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Science Fiction Drama

Dorian has always been insufferable, but never more so than since he decided to live forever. We all saw the announcement on the news last month, when one of the tech-mogul trillionaires announced a trial run of his new cryogenic chamber. We all saw it, that is, all of us except for Dorian. He was a day shy of completing his forty-day, technology-free, woodland retreat. And I, being a remarkably good friend despite his aforementioned tendency to be insufferable, called him up two days later and told him the news. As expected, Dorian didn’t laugh like the rest of us. He said, as I expected him to, “How do I sign up?”


It was a quick process. Dorian asked me to record his video application, which of course I did, because I’m a martyr and a terrible friend. A good friend would have refused, wouldn’t have told him about the cryogenic chamber in the first place. But does it really make me a terrible friend if I knew this was something he’d love? Anyway, I filmed it for him, he edited it, and he sent it in. For the next two weeks, he answered every phone call he got, even the ones with unrecognizable area codes. Most were spam, a few were reminders to register to vote, but finally, finally, one was The Call. I was the first person he told, which I must admit was flattering.


Was I trying to get rid of Dorian? What a rude question. Of course I was trying to get rid of Dorian. What other reason could a person possibly have to encourage their supposed friend to voluntarily enter suspended animation?


Now, though, with only a week to go before the big day, Dorian is in turbo mode. In between acts of charity, he has decided to fit an entire lifetime’s worth of activities into a few short days and asked me to accompany him on that endeavor. Most involve modes of transportation I never wished to try. As we sit in the gondola of a hot air balloon, I must concede that the view is stunning, but I don’t dare confess that to Dorian.


“Isn’t the point of living forever that you have time to do all this stuff later?”


Dorian takes his eyes off the skyline and looks at me curiously. “I won’t get to live forever until they figure that out and free me from the chamber. That could take decades. Centuries.” In these past weeks, this is the closest he’s come to admitting that it could all be a scam, an empty dream, and I wonder if he’s going to back out, but then he continues: “Who knows what will have changed by then? This might be my last chance to ride a hot air balloon, or go jet-skiing, or visit Florida.”


“Believe me, you don’t need to visit Florida.”


“All right, then, Venice.”


“Sure. But why do it at all, then? If there’s all these things you want to do now, why miss out? Why not just—” I lose my train of thought and gesture vaguely at the sky, but Dorian nods like I’ve said something profound.


“Why not just live my eighty or ninety years, get old like everyone else, and then just cease to exist one day?”


“Yeah.”


“I don’t want to die. I don’t want to think of a world without me in it.”


“But that’s exactly what’s going to happen when you go into that chamber.”


Dorian sighs and shakes his head like I’m a dog that doesn’t know how to sit. “You’re the one who told me about the program. Suddenly you think it’s a bad idea?”


He’s got a point. I wanted—want—him to go away. To freeze his consciousness in place, to never invite me to yoga retreats again, or text me a passive aggressive article about the benefits of mindfulness, or invite himself over and ruin a game night by waxing poetic about the exploited workers who made the tiny plastic pieces. I don’t want to see his secondhand clothing that he wears to look intentionally poor or listen to him ask for a pour over, single-origin black coffee.


There’s just one problem. Without Dorian, who will annoy me? Who will liven things up? Without someone consistent to watch in fascination and complain about, what will I do with myself? Go to my same boring desk job, watch the same shows telling the same stories with different people, eat the same bowls of cereal?


I lean my head back against the side of the gondola and stare up at the balloon. It’s immense. I never thought I’d ride in a hot air balloon. I never thought I’d get to look down on the tiny rows of houses and matchbox cars, with the sky all around me and no windows impeding my view. All those people down there, doing the same things day in and day out, and here is this man trying to escape the monotony any way he can, even if it means pressing pause on the whole world while he waits for someone to unlock immortality.


“You could join me, you know,” he says, suddenly.


