Who wants to live forever?
Ah… love. What a mysterious thing it is indeed. It has eluded me for so many years, I would have lost count had I lost my sensibility or sanity. But I know how many it has been. 465 years have come and gone since I have come to the realization that I am immortal. Four hundred and sixty-five summers. Four hundred and sixty-five winters. Sunsets off the coasts of thousands of golden beaches. Sunrises between the cusps of mountains amidst hills and valleys filled with trees.
One day, I had found lines upon my face. I’d seen them form on many, many other faces. Faces like rough leaves, scrunched up and bunched up so thickly with these lines that you wonder what is in between them. Other faces hiding traces of them, usually chaste and boring people without any humour. Yet, to see them upon my own face? I did not think I would see the day. I’ve looked into so many mirrors, I know my own face perfectly. I’ve gained a scar or two here and there, but never have I seen a line form by itself upon my head. They were barely visible, but without smiling or frowning there were to faint lines around my lips, like two towers they guarded the outside. I smiled in the mirror and voila, more lines around my eyes and my cheeks. I did not understand.
You see my blessing, or curse depending on how you see it, became evident to me in the spring of 1347. When I was but a young man of 23 years, a fearless and devastating horror spread through the lands like nothing seen before or after. Black death. It took everyone in my village, absolutely everyone I held dear to me. Everyone I had ever known, ever loved, ever cared for, and not cared for, perished around me. Our village of 1,322 souls perished. Every single one, except myself. Imagine my despair as I wandered from village to village, looking for refuge and indicating that everyone I had known died. I was excluded from so many places for fear of carrying the plague that I had avoided humanity for a full 7 years. Being immortal had a perk, that I did not require to eat, nor even drink. However, talking becomes quite difficult if your mouth is dry as the desert, regardless of immortality.
So I wandered around, an outcast for a long time. It was the summer of 1387 when I settled in a small village, long burnt down and nameless now, in Swabia, Germany. It took me forty years, but it was a grand time working as a carpenter, my father’s trade and his father’s trade and so forth. I had stayed there a few years, and in the spring of 1390 I married my sweetheart Gunhilde. A beautiful woman, fair hair, fairer skin, and the fairest of voices. A true sweetheart and innocent to the core. It was then that I noticed I would gain the lines upon my face as others had as well. I could finally grow a beard, and even had hair upon my chest. Imagine my incredulity at the idea! For four times ten years I wandered about Europe from day job to day job, fucking local whores with my flawless and youthful body, seducing rich and poor women alike, and living a grand life on the wages I got. I slept outdoors, fornicated anywhere, and ate what I felt, when I felt. Beer was flowing like the river Ganges. It was with Gunhilde that I realized that my immortality ceased when I am close to people. Not physically, I assure you of that, but on an emotional and spiritual level that is truly hard to find, no matter the season, no matter the century.
But Gunhilde, she was so sweet and innocent. I could do her no wrong. It was not possible, I just felt devoted to her like no other could have done to me afore, and I felt my curse was lifted. She truly did me well, and I treated her as a fair lady should (mind you, she was a butcher’s daughter, but to me she was a Queen, nay, an Empress!). But alas, it was not meant to be. Our village was sacked in 1389, by a local Duke named Felix Vonnegut. It was the ‘war of the cities’ and minuscule compared to other petty, foolish wars, I’ve witnessed in my time, and trust me I’ve witnessed many. Many deaths. Many hardships. And so I was struck unconscious upon that frightful and horrid night, and my beloved Gunhilde torn apart by the Duke’s mercenaries. I vowed to avenge my beloved Gunhilde and avenge her I did.
First, I joined another mercenary band and through deception and bribery quickly became their captain. Captain of the mercenary band that killed my own wife. I led the men into a battle they could not win and watched them get torn apart by tribal mercenaries in the Lithuanian civil war soon after that foolish civil war in Swabia.
The Vonnegut bloodline? Dispersed into all directions of the wind.
