Yet another dream/altered perceptions story, but this one is pretty extreme. At first I was thinking, man I’d love to be able to do that! but by the time I reached the end, I wasn’t so sure. I still think if they had a pill like this I’d try it out every now and again, but the thought of it scares me.
By Ben Pienaar
Six months, they gave him. His final days hung over him like a great dark weight that he could not shake, but somehow, whenever Keith saw him he was smiling. The old man had been working on something for years in his retirement, and Keith suspected this was the cause of his odd exuberance, but he hadn’t said a word about it, yet.
Yesterday, only about a week after he’d been properly conscious following the heart attack, and six days since he was told about his condition, he’d seemed downright excited. Today, he was no different. He looked up from the book he was reading, Narnia, and grinned. That was one thing he had done plenty – read. There was a pile of books by his bedside, and he was still demanding as many as he could get from his family and friends whenever they came to visit.
‘Keith! How are you? Did you bring them?’
‘Yes, Grandpa.’ He lifted the bag in his right hand with difficulty – it contained every one of Ian Fleming’s James Bond books ever written.
‘Excellent. Good, good, just leave it there with the others.’
‘Are you sure? You really think you’re going to get through all these before they let you go?’
‘I might be here for a month, maybe two! At one or two books a day, I’ll easily get through it. Besides, once I’m up I’ll need a few to tide me over while I find a good library.’
‘Right, I mean, yeah.’ He wanted to say something, to urge his grandfather to do something instead of just sitting around all day. He knew that if he only had six months to live he’d do everything under the sun in as little time as possible and keep going till he dropped. But he saw the glee in his grandfather’s eyes and decided there was no point.
‘How’re your mother and father, eh? Still good?’
‘And school’s over?’
‘Yeah, just finished my finals.’
‘Ah, yes. So the partying will begin?’ He smiled, and Keith couldn’t help but smile back, marvelling at the old man’s vitality, even now.
But there was something bothering him, and all of a sudden the smile disappeared from his face and he craned his neck at the door behind Keith, into the hallway bustling with nurses and visitors.
‘Do me a favour, will you? Shut that door.’
Keith shut it, and when he turned back his grandfather had propped himself up in his bed. He looked horribly sick, although he was recovering from the initial damage. His skin was pallid and there were dark circles under his eyes as though he hadn’t slept at all for days. The eyes, though – they were bright.
‘Listen, come closer, boy. I’ve decided to let you in on a secret.’ He gestured and Keith came over uncertainly to sit on the end of the bed.
‘I need you to listen very carefully, now, and try not to think of me as a crazy, senile old bastard, okay?’
‘I’d never think of you like -’
‘Alright, alright, I know, but I just want you to realise that what I’m going to tell you is very important and also very unbelievable. You understand?’
‘Yeah, I guess.’
‘Right. You might have heard I was working on something in my retirement. Pottering around in the kitchen, some might have said. Dabbling with chemistry sets or whatever. Just because I’m old your par… Some people forget I used to be a chemist. Anyway, to cut a very long story short, I was trying to develop something very specific from the beginning. And before my heart attack, I finished the final product. In fact… You might not know this, Keith, but the discovery was partly responsible for triggering my attack.’
‘I mean, I was so shocked that it actually worked! I was exhilarated beyond belief, and then suddenly I felt that pain in my chest. It was quite horrible. In a way, I’m incredibly lucky – both because I survived the attack and because I made my first batch of keys with six months to spare. Six whole months, Keith, just imagine the possibilities!’
‘I, wait, what do you mean keys? What are keys?’
The old man was fired up now, his right hand grasping Keith’s arm with wiry strength and his voice harsh with excitement.
‘The keys to the doors of perception! Well, specifically one door, by which I mean time. You understand?’
Keith opened his mouth to reply but his grandfather was already talking again.
