “Hey Richard!”, little Joe shouted across the street and Richard waved back, waiting for two carriages to pass by before crossing, dodging the horse shit on his way. They shook hands, emulating what they saw the men do. Richard was the eldest, 4 years older than little Joe, and the sweeper boys looked up to him.
They liked to accompany Richard to school and be seen by the newspaper boys, couriers and other riff-raff walking about. it made the boys feel better, like they belonged in Richard’s social class as well, that fine, well-fed middle class. “How ya doin’ then Richard? Havin’ a good day, yeah?” and Richard nodded “Yeah, bloody cold though ‘innit”, and all the boys nodded and gave their approvals. “What you learnin’ in school today, Richard?”, Tim asked. “Ah, boring stuff. ya know. Latin, it’s absolute shite”, and Tim sighed “I wished I could learn some latin. What you think you will learn today?”, Tim asked again and skipped in front of the gang. “Probably something about Caesar”, Richard answered “Who is that?”, Joe asked “Some kind of King or something, back in the day” “Like, few years back?” “A lot of years back. I’d say hundreds even”, Richard answered and Joe whistled. “Couldn’t imagine that, hundred years back. Not even hundred in front. I bet things won’t change much in 100, eh? Haven’t changed much the last 100, I betcha” and they walked on silently until they took their turns to their work and Richard took his turn to the left to get to the grammar school.
“‘Aight, see you lads after school eh?” and the boys nodded and scurried off, shouting out to each other goodbye. As Richard turned away from the crossroads, he bumped into an elderly gentleman and fell down on his ass. “Oy, watch it boy!” the gentleman shouted. He rapped his cane on the ground and his peacoat and top hat made him look even taller, even more imposing. He carried a broad moustache on his upper lip which is far as Richard got before bowing his head. “So sorry, sir! Absolutely sorry!”, Richard mumbled and gathered his hat. He tried to hurry past to forget the embarrassing ordeal but the man grabbed his arm mid-stride. “Wait”, the gentleman spoke, softly even. Richard turned, his head down and took off his hat in his hands “So sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to- I mean, I was just-” “Shut up” the old man said and got closer to Richard. He took Richard’s chin in his hands and peered into Richard’s eyes. The old man had two coloured eyes: one green, green as the leaves on a blossoming tree; and another blue, blue as the bluest sky in the deepest of summers. Finely taken care of eyebrows adorned the man’s forehead and a bit of hair looked through his hat. He seemed a bit younger than Richard initially assumed. Richard’s brown eyes were simple as can be by comparison. Richard was overcome by fear and stepped back after a few seconds. The old gentleman spoke “My boy, I can see a light in your eyes. A light, very, very bright”, and Richard was confused “Sorry?” he said again, perplexed as what to do.
“Boy, I can offer you something no one else can and I can see that this opportunity would only be well placed in your hands. Mind, would you have a few minutes to spare?”, but Richard was hesitant, already taking a few steps back “Sorry, sir, I did not mean to harm you and I think this was relatively harmless and I really need to get to school. You see my father-” “Boy, this is the best opportunity you will get in your lifetime”, the old man interrupted him and stepped closer “I will give you the opportunity to change the fate of the world as we know it”, and Richard stopped moving back. Changing the whole world? How? He could be like Caesar. A man above all other men. Remembered through all the ages.
He thought of the implications for split seconds before the gentleman walked towards him, then past him and into an alley, wordlessly. Richard followed suit. The man was fast for his age, as the cane hit the cold hard cobblestone. Richard continued behind him closely, so as not to lose him, as they took turn after turn through the alleys of the city. Door closed as the old man passed them and as they carried on, Richard noticed the man’s bent posture, began to straighten. He became faster even. Richard had to slightly jog to keep up, but made sure not to lose the man. One last turn they took and crossed a road. The man rushed straight into the road, narrowly avoiding a carriage. Richard stopped to not be run over. “Oy watch it ya idiot!” the carriage driver shouted but the gentleman paid no attention.
Richard hurried across the street after the man who disappeared after a turn into an alley to the left. Richard ran towards it and before him was a doorway. Richard awkwardly ambled through it. “Close the door!” the man shouted from within and Richard did so. The heavy door creaked to a close and the lock clicked. The hallway was dark, with a table on one side with various papers on top of it. They seemed mathematical “Come in! Here!” the man shouted from a room or two farther. Richard walked through the hallway past one door and took a peak. It contained various glassware that Richard had never seen before.
