The Cure

by A.J. Cunder

Jacob held his daughter close at a party where Château Pétrus spilled like water and stained the floor.

“I want to go home,” she said, wrapping her arms around his waist.

“Just a bit longer, Mira,” Jacob answered, tussling her hair. “Daddy needs to speak with a few more of his friends about an important science project coming up at his company.”

“But I don’t like it here. There’s a monster on the ceiling.”

Jacob laughed. “Don’t worry, my love. I’ll always protect you.” He kissed her forehead. “Go play with Josiah and Michael.” He pried her hands from his thigh, and although she went and sat with the children of her father’s associate, she kept her eyes on me as I drifted along the crown moulding, doing my best to avoid the cobwebs the housekeepers couldn’t reach.

One of them here would die tonight, though I couldn’t say who. Perhaps it would be the woman laced in diamonds. Or the politician adjusting his Rolex. I didn’t have the power of foresight in a room filled with so many people, only felt necessity draw me to this place. I listened to Jacob talk with billionaires about funding his experiments to reverse aging, to postpone death. I scoffed at their audacity. Though I had already seen science wage war on religion and chip away belief in God, I didn’t truly think it would stand a chance against such an immutable fact of life as myself. Science might deter me, it might even resist me; but it would never erase me.

Or so I thought.

I drifted closer to Mira, the girl who saw me when most couldn’t. Something sparkled in her eyes, something alien. Was it fear? No, this wasn’t fear. Horror? Disgust? No. Distrust, perhaps, with a touch of curiosity. What was it she saw when she looked at me? I wore no mortal body. I existed on no visible plane. And yet, her gaze followed me as I moved, unmistakably attracted to whatever shimmer or shadow she saw.

When her father said his goodbyes and led her out to their limousine, an invisible tether pulled me with them. I knew, then, that one or both would soon perish. A car accident, perhaps? I wondered as I nestled in the dark crevices of the car, Mira’s eyes still locked on me.

“Daddy.” She pulled on the sleeve of his jacket. “It followed us in here.”

“What did, sweetheart?”

“The monster from the party.”

“Oh? And what does this monster look like?”

“A bright hole in the air with lots of wiggling fingers coming out of it.”

Hmm. Of all the depictions of me throughout human history, that was certainly a first.

“It’s okay, Mira. It’s probably just a friendly ghost.” He turned back to his phone. “Trent—sorry about that. My daughter’s got quite an imagination.” He smiled at her and patted her knee. “Now, about those clinical trials. When can we start?”


That night, while he was still on the phone with Trent, Jacob put his daughter to bed for the last time. “Goodnight,” he said, even as Mira begged to sleep with him, her eyes still on me as I hovered above them.

When he left the room, I followed, leaving Mira to sleep in peace.

I saw her again that night, though, when she came to Jacob’s bedroom. “Daddy, I just had a nightmare,” she said, nestling against him.

Thump, thump, his heart beat as he comforted her. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. I drew closer, and Mira jumped up.

“Honey, what is it?” Jacob asked as he held a hand to his chest.

“The monster is coming.”

Thump… Thump…

Mira clenched her small fists and stood between me and my task, shielding her father even as his heart stopped.

Her eyes darted for a moment to an old Bible on the nightstand, the edges frayed and worn from each generation passing it down to the next.

I paused, admiring the girl’s courage, but then passed through her and continued with my duty, my purpose, the task that gave me life and substance. I pulled Jacob’s soul from his body and absorbed it into myself for a moment, as I did with all souls before taking them to the borderlands, intoxicated by their essence, their light and energy.

As I carried her father away and left his soul on the edge of eternity, the girl vowed to uncover my secrets, even though she didn’t entirely understand what I was, remembering those old Bible stories her father once read to her of Eden and immortality, angels and demons. I believed it to be the whimsy of a child, harmless, just as every other human attempt to unveil the secrets of Death had proven harmless.