‘Never mind that. Let me give you the bottom line. Time is a perception, correct? It is a state of mind, nothing more than a sense, like sight or hearing or touch. Come on, you’ve finished high school, you should know this.’
Keith nodded. He dismissed his initial thought that his grandfather was mad. Someone had just put crack in his drip, that was all.
‘So, just as they have drugs to alter our perception of touch, and smell, and sight, why can’t I make one that alters ones perception of time?’
‘But then I thought, that isn’t enough. All that would mean is I’d blunder around in super slow motion – the world would be horribly boring, wouldn’t it? So I needed something else. Some drug or something that would allow me to really travel during this time. But of course we already have that, don’t we?’
‘Imagination, of course! Dreams! But that’s still not good enough. Dreaming is fine, but one can still have nightmares. No, you need control. What I really needed was an imagination enhancing drug. Something to make me see what was in my mind’s eye with perfect clarity. Something that would make me dream, and yet give me complete control of everything , like a lucid dream, but a very real one, you see. Enhanced imagination.’
He was beginning to think he did see, but it was all fantasy, surely. Even the great Dr. Algernon Hoxner, founder of Hoxner Pharmaceuticals, couldn’t do that. Keith had come close to failing his Chemistry exam, but he knew the line between dreams and reality.
But there was such conviction in his eye, such pure, intelligent, honesty. True or not, he certainly believed in it.
‘You want to believe, I can see you do.’
Keith smiled and shifted on the bed. ‘I dunno, Grandpa. It sounds pretty crazy.’
‘Of course it does! It’s off the wall ridiculous. But here’s the real kicker, boy: I did it. I finished the drug, and it’s better than I ever could have hoped. A million times better.’
‘You already took it?’
‘What was it like?’
When his grandfather smiled, his whole face broke out in wrinkles like a piece of newspaper being crumpled.
‘You want to know the whole story, boy? Everything that happened?’
‘I can’t tell it to you. It would take too long. But I can tell you this. The ratio of the effect my drug has on time – reality verses perception. You want to know? One thousand to one.’
He sat back, waiting for a reaction. It took a minute for the number to fully register in Keith’s mind, and when it did his mouth fell open. ‘You mean…’
‘That’s right. Once I take the drug and fall asleep, every second in reality is worth one thousand in my mind. And here’s something else. Each pill lasts eight hours! A night’s sleep! The doctor’s will think I’m just sleeping! They won’t have a clue.’
‘Grandpa, but that’s, I mean this is impossible! Does that mean…’
‘Yes, yes, and yes. But Keith, before we talk any longer, I need you to do something for me. It’s incredibly important. ‘
‘What is it?’
‘I still need to try out one more experiment before I can be sure of it working. There was a problem with the last one, you see. My imagination was good, fantastic in fact, but I discovered something even better: memory. It’s so much clearer, so real that it’s almost exactly like living! And there was something even better than that. My memories of the books I’d read. In my mind, after I took the drug, I could relive – not just remember but relive – every book I’d ever read, in incredible detail. At least, that’s my theory. I’m not entirely sure, I haven’t been reading much for so long, so much of it was faded and foggy. I need a retrial with something fresh.’
‘You want me to get your pills for you, is that it?’
‘Yes.’ He sat up and let go of Keith’s arm, looking concerned for the first time, but still breathless with excitement. ‘And there’s something else. You must promise me you won’t breathe a word of this to your parents. Nothing. Only tell them that I seemed cheerful as ever and that the books are making me happier still. Which, I might add, is perfectly true.’
Keith thought for a minute. Getting drugs for his grandfather. He had no idea what his parents would say about it, but he didn’t think it would be good. But what was the worst that could happen? That his drugs would kill him, six months or so early?
At last, he nodded.
‘Thank God. Alright. I keep them in my bathroom cabinet, the one with the mirror doors, in a container labelled “Calcium supplement”. Oh, and I need you to bring me something else, too. Caffeine tablets, which I keep in a smaller container next to the kettle. That one’s labelled “Artificial Sweetener”.’
