The tablets had been popularised simply as ‘Taste’ and ‘Forever’ in the years past, when the Media was permitted to make such grand mistakes. Masses upon masses had filled the streets, all crying for their part of Forever… they were desperate, sweaty, ugly… human walls pushing into factory restrictions, spilling into warehouses to claim their very own eternity. Desperation, indeed. Many would recall these weeks with a bittersweet joy, for desperation was the last sensation to have ever graced their insides; a single remaining memory of feeling, for those who were now the Forever living.
Once a single Forever tablet had been swallowed, each day would require the very same. This dependency on the Forever chemicals swam in the blood of the generations which would follow… a quickly spreading virus, promising the virtues of time without end. Appealing, consumable. Centres were erected for the purpose of communal daily intake of the Forever- ingestion in simultaneous and mandatory movement. The police would take dissenters away if they did not attend. We would never see these people again.
The Forever had penetrated the world’s markets within weeks. Nothing else was needed now… crops would grow, and wither and die. After centuries the land had become barren, untended and unprotected against its natural destroyers. Buildings fell out of use and now endured ignorance, crumbling and dying: an entire civilisation with no need for food or shelter, standing in the ruins of its former luxury. Only the Forever Centres stood now, surrounded always by a sea of lifeless individuals. Some worked for the medical profession, but most just existed and spent their time standing, here, silently. For Forever called for nothing else. Once the Forever was inside you, there was nothing else to feel, or need, or love. Nothing at all.
But Taste also existed within this wasteland of humanity. Taste was shaped much like Forever, but juxtaposed its essence, for it provided instead an end. Taste could be taken in the Forever Centres upon request, and sometimes we would see people fall and writhe and die with the remnants of Taste still upon their tongues. The Media had told us that Taste was the singular most beautiful chemical to have ever been formulated. That its sheer splendour was unbearable. That death would always follow.
The Media had not existed for eras.
Today, I walked alongside hundreds of other individuals to the Forever Centre. We had spent the night standing under an overpass. We were the sleepless, the needless. For centuries we had stood awake beneath the dying concrete, watching the stars race above us, but each feeling nothing. Today, the white sun was blazing against my bare skin, but inside there was a cool: the same pervading cool, as ever. The everlasting grey. A feeling not quite present; a vast of nothingness. Empty and unplaceable. Ordinary existence.
We walked together, all of us old, so very old. We had each taken Forever our entire lives, and we had lived and aged and our swollen bellies yearned secretly for more. Our skin hung from our bones, mottled and grey. Each of us was dying, but without the release of death. Emaciated and ravaged, hair sweeping the rubble-adorned floor beneath us. Our anguish had dissipated with the Forever, but it had been replaced with nothing. Our bodies should not have been able to walk, but Forever permitted us this small mercy. We walked together, but separately; we would not hold each other’s hands, for joy was unfindable within ourselves. Forever equalled nothing: an endless fog, a dreary sky. I had seen these people every day for hundreds of years, and I did not know their names or who they were before. They could not matter to me.
We reached the Centre. Each person before me asked for Forever. But today I asked for Taste… a mild curiosity bubbling beneath the surface of my caved-in chest, barely detectable, but present. Or perhaps I had imagined it? Nonetheless, today I would be the one that the others watched die. I had chosen my end as casually as we would have posed for pictures, all those years ago. None would feel sadness.
We lined up to have our medicines distributed and checked. Then we waited until the right time, and the blowing of the whistle by the Forever Officials. Fragile and decaying hands, holding tiny cups, readily raised into mouths- a display not unlike the military tradition of the past: an army saluting… the army of Forever.
I put Taste in my mouth and swallowed. Immediately, the flavour of the tablet overwhelmed my system. The pill itself was like lemonade, but, no… like grapefruit, pineapples, strawberry… I could feel my burned skin growing tighter around my body, the tablet still fizzing incessantly in my mouth. It was too much. My head was about to burst. My knees buckled beneath me and I fell to the floor, the weight of my head crushing my nose as the cold tiles embraced me… now there was warm blood on my face. Thick and sweet-smelling. I could feel the sadness and pain race through my veins… and it was beautiful. I could feel, and now I was truly alive, face-down and covered in blood.
A sudden warmness enveloped my entire body and the pain heightened- oh, so magnificently. In my mind, a friend ran towards me, holding out Forever in her hands and laughing, ‘If you had to take a pill to survive, would you?’, and I’m screaming and running at her… and then water is upon my face… and I am falling from the sky… the wind whistling past my ears and flowing through my hair, the fumes of the white clouds filling my lungs with air that seems almost like fire! I am coughing and living, and dancing and dying, and I am endless and finite, all at the same time.
A crescendo of colours and flavours, of scenes I had never laid eyes on in my life and of people and friends I had never met. Such happiness and exaltation, and such anger and hatred: the greatest of feelings swamped my body and sent me rolling in ecstasy. Images from my childhood, the misunderstanding of the world, and the innocence, and the crushing impact of love and of revulsion and of grief- beautifully melancholic feelings infested my organs, pushing them to the surface of my skin. Such pain, such beautiful pain, such woe of the ages and heartache for the past, and for the forgotten, and for the living. I wished to die now, and I wished to live with this pain forever… but I had known Forever, and suddenly there was little else to do but to die: the greatest triumph of my life… I loved it with all of my heart, and then as quickly as it had come, it began to fade… I could feel the last breath escape from my body as the circles of colour waltzed behind my eyelids. The sweetest breath that I had ever taken in my entire life.
And I was no more.