Ten thousand years of superstition, religion, and science finally created the ultimate generation of humankind. Five full years passed before the media dared report on the subject. In the halls of universities, the scientists, sociologists, and statisticians only dared to whisper. By fear and unspoken agreement, they held their silence with almost monastic devotion.
The hubris of humanity won out. What had been whispered in the halls of experts was then shouted from every news outlet in the world. The headline across the globe, in a hundred countries, in a thousand languages, in nine billion throats, in eighteen billion ears was the same: “Death is Defeated.” On the day the story went global, it had been five years and one day since any human being had died.
Medicine had advanced to banish infectious disease and to make the human immune system unstoppable. Genetic planning managed to eliminate all birth defects and soon redefined the term as anything but perfection of skin, eye, and hair color in a child. Geneticists next discovered how to make the cells of the body younger and banished all aging. Surgery coupled with the panacea of stem cells made even limb reattachment and nerve regrowth a reality. The countries of the world made peace as a loosely controlled confederation of semi-sovereign states. With one controlling body, hunger was finally beaten. There was no more death.
The media latched onto the name of the last person to die, Ephraim Glastone. Ephraim became the ironic symbol of human immortality. He was 197 years old when he finally passed away. Teams of doctors and scientists worked to fix every ailment. He had beaten cancer three times, and survived—thanks to the miracles of modern man—when his lung cancer had metastasized. Both kidneys had been regrown with stem cells. They repaired his liver and his pancreas. His spleen, gall bladder, and appendix (all considered unimportant organs at this point) had simply been removed. Neuroscientists even used him as a test subject to cure Alzheimer’s disease when Ephraim was 113 years old. In total, Ephraim spent 100 years of his life being cured of disease.
At 196, doctors found that Ephraim’s heart was failing. Heart repairs were comparatively simple by this time, and they set a date to fix this “routine” health concern. History said that Ephraim refused any more treatments. He won his final legal battle one month before his death, and the court refused the doctors’ motion to operate against Ephraim’s will, for his own good.
Eventually, the day of his death became a holiday. Flags worldwide would be flown half-mast, and a moment of absolute silence—all radio transmissions would cease as well—would be observed from 3:00 p.m. until 3:01 p.m. (the traditional and historic time of his death) on April 18 of every year. History said that Ephraim’s last words—while surrounded by a group of weeping family members and caring doctors—were, “I am the last of a dying breed.”
Ephraim had, in fact, died on April 18, but that was the only place in which factual history matched tradition. He had actually died in his sleep at 2:13 a.m., and he was alone in his bed. Ephraim had actually said, “I guess that I’m the last human being in a breed of dying humans.” But these were not his last words.
* * *
Ephraim’s great granddaughter, Coralise, and her husband Bertram sat at his bedside. Coralise was five months pregnant. Several other descendants were staying in the house and had paid him a visit. The consensus was that he was “cranky and unreasonable,” and everyone else made excuses to let him rest. Only Coralise, Bertram (who were secretly his favorites), and one brave doctor were still in the room.
“Great-Grandpa, please. What about your great-great-grandchildren?” Coralise asked as she rubbed her swollen abdomen gently.
“In my time people didn’t meet their great-great anything. We also had the decency to die when it was our time rather than stretching it out for a hundred damned years for no fucking reason,” Ephraim said in his typically colorful language.
Bertram nearly yelled, “You’re delirious! You don’t have to die. No one has to die anymore; this isn’t your time—”
“And how the hell do you know what my time is? Maybe my time was supposed to be a hundred and fifty years ago.”
“No one has a time anymore, Great-Grandpa. People can live forever now,” Coralise said defensively. “But that’s not what I meant anyway. In your time people died, but in this time people don’t have to die.”
“So that makes it your time, not mine?”
Coralise stammered out an unsure, “It’s all our time, Great-Grandpa, but people don’t die young like they did when you were young. So I guess… I guess it is my time, but it can be our time if you’ll just let them heal you again.”
“Christ! You can keep your time. I don’t want it any longer.” Ephraim brooded for a minute before he said, “You young people are all idiots, you know that? People dying when they are young and this being ‘our time.’ What a load of shit. People die when they’re old. They did then, and they should now.”
Coralise began to cry, and her husband said with anger, “You don’t have to be such a jerk, Ephraim. We’re only trying to help you.”
“Yeah, I never liked you either, Berty boy.”
“It’s Bertram—like I’ve told you a thousand times—and I don’t really care if you like me or not. I’m not trying to save you for your sake. I’m trying to save you for her sake,” he said as he held Coralise closely.
“HA! You may be a moron, but at least you’re honest, Bert.”
“Bertram! It’s Bertram, not Bert. And why do you have to be such a selfish jerk?”
“In my day we respected our elders.”
“In my day our elders gave a damn about us,” Bertram spat back.
Ephraim smiled. “Talk to me when you are 197 years old and you might understand. Until then, you don’t know shit.”
“When I’m 197 you will have been dead for 158 years. If you want to fight with me in 150 years then take the cure, you old bastard.”
Ephraim actually laughed. “I think I changed my mind about you, Bertram. You’re young and therefore an idiot—well, naïve to a fault anyway—but I think I like you. You’ve got some balls. I think you can take care of my great- and great-great-grandchildren just fine.”
“Why don’t you stick around and find out, old man?” Bertram said.
“I refuse to turn 200.”
