Larry McMadon killed another human being when he was 27 years old. On accident, of course – it had always been an accident, and he would repeat that to himself time and time again as the years passed. Though he’d moved beyond that day, he had always been able to recall certain things in near perfect recollection. Like any other street in south Georgia, children had been playing out in the yards and the sidewalks; the sprinkler had splashed the side of his car with a swift tattoo of water before rotating back towards the lawn. It had been hot hot, oppressively hot. With the air conditioning that only rarely functioned in the junker of his first car, he’d been fiddling with the knobs – and never saw the small girl race in front of his bumper.
The moment his car collided with her body, it seemed as though time simultaneously quickened and stretched out impossibly slow. Or perhaps, in moments of anticipation and dread, adrenaline and hormones and such enabled the mind to see consequences of actions beforehand—either way, Larry knew the very second he’d hit that little girl. Her body had gone spinning into the street like a wet washrag, arms and legs flopping bonelessly. his feet had unconsciouly found the brakes and the car screeched to a halt, careening to the side where he scraped the chassis against the sidewalk, the noise drawing the attention of the other children. The sluggish and lethargic river of time suddenly made up for its loss: bowling ahead, dragging him recklessly forward . An older woman had appeared, clinging to the limp body of her child. He remembered the brightly colored headscarf around her hair – vivid red, like the blood staining the child’s t-shirt. He recalled the brightness of her teeth and her eyes as she screamed and cried at him, shaking her arms and the little child held within. Caught in the surrealism– the horror and guilt, yet seeing the girl’s limbs hanging so limply he’d been reminded of cooked spaghetti noodles, and had grimaced at the inappropriate thought. The children had gathered behind the mother like a choir of crayons and colored pencils, yelling and crying and wailing , drowning out his own voice. He’d tried to explain, to help, to give her his insurance card – but she had been crazy with rage. In the end, he’d just returned to his car, backed hurriedly away from the curb and sped off. He remembered vividly the last words before the slam of the car door had shut her away.
“I curse ye! Curse ye! Al’etibe my witness, I curse ye!”
Luck, and perhaps a certain degree of political bureaucracy had been with Larry McMadon that afternoon. Though the next few days were spent in anxious deliberation on the moral stand to take on vehicular manslaughter (and his personal opinion on the costs, both financial and otherwise for law procedure), no one ever came forward to blame or arrest him. His girlfriend had shown concern over his distraction, but he never spoke a word about it. He was overly nervous, and feared that at any second the whaling and screaming of police sirens would descent upon him. But after a couple weeks, he started to believe he’d dodged a bullet. He edged back into normal life: he went to work; he came home. At first, it had difficult to even turn the car on. He dreaded being on the road. He drove below the speed limit, his gaze flicked between the road and the mirrors so much his neck began to ache. Larry been in an accident before, and knew the fear and apprehension and anxiety it caused, he remembered how it made his hands shake on the wheel and his nerves ring. But the first few days passed without a hitch and it progressively got better: though he was certain to always watch the road carefully the the year went on.
As years passed, he proposed to and married his girlfriend. They moved away from south Georgia and rented a house in a suburb just outside Atlanta. He left a job at the publishing company and started teaching and lecturing at a small community college. That accident on that small rural road filtered away into the dark recesses of his mind, and it never came up again – until he and Lisa had their first child. They had never planned on having kids, and Larry wondered when they found out Lisa was pregnant if his hesitation had been in some way connected to that day. Nevertheless, the baby came to term and was born on a sunny July afternoon. Holding that newborn infant in his arms, eyes moist as he looked on that brand new life, Larry discovered he almost understood a little bit about how that mother felt the day some strange man killed her child. That evening, rocking little Amelia to sleep, he promised to her (in a whisper, so as not to wake Lisa), that he would always protect her, to even die for her if he must. And once his daughter went to sleep, he whispered a heartfelt apology to the nameless child now several years buried underground, too.
