Immortality at a cost is a theme that has long intrigued me. Battling the forces of time to reset the mortality clock has so many levels of exploration. You could literally get lost in the concept. I wanted to approach this from a perspective of a man’s desperation and ignorance to the forces he was choosing to play God with. Certain death seemed the best venue to bring that out.
I’d say this story was influenced the most by “The Mortal Immortal” by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley and “From Beyond” H.P. Lovecraft.
And of course, the tragic story of Isaac Asimov’s later years.
Below is an excerpt. The full story will be published as the novella “A Song of Forever” in 2020 and on YouTube real soon. Enjoy!
A Song of Forever
by Jeffrey LeBlanc
A massive hurricane roars toward my coastal town. Its whistling winds and crashing surf already cause my home to creak and twist to the very timbers in unbridled fury. I watch hundred mile an hour winds shake and shudder the very core of this home I reside. Nestled on wooden creosote pilings, over flooded marsh, this place, compared to that storm is like a house of toothpicks waiting to fall. My crystal blue eyes blink sporadically at the flashes of purple and arcs of green as the storm approaches. This category five hurricane will flatten everything this round. The town, Grand Isle, for certain will be no more. This safe harbor I’ve called home for the last few years will finally be reclaimed back to the sea.
A lightning blast of brilliant red crashes with the ferocity of a scud missile. Blinded with shimmering crimson, and gold orbs, I can’t help but remember a quote from the master of the macabre, Edgar Allan Poe.
And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.
I watch glass shatter from The Rusty Pelican hotel. I see a car thrown into a purple and gold house—Tiger’s Bay. And I hear a terrified scream somewhere in the Caminada Pass. On the swaying planes of yellowing grass, I start to hear a gentle hum of music. The hum grows to a light melody, then an orchestral cacophony in time with the crimson, violet, and verdant light displays of the thunderheads. It’s in this somber musical prose I feel an overwhelming sadness for the island community’s impending destruction; I’m called back to the song that mirrors my macabre life now. Except it is more of a voiceless whisper in some twisting infinite reality beyond my own.
The song’s voice cries out, “Forevermore will be shorter than I think.”
I am terrified of storms these days. Unfathomable is the terror at times in this desolate dimension with no one to share my plight. I tell you now, as you read my words, that I fear things and places beyond the limits of Death. Wide-eye and bathe in frenzied sweat, I feel my pulse quicken in time to the thundering beats of my heart. It is a fear of the crack, the hissing sizzle, and rumble of a thunderhead. My throat is dry, and my temples pulsate and throb in anticipation of stratospheric annihilation.
In earnest truth, this beast of a storm, I have caused.
I know how it sounds. I’m ranting as a lunatic freed from an asylum. But I say please hear me out. No words from a man or whatever I am now, have ever been truer. For I have brought it by ripping apart the fundamental fabric of our time. Hear my voice and the details of my story before you determine me mad. Listen as I tell you all I know. Let me bring you into what I gained and what I have lost. In doing so you’ll transverse with me beyond the infinite quadrants of all reality and unreality.
The only question after our journey in your mind and what’s left of mine will be, “Will the Isaac Arnaud of this world return? Or will the dimensionless doppelganger? A possibly demonic doppelganger, if you believe such superstition.
Or…will the entity of infinite eons be something else?”
I break into a cold sweat and the hairs on my neck and arms are standing up as the electro charges of my body are triggered. With panicked alarm, I feel the force of the storm. Like a lost friend I feel the furious cataclysmic undulations of this monstrous storm’s massive electrical power. Dark ecstasy makes me shudder in realization that above me is over two billion watts of power. Nuclear reactor level power—the hurricane, drives me now to push away layers of this reality. They slough off as layers of an interdimensional onion-shaped orb.
I’m producing enough electrostatic microforces to not only destroy but transform all life as we comprehend it.
The hum is back. The orchestra is back. The passionate longing for the music disguised as my wife’s voice. “I love you Isaac. Forevermore will be shorter than you think.”
Is her voice the healthy athlete? Or the decayed corpse of a sickly woman expiring from cancer? I can’t tell if her words are in this reality, this sequence, the now or in one of the infinite others. The words go over and over in my mind clicking like tumblers in an ancient clock. In my eyes are blasts and warped light tendrils. Escaping shards radiating blue, red, and fluorescent verdant light. Each blast a multiverse sequence clicking time tumblers as a kaleidoscope of multiverses.
Lumbering roars of purple thunderheads send spine-tingling chills and shudders. Brilliant, skull-white arcs, and the crash of neon white blasts cause me to coldly sweat, and my heart to furiously race in panic. But these aren’t even close to the lurking trepidation of those ominous black shadows shrouded within tomb-gray, and ghostly white storm clouds. Those frightening and ghastly shadows that I know hide ancient evil from beyond our universe. Hellish, immortal, dimensionless entities I know are darkly cloaked in those foreboding thunderheads. Electrically entangled and writhingly coiled inside the blasts of lightning ready to strike and destroy our world.