I took it upon myself to kill every single Vonnegut. I made no exceptions. I found his daughter and drowned her in a river. I found his two sons and poisoned them at a tavern. His wife’s throat I slit as he watched, tied and gagged in a chair in front of the poor whore as she died. And Vonnegut? Well, I will save you the details but it was a gruesome, and disgusting affair. I shudder in disgust at my own horrible acts of sin. I had become the monster I hated so.
I vowed (another vow, to what end? Pray tell?) to find forgiveness in the bosom of the lord. I had noticed, as I traveled towards the holy lands on a pilgrimage that was to give me salvation, that I ceased to age yet again. It gave me comfort to know I had a lot of time to absolve myself of the sins I had committed in those years in South Germany. I stayed in Jerusalem a fair time, I believe it was two or three decades, helping people, feeding the poor, taking care of the sick. I was a carpenter there, it was what I knew best, and gave every penny I earned to those who needed it the most. After I knew I had been there too long, I went to the ancient lands of Babylon and acted likewise. I crossed the Indus and ventured into fabled Hindustan. The things I’ve seen! I could write and write about it and even with immortality would never cease to write. I visited the far East, a truly amazing place and on equal measure with Hindustan in my eyes.
Farther and farther East I went until I stopped in the city of Tokushima within Tokushima Domain. They had begun constructing a castle at the time, 1585 if memory serves me right, and as a carpenter I came just at the right time to assist in it’s construction. Yes, I wandered the lands between there and Europe for near 200 years, but my demons never ceased to bother me. I was never truly free of the horrid things I had committed then and they continued to haunt me. The only drive within me that I had, was the fact that with my immortal vessel I could still do good on this Earth. It was there I met Aoi. If I were still as religious now as I was then, I would write now how every god under every heaven would praise her beauty. And even more, the deities under those deities would praise her character and virtues, for she was infallible. Truly.
And so we wed in the spring of 1586. I treated her well, and we had two beautiful children, Aoi, our daughter, and Felix. My consciousness pushed me towards the name. You’ve read this story, you know my past. I felt that this would be a satisfactory consolation for erasing an entire man’s legacy. It is born anew, in my son, and shall carry on and do better than I ever had.
Yet, I would not be writing these lines, had there not been another dismal event. Nay, a series of dismal events. My daughter, Aoi, succumbed to a flu at the sweet age of 4 years old. A day after her funeral, my beloved Aoi killed herself. I had become mortal long enough to gain a formidable beard and in my despair I shaved it all off. It grew quickly again, and so I realized I must be now immortality bound within the age range of 39 or so years, as white hairs slowly accompanied the dark ones. Yet, my son is still alive, you would think, and you think rightly, for I continued to age. Felix was the only thing that kept my life blood flowing and against the current of immortality. I raised him well, he was patient, charitable, gregarious. He was, in a sense, my absolution.
He died on his 18th birthday after celebrating his birthday. He was out with friends when he clutched his heart and passed away. I was cursed by the village as a monster and demon, for I had lighter skin and everyone around me seemed to die. So I left the city of Tokushima and took a boat eastwards. At the time, no one had known there was something farther East. Anything for that matter. There were rumors and fables, but it was not certain. I for one had only one intention: suicide. I had had enough of this life and yet again the immortal coil wound around me and kept me bound to this abominable Earth.
So, I set forth East in a boat. The villagers put all their sins upon my shoulders and hoped I do not return, for with me went their sins and fears. I agreed with a happy heart, for I figured I would perish. But I did not, for again, you would not be reading these lines if I had! I floated across the Pacific for four months, laying in my boat. I tried to drown myself three times, but even water in my lungs did not bring me death. My immortal shield was impenetrable, it seemed. Truth be told, I could bleed. I could probably lose an arm and bleed out, surely. But I was a coward. It takes strength to commit to death as Aoi did. My beloved Aoi.
I shipwrecked upon Kauai in 1609 and was treated like a god. They had never seen anyone in my likeness and I lived like a deity. They weighed upon me, hand and foot. I loathed the notion. I did not want to see anyone and locked myself in a cave on the island and forced myself to meditation. Every few years, I was awoken from my slumber. Moss grew upon me and the people who visited me came for advice. I never learnt their language, nor had any intention to. I had given up on people, and simply wanted to find nirvana. I had heard of the concept before as I wandered around Hindustan and believed that through meditation, I could achieve it. Yet these villagers came and asked for advice, and I waved around with my hands, grunted, and painted scenes on the walls. The fools gobbled it up, then shut me closed again. I never found nirvana. Never would, I figure, and so I left the cave in 1699.
