To me, short stories are a lot like sketches. I love using them to experiment and explore ideas that are odd, quirky, and fun. Often, I use them to try writing styles rather different than what appears in my novels. “A Doorstep Called ‘Eternity'” definitely qualifies as one such tale. I wanted to tell a light-hearted story about life, love, and the passage of time. I hope you enjoy!
A Doorstep Called “Eternity”
Darrin experienced life the way most people experienced a visit to the dentist: mostly awkward and rather bored. He worked a steady job, as he had since completing his bachelor’s degree in the customary four years, though the temptation of a music minor nearly led him astray.
Each day, Darrin walked to work down a bustling two-way street. The local grocer, two small bakeries, and an odd business that seemed to revolve around the sales of fidget spinners lined the right. An old church, five restaurants that competed amicably, and a rarely used outdoor basketball court occupied the left. Darrin had refrained from offering his patronage to any of these establishments, preferring to make his own dinners. He did once attend the church but found it altogether too focused on works over belief.
For several years, things continued in this same way. Darrin walked to work, perhaps greeting a nearby store owner but usually not. He wore the backpack he had throughout college, the one with a stain he could never quite remove. He nodded pleasantly at everyone and said nothing to anyone.
On a sunny Thursday after a particularly rainy Wednesday, Darrin noticed a small, vacant shop with images of sushi splashed across its windows.
“I do enjoy sushi,” he thought, and indeed, the California roll had always held a dear place in his gastronomic heart.
Nonetheless, Darrin did not stop to gawk. He was on his way to work, after all, and it was plain to see from the gaudily colored announcement that the business would not open for another six months.
That evening, Darrin went out for sushi elsewhere.
The next morning, he passed by again, his stomach still full from the dinner before.
“I do hope that this new establishment does it right,” he wished, thinking particularly of the tendency for many sushi restaurants to use green-colored horseradish over proper wasabi.
As he considered the structure, one day destined to serve delectables, Darrin noticed an oddity: the word “Eternity” scrawled across the doorstep in pink sidewalk chalk.
“Hm, children,” he muttered as he continued past, wondering what sort of child would know such a word, let alone scribble it in chalk of all mediums.
This question would toy with his imagination for the rest of the day and each of the days following for the next six months.
Though work seemed to progress behind the rather putrid colors of the announcement poster, the restaurant did not open at the declared date. Nor the month following or the one after that.
Finally too curious to see what could be holding up such a delicious development, Darrin broke from his traditional route and hopped onto the doorstep, taking another suspicious look at the word “Eternity” as he did so. Despite the rains of spring and scalding heat of summer, the letters had not faded.
“Eternity,” he said to himself as he peered between his legs at the word under his feet. “Perhaps that will be the name?”
Darrin pressed his face to the dusty glass but could make out little. Stools lined a simple wooden bar. The walls still needed paint. Several animals’ worth of droppings had been driven into a corner and left there.
“Hm. Venture failed, I suppose.”
Darrin stepped down from the stoop and pressed on to work. That day, a new woman joined his team, who endeavored to create clever marketing materials aimed at entirely unclever consumers.
During the morning stand-up, both she and Darrin made the same joke in reference to the thus far flaccid PR campaign of a common marital aid. Their eyes met, and he learned her name: Denise.
“I’m excited,” she said on their first date.
“Yes,” he agreed, utterly flummoxed by the presence of such a lovely being, “I, too, am…too.”
Fourteen months later, they were wed. Lee, their firstborn son, joined the family not quite one year and one day after, with much aplomb for someone so small and, frankly, smelly. Kate and Elizabeth followed in the subsequent years.
Darrin lived merrily all this time. He still walked to work each day, past the sushi shop that never did open, “Eternity” eternally scribbled upon its step. Twenty-five years after meeting Denise, Kate joined him on that walk for her first day at the firm. Lee, ever a troublemaker, had gone to become a crab fisherman like the bearded crustaceans on TV. Liz had as much idea of what to do with her life as an actual crab.
“Dad,” Kate asked as they strode past a store owner who never said hello, “why do you still work here?”
He thought for a moment. “I suppose that I’ve grown comfortable here. I met your mother here after all.”
“But Mom moved on to something else so long ago. Why do you stay?”
It was a good question.
