NEW FICTION: The Man Who Could Not Die (Conclusion)
November 13, 2002
Continuing the transcribed journal excerpts of J.M. Lincoln...
Within the dome is chaos. The town that was once Rapid Canyon, North Dakota, has been remade, though certainly not in God’s image. There is light within the dome emanating from fires that have been started by the dozens of individuals who walk trancelike through neon-lit streets. Others pound their fists frantically against the interior of the dome, crying and pleading for His help. The smoke from the fires surrounds us, making the simple act of breathing a task of endurance. We cannot ascertain the cause of the dome nor isolate a focal point of energy, assuming one exists. Thus we begin to walk toward the center of the town, hoping to obtain answers.
We may never know the true origins of the dome, but we learn several facts as we walk through the mysterious town:
1. The number of dead far exceeds four. I count at least 20 bodies in the first two minutes, after which I stop counting.
2. The dome is growing.
It is this last fact that concerns us the most.
The inhabitants of Rapid Canyon collapse to the earth one by one, as if being picked off at random by sniper fire. It is as though the dome exists solely on the life energies of others. Locating the origin of the bubble proves to be an easy task—we simply follow the trail of bodies that lead to 995 First Avenue, the former home of Stephen Harriman. Most of the facts regarding Harriman are learned later, after the Red has fallen.
There is an unseen energy that seems to draw us closer toward the Harriman residence. It is not to say it controls our actions; it is as if we are curious onlookers being lured toward a distant searchlight. We climb the stairs of the small home, sidestepping no fewer than six bodies before crossing the threshold into what had once been a quiet living room in suburban America. The room is lit by candlelight. The shadowy physical remains of two females, one adult and one child, are spread across the hardwood living room floor. The bodies have been badly mutilated by a serrated bread knife, the handle of which extends from the chest cavity of the adult female like an obscene flag pole.
Stephen Harriman is slumped onto a sofa, the pillows of which are saturated with blood. His eyes glow white.
He speaks one word, his voice vacant and distant:
“What’s happened here?” I ask.
“Are you real? I mean, you’re not really here, are you?”
“Just…just tell us what you’ve done here.”
Slowly and systematically, he tells us: Harriman’s actions were undertaken for the sake of isolationism. An extreme agoraphobic, Harriman had grown more distrustful of the outside world throughout each of his 19 years. An avid practitioner of meditative and black arts, he’d learned of an Eastern technique of known as the “Dome of Isola,” by which an individual attains a higher level of existence through the construction of a mental “dome” of isolation within oneself. It was while in this altered state that Harriman experienced an epiphany. He rationalized that, rather than a dome of the mind, he could create a solid, physical barrier to protect him from the outside world. Once the process had begun—ignited by the blood of his wife and daughter—the dome appeared, blanketing the entire town, and has been sustaining itself ever since by feeding off the life forces of Rapid Canyon’s ill-fated and unsuspecting inhabitants.
“How do we stop it?” I ask.
Harriman smiles and his glowing eyes fade from white to black as a high-pitched sound fills the tiny room. Outside there is a different sound, a growing thunder that builds in decibel with each passing moment. I look out through a dirty, cracked window knowing what I will see before I see it—the dome is expanding. In the distance just beyond the avenue they are collapsing in greater number—the residents of Rapid Canyon.
“What the Hell are we supposed to do about this?” White asks me.
I have no answer.
The Red pauses then replies with atypical calmness, employing the logic readily available to a man of his intellect:
“I think the path is clear. We’re standing at ground zero, at the epicenter of the dome. The dome itself is expanding while the individuals living within it are dying—I think the one-to-one correlation in that matter is obvious.”
“How do we stop it?”
“I really don’t think we have enough information to answer those questions, Peter.”
“We’d better think of something goddam fast.”
There is much hurried discussion over what to do. We realize this is a conflict that cannot be resolved through physical violence. The Red begins to hypothesize that Harriman himself has become the conduit through which the dome exists and thrives.
“If that’s true,” White says, “you know what we have to do.”
