Age is a Four Letter Word

by David H. Hendrickson

Forget the four-letter words that merely sound nasty.  The word that inflicts the deepest wound is age.  Lacking only a consonant or vowel, it requires so little to become the most feared of four-letter words.

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In her day, Carla never entered a room without heads turning. When men went home to their wives and coupled under the sheets, she knew they thought of her.  She could make her lovers grovel, and they'd always return panting. Their hunger sustained her.

Now, however, heads turn no more. She is the one to grovel. Carla looks into the mirror above her vanity and sees only wrinkles, gray roots to her colored hair, and the sagging of once taut, supple breasts. The cage of her lost sexual dominance imprisons her. She rattles at the bars and curses her fate. 

She longs to be a succubus, to once again have men at her beck and call, to consume them and then drag them down to Hell just for the sport of it. She offers her soul to the lower powers in exchange for that power.

She peers through the bars of her cage, lusting for the transformation. She wonders if this offer, too, will be politely declined.

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Merle, a mage long famous throughout the land, has become a recluse. Villagers knock on his splintered, oaken door, but he remains silent.

Merle wishes he were dead. His magic wand, once as rigid as a dagger, now hangs limp in his hand. The magic had always been within him, he had thought, the wand a mere prop. But with the drooping wand no more stiff now than a strand of rope, Merle looks within himself and finds no magic. 

Not a single villager has been witness to Merle's plight. If he can die without his secret being discovered, his past exploits will become part of the land's legends, unsullied by the taint of failure. 

Merle would welcome that.

Death, however, is taking its time.

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Ralph leans back on his haunches, his gray pelt of fur thinning as the full moon bleeds away. He howls until his throat is raw.

He rages against the moon's dying light. In this form, he feels the strength and vitality of youth, immune to the ravages of time. The taste of blood on his lips and the sinews of flesh between his front legs bear testament. He hears every twig snapped and the muffled breathing of the trembling forms he sees huddled behind a large tree.

Soon, he will be forced from this form and imprisoned in the other. The body in which, wracked with pain, he can only hobble about, leaning heavily on the curved stick. The body in which he can hear only if the round thing is lodged in his ear. The body in which he can see only by placing the glass lenses before his eyes. 

Rage at his impending doom fills Ralph. He howls at the full moon, cursing its inability to remain fixed in the sky. He wants to retain this form forever, bounding and rutting and pouncing and killing and feeding, free of the frailty of that other feeble body's existence.

A day from now, when he growls it will be to say, "Like a fine wine, my ass!"

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For years, the broken-hearted and disconsolate have flocked to Stella, the most brilliant of sages, in search of peace and happiness. Taking nothing in return, Stella has imparted her wisdom, dissecting the secrets the soul and the means to satisfy its cravings. 

Piece by piece, however, the gods are dismantling her magnificent mind. When she goes to the market, Stella forgets several items. Many a day, she stares at her prescription bottles, wondering if she has yet to take her pills or has already consumed two dosages. But what really shakes her is when she hugs a sobbing couple whose child died in a car accident or an unhappy young man who sees no point to living or a middle-aged woman with unfulfilled dreams and Stella can't remember their names. 

For now, the proffered wisdom emanating from her eroding mind remains beyond reproach. At least Stella thinks so. But how can she be sure? Will she only know she has done harm when the gods point to the remnants of shattered souls strewn at her feet?

Long ago, she prepared herself for her body's inevitable deterioration and even for death. 

But not for this.

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Walter, a vampire, wants to be paid his fair wage.

In the early years, he thrilled at the bared neck, at the torn flesh, and at the gushing crimson flow. He fed voraciously, often to excess, causing fearful populations to move. Yet he couldn't slow his hunger. 

A few centuries of overfeeding, however, has taken the joy out of it. It has become like punching a factory clock. Seduce, bite, drink. Seduce, bite, drink. Seduce, bite, drink. Every night, he awakes with a groan and drags himself out of his coffin, disappointed his head has not been severed and his body not turned to dust.

He thinks of that phrase from his distant past, before the transformation: the wages of sin is death. Surely centuries of wanton destruction should be sufficient for death a thousand times over. Yet he asks, where is my death?

He's tired of punching the clock and receiving less than his fair due. Walter is no longer a company man. If death is his wage, he wants to be paid.