On his birthday, a man wishes he had more time to the things he never had time to, but finds out that his wish comes at a price.
The frigid February air stung Conrad Kraemer’s cheeks with a passion. It was his 45th birthday, and his salt and pepper hair, wrinkled skin, and aches and pains were proof that he’d reached the midpoint of his human life. Kraemer stuffed his numb hands into the safety of his coat pockets and flexed his fingers. They tingled with pain as he tried to restore blood flow. “Another birthday alone”, he sighed. None of his family lived close by, and they didn’t feel it was prudent to fly across the country to visit for just one day.
So Kraemer sat alone at the Point State Park Fountain, as he did every birthday. He reminisced about what he had accomplished during his lifetime and made plans for the future. He remembered the day he graduated from California University of Pennsylvania with a degree in Biology, and his plans to get a job as a wildlife biologist. His plan to start reading again came to the front of his mind. A planned trip to Paris that never came through irritated his consciousness. Deep down, Kraemer felt he had done little during his stay on earth. His plans always seemed to fall short, or he didn’t have the nerve to complete them. Kraemer was an anxious man, who dwelled on fears that would often hinder his potential and left many of his intentions hanging. He fished in his pocket for a quarter to make his annual wish. The coin felt heavy in his palm as he uttered his wish to the unhearing water of the fountain. “I want to be able to do all the things I’ve shrugged off, or put aside all these years,” Kraemer whispered. “I wish for more time. I wish for more time to read, to see the world, to find love. That is all I ask.” With that, he flipped the vessel of his wishes into the water, and turned and walked away, unaware of what the fountain had in store. The sun slowly sank below the horizon, the skies giving off a purple hue as the titan headed to slumber. Kraemer decided that he too should do the same.
Awakening from his slumber the next day, Kraemer reached blindly to silence his alarm clock. He sat up, and thought it peculiar that the nagging pain in his lower back was absent. He rose from the bed, and started to touch his toes. He straightened and tried again. No pain. Kraemer squatted and waited for the aches in his arthritic knees to greet him. They too were tardy. Although they were a nuisance, Kraemer suddenly missed the familiar pains that plagued him every morning.
He ambled to the bathroom and glanced at the calendar, which indicated it was his 55th birthday. Kraemer rarely took the time to study himself in the mirror, but what he saw disturbed him. It was incredible. He hadn’t aged a bit. No white hair, no sagging skin or wrinkles, no symbols of old age. He appeared as he had more than 20 years ago.
Kraemer remembered what he had done ten years before, on this exact date. He’d wished for more time to accomplish things. Dazed and confused, he made his way to the kitchen, but realized that he had no hunger or thirst. Kraemer was frightened by the recent developments, and his thoughts raced about like a grand prix. He reassured himself that it was nothing, and that many people did not age much over a ten-year period. “It’s not like that fountain made me immortal or anything, right?” he asked with a chuckle.
By his 200th birthday, the joke had run its course. How does one live to be 200 years old without being noticed? Kraemer did so by blending in, staying on the down-low as the rest of humanity got older. In order to do so, he hid amongst the decaying and abandoned buildings throughout the city, spending time there until the building became unsound or he was discovered. At 200, he was forgotten by society, and was unknown by the descendants of his family. There were drawbacks to being forgotten, however. Kraemer lost his home because of its dilapidated and vacant appearance. Officials who assumed it was abandoned tore it down. His car, parked in the driveway, rusted and fell apart. His bank accounts were closed after decades of nonuse. Kraemer wandered the sleek city, resting under bridges and in alleyways. It was a good thing he no longer needed to eat or drink, or surely, he would have died.
Time seemed to flow faster than he remembered. An hour seemed like 45 minutes. This perception would reach an alarming increase by his 400th birthday, when an hour appeared to be 10 minutes. Over time, the English language evolved, and Kraemer’s pleas for help were either incomprehensible or ignored by other people. He decided he had nothing left to do, so he began his walk to the nation’s capital.
Many moons later, tired and sore from his journey, Kraemer reached his intended destination: The Library of Congress. Before becoming immortal, he’d learned it would take 60,000 years to read the entire Library. Kraemer set a goal to read a book a day because, he thought, he had all the time in the world.
One day, Kraemer was smiling, contemplating a story he’d been reading, when he lifted his head, and looked around in disbelief. The building and others around it were disintegrating. Rubble littered the floors, and books and papers were scattered about. It was as if an unseen hand held down the fast-forward button on a video cassette player, as the structure collapsed and decayed. Horrified, Kraemer squeezed his eyes tight in a futile attempt to hold back tears. The earth became a wasteland, devoid of buildings and life. Its surface was hard and cracked, like the paint of an ancient work of art, and the temperature had risen beyond 100 degrees.
The sun grew enormous, and as it beat down on Kraemer and his surroundings, its intensity increased slowly, like someone turning on a bright light. The force of gravity increased, causing him discomfort. Great fissures formed like gaping maws crying out the death throes of the planet.
Scientists could spout theories and laws of time, but did they really know it? Kraemer, a man beyond time and space, doubted that they did. The undying man understood more about the mistress of time than any mortal ever did, by cheating it. In the end, it had caught up to him. His time would come after two billion years of denying it, in the most violent way possible. Colossal hunks of the earth lifted into space, and Kraemer went with them.
The unforgiving vacuum of space chilled him like a bath in ice. Kraemer slowly rotated around to see the earth ripped apart, then headed towards its fiery death. It became warm, like bed sheets fresh from the dryer.