Despite my certainty, though, I watched the girl from a distance as I continued my work elsewhere, collecting souls throughout this world as they died and ferrying them to the edge of the next, to the gray borderlands that exist in the space between atoms, in the time it takes to reach the horizon. I watched as she devoted herself to science, living it, breathing it, worshiping it. She thought she could best me, as only one ever had. But I was confident in my purpose, my role in the natural order. I was the final gateway through which all must pass, the greatest power on earth. I was the god in which everyone believed.


When Mira turned thirty, she called an old friend of her father’s. She ran her fingers over the embossed cover of the ancient family Bible. Recently restored, the oiled leather gleamed. I wondered why she went through the trouble, considering she never read from it anymore, always occupied instead with her scientific papers and conferences.

“Trent! It’s Mira. Yes, Jacob’s daughter. How are you? Listen, I need a team leader for a project I’ve been working on. I’ve been looking through my father’s old research, and I think I found where he went wrong. I know it’s a crowded market for longevity drugs, but I think we can extend my father’s research beyond telomere and protein cap therapies. I’ll be at his favorite diner in an hour.”

When she met with Trent, she put a blank check on the table. “Thanks for coming.”

Trent pushed the paper away. “You don’t need to show me that. Yet.” He smiled through his snow-white beard.

“You may reconsider after I tell you what this project is really about.”

“You mean it’s not about your father’s research?”

“It is. But it’s more than that. I don’t just want a drug to extend life. I want to create one that will make us live forever.” Mira stirred her tea. “I know it sounds crazy. But aren’t all great scientists called crazy at one point or another? If they aren’t, then they aren’t innovating.” When he stayed silent, she added, “I’ve never told this to anyone, but I saw something the night my father died.”

“You were there, weren’t you?”

“They said he died from a heart attack. But there was something there, Trent. Something took him. I don’t know if it was his time or what.” She took a sip. “Anyway, I really want you as my team lead on this one. You’ve worked with my father, you know his research. I want this to be a project in his honor.”

He glanced at the blank check still on the table. “So how would this drug work, exactly?”

“At the cellular level. Our bodies already regenerate tissue when it’s cut or injured. We just need something to speed up the process. Heal a puncture wound in seconds so no one bleeds to death.”

“That’s just one way people die, Mira. What about disease? Cancer?”

“We’ll work on that too.”

Trent tapped the table. “Let me see that check. Just kidding. To pull together a team for this, we’ll need government backing.”

“I already have it. My father knew people.”

“Right. Well, if it means that much to you, count me in. I doubt we’ll succeed, but I guess every medical breakthrough started with a crazy idea somewhere.”


Her conviction burned as strong as the sun, even when experiments failed, cancer spreading unstoppable through lungs and marrow. I found myself captivated by these humans who thought they could erase me, and an unfamiliar joy filled me as I took the souls she thought she could save.

But then the scientists realized their first success, and a laceration healed in mere hours. Hours became minutes, minutes became seconds, and my fleeting joy evaporated. A knot in my core twisted and grew as I wondered what the world might look like if no one died, what might happen to me if my purpose disappeared. I tried to remember a time before human death, but I couldn’t. Though I existed outside the constraints of time and space, my earliest memories were of carrying souls to the threshold of the borderlands. That had always been my purpose, and without that, in a world that no longer needed me, I wondered if Death itself could die.


“We’re almost there, Trent,” Mira said one day, studying the test results as I lurked in the shadows of the room. “Trent? You don’t look so well.”

“Nothing a good sleep and handful of Advil can’t cure.”

“Have I been pushing you too hard? If I am, tell me.”

“No, no. I’m fine.” He rested a hand on hers. “Your father would be proud of the way you’ve devoted yourself to this project.”

She afforded herself a small smile. “How’s the family?” she asked.

“Oh, you know. Marge always worries about me, but that’s what fifty years of marriage will do. Josiah and Michael always ask about you.”

“What do they have to say about all this?”