‘Grandpa! Really?’ He stared, barely able to believe that his own grandfather was capable of such trickery. He almost laughed.
‘And before you say anything about my heart, I know exactly how much caffeine I can and can’t take, believe me.’
‘Okay. I’ll get it for you tonight, and I’ll be back later.’
‘Excellent, good. You’re a good boy, Keith, a very good boy.’
Keith smiled, and they talked for a little while after that, but he couldn’t remember any of it. He left quickly, because he knew his grandfather wanted more than anything to get back to his reading, and he wanted more than anything to get hold of those pills.
Both the caffeine pills and the ‘keys’, looked exactly the same – just tiny white inconspicuous tablets. The only difference was that the caffeine tablets had a line running down the middle of each one.
Keith snuck out the back door, the same way he’d come, and stopped at home just long enough to yell to his parents that he’d left something behind at the hospital and he was just going down to get it.
‘Never mind the cars, I’ll bike it, I don’t mind!’ he called. He then opened the larger container and slipped a small handful of Keys into his pocket. They wouldn’t be missed, and his grandfather hadn’t exactly said he couldn’t try them, after all.
Algernon looked up as soon as Keith entered the room and set his book aside. He was obviously tired but at the sight of his drugs he sat up straight and his eyes gleamed.
‘You got them! You didn’t take any yourself, did you? You know these are still in the experimental phase. They might be incredibly dangerous.’
‘I didn’t take any, Grandpa.’
He nodded and took the two containers from Keith, who shut the door behind him. Without another word, Algernon took one of the keys dry and then stowed both containers on the floor, hiding them under the mountain of books beside his bed. He winked.
‘I’ll let you know how it goes tomorrow, but you best be going now… There’s a heavy sedative in these things, you know. Only way to get you to sleep fast enough.’ Even as he spoke, his eyelids began to droop. Keith nodded and backed out the door, quietly.
He didn’t wait long to take the first key. By the time he got home, his mother was asleep and his father was well on the way, sitting in front of the television with his eyes half closed. He tiptoed upstairs and poured himself a glass of water, which he took to his room, locking the door behind him. His heart was beating wild with excitement now, so much that he couldn’t see how there was any way he’d get to sleep in time. He forced himself to lie down on his back and wait, but after ten minutes of staring at the ceiling he was no calmer.
‘A thousand to one,’ he whispered to himself. He tried to remember all of the books he’d ever read, every day dream and fantasy he’d ever had. Well, never mind that – if the Key really did last eight hours, he’d have eight thousand hours to explore his mind. A year.
He sat up and grabbed the glass of water and one of the little white pills. He turned it over in his finger, mesmerized. ‘The key to the doors of perception,’ he thought. Before he could chicken out, he dropped the pill into his mouth and downed the water in a few gulps.
He was fast asleep before he could even get under the covers.
Algernon’s second experiment went much better. He settled back in bed and waited for the world to grow dark and drift away, the sounds of the hospital becoming muffled and far away.
When he opened his eyes, he was in the great room of doors, a place he was already very familiar with. It was a world of his own construction, a place he’d spent hours deliberately imagining during the day so that it would be all the more real at night. It was a largely unnecessary effort, but it made his worlds organized and easier to navigate, and that was good.
This world was nothing but a mansion of doors. Each room was made out of a different material. The mahogany room held doors of mystery; the stone room doors of adventure; the wood room fantasy. He was in the stone room now, and he turned a slow circle, laughing with joy when he saw the new doors that had arrived. Their destinations were engraved on their flat surfaces. THE HOBBIT, said one. TREASURE ISLAND, said another. There were metal ladders leading up the walls, and little square trapdoors lined the ceiling and the floor. Some of these were movies, but Algernon did not like those much. They paled in comparison to the richness of the other worlds.
