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The glass bottles leaned precariously over the edge of the table, filled with blood samples and an array of mysterious liquids. All the windows were covered with black cloth, so to avoid suspicion from peeping eyes, but in places chinks of moonlight managed to break through, casting shadows on the stained hardwood floors. Promises of discovery shined on that cold tawdry evening like ghost beams flooding a mental darkness. The whitewashed meadows of Georgia were set aglow with a sprinkling rain shower like diamonds of knowledge embedded into blue halos.
Dr. Merlin stood in the darkest corner of the room, with a dusty uncovered bulb illuminating his work area. He labeled vials of experimental antidotes with pieces of colored tape, humming softly the tune of some outdated lullaby. His hands were stained with different dyes, and his hair was greasy with oils and soot. He looked a disheveled mess but was happier than he had ever been. Dr. Merlin’s research had finally come to fruition. He had developed an antidote to the one disease from which all creatures suffer: aging.
For years, Dr. Merlin had been testing human lab rats in the shed behind his crumbling ranch house which doubled as a lab. He tried various means of body preservation, sometimes leaving people locked away in airtight wooden boxes, breathing through tubes in their throats and having buckets of blood sucked out of their shriveled arms for weeks before concluding that he had gathered enough data, and releasing them to go home. His studies targeted the cellular and molecular decay and mutations which occurred with development and lead to all of the side effects of aging. He had successfully created a solution which would slow down the loss of cells, excessive cell division, inadequate cell death and mutations in the mitochondria. This would rejuvenate the human body back to its healthiest, most efficient state.
He stared in awe into the test tubes of his yellow-tinted transparent liquid. Something that looked just like urine was actually the secret to an eternal life on earth as a relatively healthy human being. Even though the sun was beginning to sink behind the popcorned clouds, Dr. Merlin found his directory of all of the pharmacies and science labs that were willing to buy antidotes still in the developing stages and started to dial the first set of numbers.
“Good evening, my name is Dr. Merlin and I have a proposal to make. This product that I have researched and created will bring crowds of customers flocking to your pharmacy begging for more. It will bring in more business than you have ever seen in your life. I have invented a cure to aging; I have crafted an immortality solution. What do you say? Will you buy?”
“There is no such thing. It is impossible,” one replied.
“I will not tolerate jokes of this sort,” another angrily screamed into the receiver.
“You are a disgrace to all who call themselves scientists.”
Dr. Merlin received dozens of complaints from people not taking him seriously and claiming that he was a fraud. He was yelled at, abused, hung up on and ridiculed. He felt like a woodpecker trying to draw sap from a concrete wall. Exasperated, Dr. Merlin threw his phone book across the lab, knocking over test tube racks and smashing the thin glass to pieces. He laid his head on the moist plastic table, angry at himself for failing to convince the potential buyers that his immortality solution was legitimate. The sun’s rusty shadows waved at him through the windows in mockery.
Dr. Merlin pushed his wire-framed glasses down his lumpy nose and rubbed his bloodshot eyes. In his excitement to get his creation out to the world, he had forgotten to sleep. He stormed across the small room and snatched up his book from the sparkling glass shards. Behind the countless racks and storage boxes he saw his old computer that he hadn’t used in years. It was plugged in and looked to be in relatively good condition except for a few scratches and cracks. He took one last look at the names and numbers in his book in a futile attempt to read them, but they seemed to be jumping around the yellow-spotted white pages tauntingly. He opened and logged onto his computer and, in a spur of the moment decision, set up an eBay page with fake credentials. He created a scientific name to operate under, …
I will be known as the doctor of manipulating time; the doctor of creating immortality. I will be Doctor Forever.
… made his achievements and education seem better than they really were, and put his immortality solution on the market for a meager price of $13,000 a dose. He dreamed of becoming the name that everybody thought of when the word scientist was uttered, and of becoming rich enough to go on exotic vacations and spare his daughter, Jackie, from having to work when she is older. He wanted his studies to always be remembered and to improve the lives of those who chose to be immortal. As he finalized his eBay sale and closed the slow laptop, his head once again dropped down to the table and his eyelids fluttered shut. The song of crickets harmonizing outside his lab lulled him into a peaceful slumber.
