January 2023’s short story of the month
He had trouble walking, trouble standing up, trouble buttering his toast. But his mind was as sharp as ever. He had this amazing way with trivia. He could tell you the atomic weight of every element on the periodic table. He could name every bone and muscle in the human body. He recited whole books of the bible like they were common knowledge. He memorized facts from every science text he could get his hands on. He learned to speak ten languages. His ability to memorize astounded people. He didn’t have an eidetic memory. He was just really good at retaining information, and he craved learning new things.
When he’d been a young person, he spent every moment he could at the library. As a teen, he’d been a champion knowledge bowler. In college, he passed classes easily. With his vast wealth of knowledge, he’d been drawn to the sciences. In particular, he was fascinated by theoretical fields. He loved the idea of creating new knowledge.
As he’d aged, he never lost that thirst for learning. He lived alone and spent his free time reading. He also enjoyed puzzles. There wasn’t a crossword he couldn’t finish, and he always did them in pen. It was a point of pride for him that he could solve codes and crack word puzzles that others struggled with.
The one thing he’d failed to consider as he aged was his own genetics. Unfortunately for him, muscular disorders were common in his family. Even as he watched his father fight with a deteriorating body, it didn’t occur to him that he might also get the disease in the future. He never considered the genetic fate awaiting him.
When it finally caught up to him, he was in shock. But mostly, he felt like he was in prison. The prison was his own body. And he wanted out. Using his vast knowledge, he began to formulate a plan.
Victor’s new ambition was to cheat death. The knowledge was out there, somewhere, he just had to figure out how to unlock it.
He sent his assistants in search of esoteric texts, things that in the past he wouldn’t have concerned himself with. He no longer devoted his time to the sciences, not entirely.
As the days ticked by, he became increasingly interested in the sciences of old—things like alchemy and mysticism. It didn’t matter to him that the theories had been debunked centuries ago.
The more he studied ancient “sciences” the more he felt his brain tingling. There was something there. He was sure of it. Surely with his knowledge of modern science, he could find the final steps to these processes that most considered nonsense.
It’s not that he wanted to live forever, not exactly. What he wanted was the ability to heal his body until he was ready to end it. He wanted to control his destiny. And he wanted to give the world that ability to.
Can you imagine the legacy that would live on for the person who finally discovered the process of reverse aging humans? The ability to live forever would mean so many things. It would mean the end of terminal illnesses. It would mean the ability to truly become an expert at something. It would mean so much…
Studying and experimenting became increasingly difficult for him. He was tired so easily. He was lucky if he could accomplish a couple of hours of work each day. His body betrayed him every second. He continued to be increasingly debilitated.
He ended up relying on his assistants more and more. Sometimes he would send them on errands only to be asleep when they returned.
His first break through happened by accident. He was using a combination of archaic knowledge and modern science to heal a wound on his hand. He’d cut himself trying to open a package the previous day.
He drew a spell circle from an ancient text, but he changed the symbols, using modern icons to represent medicine and cells. A pile of herbs burned in a tightly secured bundle in the center. He chanted the words to the original spell and added a few of his own. He used the scientific names for things instead of laymen’s terms.
The proper naming of things was important. Every story about fairies mentioned it. How could something that repeated so often in folk lore not be a lesson humans were supposed to learn?
To call something by it’s true name gave you power over it. To command the trees, to call on animals. Or simply to find the words to work magic, the naming of things was powerful.
And luckily for Victor, science loved naming things.
His chant continued. He kept his voice steady, and the volume level. There was no need to get excited. This was science after all. Leave all that emotional who-haw at the door.
The first spark surprised him. He stuttered a bit, but then he thought maybe he was just imagining it and the sparks disappeared.
He kept chanting. And when something sparked again, he continued. He’d set up a camera before he’d begun. All good science would need verification and would need to be repeatable. This wasn’t his first experiment.
He kept chanting, checking his excitement. As he’d been chanting, one of his assistant’s was counting the number of times Victor made it completely through the spell by tapping a clicker.
As the sparks started to get bigger and brighter, the clicking stopped. The assistant was mesmerized watching what could only be described as a tiny firework show happening over the spell table.
As each spark grew and then burst, the magic dissipated leaving no sign that it had existed to begin with. This continued to for several minutes. Eventually, the residual magic began to build up.
Victor could see the circle drawn on the table’s surface starting to glow one section at a time. When Victor noticed the glow, he started chanting a bit faster. He was getting increasingly tired the longer the spell went on. He needed to see what would happen if the entire circle was glowing.
He chanted and chanted and chanted. The circle continued to glow and one small bit at a time, the diameter began to glow.
When the circle was about three-fourths complete, the assistant took a step forward. His mouth was agape. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing.
The single step of his assistant caused Victor to faulter momentarily. A bit of the circle’s glow faded in response.
Victor shook his head and kept chanting, trying not to let his assistant’s behavior deter him.
After what felt like hours, with sweat dripping from his head and his voice practically gone, Victor succeeded in completing the circle.
Just as the glow connected, drawing the perfect diameter of the spell, Victor stepped forward and placed his hand in the center.
There was a bright flash forcing Victor to shut his eyes.
With his eyes shut, he didn’t see what happened, but he heard a pop and then the room was eerily silent.
As Victor looked at his hand, he couldn’t believe it. The wound was gone. He’d done it. He was healed.
He turned toward the camera and turned his hand so the wound that was clearly visible moments ago could be examined.
He then looked at the table. The spell circle was once again nothing but a drawing on the table. It looked ordinary. There was no glow. No sign that anything had happened to it.
Victor reached out and wiped a small section away. It came away easily.
That’s when Victor turned to where his assistant should have been. There was no one. Nothing. His assistant was gone.
Victor assumed his assistant had fled. Perhaps the light had hurt his eyes or he just needed a moment to collect himself.
Victor didn’t waste any time. He sat at his computer and opened the file that had recorded the whole thing.
He watched, realizing only a few minutes in that he was terribly hungry and tired. He needed to eat. He stopped the video, intending to watch it after a much-needed break. He finally looked at the time on the screen.
Seven hours had passed since they’d started the spell.
Victor couldn’t believe that. He opened the video file once again but didn’t restart it. He looked at the bottom which indicated the total time. Seven hours.
That seemed impossible to him. It had felt exhausting, but Victor rarely went an hour or two without needing a nap these days. The clock had to be wrong.
His hunger, thirst, and bladder were screaming at him. The time would have to wait until he met other needs first.
He didn’t get around to watching the video until the following day. He woke up exhausted and couldn’t remember when he’d felt so tired.
His assistant was late. Victor would have to make his own coffee.
He sat at his desk with his coffee watching the video. He fast forwarded to the part where the sparking started and watched it for several minutes. Then he moved on to the part where the circle began to glow.
As he pressed forward on the video, speeding towards the end, he saw the clock going and going.
He stopped the video when there were only five minutes remaining.
He leaned forward, watching every moment barely able to breath.
As the bright flash occurred and the circle filled with light, he saw his assistant near the table and then he didn’t.
The Victor on the video stepped towards the table and healed his hand, just as he remembered.
Where was his assistant?