Trent ran a hand through hair that had thinned over the past year. “Josiah and Michael are excited. They’ve always been innovators themselves, looking forward to the future. Marge… worries sometimes that we’re playing God.”

“What do you think?”

He shrugged. “If you told me right now that I could swallow a pill and live forever, I’d turn it down. But then again, I’m not at Death’s door, and I’ve always been confident in my faith—the only way to get to Heaven is death. Others might answer differently.”

Mira looked up from her tablet. “Are you saying we should just let people die? That research to cure cancer is misguided?”

“Genesis chapter six: ‘My spirit shall not abide in mortals forever, for they are flesh.’”

“What about the stories of Christ raising people from the dead?”

“Eventually, they all died again. None of them lived forever, even after coming back. Not in this world, anyway.”

“Are you saying we should give up? Just throw away the past five years of our lives?”

Trent held up his hands. “No, Mira. I just wonder if there’s a reason why we haven’t been successful yet. If God and nature are trying to tell us something and we’re just not listening.”

“Faith, Trent. That’s what we need here more than anything. Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and we’ll start fresh tomorrow?”

Before he left, he squeezed her shoulder. And as much as she told herself she was doing the right thing, in the back of her mind, I knew doubt lingered.


With a cup of coffee in his hand and a clot in his brain, Trent collapsed the next morning. Despite his prior assertions, he clung to life as I came for him, struggling even as the darkness closed around him, as I extracted his soul from his body and drank in the rush it gave me. I might have smiled, if I had the anatomy for such a thing. Many believed he’d be the one to finally discover that magic formula to erase me, but I still survived even as he didn’t. I couldn’t stop the pride that bubbled in me, and with that vanity, I made my first mistake.


Mira attended Trent’s funeral, but she was distracted. If we had been faster, she thought. If I had started this project sooner…

Her doubt haunted her, and I relished it. She remembered the strange figure on the night of her father’s death whenever she found herself staring at the shadows that had begun to darken even sunlit rooms, or shivering at a breath of wind in her study when the windows were closed. The scientific advisory board talked behind her back. They thought she had killed Trent with her impossible project, despite the advances—broken bones healed in a matter of heartbeats, diseased tissue regenerated overnight, even a severed finger regrown in a day. But they had yet to keep me away. Not a single terminal patient had been saved. Though her project’s funding jumped with each success, she pushed her team harder—they still hadn’t reached their goal. She hadn’t been able to save Trent. Death was still a fact of life.

The night of Trent’s funeral, she sat alone in her father’s old study, staring into the shadows, the Bible in her lap. She hadn’t opened it since its restoration, preserving the new binding, the perfect spine. She knew the stories, though, from when her father read them all those years ago. Lazarus. The little girl brought back. Christ’s own resurrection and triumph over Death.

I hovered near her shoulder, and she shuddered. Was I still a monster to her, as when she was a child, or had reason and science transformed me into something less abstract? A quantifiable mechanism, perhaps, or a calculable mode of transport rather than some supernatural being.

Setting the Bible on the table, she pulled a syringe loaded with the latest copy of the drug and gritted her teeth as the needle pierced her flesh. With eyes of quartz, she climbed the private staircase from her penthouse apartment to the roof of the high-rise she had inherited from her father and looked out over the city sparkling with lights. Wind whipped her hair as she stood at its summit, looking down over the edge, pale moonlight washing her face. Then she leaned forward until the force of gravity could no longer be ignored and offered a prayer as the ground rushed to meet her.


With giddy anticipation, I plunged alongside her until she struck the pavement. She thought her defiance would conquer me, her belief in this Cure would frighten me. I snatched the soul quivering in her body even as her drug tried to fuse her back together. But no medicine could overpower me. No Cure could prevent me. No mere human could defeat me. I neared the edge of the borderlands, her soul soft and bright as it mingled with my own essence, and a sense of relief engulfed me. I had survived her efforts to destroy me. Her project was already fracturing, scientists insisting they focus on their successes rather than chase an impossible dream. Without her iron leadership to direct them, they would take their drug as it was and leave me in peace.