Their second child was a boy, to Larry’s delight. Marcus was a pistol of energy, and in the whirlwind of joy that was his life (since he loved his job and his fantasy football basketball team’s win had earned him a fantastic share of the work pool), he gave no thought to the dark blotch on his history-until the day Marcus broke his arm jumping down from the playground. Larry’s heart had jumped and lodged into his throat as he raced to gather his son. Falling to his knees in the grass and disregarding all else, he’d pulled the weeping boy into his arms. Terror and panic had warred with fury at the other boys standing nearby, unassuming accomplices to his son’s pain. Marcus wept, and Larry would have given his arms and everything he owned to make the pain go away; for he could not bear to see his son in agony and find himself helpless. And later, as he had stood watching the doctor roll the cast on his son’s arm and Marcus giggle about the dinosaur drawings on the fridge (under the effects of spectacular pain medication), he murmured a small prayer of apology to the mother of that little girl in south Georgia, for being the one to cause her such agony.
Their third child was an accident. Amelia was a freshman in college and Marcus two years from graduating high school, but both had taken the announcement that their mother was again pregnant remarkably well than Larry had. Now a tenured professor at a credited graduate school, Larry had been quite looking forward to a peaceful retirement with Lisa. His tenure made certain they were well off financially, and he’d already laid plans for several world cruises. But he loved his wife and he loved his children and he prepared himself for another hurricane of youth. And he didn’t give that little dead girl a consideration until Lisa called him in tears from the obstetrician’s office, to tell him that the child had miscarried. Holding his wife in his arms, her sobs shaking his chest, Larry felt as though someone had shot him clean through. There was an emptiness in his heart that mirrored the now empty womb of his wife, and he wondered if this was the tiniest bit like losing a child grown. That night, lying awake next to Lisa after she had wept herself into an exhausted slumber, he wondered how what he had done so long ago could have come around to bless him like it had, and thanked a God he didn’t believe in that his family was safe.
They had joked about it, sitting in dual rocking chairs like the stereotypical old couple; they had laughed about who would be the one to go first. Lisa had always found it easier to discuss harsh truths with humor, and Larry did not deny her that coping mechanism. After all, his family had a terrible history of heart disease and other health issues, and though he’d never had more than the occasional bout of flu he suspected he’d be leaving Lisa far before she even fell ill. He never expected to be standing there, leaning on Marcus’ shoulders as the pallbearers lowered her casket into the ground. His legs and feet were old now, and he could feel himself shuddering on weak feet until his son urged him to sit once more. He fingered the wedding ring on his wrinkled finger, the surface worn smooth and warm from their long years of happiness. The sky was cloudless and the day was warm, but Larry felt as though he’d never find joy again, without Lisa’s constant smile at his side. Marcus promised to stop by later that week and check in on him, and Amelia kissed him on both cheeks: told him she’d take him home and fetch him the casseroles she’d left in her fridge. Allen, Amelia’s finance held his arm for Larry to take on the way out of the cemetery, but Larry turned away. No matter what Allen did, there was no one who was good enough for his little girl-and he didn’t want the help of anyone who who take his children away from him.
When Amelia and Allen were married, (Amelia already pregnant with their second child), Larry was barely capable of walking down the aisle, but he forced himself through it anyway. It hurt: but not as much as he thought it would have to give her away to Allen. He wasn’t so bad, Larry had decided. He respected and cared for Amelia, Larry had seen that. And he liked the Bears, which was definitely a point in Allen’s favor. So he’d handed the bride off at the alter, but wasn’t strong enough to hold back a couple tears. Larry wasn’t strong enough to dance with Amelia at the reception, but he held the hands of their young daughter Clara as she pulled him around on his wheelchair to the music. He didn’t even reflect about that long dead girl in south Georgia or whether or not that woman had other children to give her the unknowable joy of a grandchild.