Red’s is, at best, a guess, but an instant later we realize it is the correct guess. Harriman’s eyes open and he speaks to us. I understand, too late, why he’s permitted us entrance into this dome of isolation. The combined life force of The Red, White, and Blue is considerable, equaling—perhaps exceeding—the combined life forces of the inhabitants of Rapid Canyon. We’re here to sustain Harriman’s dome after the residents of Rapid Canyon have fallen; that moment is quickly approaching.
It was then we see it. It had been invisible in the dark, smoke-filled surroundings. But it is there in plain sight, around his neck. Around Harriman’s neck. Upon a thin, silver necklace. The symbol of the “love” generation—a circle divided vertically and subdivided on either side at 45-degree angles—a sign of peace.
It is small, perhaps an inch in diameter. It radiates a flickering light that pulsates with heartbeat speed and regularity.
“It can’t really be that easy,” the Red remarks.
“One way to find out,” replies Peter. What occurs next does so in the course of four—perhaps five—seconds: Peter grasps the necklace from Harriman’s neck and pulls. Harriman’s eyes roll back in his head as he locks his right hand onto Peter’s wrist and begins to squeeze. There is a sharp splintering and snapping of bones followed by Peter’s anguished cry as he releases the necklace. I grip Harriman’s hand and begin to dislodge his fingers from Peter’s wrist, breaking three of Harriman’s fingers in the process. Harriman reaches across and clutches my neck with his left hand. Despite three broken fingers his hold on Peter continues. Harriman’s fingers dig deep into my trachea. The dome responds violently to the life energies it is ingesting through Peter and I, as though the amount of energy is nearly too much to ingest at once.
I am suddenly conscious of a sensation I’d never before experienced. I can feel my life force being drained. I glance at Peter who has visibly aged 10 years in a matter of seconds. For the briefest of moments I welcome this phenomenon knowing that I, too, am (at last) aging, but quickly set aside any selfish thoughts regarding my own mortality, realizing that countless lives have already been lost and countless others may still be lost. Yet I cannot free myself from the madman’s deadly grip. A familiar black ocean begins calling to me to swim in its deep waters.
In the distance a voice speaks. It is strong with resolve but I hear it as a detached afterthought. Eventually I identify the voice as belonging to Trace—the Red.
“Let me show you power,” the voice says.
The Red rips free the necklace from Harriman’s neck and his grip upon Peter and me relaxes. Trace’s energies are consumed by the dome’s force. Above us, the dome begins to splinter and crack. Only at this instant do I begin to contemplate the extent of Trace’s power. Whatever inhuman forces Harriman had called into play in the casting of his isolation spell simply cannot absorb Trace’s vast life energy en masse.
The overkill of energy sends shockwaves throughout Rapid Canyon. As the dome begins to collapse, the sky over Rapid Canyon rains its mystic fragments. Trace’s body radiates with white light as he collapses to the ground. He is broken and withered by age, with eyes sunk into his skull and flesh that is brittle with canyon-like crevices. Outside, the first traces of sunlight become evident, their beams dissolving the blackness.
We are alive.
Trace does not speak as the sunlight washes across his face, but he smiles faintly. I cough involuntarily, reeling from the effects of the chokehold and the smoke that still hangs heavily in the air. Peter sits on the floor staring at his shattered wrist.
Trace’s fist slowly opens. His once muscular fingers are bone thin, wrinkled, and covered with age spots. His fist opens. The small metal charm he’d held has melted. The liquid metal slowly rolls off the palm of his hands and lands in beads upon the floor.
We leave the town of Rapid Canyon, wounded—and very much changed—but alive. All of the dominoes of this day have fallen.
The Red, White, and Blue dissolve following Rapid Canyon. There is little choice. Trace has become an old man, nearly all of his life force selflessly sacrificed. Three weeks following Rapid Canyon we are awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by Lyndon Johnson. Trace is no longer ambulatory and requires a wheelchair for mobility; he dies less than two weeks after the award ceremony.