Dark is my knowledge of demoniacal storms and immortality.
Once I was a fool to unnatural fear. The fear of death. Horrified was I to have this uncanny angst against the cessation of life. Inconsolable and unaccepting was I to know all things die. Learning death’s eventuality, I lamented in lugubrious discord to others my loathing of this concept. These rants grew with intensity in the cold, grave-like quiet of night where I rarely would find repose. Oh, how I’d awaken in cold sweats from horrific nightmares of being buried alone in a grave.
I fought Death in my sleep. I shrieked at the ferryman of Styx. How I tore away at invisible phantoms in those waning hours of night. Night terrors pervaded. I loathe even in my dreams of being kissed on the tongue by the maggot, embraced by the crimson worm, shrouded in rotted funeral cloth, and housed in a damp, desolate tomb.
In times long past, while in abysmal silence, I would wearily ponder unfathomable visions. Alien and unfamiliar was this new concept that I may cease to exist and be nevermore. Corporeal was my flesh I knew that. But what of my spirit? What of the challenges I had left to reach? It was not fair I could not finish my work.
In my arrogance I chose to defy all laws covering universal creation. Never I say, never in a million years, would I accept the incredulous belief I’d die. My body would corrupt, journey on through twisting, and spiraled corridors of Death’s great banquet hall.
Inevitably, I, Isaac Arnaud would turn to dust.
Despair and helplessness held sway on the day I learned I’d die. Hammered and crushed was my hope by the knowledge my health would fail.
A phantom’s voice blasts through arcs of azure and arcs of brilliant blue. Sally Arnaud siren calls to me again from a time here or elsewhere, “We can be together Isaac. Forevermore.”
But is this voice my Sally? I wonder. Is she the Sally that sewed my split pants when we first met? Can this Sally play the piano—Beethoven, Bach, or Wagner? I wonder again.
What rage consumed me. Even the very dust and decay in my laboratory brought anger. It was my knowing, soon, I’d be part of those swirls glinting in the setting sun. On in angst and with little solace, did I envision an ominous, hooded skeletal entity in black, beckoning me with his scythe to a lifeless world beyond.
But how I’d battle the reaper until my very end. Armed and invested, I rationalized with a lifetime of vast knowledge in mathematics, biology, biophysics, in Heaven, and on Earth. Inarguably, though, all philosophy did not prepare or console me for the literal fight of my life. It would take a revolutionary approach to find a cure. I’d clean the blackboards, reset the programs and review the charts. Life cycles to trigger replication, be born, live, and then die must hold some clue I could backtrack and work with.
I look back now. Days of pure indulgence. The rantings of an egomaniac.
“These reagents are archaic Thomas!” I’d scream.
The nervous researcher, Thomas Kincaid—no relation to the painter, was failing as my team leader. Frantically he’d explain himself, “But…but…Dr. Arnaud, these are the cadmium phase two retro-viral delivery systems! State of the art in most genomic projects. They respond to nanovolts across a diffuse, semi-permeable membrane. These are the latest nanotech which increase the threshold potential of sodium and potassium in osmotic delivery to the cell.”
“Yes, but the retro-virus is too big to manipulate on a smaller virus like HIV. The nanites or smaller, is the direction we proceed. And this cadmium delivery system will just eradicate what I have left for an immune system you idiot!” And I meant every word. Sorry Thomas.
Folly and fiend would soon court me as friend. Dante Aligheri and all his devils were soon to have their divine laugh, from the grave and the fiery gates. No hell spawn would ever enjoy such a merry mistake as mine.
My team had to win. My life depended on it. I spared no expense to fire and replace scientists who failed me. To motivate them, I set up a lab, limited all distractions, and access to focus my people. When that wasn’t enough, we moved them to a remote castle, Castle Braun, in western Germany. By candlelight each evening we had mandatory readings of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s “Frankenstein”, the more modern Dean Koontz reimagining of the “Frankenstein” novel, anything by Arthur C. Clark, Clark Ashton Smith, Isaac Asimov, and of course, Lord Byron. Hours were spent reading out loud and repetitiously thousands of times all the biological, mathematical, biophysical, and metaphysical books we could acquire. Housed in frigid, decaying castle walls, we took these lessons we had researched and made application. All successes and failures brought us closer to the origins and idiosyncrasies of human genomic integration.
Triumphant was I, one wintry full moon night. Though, even then, the ice and snow in the dark forests surrounding the castle seem to shimmer their warnings. It was two years into my life-saving project when we stumbled onto a breakthrough using muonic harmonies to manipulate tissue. Overjoyed, I weakly climbed cyclopean stairs to the highest point of the castle tower. Winded and wobbly I peered from my perch. On one of the coldest nights, from the highest tower in our castle, I rasped ecstatically Lovecraft’s famous words, “I know always that I am an outsider, a stranger in this century and among those who are still men.”
