A short story
by Chris Hibbard
* * *
“It is so stupid of modern civilization to have stopped believing in the devil when he is the only explanation of it.”
– Robert Knox
I sit here at my desk writing my final public letter for there comes a time in every man’s life when he must take time to reflect on his experiences.
I have kept many secrets from you, whoever you are reading this, and from the world. Of these secrets, I never regretted a single one. Until recently, when I woke up to a very peculiar day. But like any good story, it all starts at the beginning.
* * *
I have led quite the remarkable life, if I do say so myself, and I do. My accomplishments many of you may recall, for they include the returning of our society to the language of the old ways; the patenting and distributing the technology for human cloning; and many of the genetic selection devices we now consider so indispensable. Of all my inventions and discoveries, my personal favourite would have to be the first successful cross-breeding between species, which produced my loving pet Arthur.
Arthur is, as you might recall, a gentle cross between dog, cat, and weasel for which I have great affection. Most famous of all my inventions however, is likely my first and most popular invention – The Pill. I have much to relate to you before we get to The Pill though, and so must try not to get ahead of myself.
* * *
At a very young age, I was paid a visit by the Devil himself. Lucifer, Beelzebub, Satan, Baal, Abaddon, call him what you will. I was so young and naïve that I knew nothing of this world, for in fact I still remained in my mother’s womb. I recount this not from memory, but from simple and logical backwards-looking deduction.
Being the Trickster that he is, the Devil offered me something in exchange for my mortal soul; as he is known to do from time to time. In what was surely an attempt to deceive me, he offered me anything that I desired. Naïve and unknowing of worldly things as I was, it is no surprise that I chose what I did, and lucky I was as well.
This visit with the Devil was my first experience, my first worldly knowledge of anything at all. Before he left me alone in the womb on that fateful day, I heard him say, “Catch ‘em when they’re young, I always say,” before he laughed and dissipated. Even the Devil has a sense of humour. I realize that this may sound silly, but it should not be taken lightly. With 11,000 babies born into the world every day, he was dead serious – a very hard worker that needs no sleep.
They say that knowledge is a powerful thing, and power is as addictive as any drug or liquor. Oh, how I loved this first knowledge. I loved it so much that I asked for more. Scratch that last – I demanded more! Was willing to give anything for more!
Of course, in these dealings with the Devil, there was the matter of his fee in exchange for my desired end. But as yet having no concept of possession, I gladly offered up the one thing that he wanted and the one thing that was mine: my mortal soul, payable to him upon the expiration of my earthly body. In return, I would receive knowledge. Not just knowledge, mind you, but all knowledge. Everything ever known by all or any would be known by me. With a grin and a wink, I was immediately paid my side of the bargain, and the Trickster was gone.
At once I was bombarded with thoughts, flooded with theories and overwhelmed with every concept, dream and idea. It was startling to be sure, but glorious. Immediately I deduced that I had had enough of the place I was in, and decided that it was time to leave. Pop. I was born a bouncing baby boy at exactly six minutes after six a.m., on the sixth day of June, a Friday as I recall. I was immediately fully aware of my surroundings, my parents, and the doctor who had delivered me. I even knew the names of everyone in her family. Of course, my fleshy casing was as yet undeveloped so communication of my self, my knowledge and my well-being was impossible. I tried to greet everyone in the room, tell them hello, but all I could manage to do was scream.
* * *
I spoke my first word at the age of seven months, substantially earlier than most infants. Of course, knowing all that I did, it was well within my abilities even at four months. I kept silent though, for fear of being sent to scientists to be studied. In retrospect, it was perhaps a lapse in judgment, but I uttered my first word to my mother who has asked me “how baby was doing”. I was hungry, and answered with perfect pronunciation but with almost no thought, “Ravenous”!
If only I could accurately portray in writing the look on my mother’s face. She immediately called for my father, the neighbours, the local newspaper, my doctor, and anyone else she could convince to come see me. They were all vastly disappointed, for with my mother’s look of astonishment, I immediately resolved to keep my mouth shut for the coming months, hoping that my father might attribute my multi-syllabic utterance as mere babble, and convince my mother that she was mistaken. Of course, that is exactly what he did.
