This story is by Adam Al-Ghosien and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Elliot Carlyle sat in his study, alone as always. His solemn face pressed against the window. He put his head on his desk and sighed. As he looked back outside, a crimson object caught his gaze. He leapt up, thrusting his head into the low ceiling.
“Someone’s here! Someone’s here!” Elliot giggled downstairs. Outside, he strolled over to the mutilated man in the street. Organs, blood, and assorted viscera flowed back inside the man from a chunky puddle. He began writhing and woke screaming.
“Hello!” Elliot chimed, “I’m Elliot Carlyle. Welcome to Kingdom Come.” The man scanned Elliot.
“What the hell is happening?! Where are they?!”
“Where are who?”
“They tortured me. I was sure they were going to kill me.”
“Seems they did,” Elliot said casually, “your guts were everywhere.”
“What does that mean? What are you talking about?!”
“Come inside. I’ll show you.” With that, the man followed Elliot to his study.
“And who are you?” inquired Elliot.
“Derek Cross. That’s all you need to know,” Derek said cautiously.
Elliot pointed at writing on the wall.
“Efil?” inquired Derek.
“’Life’ backwards.” Elliot smirked. Derek stared, baffled.
“Remember living in Kingdom Go, er, Earth? Kingdom Come is similar, but backwards. You come here when you die, start at your age of death, for you, hmmm, 20, and age backwards until you disappear.”
Derek suspended his disbelief.
“Okay. Well, where is everyone else?”
Elliot grimaced. “There is no one else.” The room seemed quieter. “Nobody comes here without dying, and nobody does that anymore.”
“Nobody has children?”
“New children can’t happen here. Reverse aging, remember? They disappear instantaneously.”
“Wow. I was injured badly before. What happened?” Derek asked.
“Everything reverses, including injuries. Observe.”
Elliot punched a nearby coatrack. Despite Derek’s flinch, it bounced away ringing metallically. “Destructive changes to the body only happen forwards. Paradox,” declared Elliot. Derek lightened.
“Does that make me invincible?”
“Invincible, yes. Immortal, no.”
“’Jump out the window’ invincible. It gets old.”
“Indeed. There’s a kitchen, er, room you can use.”
A few days later, Derek stood at the study window staring at the drab scenery, wearing a sunken look. Elliot slipped into the room, sneaking up behind him. Elliot heaved him out the window and Derek sailed screaming into the ground.
“What the hell, man?” Derek yelled up. “You could’ve killed me!”
“No, I couldn’t!” Elliot called down, laughing raucously. “I wish I still had a camera for the look on your face.
“Oh, I forgot the invincibility!”
Elliot jumped out the window to Derek.
“It’s going to take a while to get used to this,” Derek said. Elliot turned grim.
“I’m afraid, my friend, that you don’t have a while.”
“You forget your youth. Make the most of it.” Elliot began walking inside.
“What happened?” asked Derek. “Why are you here?”
Elliot sighed. “Come in,” he croaked.
They sat at a table downstairs.
“I was there,” Elliot began, “when the EternaLife treatment trials began. They went perfectly. I even signed up for it on a waiting list, but I died too soon.”
“Wasn’t that 60 years ago?”
“Yes, 62 years. I’ve been here 58. There were others like me, centuries-old fogeys wanting to remove the qualifier from their nearly-endless lives. I imagine they remain here, somewhere, going mad in the wasteland resulting from their, and my, desire for immortality. There were those like you here, too, young people whose lives were cut short in both worlds by violence in the first.”
“What happened to them?” Derek asked, already knowing the answer.
“They slowly aged away, from bright minds, to drooling children, to nothing, as if they’d never existed.” Derek noticed Elliot’s hand vibrating slightly.
“Oh.” Derek said, suppressing a shudder.
“Now,” Elliot chimed cheerily, “have you tried diving here? You don’t even need to hold your breath.”
Six years and many normally dangerous stunts later, Elliot and Derek strolled through the empty town on one of their walks, fondly called “Crosswalks” by Elliot.
“…however, my friend, you must never set yourself afire. You might not die, but it hurts like hell!” concluded Elliot.
“You said that already,” replied Derek. The youth in his voice halted Elliot.
“Yes… yes,” he mumbled. He eyed Derek. Derek’s chiseled face had shrunken and softened into that of a child. Elliot darkened. Derek noticed.
