Елена Вахненко

Price for eternity

The English version of the story "Плата за вечность"

The original version of the story (in Russian)

Ukranian version of the story

 

I saw him at the cafe, at a corner table, where he was sipping his espresso and thoughtfully studying a paper napkin. Or a saucer. Or a pattern visible only to him. Who knows?..

He was tanned with brown hair, in his forties, with a high-cheeked face as if carved from stone. Dressed in a severe black suit, he represented restrained masculine elegance. However, my attention was drawn not to the perfection of his style, but to the strange detachment, even emptiness, of his glance. It seemed that a mysterious stranger was impossible to be interested in anything at all.

-He's sitting over his coffee for about forty minutes, - whispered the waitress confidentially, noticing my curiosity.

-He's strange... and sad... - I said thoughtfully. - Perhaps we should cheer him up!

With my latte and a little bowl of vanilla ice cream, I went to the next table and asked playfully:

-Can I disturb your privacy?

The man raised his head. He seemed even more imposing now, being up close…

-Disturb, - he shrugged his shoulders, casting an indifferent look at me. - I don't care.

"Not polite!" - I said mentally but was not going to retreat. Sitting in front of men, I took a gulp of my milky coffee drink and asked: - What's your name, if not a secret?

-Not at all. I am Victor.

Although he was in no hurry to ask my name (I guess he really didn't care), I felt compelled to introduce myself:

-Nina. Beautician, - after a pause, I continued careful questioning: - How do you feel?

-As always… nothing... - I had received an indifferent response.

So, he felt nothing! That's a good point! The expression of his face was very uninterested… oh, yes, NOTHING, i could literally see it…

-As always? Wow! - I exclaimed with a cheerful surprise. - Don't you have periods of elation then? When you just want to hug the whole world or maybe dance?

He looked at me as though I was raving lunatic.

-To dance? - the voice sounded with outright contempt.

-Well, not to dance but smile at a passing pedestrian, for example! Could something like that happen to you?

-Not anymore.

-Not anymore? - I specified pronouncedly. - Curious...

He sighed:

-Nothing is curious to me now…

I shivered; his words smacked of desperation.

-But such a life is incredibly boring. Isn't it?

-Boring. But it is long, - he explained with a humorless smile. - Very, very long.

I squinted, peering into his face and wondering, what exactly he had in mind. Boring and long, how so?

-Guess, how old am I? - asked Victor wearily, becoming a bit unceremonious in his way of behaviour. However, I didn't mind.

-About forty, - I suggested finally, not being quite certain — surely, there was a snag in this question somewhere.

The man chuckled darkly:

-Oh, no! Nearly 250.

-Funny joke... - I said acidly and scooped my melted ice cream by a teaspoon.

-Alas, this is not a joke.

-Then tell me more, - I also decided to be familiar. - Convince me.

And again, I was jarred upon by the lifeless, almost dead gaze of the interlocutor.

-I'm not going to convince anybody. Why? But I can tell you my story...

So he did. And it was quite a strange story… Fantastic, I could say!

 

The Victor’s story

Actually, my name is not Victor. For two hundred years I have changed dozens of names... and I remember very vaguely which one of them had been chosen for me by my parents… ages ago. It doesn't matter now.

Since my childhood I was incredibly afraid of death. I didn't understand how other people struggled with this fear and lived knowing that someday they were to die. I think I had been influenced by the early death of my dear younger brother. I was barely 10 years old... and of course I was literally shocked having been conscious of the universe fragility. The universe of every human being....

I was about sixteen or fifteen when I had heard about the magic Grail drink - they told, a man having drunk it could gain the immortality. And I set my mind on finding this remarkable potion.

You're curling your lips? Understandable... My wish may seem absurd and the task - just impossible... but I did accomplish it, right? So, do not hurry to condemn.

I had spent years looking for Grail. I'd read a lot of philosophical works... communicated with the enlightened gurus of various occult teachings. I was searching... analyzing... thinking. And... I could not find anything.

However, my efforts didn't go in vain. One lady got interested in me... well, not quite a lady... rather, a hereditary witch.

Again, you're smirking? You assume you know this world better than I do? Wrong! You're judging according to modern standards, while I lived in a different time! It was not like now then. And believe me, this woman was a real witch. She said she owned a cherished drink of immortality created by herself as she was assuring.

"But personally, I haven't tasted my brew," - the witch said.

I mistaken her meaning:

"You are not sure that your potion would work right?"

"It'll work, I assure you! - she replied angrily. - I checked. Some of my students decided to test my drink"

"And?.." I asked eagerly.

"The aging process was first slowed and then altogether stopped. I guess they still can be killed — but physically. With a knife, for example. However, this is just a guess – you know, I haven't tried... In any case, they are no longer subject to diseases and old age"

Up to now, I remember the feverish excitement that gripped me. In those days I could still experience strong emotions…

"Oh, that's what I want!" - I exclaimed with enthusiasm.

The witch gazed thoughtfully at me, and her look had somewhat cooled my ardour, forcing me to grow circumspect.

"What? The potion has a side effect?"

"In a sense... rather, payment. Price for eternity"

"Price? - I calmed down. - I'm pretty rich. I'll pay"

She laughed. How creepy her laugh was! At that moment I finally believed that she was a witch.

"I mean neither gold and nor silver, my boy. And you should pay not to me..."

"But whom then?" - I was surprised.

She shrugged her shoulders:

"I can't answer. Higher power. Nature. Universe. Everything has its own payment, its price — otherwise the world balance could be disturbed"

"And can you name this price?"

"Emotions! - the woman said, and her green eyes flashed with Hellfire. - How do you find this price? High?"

I demanded a more detailed explanation. She complied my request willingly:

"My potion helps use the energy of emotions to sustain life. The fire of the senses is being spent for constant rejuvenation and renewal of the body"

"I see... - I said, pondering the designated problem. - And how does it threaten me personally?"

"Well, it's quite obvious! The danger is the lack of emotions, of course. Coldness. Indifference to everything"

"So I will feel and sense absolutely nothing?"

"Why? You will feel and sense SOMETHING, but... not as acutely and fully as you do now. You'll have to forget about the joy, the more so the wild delight. You'll have to be satisfied with easy bored curiosity, calm content... However, strong negative feelings will lessen too, they'll almost disappear"

"And what will remain?"

"Immortality, - the green-eyed witch said. - Immortality and emptiness"

"Give me time to think," I asked her.

I hesitated to give a positive answer, weighed all the pros and cons... and then I had seen my dead brother in a dream... well, it clenched a matter.

But the witch didn't warn me about the potion irreversibility... there was not any antidote.

 

Victor fell silent.

-So what? - after a pause, I asked gently. - The witch was right? Emotions were being dulled?

He looked at me and nodded.

-Yes. Nothing. Emptiness. The oversaturation. Fatigue. Even the taste of food has become more blurred.

I laughed nervously:

-Perhaps the price for immortality is too high.

-Yes... I agree. But there is a rather comforting thought.

-Which one?

-I have a whole eternity to re-awaken my emotions... or find the antidote.

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