My next word, I chose more carefully. Cliché as it was, I said “mama” followed by “dada” two days later, followed by “caca” the next week. Suffice it to say, after hearing the word “ravenous” cross my lips only a few months before, my mother seemed a bit disappointed at these later attempts at speech.
The majority of my childhood was one of silent contemplation; calculation might be a better term. I calculated what I would and would not, could and could not, reveal of my true intelligence. I consistently scored the highest marks in school, despite my intentional flunking of certain tests as to not arouse suspicion. Being all that I was, being that I knew all already, I had no need for study. Instead, I dedicated my time to more novel pursuits, primarily that of invention.
Even now, I say invention in the loosest of context. One of the drawbacks of infinite knowledge is the lack of any truly novel creativity. I could bear no illusion of external original thought. Any thought one might have, has, at any time or any place, by the law of averages, been thought before somewhere else.
Let me emphasize this position clearly. As a model, let us assume that at the present time, there are over eight billion human beings inhabiting this planet. In all, over eleven billion have or still are living on this orbiting blue chunk of mineral rights. Each one of those sorry souls process hundreds, if not thousands, of distinct and individual thoughts each day. With an average life span of 82 years, or 29,930 days, multiplied by a conservative 1000 thoughts per day, this brings the total of all human thought to 2,394,400,000,000,000,000,000, or 5.73315136e34. Whether or not you agree with my calculations is irrelevant. (The actual number is actually somewhat less, 1,000,425,004,330,040,034,367 to be exact, barring overlaps and having taken lunar cycles, leap years and average human sleeping habits into account; but to show this in mathematics would take pages upon pages of more complex computation, which would be utterly unbearable to read.)
My point is this. Once in possession of each of these thoughts, it is quite impossible to have a new one. So when I say that I invent, or rather invented, I therefore only mean that I merely filtered through the masses of past thought, given to me by the Devil himself, and piece together the few novel ideas that benefit my purpose. This process is not unlike that of any inventor, except that I have the unique ability to do so completely mentally, with no books or journals needed.
This brings me to purpose.
My first purpose was, of course, to somehow sidestep or negate the arrangement that I made with the Dark One when I was still unborn. I was well aware that the contract provided for the delivery of my mortal soul upon the demise of this body. I was worried as well, that being the Trickster that he is, the Devil might choose when, where, and how to cause this expiration, expediting the process as it were. But if the body never expired, I would therefore retain ownership of my mortal soul. This was my preferred alternative; the Fires of Hell would likely not be a conducive location to inventing.
So you can imagine my elation when I devised the following plan, a terribly clever plan if I do say so myself. The Devil would at last be outwitted.
At the age of eight, I began research of a formula to counteract the effects and processes associated with aging. I was forced to work in secret of course, and put on the appearance of studying, sketching, or reading accordingly, while all the while I was formulating, researching, and thinking. I hid my work from my parents, my teachers, our family dog, and even my friends. I had so few of these last that it did not matter to them, or to me, anyway.
On a number of occurrences I narrowly escaped detection. One time during a class my teacher snuck up on me so suddenly that I had no time to hide anything. Fortunately, my short hand was so illegible that I was able to pass off my calculations and formulas as being mere doodles. Despite all of these physical, mental and geographical restrictions, I perfected my formula in three weeks. I realized then what I had done. At the age of eight I could not begin using the formula, lest I be trapped in a prepubescent body for all eternity.
Instead, I allowed nature to take its course until the ripe age of 28. I was well into both my physical and mental (not to mention sexual) prime, but I was now old enough to be taken seriously by the scientific and business communities. I decided then, without any more reservation, to begin taking what would soon become known as “The Pill”. Seeing the opportunity to turn a profit, I quickly patented, produced, and distributed The Pill to the public for mass consumption. It quickly became all the rage, at least with those elite few who were both superficial and extremely wealthy.
It also had two unfortunate consequences. The first: it rendered the subject completely, permanently and irreversibly sterile. This did not mean unable to perform sexually by any means, (in fact, it was rumoured to increase libido) but incapable of reproduction and procreation. This seemed to be of small consequence to the ever-growing teems of general public.
