“So, how rich are you?” asked the intoxicated young woman in the very short mini-dress. She was perched on a stool in an open-air bar beside an unspoiled beach. A full moon lit both sea and sand.
James Farley raised a glass of coconut rum to his lips and paused before taking a sip. He was dressed in the kind of light and breezy shirt and slacks befitting a man who lived in a tropical environment.
“I have an investment portfolio that’s worth about twenty million dollars,” he answered nonchalantly.
The young woman uncrossed her long legs and leaned towards Farley, placing her hand on his knee. “You’re worth twenty million dollars! I’ve never met anyone who had that much money.”
Farley smiled and placed his hand on her bare thigh. “Well, now you have.”
The woman giggled and downed a gulp of her colorful mixed drink.
“How did you get so rich?” she asked.
Farley shrugged. “I’m a genius.”
“Oh, come on. I’m serious.”
“So am I,” said Farley. “By the time I was eighteen I had doctorates in engineering and mathematics.”
“For real?” asked the woman, gripping Farley’s knee a little tighter. “So did you, like, invent something amazing?”
“Well, I discovered a few new things about wave dynamics, and invented a few devices for detecting energy signatures of various kinds.”
The woman smiled and looked at Farley with bleary eyes. “I think it’s really sexy that you’re so smart.”
Farley leaned in and kissed her lips, gently.
“Then maybe we should head back to my place now,” he whispered.
Twenty minutes later, they were in the king-size bed in Farley’s master bedroom, naked and squirming on top of silk sheets. Once he was finished, Farley rolled off of the young woman, drenched in sweat and breathing hard.
Her eyes were closed and there was a faint smile upon her face. She slurred her words when she spoke. “That was great, baby. Really great.” Then she passed out and started snoring.
Farley turned his head to one side and smirked in her direction. “I hope I gave you a memorable Spring Break.”
He got up and walked to the bathroom, where he took a quick, cold shower. As he toweled off afterwards, he paused to inspect his reflection in the mirror. Farley grinned at the sight of his lean, chiseled physique. But he flashed an even wider smile at his most prized asset: his face. It was a young, smooth, unblemished face, except–
He stepped closer to the mirror and examined his face more carefully. There were the tiniest of crow’s-feet in the corners of his eyes, and faint wrinkles at the corners of his mouth.
“It’s time,” he said softly.
Farley, clad in the finest Italian suit and tie, stretched out along the full length of the hotel bed. His hands were locked together behind his head and his ankles were crossed. He paid no attention to the moth-eaten bedspread stained with bodily fluids that lay beneath him. He just stared up at a cracked ceiling coated with brownish paint that looked as if it might have once been white. There was a smile of anticipation on his face that suggested a man waiting for his favorite hooker to arrive.
A rapid series of quiet knocks at the door brought Farley to his feet. He swung the door open abruptly without bothering to look through the peep hole.
“Hello!” he said to the startled man standing in the hall; a tall, lean, forty-something man with slicked-back hair and a tiny goatee. He wore a black leather jacket and had a backpack slung over one shoulder.
The man raised one eyebrow and studied Farley for a moment before stepping into the room without saying a word. Farley closed the door and locked it, while the man set his backpack down on the bed. He silently opened it and withdrew something wrapped in a bath towel.
Farley came up beside the man and watched as he unwrapped the towel to reveal a semiautomatic handgun, two ammunition clips, and a silencer. Farley licked his lips.
“This is top-line,” said the man, picking up the gun and handing it to Farley. “Brand new. Never used. All serial numbers removed. No record of it anywhere.”
Farley inspected the weapon carefully from one end to the other. He picked up the silencer and screwed it on to the barrel, then he popped in a clip. The gun dealer was unfazed and simply stated the price.
Farley nodded, put the gun back down on the bed, and withdrew a stack of bills from his back pocket. He handed the stack to the dealer, who quickly counted it and turned towards the door.
“Nice doing business with you,” said the dealer in a tone that lacked conviction.
“Likewise,” replied Farley, showing the man out and closing the door.
Farley went to the closet and slipped on his black trench coat. Then he walked to the bed and slid the gun and extra clip into the interior pocket of the coat.
Once outside on the street below, Farley hailed a cab.
“Downtown,” he said to the driver as he climbed into the back seat.
“You got a particular place in mind?”
“Not yet,” replied Farley. ”But I will.”
Farley put his hand into the breast pocket of his coat and took out what looked like an ordinary cell phone. It was black and thin and rectangular, with touch-screen controls. But instead of displaying social-media apps and video games, the screen showed a complex, multi-colored wave pattern. Farley touched a couple of buttons and the wave pattern was overlaid on a map of the city. Farley zoomed in on the downtown area and studied the screen intently.
“Ninth Street,” he said.