Some sort of tubes connected from one to the other. Some concoction of various colours was making hissing sounds by itself as water drops slowly dripped into it. Richard decided not to linger too long, who knows what this man was capable of. A voice in his head screaming “Go to school!” which clearly sounded like his father. Yet, another voice inside of him said “Listen to the man” and it was timid, his own, but stronger. It came from within him.
Richard entered the room where the man stood in front of a large table, similar to the other room, but it was neater and finely arranged. The man had thrown his peacoat into a corner, the top hat rested on a recliner in a corner. Upon the wall were various bookcases filled with books and plants and apparently also a skull. A man’s skull? Richard’s eyes stayed fixated upon it. The man looked over his shoulder then followed Richard’s eyes.
“Pan troglodyte skull, simple specimen really, nothing out of the ordinary. Come closer now” he urged Richard towards him with a wave of his hand, a glass vial of sorts in his hand with a yellow substance. Richard stood next to him and saw him mix the vials together. A small purple cloud came out of it and the two vials were empty, Richard did not see what the man held in his other hand. “My boy, my name is Archibald Brimmer. Sir, technically, but I lost that title. Politics, I tell you.”, Archibald shrugged. He was wearing a spotless suit and through the doorway was a kitchen as far as Richard could tell. Richard asked “My name is Richard, sir. I must ask: why have you brought me here?” and Archibald smiled “My boy!” he opened his arms turning to Richard and smiled.
“My boy, my boy!” then clasped his hands together and walked around the table, looking towards the window which was flanked by the bookcases filled with oddities and many, many books. “The vial before you, holds an opportunity, but also a risk, that I am too afraid to take myself. You are my test subject so to speak and I offer you two things before you object: firstly, I offer you my estate, my riches, all that belongs to me and ever will. Secondly, the condition for the first thing to come true, is that you drink what is in that vial.”, Archibald turned to Richard, his outline visible against the window but the brightness of outside obscuring any detail. He appeared ominous and dark now, mysterious. Richard was enticed by the idea. Richard took a step towards the vial and leered into it. It was purple.
“My boy”, Archibald continued, in a lower voice as prior “that vial will give you the opportunity to choose the time of your demise, and exactly how it will happen. There is no limit to when or how. You choose. You alone. All of your aging will be slowed to the point of near nothingness depending on how you choose, or it can be hurried to such a degree that…” Archibald stopped and turned. He was looking out of the window and leaned on it with one hand “Choose wisely. If you do this, the entire world can be yours. All of it. You can be bigger than Napoleon. Stronger than Genghis Khan. You could be the next Caesar”, and with those words Archibald remained silent. Richard’s heart leaped at the last word. The next Caesar… “I’ll do it!” Richard yelped, his voice cracking slightly. He was excited. Archibald suppressed his elation and hoped this subject would be successful. This one should bear fruit.
Richard took the vial into his hands and gulped it down without hesitation. Archibald had turned to speak, but his mouth remained open as he saw Richard drink it. He was frozen. Richard swallowed hard and sighed satisfied “Hmm, didn’t even taste bad. This is amazing! I think I know when I want to die, it will be-” “Wait! Wait!” Archibald stepped forward, hands in front of him “Oh wait boy, do wait. Think about this. Ponder it thoroughly. Think of all the possibilities that await, the endless, sheer endless possibilities. Think about it long and hard, very hard” Archibald walked up to Richard and took his shoulders in his hands “Think about this. Not for a day, not for a night, but a fortnight. Longer even. Until you have absolute certainty. Do you hear me? I soon shall pass, and shall ascribe all I own to you, or will own. Let us arrange this, posthaste!” Archibald hurried to the corner and grabbed his jacket and rushed into the hallway. Richard stood perplexed in the same spot. “Come boy!” Archibald screamed, his top hat remained on the recliner.
It had been a long day. The teachers had not informed his father of Junior not having attended school. Richard stared into the embers of the fire and spoke, to himself, but loud enough for his parents to hear it, he simply could not wait any longer: “Two hundred and fifty years from now… I will… fall from the sky.”, Richard spoke into the fire.
His mother Maria looked up from her knitting “Junior, are you OK?”, she asked with a concerned face.
Richard smiled into the fire and nodded “I’m perfect, mother. Perfectly fine.”