The gray, granite towers of Castle Braun took a more sinister appearance after that night. In my AIDS-ravaged mind I’d hallucinate thinking we were working our sorcery in the Tower of Babel. Each greater scientific advance only proved it. To Heaven and God, or the gods we defied all! We worked days and even weeks on our scientific colossus. A grand design on integrated subatomic modeling with a viable tissue platform. From there each rendering would take advantage of the spin and direction of subatomic and spatial particles manipulating tissue.
We threw synthetic crimson blood, yellowed sweat, and opaque tears into every conceivable vat for analysis and testing. Human trials were next before phase five, my own use of the treatments.
How those discoveries in that cold castle of frigid ice, damp fog, and blistering cold, shall haunt me all my days of immortal existence.
As Lord Byron, Mary Shelley, and even the great Isaac Asimov, I did not welcome Death. I had refused to die and therefore planned, as so many before, to defeat it. In fact, I hated the finality that all intrinsic life, as inherent as these cosmic swirls of decrepit dust in my castle, must eventually transform then perish. Hopeful was I, and fervently determined, that I swore my own human dust would not attribute to this madman’s philosophy of the life cycle. I would dare rip away the human coil, to defy the gods, the demons, or entities themselves that held sway over our mortal dominion. I would reverse the natural order of Death and destroy it by devoting every living hour I had to achieve a greater scientific and humanistic purpose no matter the costs. It was a foolish, naïve folly, that with feverish unfocused ferocity, I broke the natural order. I obliterated the very code governing all living things from transcription to termination and brought into our world the terrifying. For certainty, but in anguished regret, I came to realize Death was not an adversary, but a dear friend guiding the dying to a greater dimension.
Now I suffer for my arrogance. That shadow you see; I know what slithers, lurks and creeps beyond it. The ticking clock you hear for the train, between its very pulse I see twisted landscapes and obtuse abysses that would frighten even Salvador Dali. My awareness of time in my new world is not linear nor chronological. That is a falsehood. I bend with the planes of the universe as it bends to gravitational and electrodynamic forces that have for some unknown reason kept back what lies in the beyond.
For I know there are infinite worlds and infinite universes as I’ve felt and seen them. I walk what can be called our world. But in my new interpretation of existence, the world is just a singularity, a simple point of light filtered through infinite arrays of electromagnetic fields. And each time I unravel or lose self, I disrupt these electromagnetic arrays, and something uses me as a conduit to steal energy—life force if you will. Then real Hell begins for me. For I feel all their heart pounding terror as I ripped their soul apart. All to feed an incorruptible and immortal demon. For I am one of many, un-willing beings of the demoniacal force in the beyond. I fight and fail to insect-like fiends in macroworlds beyond the comprehension of human understanding.
“I sound like a lunatic.” As I say and write these words now. And if I’d heard myself in my past time before the great transformation, I’d believe I’d gone quite mad too.
Corporeal flesh is a sheath to these beings. A delectable wrapper torn away to reach the life force, the eternal light, the soul.
As their slave, their proverbial puppet, I’m denied a good death. Isaac Arnaud is never to rest. I’ll never have the honor or blessing to rot in cold earth. Never in this new form will I forever lay buried in icy ground for the conqueror worm. In my rage, blind to the lessons of all manner of theology, psychology, and limits of the medical sciences, I have courted and found the vast wasteland and prison of immortality.
Going back to the Genesis of my mistake, how I foolishly loathed my death sentence and rebuked it. Chilling false words came from the tall, gaunt Dr. Allan Davis, my family physician.
Chain smoking Marlboro’s as he delivered my life changing news, the detestable doctor launched my initial war with the statement, “Isaac, you have human immunodeficiency virus, HIV. I know you understand the ramifications. And sadly Isaac, it’s advancing quickly to AIDS.”
I asked a simple stunned question knowing the answer, “Are you sure?”
As I waited for his retort, I processed his life-changing answer. In that moment I thought, “This is some kind of joke.”
Dr Alan Davis, who smelled of stale whiskey and cigarettes leaned in to talk. I became nauseated by his body’s odor. I felt queasy in that same instant and sweat dripped from my brow.
“I just came in for a flu shot Alan. I thought I’d caught the flu or something.” I was still in disbelief at his words.
“Yes, I’m afraid so my friend,” He said the confirmation with all the compassion of a car salesman. Alan cringeworthy voice lumbered on, “How are you still standing has me perplexed I’m afraid, old sport.”
“Old sport? Now you quote F. Scott Fitzgerald to me, Alan? That’s out of your normal comic book lingo.” I saw my words couldn’t crack his stone-like demeanor.
