A Fox Emerson Tale
I got sick. The pain had crept from my toes to my knees. From my hips to my chest. Maybe months had passed since I’d had a clear head and it had been so long since I’d had no headaches. I had a constant fog that made it difficult to focus on anything in my life. And the worst part was knowing that there was nothing that could be done about it. Not to say that my life had become a haze or a blur, but it certainly wasn’t as clear as it used to be.
When I was younger, I ran marathons, I climbed mountains, rowed across rivers, dived in exotic waters, got intimate with many a gym – even when I was on holiday and I always thought that one day, I’d age better as a result of all my years of effort.
All that running, all that exercise, all that energy I expended, it slowly wore at my joints. That day I stared in disbelief at that overpaid dick’s bifocals and heard words I’d always associated with old people; Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, Fibromyalgia and something else that seemed like it should have mattered still resounded in my head.
I realised I’d been lying to myself.
As the months progressed and I near forgot what I had half the time. I read books and I watched television and kept myself distracted. I isolated myself from those who were left that I once valued so highly. I read bullshit from clickbait on tweets that I knew was stupid. But I did it because I no longer had anything to lose and was no longer afraid to get pulled into someone’s scam. So what? i had no money and I had nowhere to be. Hell, I was pretty sure that I could pop off at any moment and weeks would go by before someone would notice, and even then, it would only be because the stench of my corrupted corpse was seeping out of the house.
Apparently, a woman Doctor in a far-flung part of Asia had discovered a ‘cure’ for ageing. A cure – because she was convinced that ageing was a disease that could be cured. This Doctor had been dismissed as ridiculous and a charlatan. Still, when you have nothing to lose, you’ll follow the white rabbit. I laughed, but I clicked and followed like a kid hearing the word ‘ice-cream’.
On social media forums, I quickly found discussions en masse; speculations, ruminations and trolling a plenty on the ridiculous claims of immortality.
There was one thread however, which only an idiot with little to lose would even bother to read. A guy by the handle of FringeOvYerMind claimed to know the Doctor in question and that her research was not only real, but tested and verified.
Because I have always been something of a dreamer, having created marketing campaigns for some of the world’s largest advertisers, and having created mini-dreams in 60 second snippets, I wrote to this Fringe fellow.
I expected nothing.
I don’t know how much time later; maybe a day, maybe a month. It’s all the same when you’re waiting for that final resting place, but in between, I ate, I dozed, I watched stupid people pretend they knew how to run a country and I ate some more.
He confirmed what I’d already read and assured me that the
research was real. I read his message with interest. I also noted that he
listed himself as living in Cambodia, which made me think he was a scammer.
Still, I had questions. I thought about them long enough to be clear about what
I wanted to know, and I listed them in bullet points and sent them.
These were smart questions that would instantly root out the scammers.
Again, I can’t be sure how long it took before he responded, this time with some interesting information.
He talked about the discovery of Telomeres lengthening and how they’d been able to prevent the telomerase enzyme from braking, which has the potential to restore the lost telomere length of adult stem cells. While I didn’t fully understand the complexities of what he was suggesting, I knew enough to understand that he was quoting facts that were based on current research. At the very least, this guy did know the science.
Though I still waited for the credit card request for a free 1-month sample. This would no doubt include a free set of steak knives. In the case where the 1-month sample failed you could then kill yourself with unbelievably sharp, long-lasting, high-quality knives. All for just £.9.99 a month, with the small print letting you know that there was no end date to the payments and your great, great grand-children would inherit your debt – plus interest.
He didn’t ask for any money – surprisingly, but he did insinuate, quite vaguely, that there may be a requirement for expendable volunteers.
While he didn’t specifically state that there was a requirement for volunteers and that they’d be expendable, I was quite accustomed to reading between the lines. I’d spent decades writing copy between the lines so that amazed viewers were entertained, got the message and left the theatre ready to buy whatever I told them to.