When the roosters crowed at dawn, Dr. Merlin opened his sticky eyes. His drool had settled into a pool underneath his chin and he felt the strings of saliva crisscrossing his cheek. The high that had come with the excitement of the previous night faded as he came back to reality and the fact that his immortality solution was being regarded as a big joke. He should have known that the human mind was not capable of processing such a revolutionary discovery. Death had been a truth and the end of human life for as long as could be documented and ending that with one simple injection would not pass easily with the population.
He found his computer in the clutter of papers that he had kicked over in his sleep and snapped it open in a hurry. With shaking fingers he logged on to his eBay page and opened his sale of the immortality solution. The list of comments and saves had almost reached ten thousand. Most of them ridiculed him and called him a liar, but Dr. Merlin could not help noticing that a few people were genuinely interested in purchasing a dose of the substance. He opened his messaging and began to contact the people who also hoped to become immortal. He arranged meeting places, set times and bargained for the prices. But when it was time to send out the messages, his computer beeped angrily.
Error. Dr. Merlin tried again. Beep, error. He refreshed the whole website, but instead of reloading his eBay page, the screen turned grey. Small black letters marched across the grainy page like little army ants.
Error. This page has been deleted due to unauthorized sales. We are sorry. Have a nice day.
Error my butt, Dr. Merlin maundered grumply. He furiously began filling out a customer complaint report knowing full well that eBay was notorious for their horrible customer service. After he was finished, he sat and stared at the blank screen of his computer. For the first time in years, he felt lost. Dr. Merlin had no idea how to continue or what to do next. His studies were complete, he had accomplished his main goal, yet he felt useless and unsatisfied.
Over a plate of rubbery eggs and watered-down orange juice the next week, Merlin tore open each piece of mail, skimming through the junk, but still curious enough to read everything. He laughed at the men’s health magazines with the photoshopped biceps as big as his head and shook his head in shock at the stupidity of charities thinking that he was going donate to them. He opened one letter which had a government seal in the corner inquisitively. He had never received anything like it before. The envelope was a creamy white with his address neatly typed in the center. He ripped it open, careful not to tear the letter nestled inside. It was a memo from the FDA in Washington, D.C. requesting his attendance at a meeting regarding immortality. They had noticed the uproar his eBay page had caused and had received complaints from numerous pharmacies regarding Dr. Merlin as a joke. The FDA did not say whether they believed him or not, but they wanted to meet with him in person. The last sentence said that they had a proposal to make about the sale of his immortality solution.
Dr. Merlin was giddy with excitement. The little woodpecker of his ideas had not stopped pecking at the concrete wall, but had instead formed a window. He wanted to run, to shout, to tell everyone what was going to happen, but he had to wait. He couldn't sit down, couldn’t finish his breakfast, couldn’t even concentrate on editing his science report. His mind was like an annoying mosquito; no matter what distraction he chose for himself, his thoughts kept fluttering back to the note in his hand. Then he would get that tingly feeling all over again. He hired a babysitter for Jackie and started making flight arrangements to fly to D.C. as soon as possible. He had grown up there and was not only excited to present his scientific discoveries, but to visit the place he had loved as a child. He threw clothes into a dusty suitcase that had not been used in decades, and carefully packed away vilas of the immortality solution in foam padded boxes with test tube racks.
He was scheduled to leave the very next morning and arrive in D.C. around noon. When the school bus deposited the masses of giggling children with colorful backpacks later that afternoon, Dr. Merlin rushed out to intercept Jackie on her way to the house of her friend, Caty.
“I need to talk to Jackie about something today. She’ll see you tomorrow.” That was the only explanation he offered before herding Jackie through their neglected front yard and into their house.
“Dad, I was gonna go play with Caty,” she whined as Dr. Merlin dragged her down the cobblestone path by one delicate hand.
“I have to leave town for a couple of days tomorrow. But I promise that when I get back, things will be a lot better for the both of us. We can go on vacations and you can go to a better school and I will buy you those new light-up tennis shoes you want.” Dr. Merlin said, more to convince himself than Jackie, “I got you a nice babysitter too.”
Jackie’s powder blue eyes were wide and moist. “Will you be back?”
“Soon, sweetie. Very soon.” He hugged her tightly.
“Pinkie promise?” He locked pinkies with his little girl, the grumpy scientist allowing his swelling heart to show in the presence of his daughter.
