Heaven is FullBy
by Steven J. Rogers
Winner of Odd Short Story Competition
His father owned the bar before he did. Struggled to keep the place open when they changed the smoking laws. After the cure, the bar had no problem staying in business. Every stool in the place was packed with butts every second of the day. Every stool except for one. Sam never let anyone sit in it, in honor of his old man, who died of lung cancer two years before the cure.
The old man died alone in his rocking chair, on the front porch of his worn down camelback house. Sam knew this, because he wrote it in his journal. Earlier in the journal, Sam complained that his old man was a Luddite. He never got cable or anything but a VHS player for the bar, or bothered with conveniences like a credit card machine. He was afraid his father would sink the bar before Sam got the opportunity to take it over.
His father must have hated cameras too. There weren’t any pictures of him at family functions, or the golf course, or the bar. No pictures at all. Sometimes, Sam would search the internet and the files from all of his old computers, just to see if a photo had fallen through the cracks. But he never found one.
On one page of his journal, Sam wrote down a quote from his father. “I’d rather be forgotten, than to be remembered in a dying world.” Whenever Sam read the quote, he’d imagine his old man telling him this. He didn’t remember what his voice sounded like, but he liked to think it was gravely, like the old man gargled whisky and razor blades his whole life.
Sam could never have any children of his own. It wasn’t for lack of trying. Sam fell in love more times than there were pages in his journal. It was because Sam was one of the last people born before the entire planet went infertile. Scientists, governments, and universities could never figure out why, or, at least, that’s what they told the public. Instead, they found a cure for death.
The cure was announced on every television station, radio station, and talked about on every inch of social media. Government officials told the people they didn’t need to get a shot or anything. The cure was in the air, and they couldn’t opt out. While the cure meant people never died or aged, the tenants of memory still haunted the brain. Just like a person couldn’t remember the face of their childhood best friend by the time they reached middle age, one couldn’t remember the name of the girl they dated three hundred years ago.
Over the years, the people of the world embraced their corporeal permanence with some really weird hobbies. Sam adopted a strange hobby of his own. He taped the oddest incidents he saw on the TV onto a VHS player he kept at the bar. On occasion, Sam would watch the tape. It wasn’t that he found the incidents particularly interesting. The tape just made him feel somehow less alone.
The grossest thing on the tape, was an episode of the Today Show. A nice yuppie couple in the studio. The man carved a hole in his stomach, so you could see the parts; the cardia, fundus, serosa. Like a living anatomy textbook. The woman had her skin surgically attached to her nose so it looked like she had a bird beak.
Though it was gross, in the primordial sense that blood and gore are gross, on every re-watch Sam felt more disturbed that people would be compelled to mold their material forms into something that reminded them of their mortality. For Sam, once death was gone, there seemed to be no reason to tempt it.
Sam and his mortal fear put him in the minority. People being people, tested the limits of their newfound immortality to the extreme. The news was full of videos of folks jumping out of airplanes without parachutes, or lowering themselves to the depths of the ocean without an air tank, or crashing sports cars into famous landmarks.
In one of his taped newsreels, a man in a business suit jumps out of a B52 bomber. When he smashes the pavement, his body explodes into little chunks, and scatters across a nearby sidewalk. He lives, and the news show goes on to talk about how the doctors put his body put back together so his arms were attached where his legs should have gone, and legs attached to his arm holes.
One thing Sam noticed about the old recordings, it seemed like some of the people were actually trying to die. In one video someone nearly did. It was a grainy home recording, for some reason they must have shown it on the news.
A guy in a dirty plywood garage cut a hole in his head, took out his brain, and tried to light it on fire. But it was like Teflon. So he got a sledge hammer and bashed the thing into little slimy bits. With each bash, the man slurred, his face contorted, his mouth hung more and more slack-jawed, until he finally dropped.
The guy lay there motionless, until a group of guys in black dress suits showed up, and picked up the little chunks of brain. The next recording on the tape was from a few weeks later. In the middle of a football game, a commercial with the guy who killed himself comes on. He was still very much alive, using his newfound fame to sell the fastest car on the market.
After the commercial, a public service announcement came on. Sponsored by the new world government, or something like that. Sam could never figure out politics. A talking head informed the masses that it was illegal to cut out your brain, you could be prosecuted, up to two hundred years in prison if you did.
As far as Sam could figure, the new law didn’t change the way people pushed themselves into situations that would have once resulted in death. But it seemed odd that the government would levy such harsh punishments for trying. Like it was possible to die, but for some reason, the powers that be couldn’t allow it. Maybe heaven was full.
When everyone is immortal, things are real expensive. Real estate and turnkey businesses are the hottest commodities, especially bars. With no health concerns, or drinking and driving laws, people could spend fifty years inside a tavern. Really get to know the place, the local color, what it feels like to suck down a bottle of whisky until they got so drunk they had to hold onto the ground for fear they’d slip into the sky.
Sam got offers on his place everyday. For millions, billions, even trillions. Trillions seemed like a lot of money, but Sam wasn’t sure what he’d do with it, or if it would be enough. Without death, there was no retirement.
After what seemed like an eternity of mixing drinks for people who lived through that eternity, Sam got sick of listening to all the unwieldy narcissism that immortality engendered. Everyone had the time to talk about how they were going to do something memorable. Paint something better than the Sistine Chapel, write that great novel, or record something The Beatles would be jealous of. They were going to do it too, just as soon as they finished telling everyone about how amazing it was going to be.
The worst was when folks would get real drunk and talk about how they knew, from the day they were born, that they had lived to see the cure for some metaphysical reason. The entire universe aligned; the science, the medicine, the socio-political landscape, because they alone were special. It was a kind of narcissism that made no sense to Sam. People lived forever, and they still couldn’t come up with a valid reason for why life meant anything.
No matter how much Sam grew to despise his patrons, he never accepted an offer on the bar. What else was he going to do with his time?
As the centuries turned into millenniums, life stayed more or less the same. When Sam would get lonely he’d read from his old journal, or watch his old tape. People still did crazy things, but the news didn’t cover that stuff anymore. Watching the guy jump out of the plane, the woman with the bird nose, or the man with the Teflon brain, filled Sam with a creeping nostalgia for a time when something was new.
When the tape or journal didn’t cure the loneliness, Sam would close the bar and stand across from the stool he kept empty in honor of his father. While he had no idea what his father looked like, or what kind of person he was, he imagined the old man sat there anyway. Sometimes his face was ragged and old, sometimes he was a young man, with more natural youth than doctors could graft onto a face.
In his imagination, Sam’s father never talked. Only sat in his stool, bored by the world. Sam imagined the man so often, he started to seem as real as anything else.
Sam didn’t miss the guy, there was nothing left to miss. The visage of the dead man didn’t cured the loneliness either. If anything Sam resented him. He wasn’t jealous, living was still preferable to death. It was that the old man, ragged or youthful, always had life behind his eyes. He had no reason to flirt with unattainable mortality. No reason to mold his body into an abstraction of itself. He only needed to be alive. Right up until the day that he didn’t.
About the author
Steven J. Rogers is an avid canoesman and beardsman from Northern Wisconsin. Alas, he currently lives in Los Angeles, California. Steven is not an absolutist, so he is willing to accept the idea that there might be a hell. If there is, he’s pretty sure that it would involve writing bios. He has a BA and MFA which he’d happily trade for some beer money. To learn more about him, and his upcoming publications please visit www.stevenjrogers.ink