Callous were his words, devoid in all humanity Dr. Davis said, “Isaac, I’m not lying man. Your immune system has failed. Maybe it was not your fault. Maybe you took a little too many liberties with your health. We don’t know how. If it were anyone else, I’d have suspected you played with every virtue and vice—drugs and all that humbug.”
Incredulous I ask, “Alan you never quit. I’m the cliché. The guy who did nothing who caught everything. I’m the cyclist, the ironman athlete, and the nun who catches AID’s. This has to be a cruel joke.”
“I wish I were son. I have known you, Dr. Isaac Arnaud, your whole life. You are one of the most disciplined and meticulous people I know. Some would say you were a little too wound up. I’d tell those naysayers it’s just this weird conservative streak in you. But really you have always had a bit of arrogance. Some say a stick up your old keister.”
Shocked I continue, “Alan what the Hell, man? The transfusion? The heart attack?”
“Old sport, if I was to wager, then yes.” Dr. Davis’s brows furrowed and continued, “But I’m not a gambler.”
I wanted to say, “You’re not much of a general practice guy either.” But I didn’t.
“Problem solved Alan. Five years ago, my ticker took a dive. I had to get fifteen hundred milligrams of thrombolytics and carotid arterial balloon angioplasty. Something went wrong and I was bleeding heavily. It was the type and match blood.” I sigh. At least I could still use my deductive reasoning for now. “Screening five years ago for HIV wasn’t around. No one knew what this virus was.”
“But did they do tests before and after.” He hadn’t heard what I’d just told him. “Oh, wait Isaac. Who even knew we’d have this immunosuppressive virus to deal with five years ago?”
“I knew Alan.” I saw his face grimace a bit. He wanted to say something more. Then Alan Davis thought better of it.
“Yet, here it is my friend. HIV, which we both know will lead to your eventual acquired immunodeficiency syndrome then death.” He sees me wince at his brutal words but continues, “I’m not saying it’s your fault. Off the record, your infection most likely came from the blood transfusion during the by-pass, Isaac. I truly am sorry.”
“Well, thank you doctor.” Dr Davis saw I wasn’t finished with the jabs. “Thanks for telling me that I have to tell my beautiful wife, I’m a dead man!” I clench my teeth as I say the words angrily.
Dr. Davis puts a hand on my shoulder. It’s a hand, like the man, that gives little warmth, little assurance, and no hope. With all the stern, sympathetic look Alan could muster to console his dying colleague he chides, “I make no excuse saving your life Isaac five years ago. And I’m sure Dr. Steinberg feels the same about performing the heart by-pass. I do blame, and recommend you sue the stupid hematology department giving you tainted, infected blood.”
Sobbing and broken I say, “What good will it do?”
Then the harshest and most vile words come from Dr. Davis, this physician whom I once respected, “For you, nothing. But for some other family or charity, the money might save a life. And Dr. Isaac Arnaud, if there’s one thing I know about you, my friend, you save lives.”
I stormed out of his office. Then recalled his words as I got to my car and kicked the vehicle furiously. I cursed on my drive home with incredulity, and rage. Somewhere, near a park outside New Orleans, I pulled over and turned off my vehicle. For me in that instance, time briefly stopped. I broke down crying, succumbing to maddening despair. After a few hours watching five-hundred-old oak trees sway in the breeze, blue birds singing, and people running or picnicking, I recovered. I started the vehicle after rubbing my eyes and blowing my nose, then drove home.
Driving home, what did I notice? Life in all its wondrous forms around me. Blue jays and cardinals hopping branches and chirping proudly from majestic, great oaks. A grayish red squirrel meandering on the ground for treasured acorns. The cool wind twisting a nearby palm tree. And loving couples walking hand in hand down past bustling streetcars on St. Charles.
In greater detail I was gaining a profound appreciation. This I remembered between tear filled eyes and living sights. I’d be gone from it soon. It was not quite nostalgia but more of a yearning at what I was losing. I’d miss touching my Sally, I’d miss the smells of cayenne and coriander from a crawfish boil. The taste of muscadine wine while laughing with my wife, Sally. I’d miss the laughter with family and friends. Sally’s smile while dancing to good music like Wayne Toups, The Platters or Sam Cooke. Heck, I’d even miss the frustration of bumper to bumper traffic like now.
The journey to go inside my house took forever. No pun intended. Just the walk up the slate sidewalk past our beautiful red, lavender, and pink rose garden, caused numbing trepidation. I would have to bite the side of my mouth to keep from crying once I got into the warm house where Sally waited. On I prepared heading up the porch stairs hearing the click of my heels echoed on the longest walk of dread in my ever-shortening life.
All I could think and say on that walk was, “Is there ever really a way, a process, or even a book for preparing the love of your life for death?