WE WERE IMMORTAL, BUT IT WASN'T A BLESSING. My name is John Silver, and I have been John Silver for a while. The only friends I have are old friends. It’s very difficult to find anything to do anymore that seems worthwhile. Yeah, it’s that sort of lifestyle.
..........The room was half lit and felt romantic. I was relaxed, sitting next to the fire, politics in the back of my mind. Beside me was another John, this one John Smith. I had known him since the war of 1812. Good times, save for the burning of the White House, then known as the executive mansion. Back then we were both young, both unaware that we would live forever, and we thought that there was so much to live for. At that point America’s independence was permanently established and we thought we could put our guns down forever. Since then, we fought in the Civil War and both the World Wars. Who knew?
..........Smith turned over in the couch. I swear he had been sleeping for well over 24 hours. It was the best he could do when he wasn’t allowed to die. By the time the Vietnam War rolled around, the nation seemed to follow him and lost the will to fight. I disagreed with him. The spirit was still in me. I fought one last war. Since then recruitment has become stricter and I haven’t been able to create a fake identity as well, so I’ve stopped. I wish I hadn’t. Now that I’ve got out of the flow of things it’s hard to get back in. So now I’m here on the same couch with Smith.
..........This is the French Retreat. In spite of the name, there’s nothing French about it, and it’s set up in the beautiful hills of Montana. To translate the name from Humor to Plain English, it means “the place where we retreat forever”, which the history of French warfare seemed to describe aptly. This was where immortal people retired. Few people ever stumbled upon it, which was good for us. For the few outsiders that knew of the retreat’s physical existence, they just assumed that we were a secret society and were okay with any weird stories that surrounded the place.
..........I didn’t know if I liked it here. It was quiet, certainly good for rest. The view was good. The architecture was beautiful, designed by a Chinese architect from the first century, who over the course of his life knew a few tricks. The lounge, well, I just about lived in the lounge. Nothing happened anymore.
Smith began to snore.
..........“Wake up,” I said.
..........I reached into the fireplace and grabbed a fistful of red embers. I sprinkled them on his face. He sniffed and began to spasm. Some of the ashes fell off of his face and onto the leather couch, and I had to divert my attention to brushing those off. No damage was done, thank goodness.
Smith slipped off the couch and got on all fours. He looked like he was about to throw up, sounded like it too. “Sore,” he said.
..........“That’s what you get for sleeping for twenty-four hours straight,” I said.
..........“Hey, it didn’t feel so bad while I was asleep,” he said, still on all fours.
..........“Shave up, buddy,” I said. “I’m getting sick and tired of you sleeping. We’re going out. We’re doing something.”
..........He up looked at me. “No,” he said.
..........A wild howl brewed up from the bottom of my throat. I let it out, and with a burst of energy I kicked the wall. Smith didn’t care. There were only three other people in the lounge. They looked my direction apathetically. There was now a dent in the wall. When you were immortal, you didn’t care. Anger meant nothing. It didn’t threaten anyone here.
..........“No? What do you mean, ‘No’?”
..........“I said ‘No’ and I meant ‘No’ and ‘No’ is ‘no’ is ‘no’,” he said.
..........I picked him up and dragged him across the floor, out of the lounge, down the staircase, to the main level, and through the front door into the snow where I began kicking him. He put up no resistance. Eventually I wore out after three hours. My breath was still with me, but the energy to hurt him had subsided. Energy always subsides with enough time.
..........Smith made his way onto his own two feet and stretched his back. “For what it’s worth, I’m not sore anymore,” he said. He repositioned his shoulder and it snapped into place. “I’ll see you inside once you get over this phase of yours.”
..........He began to make his way past me, but I grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and punched him in the face, so hard that I broke his beck. I propped his skull back in place just so he would heal and I could break his neck again. He remained apathetic.
..........“You weren’t always like this,” I said.
..........“That’s what you told me back at ‘Nam,” he said.
..........“I was friends with you because you were somebody. Look at you! Now you’re nobody,” I said. “You’re nothing but a back of bones. You haven’t gone insane yet. I know you’re still yourself. I’ve known you for way too long to just give up on you.”
..........“There’s nothing left of me to believe in,” said Smith.
..........“At least carry some semblance of the person I knew,” I said. “I’m talking to a blob who sits on the couch all day like someone just barely making his way through a hangover. If I’m going to sit around and do nothing with you for the rest of eternity, I might as well do nothing with someone who has a personality. At this point, there isn’t really anything likeable about you.”
..........“What’s the point to likeability, anyway?” said Smith. “It’s just something we invent based upon our judgments on what’s worthwhile and what’s not. I’m pretty sure that you don’t have a personality yourself once you get down to it. It’s something you try hard to create and you fall back on it out of sheer habit. I don’t know about you, but I think I’m being truer to humanity than anyone else, because I’ve reverted back to my purest form, the personality of an unborn bundle of joy. All the personality I need it the occasional kick while sleeping. So there.”
