This is the final chapter of the Poison series, about Caliph, an immortal being who regularly poisons himself so that he will die and have a few hours of rest. During one of these, he has a vision of the future, where he sees a girl dead on the floor of an orphanage. With the help of his (also immortal) friend Terc, he finds the orphanage and finds that the girl is his daughter, the baby of a human lover he had centuries before. The girl, Theresa, ages very slowly and may also be immortal. As well, he soon finds out that Ram, another immortal who had a vision of a woman destroying him, thinks that that woman is Theresa and is trying to kill her first. Caliph stops him.
We live in our own, isolated world, those of us who cannot die, blending into the background of normal life like shadows that fade but never disappear. We use money and knowledge to achieve this. Doubtless, if we wanted, we could become the ruling class of the earth, but there is a crippling flaw in us: a fatal lack of ambition, of engagement, of charm. I can persuade, but I cannot lead.
Over the centuries and millennia, we have developed our own code of existence. Anything is permissible, except that which threatens the others. And now Ram is a threat.
I call Terc and tell her that I have Ram, temporarily dead by poison. We need to contain him. She says she will make some calls. Thirty minutes later, Kirk shows up. He is the closest we have to a leader, except that he refuses to lead too.
“He is determined to kill my daughter,” I say, when he asks the problem.
“Daughter?” Kirk says, his deep voice rumbling with suspicion. I explain and he nods, still not entirely happy. “Ram and his obsession. I will put him into confinement, until we figure things out.” He picks up Ram’s body with one arm and carries him out to his car.
Ram is locked in a basement vault and for the moment, I feel safe. Still, I remember the vision I had of my daughter Theresa, lying dead on the floor of the orphanage, the calendar on the wall reading December, 2045. It is now November and so I stay with her in the hotel until after New Year’s. Only then, with the month in my fateful vision passed and Ram in confinement, do I feel safe enough to let her go back to the orphanage.
I do not want to, but I have nowhere else for her to go. I do not have a home myself, and a hotel room is not a good place for her. I consider buying a house, because of Theresa, but the thought of being tied to one spot almost makes me panicky. I am not like Terc, who lives ensconced in her fortress of books. So I let Theresa go back to the orphanage, but I visit her every day, spending time with her and bringing her gifts.
This goes on until August 14, 2046, the date of the Great Earthquake, the disaster that catches everyone off guard. A city like LA, San Francisco or Tokyo might expect something like this, but not us—not here.
I am dead in the Poison Shop when it happens—a fitting punishment for my self-destructive habits. When I revive, I find that the roof has collapsed but the others have found a way out. I call Terc, then the orphanage: no phone service.
Terc’s library is closer, so I go there first, running harder than I have in a thousand years. Miraculously, her building is the only one standing in the neighborhood. Seeing that, I do not even go in, but run straight to the orphanage through fire, destruction and death that makes the city look like a war zone.
St. Benedict of Nursia’s Home for Orphaned Children is still standing, although the walls are veined with cracks and one wing has collapsed. I run through the front door and stop as reality seems to melt away.
Theresa is lying on the floor, dead. Her lips are grey and her eyes bulging, obviously poisoned. Mother Cecilia is standing over her, crying loudly, while children peer through the posts of the banister. It is exactly like my dream. I look up to the wall. Although it is August, 2046, the calendar says December 2045. Did I ever wake up? Am I still trapped in my vision?
“What happened? Where is he?” I ask. I have no doubt who did this.
“He broke in through the door and stabbed her with a needle as we were bringing the children to the chapel,” Mother Cecilia says.
“The calendar! Why is the calendar from last year?” I demand, almost shaking her. She looks at me as if I am mad.
“The children found it in storage and put it up as a joke yesterday,” she says. “It is not important. What about poor Theresa—?”
I am gone already, running hard. I know the signs of a very powerful poison; Ram would not have used anything less. Either Theresa is dead for good or she has received enough of the immortal curse from me and will revive in time. Either way, there is nothing I can do for her now. Now, I must find Ram.
I run to Kirk’s mansion first to find what I already suspected: the earthquake has split the house in two, opening up the vault where Ram was imprisoned. Kirk is nowhere to be seen, and so, I turn and prepare myself for the long search ahead of me. I will search for Ram and I will kill him: kill him and unbody him for good.
The search is surprisingly short. An hour later, I find him strolling unconcernedly through the ruin and chaos of the city’s downtown. When he sees me, he gives a small smile. “It is over.”
“She is my daughter,” I say. “She may have recovered already from the poison.” The answer will not change what I intend to do: I merely want to know what he will say.
“It does not matter,” he says, flipping a hand in a careless manner. “What I gave her is triple the strength of Talon-4. She will be dead so long that decomposition will set in before she can revive. She is no longer a threat to me.”
“I will unbody you for this,” I say. He shrugs carelessly, mockingly and the smile is still on his face when I kick him full in the chest.
Neither of us has Kirk’s immense strength but we are equally matched and the fight goes on for some time as we wrestle and exchange blows in a long, protracted stalemate. Then we approach a chasm in the pavement. Below, a gas line has caught fire and smoke and fumes are boiling out. It looks like the mouth of Hell. I kick Ram towards it and when he glances back, I see the sudden terror in his eyes.
“But it was her, not you,” he says. He is trapped and he knows it. “It was her!” he screams, almost in disbelief. He kicks out at me, but I avoid it and with a punch, send him tumbling into the fire below.
An hour later, I arrive at Terc’s library, carrying Theresa’s body in my arms. She lets us in without a word.
“I unbodied Ram,” I say. I am numb now, but later, I know the deed will haunt me.
Terc is smarter than anyone I know, and this is a phrase that is often on her lips, but this time, it startles me badly.
“You know? How?”
“I saw it in a vision, 36 years ago. I saw you punch Ram and send him into a fiery pit.”
“But how? You don’t take poison, do you?”
She shakes her head. “No, but sometimes when I read for more than a week straight, I go into trances. Sometimes I see visions of the future.”
“But you don’t act on them?”
“Based on the vision, I concluded that there would be an earthquake or some other natural disaster, so I had this building strengthened to withstand it.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Look what it did to Ram,” she says, “when he knew his future. He went crazy trying to prevent it. In the end, the knowledge is what killed him.”
“But he was wrong,” I say. “In his vision, Theresa killed him, but in reality, it was me.”
“If he had not killed her, thinking to prevent his death, you never would have unbodied him,” she said, as if this is the most reasonable thing in the world. “So it was her—because of her—that he was unbodied.”
I look down at Theresa’s body, lying on the couch. “Do you think she will revive?” Terc doesn’t say anything and then a thought hits me. “Do you know if she will revive? Have you seen it?”
She waits a moment before speaking. “Yes, I know if she will live or not. But let me ask you: do you want her to revive?”
It’s a hard question. If she doesn’t revive, she will be dead and gone, my only child. But if she does, she will share our curse and live forever without hope of release. “I don’t know,” I say finally. “You won’t tell me?”
“No. Just wait.”
Terc is the best friend I have. The best, more infuriating, logical person I know. I sit by the couch and take Theresa’s cold hand in mine. Terc brings me a cup of tea and sits down by me. And together, we wait.
I don’t usually do this, but if you made it this far, I’m curious what you thought of the ending. I know some people hate stories that leave the reader hanging. Personally, I like them and it seemed to fit this story. However, if you give me enough hate and abuse, I can write an alternate ending.