He rallied with all his strength, but it was a waning one, and Larry knew he was in no condition to live by himself anymore. He’d packed all the pictures, but leaving Lisa’s home was like a blow to the gut and he was silent all the way to the facility. Amelia smiled sadly at him as they pushed him through the door of the assisted living home, and he knew Marcus whispered something to her as they passed, though he could no longer hear such soft sounds. The nursing home smelled of air freshener and linens, and Larry hoped he wouldn’t be here for long. Allen held their other daughter out for him to kiss goodbye, and he was amazed once again at the smoothness of the baby’s skin as he kissed Katie’s cheek. But then they’d left. He’d been alone in his house, too—but there, it was all wrong. Days and weeks blurred into months in that sterile, empty place. The nurses and companions tried to make it an engaging place for the residents, but all Larry wanted to see were his children and grandchildren. They stopped by less and less: Clara was a teenager, and all she had done their last visit was give him a cursory hug and spent the rest of her time chatting into some miniature phone app embedded in her ear. He’d tried to relate to her life, but it seemed too much had changed so quickly–no one even used land line phones anymore. Katie had no idea who Elvis Presley was.
Marcus had a heart attack when he was 39, evidence of Larry’s poor family history, but Larry had barely been able to sit up in bed at the news that Marcus’ tearful wife, Clarise, had brought. He feared for his son, yearned to stand and go to Marcus himself, speak to him all those things a father should pass onto his son: about strength and wisdom and power and responsibility…how much he loved him, but the nurse had barged in when the machines started beeping and urged him to stay down. Larry had never been much of a foul-mouthed man, but he swore at the young woman, who merely shook her head, tksed at him, and fluffed his pillow. Clara came into see him on the day of graduation and showed him her cap and gown, Amelia grinning proudly behind. Allen had grown fat, and Larry told him to Clara and Amelia’s embarrassment, Allen’s humiliation, and Katie’s stifled giggling. Marcus and Clarise stopped in to tell him Clarise had her tubes tied, so they wouldn’t accidentally conceive-his job always had him on long trips and Clarise was a business woman-they didn’t have time for children. Larry told them it was the most wondrous thing in the world to hold a new baby in your arms, tried to explain everything that his son was missing, but Marcus merely shook his head and told him times were changing. Then the nurse came into deliver some medicines, and Larry didn’t even remember them leaving with Clarise in tears.
The moments Larry lived for came fewer and further between. When Marcus came, it was alone, and there was a stiffness to his motions and speech that confused him. Amelia returned, but without her daughters, as the young women had better things to do. She spoke of a young man Katie had, and that she was pregnant, but were planning to abort the baby since Katie was still in school. Larry felt a surge of outrage at the lack of respect the girl had for the unborn life in her belly, remembering the lost child he and Lisa had never met…and woke up again some long time later with the sun bearing down on his face and Amelia gone.
Soon, even the moments of lucidity were rare. Larry felt as though he was constantly immersed in syrup, noises and voices and motions blurred and indistinct. He felt the weakness in every muscle and bone of his body, and wondered why he still lived when he could no longer chew the food or had the strength to swallow drink. He dreaded the nurses in white and the medicines in little paper cups. He turned away from the lawyers and businessmen who came to press him for signatures for wills or question about power of attorney. He longed for the darkness of sleep-where all the pain and aches vanished and he was back with his lovely Lisa in the power and joy of their youth-where Marcus didn’t come with news in a clipped tone that he and Clarise were getting a divorce or Amelia and Allen were in marriage counseling because Allen had a porn addiction or Clara only visited him because she new he had to leave their house to someone and it was in a good area for retail development. He slept and slept and wished for death.
The man who came to the nursing home several years later gazed in on the emancipated man in room 131. Nurse Joan came up to him, and looked on Larry with no compassion in her eyes.
“I have an offer for you,” The man folded his arms, rubbing his upper lip. “Though I feel it may break your caregiver convention.”