“You don’t have to turn 200 to see our baby. She’ll be born this year,” Coralise said. She hoped that if she could talk him into living for another four months, then maybe he would decide to live forever. After all, once he held little Lysander, how could he want to die?
“Just like a young kid. You are missing the point,” Ephraim said gently, shaking his head slowly.
The doctor suddenly broke in, “Mr. Glastone, we need to connect the life support or—”
Ephraim lost the calm demeanor he had momentarily assumed with his great-grandchildren. “I don’t know when you became a part of my fucking family, doctor, or what makes you think you have any goddamn right to tell your elders what they need to do. Second, Mr. Glastone is my father, and he died 120 years ago. Call me Ephraim, or go to hell.”
The doctor pursed his lips, but managed to say with composure, “If we don’t connect the life support, you will be dead by morning.”
“Good. It’s long overdue. I’m ready to be judged.” When everyone gave him a blank look, “‘It is appointed unto man once to die, and after this, the judgment.’” Still getting no response, he yelled, “It’s from the fucking Bible, you bunch of heathens!”
“We both took modern literature in college,” Bertram said apologetically.
“Well, you should go back and tell them to teach you something important! Hell, maybe you should read Gilgamesh too. It’s all about how a man’s immortality is built on the legacy he leaves behind. I have three generations of legacy in this room who are all dumbasses and don’t know the first thing about life. Fine legacy.”
The doctor said, “This is not a matter of immortality, Mr. Gl—Ephraim. This is a matter of health. There was a time when metastasized cancer would kill you, but you have been in remission for nearly ninety years. A failed liver and kidneys were unlikely to ever come up for transplant, and you would have been on dialysis indefinitely if you even hoped to survive. The jaundice alone would have brought your life expectancy to zero in a year, but that was sixty years ago. This heart condition is no big deal, and we don’t even need to do an angioplasty to fix it anymore. A simple stem-cell implant will make your heart healthier than your great-grandchildren.”
“Back when I was a fiery young man instead of a cynical, mean old fart, we would have called that an ‘abomination.’” Ephraim scoffed. “‘Healthier heart than my great grandchildren.’ Ridiculous! It isn’t right that I get a new, younger heart. Maybe my heart is all I have left that’s real.”
“If you didn’t want a new heart, then you should have kept away from the fatty foods,” the doctor said.
“Believe it or not, son, in my day, old people ate like crap too,” Ephraim said. “I have no desire to eat that tasteless plastic with algae sauce you call ‘healthy food.’”
“Ephraim, congestive heart failure is no big deal anymore, and we can even fix your myxomatous degeneration before it becomes life threatening,” the doctor insisted. “There was a time when you couldn’t be cured. This isn’t that time!“
“There was a time when your big medical terms used to scare me. I’m old as hell now and probably smarter than you besides. Even better, I’ve got nothing to prove anymore. I’m smarter because I know exactly what you mean, and you can’t understand what I mean when I say I don’t want to live to 200.”
The doctor was indignant when he said, “There is no reason for you to die. No human being has to die anymore.”
“I guess that I’m the last human being in a breed of dying humans. You want to keep playing God, then maybe I can just say I’m the last human altogether.”
“Why did we spend all those years curing you just to have you give up now?” the doctor asked coldly.
“To honor your Hippocratic Oath, you moron! You doctors just get dumber every damn year. You doubled my life expectancy, but that wasn’t good enough for you jackasses.”
The doctor tried to recover, but Ephraim kept railing at everyone. “No, you can’t take something like that back. You called me selfish for wanting to die, but I’m not the selfish one. You don’t give a damn about me, any one of you. You only care about yourselves. How you will feel if I die? How your medicine was a waste if I die. People die, or they are supposed to anyway. It’s not enough to have helped me live a long life. You have to prove that you can beat death. You have to play God.”
Everyone was silent.
Ephraim finally continued, “You think you can beat death, but you’re wrong. You can stop disease, accidents, and old age, but you can’t cure humanity. One thing I’ve learned in my long, long life is that you can always expect that the murderous, evil side of people will eventually win out. One day, despite your efforts, there will be a war or mass murder or serial killer just to even the score. Human nature will eventually win out over humanity. You may be able to save a man’s life, but you can never save his soul.
“Now get out and let me die in peace, or I’ll start throwing things.” When no one moved, Ephraim really did start throwing things.
As the last one went through the doors, Coralise heard his actual final words: “Fucking idiots.”
I am an aspiring writer with a passion for social science fiction, character-driven literary fiction, and poetry. I am a student at American Public University System/American Military University where I am finishing a bachelor of arts in criminal justice with a minor in paralegal studies. I have been married for four years, and I have three little girls ages four, four, and one. I have been in the Army for six years, and I served in Afghanistan. I am currently serving on my second deployment.
Mr. Hammerquist’s work will appear in the Spring issue of The Bird & Dog Quarterly Literary Magazine of American Public University System. His blog can be found at:
WHY WE CHOSE TO PUBLISH DYING BREED:
Oren Hammerquist says of this piece: “This story surprised me in that it wasn’t the story I sat down to write that day. This colorful, dying old man figuratively accosted me. I’m not sure what that says about me—since the character is sort of a jerk and characters are often reflections of the author.”
We at Fabula Argentea doubt that Mr. Hammerquist is anything like his character. We found his story to be imaginative, enjoyable, and memorable, and our goal is to publish exactly that kind of story. Even better, it has something to say about humanity. It’s our pleasure to be able to publish it.