Everything dies. Callum’s mother had. Slowly, of pneumonia. For Callum, dying of pneumonia meant coughing up blood and phlegm, struggling at every moment to keep from choking on it. It was a futile struggle; inevitably, she’d drowned in her own bodily fluids. He’d thought many times of putting her pillow over her face to help her pain end, but his father would’ve killed him for it. Callum’s father had always been a hard man, and fond of laying his belt against Callum’s back to make a point. It was his belt that did him in. Confronting the inescapability of death can be too great a burden for some people. Callum’s father had confronted it with a belt tightened around his own neck. He had been a hard man, but a coward.
Callum had decided once he had been left alone at the early age of 17 that he would never die.
Many people content themselves to be made immortal by their works, or their children, or their virtues. Callum’s parents had taught him little of any of these. Callum’s father gambled away what he worked, and what his father hadn’t lost in ill-made bets, his mother had put away in drink. They certainly made Callum wish he’d never been born to them, and on one or another occasion, they had informed him in no mixed words that they agreed with him. If going to church was a virtue, it was the only one they had ever practiced as a family; every Sunday morning they donned fancy clothes they never otherwise wore to go to the nearby white, wooden square of a building and worship with a crowd of similarly fashioned individuals who, although they’d made time to dress, had not made time to shower.
So Callum knew that immortality could only really come in one form–he had to experience it directly. Personally. Science was nowhere near close enough to making someone live forever. Callum had done the research, and nothing short of cryogenic freezing would do the trick. And then, it was only a one-in-a-million chance that he’d ever reawaken from the process. Of course, he’d need the money to wake up too, and his parents had left him an inheritance that had been quickly dissolved by their debtors.
Callum’s search led him to an obscure little Coptic bookstore in Giza. There, he met a little man who spoke in very broken English. Callum asked him for the Testament of Blood, a 5th-century book written in Latin that had come recommended to him by an online acquaintance on a forum for conspiracy theorists. The man led Callum right to it, almost as if he’d been expecting his customer all along. Callum was too eager to question him–excited, even.
The Testament of Blood was a book of blood rituals collected from the apocryphal writings of a variety of religious men. Back home, with his references and dictionaries, the words he needed were not difficult to decipher.
It was a simple ceremony; what wasn’t so simple was the collection of the ingredients, which required the heart of a pregnant cow and the lifeblood of a virgin female. Callum thought about it and considered that, speaking purely from a pragmatic point of view, the former would be more difficult to obtain than the latter.
Gina Fleisher was so pretty–little golden bangs bounced over her eyes. She tended to lick her lips while she pushed them away from her nose and towards her ears. Her eyes were blue, her lips bright pink, and her little sneakers lit up when she walked. Callum thought that she must be a studious girl, holding her schoolbooks in front of her like other, less erudite girls might hold a doll. In other circumstances, Gina might have grown up to become a colleague.
But she had been chosen for a different purpose. Gina, of all of her friends, appeared to live the closest to her elementary school. When all of her friends gathered to wait for their buses, the lovely, little fourth-grader would scurry along, skipping to the tune of the music on her pink phone, ignoring all potential dangers–minus the obvious and often-taught injunction to look both ways before crossing any street.
Callum followed her home. He had five blocks to make his move, but there was something in his chest–a pressured tug that threatened to bring his heart down towards his stomach. It made him nervous of being watched. Or punished.
Callum thought to grab her by the arm. To take the small needle in his pocket and shove it in her neck before she could act. He lunged forward with one arm and landed his hand on her shoulder, but he didn’t grab. He tapped instead.
Gina looked up Callum and smiled nervously, pulling her ear buds from her ears. “Hello,” she said. Her school ID with her name and picture dangled on her neck. She had stuck her tongue out when the picture had been taken.
Callum froze. He looked around for witnesses, and he saw none. “Hello. You go to the elementary school.” He could think of nothing else to say.
“Uh… Yeah. I live right there,” she pointed at her home, only half a block away. Callum worried that he’d waited too long.
“My car is parked over there,” Callum said.
Gina’s eyes widened. She took a step back. “My parents are home.”
Callum reached into his pocket. “Would they want to talk to me, do you think?” His hand was shaking as he slipped the sheath off the needle.
Gina shook her head. “They don’t like people knocking on the door before dinner. I should go, Mister.” With that, Gina turned to run.
Callum reached out again and caught Gina by the wrist. She screamed, and Callum pushed the needle deep into her neck. Gina’s arm reached out for her home, but slowly it began to drop. Gina finally closed her eyes and dropped into Callum’s arms.
