Aphelion Issue 281, Volume 27
March 2023
 
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Just a Matter of Time

by Karen Heslop




A friend of mine once said that human beings were created with the gene of curiosity but wisdom was often elusive. Those words never rang truer to me than when Dr. Charles Devon accomplished his life's work. He was a brilliant man but a man nonetheless. As such his motivations were like anyone else's. The fame, the money and the love of a woman. Well the continued love of a woman to be exact. In the middle of his research, Charles' wife Maureen was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer. Charles had no intentions of trying to cure her cancer. Many scientists had tried and gone to their deaths with nothing but the stench of failure to show for it.

Charles simply planned to kill her and bring her back. His theory was that all cells would die but only certain cells would be reactivated. So far his work on animals had proven this theory to be workable. Well, mostly. There were definitely some pets that weren't going to be reunited with their owners any time soon but with some tweaking Charles was sure Maureen would be his success story. He just had to remove the offending cancerous masses from her stomach before he reanimated her. And so in 2025, Charles put his wife in cryogenic storage. In 2030, he took her out and for lack of a more appropriate word, executed his plans.

The world watched in shock and a considerable amount of awe when Charles unveiled the epitome of his life's work. There were some detractors of course. Even though the line of morality kept being shifted to accommodate the ones who were really in charge, there were those who were determined to stand at wherever the line in the sand happened to be at the time. The conspiracy theorists among us held their collective breaths for a zombie apocalypse but they were disappointed. In fact, persons admitted behind closed doors that Maureen was still herself, only better. When pressed for an explanation, there really wasn't much to add.

"You know . . . better. Just funnier and smarter than I remember."

That was all a former coworker would begrudgingly tell me when I pressed him for information for my article. Say what you want but I was not ready to talk to the woman herself. That was assigned to one of my colleagues. You know how newspapers are, you have to milk the story of the moment for all its worth from all the possible angles. My colleague, however, was even less helpful when I asked.

"It was a good interview. No, better than that. She answered my questions well and was quite a gracious host."

"So the perfect interviewee then."

"No, not perfect. Just exactly what I needed I guess."

"Hmmm."

I secretly hoped that she was more eloquent when writing her article because I was no closer to understanding what she meant. I would, however, become even more familiar with the elusive description as the days went by.

It started with my neighbor's passing comment about her boss.

"Hey Judith! I've never seen you home this early. Is everything okay?"

"Hey Mike! Yeah, everything's fine. It's the funniest thing. My boss told us all to take an early day. He didn't have to tell me twice. I'm exhausted."

"Yeah? That would be music to anyone's ears right now. What caused the task master's change of heart?"

"No idea. He's been a little different these last couple days. Easier to get along with and just I don't know . . . better."

"Hmmm."

A few weeks later, there were several blogs and global net groups dedicated to this whole ‘better' predicament and not just in my country either. A few weeks after that, the Global Environmental Monitoring Initiative noted a previously unidentified spore in the air. Most people chalked it up to the fact that we had yet to get the whole greenhouse gas emission thing under control and many of the surviving plants had needed to mutate in order to survive. I wasn't taking any chances so I upgraded the air filtration system around my house and in my car. I even bought one of the new respirators the GEMI made available while they researched this new find. I decided to wear my respirator whenever I was outside until they said otherwise.

While I was waiting though, the bulk of the mask made me very particular about when I made trips outside. I didn't mind much. The air wasn't good for anyone, with or without the mask. Eventually I couldn't stand the stench of my garbage any longer so I dragged myself outside to use the rapid decomposer. I saw Judith in her backyard about to do what I thought was the same thing. My words of greeting came to a halt in my throat almost choking me when I saw her open her mouth and release what looked like a fine mist into the air. I started to hyperventilate. What the hell was going on? She saw me then. I would have been hard to miss with the whole gasping breath routine I was doing. She seemed to glide towards me.

"Well hello, Mike. How are you?"

"Judith, what the hell was that?"

"Oh that? Just sharing the love, Mike."

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Maureen, Mike. When she came back, she knew things. She knew how to make us better. She knew how to fix everything but we all have to work together, Mike."

"I'm not interested in being colonized."

"Oh, Mike. It's not like that at all. We're still ourselves just. . . ."

"Better. Yes, I got that."

"Yes, better. I've never been this clear-headed, Mike. I know exactly what I need to do with my life to make a difference in the world. I can finally see how everything's connected because we actually are."

"If it's so great, Judith. Why not make it voluntary? Why sneak it into our air?"

"Ah. Well, you know, it's one of those things you have to feel to understand."

"Hmmm."

"What about you, Mike? Don't you want to be better?"

And you know what? I kind of did. I'd love to tell you that I resisted and fought the good fight, but I didn't. I just went out without my mask the next day and the next day and the day after that. In the end, the so-called apocalypse was disappointingly quiet. No lives were lost. Just the opposite, now that we were all so connected to our fellow man. There were no ravenous marauding masses roaming the streets but humankind as we knew it did indeed come to an end. The world continued the same as it always had. The same but . . . better.


THE END


2016 Karen Heslop

Bio: Karen Heslop writes from Kingston, Jamaica. Her stories have been published or are upcoming in a Devolution Z anthology, 101 Words Magazine, Untied Shoelaces of the Mind, The Flash Fiction Press, The Nine Tales Series, Speculative 66, Cemetery Moon, Phantaxis Magazine, Bloodbond Magazine, The Blotter Mag, Black Girl Lit Mag, Worlds Unknown, Yellow Mama and Bards and Sages Quarterly.

E-mail: Karen Heslop

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