The driver nodded and altered his course accordingly. Farley continued to stare at the screen.
“Ninth and D,” Farley clarified.
The driver nodded again.
Once they had reached their destination, Farley got out of the cab still gazing at the screen of his faux cell phone. As the cab pulled away from the curb, Farley looked down the street and started walking, slowly. He glanced at the screen, scanned the multitude of people on the sidewalk, and studied the screen some more. He repeated this process several times before his eyes came to rest upon a nondescript middle-aged man in a cheap suit, buying a hot dog from a street vendor.
Farley paused in front of a newspaper vending machine, bought a copy of The Times, and pretended to read the front page until the man had finished his hot dog. Then Farley followed from a distance as the man made his way into a nearby office building and squeezed into a crowded elevator. Farley sighed as he watched the doors close. The elevator stopped on a total of five floors.
Farley looked around and located the door to the stairwell, bounded up the stairs to the first floor upon which the elevator had stopped, and stepped into the hallway. He consulted the machine in his hand and shook his head. Back into the stairwell he went. Naturally, it wasn’t until he had reached the last, upper-most floor on the list that he had any luck. Farley smiled as he looked at the wave pattern on the screen. He followed it halfway down the hall and stopped in front of a closed office door adorned with a plaque saying “Marty LeBaron, Attorney at Law.”
Farley knocked softly on the door.
Farley opened the door and stepped inside. He looked around as he shut and locked the door behind him. The office was very small and cluttered. It looked as though it was large enough to accommodate only one person.
“Have a seat,” said LeBaron, gesturing at the two empty chairs in front of his desk.
Farley sat down and smiled. Ever so casually, he pulled the gun from his trench coat and pointed it at LeBaron. The man’s eyes went wide and the rest of his face dropped.
“What the hell is this?” he asked, instinctively raising his hands in the air.
Farley glanced down at his machine. “I’m a bit early, so we’ll have to wait about five minutes.”
“What? What are you talking about? Who are you?”
“We don’t know each other,” Farley replied. “But you have something I desperately need.”
LeBaron’s mouth fell open and he stumbled over his words. “Wha–? Life force? What are you talking about?”
Farley held up the machine in his hand, with the screen pointed in LeBaron’s direction. “Life force. It’s a very specific kind of energy, but I’m the only one who has isolated it so far.”
“You’re crazy” said Le Baron.
Farley objected. “I am extremely sane. I’d wager that my view of the world is far more empirical and evidence-based than yours.”
“But you’re not making any sense.”
Farley glanced at his machine again. “I’m afraid I don’t have time to explain. We only have two minutes left.”
LeBaron was now as exasperated as he was frightened. “Two minutes until what?”
“Until I can release your life force and absorb it.”
LeBaron shook his head slowly.
“I was right,” he said. “You are insane.”
Farley laughed. “I’m a scientist and a genius, you fool. You don’t have the ability to comprehend what I’m talking about.”
LeBaron was silent. He kept his trembling hands in the air. He and Farley sat without talking for a full minute as Farley continually glanced at his screen.
“Listen,” said LeBaron at last. “I can give you a sizeable chunk of money. I mean, my wife and I aren’t rich, but we have–”
Farley put a single shot through LeBaron’s heart. The man’s body slumped in his chair, twitched a few times, and then moved no more.
“Perfect timing,” whispered Farley with self-satisfaction, keeping his eyes glued to LeBaron’s corpse.
Within seconds, the air above the body began to glisten like dew in the morning sun. The tiny sparkles of light slowly congealed into a dense cloud of energy that hovered just above LeBaron’s head.
Farley leaned forward and extended his arm across the desk until his fingertips touched the edge of the cloud. By some inexorable law of attraction, his skin absorbed it, sucking it out of the air as if he were inhaling it into himself. Farley closed his eyes and shuddered as the waves of energy coursed through his cells, producing sensations of pleasure far more visceral and profound than any sexual experience.
Once he had absorbed LeBaron’s life force and come down from the high that it gave him, Farley took a handkerchief from his pocket and carefully wiped his fingerprints from the chair and the doorknob. He left the office quietly, making sure that the door locked behind him.
He headed back towards the stairwell but paused as he passed a restroom. He darted inside just long enough to inspect his face in the mirror. The crow’s-feet and wrinkles were gone and he once again had an unmarred, youthful face.
He smiled at his reflection. “Not bad for a one-hundred-and-fifty-three year-old man.”
Five decadent and carefree years ensued during which Farley lived the life of a Caribbean playboy millionaire. But the ride always came full circle.
One sun-drenched day, Farley was reclining in a bamboo chair, in the shade of a palm-leaf umbrella. He wiggled his toes in the hot white sand and sipped his drink of rum and fruit through a long straw. His eyes were focused on two young women, neither more than twenty-two, who were laughing and frolicking in the surf, clad in the tiniest of bikinis. Girls on vacation; probably college kids on winter break.