“We’ll take it,” Joan said without hesitation. She held out her hand and, perhaps a little surprised at her forthrightness, Herod accepted the handshake, and then fished out his wallet. “Color me surprised that you are so willing,” he commented. Nurse Joan shook her head “He’s a F*&$-ing black hole of expensive medicines,” she snatched the cash out of his hands. “He was here when my mother was a nurse, and even then his kids barely came to visit him anymore. Bastard drove off his relatives, yelling and cursing.”
“I see.” Herod jerked his head towards a group of fellows down the hall, and they hurried forward. “Then, we’ll be out of your way. Its been a pleasure, Joan.” The man in room 131 was carted away in the dead of night with no fanfare. Joan stayed on the clock a few minutes extra to adjust the books, noting that Mr. McMadon died in the night before going home to catch a few episodes of Master Chef.
Larry blinked up at the ceiling. It was a different ceiling. In fact, a great many things were different. Scents and noises…even the taste of the air was strange. Sharp. Larry McMadon turned his head to the side, alarmed and confused at the odd surroundings. He must have made a noise of distress, for a man in a high-necked white coat came up to his side and gently patted his hand. Larry belatedly realized he was strapped down, tightly, to a slab.
“Now, now Mr. McMadon, be calm. You’re helping me–helping us test some new…procedures, is all. It’ll be painless, I promise. There is a lot of expectation here, and with you here to help us find the answer, there holds no end to hope for the rest of us.”
Larry felt power in his throat for the first time in months…years? He spoke, cleared his throat, and spoke again, anger giving impetuous to his words. The strange doctor chuckled.
“And they said you were barely alive. Well, if nothing else, that determination and ardent proves them wrong. You really are a miracle, Md. McMadon, but for now, we must keep you calm,” he reached up to an IV above Larry’s head with a syringe in hand. Larry struggled against the restraints, but he was still an old man. He lived off liquid foods and had nurse clean the shit from his body. All he could do was watch helplessly as a bright blue liquid coursed down the IV towards the needle in his arm, and feel the chill of it enter his bloodstream. Then there was nothing but deep darkness-and not even his dreams could reach him there.
But agony could. He felt it like frostbite, like fire burning him from the inside out. In the darkness of his mind, it seared and bit at him, and Larry screamed and howled voicelessly in the abyss of his soul. He railed at all who had betrayed him to this new torture-so much worse than lying there abandoned, waiting for death: Amelia and Marcus and Clara and Clarise and…and even Lisa, who’d left him for the peace of Heaven- leaving him to linger on alone. And suddenly he was begging them, each of them, to help. Stop the pain. Untie him. He saw each of their faces spinning around him like a merry-go-around, old and young. Their laughter and anger and arguments melted together into a cacophony that made him weep for silence. He saws the strange doctor weave in and out, and others wearing green and white scrubs. Nurse Joan was there, and she held up his bedpan with a smile that shifted into a glare of hatred. And he saw one little black girl wearing a bright blue shirt, her hair done in weaved ponytails, blood dotting her clothes and skin like polka dots. She waved at him; held out her hands, and he clenched shut his eyes-except they were there, too. All Larry could do was scream and try and drown them out.
When he awoke, it was alone in a small bedroom. There was nothing on the walls. Nothing on the ceiling but a few water stains. No noises outside, though sunlight cast an obtuse rectangular shadow on the plaster. Larry felt. He smelled. He blinked and saw clearly. He wiggled his fingers, and found no weariness in the line of his arm. He took a deep breath, and found no congestion in his lungs, only air that smelt faintly of fresh paint.
“Wha-” Larry tried to sit up. He was able to. He looked down at his body, expecting to see what mirrors had shown him for over 50 years. Aged and cadaverous, haggard and spotted skin, drooping eyes– barely a flicker of hope left within. He lifted his hand, and a hand with familiar age spots rose from his side. But the skin was nearly translucent: beneath the cover of flesh he could make out a solid gray-silver structure following the line of his carpal bones. He flexed and clenched his fist, watching the forms move and twist. His other hand—the same-his legs, his toes! Larry swept off the blanket that covered his nude body, and saw how his skin hung from bones that shone silver and muscles that glowed a faint blue beneath the screen of flesh. Words failed him. Was he human? Was he dreaming?