He wandered through the other rooms of his mind world, hardly able to believe the realness of the place. No, this was not like a dream at all, he thought. He looked down at his wrinkled hand, and thought until the wrinkles vanished and he was young and strong. He wiggled the fingers and they moved.
There were many more doors in his world, after all the time he’d spent reading and remembering and imagining, but still it wasn’t enough. He wouldn’t have nearly enough time to see it all this one night, but there was so much time to fill up in the next six months. This place had to get much bigger before his time grew near. Even if he had to give up sleep, he would: there was much work to be done.
He woke a year later, and for a moment he was thrown with a feeling of disorientation. He sat up in bed and tried to jump out, but his body cried out in agony and he stopped. What madness was this? He thought. Last he remembered he’d been on a pirate ship, sailing away from an island that had nearly taken his life, his bright eyes set on his home town and sea spray raining down on him from the rough water.
No. You are not. You are an old man, sick in your bed, and less than six months to live, now. The thought jarred him horribly and for a moment he sat in bed, shaking and thinking, waves of depression rolling over him. It was only after the nurse had come and gone, commenting on his state (Looking a little better today, Dr. Hoxner, finally slept at last?) that he regained his composure. Not six months to live, he reminded himself, much more than that.
Keith was the last of the usual visitors again, and the moment he walked in the door Algernon knew there was something different about his grandson. He believes me now, he thought.
As soon as the door was closed, Keith turned and raised his eyebrows.
Algernon nodded, grinning, and the boy let out a sigh, almost of relief, before coming to sit down on the bed.
‘It worked, then?’
‘Better than you could have imagined, boy. You wouldn’t believe where I went last night. A year, I was gone, a whole year! Just think, I’ve already lived twice as long as the doctors said I would. And what a life it was, too.’
‘So the books were there? In your mind? How did you find them?’
He laughed. ‘Yes, they worked alright. I’m glad you brought my caffeine, boy, because I’m not going to sleep much from now on. The doctors are letting me out at the end of the week, and you’d better watch out, then. I’m going to read every book ever written.’
And that he did. No sooner had the hospital released him, amazed at his speedy recovery, he was at the library, and the same night he retired in front of his fireplace with a suitcase full of books.
The first night he did not sleep at all, and after that if he allowed himself only the eight hours required for the key to take effect. Soon his behaviour became exceedingly strange, and it was only Keith who caught on to what he was doing while the rest of the family started talking about old age homes.
One day, he went to the local ice cream parlour and tasted every flavour, putting each one in his mouth and savouring it, storing the memory away for later. He spent a fortune on every meal and never ate the same thing twice. He took books everywhere and read every spare second of the day with fanatical fervour, and though it was dangerous for his heart, he went to a theme park once and went on every single ride.
‘He’s just having a… late life crisis,’ Keith overheard his mother telling his father. ‘He doesn’t think he’s done enough in his life and now he’s making up for it. It’s a natural reaction.
‘But it’s not like him at all. I mean, the other day I found out he’d gone swimming in the bay. In the bay, and it’s about three degrees outside. He’s going to kill himself.’
‘Well… Look, I hate to say it, but would it make a huge difference? Let him be, Dan. You don’t know what it’s like to have a time limit on your life.’
There was more after that, but Keith didn’t listen. They weren’t going to get in his way, that was the bottom line. It was important, because Keith wanted to know what was going to happen. He wanted to be close to the old man in his final days, because when it was all over, there was still going to be a bucket of keys, and somewhere else would be the recipe for them.
Algernon, meanwhile, was both racing against time and getting impossibly old. Year after year he spent exploring other worlds. Several nights in a row he was captain of a murderous crew of pirates. For a week he was the questing hobbit, and he felt every terror, pain, love and joy in intimate detail. It wasn’t long before he began to see his time spent asleep as his reality, and daily life as the dream. After all, he only spent a tiny fraction of his life awake, now.
