Aerternum: A Novel.



Our only health is the disease

If we obey the dying nurse

Whose constant care  is not to please

But to remind of our and Adams curse, 

And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

Sarah sat alone staring at the casket, her eyes fixed forward, her cold hands face down under her thighs. She felt nothing except the pony tail on the back of her neck, an odd comfort as if someone was behind her consoling her. It’s just my hair she told herself. There is no one. Occasionally the feeling of nothing and no one was interrupted by the cold sweat of her hands, an irritant of life she thought when the only thing she wanted to think about was death.

Sarah hated the plastic chairs in this church. She liked pews better but those had been gone for years, sold on web sites, refashioned as antiques or bid on for high dollars at Global Union or “GU” Auctions. This church was as dead as the man who lay in front of her. Plastic chairs replaced pews for town hall meetings. Paint worn walls behind the coffin bore water marks from a dilapidated roof that was old and in need of repair. Tears, Sarah said to herself, the walls are crying. She smelled dust, and longed for animation. Few if any restorations on churches were attempted anymore. The building was cold, a shell or casing that held her captive like the coffin held this man who lay dead in front of her. The only sound was the furnace’s random, labored attempts at its own resuscitation.

Sarah was alone with a dead man and the dead man was alone. There were no church bulletins, eulogies, Pastors, Priests, Elders, no lingering testimonies, anecdotes, vignettes of a life. There was no church secretary to greet mourners in the narthex. No music, no tears, no mourners. There was only Sarah, the dead man, the furnace, the sweat of her palms, and her thoughts waging war inside her head about how and why this man chose to die when people today live longer than Methuselah. Death and churches were relics of the past. Now people lived forever, and Berger, Sagan, The Economist and many others were right.  There was less and less for God to do. After a long career, God had passed into history.

Death and any sign of death was gone. Moses warned of it in Genesis, but no one anticipated it or took it seriously. Eat of the fruit and you will become like God and live forever.  Today, with the breakthrough development of a pharmaceutical drug called Aerternum people lived forever. Colloquially, Aerternum was known as the “God Drug.” Sarah learned about it in school in English class when she studied Swift’s struldbrugs in Luggnagg. Her teacher told the class when Aerternum was discovered it was larger than the invention of the wheel. A small biotech firm, billions of dollars and a couple of young bioengineers. The human genome sequence, three billion individual base pairs, gene codes and proteins mapped and illness, disease, suffering and death were no more. Human beings were freed from the curse. Sarah, envying the dead man in front of her, thought to herself, Oscar Wilde was right. Now the curse was immortality.

The vaccine had been on the market for years and solved the world’s one eternal quest to conquer death. Some countries mandated the vaccine for its citizens at birth because science proved people who lived forever are far more productive, generous, kind, and wealthy. Eternity offered the chance for self-reinvention, multiple careers, advanced degrees. Beneath the same skin, a person could become a new creation. Not everyone though chose eternity. The United States did not mandate the vaccine. Congress concluded, for now, that choice afforded a nation population control, necessary for the advancement of its people and global presence. People who chose to not be vaccinated chose what came to be known as The Alternative or death. The dead man in front of Sarah chose the alternative. Sarah was vaccinated.

The furnace screamed as it grasped another chance at life. Now jolted from the terror of her thoughts Sarah thought she heard someone outside. Staring down the dead man one last time she realized she learned nothing about death. With the feeling of nothing boring her, she decided to leave. As she stood up, her eyes caught the worn inscription on the book that lay wrinkled and lifeless on the floor beneath her feet. It read:

To Ryan Arthur. Remember The Captain.  


She picked up the book, blew off the dust and left.

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