Life Loves Death, Chapter One (Unedited First Draft)

There are some other peculiar things about me that I must explain now, so that you do not wonder why I am not mangled and deformed by the accidents that happen in even a single lifetime, let alone the hundreds I have endured. It is not enough simply not to die: My body seems to have the ability one sees in some fish and amphibians to replace what is lost, given time.

When I lose a tooth, a new one grows in within five years or so. I have lost countless toes to frostbite, and I once lost three fingers on my left hand to some tangled rigging in a fierce storm: They all grew back within twenty years. I lost an eye once to a burning ember, and I wore an eye patch for long enough that I still sometimes feel it across my brow in my dreams. One day I took the patch off, and I could see again. The local priest claimed responsibility for the miracle, and his descendant were worshipped as god-kings for a dozen generations before being butchered for failing to bring rains to relieve a drought. I never liked them much anyway.

I haven’t experimented with how much I can lose. I have never lost an arm or a leg or my manhood, so I can only speculate that they too might regenerate given time, but can you imagine what a freak I would be for a century or two, with some pygmy appendage dangling off me? My curiosity has never gotten the better of me, and my prudent way of life has fortunately kept me from ever putting my theory to the test.

I have been punctured and stabbed and cut and burned many, many times over. I have even had tattoos, as cultures dictated. The marks all eventually fade. Nothing traumatic has happened to my body in two hundred years now, and so when I go to the medical clinic for a check up at the base of this mountain where I have made my home they tell me I am as healthy as a horse. My physique is flawless, if I do say so myself. I can lift and carry, run and climb, jump and swim better than most men in the prime of their lives.

I have no physical complaints save one. I am sterile.

In all my life, among all my wives, I have had only seventeen children, and I suspect each and every one of them was the product of another man. I raised them all as my own, delighting in the opportunity to be a father. I abandoned each one somewhere between their twentieth and fortieth year when they asked me why I did not age. You would be amazed how quickly friends and family can become a lynch mob in the face of the supernatural. I have rarely tempted fate in sticking around long enough for someone to suspect what I am.

It is among my greatest regrets that I cannot beget, but perhaps when the gods gave me all these gifts they evened the scales and kept the blessing of true virility from me for good reason: If I were normal in that respect, the world would be populated with my descendants by now. Instead, I am a freak, destined to wander alone through history, making no contribution to the progress of humanity save what I can do with my own two hands and my own wits.

There is one last gift I have that I must declare, although I cannot say that I am unique in this respect. Perhaps many people have this ability? Perhaps many more would have it if they could live longer to truly master it? I do not know. All I can say is that by the time I had lived fifty lifetimes or so, when I closed my eyes and breathed deeply for a time and just let my thoughts wander, I could see the future.

I couldn’t and can’t harness this ability to a specific goal, I’m afraid. I can’t predict the weather, or tell you what horse will win a race, or anything really useful. I mean to say I could get snatches of what my life could be, might be, at some point in the future. Sometimes I can see what is possible three or four years away. Many times I have seen things hundreds of years ahead of time, and they were strange and frightening out of context: I saw my first musket fire in a vision when men were first bringing copper and tin together to make bronze. Can you imagine what a fright that gave me? I saw my first ghazi ride out under a green banner to spread the word of the Prophet Muhammad —peace be upon him— before the birth of Yeshua, whom you call Jesus. That glimpse was not enough for me to adjust my life in preparation for the sudden arrival of Islam.

No, I have seen little benefit from my prognostications. It has taken centuries to refine the power to a level of control where I can try to investigate the paths my life might take in a thorough manner, but I can almost do it at will now, and that is why I am recording this message to you.

I am about to die.

I do not know exactly when. I do not know exactly how. I do know that it will be very soon. This is the last place I will ever be. In the past when I looked into the future, there were always possibilities, options, paths to take or not take as I chose. I could be sailing on a ship around the Horn of Africa. I could be building a dam in America. I could be bouncing a neighbour’s baby on my knee anywhere in the world. No more. No more.

Now, no matter what I do, all I see is where I am in the present, and the people I already know walk through my visions appearing the same age as they are at this moment in time. In both my visions and in reality I sit outside my cottage, high up in the foothills of the Himalayas, somewhere along the border of India and Nepal. I have been here since the late 1960s, and there is no future beyond this place, this cottage. The wheat fields below are sprouting, but try as I might I cannot see the harvest. I have set a calendar on my wall, but I cannot see the page turn to next month.

The last sure thing I can summon up in my dreams of the future is a young woman, an American backpacker based on her clothes. She has a blonde pony tail, and a purple coat, and her backpack is blue with yellow trim. She will climb this mountain to visit me. I will welcome her, as I do all my guests, for I have lived these last few decades as a sort of guru. Then she will say something to me, something that will frighten me so much I cannot concentrate on my vision any further and my eyes fly open with excitement.

She will say, “I have waited a very, very long time to meet you,” and she will say it in my mother’s tongue. She will speak a language not heard aloud in this world since glaciers still stood two kilometers high upon the brow of northern Europe. That is impossible. It is more impossible even than my own unlikely existence.

I try to think what this means for my future, but when I try to meditate there is nothing, nothing, nothing! She arrives, and then I have no more tomorrows. It can only mean I am destined to die.

I am looking down into the valley now, and I see a distant figure walking through the tiny village there. She wears a purple coat. She has blonde hair, and the village boys are plucking up their courage to run up to her, to tug on her sleeve and ask for some rupees. She’s pointing up at my cottage. Surely she is asking the boys about me?

Oh, my heart! Who is she? What does she want from me? What is going to happen?

I am going to switch off this recorder now. I must go to the spring, fetch some water, set it to boil, and steep some tea. I am expecting a visitor.

Oh, yes. I am expecting a visitor.

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