Had he been more aware of the others in his life, he might have noticed that he was beginning to share some characteristics with his grandson. The boy did not behave like a child any more than Algernon behaved like an octogenarian. He seemed to grow bored with life, and now that he was on holiday he spent his days wandering around outside, as if searching for something. The most telling thing, had Algernon thought to look for it, was the look in the boy’s eyes. It was not the look of an eighteen year old, fresh and innocent from school. It was the look of a hard man. A man with sad memories and a violent past. It would have made sense, too, if one took into account that Keith was a big fan of hard boiled mysteries in the style of Raymond Chandler.
At least, he was at first, but two months later his personality changed again, and he was a loud and cheerful boy who had, unbeknownst to his parents, picked up a habit of drinking and smoking.
But Algernon did not notice, lost as he was in his own worlds, and Keith’s parents didn’t see him often, and assumed he was simply at the age where identity is uncertain; he would grow out of it.
Algernon’s situation began to deteriorate as the six months drew to an end. In fact, he didn’t go to hospital until late in the fifth month, and he was certain he was going to outlive the ‘limit’ they’d set for him. Not that he cared either way. He had lived nearly one hundred and fifty years longer than his life expectancy, anyway, which made him – mentally at least – two hundred and thirty, give or take. He had lived many long lives, and though he wasn’t tired of it all yet, he knew that when his final adventure was over, he’d be content.
Keith had done considerably less, since it had become difficult to steal pills from his grandfather without his noticing. Luckily, having spent several years as a professional thief, he knew a trick or two. Nevertheless, when the final days drew near, the two who were now both old men met in the hospital room, completely different people than they had been six months before.
The last days had been painful for Algernon, but thankfully he only spent eighteen hours out of every year able to experience it. Still, when Keith saw him in the hospital bed he was damaged visibly. There was barely an ounce of fat left on his frail bones and his eyes were lined so heavily with dark bruised skin it was as though his pupils stared out from gaping black holes in his face. His grin showed yellow teeth and gums too big, but he grinned wide when he saw Keith.
‘It’s coming to an end, my boy,’ he said when Keith shut the door to the hallway. ‘I doubt I’ll live out the week, you know. Five years, I’d give myself, if you see what I mean.’ He winked.
‘It’s too bad.’ Keith said, honestly sad as he sat down at the end of the bed. He tried to recall the first time he’d done it, the day when Algernon had first told him about the keys, and found he couldn’t. It was so far away – lifetimes ago, like something that happened to another person in another world.
‘No. I don’t think so, to tell the truth. Life should end, and I’ve been lucky: mine has lasted longer than anyone’s should. And I miss your Grandma. I’d very much like to see her again soon. Not only that, but I have the luxury of planning my own end, and what a plan it is.’ He chuckled.
Keith nodded, a small smile playing on his lips. He might have said that he understood, but he realised how wrong that would sound coming from the lips of a boy. He had to remind himself he was only eighteen yet: his whole life was ahead of him. The thought exhausted him.
‘You mean you know what story you’re going to go to, in the end?’
‘Know it? Ha! Look at this.’ From his bedside table he lifted a pile of pages, hundreds of them, scrawled on both sides in tiny handwritten letters. He handed it to Keith.
‘The great adventures of Algernon Hoxner,’ Keith read aloud, smiling as he caught on.
‘You wrote your own life!’
Algernon laughed. ‘Oh, you wouldn’t believe it. I finished this morning, and I tell you I almost had a heart attack. Riveting stuff, Keith. You could sell a million copies once I’m gone, I wouldn’t be surprised.’
‘But when you’re… When you’re in it, won’t you know how it ends?’
‘No, no! Living something you wrote is just as good as living something you read. Only even more real, if you can believe it. I know, I already tried with a few short stories. You get all the way in. When you enter a story, you forget who you really are, except every now and again for a fleeting memory.’