I wrote a message back immediately, using my own carefully crafted ability to advise that I may be available for such expendable volunteering, if such a thing were genuine. I included my mobile number and my home address, my age, my height, my weight, the list of my afflictions and a subtly-hinted willingness to be considered expendable.
If he was going to turn up on my doorstep with the 1-month sample, credit card machine, a dazzling smile that would ordinarily reheat frozen meals in 30 seconds, and a set of free steak knives, he would leave with the knives festooned throughout his torso.
I’d keep the smile.
A week later, I wrote to the Fringe man asking if he’d read my message – of course I know he had, as there were read receipts online, but I was shocked to discover his profile had been deleted. My heart became a cold steel knife that pressed against my ribcage. Until that discovery, I didn’t realise how much I’d cared about it. In fact, I’d cared so much about it that I’d barely been able to remember any of the three books I’d read, nor the countless television programs.
For several days, I flopped in my recliner and watched the day brighten, and eventually darken. I’d pull the handle and recline fully and sleep, then repeat. Occasionally I’d eat, frequently I’d go to the toilet and that was my life.
Maybe 4, perhaps 5 – even conceivably 6, days went by and a knock at my door, quite literally scared the wind out of me. I was thankful I hadn’t followed through.
Two young men appeared at my door; both well-dressed in a casual style and both carrying old-fashioned brief-cases. While neither of them flashed sun-blinding pearly whites, they looked friendly and curious. One had cropped short- dark, hair and the other was a traditional blonde with hair only slightly shorter. The lack of polish in their shoes and wrinkles in their clothes made it clear they weren’t military nor corporate. In fact, both their shirts and trousers were in various forms of wrinkled. I assumed scholars, students or scientists.
In that first few seconds, as I opened the door and one of them cleared their throat; ready to speak, I knew who they were. Even as the dark-haired boy began to speak, I opened the door wide and moved aside.
They seemed surprised, so I smiled, turned and walked into the kitchen where I filled the kettle with enough water for three and took 3 cups from an overhead cupboard. I heard the door close even as I rummaged and retrieved the boxes I was waiting for. I’d done some online shopping and I’d somehow decided that several types of green tea, peppermint teas and other natural teas – all organic – were delicious – anti-oxidant, age-fighting, new habits I should adopt. As the two young men entered the kitchen, I pointed to the various flavours and simply said, “which would you like gentlemen?”
The blonde boy smiled and came forward, picked up the peppermint box – read the side briefly, regarded me with a new-found respect and handed me the box, then said, “this one please, sir,” and stepped back, then looked at his colleague. The darker boy studied each of the teas, then regarded me with some level of interest, before returning to the teas. He eventually chose a plain green tea.
“I’m Max,” the blonde boy offered with a handshake. “Name’s Ollie,” I responded, then faced the dark-haired boy, who took a moment before realising he hadn’t offered his name and then said, “Steve,” and shook my hand, while looking a tad unsure of himself.
I was curious from the onset. These were fit boys that were standard representations of the new generation; eager, enthusiastic, creative, sensitive and earnest in the way they dressed and their presentation. But…their eyes, their eyes told a different story.
When Max spoke, at length and with no flair, no faff and no fanfare, in a manner that was politely direct, I knew he was telling me the truth.
I also knew without a doubt that he was a lot older than he looked.
While Max did most of the talking, in a pragmatic, explanatory – no-nonsense manner with an accent from the west country – possibly West Midlands – Steve added a technical detail or confirmed a detail or added information where needed. The topic and possibilities opened up a vortex in my mind that threatened to suck out all logic and sensibilities but also sparked excitement somewhere deep within me, of the likes that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
While they simply referred to their workplace as ‘The Lab’, it turned out that Max and Steve were both scientists and investors who were working on a super-secret project. They made it clear that I couldn’t freely talk about it with anyone, or they’d sue me and every descendent from me until kingdom come. They didn’t come right out and say it, but they were also quite crafted in the ways of speaking between the lines. Nobody was truly concerned about secrecy, they both already knew from the first few minutes we spent at my kitchen table, that I wasn’t interested in talking about their business to anyone and they even made it clear that they’d performed a number of background checks and alluded to having spied on me online. In fact, during one of Max’s explanations of the social implications of their discovery, he either accidentally or intentionally let me know indirectly that he was aware of all my online communications.
