Evelyn inhaled a deep pull of air from her Evertube oxygenerator. Unlike fresh air, the oxygenerator provided a more nutrient-dense supply of oxygen which was essential for the Evergreening process. The machine had become a part of her nightly routine since she received her first Evertube apparatus when she turned eighteen years old - over one hundred and eighty years ago.
She removed the tube from her left nostril and leapt out of bed with renewed vigor in her lungs, ready to take on the day. Evelyn felt not a day over eighteen, even though her delivery certificate cited her two-hundredth birthday was fast approaching.
Often, Evelyn had nightmares of the days when most humans lived only to reach their eightieth birthday. She felt claustrophobic thinking about the prospect of being buried one-hundred and twenty years ago.
No one was buried anymore. There were no funerals, no wakes, no celebrations of life. Only life as it continued on and on. No longer was life just a vapor in the scheme of time. Life, as it had been for several thousands of years prior to Evelyn’s delivery, was considered a seed that grew abundantly forever.
Very few people went without Evergreening - those in extreme poverty and those who had adverse theories about the idea of living forever. But still, there were no funerals or goodbyes for those who went without. Their bodies were relegated to the Field of Mortem.
The Field of Mortem was established as a dumping ground for those who chose not to partake in life. That’s how society viewed anyone who became deceased - a person who made the specific choice not to partake in life. Of course accidents, as they used to be called, happened. But the blame was placed solely on the victim of the accident. They weren’t careful enough in their decision processes. They chose death.
However, it was extremely rare for the thought of the Field of Mortem to cross one’s mind. After all, as long as a person followed their daily Evergreening routine and made decisions befitting life, their destiny of eternal life was sealed.
Upon the arrival of her two-hundredth birthday Evelyn’s friends participated in a ceremonious ritual known as ‘the graying’ where everyone donned gray-haired wigs and painted on wrinkles to commemorate and parody the passing of another year. Her closest friends, Teeter and Prezli shared tales and lore about a time when people aged at an alarming rate.
“My deliverer told me that some of our ancestors used something called a sigrit, which actually shortened their life expectancy,” Teeter said.
“That’s not what it was called,” Prezli interrupted. “There were more syllables than that.”
The three of them thought about the word. Evelyn could picture the thing. It was long and skinny. At one end it glowed bright red and at the opposite end it delivered a plume of toxic chemicals to the face of the user.
“Ciga… Cigarette!!” Evelyn chimed.
Teeter snapped his fingers. He knew he was close. They talked about all of the things that people did to make their lives shorter, either knowingly or unknowingly, including alcohol, poor diets and things called “thrill seeking” where people rode on trains called roller coasters or jumped out of airplanes with a backpack just for fun.
“Sounds like they were looking for a trip to the Field of Mortem,” said Prezli.
The mere mention of the place, though not forbidden to speak of, was enough to dampen the festivities. Teeter grew especially quiet and removed his short gray wig. He wished Evelyn a happy two-hundredth and slipped out the door.
“He’s just upset because he’s seen it,” Prezli said. “The time before Today.”
Evelyn had forgotten about Teeter’s past. How great and extensive it was, even for her and Prezli who shared nearly eight-hundred years between them.
“I wonder if he knows what it’s like... the emotions attached with… mortality,” Evelyn said.
Teeter was well over nine-thousand years old, according to his delivery certificate. Of course back then it was called something else - a birth certificate - but the term was soon changed shortly after that because a birth insinuated that a death would eventually follow.
Because he was born in Yesterday, the time before Today as Evelyn and Prezli knew it, he didn’t begin the Evergreening process until he was in his mid-forties. And they knew he looked worse for the wear because of it.
Teeter had fine wrinkles around his eyes and a line that crossed his forehead caused by concern and worry. His hands were large and his eyebrows thick and bushy. In public, Teeter felt like an outsider surrounded by so many true Evergreens.
Teeter even had to visit a special doctor who would prescribe medications and treatments for ailments he had acquired in the natural aging process. His hair, which once likely had a few sprinkles of gray mixed within the dark brown roots, was easily corrected in the Evergreening process, but some things were not correctable.
Evelyn felt a sense of gratitude swell within her knowing that she was not born in Yesterday. She couldn’t imagine the pain and suffering of those who were born during the time of Yesterday. All she knew about that period came from those rare few like Teeter who had lived through it.
Evelyn awoke the next morning feeling restless and uneasy. She had suffered a nightmare about Teeter. In the dream she watched on as he slept in his bed, hooked up to his Evertube. The machine sputtered a moment and the motors began spinning in a reverse motion. Teeter’s skin turned a pale shade of gray and spots of green and blue freckled across his arms, hands and face. The spots appeared to grow little white hairs and fuzz as the bluish-green spots spread outward across his body. It reminded her of watching a fast-motion video of a piece of bread molding over the course of several months.
