What would you do if you became immortal? This story explores one of the possibilities.
Loosely based off the Reddit writing prompt: “In the year 1105 BC you helped a man escape imprisonment. Before you parted ways he says to make a blood oath. You didn’t think much of it but you also cut your hand and shake. He says that you’ll live as long as he does. Well, now it’s the year 2020 and you’ve been searching for this man.”
Throughout the thousands of years I’ve lived, it’s wars that seem to bind mankind through the ages. It’s where I’d first met Marcellus, after our army won the battle against Carthage. It’s how I’d fatefully meet him again 2,000 years into the future.
But first, let’s go back to the beginning. During this fateful day in 241 BC, one of my generals presented me a young man with a noose around his neck. This was Marcellus, a ranking officer of the Carthaginian army.
Seeing that the war was already won, I ordered the general to stop tugging on the rope, and to set this man free. There was no need for more prisoners.
“Thank you, lord,” Marcellus said, in our mother tongue of Latin. “Please allow me to repay you in kind.”
He stepped forward and grasped at the sharp edge of my general’s gladius. Blood trickled down his fingers in crimson rivulets.
“This is a blessing reserved only for the purest of hearts—”
Before Marcellus could finish his sentence, my general had tightened his grip on the rope and wailed on the man before sending him face first into the dirt. Weirdly enough, the man did not seem to mind at all. I waved for my officer to stand down.
Marcellus stood back up and took my hand, unperturbed by the swords drawn and thrust at his neck.
“I am Marcellus,” he said, “and today, I trade you the best gift in the world in exchange for sparing me imprisonment.”
My chest hummed the moment he spoke those words. I had no way of expressing it at the time, but by today’s standards, it’d be like standing in front of a sub-woofer. He then walked away without looking back.
Looking back, now that’s a term for the ages. Every time I look back to this day, I wish I had not shaken his hand. In fact, I wish I had locked him up and left him to rot.
Maybe I should fast-forward a little, forgive my play on words. This is America, and it’s the year 2020. I wasn’t always a citizen of this country, as much as my name wasn’t Eric until about 80 years ago. I was born Epictetus in 284 BC, a full 20 years before the Punic Wars.
I know what you’re thinking. Is this guy for real? And perhaps, after you’re ready to humour me, you’d think, I wonder what he thinks about modern plumbing or the iPhone.
Well, how do you feel about the iPhone? That’s assuming you’re old enough to have witnessed its before-and-after effects on mankind. Oh, don’t get so uptight about my remark. Age is very relative when it comes to conversations with me.
I’m guessing you’ve grown to take this piece of technology for granted. Well, so have I. Paper money, gunpowder, electricity—they’ve all came and went so slowly that they’ve lost their magic, even to someone like me. I’m just like you. Only I’ve lived longer.
I came to America by chance, really. Once personal identification became a thing, it took considerably more effort to remain anonymous. I mean, it wasn’t exactly the easiest thing to explain why my papers were always hundreds of years old.
But I won’t bore you with the details. I’ve stories that date back through the millennia, so pardon me if I occasionally digress. Now, where was I? Oh yes, America.
Let’s take one more step back to the 1940s. I had become a lone traveller by now, having known better than to make friends, with my condition and all. I’d loved and lost seven wives by then, all without children, due to my fear of passing down this disease.
I was tempted to ‘convert’ my seventh wife, Lea, and I came clean to her on her deathbed. I’m immortal, I told her, and we could live together for as long as we can imagine.
“Oh darling,” Lea said, in German, “I have loved you my whole life, but give me eternity and I might well jump at your throat. Let me go. Let me remember you like this.”
I don’t know if she had believed me, that she had really meant those words. But I knew I couldn’t go through with it even if she wanted to. Everything changes when you have an eternity ahead of you—everything. Even the word ‘meaning’ becomes pointless after some time.
I watched Lea die that night, and I vowed never to love anyone again.
