Mr. Herman Yushmi had the look of a young and clownish entrepreneur, dressed in a bright silver suit and a mauve-colored tie, dress shoes polished black and quite too extravagant for such a man. Despite his juvenile appearance traced with optimism, this particular man was quite old. Not yet old enough to be considered a trembling geezer, really, but old enough for others to notice that he was in his final years. However, he still possessed an obstinate determination to continue his life uprightly and with much tenacity.
This Mr. Herman Yushmi, currently 68 years and 4 months of age, was traveling toward a destination that would aid him in doing just that. Through streets of young, hand-holding, kiss blowing, giggling couples; across cataclysmic crosswalks simultaneously being traversed by impatient imps; towards the glassy and blanched door of a moderately new building, labeled in lovely lettering: Lifespan Trading and Donation Center.
This building was a considerably recent addition to Panche, the town in which Mr. Yushmi lived, having been built about five years prior to his initial visitation to it. Its practice, however, had been fairly common for some time, having originated in some of the lesser known parts of the world…the countries of Limbten, Olmms, and Burnich, to name a few. Five years after its building and company startup, it was still the center of much gossip, much talk, dread and curiosity. Its services were quite clear, despite the tension: it could swap the length of life that two willing people, bound by contract, would have lived. The establishment also prided itself in its offer to take from one’s total years of life thus far lived, and add it to the length of life of the other. Which service was to be done was the choice of the customer.
Mr. Yushmi held out his infirm and bruise-blemished arms to open the heavy glass door, and paused before entering to wipe perspiration from his dusty rag eyebrows. Thank heavens for the air conditioning. His breathing was heavy and sporadic, his heartbeat thumping and fleeting all at once.
“Mr. Yushmi, you’re here! Let me help you, sir, please have a seat.” He was guided ceremoniously by his still failing arm toward a semi-plush seat facing another row of chairs. “How are you, sir? Excited for the big day?”
“I’m fine… Charlie?” At a curt and encouraging nod, he continued. “I’m doing just fine, only a bit tired. It is a long walk here, you know.” The last bit was added in an astringent manner. His wheezing grew worse momentarily.
“Ah, yes. We’ve been told that often. We’re trying to expand, we just can’t seem to get enough sponsorship around here.” Charlie ran his hands through his dulling auburn hair before sitting down beside Mr. Yushmi, clearly hoping for a conversation to ease his mind’s trouble. But before the appropriate level of comfort could sink in, “Oh, shoot, I should go tell Trill that you’re here. I will be back, sir.” He heaved himself up using his hands on the chair’s creaking sidebars. “And best of wishes to you,” he whispered, simpering courteously.
The lady at the front desk, no, the young woman, typed away at her keyboard, occasionally picking out a specific flower pen to scribble information down–A dilapidated coffee-stained lily every single time. The click-clack, tinkle, rubble sound mixed with the sound of the fish tank’s constant bubbling and humming somewhat irritated the man. He tried to comfort himself further, to immerse his tired body into the cushions of the chair, but found himself unable, seeing as the “cushions” were only for decor. Where was the young lad, Tanner, he believed? Probably filling out paper work in one of the back rooms; young lads never seem to get the important things out of the way before moving forward like this! To keep his elder waiting… oh, well, a lad will be what he is. At least he was generous.
Certainly more generous than any other lad he had come across lately. Or perhaps the lad was simply a fool, simply naïve, simply uneducated as to what exactly the procedure denoted. He had been only fifteen years of age, after all—and a scrawny, callow kind of fifteen, at that. And yet… the deep and unchartered caverns that were the lad’s eyes, as he nodded in ultimate solemnity, gently guiding Mr. Yushmi to the chilled blackness of a sequestered space… they seemed to denote their own meaning. His look on the day of agreement had been one that only can be seen characterized in the aura of a spirit completely willing to give itself up to even the unknown. The lad knew.
The elderly man began to grin, both absorbed and charmed in his mind’s revelations. So, the lad… Tanner, certainly knew what he was getting himself into, to one extent or another.
“You seem bemused, sir, if I may say so.”
Mr. Yushmi, still transcending in his longing daze, nodded and murmured his agreement to the doorman.
Charlie beamed at him. “And Ms. Trill wanted me to let you know that she is ready for you whenever that boy gets here.”
“Thank you, Charlie,” Mr. Yushmi said. A pause for minute reflection, staring into those disquieting caverns again. “I almost wonder if he has changed his mind, backed out. I certainly would have, wouldn’t blame the lad.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say so. He seemed a strong child, maturing, sure of his decision, if I do say so.”