It almost makes sense. I’ve joined him on these excursions and had one of the most exciting weeks of my life. Why not turn it into eternity? I tilt my head down again and stare at Dorian. His expression is open, inviting. He is not joking. I shift uncomfortably on the bench. “I didn’t apply.”


I half-expect him to say that he applied on my behalf, or that he put me in the acknowledgments on his video and the team already extended an invitation to the videographer, to tell me to pack my bags and get my affairs in order as soon as we land, but he doesn’t. He says, “Oh, right,” and we sit in silence the rest of the ride.


On the day that he is scheduled to fly to California and enter the chamber, Dorian knocks on my door at five in the morning. I answer in my pajamas, with disheveled hair, glasses, and my nightguard still in my mouth. He wishes me a chipper good morning and barges into my house without waiting for an invitation. He’s empty handed. With a spring in his step, he passes through the living room and into the kitchen, where he sits at my table. “Coffee?” I ask, the question muffled by my nightguard and insufficient sleep.


“No, can’t have any food or drink before I go,” he answers.


“Makes sense,” I say with a lisp. “Hold on.” I go to the bathroom, take out the nightguard, rinse my mouth, and meet him in the kitchen, where he’s no longer sitting. He’s staring intently at a magnet on my refrigerator as if it holds the answer to the universe. “What are you doing here? Don’t you have to get going?”


He startles and steps away from the fridge. “Yeah. I just wanted to say goodbye.” He holds his arms open and I realize, a bit slowly, that he’s reaching for a hug. I shuffle towards him and let him fold me into his arms. It lasts only a moment, and then he lets me go, and says, “See you on the other side,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.


Later that day, I wander out into the backyard, wondering where I put my rake. The leaves are starting to fall, and I want to get ahead on the raking this year. I notice that the shed door is slightly ajar, which is odd, because I haven’t been in my shed recently. When I pull the door open and step inside, I’m met by a bicycle. There’s a note taped to the handlebars. I pluck it free and read:


I know it’s not the same as immortality, but here’s a little freedom to remember me by. Thought this was more your speed than a motorcycle. Take care, my friend. –Dorian


I fold the note and slip it into my pocket. Now I’ve got to take up cycling. Thanks a lot, Dorian.

October 05, 2020 13:21

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19 comments

Scout Tahoe
13:44 Mar 23, 2021

This was―and I am ashamed to admit―a bit humorous. The relationship between Dorian and the MC was cute and complicated. It made the story more dramatic and sad, especially when it contrasted with the MC's witty thoughts. You wrote friendship so well here, and in "Most Likely To" (which I will leave a comment on when I get time). I have a question, though, how do you decide whether to make your titles capitalized or completely lower case? It's interesting to read "thursday night open mic" because I feel like that story needs a lower case, b...

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17:44 Mar 23, 2021

Oh yes, this one was definitely meant to be funny! I'm glad you enjoyed it - thank you! And that's a great question. Generally the lowercase titles are in first person, and/or feel more 'me', whether because of the narrator's personality or because of the situation. The capitalized ones are more likely to have named characters, be in third person, or have people/settings that aren't as familiar to me. I've strayed from that a bit, though, so sometimes it's just a vibe.

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Scout Tahoe
19:02 Mar 23, 2021

Good to hear! That’s so interesting. It matched your latest so perfectly. But hey, who doesn’t love a vibe?

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A.Dot Ram
06:17 Oct 07, 2020

You nailed this! And the title--describing both the setting and the character. All-around well done. I'm working on this prompt, too (also cryogenics, of course), and have a long way to go, but this inspires me.

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20:07 Oct 07, 2020

Thank you so much! I'm looking forward to seeing your take on the prompt. Cryogenics is a fascinating, weird subject, so there's a lot you could do with it.

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A.Dot Ram
07:00 Oct 09, 2020

Cryogenics is so rich with opportunity! I keep thinking of Austin Powers and Futurama and Idiocracy. That's where I started my writing process (though it's not the way the story starts...) Anyway, I just posted it.