Peter’s wrist injuries are substantial, the bones having been shattered. But he is likely to recover with rest and physical therapy. Both of us appear physically older. On August 26, 1968, we bid one another farewell, shortly after Trace’s funeral. The man who was American Dream is not present. Weeks later, the American Dream reappears on the crime scene, though how or why he does this I cannot say for certain. Nevertheless, I feel as though…
[Note: At this point there is an eight-page gap in Lincoln’s journal. The pages appear to have been torn out, perhaps by Lincoln himself. But I have no way of knowing whether this was done by Lincoln or by another individual, or whether it was done with or without intent. Lincoln’s life in the 1970s may forever remain a mystery, though at some point he reconnected with his daughter, as is evident in the text that appears henceforth:]
…would expect. I arrive at the brownstone in mid-afternoon and am greeted at the door by a man in his 40s; he is a hospice worker, and is tending to Janey’s care. I explain to him that I am a family friend. No doubt I would have been scrutinized, if not denied entrance entirely, had I explained that I am the 92-year-old girl’s father. The house is quiet; its walls are painted white and beige. There is a subtle elegance to the house that is formal but at the same time relaxed and comfortable. The nurse leads me to the second floor and into a bedroom decorated in crimson and yellow. There are several shelves of Asian trinkets and bric-a-brac along every wall. In the center of the room is a king-sized four-poster bed. Janey’s diminutive form is barely noticeable beneath the ivory-colored sheets and silk comforter. The curtains are closed and the room is lit by vanilla-scented candlelight. I slowly approach the bed, catching a reflection of myself in an antique cheval glass as I walk across the room. I am at once overwhelmed by guilt merely at being. Not at being here, with her, but at being.
We talk for several minutes. She is a very weak 92 years old and is dying of pneumonia due to her age and a weakened immune system. Janey has refused to be hospitalized. I discuss this with her. I discuss the advantages of hospital care.
“I’ve lived a good life, but I’ve also lived long enough,” she says softly, and there is nothing I can say to rebut this statement. She is aged and in pain and has had enough.
Her voice is calm and faint, and she begins to describe the last time she saw Joshua. Her eyes flicker and she tells me that he is now in the room with us. Her eyelids close and she drifts off to sleep. I leave the phone number of the hotel where I am lodging with the caretaker and ask that he contact me if there is a change in Janey’s condition. He phones the following morning with the news that she died during the night.
January 9, 1982
She’d left instructions with her attorney with regard to her burial.
Janey is buried atop a modest hill in the Village Green Cemetery, Alexandria, Virginia. I visit her grave privately on the morning following her burial. The winter sun is rising just above a grove of oaks in the distance. I am reminded of a time many, many years gone by.
It occurred while we were relocating from West Virginia to New York. During this time we found ourselves in the vicinity of the Pocono Mountains, long years before the area had become a mecca for tourists. We lodged for several days at a modest inn at the base of Mt. Pocono. On the second day of our visit Janey and Joshua ventured onto a walking trail. Several hours later they had not returned from their wanderings. We went out in search of them and eventually found them atop a clearing. They were lying in the tall grass, staring peacefully at the sky.
“It’s beautiful here,” Janey said. “Can’t we simply stay here always?”
“We have to go to New York,” I explained.
Still lying on the grass, she extended her arms outward like the wings of an angel.
“When I die, this is where I want to be buried,” she said.
“Me too, under a giant sequoia.” Joshua said.
“There are no sequoia’s here,” I explained.
“Well, there should be,” Janey answered, blissfully ignorant of nature.
I know now what I am going to do, but I also know I cannot do it alone.
It has been a daunting task, an impossible task. That we have even done it continues to astound me. It is a task that should not have been possible. But somehow we have done it, Peter and me.
We stand atop a grassy hill in the Pocono Mountains where, nearly a century earlier, my son and daughter had laid innocently discussing burials and sequoia trees. Peter and I stare upward at the circle of giant sequoias—trees that we have painstakingly transported from the California forests to this humble locale. The task has consumed nearly two years of our lives, though Peter has never once expressed concern or agitation at having given up so much of his life toward my insane goal.
We stand atop this hill and stare upward in disbelief at our accomplishment. To do what we’ve done should have required the work of dozens, if not hundreds, of laborers. Men with massive trucks, cranes, and other mechanical constructs. We did it without the aid of machinery. We did it with muscle and determination. This is how it was done:
Shortly after Janey’s death I contacted Peter, my colleague White in the former Red, White, and Blue, and asked for his help, knowing the enormity of the favor I was asking.