“They will do quite nicely,” he said.
He pulled a comb and mirror from his knapsack and started to arrange his lush head of hair for maximum aesthetic effect. All at once, he noticed it again; the tell-tale signs of decay around the eyes and mouth; the faintest beginnings of old age.
He looked up and gazed longingly at the women in the surf.
“Maybe next time,” he sighed.
Farley tightened the hood of his parka and squinted against the snowstorm that enveloped him. He could barely see his hand-held energy detector, with its wave forms and accompanying map. But he could see enough. His target was somewhere just ahead; thirty meters or so.
A couple of other parka-clad figures passed him going in the opposite direction, but he paid no attention to them. He looked up from his little machine and strained to see through the snow and the pitch-black night. But there was nothing.
“Minnesota!” he cursed. “Why did it have to be Minnesota?”
Farley quickened his pace and looked back down at the screen, watching impatiently as he grew steadily closer to the tiny, blinking dot around which waves of life force coalesced. He glanced up again and this time saw a person in front of him. As he silently approached from behind, he could see that it was a very small person.
“Must be a freshman,” he muttered as he put his machine into one of his coat pockets.
Farley waited until he was less than a meter away from the person to announce his presence.
“Excuse me,” he yelled through the wind. “Could you help me?”
The tiny person jumped upon hearing Farley’s voice, but then stopped and turned to face him. All Farley could make out was a blue scarf and a mass of brown hair stuffed into the hood of a coat.
A barely audible yet distinctly female voice answered him. “Yes? What do you need?”
Farley swiftly pulled a silencer-equipped semiautomatic from his coat and pointed it at her head.
“I need you to come with me. Now.” He raised his free hand and pointed. “Start walking that way, or I’ll kill you.”
She hesitated at first, but then did as she was told. They walked in silence, side by side, with Farley keeping the gun trained on her. They walked past the undergraduate library and a cluster of dormitories, towards a three-story garage adjacent to the student union. In the middle of a blizzard, no one even saw Farley’s gun.
Farley heard a sob. “Are you going to rape me?”
“Absolutely not,” he replied. “I have no interest in doing that to anyone.”
Farley’s victim grew silent again and they continued their journey, up a concrete stairwell to the third floor of the garage, towards a lone, snow-covered car in a corner as far away from the stairs as possible.
Farley unlocked one of the rear doors and opened it. The back seat and floors were completely covered by a large plastic sheet.
“Get in,” he commanded.
His unwilling companion just stood next to the car, frozen by fear and staring at the plastic.
“Oh, god,” she moaned. “You’re a serial killer, aren’t you?”
“Certainly not!” he answered with indignation. “I kill out of necessity; not for pleasure.”
He cocked his gun and extended his arm until the silencer was almost touching her forehead. “Get in or I will kill you right now.”
She emitted another sob and got into the car.
“Slide over to the other side so that I can get in,” said Farley.
Once they were both inside and the door was closed, Farley took the machine from his pocket and studied it with one hand while keeping the gun trained on her with the other.
“Fifteen minutes,” he said absently, shaking his head. “I really should have timed this more closely.”
Meanwhile, his companion pushed back the hood of her coat and took off her scarf. When Farley looked up from his machine, his mouth fell open.
He was looking into the eyes of a frightened child.
He fumbled for words. “What–I mean, how; how old are you?”
“I just turned eleven last month.”
Farley looked at his machine again, incredulous.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “This has never happened before. I mean, there’s nothing theoretically impossible about it. But it’s never happened before. And I’ve done this twenty-four times.”
The girl said nothing. She just watched Farley, shedding tears without crying.
“What are you doing here?” asked Farley. “Is your mother a professor? A librarian?”
“No,” she answered. “I’m a student.”
Farley’s eyes went wide and he felt a sinking sensation deep in his gut.
“What year are you?”
“I’m a sophomore.”
“What do you study?”
“I’m double-majoring in physics and philosophy.”
Farley started to feel nauseous. “You’re a prodigy, aren’t you?”
The girl shrugged. “I guess you could call me that. I learn very fast.”
“So do I,” said Farley. “I was a junior in college when I turned eleven.”
Farley lowered his gun to his lap. “This presents me with quite a dilemma.”
“I don’t understand,” said the girl, “because I don’t know why you’re doing this.”
Farley looked down and stared at the gun in his hand.
“I need your life force,” he replied. “To keep me young.”
