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The Choice [SHORT STORY]

Boy Reading Book
Photo by China Photos/Getty Images

-A boy is faced with the choice of eternity.

I was fourteen when my parents gave me a copy of the book. It’s a ritual all teenagers go through as it’s the seminal text of our world. Read it, my father told me. Understand it. Come to us with questions. But ultimately, the choice is yours.

"Dad explained that he and mom made a pact not to disclose to anyone their decision. Either I would watch them age and die or they would retain the same appearance they now have.  "

I’d known of the book’s existence, but since I was an only child, it had never been an issue for my family before now.

The book was my dad’s copy. It was dog-eared and, as I leafed through it, I saw his handwritten notes. I ran up to my room to dive into The Eternal and the Dead.

The first few chapters were a real bore. It detailed the scientific breakthroughs long ago that discovered immortality – how a few genetic compounds found only in newborns can be modified and applied to a human body near its growth maturation stage to ‘turn-off’ the effects of aging.

The book spelled out The Choice. Those who sought eternity must obtain the newborn’s genetic material. The infant stripped of these essential building blocks would never reach full maturity and are granted the mercy of death before they reach the ‘age of comprehension.’

There are those who have made The Choice and they are known as Eternalists or Immortalists. Those who decline The Choice are Mortalists. Each faction was was granted space in the book to present their case.

The Eternalist portions of the book were thrilling. They talked about the wonders of the universe and what can be learned and experienced in the span of a forever life. The chapters that detailed obtaining the ‘Sprout of Eternity’ or the ‘Fountain’ (they never used the terms baby or infant, I noticed), read like the best spy novels: how to outwit cunning nursery security and tales of eternal friendships and loves that grew from a pack of Eternalists who bonded to obtain a ‘Gift.’

The Mortalists wrote of morality and how no life should be sacrificed for another. They gave impassioned pleas for the order of the universe, how humans were born to die as are all other living creatures. They promised the rewards of an ‘afterlife.’

The book concludes with a warning – The Choice must be made before the body reaches its maturation, around age 18. But since bodies age differently some 17-year-olds have tried to apply the treatment and found it to be too late while some have had successful immortality therapy into their early 20s.

After I’d read and re-read The Eternal and the Dead, I took my dad up on his offer about answering some questions. I asked him what choice he and mom had made; they had never told me. He explained that he was ‘agnostic’ when it came to The Choice. I didn’t know the term when he spoke it and now I’m not sure it’s the right word.

My dad explained that he and mom made a pact not to disclose to anyone their decision. Either I would watch them age and die or they would retain the same appearance they now have. Perhaps, my dad said, they would watch me grow old and die. He maintained that The Choice was mine and would not speak more about his choice.

I put the book away after that and did not look at it again for some time. Just before I turned seventeen, I re-read again The Eternal and the Dead. I contemplated the Immortalists and their thrilling ‘Fountain’ chases. I certainly could think of some girls I would join in an immortality pact. I also thought long about the thousands upon thousands of years where humans experienced the life cycles of birth and death and if that was the way it was meant to be.

What was certain was if I didn’t make The Choice very soon, my body would make it for me.

As I read again the final chapter of the book about the warning of being too old and losing the opportunity for immortality, I noticed a hand-scribbled note I’d not seen when I’d read the book three years earlier. It was written in a script barely large enough for legibility and easily missed in the page margin.

The words were in the hand of my mother: ‘Choose well, my son, your brothers did not.’

Note: This story originally appeared on Reddit’s /r/WritingPrompts.

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