Only hours later, Dr. Merlin was able to start his journey. The engine roared to life as the great metal monster started to roll down the hot, gray track. Faster and faster it went, until the wheels lifted up, following the nose into the fluffy white clouds. The city melted away until it looked like a dollhouse behind a mist of fog. Dr. Merlin sat in the back of the cabin, following Will Smith’s advice and drinking orange juice out of a champagne glass. His lanky legs were crunched into a seemly uncomfortable position against the back of the seat in front of him. The seatbelt light blinked on and off the whole flight, but Dr. Merlin did not move from his seat, unfamiliar with having to talk to the men blocking his path to the aisle.
After getting his baggage from the never ending carousel of suitcases and buying a map from one of the booths, Dr. Merlin walked through the two sliding glass airport doors into the city. The weather was a perfect cool. With wisps of baby’s breath on a light breeze, near-winter’s trifling touch was just enough to tousle Dr. Merlin’s thin hair. The trees waved him on as he walked under their canopy. Their boughs once clad in green were bare and black, clawing the sky in search of summer’s warmth.
Dr. Merlin found his way to his hotel with ease, rhythmically settling back into the beat of the city. He refused help with his three black bags, not trusting anyone else to transport the revolutionary merchandise. His meeting was set to start in three hours time and Dr. Merlin’s stomach was churning like the rolling plains of his current home back in Georgia. His phone beeped with an alert about a message from Jackie. She had sent him a picture of her and Caty playing on the slides at a playground. He smiled back at the frozen image displaying her jubilant attitude.
After obsessively repacking his test tubes and documented discoveries to confirm that nothing was missing or forgotten, Dr. Merlin called a taxi to his hotel and set off for the FDA buildings of the United States. His taxi driver seemed surprised at the request, but plugged the destination into his GPS without hesitation. The looming office buildings of the city lined all of the thin roads, casting shadows over the bustling people. The FDA buildings were a chalky white with countless pillars and oversized American flags waving to Dr. Merlin’s little taxi. Dr. Merlin had been living in the bleeding spring of sold out promises for as long as he could remember. He had worked for years towards some goals only to have them ferment in the box of boundaries and find some excuse not to work. This time, he hoped to reverse that and set his wings into an unstoppable, rippling motion.
With a tip and quick “thanks” to the taxi driver, Dr. Merlin walked through the double doors and passed by the security guards with their intimidating rifles and metal detectors guarding the offices. The inside of the building reminded him of a hospital with high ceilings, white walls and immaculate cleanliness. He brushed past indifferent office workers, his eyes jumping from the map he had been given to the faces blurring by him in an overwhelming haze. When he reached room G53 after what felt like hours of pointless wandering, he knocked softly on the hard mahogany door.
A man in his late thirties or early forties opened the door. He looked weary and overworked with saggy dark pockets of flesh at the intersection between his cheeks and eyes. His eyes reminded Dr. Merlin of his old coffee table that was sold off when his mother died. They held life despite the years of weathering, and were freckled with deep brown specks blended with lighter hues. “Are you Dr. Marvin Merlin?” he said in an voice rimmed with power.
“Yes, sir,” Dr. Merlin replied respectfully.
“My name is Blane McPherson. We sent you a letter last week because we wanted to discuss your immortality solution.”
“Yep, of course,” Dr. Merlin replied distractedly, still gazing into McPherson’s eyes. McPherson held the door open, beckoning for Dr. Merlin to follow him into the office. On the floor was a multi-colored oriental carpet, bordered by beige fringe and patterned with blue medallions and flowers with olive green leaves. McPherson’s desk looked like he had tried organizing, but the random stacks of crumpled paper and the week’s worth of tan coffee mugs showed that it had been a failed attempt.
“We, the FDA, have come to the conclusion that we can take the immortality solution off your hands, make it legitimate and earn a huge profit which a portion of will go to you, b…,” McPherson began.
“I want to sell, that sounds perfect,” Dr. Merlin interrupted, too eager to remember his manners.
“But, if immortality is on the market, it will have to be regulated.”
“In which way?”
“Well, first of all, everybody applying to become immortal will have to be background checked, fill out a form explaining why they deserve to live forever and they have to agree to be contributing citizens of the United States for the rest of their never ending lives.”
“Okay. I can settle for that.”