Someone had to have heard Gina scream. Callum carried her to his car. He fumbled with his keys, still looking around for people. There was a man outside, watering his lawn. The man and Callum watched each other for a moment. Callum unlocked and pushed open the trunk, and the man reacted by dropping his hose and walking towards Callum.
“Hey!” the man yelled, speeding into a jog.
Callum dropped Gina into the trunk and pulled out a revolver. He fired twice, and the man fell to the ground like a puppet whose strings had just been cut. Callum gasped, realizing he’d been holding his breath. He drove away quickly.
He needed to wait for Gina to wake up. There was no telling what would happen if her circulatory system was contaminated with a drug. The ritual called for the blood of a virgin, and he suspected that the ancients didn’t have access to etorphine hydrochloride.
Callum had tied Gina with her ankles and wrists behind her and her upper body suspended over the bathtub. He’d already etched the requisite arcane symbols into the sides of the tub with a blowtorch, and he had the pregnant cow’s heart on a silver platter. All he had left to do was to wait–and perhaps also to practice the Latin he was supposed to recite. So he sat on the toilet seat and waited, reading the Latin incantation again and again until he started to hear Gina’s muffled moans.
Callum put the book down and knelt around her. Gina’s eyes were open and wet with tears. He smiled. “Hello, Gina.”
Gina cried out something that sounded like “please let me go.” Of course he wouldn’t. Still, Callum ran his hand through her hair.
“It’s okay. It’ll be over soon. I won’t apologize, but I will say that you’re serving a great purpose.”
Callum stood up and grabbed an ornate ceremonial dagger from the next to the sink where he’d put it. He straddled Gina, pulled her head back by the hair, and took in a deep breath. “I will never forget you, Gina Fleisher.” Then he slid the sharp blade deep into the girl’s neck.
Her blood spat out into the tub, leaving a streak that extended from head to foot. The pressure quickly lessened, and what was once a spray became a stream, then a drip, until Gina’s heart would push nothing else out through the slit in her throat.
Callum slipped off the rope that tied her to the bathtub and let Gina’s body fall back into his arms. He took her to his bed and laid her down, untying her and placing her limp and paling arms over her belly. Callum stood over the girl for a moment, silent out of respect for her sacrifice. Then Callum began to strip.
Naked as the day he was born, Callum stepped into the bloody bathtub. He cupped his hands and spread Gina’s blood over his body, slowly and ceremoniously repeating the Latin prayer he’d painstakingly memorized. Then he reached out for the cow’s heart and bit into it. Callum struggled to chew and swallow the dry chunks of raw flesh. He tried to hold back his gag reflex and continued until there was nothing left of the heart. Then he felt a warmth wash over him and slipped away into unconsciousness.
Callum had been born again. When he woke up, he showered and scrubbed Gina’s blood from his body. Then he looked in the mirror. The small wrinkles at the corners of his eyes had been washed away. He smiled to see if the wrinkles at the sides of his lips had too, and they were, in fact, gone. He sighed in relief. He had succeeded, he knew, but he had to check.
Callum went into his room to find pants. He hadn’t closed Gina’s eyes, he realized, and pressed hard against her eyelids to keep them closed. The dead were very resistant to being moved, and his thumb and index finger left small dents in her eyeballs before he was done.
Callum rushed to the kitchen and held a carving knife against his forearm. He braced for the pain, pressed the blade against his skin, and pulled the knife backwards and down with a grunt. Then he watched as the gash in his forearm stitched itself shut and pushed out a trickle of black blood.
He laughed out loud triumphantly. Immortality was his. True eternal youth.
The lights went out. Callum tried to flip the switch up, down, up again. It must have been a fuse, he thought. This was an old house.
“Callum Raynes,” he heard someone say from deep inside the house.
Callum held the handle of the carving knife tightly in his fist. “Who is that? Who’s there?”
“You took Gina,” the voice said. It was a man’s voice, deep and furious and dripping with the desire for revenge.
“For a great purpose,” Callum said, concerned about having been discovered so easily. The shooting of that man–he had made a mistake. His excitement had impaired his judgment. “How did you find me?”
“You left a mess behind you. You shot Rob. And you forgot to turn off Gina’s phone.”
She’d been listening to the music on her phone, Callum realized. In his haste, he’d dumped Gina in the trunk of his car. He’d rushed home, and the phone had probably been jostled out of her pocket. He hadn’t checked for it. He’d been excited, terrified, and had overlooked a crucial factor.
“You can’t do anything to me,” Callum said. The voice was coming from his bedroom, he realized. The man, her father maybe, had found Gina’s body. Callum would have to kill him, and his death would be in vain. Like Rob’s. Callum thought that would be a shame, but necessary.