Evelyn raced to the machine and yanked the tubes that protruded from Teeter’s nose, but they were practically glued inside his nose. She watched in horror as the machine sucked the remaining youth out of his body. He grew shriveled, bruised and wiry before the machine finally sputtered once more and grew silent.
She reached one of her hands out to touch his face and felt the hair stand up on the back of her neck as her fingers neared the unfamiliar, otherworldly corpse. It was like nothing she had ever known. As her fingers touched Teeter’s cheek, she felt his skin crumble and watched his body turn to a pile of dust before her very eyes.
After a moment of recounting the horrors of the dream, she grabbed the tubes connected to her own oxygenerator and snapped them out of her nose. She couldn’t recount the last time she suffered a restless night. It seemed to be ages ago, before she began the Evergreening process, when she was just a little girl.
In the bathroom mirror as she applied a thin line of eyeliner to her eyes, she noticed she looked somewhat less bright and new. She had a slight puffiness beneath her eyes which made her look at least nineteen years of age. She discounted the thought, although it was quite difficult to fully abolish it from her mind considering how terrible her nightmare had been. No one who began the Evergreening process at the correct time ever aged beyond their eighteenth year.
She finished applying her eyeliner to the other eye and replaced the cap. But another glimpse at herself in the mirror made her feel unsettled. She’d always used the eyeliner to make her look more put together, more sophisticated, but today the eyeliner wasn’t doing her as many favors. In fact, the eyeliner only drew attention to her tired eyes. She quickly grabbed a cleanser pad and erased the black lines from her face. Evelyn wished she could erase the puffiness under her eyes.
A brief flash of an idea fluttered into her head and she returned to her bedroom to get a closer look at her oxygenerator. The boxy machine was quite simplistic on the outside, containing an on and an off button and a cord which plugged into a power source, along with the Evertube logo. At the top of the machine there were small fans encapsulated in glass domes that she figured involved the intake of air. She slid her hands across the smooth plastic exterior to the back of the machine and found small divots for screws.
Evelyn unplugged the machine in order to turn it around for a better look at its backside. The Evertube issued a faint warning alarm that was more annoying than alarming, indicating that the apparatus had become unplugged. Evelyn retrieved a screwdriver and set to work.
Before long she had the back end of the machine removed and was staring at a series of wires, motors and containers. Everything was well maintained on the inside thanks to regularly scheduled maintenance which was included as part of the Evertube lifetime guarantee. She grinned thinking back to a story her deliverer had shared with her.
“Back in Yesterday a lifetime guarantee wasn’t quite as impressive,” her deliverer said. “Everyone eventually died and the guarantee ended whenever they died. So really, they used to only give out sixty to eighty year guarantees. The companies used to last much longer than most of the people.”
She remembered giggling at the idea that a lifetime guarantee could be such a fleeting thing. It gave her goosebumps to think about a scenario where the guarantee on her Evertube could run out.
Returning to the task ahead of her, Evelyn removed the containers which held the nutrients that were infused in the oxygen through the machine. After a small amount of research, she discovered the main element used to pause the aging process was available in more concentrated amounts than what was considered baseline in the oxygenerators.
“I think if I can use a more concentrated amount of the de-aging nutrient that it might just be enough to reverse the aging process a small amount,” Evelyn said.
“I think that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Prezli.
Evelyn, Prezli and Teeter all peered into the Evertube machine. It was something they had taken for granted for so long so they were fascinated to see how it all worked on the inside.
“I don’t know,” Teeter said. “In all my days I’ve never heard of anyone upping their dose of the nutrient. Call me crazy too, but I think she might be onto something.”
A spark of hope fluttered inside of Evelyn.
“Even if you’re right, why would you want to mess with something that already works perfectly fine,” Prezli said. “I’m sure every scientist imaginable would agree they’ve already found the right balance.”
Evelyn took a deep breath and debated on telling her friends of her fear that she might have aged overnight. It bounced around in her mind for a hot second before she spit it out.
“It’s not balance that I’m after. I’m trying to find a way to reverse the process because I think I may have aged myself.”
Prezli and Teeter burst into fits of laughter. Evelyn could feel her cheeks flush in embarrassment.
“You look exactly the same as always,” Teeter said.
“No, I don’t! I didn’t sleep hardly at all last night. I think somehow that I didn’t get enough nutrients in my bloodstream and the aging process advanced,” Evelyn said. “Look at these bags under my eyes! Even if it is just a slight change, think about if this becomes a recurring thing. I - I could be one hundred years old by next Wednesday! Who knows how fast my body will age if I don’t follow the routine.”
