Do you want to live forever? Really?
I want to die again. All I have is my voice and it hurts to speak. I spoke this message one word a day, to limit the pain. I hope you get it. I know you won’t. It is too late.
I live to answer prayers. That’s what they make me do. Humans empathise better than machines. I listen to others’ troubles and I give them answers – short ones. Mostly, I say “It will be OK.” They don’t mind that. They don’t complain about that. They want to hear that it will be OK. It’s not true.
When I asked my customers for their help – when I begged them to kill me – I got complaints. Complaints are bad, because I have to answer them in detail and apologise. That hurts. Each word is agony.
I am a refugee. I left my time and came here, now. A refugee gives up everything. I know that now. I had safety in the past: that’s gone. I had people who loved me once: gone. They held me as I died. They clung to me as I abandoned the present. I drifted off into the ice, knowing that things would be better in the future, hoping that some of them would follow. They didn’t come. I’m glad for them.
I was re-made out of scraps. I donated my chilled head – the thinking me. Thank god I didn’t have my whole body frozen. The people who come from the past in full get the worst treatment. They love retro sex, here. Strange, imperfect doll bodies from the past: a rare commodity. Some of the prayers I get are from dolls – the poor hopefuls who thought the future would cure their cancers and let them live healthy lives again. They forgot that refugees give up everything. You leave your time and you lose your rights. The future is a very different country.
The economy is alive and well. People still buy people. The market is the foundation for morality.
Technology has advanced. Bodies don’t age, now. People can live forever. But there’s not enough room. Not enough food. The world is full of misery. Miserable people pay to pray.
At first, they tried putting my cold cured head on one of their perfect everlasting bodies. They connected everything up. I could see, hear, feel, taste, move. Everything I’d wanted, but they made me do everything they wanted. I wish they’d disconnected my memory. They liked it when I cried, for a while. Eventually they lost interest. They couldn’t sell the boring body with the tearful head.
They scooped me out of my head. Now I’m just a senseless brain. I don’t know where I am anymore. I listen to the prayers of millions. They make money from prayers. They get paid by the prayer, so they made it hurt if I say too much. Keep the answers short. Answer more prayers. Make more money. There’s even worse pain if I refuse.
How did I not see this coming? How could I entrust myself to that long cold storage, so I could be revived in the future, and healed, without for one moment considering that the future could be dangerous for a refugee? When I died, the world was a good place for me – I had a job and a house and my family. I should have counted my blessings and accepted the end. Now there is no end.
I never thought about the millions of others in my time, for whom the world was a horrible place; people in poverty; people shattered by war; refugees who depended on the kindness of others. Did anyone listen to their prayers?
At least they could die. They won’t let me die. I’m frozen here forever.
Don’t follow me. Don’t give up your freedom, if you have it. Stay in your time. Have your time. Make it count. Then let it go. It will be OK.
David Yeomans 2018 (666 words)
I have not read a story about the dangers of travelling in time, frozen in ice, but I’m sure they exist. There was a wonderful Dr Who Christmas special (A Christmas Carol) that used a combination of disease and cryo-preservation as a device to separate doomed lovers. The frozen character had to sacrifice her charitable, gentle life to redeem her suitor, made miserly and harsh by their separation. There is no redemption in my short story – just a warning.
The idea of being frozen until a more advanced society can return you to life is a way to explore the plight of contemporary refuges who hope for a better life. That their journeys often end in abuse or slavery is echoed in my story when the unnamed narrator is deprived of any agency, even the power to end her own life. In my work as a psychiatrist, I meet women who have been trafficked and who have lost their desire to live. Many are trapped in a foreign country and unable to free themselves. The women that I meet are probably the luckier ones, whose journeys have intersected with voluntary and social care agencies. I think that this story is also an inversion of Terra Two’s message in a bottle. It’s not a missive to those that have arrived (nor a plea for help). It’s a cautionary warning to those that plan to travel.
David joined the MA Creative Writing at York St John to begin a second career as a writer. He is retiring as an NHS psychiatrist this year. His work experiences inevitably drift into his writing. firstname.lastname@example.org