Callum hugged the wall–whether for comfort or protection, he wasn’t sure. Despite his certainty that the ritual had had its intended effect, he could not shake the ineffable fear of death from his conscious mind. “You’re her father, aren’t you?” he asked the voice.
No response. Maybe the thought of his fatherhood being at an end had shaken the man’s resolve. Callum knew that this would be his chance. He leapt forward, into the room, arms at the ready, but there was no one. The room and Gina’s body had not been disturbed. Had he imagined the voice? Was his conscience playing tricks on him? Callum was certain that he had no such thing.
A shadow passed behind him. Callum turned to look and saw no one in the hallway. Then he was struck from behind by a powerful, piercing blow. He could feel the pressure of something inside of him, cutting sinew and organ in one smooth swing.
“Did you think you’d get away with this, motherfucker?” said the voice, now embodied in a tall, strong man wearing all black and breathing hot steam into Callum’s ear.
Callum found the closeness uncomfortable. “In all honesty…” Callum said, but he was finding it harder to breath with so much blood pouring into his lungs.
The man–Mr. Fleisher, Callum had concluded–slid a long hunter’s knife out of Callum’s back and let him fall to the ground. Callum struggled to breathe, but he wasn’t feeling himself fade away the way he imagined Gina had–her blood and life trickling out until only her memory remained.
“We can’t call the police now,” a woman said, probably Mrs. Fleisher, stepping over him to enter the room. Callum tried to silence his breaths. He was starting to feel the blood in his lungs receding.
“It doesn’t matter,” Mr. Fleisher answered.
“Look at this. Shit.”
“Is this some demon-worshipping crap?”
Callum felt his blood boil. They’d found his book, but he was no demon-worshipper. He worshipped nothing but his own determination and the strength of his ego. Feeling whole again, Callum slowly started for the door, moving as silently as he could manage.
In the kitchen he searched for a knife and found the carving knife he’d used earlier to cut his arm. He pulled it up and thrust it down, preparing himself for the work of killing. It was significantly easier to slit a girl’s throat and to shoot a man than to struggle with two homicidal adults with a thirst for revenge.
Callum look towards the door. He could escape, but why? He was invincible. He could end them both.
“Where did he go?” he heard Mrs. Fleisher say.
“Not far,” answered Mr. Fleisher. “I didn’t hear the door open.”
“Come and get me,” Callum sing-songed. Then he slipped into the darkness of the hallway near the bathroom. He watched as the Fleishers exited his bedroom. Mr. Fleisher put a finger to his lips then pointed to where he wanted his wife to go.
Mr. Fleisher was headed in his direction. Callum slowly, quietly, stepped into the tub and pulled the curtain closed.
Mr. Fleisher walked into the bathroom. As he stepped closer to the bathtub, Callum tightened his grip over the handle of the knife. How ironic, he thought, that Mr. Fleisher would die in the same place that his daughter had.
Mr. Fleisher ripped open the curtain. Both he and Callum swung. Mr. Fleisher’s knife landed in the middle of Callum’s chest, parallel to his sternum. Callum landed his knife in Mr. Fleisher’s shoulder. A glint of metal dropped from his neck and clattered against the floor. Callum looked down at the handle extruding from his chest, then gave Mr. Fleisher an indignant glare. The grieving father flinched, and Callum took advantage of that moment by pushing him back against the mirror, shattering it with the force of Mr. Fleisher’s body.
Mr. Fleisher fell as Callum reached him, grabbing his head and smashing it against the sink so that front of it cracked and pulverized upon the linoleum floor. Then Callum took Mr. Fleisher’s knife out of his chest and sheathed it between Mr. Fleisher’s ribs.
Mr. Fleisher screamed and coughed blood.
“I can’t die. Not anymore. I’m grateful to Gina, for giving me that. As for you, I regret that you had to die.” He twisted the knife, and Mr. Fleisher gasped and his head went limp against his shoulder.
Between Mr. Fleisher’s legs, Callum noted the glinting metal that had fallen from the man’s neck. They were dog tags embossed with the image of an eagle perched on the Earth with an anchor behind it.
As he examined Mr. Fleisher’s tags, Callum heard the sound of two gunshots and felt as if someone had punched him twice in the back. He reached back with his arm and felt two little holes in his shirt surrounded by growing, wet spots. He touched one and felt something metal inside, being pushed out slowly, causing a sharp, piercing pain. The metal finally slipped out of the wound, and his body sealed the hole.