“Good morning, Mr. McMadon!” Larry’s head snapped up as a side of the room disappeared entirely, revealing the hated face of the strange doctor who had taken him from the nursing home. He surged up from the bed, but whatever new foreign power that had woken him was not absolute, and he collapsed to the floor, barely catching himself on brand new hands. His palms slammed into the floor with a metallic thud.
“You son of a bitch! What did you do-”
“You’re a brand new man, Mr. McMadon. The next stage in humanity’s flight from death.”
“You were a miracle, Mr. McMadon. You had lived 181 years before the nursing home handed you off to me. I saw you and knew-” the doctor’s hand gestured widely as he spoke, “Who else could be the perfect man to perfect the prototype for the perfect path to immortality-but one who would not die? How else could we have tested all the dead ends? Find and figure what worked, what didn’t? We could have spent twice as many years, worn through hundreds of people in search for the truth. But here at last, you are, Mr. McMadon,” the doctor smiled proudly at him. “Alive and well, 184 years old, spry as a man in his 30s. You helped me find the answer! Together, we found the answer to immortality! And to eternal wealth, ” he added with no shortage of glee.
Larry McMadon stared, dumbstruck, at the insane doctor. He’d been naught but a guinea pig? 184 years old? Immortality? “I’ll give you some time to recover yourself, Mr. McMadon,” the doctor continued, recalling his prior professional demeanor. “There are clothes in the closet just outside the bedroom. The entire apartment is yours, and of course the lower rooms are furnished. Of course, much of what I have is in turn yours, so you will not want for anything. Eat something, regain your strength.” He smiled that toothy smile and waggled his eyebrows. “Eternal life, Mr. McMadon! I envy you! You’ve so much to look forward to!” As Larry watched him, the doctor’s last words broke the spell of stupor. He shoved himself to his feet and hurled himself towards the wall-screen.
“You bastard!!” He screamed. But the projection disappeared, and the wall returned to an empty white. Larry drummed his fists against the wall in a fury. “How could you do this to me!! You had no right! You had no…right…” Power slipped like a running stream from artificial muscles; Larry slumped against the wall, then to the floor, to his knees. Breaths came fast and heavy in his chest, and he felt as though he would hyperventilate. The air was warm and stifling, pressing in upon him from every side. 184…years…
From the moment he was again awakened, Larry McMadon had a mission. His wife was gone. And his children were gone. Clara and Katie, their families might be alive-but how would they know him? What could he do for them? What would they do for him? Larry McMadon didn’t want to live forever. He had spent the last years in that nursing home praying for death every day, impotent and powerless to give it to himself. But not any longer: he tried to starve himself first-but even an artificial physiology has a will to survive, and he could not resist the fully-stocked cupboard below, though he was at a loss on how to prepare most of the strangely-packed foods. He tried to cut open his wrists next. The blood that flowed was abruptly more orange than red, but he pressed forward, clenching his eyes to the pain, drawing the kitchen knife fully across his entire wrist, nearly severing his hand. When he came to once more, his blood had puddled onto the kitchen tile and soaked into his white pants, but the gash across his wrist was healed and clean. He tried to hang himself. Even the bruise from the rope vanished after a few minutes. The taste of bleach made him gag, but he swallowed the entire gallon jug anyway. Every time he tried to end his life, he was immortal. Larry McMadon could not die.