Thirty years later, Denise passed away of natural causes, much loved and mourned. Lee, Kate, and Liz plus their own children and children’s children filled the parlor. Darrin went through the required motions, his heart quietly broken. Throughout all the proceedings, he never heard the question rippling through the room on a tide of whispers: “Doesn’t Darrin look young?”
Indeed, time had been kind to Darrin’s body. Now well into his eighties, he appeared at most fifty or perhaps fifty-five in the kind of wan light that makes anyone look like their own ghost. Truthfully, he had never thought much of it. “Good genes,” he would say any time his youthful exuberance caught someone’s attention.
After another thirty years, though, “good genes” had become a rather terrible reply to what clearly must have been an act of God. Well past his one-hundredth year, Darrin looked and felt less than half his age. Several generations had arisen with whom he shared no cultural touchstone, and his family―now ballooned to many great-great-grandchildren―regarded him with fearful awe.
Doctors and scientists examined him to little avail. None could explain Darrin’s inexplicable agelessness. It did not help matters when he outlived those doctors and scientists.
A full century later, Darrin continued on. He no longer walked to work, what with virtual workplaces subsuming physical buildings. There had been many funerals but even more birthdays, as the family had grown so large that many no longer knew Darrin as relation, let alone a direct ancestor.
By his third century of life, Darrin decided that things would be simpler if he left behind the vestiges of his previous existence and did something he had always wanted: travel. Unable to grow sick or suffer mortal harm, the lively triple-centenarian journeyed across Earth. He experienced the wonders of exotic locales in Old China and New Australia―which had been called “Antarctica” back in his day.
Terrestrial tourism complete, Darrin made good use of the twenty-fifth century’s superb space travel programs to visit the Moon and Mars. By the rollover of the second millennium to the third, he piloted his own small craft to each of humanity’s scattered colonies across the near cluster of the Milky Way. As the Neo-Terran Regime spread its influence across friendly space, Darrin became a legend by breaking blockades to deliver needed foodstuffs and pithy media with a tendency for the super-classical.
He loved many women, though none as dearly as the heart of his heart, Denise. Distantly, he tracked the exploits of his descendants, becoming mightily frustrated when they dove headfirst into an interstellar fishing operation for which he blamed the long-dead Lee.
Millennia passed, and Darrin traveled from star to star across the known galaxy. He plumbed the depths of quantum singularities and witnessed the birth of ten thousand new worlds.
Three hundred thousand years after his birth, Darrin became the first to cross the galactic boundary and venture into the void on its other side. Color, light, and sound became his crew as he journeyed throughout the infinite glories of the cosmos.
Over the next seven-hundred thousand years, he became known by many names: Lightbringer, Starwalker, Heaven-Eyed, Mythmaker, He Who Traces the Fire of God, The Immortal, The Visitor, Archangel, Demon, Spirit-Taker, Savior, Doombringer, The Man Who Smiles, Stormcrow, Harbinger, Witness, and, most unfortunately, Darren spelled with an “e.”
One million years distant from his marketing job and the two-way street on which he had never said “Hello,” Darrin surveyed all that humanity had come to know and smiled. There had been war and pain and death, but so much life as well. Discoveries revolutionized civilization one-hundred-billion times over, and he had seen them all. On his way through the core of his Elizian starship―a design of his own contrivance―Darrin paused to question the synthetic sentience that acted as his co-pilot and wife.
“How far do you think we can go, Deenay?”
She smiled, the hologram that made her features crinkling with a joy as authentic and real as any that had ever been. “However far we want, my love.”
He smiled back, as earnest and youthful as ever, lightly grizzled beard contrasting the coat of hard light that swaddled him in dim radiance. “Good.”
Taking another step through the doorway into their bedroom where he intended to change into more comfortable shoes, Darrin found himself suddenly outside. Earth’s quaint blue sky stretched overhead and the smell of internal combustion engines hit his nose in a way that filled his stomach with nostalgia.
Spinning quickly, he saw the sushi restaurant that had never opened, even after one million years. Under his feet, the word “Eternity” lingered as he assumed it always would. He wore leather shoes and an old backpack that smelled of youth. His smartphone told him the date in ancient characters he barely recognized, but once he did, he knew it as Denise’s first day. They day they met. In a moment, he realized that his entire life waited before him again.
Gleeful, childlike joy split his countenance into one of limitless energy, and to no one in particular, he said, “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Then he leapt down to find her.