“And, for every person to become immortal, another random person will be killed by a government sent executioner so that our surplus population can remain balanced. Overpopulation would create too many problems in our society.”
“Oh… how will each person be killed? And who has to die?”
“How it is done will be up to the executioner's wishes. Whichever way they wish to kill and whatever they get the most satisfaction from. And the people being killed will be selected by random. They will receive a letter notifying them of their predicament and they will have twenty-four hours from the day the letter is sent to the day the executioner comes knocking on their front door.” McPherson looked indifferently at Dr. Merlin, waiting for a response.
“I… I guess. But only one person, right? And like a humane death?” Dr. Merlin’s face was that of complete shock and disgust, yet inside he was bouncing his options back and forth.
“Yes. As humane as death can be, of course.”
“You may deposit your product and any other information you have on it in the lab on the way out. Within the next week you will receive the outright payment for our purchase of your product and in the following weeks you will receive a portion of all the profit. Thank you for your time, Dr. Merlin. Or may I say Doctor Forever?” McPherson snapped out his persuasive negotiating mode and ushered Dr. Merlin out of the office in a professional manner.
Dr. Merlin thanked McPherson and received his business card in case of any further inquiries. The contract had been signed and the immortality solution was now under the complete control of the government. He had not been prepared for that compromise, but even if he had been given time to dwell it over, Dr. Merlin did not think he would have made a different decision. It was only going to be a couple of deaths and he deserved to gain a profit for all of the years he had spent researching and discovering the immortality solution.
The city life seemed surreal when Dr. Merlin left through the doors of that building. The hustle bustle on sidewalks, unrelenting traffic jams, ambulances screaming past and the flashing red fire truck lights all blurred into one big grey moment. Subway trains roared onto platforms, belching out and swallowing passengers underneath the aromas of chestnuts roasting, at street side vendors. Umbrellas rose like a sea of colorful kites among the pedestrians impatiently waiting at curbs to cross the street. Dr. Merlin blended with the mob in his grey overcoat with tan britches, but inside he felt like a nauseas neon green traffic light.
Dr. Merlin boarded a subway train, his load light after depositing everything at the offices. He looked around at all of the people in his car, well aware than any of them could be killed by his signing of the contract. To his left, a young college student with black curly hair and milk chocolate skin was studying a textbook, his red hoodie and tan sweat pants bordering well worn white Nike's. Standing by the door holding onto to one of the metal poles was a businessman in a charcoal tweed suit carrying a dripping wet black umbrella. Glancing at her watch a woman in blue scrubs seemed anxious to reach her destination. The gray hair visible under her navy windbreaker hood was tangled and windblown. A disheveled man of about fifty was speaking to himself in what seemed to be an animated conversation with an altered ego as he was answering his own questions. Dr. Merlin observed all of this, wondering if any of these normal people just living their lives would feel the wrath of his creation.
Thirty-six hours later after pulling into his driveway back in Georgia, Dr. Merlin was mentally and physically exhausted. He had tossed around in his bed all night battling with his conscience. That morning he had heard of his immortality solution being presented on all of the news channels. People had flocked to get their applications filled out and there was an ever growing stack of them pending approval on McPherson’s desk. Later that night when Caty and Jackie were playing, Dr. Merlin shared the stories of his travels with Ms. Clancy, Caty’s mom.
“I’m just amazed at the number of people who are so uncontent with the time they do have to live, even though they know that lengthening their time will cut short someone else’s,” Dr. Merlin thought out loud.
“You’re immortal, right?”
“Yeah, but I only took the immortality solution because I created it and that only makes sense. And nobody was killed because of my injection.”
“People don’t care about others if they do not know them personally. You signed the form not caring about all of the deaths it will cause because you did not care about the people who you don’t know personally.”
“But… I need the money.”
“You don’t need anything right now. Can’t you just be content with your beautiful little girl, sturdy house and everything else you have.” Ms. Clancy looked at Dr. Merlin with such condemnation that he almost gave into the guilt that had been slowly gnawing away at his gut since the meeting with McPherson.
“I am content, but I want to become more successful in life.”
“You can, but you shouldn’t fulfill that wish by taking the lives of others.” Ms. Clancy had much more intuitive kindness than Dr. Merlin did, and he felt lousy for a second until he talked himself back up to a genius scientist and the father of immortality.