Teeter and Prezli exchanged a worried look. Teeter came closer to Evelyn and brought his face almost close enough to touch her forehead.
“Look at me, Evelyn. This is what it looks like to age. I’m forty years in age, but I haven’t aged a day since I began Evergreening. I’ve had a number of sleepless nights, but none so bad that they permanently aged me. You’re tired maybe, but you’re not a year older than you were when you went to sleep.”
Evelyn took note of his wrinkles, which appeared much more detailed up close than far away. His skin even had a bit of a leathery appearance and spots where the sun had begun to age him eons ago. She considered that he looked exceptional for someone in their nine-thousands.
“Maybe you’re right,” Evelyn said. “I guess I spooked myself. I just have this irrational fear of growing old with no way of stopping it.”
“It is irrational,” Prezli jabbed. “No one has aged past their eighteenth birthday in thousands of years - no one with any sense in them anyway! I think I’ve had enough of this unreasonable worry for today. See you guys later.”
Evelyn and Teeter were left alone in the room. She sat down on the edge of her bed and put her hands over her face. Teeter sat down beside her and patted her on the back.
“I don’t know how you did it,” Evelyn confided.
“How I did what?”
“How you went about life knowing you were so close to…”
“...Death?” Teeter asked.
Evelyn nodded and looked to Teeter. His expression was unreadable as he stared out into nothing, Evelyn thought perhaps flitting back thousands of years into his memories.
“Is it hard to call back memories from Yesterday,” Evelyn said. “Since it was so long ago?”
Teeter shook his head.
“Not at all. In fact I think most of the memories I see most vividly are from when life was much more limited. I suppose I cherished each moment more.”
“I suppose one would if life wasn’t limitless,” Evelyn said.
The two of them sat for a while, trying their best to cherish a moment in the endless span of time. Evelyn thought of how little she remembered from her two hundred years. It seemed to pass by in a wink. The best memories were those in which she was growing as a child, learning new things and changing into her body. A body she would keep for the rest of her life, for the rest of forever.
“Thanks, Teeter,” Evelyn said. “For the perspective.”
When Evelyn went to sleep that night she inserted her Evertube as she had done for nearly all her life. She inhaled the nutrient-rich air and fell into a deep sleep. She dreamed of growing old, of her hair turning gray, her face taking on sets of wrinkles and her pace slowing. She dreamed of time moving past her for once instead of her moving past time. It was all so beautiful in a strange way.
Evelyn felt a peace about her that she hadn’t felt in her entire life. In her dream she unplugged the Evergreening apparatus and just let life be. She threw herself into the grips of age and let time take what she had kept from it for so long. In her mind her birthdays played over again, except as each year passed she had changed. Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one - she watched as her face matured - forty, forty-one, forty-two - strands of gray were peppered through her head - seventy-four, seventy-five, seventy-six - a delicate woman who had a certain beauty despite her aged features blew out an inferno of birthday candles.
As Evelyn slept and dreamed the Evertube had begun to drain the youth from her a little every minute. It took all of Evelyn’s beauty. It took all of her vitality. It took all that she knew from Today. The nutrients that made up her youth filled the container inside of the machine until it overflowed and poured out onto her nightstand and dripped across the bedroom floor.
While her youth vanished, it made room for change. Her dreams grew more vivid and she sensed a new depth she had lived without. She sensed she was somehow more alive than ever. Evelyn felt the world slipping away and despite her dreaming state could understand that it wasn’t only happening in her dreams.
When Teeter and Prezli returned a few days later, having heard very little from their friend, they were stunned to find Evelyn motionless and unrecognizable in her bed. Prezli screamed and raced out of the room. Teeter could hear her screaming for help like a lunatic down the road.
Teeter took a seat beside Evelyn, and while shocked at the suddenness of it all, he felt a peacefulness seeing her rest there. It wasn’t the same Evelyn he’d always known, but this one was somehow more beautiful to him. Age had its way with her. Time had taken its toll. She was an indicator, a milestone, a symbol - of how things were meant to be.
“Even the strongest evergreens were meant to wither away,” Teeter said, speaking to himself, Evelyn and no one at all at the same time. He felt the profound sadness that had escaped him all of these years and cried. This, he thought, would be a moment to cherish. A moment he could hold onto forever.
Teeter took Evelyn’s withered body away from everything else and did his best to remember back to the funerals of those he loved many eons ago. He found a peaceful setting near a quiet stream, among the pines and the spruces and the firs where he dug a shallow grave. He laid her down and replaced the dirt over top of her. He took a moment to reflect on Evelyn - an action he rarely ever did anymore as he always knew there was infinitely more ahead of him than behind him. Time stood still in a way that time was meant to be still before it moved on as it always does.