Indeed, sure of his decision. “Thank you, Charlie.”
The time was sliding away, quickly, as pebbles in a river shift and change as the wind determines its speed and destination, illustrated in the sound of the wall clock ticking-swishing, tocking-rocking. And the walls of white, the blue tinge of the fish tank, the click-clacking of the lady at her desk… all meshed to become the vision of Mr. Yushmi drowning, seeking solace in a place that was hidden in the midst of waves and nihility. And the door creaked open, slowly but with certainty.
Mr. Yushmi shook his head, buying time until Charlie, in all his subtle enthusiasm greeted a presence who was no doubt Tanner, the lad who would change forever Mr. Yushmi’s life. He arose, groping for stability in his shiny, well-used cane, stumbled, and then gathered himself as he headed to shake hands with the lad.
“Tanner!” Mr. Yushmi put forth his whole effort into smiling pleasantly at the child, towards the child’s nebulous eyes. “It is very swell to meet you again.” Still, standing like a cemented boulder. “I want to thank you very much, Tanner, for your donation. It means more to me than you know.” Despite the seeded certitude and gratitude in his voice, Tanner only glanced up toward his face, barely acknowledged him with a nod of the head.
“Well, now, I believe that Trill is ready for you both. She is over in this next room, if you will follow me,” came the masked-placid voice of Charlie, that blessed man.
And so Charlie led the two from the open room into a vacant hallway, in which the two were met by the ever-dawdling Trill. From there, the two were guided by the plump and blushing woman, a head manager of the company, into a seemingly airtight room. It was dark, especially to the old man’s ailing eyes, but none too shady for the matter at hand.
“Now,” began Trill, her glossy red lips making clear every word, “I have all of the paperwork with me in this folder.” She picked up a faded yellow folder, thin with signed papers, and held it routinely in front of her so they could see it clearly. “That includes terms of agreement, recognition of the full nature of this program, personal records, reasons for wanting this procedure, etc., etc., etc.”
Both clients nodded their heads sensibly as she talked. Both were dazed. Had they anticipated the reality of this plan and arrangement, the finality of it, the formalities required to attain and complete it… would they have gotten here? But, alas, both stood, gathered around the plump, seemingly automated lady holding all of their past, present, and future with her in the form of ink. It would never go away.
“Now, this is the part where I tell you that you can back out. One or both of you.” She gestured toward old man and young boy, her clued-in eyes dazzling. “To follow through with this is very permanent, and will be cause for many differences in your lives. To back out now, though a seeming waste of time, may prove to be a better choice. If either of you do change your minds, there can be found a substitute for the other within weeks.”
The realization that this was an irrevocable decision smote Mr. Yushmi, sent his opportunity in all its promising winsomeness staggering limply to a plummet downward. He could choose now to live a few years longer in his anticipated life of repose. He could choose, rather, to put himself into a position of retrogression, to keep the knowledge of his earlier and far less easeful death inside his heart. Take from the boy, who was true in all his composure, and thinking on it, perhaps quite glad to give up the remaining ghastly years of his life to him. Or allow the atrocity of severed aspirations to swarm and sting the child Tanner as both died off as planned, in ways opposing to their ultimate desires. Yet in this brief moment of introspection, Mr. Yushmi seemed to have failed to mentally put his donor in a position in which to make his own decision.
The spectral look upon his face must have revealed itself to the child, and the child must have glanced at it and gleaned a new sense of confidence. An air about the glow of his face mirrored that of a child basking in the notion that his elder is just as afraid as he. Tanner, his parched hands and pensive eyes working in sync with each other, now looked upon Trill steadily, nodded as he indicated the envelope. A smile. Almost.
“Yes, well, I believe we are prepared, ready. We are.” A glance of like consciousness toward Tanner.
Tanner nodded his agreement, smiled more melancholy than before.
“Okay, now follow me into the next room, where we will meet Mr. Bruich. He is the main man here, and will finalize your choice.” Trill opened the door for her two clients, and closed it behind them as the man and the lad entered the darker, heavier room.
It was larger than anticipated, and certainly a final etch mark in the decision making process. It was as dark and deep as the young boy’s eyes, as infinitely important as any imagination could suspect. And yet, the room was empty. It was only that: a room. A space in the eternal beingness of all other spaces, and a space in which, though it remained the same, all else would be changed because of the procedure about to take place inside of it.
