Welcome to Chapter 1 of Seeing Forever.
As I entered the world, I was of a mind to end it all. What was left for me? I should at least place myself in suspend for a good long while—a century or two. I was young when the idea of immortality had captured me. I had no idea what I was in for. How could I?
This world was named “Home” and housed many consciousnesses. After my last, long suspension, that had attracted my attention. It was also taking up half of our system’s resources. The two had been enough to turn me away from the Erase program. To try one last time to find something, some reason to continue this existence. Anything.
I stood there blinking in the bright sun like some novice waking up for the first time. It was late summer, hot with a gentle breeze playing with my short hair. The grass was green and well manicured—but thankfully, not perfect—hills of it rolling towards the ocean. The air had that seaside tang, and I caught the scent of sweet flowers that I couldn’t quite identify.
I was in the arrival circle, a red circle painted on weathered cobblestone. Two old men sat nearby playing chess under a big maple tree, but ignored me, as is protocol. A boy was dangling up in the branches of an oak tree, a smile wide on his freckle-strewn face, his mother looking on in dismay.
I almost left then. Just a thought while in the circle and I would be gone, back to Level One where I could suspend or choose another world. Where I could end it, if I finally had the courage to run the Erase program. It was the boy that set me on edge. I had done that, of course, we all had done it. Entered a world as a child and “grown up” again. But the idea repulsed me now and I didn’t know if I wanted to be on a world where the oldest of souls pretended to be children. It’s not right.
I took a deep breath and let out a long sigh. My mood was so heavy I could taste it—a sour, moldy flavor that was unpleasant, but given my mood, accurate.
But I was here, might as well at least take a walk. I looked myself over. I was wearing a blue bathing suit, flip-flops, and a casual, off-white button-down shirt. Beachwear. Everything looked good, I had rendered well. Not that anyone rendered poorly anymore. I was showing my age again.
Another breath and I stepped out of the circle. The two old men didn’t even look up. The freckly kid had jumped down and was climbing another tree, the dutiful mother keeping an eye on him. I walked down the cobblestoned path, quickly past them, and headed towards the ocean.
As I walked through the trees and came out onto the vast sloping lawn, it became apparent that the beach was below and that the park ended in a cliff. The path teed and wound along the cliff with benches made of iron and wood, placed at regular intervals.
To my left, several hundred yards away, I could see that there were stairs built into the cliff—a winding affair that led to the beach. There were plenty of souls down there, playing in the surf, lounging in the sun, walking slowly on the sand. The fishy, seaweedy smell of the ocean was strong and the breeze stiff. I wrinkled my nose. I was not fond of oceans or their unrelenting wetness and smell.
“Would you like to talk about it?”
I turned and saw him standing there. He looked to be in his mid-thirties and had on loose cotton pants the color of sand and a flowing white shirt. I didn’t recognize him, even though I must have met him somewhere along the journey. Maybe I had forgotten. Maybe he had a different face.
I shrugged, letting his blue eyes capture mine briefly. Even though his face didn’t seem familiar, those eyes did. I turned back to the ocean. I hadn’t spoken to anyone in so long I felt unaccountably shy.
“I’m a good listener,” he offered.
I looked back at him. His face wasn’t perfect, his chin a bit too square, his eyes a tad too far apart. It was a normal face and I liked that about him.
“You are kind,” I said. It seemed a good phrase to end my long silence with.
He returned a compassionate smile, showing less than perfect teeth. “Sometimes it helps to talk about it.”
I nodded and took a deep breath, letting the seaside air fill my lungs. The air was too moist for my liking, but it felt good to take a deep breath.
“You know who I am,” I said.
He nodded even though it wasn’t a question. Everyone knew who I was. I was the oldest, how could they not know me? “Pretend I don’t,” he said.
I smiled, it was a small, fleeting thing, like youth or innocence or even life itself. He was offering me a new game, and that didn’t happen often enough.
“My name is Paul,” I said, extending my hand. “Paul Cruz.”
“Simon,” he said, clasping my hand. His grip was strong and his hand rough.
So we found a bench and I told him all about it.
Initially the words came slowly, like a shy girl on her first date. But it did feel good to talk about it, and then the words came faster, the story spinning forth like that shy girl telling her closest friends about that first date.
"In this quiet but far-reaching thriller, author McCarter explores the essence of what it means to be human… Sci-fi as it should be: engaging, moving, and grand in scope". – Kirkus Review