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Yolanda Wu
05:47 Oct 16, 2020

I love how you painted the relationship between Dorian and the narrator. It started out humorous, with describing how insufferable Dorian is, however slowly, the humour gives way to the gravity of the situation. I loved the part where they had that exchange about that, how the narrator who initially wanted to be rid of Dorian is rethinking everything. You illustrated their friendship so, so well and Dorian's note tugged on the heartstrings so much. Amazing work, Natalie!

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Julie Ward
16:02 Oct 10, 2020

Hi Natalie! You sucked me right in with that first line and you had me hook, line and sinker with "a day shy of completing his forty-day, technology-free, woodland retreat." Oh, Dorian. What a great read. I kind of hope he comes back with a matching bike. love your writing! You write the way I want to write and I'd love for you to give me some feedback on my stories when you have a minute or two.

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00:33 Oct 12, 2020

Thank you Julie! I love the idea of Dorian showing up like fifty years later with a matching bike, and the narrator has grown old but is still riding the bike after all this time, so they go on one last little journey. I just left a comment on your story!

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Julie Ward
15:27 Oct 12, 2020

Yes! That is such a sweet picture. I can see them arguing, laughing, poking fun as they ride off into the distance. : )

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Bianka Nova
18:03 Oct 08, 2020

Loved the opening line! - Honest to God, I started reading and quickly wrote this below. I only saw Kristin's comment once I finished the story. Nice inclusion of the "reminder to vote" 😉 “Believe me, you don’t need to visit Florida.” - I'm not sure how well this would sit with Deidra Lovegren. 😂 All in all, wonderfully written and really makes you think (purpose of life, friendship, immortality... all the deep stuff) The ending is also lovely; the way the friend manages to find a way to be annoying even if he's not there anymore. 😊 Di...

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22:35 Oct 12, 2020

Thank you! This is the second recent story where I've gotten called out for my characters' disdain towards various US states (last time it was Rhode Island). I live in Pennsylvania, which is a very silly state, so I really shouldn't talk badly about Florida. Gotta throw that voting reminder in! I love exploring weird friendships in my stories. You just know Dorian thought that bike was a lovely, sentimental parting gift.

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Bianka Nova
11:18 Oct 13, 2020

Have you written anything Pennsylvania-related? 🙃 In any case, I think all of them should have both good and bad features, no need to be extreme (but what do I know, I've never been to the States) On the other hand I do know about friendships, and this one was indeed very relatable. I do have that type of friend who is mostly annoying, very sarcastic and prone to nasty jokes, but on the other hand they are also the ones that will hold you accountable and care for you like family whenever need be. 😊

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Maggie Deese
17:27 Oct 05, 2020

This was wonderful, Natalie! I loved seeing the relationship between your character and Dorian. I also love how you included the science fiction aspect but not too much that it was overwhelming. The stasis was very simplistic but also enough to get my attention. Like Kristin said, another great Strawbridge story! :)

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00:30 Oct 06, 2020

Thank you Maggie! I quickly decided that diving into the specifics of Dorian's cryogenic adventure wouldn't go well for me, so I made it a backdrop and went with my tried and true method of telling one character's story through the voice of another.

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Maggie Deese
00:56 Oct 06, 2020

You did really well telling the story like that! If I write one this week, thats what I plan on doing. I can be good at worldbuilding, but not for short stories. That's why I always shy away from these types of prompts that require a lot of planning!

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Kristin Neubauer
16:38 Oct 05, 2020

Great opening sentence! I like how you captured the relationship between them - a casual friendship and yet a little deeper too, but not really acknowledged. Another great Strawbridge story!

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00:32 Oct 06, 2020

Thanks Kristin! I have to admit, this is one of my favorite first sentences. I'm not sure if Dorian lived up to the narrator's claim of being 'insufferable', so I might make some edits, but then again, maybe that's the point? I think this one will grow on me when I eventually reread it.

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Hriday Saboo
04:55 Oct 13, 2020

Cool story Natalie (though the stories title says Hot Air) 😂. Liked it. No mistake. Would u mind reading my new story

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