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The Man With the Touch

by Antonio Bellomi

Few people were around in the Park of Peace. A flat, green lawn extended for many acres, with a few cypress thickets here and there, which reached to the border of the high cliff overlooking the sea. The waves were crashing loudly against the black rocks, that looked like the sharp teeth of a prehistoric sea monster.

The sun was high in the sky and the inset lenses of the man became darker when he entered the gate of the park and the glitter of the small crystal obelisks dotting the lawn washed onto him as a cascade of light.

Lajos Dritan stopped for an instant, looking intimidated by the light flashes that assailed him. This was his usual reaction when he came here, even if now he came very seldom, too seldom, only when something tormented him deeply.

Like today.

He inhaled profoundly and walked on, breaking the trance that had overcome him when he crossed the gate.

In a couple of minutes he found the obelisk he was looking for, not very far away from the entrance. It was a light blue crystal obelisk, and its faint hue became darker as he approached it. When he was just a step away in front of the obelisk, the light blue had turned to a deep navy blue.

“I am here, Dad,” he said.

The blue tint of the obelisk began throbbing like a heart that takes up beating again after being still for a very long time. The crystal itself started vibrating slightly while the air around it seemed to be charging up electrically.

“You have not come here for a long time, my son,” the crystal sang. “What is calling you here?”

Lajos did not reply immediately and his mind whirled frantically looking for an answer, any answer, because the time to face the true reason of his coming had not yet arrived.

“A regret, Dad,” he said at last, and while he spoke those words he knew they were not true, because the real problem was a different one.

The synthesized voice of the crystal spoke softly, with the tone of a father soothing his child. “You could not have acted differently, Lajos. We have discussed this matter several times in the past, don’t you remember? I should never have asked my son to put an end to my life.”

“This is the curse of the immortals,” Lajos whispered. “This is the curse imposed upon us because we dared challenge the laws of nature. But everything seemed so beautiful, so marvellous...”

The air around the obelisk crackled as if more electric charges had been accumulating and were stronger now. “Defeating death was not a victory for man, but his defeat,” the crystal stated. “When I was young, I, too, used to think like this; then, later on, with the passing years, with the burden of remembrances, with the toil of living, I wished it were possible to go back to a time when it was possible to relinquish ourselves to the natural outcome of eternal sleep.”

There was a long pause. Lajos would have liked to say many things, but even a single word would cost him too huge an effort.

The curse of the immortals. Yes, living as immortals was a curse, not the wonderful thing that everyone had applauded three hundred years ago, when, for the first time, the protein for immortality had been synthesized in an unknown Asian laboratory.

“What are you thinking, my son?” the crystal asked.

A lump in his throat prevented Lajos from answering. He still remembered with a terrible pain in his soul, that fateful day, fifty years before, when his father had wearily told him that he did not want to live any longer. And he had asked him, his son Lajos, to put an end to his life, because Lajos was perhaps the only man on the earth who had the touch — the touch of eternal oblivion. The supernatural ability to reverse the process of immortality of a man and let natural death take over in the space of a few minutes.

“I couldn’t do that, Dad,” he said with a trembling voice. “I could not do it. No. Not to you.”

The crystal emitted strong vibrations, as if it lived with feelings of its own. The air crackled again with charges so strong that they reached a flock of albatrosses that were flying over the lawn, coming in from the cliff, and made them sharply swerve to another direction.

“Thus my only possibility was to encapsulate my mind in this crystal, where it can at least rest in a state of oblivion, from where it is awakened only when someone comes to visit me.” The voice from the crystal went on and the tone was not so much of suffering as of infinite tiredness.

Lajos sadly thought that for an immortal who found the burden of living too heavy there were not so many solutions for him. He could either take his life with some gory method that doctors would have no chance of repairing with their healing abilities or choose the road to the oblivion, encapsulating his mind in a crystal obelisk in the Park of Peace. But only very few of them found the courage to face a bloody and cruel suicide as beheading or cremation. Almost all of them chose the road to oblivion.

Or the touch of Lajos.

He still clearly remembered the first time he had realized he wielded such stunning power. An old man, a man who was old in years but looked still young in his body had pleaded to be killed, because he did not have the courage to do it himself. In the course of time people had forgotten, even disliked, the art of killing.

And Lajos was also a doctor, he would never be able to kill a perfectly healthy person and he did not do what he had been required to do. He could only touch the arm of the man with his hand and whisper to him: “I can’t. I would gladly put an end to your suffering, but I can’t do that. If only I could delete this curse of immortality, I would do that immediately.” And while he said so, he strongly wished he could really believe what he had said.

And just a moment later he had seen the young body of the old man age instantly, and the process sped up with each passing second until, in five minutes at most, in front of him there was a wrinkled man with white hair, who had withered away and died with a happy smile on his lips.

“You have a great, terrible power,” his father said, as if he had read his mind.

It was true. A great and terrible power indeed. A power which an ever-increasing number of immortals were desperately looking for. A power that gave people the chance to escape from the curse of eternal life, when the burden of remembrances, and regrets and torments became unbearable.

“You give peace to so many people,” the crystal said. “You should be happy with this.”

“But I am not!” Lajos cried, his voice strangled. “I am a doctor, I should give life, not death. I can’t bear this burden anymore. I can’t go on doing what everybody asks me to do. Each time I feel a tension that becomes every day more and more unbearable. In the beginning I was convinced I was doing the right thing, actually I am still convinced I’m doing the right thing, but nonetheless I can’t bear to give death any more.”

“You don’t give death, my son,” the crystal countered. “You just bring nature back onto its natural track. Death is not an accident of life, but its natural ending. It is immortality — the odd factor, the sin of man’s arrogance — that brings only unhappiness at the end.”

The blue tint of the crystal throbbed, expressing an intense emotion. “You can’t quit your mission now,” the crystal went on. “You can save so much pain and suffering.”

It was true, Lajos thought. But this could not be a solace to him. It would have been marvellous to come back to be a doctor, as doctors of ancient times were, the doctors that history books spoke of. The doctors who helped children to be born, doctors who brought a whiff of life in the world. But now children were not being born any more. And so, in the long run, humankind would disappear and their only heritage would be the forever living crystals of the Parks of Peace with their souls immersed in the sleep of oblivion.

“I have no choice, then?” Lajos asked. And he felt he was again the little son that used to run to his father for advice. To that father who, solid as a rock, would always have an answer to all of his doubts and his fears.

“I am afraid you haven’t, my son,” the crystal answered. “Each of us has or has had a role in this world and your role is to bring solace to the people who suffer. This is really your mission as a doctor. A doctor treats and cures, but he also has the duty to put an end to suffering. And you can do that. You must do that.”

“Even if this costs me a lot of pain, Dad?”

He had been right to come to the Park of Peace. Once again his father had given him the right advice. As he always had. Now Lajos had only to follow it.

Copyright © 2008 by Antonio Bellomi

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