The second side effect was one that I was fortunate enough to inherit from the tobacco industry. As it turned out, The Pill was incredibly addictive and understandably so. Over time the human body deteriorates, weakens and becomes brittle and prone to illness. The “Fountain of Youth Pill” as it was initially coined by the advertising industry, changed all this. Once it had been swallowed, to stop taking it meant resuming the slow but painful process of aging.
These rather serious side effects aside, what a remarkable marketing ploy it was! Upon The Pill, I built my fortune.
* * *
There was a small percentage of the population who saw The Pill as either unnatural or immoral or both. These people consisted of the elderly, the religious right, and the paranoid, and were all generally shunned from society and forced to retreat into their homes, from which they rarely ventured to avoid the mockery of their soon-to-be wrinkled skins.
I, however, remained in the body of a 28-year-old man for upwards of 97 years, never aging a day. I know for certain that the Trickster knew of my antics, for every so often I would narrowly avoid being crushed by a falling object, choking to death on a piece of food, or falling quite ill with some rare virus that I would be forced to quickly discover a clever cure for. One can never say that the Devil is not clever – nor should they say he is forgiving.
He would sometimes send his minions after me in plainclothes and disguise to intercept me at the most unlikely times. At one point it became an almost daily occurrence for me to have to do away with an armed attacker, and sometimes dispose of their human shells. I was forced to arm myself for my own protection, and did so with a number of highly effective devices of death. If only Satan’s minions were as clever as he himself, he would surely have met his own demise. Soon enough though, the Devil became fed up with the incompetence of his demons and human puppets, and it was only a matter of time before I was once again paid a visit by Abaddon himself, Lucifer in the flesh, He Who Dwells Below.
* * *
Only a short time ago now, I was lounging in my study with Arthur purring on my lap and a book by my side, watching the final embers of a once-raging fire glow and flicker before they winked out of existence. I had always found great enjoyment watching fire, and I did so quite often. I found every fire to be different from the last; one of few things in life I that I found to be truly unpredictable.
My study is perhaps the most grandiose room in my mansion, and has been published in a number of architectural publications. The high roof and steep walls give the room a very open, empty, and even, intimidating atmosphere. Even a whisper can produce two or three distinct echoes. Life-size historical figures from Caesar to Washington jutted out from the walls at various places throughout the room, their shadows dancing up the walls as the light of my dying fire, (set in an enormous walk-in fireplace) cast upon them.
Every item of furniture in the room had been handpicked by me and most were antiques hundreds of years old. Some, like the fireplace, were of my own creation, designed by me and handcrafted to my specifications by hired artisans and labourers. My favourite chair was among these – crafted of dark oak that at first would appear nearly black, with a deep, almost blood red upholstery. Most of the furniture in my study followed this chair’s style, including the red woven carpet that lay before the fireplace.
I had been sitting in the room rather uncomfortably for some time, musing over an ancient volume of Socrates that I had not thought of in quite a while. When I mentioned before that I did not need to read book, this did not mean that I did not enjoy owning them or flipping through them. My library would make many universities envious.
All of a sudden, the room became so cold that I was able to see my own breath. Arthur leapt from my lap and disappeared into the shadows. I shivered with a sudden chill as goosebumps ran up and down the length of my body. The candle by which I had been reading suddenly and inexplicably extinguished. I looked to the fireplace just as the last ember winked out of existence, only to be replaced by a fireplace suddenly filled with flame. The explosion from this created a great hot pressure that threw me back into my chair. No sooner had I realized what had happened than I felt an icy hand upon my shoulder. At once I jumped to my feet and turned to face the horror I was about to witness.
I saw standing before me what, for all I could tell, was an exact replication of myself – a doppelganger. I knew this was not out of the range of possibility, for I myself had signed the patents and legal documents needs to make the cloning of a human being possible, the procedure was my invention. Nonetheless, I must say that I was quite startled at the sight. He was standing directly across from me, the chair between us, with the exact stance and guarded posture that I had assumed. His facial expression at the moment appeared to be one of shock and surprise, likely the same as I would have expected to see on my own face were a mirror present.