Though I knew I shouldn’t have, I couldn’t help myself. While I carried her soul within me, I had the power to dig into her mind, to force myself within her being. I bored into her consciousness to flaunt my survival, my power, my supremacy. I wanted her to know she had been defeated, to know without doubt that all must succumb to Death.

And yet, when I penetrated her soul, the violent surge of her determination assailed me. I will never yield, she screamed.

The knot in my core clenched. Whether my own pride rebuked me or the Cure cast some unearthly tether upon her spirit, my grip slipped and her soul fell, rushing away from the borderlands. I floundered with her, tried to catch her, but I tumbled like a leaf swept in a windstorm, a pebble thrashed in an angry river. I couldn’t grab hold of what I had lost, and her body sucked in her soul like water poured over bone-dry sand. She gasped, her eyes wide, and I scrambled to take her back, to separate her soul from flesh and blood. But too late. A bright light now shielded her from me, emanating from the very cells of her body like an angel’s armor. I reeled, and time spun, the knot within me writhing like a nest of vipers. I reached futilely for her soul, for that rush of energy that should by rights be mine, but I might as well have grasped at air. And in that moment, for the first time in my existence, I trembled.


Passersby on the street saw what happened, and most of the world had seen it online within an hour. In a news conference that aired around the world, Mira said, “After years of research in honor of my father, we have finally discovered a Cure for death. I stand as living proof. My body was broken and destroyed, and yet here I am. I believed in this Cure. I had faith, which is half of all healing, as my father would say. Soon, we all will know a world where daughters never have to say goodbye to fathers. No longer must we say, ‘She was taken too soon.’ We will live in a world that never dies, a new Eden of immortals.”

And so, the Cure crossed the world—to those who could afford it—and when the immortals procreated, their children carried altered DNA that could instantly repair a shattered skull, stop the spread of cancer, strengthen heart muscle and regenerate brain cells. Their bodies no longer aged past thirty years, surrounded by a golden barrier that kept me away no matter how hard I tried to pierce it. With a hollow pit deepening in my core, I savored the souls of the final few mortals carried from this world to the edge of the next.

The last was an orphaned girl, her mother too poor to afford the Cure. I left her at the threshold of the borderlands, waiting there longer than I ever had before. Without direction, I balanced on the edge of the void, lost, forsaken, a sailboat on the ocean stranded without wind.

The immortals cursed me like a half-remembered dream. “You have no place here. Science is our Law. Science is our King. Science is our God.” They imbibed and reveled as the world became a utopia. War became obsolete, soldiers unable to die, and political rivalries were settled with diplomacy, or games of strategy or chance. Thrill seekers jumped from planes without parachutes, filled their bodies with drugs, explored the ocean depths, finding new highs, new ways to test their limits knowing death would never come.

Each time a body rightly should have died, it taunted me with the sweet memory of the rush I once felt with each soul, the insatiable need for purpose and direction. And slowly, I began to wish for my own death, wondering how I might achieve it, where I might go, how I might end this endless malaise. I looked to the borderlands among the neutrons of stars and wondered how I might cross to the other side.


As the years became decades, and decades rolled into generations, Mira watched the world change. The earth around her—around them all—had shrunk. Those who had once been the one percent became legion, leeching the land, poisoning the waters, razing forests for room to live. Plastic trash and toxic debris soiled marble streets. Vagrants once rich now stared with hollow eyes and empty stomachs, their bodies sapped of energy yet unable to die. Their gold was useless, not worth its weight in wheat. From her luxury apartment, Mira looked out upon the homeless who slit their wrists on street corners and wailed as they healed, Death refusing to come, as they scoured the sewers for crumbs.