After several months, when Doctor Herod Jacobson had determined, Larry McMadon was granted full freedom into society. His so-called life was spent in a daze-he noticed neither the strange changes in the world around him or his own state. Larry knew he could not die, no matter the extent of damage he inflicted on his body. Lethargy overwhelmed him. He never left the house. Then the bedroom. Then, the bed. He stopped eating, but he never believed it would come to anything. When he refused to reply to Dr. Jacobson’s annual tests, men in dark blue scrubs came and forced him down, strapping him to the bed. Larry no longer struggled. He just wanted to be dead. And eventually, the government caught up with Dr. Jacobson. Larry McMadon was carted away. The hspital was obligated to hold him, but no convention forced them to provide an iota of care to a mad scientist’s abomination. But one day, years beyond anything or anyone recognizable; a forgotten footnote in the pages of bureaucracy, Larry woke from his sleep. He wondered if was truly waking, seeing naught but darkness around him-and he felt, for the first time in what seemed eons the faint sensation of curiosity. Larry blinked, and when his eyes opened again, a face was before him-a face of one long past. The black woman with the red striped headscarf grinned at him, her teeth bright against her skin. “I curse ye,” she repeated. “For meh daughter, I curse ye.” Larry felt the touch of hands on his own, tiny fingers that played on his palms. He felt them grow sharp and painful against his skin and whimpered in pain as they tore into his false flesh.
“You took meh daughter’s life before she had a chance te live,” the woman shamed him. The white around her eyes blazed into his, piercing and unyielding. “And then tried te explain it away. So I called ye to live,” she pointed at him, her finger rising to touch him in the center of his forehead. He felt it burn at her touch, like someone had pressed a lit cigarette to his skin. “Live, Larry McMadon, a year longer for every word ye speak.”
Yr. 7723, Atlan City, United American Empire.
“The zoo is dumb,” Lela complained as she tapped and swiped away on her tablet. Beside her, the wall flickered and flashed with advertisements based on her current webpage, but she ignored them with the ease of long practice. Beside her, another teenaged girl glanced at her bare wrist and sighed. “We’ve got another 2 hours before we leave. God, no one goes here anymore.” She gazed moodily at a picture next to the exhibit of a long-legged creature with a stunted neck. “Says here this thing is a genetically -altered descendent of the…giraffe? What sort of lame name is that?” She scoffed and turned away from the display. Lela barely offered it a glance.
“Lets go down here,” Marin urged, pulling Lela towards a darker hall. “Odd Creatures. Your brother should be down here.”
“If you could unplug him from the video games,” Lela finally looked up from her tablet. “Mom tried to lock him out of his drive and he nearly fried the entire house when he tried to log back in.” Marin laughed and locked arms with her friend. The two teenagers were alone in the shadowed halls, lit only by soft-glowing blue and white lights set in deep recesses by the ceiling.
“Creepy,” Lela whispered. “And really corny.” She groaned and made to turn around. “See, this is why no one goes to zoos anymore. “
“Hey, check this out-” Marin had moved further down the hallway and was reading a plaque next to a glass cage front. “’The Oldest Man in the World. ‘Name: Larry.’” She made a face. “Weird name. Origins: the Country of the United States of America. Hey,” she brightened. “I remember that. You remember, we covered that in History last month. The United States was disbanded after the Third World War and re-organized into Federated Spanish-American territories.”
“No thanks for the history lesson,” Lela teased. She gazed into the cage. “He looks like one of those ancient android hybrids. You know, before they passed that law on fake humans.”
“Artaficia,” Marin corrected.
Inside the glass cage, oblivious to his audience, the oldest man in the world stared ahead, weary blue eyes blank of expression and utterly unseeing. Silvery trails of fresh tears had made inroads into the dust and dirt of his cheeks, but he never moved an inch. A grotesque scar stole attention from the body strapped to the chair: a fleshy gnarl of skin and muscle across his neck. Within the secondary cage of his mind, Larry McMadon watched the wost moment of his long life play again and again before a ever-waking mind. And the little black girl with a bright blue shirt and braided ponytails smiled and smiled, because Larry McMadon had never stopped talking. And on a eternal echo, the words that had damned him:
“I curse ye! Live a year longer for every word ye speak! I curse ye!”