My horse stepped up onto the plateau where the narrow path opened up into a field. The shadows were lengthening, and a breeze blew through the trees. I tightened my shawl around my shoulders and let loose on the reins.
I started to image a hot bath in our handmade tub. Then I remembered the clay pipe leading from the spring to the house had a leak. David promised he’d fix it before my return, but I had my doubts. My husband was a strong man, but age catches up to nearly everyone, and the last decade had proven that he was slowing down.
Across the long field I saw the cedar grove, and at its base sat our home. We had built the cottage ourself from the surrounding forests, using pine and juniper. We had crafted a few pieces of furniture from a fallen cedar, but didn’t dare cut down any live trees. Behind the house, and leading up to the cedar grove, I could make out the dozen or plots for our family cemetery. It was unique in that every marker bore the same name.
We’d converted the fields near our home into rye, roughly 10 acres. It was back breaking work, and I knew it was taking a toll on David. He tried to do at least half of the work, but lately it was falling more on me. I didn’t mind, I still had the strength of my youth.
“Come on Bessie, just a few more minutes and we’ll get you all the oats you want.” My mare’s ears perked and she picked up the pace.
Ahead I took another look at the house, and noticed that there was no smoke coming from the chimney. Maybe James wasn’t feeling great. That was the biggest thing I missed about this place, being unable to communicate across long distances. That would need to be our next project, I had already prototyped a few concepts.
Bessie stopped in front of the house, and I climbed down. She followed to our small barn, and I pulled out a bag to give her the promised dinner.
“I’ll take care of you in a bit, let me check on David.” I said, and left her outside.
Back at the house I set my pack down and reached for the door. I turned the handle and slowly opened it, peering inside. Then I slammed it shut.
“What the hell?”
I gasped and stepped away from the house, breathing deeply. A year ago we’d had problems with a family of badgers that made their den under our home. They insisted in dragging carrion back to the nest, which resulted in a smell that forced us to extract them. The dead animals were mostly consumed, but the badgers liked to use their remains to mark their territory.
This was worse. I thought of skunks, but they didn’t live in this part of the world, and besides the sensation was less sulphuric, and more reminiscent of the time I caught a whiff of a dead calf in the field.
I called out from outside the house.
“David, are you here?”
I took in a dozen deep breaths, held my bandana over my face, and rushed in. It took a moment for my eyes to adjust. That’s when I heard a scratching wet sound coming from a large dark mass at the back of the room. At first I mistook the mass for a dead animal, and in an instant I thought of some choice words for David.
Then I saw the boots. We’d made them together years ago, when we were in our tanning phase. They had been the first pair that actually turned out properly, and he had been so proud of them. I hoped they were reusable.
My hot bath was off the table for the evening. I sighed and reached for the lantern to light it. The movement forced me to let go of the bandana, and I inadvertently got a small whiff of the room. That was a mistake. After a quick step out for another breath I returned and examined David’s body in the light of the lantern’s orange glow. I stepped to the back wall and grabbed a broom, then advanced toward him.
His body was facing me, and I saw the whole thing. His body was bloated and rigid, and his intestines and organs lay sprawled out around him. His eyes were missing, and several fingers were gone. My first thought was of his shirt. That was a relatively new creation, it had taken us months to setup our own loom. Now there was a gaping hole in the fabric. Then I saw the source of the earlier squeaking sound.
A smaller mass near his stomach moved. A rat crawled out from the hole in the shirt, its belly engorged and its whiskers glistened against the glow of the lantern.
“You’ve had your fill, get out of here,” I said, swinging the broom in its direction. Then I dropped the broom and held my hands to my mouth and nose. The rat looked back at its feast, then jumped away. I watched with amusement as it ran toward the oven and ducked underneath. Something to find later.
The shirt was ruined, but maybe the trousers could be salvaged. We had managed to buy those in the village, so I wasn’t as worried.
I ran to the door, then called out, “Ok, I’ll be back, leave him for me,”. A moment later I was back, pushing a wooden wheelbarrow. My bandana wrapped more tightly against my face. I was thankful for the wheelbarrow, making rubber for the wheels had proved impossible, so we’d fashioned iron plates around wooden wheels. It worked well, and we’d already sold two like it to other farmers.
