This is my favourite thing that I have written. It is a short story which came from a discussion with Pete. He claimed that, if given the chance, he would become immortal. I argued that being immortal was a bad idea because, eventually, you would get buried alive; being buried alive as well as being immortal is about the most awful thing I can imagine. Pete said that actually, it wouldn’t be so bad because the human mind is a powerful thing and would find a way to deal with it.
Fun fact: I wrote this story while staying in an Alpine lodge in Slovenia and, half way through writing it, I looked up to find three goats had joined me in the living room and were looking at me expectantly. They were total jerks but we hung out for the rest of the week anyway.
All Good Things Come To An End
Only two things mattered in the life of Philip Masterson. The first was that – due to a miraculous and marvellous medical advancement of his own making three years earlier – he was entirely immortal. That is to say: his life could not be ended by any means. If an appendage or organ were to be removed, no matter how viciously, it would regrow in seconds. If he were to be obliterated by an explosion, collision with a large vehicle or careful dicing, he would fantastically reform. His ‘vital’ organs were impervious to ‘deadly’ gases, poisons and powders. Some critics postulated that this state of existence was not actually immortality; seeing as he did not require food, oxygen or water to survive he was, in their view, not alive at all. Philip Masterson graciously acknowledged these suggestions but asserted that, for all intents and purposes, he felt alive. And what was life but a chain of feelings?
The second important thing about Philip Masterson was that at some point in his past he had – following an ugly altercation with one of his more impassioned critics – been buried alive.
Philip did not know for how long he had been buried alive. He had no way of telling the time, since he had not been wearing a watch at the moment of his burial and there was no light inside his coffin.
For the first few hours of his incarceration, as you might expect, Philip had tried to escape. Having no tools with which to do this, and with the coffin being made of metal and residing under several feet of hardened concrete, his attempts did not last long.
For the next few days Philip battled with what psychologists refer to as the ‘Kübler-Ross model’ or, more commonly, ‘the five stages of grief’. Those same psychologists might say that he was grieving his lost existence. He started by flirting with anger at the perpetrators of his entrapment. Then he attempted denial and lay patiently waiting to wake up for a while. In the bargaining phase he optimistically appealed to Pan, Shiva and Jesus Christ in the vain hope that one of them might answer and rescue him. He felt terrible self-pity in the depression phase. He couldn’t really think of a fate more deserving of his pity than being both immortal and buried alive. It was a relief when he reached the acceptance phase and was able to lie still and feel a bit less. He had a nap and recuperated.
After the first fortnight, the stifling claustrophobia that accompanied the acceptance of his fate became too exhausting to sustain. Waiting to be rescued or discovered was not a stimulating enough hobby. On the first Monday of the third week, the shedding of sanity could happily begin.
The next day, Philip decided to move into a mansion in his mind. He wasted no time with estate agents, solicitors or surveyors. In the real world – even with all of the wealth that his scientific discovery had brought him – he had had to stay within a reasonable distance of his children’s secondary school. The mansion that Philip found in his mind had the advantage of not being near anything – and not needing to be. On the front lawn stood a rectangular pond. Among the water lilies on its surface sat six stone frogs which periodically and whimsically exchanged jets of water from their half open, smiling mouths. He had seen something similar at a theme park as a child. The water in the pond oscillated between rich cerise and a cool cerulean. He had always loved the fountains in Barcelona that at night-time were illuminated in Technicolor. It was a bonus that his fountains stayed lit during the day. When he wanted it to, the water tasted like Dandelion and Burdock.
Sometimes in the evenings he would take a long bath. His bath was made of glass. Within the glass, beautiful tropical fishes darted and danced. On other evenings he would recline in his back garden with a pint of homemade ale and play Scrabble with himself. He always used all of his letters and the words he found were always satisfying. Contrary to popular belief, constant success did not become boring.
Philip learned to knit, to play the sitar and to recite the entire works of Shakespeare in twenty languages. His next plan was to write his own language and to translate the great works himself. He would learn to recite that too. He had another idea to watch all of the Hitchcock films in a row and to compress each one into a haiku. Philip’s evenings stretched out in front of him like endless, rolling hilltops.
Back in the metal coffin, deep beneath the surface of the earth and weighed down by several feet of hardened cement remained the real, live Philip Masterson. His wife, his children, his captors and his dog were all long dead. If anyone was left above the surface and had the inclination to uncover him, they would see a man who looked as though he was in a deep and very peaceful sleep.
Sometime later – at the point that the sun expanded into a red giant and consumed the planet Earth where he had once resided – Philip believed himself to be sat in his garden, reading the newspaper and eating a Big Mac.