..........I let him go. I wanted to punch him again, or send him flying through the glass front of the building, but it would do no good. He would just heal over, get over it, and continue to not care. We walked back inside. He returned to the lounge, where I presume he continued to sleep. I made my way down to my room and packed my stuff, then went to his room. The door was unlocked. Nobody locked their doors here. When I returned to the lounge I stopped by the only other people there. They looked at me. They saw that I was dressed up. They saw that I was carrying John Smith’s old tuxedo in its bag.
..........“Is anyone here willing to go out? This place is nice. It feels like home. But it’s not where I want to stay a hundred percent of the time, so pardon me if I’m disturbing the peace.”
..........My other friend, Joe Schmoe, stood up and straightened out his shirt. “That tux is a little outdated. If you two go out, you’re going to need to go shopping.”
I scratched my head and looked over to the couch next to the fire where Smith had returned. “Hey, Smith, do you mind if I throw this into the fire?”
..........“Go ahead,” he said.
..........“No really, I’m going to do it,” I said.
..........“I don’t care,” he said.
..........I paused and looked at Joe, eyebrows raised. “Okay.” I walked over to the fireplace and threw the old suit in. A pity, since it was an antique. I could have made good money off of it by selling it to a collector, but no. I considered going downstairs and getting his Civil War uniform, but decided against it mostly because it would be too difficult to get rid of such a valuable item. I walked back over to Joe and put my hand on his shoulder. “Well, I guess I can count on you.”
..........“Glad you have some sense, so offense to anyone here,” said Joe. He was like me, also a remnant from the eighteenth century. The main difference was that he seemed better at getting past modern identity checks and applied for different branches of the military every twenty years. Still, he had to be careful, and he had only been an officer once, and even then he only rose to the rank of captain by the end of his twenty years. He was still out there and doing things. “Just to make sure, though, are you really getting back into the swing of things or are you just saying this to vent?”
..........“No, I mean it this time,” I said, even though that was what I said the last time. But I was sure, I was positively sure, that this time I would actually leave the front door and walk all the way to town. I looked at the other two people at the table. One was Uta-Napishti, perhaps the oldest person I had ever met. The other was Mary Sue, who seemed to be mulling things over.
..........“My vacation’s only so long, so we’d better hurry,” said Joe. “It’s glad to have someone come with, for once.” He reached out and shook my hand, then excitedly ran out to the balcony and down the staircase, where he hit the ground and ran off in the direction of his cabin.
..........Now that it was official, I knew I had to pack, so I headed downstairs. I didn’t pack a whole lot, mainly just clothes and my special razor that I used to shave my indestructible stubble. Anything else I could either get from Joe or from a store. Money wasn’t an issue for me.
..........When I got to the front door I expected Joe to be waiting for me, but he wasn’t. I guess he had more to pack. Well, I was over two hundred years old. A little wait never hurt anyone.
..........After a few minutes I heard the front door open behind me. Footsteps crunching through the snow, and then the physical presence of a friend by my side. It was Mary Sue. She had a coat on a bag of her own.
..........“Hey,” she said. “I thought I would get some fresh air, too.”
..........I nodded, and then put my hands in my pockets, which was in stark contrast to the way she held her arms around herself. “Do you need another coat?” I asked. She was immortal purely by the virtue of not aging. There were no healing powers or indestructibility to ease her comfort out here.
..........She nodded, so I dug out my leather jacket and draped it around her shoulders.
..........“Do you have any idea what you’re going to do?” she asked.
..........“No,” I said. The wind blew at my hair. I looked out at the elements, wondering what they had in store for me, wondering where on the horizon I belonged.
..........“Well I can’t very well just return to life as a soldier, so no,” I said.
..........We waited in silence for a few more beats, and then Joe showed up with a large assortment of bags. “Mary, glad to see someone else is coming with. I’ve never known you outside of the French Retreat.”
..........She pulled up her hood. “Thanks.”
..........“Hey, guys, can you do me a favor and help me load this stuff into my SUV?”
..........We agreed. It didn’t take too much time. There was a bit of bragging going on over who could pack better. Joe and I maintained that as longtime soldiers we were the best packers ever. Mary Sue said that was nothing compared to her old-time womanly values. Being gentleman, we let her take the credit for the neatness of the packing. It was all a bit trivial, but it seemed to satisfy her a great deal. Joe started the SUV and I called shotgun.
..........“Where are we going?” I asked.
..........Joe backed up. “I don’t know. Pull out the map.”
..........I checked the map in the glove compartment and unfolded it, always a messy endeavor. “Someplace sunny, I’m thinking. Maybe California. What about Mexico?”
..........“No, wait, give me that!” said Mary Sue. She wrestled the map from me. “Those are terrible choices. If we’re going to go anywhere, I’m going to call the shots, because you’re driving and you called shotgun,” she said to Joe and me. “Alright, I like the looks of here.” She punched her finger onto the surface of the map and showed the location to Joe.
..........“Do you have any idea where you just pointed to?” he asked, shifting into forward gear.