Keith nodded and handed the manuscript back. It was a huge thing. He wondered what kind of mad adventures his grandfather had written for himself.
‘I need you to do one thing for me, boy,’ Algernon went on.
‘Yes, Grandpa. Of course.’
Algernon shifted himself into an upright position. He fixed and held Keith’s eyes, and for the first time he was troubled by what he saw.
‘I will go into a very deep sleep tomorrow night, and after that I’ll be counting on you for many things. They are very important.
‘The first thing I need you to do is put a loudly ticking clock by my bedside. Insist on it, and make sure everyone knows it cannot be moved. That way I’ll know the time, even in my subconscious, and I’ll know when it is time to enter my final adventure.’
‘The second thing is this. In my will, I have stated that you will be the one to unplug my life support, and that it must be done at exactly seven thirty five PM and twenty seconds this Sunday. It doesn’t have to be you, Keith, but the timing must be exact, do you understand?’
‘I… Yes, Grandpa.’
‘Good. Then there is one last thing. I also put in my will that you will have possession of all the contents of my basement. That is where I’ve kept the last stores of my pills and the chemicals and notes I used to make them.’
‘Yes,’ he said, beginning to get excited. At last, here was his chance! He would be responsible for giving the drug to the world, passing on the legacy. The profits would be enormous, but that was only a part of it, and so was the fame. Lives would change. Lifespans would shoot into the thousands of years. Scientists would be able to research in their sleep! It was revolutionary.
‘I’ll do it!’ he said.
‘You will?’ Algernon said. ‘You promise you will destroy everything? Burning would be best, but as long as it is all destroyed, it doesn’t matter.’
‘What?’ Keith spluttered, incredulous. ‘You… You want me to destroy them?’
‘Yes. Every last one. And hear me well, boy, don’t you dare take a single one for yourself, either. Not one.’
‘No. These things I’ve made have done well for me, but they will only serve to destroy the rest of the world, if you let them.’
‘But how? They are – I mean they’re capable of so much!’ He struggled to make an argument without letting on that he’d already taken more than a handful himself. Whatever happens, he vowed, he would have to stay on his Grandpa’s side, outwardly, or he might change the will.
‘They are addictive, Keith. And they are false, too. Yes, they are… beyond description. But these are not keys to real doors, you must remember that. The worlds are not real worlds, in the end.’
‘But neither are our dreams. Should we stop dreaming, too?’
‘A long time ago I would have agreed with you. But it is not like dreaming at all. When you wake up from a dream, you still know what is real, you are still able to enjoy your life, to experience your day. But with the keys… Life becomes a pale sketch. People will not react well to this drug. It may even be the worst one of all, because it seems harmless. But it is not. Trust an old man. Promise me, you’ll destroy it all, please.’
Keith looked into his grandfather’s old eyes and felt a wave of guilt, because he knew he couldn’t do what the old man asked – never in a million years. But I can still send him off a happy man, he told himself. I owe him that much, at least.
He reached out and put his hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. ‘Alright,’ he said. ‘I promise you that I will destroy it all, and take no more for myself.’ Because in his many long years of adventures, Keith had learned that the best lies revealed a small truth.
His grandfather relaxed visibly. ‘So you have, then? I suspected.’
Keith looked down and nodded.
‘But if I really must…’
‘You do, I insist.’
‘Then I’ll destroy every last pill and recipe.’
Algernon embraced his grandson for the last time, weak with relief. ‘Thank you,’ he said hoarsely. ‘Thank you.’
The following night Dr. Algernon Hoxner took a massive but calculated dose of his secret stash of keys, and then blinked in the unnatural fluorescent light for the last time. As his head fell back onto the soft pillow and shadows crept up into the corner of his visions, he felt only a rush of excitement at the thought of what lay ahead.
To his credit, Keith did not plan to release the drug onto the market until at least a few months after his grandfather’s funeral. This was, however, due mainly to the fact that he was only eighteen and not in any position to release a drug on any market. Either way, he never got the chance.
