After toasting Marco, the bartender, with a good afternoon, the two friends took their beers to their favorite booth in the Men’s Grill. The men were avid golf members of the Peninsula Country Club, harbor-side on Pelican Landing, and this was their favorite beer stop during the week, pre-golf, post-golf, or just in the mood. The club was lovely with its wide variety of palms, indigenous oaks, sugar maples well over one hundred years old, and beautifully maintained plants and fairways.
Their booth looked out on a lovely sunny day, blue sky, and the long finishing 18th hole. The friends commented on the golfers’ incoming shots to the lush guitar-shaped green and chuckled when an errant pitching wedge sent the ball into the blue-green waters where the stately boats in their slips softly swayed in the breeze.
Both Bradley Holden and Kurt Gentry were six feet tall, forty years old, and handsome. Bradley was cleanly shaven and had black wavy hair, Kurt’s black beard and hair were curly, cultured neatness. Brad was holding a gray dimpled pill between his thumb and forefinger with a wide smile and playful goggle eyes.
Kurt took a sip of beer and took the bait. “Okay, what’s so amazing about that pill you’re romancing between your fingers?”
“Thought you’d never ask! It’s beyond amazing, Kurt! It’s beyond revolutionary! This is the greatest little capsule ever invented by man. You cannot breathe a word of this to anyone, not even Nancy or your parents. We’ve been best pals since grade school, and I want to share this with you. No one else knows about this except the inventing genius who must remain anonymous. You have to promise me you will not speak of it, okay?”
“Sure, I promise. I’ve never seen you so excited about any of your pet projects.”
“Not pet projects, Kurt. That sounds so child-like, so insulting to this tiny but magnificent invention. You’ve done very well with the private information I’ve given you in the past. Sure, a few ideas didn’t pan out, but I gave you the caveats at the time, right?”
“You did. That’s why I promise because you are an incredible mover and shaker. Now, what is this capsule - sorry I insulted it by saying pill - what is this capsule going to do for me and the world?” Kurt smiled and sipped his beer.
“Not yet the world, good friend, just you…and stop with the silly smile. This is more important than you realize. Now, look carefully at me. Really look and analyze. Don’t glance. What can you see?”
After a long interval, Kurt spoke. “I can see the same incredibly handsome pal with curly black hair and blue eyes who sat with me last week at this same table.”
“Come on, Kurt! I’m asking you to be serious here…thanks for the handsome part!” he smiled.
“I am being serious. Except for your clothing, I notice the same you.”
Bradley sighed. “Okay, remember the boat and fishing accident when the big Bluefin knocked me down and caused a gash in my left forehead? Remember the scar? Remember the big brown wart on my right cheek below the ear? Do you see a scar on my forehead? Do you see the wart?”
Kurt looked befuddled. “In fact, I don’t…sorry, I’m so used to seeing you I didn’t think about the scar and wart. You telling me the pill took the scar and wart away?”
“That’s what I’m telling you…but even more. Don’t you think I look younger?”
Kurt squinted. “Damn! I thought you got a short haircut, but your face does look smoother and tighter. Same pill did that?”
“That’s right, and there’s even more.” He smiled at his friend, sipped slowly his own beer, enjoying the waiting game he was playing.
“Okay, smart guy, what’s ‘even more’?”
“Even more is, taken at the frequency directed, I will never get older than I am right now at this moment.”
“Brad, you’ve got to be kidding! This is science fiction, all impossible stuff you’re saying.”
“Just listen for a minute or so, okay? Some Scientists and some in the Tech world have been working in a field called Micro-Robotics and Nano-robots. I can’t tell you much about it, but, supposedly, some years from now those little nano-rascals will have different duties, will be injected into our veins to remove old cells, create new cells, fix medical problems like cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's, and so forth… Guess that signals some sense of immortality. It’s all amazing.
“Now, my guy is ahead of the curve. His pill has some cell cleanup and anti-aging capabilities. He’s a Cal Tech graduate and the sharpest man I know… Well, you’re pretty sharp, too,” he smiled and nodded toward his longtime pal, “and, handsome!”
“Hold up, Brad, this cannot be legal what you’re doing. How long have you been taking these pills? Are there any side effects? Are you just going on blind trust? Incidentally, there was nothing not charming about your scar and wart. So, the big question is WHY would you do this?”
“Aside from you, Kurt, this gentleman is my best friend… He did not want me to be his guinea pig. I sort of stole some of his pills…”
“Sort of ‘stole’?”
“He needed validation for his studies. All animal and other tests had been done but the human element… I supplied that for him.”
“And he let you? Brad, this is nuts!”
“He didn’t know about it and was mad as hell when I told him. You know me, I’m a risk taker.”
“Yes, but with something weird like this? Is he not worried about your health? Did he not suggest you see a doctor?”
“No, for several good reasons. He just told me to stop taking them.”
“And, did you?”
“I’ve been taking the pills several weeks now. They are once a week pills. He seems to think I’m fine and is happy as the chirping lark.” Brad raised his arm to the waiter for two more beers.
“But, did you stop taking the pill?”
“I took one this morning. Don’t worry, I won’t take anymore.”
Kurt shook his head and kept looking at his friend as though seeing him for the first time. The two men were quiet until the drinks arrived. A strange osmosis was taking place, and Kurt could not quite understand it. “Well, I love you, big guy, and I hope you’re not screwing around with fate.” He raised his glass for a toast.
They chatted, relived some old memories, and enjoyed their afternoon.
Recalling a funny college incident triggered another toast. The two friends lifted their cocktail glasses for the traditional touch.
Suddenly, Brad jerked his head and got a glazed look in his eyes.
Kurt noticed a tightness come to Brad’s face and scalp. Brad’s hair seemed to be shaking and shimmering in the afternoon light.
“My God! Brad, are you okay? Your face…it’s…”
“I don’t know, Kurt, I’m feeling funny! I need to leave…sorry…guess I’m…”
With that, Brad stood and started toward the exit.
Kurt stood, followed, and, after the second step Brad wavered and crumpled into Kurt’s arms. Brad’s body became limp in his arms. Then, Kurt’s eyes widened with horror as the mass he held in his arms began to shrivel and become lighter until he was holding loose clothes and a further diminishing Bradley Holden. Kurt opened his mouth to scream but no sound came. He stood, tears streaming down his face and onto the clothes of his best friend. His body trembled and his mind considered the possibility he was having a nightmare.
The faces of the lone bartender, waiter, and a few scattered members all blanched with disbelief and froze in fear.
A cloud settled under the mid-afternoon sun, presenting through the big window a bleak tableau of people in shock and gray stillness.
Flash Fiction by Billy Ray Chitwood
Written originally by Billy Ray in July, 2014, with some minor changes here.
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