“I want us to uproot six sequoias from California’s Giant Grove forest and replant them on a hilltop in the Poconos.”
To my astonishment he accepted the challenge without so much as a moment’s hesitation.
We uprooted the trees individually. The process of uprooting the great behemoths required a regimen of more than 36 hours of nonstop digging. I uprooted each tree without Peter’s help, knowing the process could easily be accomplished given my unyielding strength. I relied on Peter’s unique mastery of flight, his command over sky and air, in transporting each of the giant trees from the west coast to the east coast. Like two modern-day genies aboard a magnificent wooden magic carpet, we sailed silently through the night, flying swiftly and ghostlike beneath the starlit skies. Because there were so many variables involved—most notably the weather, the seasons, and Peter’s extreme exhaustion following each flight (his recovery period typically ranged from weeks to months)—the process of transplanting the giants spanned the course of nearly two years.
“I don’t know how to thank you,” I tell him.
“Think nothing of it,” he says.
“No,” I tell him. “I want to give you something.”
I hand him a small wooden box, no larger than a cigar box.
“What is it?” he asks.
Peter opens the box and is momentarily bathed by green light; he slowly recloses it.
“You once asked me how it was I remain so young. This…this is how.”
I recount to him my time in Hawkingsworth and explain the effects I experienced following exposure to the green stone. I explain what it did to me, what it might very well do to him.
“It’s either a gift of a curse,” I tell him. “I’ll leave that for you to decide.”
“What are you going to do next?” he asks.
“Unfinished family business,” I explain.
The work is finished. They are all here now. My parents. Veronica. Joshua. Janey. They are here, buried in the ground, each beneath one of the great sequoias. Over the last 16 years I’ve exhumed their bodies from their former final resting places. Exhumed them and brought them here. Together. A family together. The sixth grave is mine. It is dug and it awaits me. Standing here, with those nearest to my heart now also near in proximity, I feel it is time.
Although I have lived several lifetimes, and spent these lifetimes trying to find a higher purpose—and have performed actions I believed were related to that purpose—although I have considered myself a man who could not die, I will soon know for certain whether this claim holds any truth.
Tonight I shall lie in the grave and cover myself in the soil of the earth. Tonight I shall bid farewell to the world, and join my family in the hereafter. In short, I shall will myself to die.
Should anyone one day read these words, he or she may choose to believe or disbelieve what I’ve written. If the individual should find himself or herself atop a hillside in the Pocono Mountains, he or she may stop to ponder why there are six great sequoia trees here. He or she may wonder, indeed, whether a man who once lived a very long time has buried himself within the earth. I watch the orange sun set upon the distant horizon like the warm smile of an old friend before beginning the task at hand.
And that is why I stand here now. I did read his words. I have chosen to believe the words written in the JO RN L of J. M. Lincoln that I purchased from a quaint yard sale. I do now find myself atop a hillside asking why there are giant sequoias in this locale. And I ask myself not whether a man who lived a very long time has buried himself in the earth, for I know in my heart that he lies just several feet beneath me. So I do not ask this question. The question I ask is: Is the man who lived a long, long time and who once buried himself beneath the earth—did that man succeed in willing himself to die? Has he gone on to join his relatives in eternal rest? Or is he still alive beneath the soil? Still alive, willing himself to die but not dying? Wondering when and if he will, at last, be granted escape from the mortal world?
I stare at the rusted shovel several feet distant. The shovel upon which the rust is coated thick like sugary frosting. The shovel, the handle of which is devoid of all but a trace of protective wood stain. I stare at this simple device and I begin to wonder. Before I am consciously aware of my actions, I find my hands are firmly gripped upon the shovel’s handle, and my foot is pressing the blade of the shovel into the earth. There is a sound like the splintering of wood, or the tearing of parchment paper, as I slowly begin to force the shovel through tall grass and into the cold ground. A chill wind blows across my spine as from the corner of my eye something seems to move ever so slightly. I pause to laugh at my own paranoia. And then for just a moment I hesitate, unsure as to whether what I saw was only the shadows of the grass blowing atop the hill, or whether the soil is, in fact, pushing back.
NEXT: The first in a series of single-chapter short stories as the Earth/Ryka war begins.
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