Friday, November 25, 2016

Death runs from Me

Personal diary entry. Dr. James Slater.
 
The subject known as Smith was a healthy fit and tone young man of about twenty years of age. Mr. Smith first came to see me a 6 days ago. He was agitated and under extreme duress. Refusing a mild sedative, he demanded he be given a complete check up, including some procedures not normally associated with a routine physical examination. When he returned to my office yesterday I had the results of those tests. And Smith had a most unusual tale to tell. I will try to retell it as I remember it to the best of my ability.

“It’s good to see you again. Please, sit down,” I said as Mr. Smith entered his office.

“Thank you, Doctor.” replied Smith.

“How are you feeling? You seem more relaxed today,” I asked.

His gaze passed through me. It was his one striking feature: his eyes, black and dull. Even as I think about them now I am filled with an unexplained feeling. Hollow and empty, his eyes were those of a corpse. Some call them doll eyes.

“Yes, Doctor, better, calmer. For now. The tests. Do you have the results?” Smith asked.

“I do, As I suspected and told you, they show nothing out of the ordinary. There is nothing physically wrong with you. Your healthy as a horse,” I replied.

He looked up at me sheepishly, as if afraid to ask. “Tell me Doctor, please.”
Given in I said, “Very well, your vitals are fine. Heart rate, pulse, blood pressure and respiration… all fine. Blood work came back negative, as did toxins and other samples. The only thing which stands out is that your vitals are slightly elevated; stronger than normal. This is certainly no cause for alarm. It just shows you exercise regularly.”

His voice turned anxious. “Go on…”

I continued, “Your reflexes and motor skills scored better than average; eye sight is remarkable. And I have never seen muscle tissue or bone as dense as yours.”

“And the rest…?” With the question Smith once again became agitated. I was struck with the feeling he knew the results before I gave them.
“Well, brain activity and function did test elevated, but normal. You can rest assured you are strong; healthy. I wouldn’t be surprised if you lived to be a hundred!”

With that Smith began to fidget nervously. My words, which certainly should have assuaged any fears, seemed rather to trouble him. He looked at me intently, those dark eyes studying, piercing. Finally Smith reached into his pocket, withdrew a photograph, and presented it to me. It was the picture of a man with graying hair and other signs of aging.

“How old would you say he is?” Smith asked.

“Oh, perhaps forty five, I guess.” It was then I realized the figure in the picture possessed the same chilling, dark, dead eyes. “Is this your father, or uncle?”

Smith tensed in his seat. His mouth pursed, and then slightly curled in what I can only describe as a failed attempt to smile and said. “No… no, Doctor. It is not. The man in the picture is me.”

While his words were delusional, Smith’s posture remained alert, attentive. “You do realize the person in this picture, however does bearing a striking resemblance to you, is atleast twice your age.”

This time the smile broke through the stoic demeanor. It was a half crooked I’ve got a secret sort of smile. Combined with those hollow, dead eyes it was a look I shall never forget.

“But it is me, Doctor,” he began calmly, with an icy detachment of fact. “This is what I look like when I, if I.”

He paused looking at his hands.

We sat for an indeterminable, uncomfortable time studying each other. Finally Smith seemed to make up his mind and said. “It’s the curse you know. The curse.”

I asked calmly so I wouldn‘t upset him further. “Perhaps you should tell me about this curse.”

He arose slowly, his hands finding the bottom of his pants pockets, and wandered over to the window.

And so began Smith’s strange tale with a large breath. “War,” he said at last, “war is the curse Doctor. War. Killing from the moment Cain killed, man has been marked. Marked with the blood of Abel, and cursed with the thirst to make war; to kill his fellow man. It’s as normal as breathing. There will always be wars, Doctor. And there will always be young men to fight them.”

Those empty, hollow eyes glazed over, turning inward, seeing, remembering.

“I was a corporal in the cavalry,” he continued. “We’d been engaging the enemy all day long, pointless hit and run skirmishes that killed and maimed men and gain nothing. Ironically, it was the day of my birthday. By late afternoon everyone was exhausted, the fighting scattered over quarter mile of rough uneven ground. A shell landed just to my left, knocking me unconscious. When I woke, it was dark. I was alone, the battle had moved on.
 
“Slowly, cautiously I began to make my way through the unfamiliar enemy terrain with a half empty canteen and my pistol. Thankfully it was a clear cool night. I knew we held the north, so that is the way I went according to the stars. After a time, I became aware of something in the woods. It seemed to be following me, marking my progress, moving as I did.
“I turned. Suddenly, there was a flash of metal in the moonlight. Leveling my pistol, I fired twice. A figure stumbled from the brush and collapsed.
Mr Smith seem to freeze. Like reliving the story he was telling. With a deep breath he continued. “I approached my victim. To my horror he was just a boy, eleven, maybe twelve years old. And he was unarmed. Clutched in his fingers was a old crucifix. It was the metal cross that I had mistaken for a weapon.”

“I knelt beside the lad, struck by my detestable deed. Then, without warning, his eyes flew open wide! Clutching at my shirt, his mouth contorted into a soul searing scream. He thrust the damnable silver cross into my hands. And then.”

Beads of perspiration dotted Smith’s forehead. He trembled and began to pace. “Then an incredible expression, one of total and unimaginable peace settled over him. He died quietly in my arms. It was then and there I knew I was cursed; that I would never again find peace.”