Mr. Bruich, for a man of his size and professionalism, was hardly the first item noticed. Yet, as the room gathered its own light to gleam upon the event, there he stood. He had to be too young to be put in charge of such an important, unvarying procedure, certainly too young for Mr. Yushmi’s comfort. The man and the boy stood there, being capable of no other emotion than solemnity. They stood as straightly and as respectfully as any two people may stand in the presence of one above themselves, a superior. Sweat and pride, fear and uncertainty, and a type of anxious excitement of the unknown that is known to be good.
It was odd, ironic, the entire scene. A man, reaching his seventies and dressed professionally blithe, as if pretending to be a young entrepreneur version of himself, about to introduce his greatest achievement to the world. A boy, rags wrapped around his thin and sun-salved body, hair long and shaggy-looking like that of a wild black bear, standing beside the old man as an equal, anticipating the greatest reward he would ever receive. The young professional, the head boss of this mass production company or perhaps this church rummage sale, classy and humble, apprehensive and all powerful, standing in front of them, drawing near now to embrace them.
Mr. Bruich’s arms were warmth, embracement, comfort, and guidance. They were closure. They were beginning. His voice was that of a father, plain and simple, a father. Masculine and sweet to the ears. It took only his introductory statements to cause both boy and man to tear up, to become drunkenly sober. “Ah, it is so good to have you here, both of you.” Inclusion, love, acknowledgement. “I hope you are both comfortable,” a pause to allow for somberment, “and ready for this change in your lives.”
His smile was bright and understanding, and his teeth were a small grotto of white pillars through the tears being shed. Mr. Yushmi was helpless. Tanner was helpless. Both were children in the basking reprovement of a father, a teacher, a mentor. “You both have wanted to trade in the span, the length, of your lives. You both have agreed to do so, today.” Neither noticed when Mr. Bruich took back his arms and embrace from them, leaving them to share the remaining warmth amongst each other, still enraptured longingly in the safety of his presence.
“I am not sure, and cannot be sure, of the extent to which each of you have lived your lives thus far. Nor may I ever know the depths to which those lives have etched themselves into reality. It is customary that I am not shown any of the paperwork filled out by our clients, and as such I am not aware of your hardships, your ease, your love and your hate, or anything of detail. Your hearts, your minds, your souls if you truly have those as well, all of that is unknown to me… and yet I know that you, Mr. Yushmi, and you, young Tanner, are at agreement with each other.” There was now a pause, after what seemed to be the longest breath of speech that either had heard before.
Mr. Yushmi, trembling despite his silver suit and cheery veneer, turned for a moment to glance at the young boy, wanting to see how he composed himself. That was the first time that he cursed himself. The disquisition had stopped temporarily, all was quiet, save for the echoes of voice that were still soughing, and likely would forever.
There stood the boy, or rather, there the boy was held vertically upright by an unseen force in perhaps the air itself. His face was solely shattered, no trace of any other emotion or attribute. While both had been weeping for some time, Mr. Yushmi still was made aghast at the sight of the boy. He was looking at a tormented soul, one that was entirely unsure of why innocence had been so cruelly denounced.
It was a concept that Mr. Yushmi would not condone to interfere with his goal, and as such he did not believe it. And yet the face there slightly below his line of sight was bronze with flame, empty with being hollowed out, a rock on which fire had been set upon to burn the houses around, yet only the rock had been scorched.
“There are few times that I am ever truly aware of the reasons people have for wanting to have the length of life of another.” Here, Mr. Bruich looked away from them, considered the ground with the distance of a flitting moth seeking to evolve. “After all, the young should hope to grow, and the old should wait to die. The more time there is in a life allows for a greater chance of a better life, until the unreachable comes upon one, granting plenitude of all. That is the way it is, it just simply is.” Mr. Bruich turned to Tanner, compassion and tenderness on his face, as well as hint of something hard, unrelenting. “Young child, Tanner, I can see in your face that you are making a decision you believe to be the correct one. The only decision you will make that is so close to freedom and charity, and yet unfair, injurious.” Mr. Bruich’s eyes scintillated, swaying in a shade of sorts.
The soothing impression of the room was riven just as quickly as it had been fabricated. “Mr. Yushmi, you have the right to know, now, what Trill does not yet know. There has been a change of plans in the procedure. Previously, Tanner was to trade in his span of life for yours, and vice versa. Earlier, he communicated with me that he wishes to give you his total years thus far, as a substitute.” Mr. Bruich cleared his throat, made a quick gesture for continued silence, and continued his spiel. “I hope that when this is done, both of you shall have found your solace.”