His clothes, however, were a good deal different from the red velvet robe I had been lounging in. Instead, he wore a completely black suit, with shirt, shoes, and socks to match. Without any sudden movements I inspected him closely and found that every last square inch of fabric covering his body was black as night. Every last button, clasp, and belt loop – everything but his tie. This tie was made of a fabric that seemed alive, rippling with color, as red as anything I have ever seen. Frightened to the core, I struggled to find my tongue with which I might form words, any words.
“I’m sorry sir, but you’ve nearly scared the proverbial shit out of me,” finally stumbled from my mouth. “I believe that you have somehow found your way into the wrong house.” I was not firing on all cylinders, for I as yet could not comprehend the facial similarities between us.
“So then, you too fancy yourself a trickster Mr. Hunter,” he said, his voice as cool and calm as a serene mountain lake.
“I don’t understand what you mean,” I said.
“I, of course, refer to the one contract to which you have not yet adhered. You play stupid, act the dim wit, but we both know otherwise, that it was I who arranged for your unique – gift.”
As this man spoke, he slowly circled the chair toward the subsiding fire, from which there now emanated a thin ray of golden light that shone on my visitor, through which I was able to better make out the contours of his face. It was true. He resembled me in every manner and mannerism. While I noticed that his hair was a few shades darker than my own, and that he had grown something of a goatee, there was no mistaking the fact that I was staring into the eyes of myself.
Now he cast an icy stare upon me – and I noticed one final difference. His eyes were red. Not the whites, mind you, nor merely just the pupils, but the entire eyeball looked as if it had been painted completely with fresh rich blood. At this I was absolutely freed from all lingering doubt, as if there had been any before, that I was indeed being visited by the Devil himself.
“I have come to receive my payment from you, Mr. Hunter, in full. You have played your foolish games long enough.”
By this time I had come to my senses enough to see where this was going and what had to be done to prevent it.
“Allow me to point out, good sir, that our contract allowed for the payment of my mortal soul only upon the expiration of the body. As you can see, I stand here before you alive and well. If this annoys you, consider the way in which I was hunted by your minions and attacked by your ‘accidents’. Are these incidents in fact not a breach of contract on your part?”
“No more so than your unnatural prolonging of life. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?” He replied with a hiss.
To this I had no retort, although the expression that I could not hide from my face conceded his point as much as any verbal response could have.
“In a sense,” he continued, “you are correct. If I were to kill you here and now, it would nullify and make void our contract, depriving myself of what I am promised to receive. So then, it is up to you to expire the body yourself, in order to make good on our agreement. The time has come Mr. Hunter.”
“Ha,” I laughed in his face – not a wise idea, but an irresistible one to be sure. “I laugh, because to an observer it may seem as though you are practically begging for my participation. The Devil is in my house, begging for a puny human’s cooperation? I think I will choose to say no. Suicide is out of the question. One must have the will to end his own life. Since I am content with this life, this body, and especially this mind, I can not, nor will I, do what you are asking.”
My visitor looked none too pleased as I phrased my thoughts in this way. He scowled, and a deep growl rose from within his chest. Then, almost as quickly as it had come, his expression was blank again, except for that icy red stare.
“Then it would seem it is to my misfortune that you are correct. You have out-tricked the master of trickery, and made a fool out of me to some degree. You must be very impressed with your own abilities. Of course, these abilities were given to you BY ME!!” he screamed into my face, his breath stinking like decomposition. Again, as swiftly as his rage had arisen, his demeanor changed and he spoke calmly, choosing his words carefully.
“I suppose then, that there is nothing left for me to do other than concede to you a victory.”
I was immediately both excited and terrified. Could it be that I had actually succeeded in defeating the Devil at his own game?
“Even more so”, he resumed speaking, “perhaps it is not enough that I concede, but that I should also thank you.”
“For what?” I asked, skeptical yet honestly curious.
