The Cheating Network, Part II

Continued from here.

Twelve hours later, I sat in some greasy little no-name diner, my mouth full of hash browns as I stared, transfixed, at the screen of my phone in front of me.

With Derek passed out in the living room, it hadn’t been hard to figure out how to invite myself to join the closed forum. Just for good measure, I went ahead after confirming that the invite worked and deleted Derek’s own membership. The thought still brought a savage little grin to my face. Let’s see how well he survives without his cheating network.

Asshole.

For just about every topic I could imagine, there seemed to be some post on it. Topics ranged from the mundane to the profane, from the everyday pedestrian to the most exotic situations I could conjure up. Many of them were fascinating, and I kept on getting distracted by new and interesting topics – but always, my attention returned back to that post that finally incentivized me to leave.

“How to cheat death.” The instructions in it made next to no sense, beyond the first one. I’d already read it a dozen times or more, sitting next to Derek’s slumbering form and staring at it. I kept on looking at it and feeling my mind nearly seize it, only for the meaning to slip away in the last second, frustratingly just beyond my reach.

I looked at it yet again, even though I could probably recite the first couple steps by memory at this point.

Step 1: Leave. Abandon all other ties and baggage that might bind you to mortality.

Well, I’d certainly accomplished that. Here I was, a hundred miles from the city where I grew up, went to school, found a shitty low-paying job, met Derek and moved in with him into an apartment and let him take care of me. It had all felt so easy and natural, and only now, out on my own for possibly the first time ever, did I suddenly feel a thrill of truly being alive.

For a minute, when I first read the post, I assumed that it would be some sort of feel-good bullshit post, not really about cheating death but instead about living life to its fullest. But if the other posts on this forum were any indication, it seemed to be legit. There weren’t any comments on it, no one telling me if they’d tried it, if it was bullshit or really true.

I scrolled up to the author. TheGrim, his name read. I got the reference, of course – a reference to the Grim Reaper. Truth, or just another little joke?

Whatever it was, I’d come out here. At some point, I knew that I’d need to think about concrete next steps. I had my suitcase stowed away in the back of my comfortable little compact Ford, but I couldn’t live out of my car, and I didn’t have enough money saved up to keep me in hotel rooms for long. I’d need to find a new job, a new apartment, probably figure out how to fully cut myself off from my past life so that Derek couldn’t contact me.

But the forum post still called me. I turned my attention to the next step, the one that made me think that this might not be a feel-good bullshit post after all.

Life is a finite resource, although it can be generated relatively easily. To cheat Death, you’ll need a new source. This source can be vampiric (feeding on other humans), environmental (feeding on other organisms), or physical (feeding on the entropy of the universe).

For all three methods, you’ll need a focus. The instructions for crafting foci can usually be found in monasteries. Head to one and inquire.

Strange, right? But I’d typed “monastery” into my GPS, and it told me that I’d reach the nearest in another few hours of driving. I’d pulled over at this truck stop to grab a bite to eat, suddenly ravenously hungry. Probably came from staying up all night packing instead of getting in my eight hours of beauty rest, I chuckled to myself.

A large, burly bear of a man sitting a few seats down from me glanced over at the sound of me laughing. “What’re you doing out here?” he asked me.

I sized him up for a second before answering. He didn’t look unfriendly, and he’d asked the question in even tones. So instead of snapping back with something unfriendly, I just shrugged.

“Seeking immortality,” I told him.

He smiled, a little sadly. “Won’t find it out here, miss. Death’s on the roads, in among the cars. Can’t avoid him forever.”

“I’m trying to cheat,” I said.

He shook his head, chuckling a little, like listening to a teenager tell him that he would grow up to be president. “Best of luck to you,” he said, tugging on the brim of his baseball cap as he rose and headed out of the diner.

I sat there a few more minutes, until my hash browns and pancakes had grown cold. Then I peeled off a couple dollar bills from the stash I’d stolen from Derek and tossed them down on the counter.

Back to the road, on to the monastery.

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