“Yeah… I know,” Dr. Merlin turned away from Ms. Clancy as if he was watching Jackie and Caty race across the mulch on chubby legs, but really he just felt ashamed to show his face. The extra money that had come in from the sales had already gone towards better clothes, nice dinners and those new light-up sneakers that Jackie had wanted. Dr. Merlin had been interviewed by the National Geographic’s science channel where he explained how the components of his solution worked. He had talked on NPR about the effects of aging and how his solution combated those cellular effects. He had presented at Princeton and Cornell biology lectures on his scientific breakthrough. His name was known around the United States as a brilliant scientist who had finally cracked the code to aging. His life was finally looking up and his financial state was solid.
The day the tides turned and the rivers started flowing south to north was an ordinary winter evening when Jackie was at the playground and Dr. Merlin was reading his mail. He had received another memo from the FDA and tore it open eagerly, assuming that it was another payment. Surprised when no check fell out, Dr. Merlin unfolded the note and skimmed the neat typing covering half of the sheet a paper.
“No,” he whispered under his breath in utter disbelief. His voice sounded ragged and the air surrounding him turned static and warm. The vibration of his abandoned cellphone echoed throughout the room. Jackie had been sentenced to death due to a stranger longing to be immortal. Dr. Merlin remembered McPherson’s twenty-four hour rule and assumed that the letter had taken a couple of hours to get to his house, therefore he had less than a day to figure out how to save his child. He dug through the crumbs and ripped pieces of paper in his wallet until he found the business card that McPherson had given him at the end of their meeting. He typed in the number with trembling fingers while his other hand crunched the death sentence with a sweaty palm.
“Mr. McPherson, this is Dr. Merlin, the one with the immortality solution. I have an emergency request.”
“What is the ‘emergency’, Dr. Merlin?” McPherson said patronizingly.
“My daughter, Jacalyn Merlin, received a death notice today because of the immortality solution.”
“I am sorry to hear that.”
“Fix it! You can’t kill the daughter of the scientist who invented the immortality solution.” Dr. Merlin was almost yelling into the phone.
“Well, you see, I told you this in our first meeting. The selection process is random. We cannot pick favorites or cancel execution orders.”
“But this is a different matter because… because it is my daughter.”
“That, Dr. Merlin, is what I like to call ‘irony at its finest.’ Have a good day, sir. It was nice hearing from you.” McPherson almost seemed to be enjoying this moment while Dr. Merlin was in tears.
How could the FDA be so corrupt as to kill innocent people so that selfish, wealthy people could live forever? Then Dr. Merlin realized that he was the cause of all of the deaths, including the future one of his own child. He was one of the selfish wealthy people who wanted to live forever. The words of Ms. Clancy came back to him as he remembered that he had instituted this by the signing of the contract. What had brought him wealth and fame had brought pain and loss to families all around the content. The hit list had finally circled its way back around to him.
Dr. Merlin paced across the plush carpet. The rock in his stomach aching like he had never felt before. He debated on whether or not to tell Jackie, but decided against it, still convinced that he could save her. Dr. Merlin felt trapped, like the walls were getting closer. He propped open a blind and gazed out upon the opalescent hues splayed across the vast sky, as the sunset painted the rouge, cold mountains with bright acrylic paint. Dr. Merlin counted the pearl rain drops that dripped from his red eyes, splattering each piece of mail below.
“Dad? Are you in there,” Jackie called from outside his closed bedroom door.
“Yes sweetie, come in.” Dr. Merlin wore a stitched on smile upon his sullen face, in an attempt to hide the truth from his daughter. He brushed the FDA letter under a pile of innocent bills and fan mail from aspiring scientist all over the country. Though his warm arms enclosed Jackie when she ran to him, Dr. Merlin couldn’t help but feel bitterly cold on the inside. He clutched her tighter, selfishly wanting to save her, not for her well-being, but because he didn’t know what he would do without her.
“What do you need?” Dr. Merlin asked his precious daughter.
“Nothing. I just wanted to see you. You seem kinda’ lost these days.”
“Lost? I’m right here with you.”
“Not lost in that sense, silly. Lost in that you don’t seem to know what to do with yourself. You were much happier when you were working on that anti-aging thing of yours. Now you just seem lost.” Dr. Merlin realized how mature his daughter had gotten in the last few years when he had been camped out in the lab working on his experiments. He hugged her again, tighter against his swelling heart.