“What is it?”
“Nothing.” They kept walking.
That night, Elliot lay awake. He had noticed his own youth in the bathroom mirror while preparing for bed. His mind was occupied, not by his soon-returning prime, but by his friend gradually wasting away. Mentally searching for courses of action, he recalled tales of the dead lingering at, haunting, their places of death on Earth. Unable to bear Derek’s further deterioration, he thought of his old enemy, Pierre Renard. They’d disliked each other in life, and, after lucklessly encountering each other, hated each other in Kingdom Come. However, Renard had been obsessed with returning to life after also missing EternaLife. Elliot knew Renard was Derek’s best hope.
Later, while Derek slept, Elliot snuck out in search of Renard. Slogging through the hills in the icy darkness, he spotted a chimney ahead. Over another hill, he found the rest of the house.
“I’ve found him. Jerk.”
Going inside, Elliot found the house disheveled. Looking around, he found barely legible scribbles on the walls and books strewn across the floors, but no Renard. Elliot remembered that Renard had been near his current age when he had first arrived in Kingdom Come.
“It’s been a while,” Elliot said softly. “He’s gone.” He felt a strange sadness at his enemy’s grotesque demise.
Upstairs, Elliot found a journal on Renard’s desk in a circle cleared of debris. Inspecting it, he found scribbles like those on the walls, but the journal’s were in a child’s handwriting. He read:
Despite locating the ingress between worlds, I fear consumption by youth’s infirmity is near. My only hope is reaching the impasse state immediately. My journey begins tomorrow. Godspeed.”
He flipped back a few pages, finding a shakily drawn map to the so-called ingress and a similarly drawn diagram titled “Impasse State,” depicting two opposing lines labeled “age” with a circle labeled “Infinite life” in the center. Elliot had found all he needed. Morning neared, so he returned home with the journal.
After another day witnessing Derek’s degeneration, Elliot again snuck out to check the map’s accuracy. The ingress seemed far, but Elliot thought the journey possible. A frigid journey later, Elliot arrived at the map’s specified location, a land depression between hills. He saw nothing extraordinary. Stepping forward, however, Earth appeared to him. Squinting, he noticed he was looking at the dreary retirement home where his final stroke occurred.
At his house, the sky simmered as Elliot launched upstairs and promptly woke Derek.
“Whaaat?” Derek slurred.
“Derek! I’ve found it! I can let you live!”
“Wha-? I am living.”
“Please just come with me.” Thus, the two walked to the ingress.
On arrival, Elliot explained.
“Since you’re dead, you age backwards. Everything on Earth ages forwards. If you go through that gateway to Earth, the ingress, you get stuck between forward and backward and live forever, agelessly, invincibly on Earth.” Elliot prodded, “Go there, in the middle.”
Baffled, Derek complied. There, he saw the filthy, disused basement where he died. He jumped back, screaming.
“What the hell is this?!”
“My what? That’s where I died. That’s where they killed me.” Derek wept.
“I know, but if you go, you can live forever.”
“As what? Some kind of ghost? Why would you show me this?”
“It’s late already. You have to go.”
“No! Are you insane?”
“Go!” With that, Elliot shoved Derek ahead. Derek fell through the ingress screeching.
“I did it! He’s safe!” Looking through the ingress, he fell to dejection. A ghostly young Derek floated across the decrepit basement in a shadow of his older self. His skin formed gashes. A torso-length incision caused his organs to spill onto the floor.
“What’s happening? Why isn’t he ageless?” Elliot muttered, flipping through Renard’s journal, finding nothing to explain the scene. He stepped forward and looked around. The location of death of each visitor to the ingress was visible, and behind Derek’s and his was a child of around seven in the shadow of an old Frenchman having a heart attack. Elliot shook further as the scene reset and ran again.
“Oh, God. It’s not a complete standstill. What have I done?”
Elliot sobbed back to the house and through the night. He’d doomed his only friend to repeat his death forever. Eventually, Elliot’s sobs turned to chuckles, which led into deranged laughter. After nearly 250 years, his mind was finally gone.
“Nobody comes here without dying,” he giggled, “and nobody does that anymore.” The image of Derek in the ingress swirled in his mind. He growled, “Perhaps I’ll give them a little vacation, all expenses paid to Kingdom Come.”