I built myself a canoe, formidable enough to carry me farther East, and left Kauai. Sailed right past all other Hawaiian islands and never glanced back. I landed upon the Western shores of North America and I found before me the most blessed paradise that I have ever set eyes upon. Acres upon acres of glorious, untouched land. And those nomads of the prairies which I later encountered farther East I went avoided me. I looked ragged, with my unkempt beard and tanned skin. Not even the sun could give me more lines upon my face and body. I was immaculate. It is hard not to become narcissistic if you are immortal, I tell you. I lived on the prairies and found peace there. True peace. The animals perturbed me not, and the Indians as they are called now, gave me sacrifices as the people of Kauai did as well. I accepted them and even learnt their language. I resided in Sioux and even learnt rudimentary parts of their language. It was the year 1776 when I decided to go farther East.
I had not known what had been ravaging the East of this continent and the Indians cared not to tell me. Surely, I believe they must have thought, these trivial human matters were of no meaning to a wise sage such as myself. The American revolutionary war ravaged the lands and as I discovered more and more of their noble cause, I believed that I could once again do good. I vowed to die on the fields of North America fighting for something greater than myself. A noble end, to a life as long as mine, I found. Truly, I would find salvation in the thundering of drums and the bellowing of cannons.
Woe is me. Oh, woe is me, for I found I could not die neither by ball of musket nor stab of bayonet. I was impervious to all these devices and so I finally decided that to find freedom from this Earth, I would have to give up my heart. I would give my heart and give it wholly, and so I did. I met a fair lady from Maryland and lo and behold, she met me equally. We married in 1780 and we live a good life. A very good life indeed. Our children, 8 we’ve had and 6 of them lived beyond the age of 10, blessed be the ones we lost along the way. And now, I feel, I must be around my 60th or so year, as I feel more and more pain in my joints. I have graying hair and my skin wrinkles more and more. What a delight! Truly a bliss such as this is hard to find.
And yet, I cannot help but notice that my wife, she is as fair as she was when she was 21. She loves me so, this I know, and I can see it in her eyes. I can feel it, as I slowly decay and inch towards blessed salvation, the only true salvation. And so I asked her one day, as we sat in a park on a Sunday after mass, which I attend for appearances, as does she, she confided in me her truth, after I have told her all you’ve read so far.
Thus she spoke: ‘My beloved, my love, your story touches me deeply and greatly and I must say I am dumbfounded, but not truly surprised, for you and I are of one. I have died and been reborn so many times, I have lost count. I have seen lives and wonders in lands I never knew. I have met vile people, fair people, saints and sinners around the world a thousand times. But now, it is with your presence, your love, our true love, that I have found an end to the cycle. I can finally live more of my life than I could have before. I lived carelessly, I shall tell you, once I had known that I was to be reborn time and time again. But I learnt many things, as time went on, for I remembered every past life. Every single one. The longest lasting thirty and three years. Many foolish things I have done to live just a little longer. The shortest life I had that I remember I was a mere 5 months old. This world is cruel. Yet with you, now, here, I am sure I can enjoy it a little longer. The past years I have seen you decay and I have had enough of it. I shall see you to your end, and then I too shall live as you have lived. I shall carry your burden, with a smile upon my face and joy in my heart. You are free, and so am I.’
As she finished those words, those sweet words, I realized that I would begin a new cycle in due time. I wept. Tears of joy. She held her hands in mine, smiled, and we looked out upon the yard as in the pond nearby, a stork ate a frog.
A short story for fun. The prompt was from reddit. It was about a man who was immortal, but not when he was close to someone. The author of the prompt initially intended for there to only be one “the one” that the man would fall in love with and age, I assume. But the person he fell in love with ultimately did not age. So, respective of a man whose lived centuries, I wrote it accordingly. How can one love only one person over such a vast timespan? Unfathomable.