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Paradise: To Be or Not To Be

Ay, there's the rub!

By Caroline JanePublished 2 months ago β€’ Updated 2 months ago β€’ 7 min read
Runner-Up in the Improbable Paradise Challenge
39
Paradise: To Be or Not To Be
Photo by Sebastien on Unsplash

Jacob looked down at his chest. His skin was firm, his muscles sinewy. There was only the faintest shadow of a mark where the plastic drain had once been. It wasn't even a scar, only a mere discolouration. He stroked his fingers over the spot, then over his arms reassuring himself that he was here, that there could be no mistake; he was, without a doubt, alive.

He looked up toward the beach and saw Ted waving at him. It was such an everyday gesture, a simple wave, universally familiar and unceremonious. It was the gesture that said, 'hey, over here, I have got you a coffee' it was not the gesture that hailed the beginning of a new day in paradise. Jacob held his hand above his head and waved back. It felt so disconcertingly casual; nothing epoch-defining about it or revolutionary in any way. It was wonderfully grounding. Jacob could feel the smile of the moment percolating through his bones.

He started to move through the water, relishing the pull of it against his thighs as he travelled. He began to run. For the first time in what felt like forever, he felt robust. He had spent so long distrusting his physicality that to have his body respond so assuredly, precisely as intended, without any clumsiness, frailty, or fumbling, was simultaneously exhilarating and liberating. He breathed in deeply, filling his once necrotic lungs with bellows of warm sea air. Not a single cough of concern came in response, not one whisper of a wheeze. He leapt over the babbling waves and splashed through the ebbing tide toward Ted feeling like a born-again Poseidon.

He hadn't quite been able to believe the truth of this new reality the last time he had been here. It had seemed like an out-of-body experience, as though he were dreaming and this paradise was merely another illusion, a cruel trick, amidst a catalogue of drug-induced imaginings, part of death's water-boarding foreplay of respite and terror. But this was no illusion. This body, this island, this new life and renewed vigour were all acutely real. He was no longer trapped in a disinfected room haunted by machines that whirred and hissed. He had escaped death's games. He had escaped cancer, and ahead of him, sauntering down the picture postcard beach in nonchalant omnipotence, still in his trademark corduroy despite the tropical heat, was the man who had made it all happen.

Ted.

Jacob barrelled the last few strides between them, effectively shoulder-charging Ted as a greeting. Then, in his delight at being reunited, he picked Ted up, gripped him against his chest and twirled him around, shouting and singing out his name.

Ted, arms stuck to his sides in Jacob's vice-like hold, waited patiently for the exaltation to calm. It took quite a while and included two renditions of the much-butchered classic "Oh, Teddy Boy" before he was eventually released and his sandal-shod feet placed lovingly back onto the sand.

Ted pushed his glasses up his nose and gave Jacob a good look over. After a moment, he said, "It's not against the law to wear clothes in paradise, Jacob."

Jacob laughed. "Oh, Ted!" Clothing seemed so redundant and not at all in keeping with the flurries of liberty he was enjoying. There were only the two of them here, it was warm and dry, and he looked incredible; muscular, taut and sun-kissed. Why hide it? What was the point? He shrugged at Ted. "I love you, you gawky little genius. You created all of this. Enjoy it, don't cover it up!"

"Towel," Ted spoke solemnly into the ether, and a white, fluffy, folded towel appeared. He handed it to Jacob.

"Somebody got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning", Jacob joked as he wrapped the towel around his non-too-inconsiderable modesty.

"It's distracting," Ted spoke gently, albeit flatly.

"Well, I do apologise. Yesterday you were not at all worried about protecting my virtue." He laughed and stroked Ted's cheek affectionately.

"Yesterday?" Ted looked puzzled.

"Yes, Ted. When we were here together on this beach. Yesterday."

Ted nodded and slowly sat down on the sand. Jacob watched, confused, as the man who had created this whole world, the man who had rescued him from the precipice of death, the man who had given them eternal life, shrunk himself downwards and then curled himself inwards, bringing his knees up to his chest in a self-soothing hug.

A pulse of worry passed through Jacob as he watched. What could be wrong? He had spent the whole of their first day on this island paradise in disbelief, thinking that he would wake up back in that hospital bed at any moment. Yet, today, he had dared to believe that this reality that Ted had created for them was theirs for the taking, for the living, forever.

He sat down next to Ted and stretched an arm around his shoulders, and asked, "Whatever is the matter?" The question came out and sat in the air like an over-arching, all-encompassing doom.

After an unchartered length of time, Ted, being Ted, answered the question with one of his own. "Last night Jacob when we left here and returned to stasis, what happened to you?"

Jacob, until that moment, had not thought about what happened between their first day in paradise and the next. With all its renewed energy and vitality, his new life had consumed his consciousness so completely that what happened between the magnificent bursts of his existence seemed of such little consequence that its passing hadn't even registered. He shrugged his shoulders, unsure what to say before finally, unable to find anything to note, he answered truthfully, "Nothing."

"Nothing at all?" Ted's eyes darted around Jacobs's face searching for any scraps of insight.

"Nothing. I have zero recollection of stasis. Not even a memory of a dream."