It became obvious to me that Smith was suffering from some sort of severe post traumatic stress. The cause of his stress seemed obvious. “It is not unusual,” I suggested, “for a young man as you to have lingering feelings of guilt about tragic events in their lives.”

Smith turned suddenly, his face now ablaze with the most insipid grin. He laughed aloud. “Young man, young man, HA! But you don’t understand, Doctor. I wasn’t a young man. I was thirty five years old! And the year was sixty-four… eighteen sixty-four! I was a Corporal in Hamilton P. Bee 16th Texas Cavalry. It was the Battle of Monett's Ferry, Louisiana, what became known as our own Civil War!”

He laughed again, the terrifying baying of a mad man. And yet, it became evident that he believed what he was saying.

Closing his eyes and looking down Mr. Smith continued, “You said it yourself, Doctor. You said you wouldn’t be surprised if I lived to be one hundred! If only that were true! If only that was where it ended. But no… not at all. After the war I returned home. Things settled into a comfortable routine. The war was all but forgotten. Then, on my sixtieth birthday it began to happen. The changes were slow, subtle. It was my wife who was the first to notice. But within ten years it was quite obvious. I was aging, but aging backwards. I was growing younger! My grey hair gave way to its natural dark color and was growing again where it had stopped years before. My skin seemed to shrink, smoothing itself over my body, erasing the wrinkles of time. Old scars healed and disappeared. Even my eyes grew stronger; I quit wearing my glasses. And I began to feel as I did in my twenties: strong, healthy and alive again. And young! My God, I was. I was young again. A young man of twenty!”

This time Smith’s laugh was grim; bitter. HA. “Providence has its price, Doctor. On the day of my sixty ninth birthday I awoke to find myself once again in uniform. I was a new man, a different man, but with a familiar role to play in life’s fickle game. All that remained of my former life was this." Reaching into his shirt, Smith tore a metal crucifix and chain from around his neck, flinging it to the floor.

“This cursed cross. Before I had a chance for my mind to clear of what was happening I was charging up San Juan Hill with Teddy Roosevelt and his Riders. I was twenty again Doctor. I was twenty and once again fighting a war; again slay my fellow man! Returning to the states, I tried to make some sense of this maleficent manifestation. I had a new identity, a new beginning, a fresh start at life. At first I thought myself blessed.”

“How wrong can one person be? How very, very wrong. I was not blessed at all but cursed. About the time of what would have been my eighty-fifth year, although I carried the looks and constitution of a man but thirty-five, I began to regress again, to age backwards. This time the process progressed with amazing rapidity. Changes seemed to take place over night. In three short years I was back to being a young man of twenty again! This time on my birthday I awoke huddled in a mud and blood soaked trench near Somme, France. It was the war to end all wars. Only it didn’t, and certainly not for me.”

Smith returned to his seat. A tormented look of determination and that of a man desperately baring his soul shadowed his grim face.

“Life became a nightmarish roller coaster ride. I would live and age as anyone for a time. Then, one morning, there’d be one less grey hair, one less wrinkle staring back at me from the mirror. And I’d know it would be just a matter of time.

“It was my one hundred and thirteenth year on earth. I was forty five again but looked not a day over twenty-one. I awoke, transported in space and time once more, an Ensign aboard the U.S.S. California at Pearl Harbor. That morning the Japanese attacked. I tried abandoning my conspicuous companion, dropping the insidious cross into the ocean; burning it; even burying the damned thing in a graveyard by moonlight. But to no avail. I became a twenty-two year old lieutenant at the Chosin Reservoir in Korea. Next, I awoke in a rice paddy, a nineteen year old corporal caught up in the Tet offensive.

“For a time it seemed I had finally beaten the curse. Ten years slipped by… fifteen… I was aging normally again. But it didn’t last. Soon, I began to once more regress. Next I found myself manning the gun turret of a large desert tank. And then, incredibly, not long after, I was back fighting in another desert war. Each time I awoke to kill, the crucifix hung about my neck. I’ve tried everything to stop the endless cycle. Guns, pills, drowning, trains, even jumping from a building. I just wake up the next day in another body. Even death in battle doesn’t stop it. I just wake up in a new person.”
He slumped into his chair, exhausted from his startling confession. Burying his head in his hands, Smith began to softly weep. It was my duty to help this poor man climb from the depths of his delusional mind. I touched his shoulder.
 
“Well,” I encouraged, “whatever it is that is troubling you, I am sure we can get to the bottom of it.”

“No!” Smith screamed, knocking aside my hand. Looking up, his countenance became that of a man possessed. “No! You don’t understand!” He snatched up the photograph he’d shown me. “This picture. It is me! This is how I was not very long ago. But look at me, Doctor… you said I appear to be around twenty! And tomorrow. tomorrow, Doctor. Is my birthday!”
By now Smith was raving, near violent. With some assistance I was able to administer a strong sedative. I placed him in the private room of the hospital, taking precautions to secure him to his bed. The old crucifix, which appeared to be ancient. I locked in my safe. When I left, Smith was sleeping peacefully.

Arriving at the hospital this morning, I discovered Smith was gone. As we searched the facility I heard on the news that war had once again broken out. Further investigation revealed that the crucifix, too, had mysteriously vanished.

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