He even pointed to a new brand of coffee pods I was trialling and asked if they were better than the previous brand I’d been using. Just to make me aware that he knew more about me than I knew about him. ‘The Lab’ people might well have known more about me, given the Alzheimer’s made me often forget the names of simple things like my coffee pod brands.
I realised as we sat around my kitchen table, that Max had hardly given me anything more than I could glean myself online.
Max asked questions, and while his eyes – a kind of light-blue that reflected the kitchen light in ways that made me think of millions of tiny tea lights – seemed to decipher whether my answers were the truth.
Steve – with my permission – took my blood pressure, took several blood samples, a scraping from my fingernails, some strands from my hair and a small scraping from the skin on the side of my nose. It almost seemed so coordinated; and so perfunctory, as each of them methodically went through an invisible checklist. Max memorised my answers, continually regarding me with friendly – but analytical eyes and Steve pulled out one bottle or vial after another and labelled each as he worked, then put them into a case. The case itself was so much deeper than it seemed from the outside, making me feel like it was swallowing the bottles as Steve placed them.
Approximately 1 hour later, they both simultaneously finished and stood. Max asked, “any questions?” in a way that let me know that he wasn’t prepared to answer any.
I asked one anyway, because I was curious and because I knew that I had nothing to lose. I watched Steve carefully as I asked, knowing that I wouldn’t be so lucky with Max, who seemed slightly more… mature. A gut instinct told me that I’d have more of a chance catching Steve off guard.
As I regarded Steve’s walnut coloured eyes, I asked, “how old are you?”.
I heard Max exhale with a short laugh while Steve seemed perplexed, perhaps even confused, definitely taken aback. Then he opened his mouth and started to shape one word, then changed it as he spoke it.
“32,” he said as he looked down at my slippers.
I smiled, then looked at Max, “and you?”.
“33,” a wide grin formed. Eyes watched me carefully, but also with a hint of not caring all that much. They knew they held all the cards and that I wouldn’t pursue anything if I valued the process. They knew I did and that this was just me seeing how much they’d tell me.
“Thanks for your time Mr. Beaconsfield…”
“Please, it’s Ollie,” I interrupted.
“Sure. Ollie, thank you again and we’ll be in touch.”
There were no further words from Max and none at all from Steve. They walked to the door, opened it, walked out and so I closed it behind them and not a single awkward, uncomfortable moment happened.
I stood and stared at the back of the door for several minutes. So many thoughts raced through my mind; so many questions.
Eventually, I turned and headed back to the kitchen and put the kettle back on.
“33 my ass,” I said to the kettle, and then began to laugh.
The knock at the door was insistent and it was loud. It woke me from my sleep. Fumbling for my phone, I eventually felt it and picked it up without opening my eyes. Only until I was able to feel the right way up with my hand did I open them.
On the one hand I was curious how I’d managed to sleep so late and on the other, I was concerned about who the hell could be banging on my door so loudly. I lifted the cover and pushed it aside, then slid to the side of the bed and braced myself for the searing pain that was sure to come as my feet hit the soft carpet for the first time.
It was going to be a good day. My feet hurt; sure, they always hurt, but they didn’t hurt nearly as much as some other days. I took two steps to the window and I pried the blinds apart just enough to be able to look downstairs. Looking up at me were both Max and Steve, smiling and not carrying briefcases.
A minute, or it might have been as many as 10 – passed, before I reached the front door. As I opened it, I realise I’d forgotten to lock it the previous day.
