The Far Side of Immortal (Short Story)

The following short story was completed around August 20, 2011, or about 13 months before I remembered a previous life.  I had been dealing with an extremely stressful job and home situation after a very arduous cross-country move to Oregon, and was in a very poor state.  I regard this story, in hindsight, as a possible clue that I was aware of being much older than my body but unable to articulate or properly understand that feeling.

It has never been commercially submitted as I am unsure of the legal issues involved in using a portion of John Lennon’s lyrics from the song “Across the Universe.”  Any objections from the copyright holder will be taken seriously and this material will be promptly removed.

I have changed two things: some minor details about the protagonist’s physical description and a cosmological error (in the original story, earth years had begun getting longer and there was no mention of longer days).

*   *   *

Nick Dietrich kicked restlessly at the exoskeletons that littered the floor of his cave. His hair had gone ragged from so many lice infestations, and his skin clung to his body like a taut canvas over his aching bones. Food was scarce in these times, after all.

How long had it been since he ventured outside during the day now? For a while he kept track. With a soft rock he would etch a tick mark for every day, but soon an entire wall of the cave was covered.

He had erased that and added a tick mark for every month- that seemed more reasonable. But he had abandoned that… how long ago was it now? It had been some time. The wall was now covered in thousands of tick marks. Twelve thousand… that would be a thousand years, right?

No, he was doing it again. His mind was still trapped in an era many long eons before, when the earth still traveled around the sun once every 365.25 days. The years got shorter and the days got longer as time drew on; it wasn’t even noticeable at first, then after a few millennia they added an extra hour to the day and removed leap year to compensate. Then December was shortened to 30 days and a standard Terran day became 26 hours. Then… well, after a while, there was nobody left to care about things like clocks and calendars.

Nick let out a bitter laugh. Back in the day- back when he’d been young and foolish and thought it would be a great experience to become immortal- he still believed that sentience was the height of evolution.

An eon or two with the earth dominated by massive flightless birds, carnivorous mollusks, and giant centipedes was enough to break him of that idea. Sentience had proved to be an evolutionary dead end, and it had been so many long eons since he had found any sort of company.

Any living thing now was either a predator or prey. And given the cowering, crawling creatures that still clung to life on the scorched earth, he was their master; the lone apex predator making his final stand.

Cautiously, Nick crept toward the mouth of the cave, then recoiled. The sun- massive and red- still blazed in the sky, the superheated atmosphere like an oven. About seven more hours and it might be safe to go outside, into the cool of the night.

At least, it was relatively cool. Cool enough for some of the water vapor that had once been the oceans to condense ever so briefly into tiny pools that he could lap up. Cool enough for the crawlers- large hard-shelled creatures with eight pairs of legs and feeble antennae where their vestigial eyes once were. They tasted terrible, but at least they were edible.

And yet, he hadn’t seen one in nearly three weeks. This was not good; being immortal didn’t mean you didn’t have to eat, sleep, and drink to survive. As long as everything held out he would survive. And yet…

Nick sat in a dark corner of the cave and let out a long sigh. It was the closest he could do to crying any more. Crying, how did that feel again? Maybe when the last of his fellow mammals went extinct, he cried a little. That was… how many eons ago now?

“So… this is how it ends,” Nick said, then shuddered. His own voice… how long had it been? It sounded so alien to him, he had forgotten how it sounded. Was that even his voice?

“Ahhhh… Ahhhh… Do Re Mi Fa Sooooo…” What was that called again? He hadn’t heard it in so long. And yet, he was the only one who remembered how to do it.

Music! That was it! He’d heard a thing called music billions of years ago. It was everywhere, at one time. They had these things, words put to music that everyone enjoyed. What were they called?

Ah, yes, songs! It had been a long time since anyone had sung a song.

Nick tried to remember some of the songs he’d heard in his life, before songs and their singers were erased completely, before the bones of the last poets turned to dust.

All he could remember was a tiny fragment he’d heard when he was a child, and sang out in a voice made raspy and strained from being starved and dehydrated:

Nothing’s gonna change my world,

Nothing’s gonna change my world.

A memory flooded back to him. It had seemed like such a happy thought back then. The world was wonderful, it didn’t need to be changed. There were lush forests, deep oceans, the sun was a small yellow dwarf that gave warmth and light and was welcomed every morning.

Now the thought just seemed so mockingly desolate. Nothing’s gonna change my world. It’s slowly burning away into nothing, but nothing’s gonna change my world.

Nick stretched out on the smooth stone floor of the cave and let out another long sigh, this one catching with a hitch in his throat. Was that what crying felt like?

When night came, he would search for another crawler to eat and another pool of water to drink, hoping to make it one more day in the dying shell of the world he had known. Until then, all he could do was rest. He felt tired- very tired. Three weeks with no food and very little water had taken a lot out of him.

As he lay there, half-asleep, a little bit more of the song came to him, and he sang it softly to himself:

Jai guru deva, Om

Nothing’s gonna change my world,

Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Nothing’s gonna change my world,

Nothing’s gonna change my world.

Jai guru deva,

Jai guru deva,

Jai guru deva,

Jai guru deva.

Perhaps this was the whole song?

Perhaps this was the only song there ever was.  

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