“Mrs. Fleisher, I wish you wouldn’t do that,” he said, standing and breathing hard from the continual pain of the wounds they continued to inflict upon him. Callum trekked down the dark hallway towards Mrs. Fleisher, and she shot four more rounds before he reached her, grabbed her by the side of the head, and threw her through the glass door into the backyard of his house. “I told you to stop it!” he screamed as he felt the four little bullets slouch out of their respective holes.
Callum kicked the gun out of Mrs. Fleisher’s reach.
“You’re not human,” said Mrs. Fleisher.
“I suppose not,” Callum answered.
In the dim light of the neighbor’s house, Callum could see her silhouette. She was wearing tight, black clothes and a mask. She looked athletic. Some of her long, dirty blond hair was showing from underneath the mask. He imagined that she was beautiful as he gripped her hair with his fist and started to drag her towards his pool.
She screamed and struggled and scratched at his wrist, which healed almost as soon as she tore at it. Callum was becoming accustomed to the pain.
He barely noticed as Mrs. Fleisher gave up on his wrist to grab a garden hose and aim it at Callum’s head. Water rushed up the hose and into Callum’s nose and eyes. He covered his face with both hands and stumbled back.
Soaked, he looked back at the house and saw Mr. Fleisher leaning against the wall, his hand on the nose valve. He turned back towards Mrs. Fleisher in time to see her swinging the shovel he’d prepared for Gina at his head. It connected.
Callum fell to the floor with a thud. He felt blood pouring out of his crushed nose and torn lips. He tried to put a hand up as Mrs. Fleisher swung the shovel down at him again. And again. And again. Until Callum could stand the sequence of impacts no longer and slipped away into unconsciousness.
Chained to a plank of hardwood at the bottom of a six-foot, dirt hole, Callum considered his situation with the same pragmatic use of reason that he’d become practiced in. He could see the emotional, wronged couple looking at him, wanting to tear him apart but knowing full well that it would do them no good. He felt his lips with his tongue. They were whole again.
“Listen,” Callum argued. “I could teach you my ritual. It’s simple. Anybody could do it with the right materials.”
“You son of a bitch,” Mr. Fleisher exclaimed and he aimed a gun at him.
“Don’t waste your bullets,” Mrs. Fleisher said, touching his arm lightly. They were out of their black clothes now. Mr. Fleisher had cleaned up, his head bandaged and his arm in a sling. Mrs. Fleisher had several stitches over her head where the glass must have cut her.
“I didn’t feel any pleasure when I sacrificed Gina. And hurting you.”
Callum saw hate in Mrs. Fleisher’s eyes. It was the same look that his parents would give him–disgusted disappointment that he had ever come into the world. Callum gagged. “I’m sorry,” he said softly. “Please accept my gift. Gina’s death doesn’t have to have been in vain.”
“Don’t you say her name!” Mr. Fleisher yelled, and he pulled the trigger. The shot clapped loudly across the empty expanse of–wherever they were. Callum felt a piercing bolt of pain course from his forehead to the base of his spine. He writhed and screamed and settled into breathing deeply, blinking to keep the blood from getting into his eyes.
When he calmed down, Callum spat blood. “Stop it. That hurts,” he said.
“Like I said,” Mrs. Fleisher repeated, “Don’t waste your bullets.”
“I’m going to live forever, Mrs. Fleisher. This hole won’t keep me. I’m immortal. You’ve seen it. You believe me. Let me show you.” He struggled against the ropes that bound his wrists and legs the way they’d bound Gina’s. He desperately wanted to touch the hole in his forehead before it closed. He wondered if any pieces of brain had made it out. He wondered how his brain would look like under a scanner after a bullet had torn through it. His mind leapt from thought to thought.
The couple walked away from the hole. Callum could see the stars above, each one flickering through the film of red that was oozing over his eyes. He shut his eyes. They stung now. More than being freed, Callum wanted to wipe his eyes clean. Then Callum was distracted from his discomfort by a number of beeps and the churning sound of machinery. A metal chute appeared over the hole. The woman walked up to the chute and looked down at him.
“I could teach you all that I know,” he said again. “More. You and your husband could be together forever. What’s the life of one child when you have a lifetime to replace her?”
Her lower lip quivered with rage. Then the corners of her mouth turned upwards, and she turned the valve on the chute. Gray ooze spilled from the chute, landing on Callum’s chest and collecting over his body. Callum writhed and flailed. He tried desperately to retreat from the warm, chunky cement that was starting to press down over his torso. “No! No!”
“Dig out of this, you son of a bitch.”
Callum pried his eyes open one last time. There were so many stars out that the sky shimmered like diamonds. He wondered what it would look like centuries from now as the cement slid over his eyes.