Life. It’s pretty predictable, isn’t it? Most of us will grow up, marry, have children of our own, buy a house or two, and possibly divorce just to start the process all over again. We obsess over meaningless materialistic items, pick petty fights, and try to kid ourselves that this is what it is all about as we march toward the only thing guaranteed in life – death.
At least for the majority of us, death is a timely guarantee. A promise of a well earned eternal rest.
What I would give to have it back again.
I was twenty-one years old when I met her. I was at my home town’s county fair, enjoying the bad carnival food and going on far too many rides to count when I spotted a little stall, just hidden out of sight, but still asking to be seen. I saw it when I was on the Ferris wheel and instantly the name of the stall grabbed me – Gerty’s Good’s – with a skull in place of the ‘O’s’ on the sign. Intrigued, I made my way through the crowd to the stall, where a woman who introduced herself as Gerty greeted me. She looked to be about fifty in age, and she had a warmth to her I couldn’t quite put my finger on. She had a table laden with all kinds of hocus pocus on display– spells, potions and other items I had heard of, some I hadn’t. One item caught my eye. It was a small blue bottle and the hand-written label read ‘Life Eternal’. When I picked it up, the liquid inside the bottle seemed to glow an enticing blue. I was mesmerised.
Gerty instantly made a beeline for me when she saw me with the bottle.
“Oh, you are in luck my dear,” she beamed at me, “the potion likes you.”
I looked at her, puzzled, “Likes me?” I asked, “It’s liquid, how on earth could it like me?” With that, I laughed and put the glowing bottle down. A lady who had been pretending not to eavesdrop instantly picked it up and held it in her hands. Nothing. All she got was blue glass, with not even a hint of a glow. Her cheeks quickly flushing red with embarrassment, the lady put the bottle down and left the stall. Turning to me, Gerty smiled, “See? The potion likes you. It has chosen you.” With that, she grabbed the bottle off the table and placed it in my hands, the glass silently glimmering. I was confused. How could a potion choose me? It just didn’t make sense.
Seeing my confusion, Gerty continued, “This potion is the gift of eternal youth. It’s a powerful spell. Drink this and you shall never age”.
I stared at the woman selling me this ‘magic potion’ for a minute and laughed. After composing myself, I asked, “You seriously expect me to believe this? That I will never age if I drink this? Lady, I’m sorry, but you have got to be kidding me.”
With that, I put the bottle back on the table and looked down at my watch for the time, as I didn’t want to be out too late. Reaching for the drink I had left on the table whilst browsing Gerty’s stall, I absent-mindedly took a big sip. The taste hit me straight away – this was not the sweet lemonade I was drinking before; this was different. It had an overwhelming sour taste to it and when I took a proper look at the cup, I could see the liquid was glowing. Dropping it in horror, I turned to Gerty, who was now looking at me expectantly.
“What did you do? What did you put in my drink?” I demanded.
“I told you,” she shrugged, “the potion chose you.”
“How dare you!” I exclaimed, “I’m getting security! I’m getting the police!”
“Do that,” Gerty replied, “what do I care? I did as the potion demanded. You now have the gift of eternal life. You shall remain your age for a thousand years. Death can’t reach you until you do your time. Can you imagine? Never growing old. You will never have to worry about wrinkles, grey hair, losing your wits. This potion is the secret to never having to worry about any of it and this gift of eternal youth has chosen you. You will not age past this present day. Use your years wisely.”
Furious, I spun around on my heels and stormed off into the crowd, looking for some kind of authority figure. After some time, I finally found a security guard trying his best to win a stuffed bear on a shooting range game and dragged him back to where Gerty’s stall had been, only to find it gone. An empty spot marked the place where her stall had been and apart from a few holes in the ground from tent pegs, it was almost like she was never there. The security officer looked at me like I was mad and left me there staring at the ground thinking the same thing.
My life went on after this encounter and I just chalked Gerty up to being a whack job, preying on the naïve, with a penchant for spiking the occasional carnival goer’s drink. The mystery ‘un-chosen’ shopper was in on the act, trying to help with any sales. I concluded Gerty was your typical con-artist. I was just happy I didn’t hand over any money.
In time, I married, had a few children and lived a normal life. It wasn’t until my fortieth birthday that I realized something was not right. My husband, who was only a few months older than me, was aging appropriately, while I still looked twenty-one. I had not changed one bit. I’ll admit I was in denial during my late thirties about my lack of aging, with the thought that the potion actually worked still too ridiculous to entertain, so I just put my youthful looks down to good genes. And that’s what I told people, especially envious friends and co-workers; it’s all in the genetics. That little lie was what I forced myself to believe for so long.
Until I could ignore the truth no more; I could not age. I would not turn a year older than my current age of twenty-one. The potion worked.
I had to leave my first husband shortly after that birthday. I was being asked too many questions, given too many sideways glances. I was running out of lies. Of course, the introduction of plastic surgery, Botox and fillers helped back up my lies, but that excuse could only hold out for so long. Wrinkles are like taxes – sooner or later they will catch up with you. So I fled to another town to start a new life with a new name. It killed me to leave my children, but if the truth of what I was came out, I would be hunted down for being different, for being a freak of nature. I was unnatural. My secret could never be revealed. So to protect my family, and myself, I left. I’d rather be thought of the woman who left her family for an affair, or just had enough and shot through in the middle of the night than be known for what I am. It’s safer for everyone this way.