“I’m not lost, Jackie,” he said, his eyes brimming and blurry with tears, “‘cause I have you to show me the way. Let’s look at this as an opportunity to spend more time with each other. We won’t always be together.” At this point Dr. Merlin was bawling completely with gut wrenching sobs of utter despair.
“It’s okay, Daddy. I’m sorry.” Jackie nestled her head under Dr. Merlin’s stubble coated chin, listening to the beat of his heart. “I just wanted to come ask if Caty could come over and play.”
“Yeah, of course you guys can play,” Dr. Merlin said distractedly, with a hint of embarrassment.
“Yay. Thank you.” Jackie skipped out of the room, her shoulder length brown hair bouncing up and down. Dr. Merlin watched his jubilant daughter with pain in his chest. He should have told her, or at least spent alone time with her, but he did not know what to say to her. Instead, he allowed her to be happy, playing with her best friend Caty in the last hours of her life. Dr. Merlin’s phone started to vibrate again, and this time he picked it up and spoke harshly into the receiver.
“I’m busy now. Please stop calling.” Dr. Merlin was about to hang up when he a heard a familiar voice.
“It’s me, Blane McPherson. I just wanted to let you know that the executioner is about twenty minutes away from your residence. Please have Jaclyn home and ready to leave at that time. If you shirk your duties and hide her or yourself, you will face federal charges for alluding sentence.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Dr. Merlin replied somewhat sarcastically before hanging up the phone. He threw his cell across the room in anger, smashing the screen against the corner of a table. He could hear the giggles of Jackie and Caty drifting up the stairs, and suddenly felt annoyed at the other child for stealing his last moments with Jackie. He still refused to believe that she would be dead in less than an hour, and felt like he could still come up with some plan to protect his daughter without having to go to federal prison.
He walked heavily down the stairs, with the residue of tears hanging on his cheeks. He knew what Jackie had meant — he was lost. He was out of ideas and unsure what the moral choices were.
“Jackie? Sweetie?” He called, having lost the sound of giggles.
“We’re playing hide and seek,” Jackie said, coming out of her room, “want to help me look?”
“Sure,” Dr. Merlin smiled in reply.
“Okay, but I’m hiding next,” Jackie declared. Dr. Merlin searched the house somewhat unenthusiastically. He had wanted to spend time with his daughter, not play a silly game with her friend.
“Found you!” He heard the sound of screeching and laughter from the kitchen and saw Caty’s head poking out from their pantry.
“My turn,” Jackie said, jumping up, “I’ll hide while you guys count to thirty.” She scampered off, listening to the sound of Dr. Merlin and Caty slowing counting. When they had reached thirty, Dr. Merlin followed Caty past the living room and into the front hallway. Then, the doorbell rang. Dr. Merlin flinched, not wanting to let in whatever evil was waiting outside. Caty jumped up and opened it, expecting to see her mom, but instead was greeted by a tough looking young man.
“Are you Dr. Marvin Merlin, the legal guardian of the forfeiture?” He growled in a menacing voice. He appeared to be a pretty normal guy with dusty blonde hair and bland brown eyes. His rubber boots were coated in a thick layer of dirt and were held together by duct tape and their will to live. He looked like a delivery boy except for the suspicious little red-brown dots that freckled his stubble-coated cheeks.
“Yep,” Dr. Merlin squeaked back, still not entirely comprehending the situation.
“Is this the girl?” The executioner was pointing at Caty, and Dr. Merlin was about to correct him but realized how fortunate it was for him that the man had no idea what Jackie actually looked like.
“Yep,” he said again in a cowardly voice. His hands were jammed deeply into his pockets and his upper lip was dotted with beads of moisture.
“Would you like a goodbye? I can leave for a minute or two.” The executioner seemed more humane than Dr. Merlin thought a man who murdered for a living could be.