"You don't dream", Ted spoke slowly and distantly, his feverish eyes fading away, returning to the consumption of his thoughts.

"Ted, are you having nightmares?" This was something they had discussed before they had taken the plunge and incarcerated themselves in the cryogenic pods. Being scientifically thorough in all areas, Ted had employed a psychiatrist to prepare them both for all the potential eventualities of prolonged, essentially eternal, stasis. Between each trip to the island, or each day as they experienced it, there would be an indeterminate passing of time. It could be a few hours, or it could be hundreds of years. The time would depend on energy sources, programme complexities, and any required AI refabrications. Their consciousness during these downtimes would seek stimuli, and where it could not find an external source, it could start to manufacture its own. The Psychiatrist called it hyper-vivid dreaming. He and Ted had referred to it more simply as nightmares.

With their psychiatrist, they had discussed how to counsel each other through the potential purgatory and fall out of hyper-vivid dreaming. They had learned how to use physical senses - taste, smell, and touch - to counter-balance the fake connectivity that their brains may manufacture while they slept.

Jacob, recalling his training, initiated the first step. "Ted." He spoke quietly and calmly, shuffling in closer, so their bodies were touching. "Give me your hand, Ted." He reached out to try and prize Ted's fingers from their white knuckle grip around his legs.

Ted shook his head, and he began to rock back and forth. "No, Jacob. I can't. It's not nightmares." His voice was clipped, and he spoke in judders; a tear slipped down his cheek.

"Oh my goodness, Ted. Whatever has happened? Tell me; we can work through this. Whatever it is, tell me. Let me help. Please, let me help." Jacob started to feel out of control. Within the distance that single tear had fallen, he had realised how his health, the island paradise, the vigour and adventure of this new life meant nothing without Ted. He clutched him close to him, nursing him like a child. He had never seen Ted like this before. Ted was his rock. He was the man who knew what to do whenever something had to be done. He was the reason Jacob had wanted to live, the reason he had fought cancer for as long as he had. He was the man who he wanted to spend the whole of eternity with.

Ted was sobbing so violently that he had lost the power to speak. Jacob held him as tightly as he could as he wailed despondently, inconsolably, into the warm summer air; he stroked his hair and kissed his brow, trying to recover the once unswervingly resilient Ted from what felt like a ruin of emotional tatters. "Ted, please," he implored him, "if it is not the nightmares, what is it? Please, tell me."

"It's not the nightmares, Jacob; it won't ever be the nightmares, Jacob." He screamed the words hysterically, throwing himself back on the sand, kicking and thumping at it like a man possessed by the devil. "It won't ever be the nightmares, Jacob. It can't be because I cannot sleep!"

Short StoryLove
39

About the Creator

Caroline Jane

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  4. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

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Comments (33)

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  • Quincy.vabout a month ago

    Your Blog is very nice. Wish to see much more like this. Thanks for sharing your information

  • Triantafyllos Saridisabout a month ago

    Amazing story. Well deserved!

  • Tiffany Gordon about a month ago

    Way to kick butt! I loved this story! Congratulations on placing! 😁

  • Scott Wadeabout a month ago

    Congrats Caroline! πŸ₯°

  • Cathy holmesabout a month ago

    Congrats. Well deserved

  • Donna Foxabout a month ago

    Such an engaging read! Well written, you chose a great perspective to use!

  • Call Me Lesabout a month ago

    Absolutely stunning! I can feel the pull between the characters. My heart ached for them. And what really got me was the stasis concept. The whole piece wove together so many elements of you. Truly one of your best. You should expand this πŸ’•πŸ’•

  • Christiane Winter2 months ago

    This was spectacular. I only wish there was more! Congrats on top story.

  • Linda Rivenbark2 months ago

    The contrast between the extreme highs and lows of emotion is intense. The story had me spellbound. Wishing it could hold the joy and drop the sorrow. Very well written. Congratulations on Top Story!

  • Lana Fauzi2 months ago

    The last paragraph, I love it :)

  • Arul prakash2 months ago

    super nice article

  • Scott Wade2 months ago

    Oooo. Love your writing Caroline. πŸ₯°

  • Katherine Melinda2 months ago

    Love the ideas you put forth here! And it's a sign of good writing that I wish I knew the end of the story... :) Well done!

  • Arslan Karim2 months ago

    Nice

  • Mukesh 2 months ago

    wow

  • Arslan Karim2 months ago

    Nice

  • Peter Davies 2 months ago

    beautiful picture

  • Charnelle2 months ago

    Nicely done Caroline!

  • Tiffany Gordon 2 months ago

    Stunning work! VERY Beautiful writing! Congrats on your well-deserved TOP STORY Caroline! BRAVO! πŸŽ‰

  • Whoaaa, I did not expect that twist at the end. You did an awesome job on this!

  • Dana Stewart2 months ago

    Kept me engaged all the way - congratulations on Top Story!

  • Lori Melton2 months ago

    Love this! Superb and excellent twist!

  • JBaz2 months ago

    Congratulations. That went deeper than I thought, well done nice character build.

  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago

    I really appreciate this. Absolutely riveting!!

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