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The Poisoner’s Future

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.

The previous chapters are The Poison Shop, The Poisoned Child, The Poisoner, and The Poisoned Mind. This one is slightly longer than the others, but I hope you enjoy it.

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.

earthquake

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.

“I know.”

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.

THE END

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.

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The Poisoned Mind

This is a continuing story. The previous chapters are The Poison Shop, The Poisoned Child and The Poisoner.

For those of us who cannot die, there is no greater horror than the thought of being unbodied. Our bodies do not age and they will not die naturally, but they are not indestructible. When we first arrived in this world, perhaps even before humans began counting years, we soon discovered that time had became our prison.

There was a woman then named Nelin who could not bear the idea of this eternal confinement. After several years here, she walked into the fire one day and we looked into her eyes, and she back at us, as her body was consumed. But still, she did not die. We heard her anguished cried for years afterwards with that sense that we later discovered humans did not share. Some had the talent to speak with her and learn the ultimate horror of her new state: undying but rendered impotent by being robbed of her body. Now we know that, no matter how much we tire of this earthly form, it is better than the alternative.

And that is why the man named Ram is trying to kill my daughter, Theresa. Because of that and a rabbit hole.

“What is a rabbit hole?” Theresa asks me. I am sitting with her in Terc’s library, trying to explain why Ram—the man she knows as Mr. Rudolph—may be trying to kill her.

“Your mother was human, so you can sleep,” I say, “but Terc and Ram and I and those like us, cannot. Sometimes we drink poison to die for a few moments, and if we go deep enough, we sometimes see flashes of the future. We call them rabbit holes, because if you pursue them, you can go and go until you do not know what is what. The man known as Ram had a vision that a woman would kill him, or at least unbody him. He has been trying to find that woman for almost a century.”

“But I am only a girl,” she says and for a moment, even her eyes look it. “And why would I want to kill him, or unbody him, as you say?”

“I do not know, but I know that he thinks of nothing else except this idea. If he has been visiting you, then he must think you are involved.”

“What now?”

“Sanctuary.”

Terc is my dear friend, but she will not suffer my daughter by another woman to stay in her library, her sanctum, so we go to a hotel and Theresa whiles away the hours and days immersed in the plastic world of TV. I begin to itch for the poison shop, but I do not dare leave her alone for long. Finally, I slip out while she is sleeping. I just need to die for a few hours.

bar - dark

“Nightclaw,” I say, ordering the poison and getting it and a syringe. I sit at a table and am about to inject myself, when a figure slips in next to me. It is Ram.

A pain runs through me as if I have already injected the poison. He looks the same as the last time I saw him, 83 years before, but his eyes are those of a hunting beast now. They bear down on me and I ready the needle to stab, if necessary.

“Nightclaw,” he says, with a small sneer of disdain. “I’m surprised you still trifle with the weak stuff.”

“I tried Talon-4 last time,” I said. His expression changes to reluctant respect.

“It seems your body survived the experience. No rigor mortis or decomposition?”

“I saw something. A rabbit hole.” The muscles in his face spasm and clench. The banter drains away, leaving gaunt hatred.

“Where is she?” he says, almost spitting. “I do not know how you found her, but the nuns at the orphanage described you as the one who took her.”

“How is it you found her?” I ask. “She is my daughter, I know now. She will not hurt you, I swear. Why do you pursue her?”

He reaches over and grasps the syringe and for a moment, I think he will stab me. But instead, he squirts a little poison on his finger and licks it with a spasmodic shudder.

“I saw her in my vision,” he says. “It was her who pushed me into the blazing inferno. Her face was the last thing I saw before my body was consumed.” He reaches for the syringe again, but I pull it away.

“Stop this madness,” I say. “You know what Rami says, that following a rabbit hole could lead to it coming true, when ignoring it may stop it.”

“Could! May!” He spits out the words. “That is easy to say when I am tormented every moment but that vision of her face. I will never have peace until she is dead.”

“She may not be able to die at all,” I say. “She is half like us and already over two centuries old. Would you unbody an innocent soul for your own peace of mind?”

The answer is shouting from his eyes and in a moment of clarity, I act. I stab the syringe of fatal fluid into his neck, plunging it deep. He claws at it, but by the time it is out, it is already working on his system. In less than a minute, he collapses, dead.

I have several hours before he revives. I cannot unbody him; that is too cruel, but I must contain him. Terc would know how. I will ask her.