The girl furrowed her brow. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
Farley smiled weakly. “It does make sense. Decades ago, I discovered that life force is a quantifiable, measurable form of energy. It is like an ocean encompassing the entire planet, with different currents running through different places at different times. The variety of life force specific to humans runs through us constantly, sometimes weak, sometimes strong. Sometimes it pools, collects–“
Farley stopped for a moment, pondering his next words. “When it coalesces in someone sufficiently, and you kill them at just the right time, you can absorb their life force. It rejuvenates you, suppresses the aging process.” He looked up at the girl. “Biologically, I’ve managed to stay twenty-eight years old for the past one-hundred-and-twenty-five years.”
The girl thought about this for a minute and then clenched her jaw. Anger flashed across her face.
“What gives you the right to do that?” she asked.
Farley was startled by the question. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, what gives you the right to prolong your life at the expense of everyone else?”
Farley shook his head and opened his mouth, but he had trouble formulating a coherent response. “Um, I, uh, well, I need it. I need life force so I take it. That’s how the world works. People need things from other people and, if they have to, they take them.”
The girl looked at him with disgust. “You may not be a serial killer, but you are a sociopath, you know. You don’t have a conscience.”
Farley grew angry. He raised the gun again and pointed it at the girl’s head.
“Conscience has nothing to do with it!” he yelled. “It’s called ‘natural selection.’ I am the fittest, so I survive!”
The girl turned her head away and closed her eyes.
“Maybe,” she whispered. “But you still don’t have the right.”
Farley’s face contorted with a kind of pain he rarely felt. Once more, he let the gun fall into his lap. He gazed at the windshield, covered in white with no view of the outside world.
“This is very awkward,” he said. “Very, very awkward.”
He looked at the undulating wave patterns on his machine. “Five minutes.”
The girl opened her eyes and looked at him again. “What happens if you don’t kill me in five minutes?”
“I’m not entirely sure,” answered Farley. “But I think my biological age reverts to my chronological age.”
“So you grow old and die,” the girl clarified.
“Yes, I think so.”
“But why? Why can’t you just find someone else, instead of me?” The tone of her voice betrayed a feeling of guilt over her own desperation.
“I don’t have time,” Farley replied. “I have a very narrow window of opportunity within which to act, and that window has almost closed.” He hesitated. “It took me a long time to reach you because of the storm. If I don’t kill you on schedule, I will probably be dead shortly thereafter.”
They both sat quietly for a while, pondering this possibility from very different viewpoints.
“You know, I’ve killed young people before,” Farley blurted out. “Not as young as you. But, still, young.”
The girl said nothing, though a couple of tears rolled down her cheeks. Farley started tapping his feet and grinding his teeth. He groaned and rolled his eyes, then glanced at the machine.
“Two minutes!” he shouted. “I need more time than that!”
“To do what?” asked the girl.
“To decide what to do! I want to live! But killing you is like–like, committing suicide! You’re like me!”
“I’m not like you,” she said. “I’m not a murderer.”
“Spare me the lecture on morality!” yelled Farley. “Just wait until you’re a little older. When you’re in your twenties and have surpassed ninety-nine percent of the so-called ‘smart’ people around you. You’ll see. You’ll see what sheep they are and you’ll begin to appreciate how truly superior you are.” Farley paused and moaned. “How superior we are.”
“’We,’” the girl repeated. “Yet only one of us can live.”
Farley nodded. “Exactly.”
Farley clenched his jaw and looked at the machine. “Thirty seconds…twenty-five…twenty…fifteen…ten, nine…”
Farley raised the gun. The girl shut her eyes and put her hands over her face. She started to sob.
He lowered the gun and the girl slowly took her hands away from her face and opened her eyes. They stared at each other in silence for several minutes–waiting.
And then Farley felt the moment pass him by; the same moment that the balance of his stolen life force began to drain from his body. His skin began to crease. His joints began to ache. He looked down at his hands and watched the flesh gradually turn to yellow, wrinkled parchment before his eyes–which were also beginning to fail him.
He looked up at the girl again and saw a mixture of contradictory emotions flashing across her face. Hatred. Pity. Sorrow. Satisfaction.
With trembling hands, Farley laid the gun and his machine on the seat, next to the girl. Then he leaned back and groaned as he felt the pain of cells that aged at the rate of many years per minute.
“I still think I had the right to live,” he said in a hoarse voice he didn’t recognize.
“You did,” the girl answered. “But so did I.”
“You’d better take that little device and hide it,” he said, motioning in the direction of the machine. “Or, better yet, destroy it. Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone had one of those and a gun?”
The girl said nothing. She simply watched as Farley closed his eyes, took a few labored breaths, and died. Nothing dramatic. No death-bed confessions or declarations of remorse. Only the mute cessation of life.
The girl stared at Farley for a long time. Then she looked down at his little machine and stared at it for a long time as well.
Eventually, she raised her hands to her mouth and started to giggle. It was a quintessentially girlish giggle–full of child-in-a-candy-store glee.
She picked up the machine and slowly turned it over in her hands.
“I can live forever,” she whispered. “Forever.”