Wars, was it? After living more than 2,000 years, I finally realised Marcellus’ gratitude when I spared him from the gaol. Imprisonment was truly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to endure.
Thanks to my shoddy proof of identification, I was imprisoned on the count of being a traitor during this time of great strife.
As much as I’d have welcomed it, death never came for me. Instead, it came for my cellmates, my neighbours, even my captors. It was a prison for both my body and my mind. My captors of the time didn’t even care to put me to death. As long as I was able, they made me work, and I felt every minute of it.
Sometimes, I’d be subject to random beatings and torture, and the next day, I’d have to slam my nose against the brick walls, or cut my face again, so as not to arouse suspicion to my regeneration abilities. No, being a lab rat with them in charge would be worse than death.
My cellmates were the lucky ones, often dying months upon imprisonment. I had to endure their stink for months more after that. One day, a new cellmate was sent in, Eric Murphy, a tough corporal that grew to be a close acquaintance during our time together. I knew I should’ve avoided any ties with mortals, but imprisonment does weird things to the mind.
We talked a lot, and I cherished his stories of war, as it had reminded me of my own glory on the battlefield. He went on to tell me how he had no friends or family, and how he’d dropped out of high school in Massachusetts to work in a radio store. I told him I was German and had just lost the love of my life. Of course, I kept everything else secret.
Fortunately for me, the Allies would win the war of that era, and I would once again be free. My rescuer had asked for my name, to which I’d replied Eric Murphy from the 12th platoon of C company. He said he thought they all died in a botched mission. I told him I was the sole survivor. At least Eric Murphy was.
Soon, I was shipped to America with medals for other people’s hard work. I don’t know how I made it through, but I did. I was also given a new set of papers, which allowed me to exist undisturbed for a few more decades. I try not to use it anymore though, as I don’t look anywhere near the 90 years it says I should be.
Which brings me to the present moment. It’s been so long since I’ve felt that hum, but I felt it as though it was just yesterday, the vibration in my chest, the mark of my curse. I turned around, caught a familiar face looking at me—he must’ve felt it too—and saw the mix of surprise and acceptance in his eyes.
I would’ve killed him if I could, but I was content on giving him pain. All those times I had to watch a loved one die, all that time spent wandering through life and questioning the meaning of existence, my imprisonment, Lea, all my repressed emotions through the thousands of years manifested themselves through my fists on his face.
My wrists were shattered by the time I was done, but they would heal soon enough. So would Marcellus’ face, and he knew it. That’s why he took it all in so calmly. He even waved off a concerned passer-by asking if things were all right.
“You,” I seethed. “What have you done to me?”
Marcellus took his time replying. He fixed his broken nose, then wiped the blood off his cut lip. His eyes were glassy, and I wasn’t sure if he was crying, or if it was because of his nose.
“I gave you a gift,” he finally said.
Hearing that word ignited the fire within once again. I grabbed his collar and shook him hard, his expressionless face flailing from the force. Even with my experience with pain, it was hard to ignore the fury shooting up my wrists.
“A gift? This is a fucking curse, and you do this to me after I spared you?”
“Isn’t this what everyone wants?” He seemed like a husk without a soul. “The gift of gods—”
“No! I should’ve just sent you to prison the day I met you. You heathen! You—”
“I just didn’t want to be alone.” Marcellus was sobbing now. So it wasn’t his nose.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“So alone. So, so alone.”
“What, you did this, just because you were lonely? Why you crazy—” I raised my arm to strike once again, but Marcellus broke before I could follow through.
“We have friends!” he yelled. “We’re not the only ones!”
“Marcellus, I want you to explain what you meant by that. Now.”
“There are hundreds of us. I only chose the kindest people. You see? It’s not so bad after all. Right? We’ve got friends. We don’t have to suffer alone.”
I wasn’t sure which was louder, my guttural scream or Marcellus’ frantic wails, but after a while, they became one of the same, and nothing seemed to matter anymore.
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