Oops. I just wasn’t used to visitors these days, so such a thing was definitely plausible.
“Good morning Mr… I mean, Ollie. How are you today?” the smiles were genuine, of that I was sure. I stood aside and shook hands as they passed me, then closed the door, locked it, then felt stupid and unlocked it, then followed the men into the kitchen.
They were standing and waiting for me to accommodate them.
“Old school, aren’t you?” I said in jest, then added, “please make yourselves at home. Same again?” I said, pointing to the teas which I exposed by opening the cupboard door.
They both agreed and within minutes, and with hands wrapped around hot cups of organic tea, the social niceties evaporated.
“We’d like to make you an offer, Ollie, to join our program and to be one of the first test subjects,” he paused to take a sip of his tea, and set it down, then returned to study me as he spoke, “of course there are risks. You’ll need to sign a lot of paperwork – essentially indemnifying us from any responsibility and you’d also need to be away for the next 3 months, lose all contact with friends and family and … we’re going to take you to a secret location which we cannot share with you.”
I simply nodded, then swallowed and it was a bit louder – at least to my ears – than I’d have liked.
“Ok,” was all I could muster.
“Good, well,” he looked over at Steve, then back to me, and said, “we’re happy to come back and pick you up. About 12pm ok for you?”
I was stunned.
“Of course, we need to get moving as quickly as possible. Will there be a problem?”
So many thoughts filled my mind. I looked at the ground, at my slippers, at Max’s clean, trendy, red shoes and Steve’s also clean but military-green sneakers. I looked at my cupboards; worn but clean, tired and probably due for replacement. The other direction was my front room; television, coffee table, settee and my recliner. All nice furniture, all very clean but all could do with a refresh. I’d had them a long time. I’d everything a long time. It wasn’t going anywhere. I hadn’t gone anywhere in a long time and if I stayed how and where I was, I wasn’t likely to go anywhere else in what little remained of my inactive existence.
I said, “Ok”, before I knew I was going to and before I’d even decided whether I’d made up my mind. Of course, I was going to go with them; there’d been no hesitation since my first contact online.
“Great,” Max said, and offered me his hand. “We’ll pick you up at 12pm. Don’t bother bringing anything with you. Just your passport, and one change of clothes.”
I had a thousand questions that pressed against my lips and filled my mind, but I escorted them to the door and watched them leave without saying another word.
I locked the door and chuckled that I did so. Then leaned against my book-case and tried to sort through my thoughts.
If I wasn’t allowed to pack anything, then I was pretty much ready to go. They knew that too, in fact, they gave me a few hours to get my head around what I was about to do. They knew I wouldn’t change my mind. I knew I wouldn’t change my mind. The empty house knew it too. We all knew I was going to need to prepare myself for a big change.
4 agonising hours and 50 soul sucking minutes later, I waited by the door with a small rucksack packed. I looked through the small gap, checked the driveway, looked around the house for the 30th time to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything and went upstairs more times than was good for my knees.
I wanted to pop over to see my neighbours – not that I knew them well. On one side, there were the Polish family who were polite but never said more than a simple hello or goodbye and on the other, I had 3 couples; all English and friendly enough – except the youngest lad, who had the prettiest girlfriend but the sourest expression on his face and often either grunted or raised his eyebrows in greeting or acknowledgement.
I deliberated about telling someone – for reasons that I couldn’t even imagine. My grass was pretty much dead, I didn’t bother with any flowers or any plants that didn’t survive alone in the elements and I had no pets to consider. This went on for minutes that dragged on for an eternity.
As I considered my life, my situation, the possibilities ahead, the risks – yes, it was clear even to me, that I was putting my life into the hands of complete strangers – were high and the rewards might be none, an ambulance pulled into my driveway.
Not quite what I’d been expecting.
The end of part 1. Part two is now ready…
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