Alcor Life Extention Foundation’s Arizona compound burned down sometime around midnight one April. The engineers used to bring their children in, late at night, when the halls were empty. Walter could hear their conspiratorial whispers echoing in the tiled hallways. They filed past, sleepy bundles swaddled in their arms or being led by the hand. Walter carefully wiped away the little hand-prints on the glass before he left each night. This is the man who made Mickey Mouse, darling. No no, he’s not dead, he’s asleep. He’s been asleep since before you were born. He’s been asleep since before I was born. The children were all terrified of his face when the glass was wiped clear, they buried their faces in their fathers’ jackets and sobbed and howled and the fathers leaned in closer to the glass, in rapture. We could live forever. For ever and ever and ever. You’ll see one day. We both will.
Walter could hear the apparition roaming the halls at night, the tapping of a cane on the tiled floors, humming an oom-pah tune under his breath. The silence and the echoes played tricks, but he could not explain the breaths of cigarette smoking that lingered in the hallways, the traces of musky cologne. He brought a radio to work to keep him company, to fill the gap that was left when the engineers filed out in the evening. He spent his night massaging his arthritic knuckles and tracing his well worn path through the halls, recording the vitals of the frozen bodies, all arrayed in their chambers, insulated against time and decay while Walter’s knees became stiff and sore. He was becoming his father while these men and women outlived their children. Their bloodless bodies would outlive their grandchildren and maybe generations after that. They were lifeless and deathless and their frozen brains did not dream.
The apparition introduced himself as Walter. He said my friends call me Walt, and Walter said my name is also Walter, but I haven’t been called Walt for years. The apparition just tapped his fingers lightly on the steel table. They made a sound like glass chimes and they left no fingerprints. He was as sterile as the building itself, gleaming clean and cold and unyeilding. I can see stars, at times, even when I am indoors. I forget when I am, when it is. The apparition was looking closely at Walter, as if trying to impress on him the importance of this information. Walter also forgot things sometimes, and he said so. Sometimes he got confused, but it wasn’t the same thing. This used to be a field; I’ve seen the field, where you’re sitting now, at some moments I can still see it. Isn’t that fascinating?
How did I end up here?
“You’ve been here for decades, as far as I know. Since before my time here. I imagine you will be here a long time after I am gone.”
I imagine I will be here until the power is switched off. They’ll find me here someday, just a mass of shattered bones. The rest of me will melt like ice. This place is just a tomb.
“I envy you. I know you’re not really even here, I really don’t think you are; I don’t believe in ghosts. But I envy what there is of you. What’s in that tank. Someday you’ll wake up in a place that I can’t even imagine, and you’ll still be younger than I am now.”
It’s too late for you, isn’t it? What would be the point of waking up in that body? I can imagine you shuffling through the streets, under buildings too tall to see the tops. I hope you’re taking good care of me in there.
“Who knows what they could do in the future? Maybe they will make the old young again. I barely remember being young, anyway. I think I could feel young again, in a young body. I don’t know why you still smoke though. We take better care of you than you do.”
I have a suit ready, you know. It’s pressed and hung and utterly spotless, and I plan to wear it when I arrive. I have many suits, but this one is ready for me, when I wake up. I chose it very carefully. A good suit will never go out of style, you understand.
“It’s not getting any cheaper though. You’d be shocked at what people pay for the proceedure these days. Sometimes it’s just cheaper to die. That’s what my grandfather said about hospitals. He died in his best suit; said he’d rather do that than spend the rest of his life pissing himself in a paper gown. I guess I can understand.”
I’m finding it more and more difficult to hold onto my time in any meaningful way. I want you to be thorough when you do your rounds. There are a million things that could go wrong and any one of them could ruin me. I’m beginning to worry, frankly. Sometimes there is just a field here, no building at all. No way to tell what year it is. Sometimes you’re here in this drab little room and sometimes it’s nothing at all. Black like you’ve never seen.
“This was a forest, they cleared it to build the facility. I don’t think there was ever a field here. I know because I used to play near here as a child.
You need a shave. You look like a bum. This, frankly, is not what I imagined when I imagined the miracle of immortality.
“I’m being chastized by an empty room. Maybe it’s time to retire after all.”
I needed some air. I had rather hoped I would be thawed by now, to be honest.
“We’re working on it. You seem to be getting around just fine without being thawed though.”
It does raise some interesting questions, doesn’t it?
“Please don’t smoke in here”
Does the smell offend you? How times have changed.
“You, of all people, shouldn’t be smoking. You only have the one lung”
The miracle of immortality, indeed. I feel I should tell you; your fly is undone.
Sometime around midnight an engineer was seen running from the building. He stood on the roadside with his child in the crook of his arm and he pressed the child’s head to his chest and covered her ears against the wails of the fire alarms. He paced and scanned the streets until the fire engines arrived. The street was charged with noise and tragedy, the wails of the child and the sirens and the fire alarms rattled the windows of the compound. The tanks were ruined by the time the fire brigade found them. The building was choked with smoke and the floors were slick with liquid nitrogen. The chambers had burst and the glass bodies all shattered. The project was abandoned, the buildings bulldozed and carted away and nothing was left but a field. A carelessly thrown cigarette was blamed for the blaze, but the engineers all privately dismissed this theory. Only old Walter stayed in the building during the nights, and they all knew Walter hadn’t smoked since his surgery, years ago.