There were a lot of drugs in that basement. It had simply been easier to make large amounts of keys, because even small quantities of chemicals could make a bucket of the things. Consider that a bucket held as many as ten thousand pills, and that Keith could use the recipe to make as many more as he wanted for an absurdly small amount. He had enough for a lifetime.
The family blamed Keith’s slow mental descent on the death of his grandfather – they had been so close, after all. Still, it didn’t seem enough to explain the boy’s apparent depression: sleeping for twelve hours a day, spending every waking minute reading. Nothing escaped him – romance, mystery, science fiction, action, adventure. Oddly, though he’d once been a fan of horror, he now detested it. As for the rest of his life, everything now came a distant second to his obsession.
‘He wants to escape,’ his mother told his father.
‘From what? He doesn’t have six months to live. He’s not an old man.’
That may not have been true on the outside, but no one who met him failed to mention how mature he seemed, how much older than his years he was. Somehow, it never seemed they meant it as a compliment.
Keith moved out of home before he turned nineteen, and eventually moved to a house in the countryside far North of Ireland, in the most isolated spot he could find. He became a librarian, and books were all he spent money on, besides small amounts of food. He spoke to no one, he did nothing, and one day he threw himself from the top of the great cliffs on the north of the island.
He left a note to his family: I am tired, and I’m going to sleep. Pray you never live as long as I have. This he left in a small bag by the cliff top, for by then his house was nothing but ashes in the wind.
He was twenty two.
Excerpt from ‘The Great Adventures of Algernon Hoxville’, Volume 5 of 5, Chapter 47 of 47, Page 269 of 269:
A long time ago, in a place far, far away, a man lay bleeding on a green field. Minutes ago, the whole place had been alive with smoke and gunfire and screams, but now it was all silent except for the soft wind in the trees. He felt pain, but like his fear, it was a faraway thing – outshone by the feeling of joy, of triumph.
He rolled over and crawled to a lone tree, using the last of his waning strength to prop himself up against the bark. He’d taken a hit in the side. He didn’t know what was in there but he had a pretty good idea it was vital.
‘Captain! Captain Hoxner! Are you okay?’ It was poor young Jimmy. The boy’d been too young to hold a pistol upright but he’d fought all the same, and he was running over now. Algernon closed his eyes and thanked heaven the kid was okay.
He skidded to a stop at his side and his eyes widened when he saw the gaping hole in Algernon’s side.
‘I know. Is she coming? Is she on her way?’
‘Yes, she’s coming now.’
He nodded, wincing, and flashed the kid a grin.
She came a few minutes later, a dark haired beauty running through the grass towards him, concern mingled with relief as she saw him.
When she saw his wound, her face fell, but she said nothing.
‘Listen, Jimmy. Take my pistol. It was a gift from my father, and you’re the closest to a son I’ve ever had.’
‘Captain, I can’t. You’ll make it through, I know you will.’
‘It’s Algernon to you, lad. Now listen. We’ve been through a lot, you and I. We’ve saved worlds, destroyed more evil beasts and villains than I can count. You need to keep on where I left off. Do you promise? Remember what I always told you?’
‘Live well. I promise.’
‘Good. I need you to give us a minute, will you boy? Find the othres, make sure they’re okay.’
‘Alright. Thanks for everything, captain.’
With that the boy was gone, and he was left with her. He saw she was barely holding
‘I can’t heal you, Alg.’
‘I know. But we had the past five years and a whole lifetime besides. We saved the universe, today, Dolores. Tell me you weren’t happy.’
‘I was, sure I was.’
‘Good. So was I.’
He heard the chime of a clock like an echo on the wind, and he closed his eyes. Death was coming for him soon, and he found he was glad.
‘Just one more kiss to send me off, Dolores,’ he whispered.
And that moment, he felt, lasted forever.