So, this is my life now.
I have seen wars, famines, periods of depression and more natural disasters than I care to remember. I have watched humanity nearly wipe themselves from the face of the earth. I have witnessed a cyber war so fierce we had to start again with technology. I have witnessed some wonderful, historical highs and some gut-wrenching lows.
I have remarried and gone onto have more children, several times over. I have been widowed many times and have experienced the heartbreak of losing a child. I have learned that I can hang around unnoticed until the age of forty or so, after that, questions get asked. My heart breaks a little more each time I have to flee, but it must be done. I leave in the dark and set up a new life with a new persona in an out of the way town. I’ve changed my looks countless times, with the help of hair dye and eye contacts, but every now and then I will see a ‘Missing Persons’ poster with my picture on it. I move on quickly after that. I’ve started to prefer being on my own, so I steer clear of relationships or friendships. It’s easier that way. I keep to myself and I cause no trouble. I take on mundane jobs, mainly casual work. Jobs I can leave in a hurry. All in all, I am unremarkable.
And to survive, that’s what I need to be.
I was treating myself to a drink one lonely Saturday night in a bar off the beaten track when she walked in. Gerty. Of course, she didn’t look a day older than the night I met her at the county fair. Spotting me from the bar, she ordered two beers and walked over to my booth, sliding in the seat opposite me and handing me a beer in the same motion.
“Hello stranger,” she half smiled, “how are things? It’s been a while.” She took a sip of her beer.
“I’ll say,” I snarled back at her, “it’s been what? Around five hundred years?”
I played with the label on my beer bottle, letting the silence hang between us for a few minutes before continuing.
“I have to know Gerty, why me? Why did you have to choose me?” I asked. Glancing up from the coaster she was tapping on the table, Gerty looked at me for a minute, “I told you that night. The potion chose you. It had to be you. You think I’d wish this on anyone myself?” she threw her hands up around her ears for dramatic effect, “I would never inflict this on anyone. Never.” Taking a sip of my beer, I held her stare, unsure if I believed her or not, “So tell me then, how did you come to be in possession of this potion?”
Gerty sighed, “Honestly, I don’t know. My story is no different than yours really. I was at a fair, just like you, when I came across a lady selling spells. I was desperately in love with a man who didn’t even know I existed, and as I had just turned fifty, I was starting to worry about being on my own. I was talking to the lady about a love spell when next thing you know she thrust a blue bottle in my hand. It glowed when I held it. She told me to drink it, that it held eternal youth. Stupidly I drank it. I just thought it would maybe give me a bit of a lift, make me appear more youthful maybe. Only after I drank it did she reveal the horrible truth, and the fact that I now had to find another to pass the spell onto. She gave me another bottle and told me I had to do just as she did, find another for the spell to choose, otherwise I would live forever. When another had been chosen, my lifespan would only be one thousand years.” She scoffed at the word ‘only’.
“Of course, I didn’t believe it at first, “ she continued, “but when friends started passing away, some aged in their seventies or eighties, and I still looked like I do now, I realised she was right. Desperate to break the eternal curse, I set out to do what was done to me. I had to. I started up a small stall and went from town to town, fair to fair, using the guise of selling spells and crystals to find the spell’s ‘chosen one’, placing the blue bottle in hands of women and men far and wide, waiting for that glow. That’s when you came along. But you wouldn’t take it and I knew you weren’t going to drink it. So I had to slip the potion into your drink when you weren’t looking. I’m sorry I did that to you, but you now see why I had to do it, right? I was desperate and I couldn’t let you leave without drinking it. It took so long for the spell to find you.”
I let out a breath I didn’t even realise I had been holding and looked up at her. I felt sorry for her. I felt sorry for me. We were both thrust into a reality that none of us had chosen. We had to accept it. We had no choice.
“How are you holding up?” she finally asked, smiling wearily at me.
“Exhausted. I am just exhausted”, I replied, motioning to the bar for another round.
“I hear that”, Gerty responded, thanking the barmaid as she placed two fresh bottles of beer in front of us.
“How long have you got to go?” I asked.
“Four hundred and fifty years, give or take. You?” she replied.
“Five hundred. Not that I’m counting,” I smiled back.
With that, Gerty raised her beer in a toast, “Here’s to the remaining thousand years. May they fly by!” she proclaimed.
“The remaining years,” I cheer, clinking my beer bottle on hers, “May they fly by. We beg of you, please let them fly by.”
Sipping our beers, we looked at each other in silence.
“So, what are you up to tomorrow? Because I was wondering, if you have the time, of course, there’s a county fair on. It could be fun,” Gerty asked, hopeful.
“Sure,” I answered smiling, “Sounds like fun. And yes, I think I have the time. In fact, all we have is time.”
Belinda is a lifelong fan of words and has finally turned her hand to writing them. She simply adores all things spooky (the spookier the better) and has been known to enjoy the company of cats over people. She is always up for a laugh, especially if drinks are present, and lives in Australia with her husband, two children and a cat…..or two.