(to be continued)


The Poisoner

This is a continuing story but I have tried to write it as a stand-alone as well. The previous chapters are The Poison Shop and The Poisoned Child.

There are less than fifty of us who cursed with the inability to die. Less than fifty who came from that other place, so long ago that it seems like a dream. Some, like the Poison Shop keeper, I hold a casual acquaintance with. Most I never see. Only Terc is my friend and she wears her books like armor.

iron fenceI am standing in the yard of St. Benedict of Nursia’s Home for Orphaned Children. The children are playing but I am watching only one. It is Theresa that I saw in my death vision, the poison-induced state that is the closest I have to sleep. She is also my daughter, I now know.

Mother Cecilia is leading her towards me, as I have requested. The girl’s eyes are deep and solemn and hint at her long life as her body does not.

“Do you like it here?” I ask Theresa, after we have been introduced and are alone. Mother Cecilia has agreed to this request of mine, but still, she watches us intently from across the court.

Theresa does not answer, simply looks into my eyes as if trying to unlock their secrets. “Are your teachers good to you?” Still no answer. “Do you have any friends?”

“Sometimes,” she says at last. “But always they leave and I stay. When prospective parents come with interest in adoption, the sisters hide me away.” She speaks slowly and with diction that shows she is no pre-adolescent. “If I ask why, they say that this is my home. ‘Many sisters and brothers and even a Mother’ they say.”

“But no father,” I say. “I came today only for you. Would you like to come home, to be my daughter?”

Her face flickers between apprehension and wild, unforeseen hope, like a candle flame caught between opposing breezes. “But I don’t know who you are,” she says at last.

“I am your real father,” I say. My fanciful, believable lies are not crafted for family, and quickly I tell her as much of the truth as time allows. I tell about how I met her mother Harriet Velmann almost 250 years before, in a fit of wild, despairing abandon. I tell about myself and Terc and the others of our cursed race who came from afar and found ourselves trapped by time and immortality. “Now you know me far better than most,” I say finally. “Will you come with me, or do you wish to stay?”

In answer, she reaches out and takes my hand.

Adoption, it turns out, is a complex process that requires almost as much time and money as it does patience. Time and money I have without measure, but patience, very little. So I speak long and earnestly with Mother Cecilia and at the end, Theresa and I walk out the gates together.

“How did you convince her to let me go?” Theresa asks as we walk to my car.

“It is a gift, I suppose.”

“Mr. Rudolph does similar things, when he comes to visit me.”

“Who is he?”

“He comes to talk and bring me things. He is a strange, dark man who talks of pain and death a lot. But I cannot complain: until you came, he was my only visitor.”

I try not to show the alarm that I feel at her words, especially when I think back to my vision of her lying dead and poisoned on the floor of the orphanage. I wonder now if Theresa, being half-human, could be killed by normal means.

“Describe Mr. Rudolph to me,” I say. She does, in great detail, and before she is finished, I know for certain who she is speaking of. I hide my fear and drive straight to Terc’s library.

Piled books

“This is my daughter, Theresa,” I tell Terc when we are standing in her presence. “It was her that I saw in my vision.”

“I see,” Terc says. “Welcome.” She smiles but I know her well enough to see the deep disdain lurking behind her false-warm smile. “Do you like to read?” she asks Theresa. The other nods. “Come side down and read a while.” She leads Theresa off to a corner and finds her some books to lose herself in.

“And when were you busy making her?” Terc asks when she returns. Her intonation is tinged with acid.

“Centuries ago,” I say. “I was close to madness after you— we— I found a human woman for a while.”

“I see.” No mollification.

“Terc, there is something more pressing. Theresa mentioned a man visiting her, calling himself Mr. Rudolph. It is Ram, I know it, but what his interest is in her, I do not know. I have not seen him in almost a century, ever since he embarked on his obsessive quest regarding his vision.”

“Could it be her?” Terc asks. “The one Ram has been searching for? You said that in your vision, you saw Theresa poisoned and dead. In Ram’s vision, a woman kills him. If he thinks it is Theresa, he may be trying to kill her first.”

How would he know about her, I wonder. But no, it does not matter. “That may be,” I say. “If so, I must find him and stop him.”

“Ram never gives up,” Terc says, “and if he thinks that Theresa is going to destroy his body in the future, leaving him alive and unbodied, then he will never give up searching for her. He will find you.”

 

(to be continued)

 


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