“That’s all good and well, Mr. Bruich, but didn’t you think I should have been notified?” His voice carried, crimson indignation stealing his breath. Mr. Yushmi swerved around, knees aching, glared at Tanner. “This child, Mr. Bruich, would not have changed his plans. The agreement was made.” Now, to Tanner. “Don’t let these people make a fool of you, child! Let us continue with our agreement, as intended.” But Tanner only looked dejectedly at him, eyes too dark to read.
“Yushmi! Quiet yourself.” Mr. Bruich corrected him, clearly desiring to move forward quickly.
“No! This child,” and Mr. Yushmi wrenched Tanner’s bony, blistered arm upwards, shook him for good measure, “is being taken from, see?” Another shake. Tanner’s eyes became inky black, glistening unwritten words. “And as such, he is taking from me. You are taking from me.”
Mr. Bruich pushed a button on his jacket, signaling an escort for Mr. Yushmi. “We will continue without you, Mr. Yushmi.”
“Continue…” spat Mr. Yushmi, being led from the room by Trill and a man of great size. He strained to hear, but only one line entered his hearing.
“Now, Tanner, the fifteen years in which you have lived shall now be given to Mr. Yushmi, and you shall be granted death in exchange.” Now, Mr. Bruich paused in his much elongated, yet quite professionally practiced speech, leaving Mr. Yushmi to limply follow his escorts in disbelief, looking behind him before the exit approached. The man in charge, himself, seemed to have slight trouble containing his emotion for this moment, but quickly moved along, the unknown light source magnifying his pained face.
The one truth could not escape Mr. Yushmi’s mind, yet it failed to penetrate. It only burned. The agreement was off, indeed, and the whim of some poor lad had been the cause. Tanner had chosen to give Mr.Yushmi his life in its current entirety, had chosen to die. No longer would the two continue living within the parameters of the other’s lifespan, making only the difference of a few years, give or take. Only Mr. Yushmi would walk from the room and live, would live an additional fifteen years. The years that had belonged to the near-phantom Tanner.
Little else went on that day, and the whole ordeal had been anticlimactic to say the least. Both clients, veiled in tears and the glaze of being distraught, walked through the doors of the building, partook in a concluding handshake as Mr. Yushmi was let leave by his escorts. Wary and shielded from each other. Mr. Yushmi walked the distance to his elegant-type middle class home, upon a friendly budding hill coated in stones, and knew that he would be allowed to grow older. Still was he shaken, still miserable to an extent of the perdition he had witnessed. Yet perhaps the experience was worth it, indeed.
The child Tanner went to his home, isolated from most other dwellings, and begrudging of the few around it. Metal shingles, smallish yard, only slept in occasionally. Two family members, both undesirable. In his room, to which he hurried into, the remains of his scribblings and notions and ideas, all of which would only come to a longing halt. His death came early that evening, as he clutched to himself his notebooks and journal and scattered sheets of stained paper.
For you see, this fifteen year old child, at the initial moment of his decision to sacrifice his life, rather than give up a few latter years… well, he acknowledged what was true. For him to continue living nightmarishly, afraid of his own shadow, in a world that would have embraced his achievements, and yet neglect the poor child he couldn’t help but be would have been ridiculous. The kindly gentleman, though perhaps a bit of an egoist, had a life to live and things to experience. The trade would be fair, the payoff royal on both of their parts. It did hurt him, in his final few hours, to recollect and ruminate on the concept that he had chosen in naïve desperation to sacrifice all he had aspired for, all of his hidden wisdom. Despite that, there was a type of deliverance in the hope of death. For the first time, being taken away from was a grace of sorts.
The building stood there, humble in appearance and grand in gossip, for only a few years longer, not even long enough to oversee the death of Mr. Yushmi. It was abandoned over that short period, every few months by some worker dissatisfied with their job, or the pay, or their life. Mr. Bruich himself, taking with him his suitcase and clothing, left the company, left the town. Death took the same course that it always does, stripping Mr. Yushmi of the life he had taken for himself, and presenting to Tanner the harsh reality of what it means to be dead.
Mr. Yushmi, full of wine and sick with dread, found himself alone in the disordered pleasantry of a distant evening. He sat on his porch, reclined in his chair, looked passively at the sky above, which was becoming black after only an hour of livid blue. Nothing in the stars but a blear of white fire, nothing in the air but biting bugs. Nothing left in his glass, and it was his day. It was the year, the last day of the year, and only hours left to brood and await the terror he knew to be coming. It came. Trembling into the house, down the hall, falling against the walls, grasping and clutching his expired medication, using his ever failing hand to bring the pills to his mouth and swallow numbingly. Falling to the ground as he scrambled back towards the door, saw the bleary fire, felt the stinging and burning of death. Indeed, the soughing continued.