“I already have. She can go.” Dr. Merlin pushed Caty out of the door with one firm shove. She rubbed the back of her neck and knitted her eyebrows, but did not resist. She looked at Dr. Merlin, waiting for his approval, and when she saw him watching respectfully without intervention, she quietly allowed the unfamiliar man to drag her into his beat up pickup truck. There, on the dew dribbled grassy yard, as the sunlight stole across Caty one last time, Dr. Merlin melted into the moist dirt. His chest was being tormented by short lived periods of relief, but then the guilt came back to haunt his conflicted soul. He was unable to move or even wave goodbye as Caty was taken away to be murdered. A term from one of his old medical books swam through his overloaded consciousness: flaccid paralysis. Dr. Merlin almost willed his legs to run out and close the gate to his property in order to stop the truck, but it was soon cruising down the road with a fraud of his daughter in the backseat.
Jackie, getting tired of hiding without being found, came up behind Dr. Merlin and stood in the the doorway, watching the truck roll away. She was quiet for an unusually long time, reading her father’s body language better than most seven year olds could.
“Who was that?” she asked innocently.
“Oh. Just Caty’s babysitter. He came early.”
“She didn’t even say goodbye.” Jackie pouted back into the living room and plopped down on the couch with her arms crossed. Dr. Merlin joined her, and instead of facing reality, chose to wrap himself in a blue patterned quilt and sit facing the television, reading magazines with pangs of guilt.
Minutes after Dr. Merlin had sat down, he heard another knock on his hard wooden door. He froze, holding his breath and crouching down like he was preparing to bolt. He thought that it might be the executioner coming back to question the identity of Caty. Jackie was laying at his side, stretched out and contentedly watching cartoons, indifferent to the visitor at the door.
“Dr. Merlin? Are you in there? It’s time for Caty to come home.” Dr. Merlin stood, trying to quiet his breathing, pretending like he wasn’t in the house. He hadn’t even considered what to do with Ms. Clancy when she came looking for her daughter.
“Dr. Merlin?” Her obnoxious voice had finally penetrated Jackie’s obsession with the television.
“Daddy? Caty’s mom is at the door,” she piped up excited that Caty had come back, thinking that she was being helpful.
“I heard that, Dr. Merlin. Tell Caty that she has to come out right now.” Dr. Merlin had no choice but to open the front door. He stepped out onto the brick porch and closed the wooden door as well as the screen door behind him with a soft click. He didn’t want Jackie to think she had an invitation to join this conversation. Dr. Merlin had a feeling that a violent argument was brewing.
“Is Caty coming?” Ms. Clancy seemed annoyed.
“Yeah, yeah. She’s on her way.”
“Can I go in and help her speed the process up?”
“Nah. She’s fine.” Dr. Merlin was trying to buy time and change the subject, but he knew that he would eventually have to come up with something better.
“Ya sure?” Ms. Clancy was regarding him suspiciously. “Are you drunk, already? It’s barely noon.”
“I wish I was.”
“You’re scaring me. I’m going to find her.” Ms. Clancy brushed past Dr. Merlin’s futile efforts to stop her progress inside. He stood at the doorway watching her search the whole house, his insides clawing with pain for this mother who had no idea that she would never see her child again.
“Jackie, do you know where Caty is?” Ms. Clancy was in the living room kneeling next the couch where Jackie lay.
“Dunno. She left with a babysitter a couple of minutes ago.” Jackie was very uninterested in the whole spectacle, assuming that Caty would come back to play the next day and that everything would be fine.
Ms. Clancy stormed up to Dr. Merlin’s twitching face, fuming with anger, “You, listen here! Give me my daughter or I will call the police. What have you done with her? I never hired a babysitter.” Dr. Merlin seemed to be struggling with his inner self as the sound of Ms. Clancy yells turned into the crying of a little girl in his head. He heard Caty’s sweet voice calling out for help as she was brutally murdered, wondering why Dr. Merlin had sent her with the executioner instead of home to her mother.
“ I can’t give her to you,” Dr. Merlin cried, breaking down in sobbing hysterics, loud enough to make Jackie glance his way. “She’s already 6 feet under, dead on an overdose of anesthesia or bleeding through a hole in her scalp. Maybe drowned in a lake, thrown off a cliff or fed to the lions. I don’t know exactly, but I am positive that she is dead in Jackie’s name. I would say that Caty’s death will haunt me ‘till the day I die, but I will never die for I am immortal. For eternity I will live with the guilt eating away at my already crumbling heart. Though my skin will never hold any wrinkles or the signs of life fleeting by, my soul will forever bear the scars of what I’ve done to become the doctor of manipulating time; the father of creating immortality: Doctor Forever.”