“Your invention of course. Your concoction, your Fountain of Youth Pill or whatever it has come to be known as these days. It has made my job a great deal easier. Before the arrival of your invention the other side was making a good deal of headway, purging sins and accepting new sheep into the flock and all that other rubbish. But not now, oh no. Now, your invention has deprived Him of all that. A soul not in heaven you see, is still one within my grasp.”
With these last words, my hearth once again filled with a fire so bright and fierce that I unconsciously jumped further away from it. When I next looked, my visitor had gone. The Devil’s words aside, I was overcome with a feeling of well-being and pride. I had done it. My life’s purpose had been completed and The Devil had been out-tricked. However, as my day and indeed my week went on, the Devil’s last words continued to ring in my ears.
“A soul not in heaven is still one within my grasp.”
* * *
After some self-reflection I realized why I was tormented by the Devil’s last words. I now knew quite certainly that Satan did in fact exist. If so, then it followed that there must certainly be a God in heaven as well. I paced endlessly up and down the streets of my city, trying in vain to push these thoughts out of mind. I passed pubs and bars filled to capacity before noon. People ran past me continuously, either fleeing or being chased. Flashing, moving, blinking lights advertised live sex shows and other unspeakable acts. I repeatedly passed people who were defecating and fornicating in the streets. I tried at length to avert my eyes from these perversions, from this debauchery, only to be accosted by more of it only a few metres away.
I walked faster, desperately hoping to find refuge from the evils that were staining my eyes, and with them, my humanity. But around every corner, in every doorway, public and private, I saw the work of The Devil. I saw his hand touching sinners and tarnishing all that had once been pure. I frantically raced back to my mansion, the one place I knew to be safe. I bounded up my staircase stairs two at a time and leaped through my doorway, panting and sweaty. I felt truly weak for the first time I could remember. In a panic, I looked around my house to soak up its familiarity only to find that my home, my sanctuary, had been robbed and vandalized.
Furniture had been overturned, works of art plucked from nearly every wall in the house. Statues were broken, smashed, along with every last pane of glass in the building. I raced up to my study and found that every book had been ripped off the shelves and piled on top of my red carpet, with all the furniture in the room stacked atop them and set ablaze. My favourite chair was perched precariously at the peak of the pile, as if to mock me. Looking down at my feet, I saw the limp and twisted body of Arthur, my only true friend and favourite invention, now still and lifeless. Standing here in my sacred place, surrounded by soot and ash, I found that every possession I had acquired or held dear had either been destroyed or taken away.
* * *
The world had somehow changed when I wasn’t paying attention. The process had taken many years, but to me it seemed to have happened overnight. On my walks, I saw the same faces as usual wandering the street, as The Pill’s inherent sterilizing properties prevented there from being any new ones, save for those of clones.
The shackles of employment had long ago been cast away as most work was now accomplished by machinery. In its place, the un-aging masses used their hours of idle time to spiral into consumption and excess. Everyone had everything they wanted, or could possibly wish for. Life had become easy. What else was there for one to do but indulge? Drugs, debauchery, liquor, sex, lethargy, apathy, theft, violence, gambling – these and every other imaginable vice had completely permeated the whole of society.
* * *
It eventually occurred to me that it was I who was solely responsible for this horrid state of affairs. I had destroyed my world with my knowledge. How had I never noticed that this cesspool was filling up under my very nose? What had come of justice and good will, peace among men? In my own personal quests to beat the Devil and rise in power and riches, I had destroyed the very lives that I hoped to improve, including my own. I had little choice in my next action. I immediately stopped the production and distribution of The Pill.
* * *
After a period long enough for me to feel secure that all supplies of The Pill had been consumed, I destroyed the only two copies of the formula, both kept in separate vaults within my own home, where they had been for the last half-century. And so it is that I sit down and pen this letter – an admission of my crimes against humanity. Through the sterilizing effects of The Pill I have doomed society and the human race to near-extinction. It is my only hope that those who were wise enough not to partake are able to continue on. It is all I can do to implore your forgiveness, and urge you to live on in peace and civility so that at least your souls might be saved.
I myself must go. I have one final piece of business to attend to, an agreement that I made long ago.
Dr. Curtis Hunter