I looked at David. He was getting skinnier. Last Winter had been hard on him. It took a few tries, and a few runs back to the door, but eventually I was able to lift him into the wheelbarrow, or rather most of him. The rest would require a shovel. At first I considered putting that part off, but thought better of it. The longer that the place could be aired out, the better chance I’d have to get some sleep. I scooped the remains of his intestines and wiped up the fluids with several towels. Then I opened all of the shutters and propped open the door. Thankfully the bedroom door had been kept closed.
Outside, Bessie had made her way out to a clump of trees in the middle of the field, and seemed content. I pushed my grisly load between the house and barn, following a small path that wound its way up the hill. That’s when I saw the dug gravesite. This was new. I looked down at the wheelbarrow, and saw dirt on his hands and boots. I sighed and set the handles down.
The hole was deep enough, and a shovel and pickaxe lay on the dirt mound beside it. I turned the wheelbarrow on its side, and the body dropped into the hole.
“Thanks David, maybe I’ll have time for that bath after all.” I chuckled as I spoke the words, and reached for the shovel. The body was nearly covered when I remembered something. I climbed in and reached for his boots. After a few tugs it became apparent that they weren’t coming off. The feet were swollen. Even with the laces completely undone I couldn’t get the boots to budge. I’d need to make a new pair. I thought of the alternative, and almost got an axe, then I thought about the actual work I’d need to do to dig the flesh out, it wasn’t enough to just sever the leg. I’d just have to make another pair.
By the time I was done with the hole, the sun was nearly set. I picked up the wheelbarrow and tools and turned back toward home. I’d put up a marker tomorrow.
Over the next hour I took care of Bessie, and made a quick meal for myself. I went to the bathroom and turned on the water. The hot water worked. “Thanks David,” I muttered, and climbed in.
It was morning when I heard the footsteps in the kitchen. I woke slowly, trying to place myself. Then I remembered I was back home. I rubbed my eyes and stretched. Our room was dark, but already light was creeping through the curtains.
As the bedroom door opened, light from the kitchen flooded in. The naked silhouette of a man stood in the doorway. He was barely recognizable, but it was him. He was nearly three inches taller, and his hair was back. Gone was the gray tuffs near his ears. I probably missed that the most. As he advanced
I could make out the definition in his legs, abs, and biceps. I didn’t mind that either.
He spoke softly, “good morning Jennifer, welcome home.”
I yawned and climbed out of bed.
“You know your voice changes each time, that always trips me up. It gets deeper,” I said, then laughed. “Get over here, you look a lot better than you did last night.”
David walked across the room and embraced me. I looked down. “Really?” I asked.
He smiled and gave me a kiss on the forehead. “Hey, it’s been a while since I could do that,” he said, and then he walked over to our dresser to pull out some clothes.
“Why bother, don’t you want some sleep?” I asked.
“I got enough rest, time to get some stuff done around here. I’ve been waiting for years to feel this good again.”
I pulled open the curtains, and more light flooded the room. “Hold on, I want to write it down.” I walked back to my nightstand and pulled a parchment and graphite out of the drawer.
I marked the top of my paper with the date, and began taking notes. “What’s it been, 30 years?” David asked.
“34 years, had to think about it for a moment,” I said. “How do you feel? Everything ok?”
“Like I’m a kid again. The walk from the grove was a bit brisk.” He said, and smiled.
“You know Jennifer, we could make this easier and keep me young all the time,” he said.
I shook my head as I wrote. “We’ve talked about this David, it’s too risky.”
He finished dressing and came over to read my notes.
406 BC. David James Watkins, original age 194, revived again. This time he went 34 years before succumbing to side effects of an illness, probably pneumonia. This is nearly a tie for the longest period yet, just short by a year. All signs point to the pattern continuing. Appearance is normal.
“I look hot, you mean.” David said, and put down the paper. He gave me another kiss, and we went into the kitchen to start breakfast.