I paid little attention to them, focused on my own task. The borderlands had proven difficult to navigate, a gray void that stretched endlessly, everywhere and nowhere, like a memory or a dream. I knew that souls left within it eventually melted into its substance—or traversed it in some way unknown to me. Only one man had ever returned under his own power from the other side, and when I had asked him how he did it, he simply smiled and said it wasn’t my place to know. I probed the vastness with every dimension of my consciousness, but only once did I encounter anything else. For the briefest of moments, I sensed a searing light among the emptiness. But then it vanished, and I returned to my eternal scrutiny.


The governments of the world eventually convened a council. “We must reverse this,” they said as sources of food reached critical levels and bodies spilled into oceans where they floated undying, the last open space left for them to occupy.

The scientists summoned Mira to their laboratories, insisting that she must serve as their test subject since she had brought this upon them. They experimented with formulas and brought her to the guillotine while the world watched. The blade flashed down, and her head rolled but continued to scream, then regrew a body in moments. Lethal injections proved powerless. Bullets left no scar. They even ripped out her heart, only to watch it reappear. Finally, they chained her to a stake and lit a fire at her feet, stopping their ears as the flames licked her flesh. For hours they waited, adding more fuel to the fire. I fumbled at the barrier that kept me from her soul, tried to rip it from her body, to find a purpose once more: to end her suffering. But I couldn’t. The metal shackles eventually melted, and she stumbled from the pyre, skin pink and tender like that of a newborn infant.

They sent her home, with a warning not to leave the city. In her study, she stared into the shadows. She cracked open her father’s Bible, rent pages from its seam, threw it across the room where it landed at the base of a bookcase. Mira wondered how many history books mentioned her, how many more would be written to rewrite the stories that cast her as a hero. She ripped encyclopedias from the wall-length shelves, searching for Death, the history of Death, Death in history, in myth, in legend. She searched for rituals to summon Death, the angel of Death, the Reaper, Osiris, Hades, the Four Horseman, Pestilence, Famine, War.

Silly girl, I whispered into the wind. Now you see. Now you know. Now you want me after all these years of thinking I was your enemy.

At War, she paused. She read of the Second World War, the deadliest. That led her to Hiroshima, and suddenly, she knew. Suddenly, I felt purpose tingle within my core once again. Her face like iron, she went to the Council and said, “A nuclear explosion may overcome the effects of the Cure within the blast radius. If every cell in the body is destroyed instantly, there will be nothing left to regenerate.”

Some shook their heads and sneered. Others shrugged. Some asked what they had to lose. The Chairman made his decision, and I shivered.


On the Last Day, some said their farewells; others curled in the streets. Most offered prayers, in some form or another, either grateful or hopeful.

Mira stood beside one of the atomic warheads placed strategically throughout the world as the countdown began. A mix of emotion clouded her mind. Her forefinger twitched as she clutched what remained of her father’s Bible to her chest.

At the final moment, just before the detonators ignited a thousand fusion bombs and reduced the world to ash, Mira looked to me, her lips a thin line, not quite as a friend, but no longer as a monster.

The devastation was majestic. A jolt like lightning crashed through me, the golden barriers around the immortals evaporated, and I drank in the rush of souls like a desert wanderer must savor a pool of cool water. I took billions in those seconds, but I only cared for her. I held her tighter than gravity held the sun’s core, speeding carefully toward the borderlands, the stars in the universe a blur, her soul humming at a frequency I had never felt before. And she hoped, with a glimmer of sudden uncertainty, that eternity for the dead would be different than immortality for the living.

A medievalist, a type 1 diabetic, and a cyber crime investigator, A.J. graduated from Seton Hall University with a Master’s in Creative Writing. Hobbies that occupy his spare time include sword fighting, playing the piano, spoiling his husky, and writing. Read more of his work in The Modern Deity’s Guide to Surviving Humanity, Bards & Sages Quarterly, and Bewildering Stories, among other publications. He currently serves on the editorial staff of Flash Fiction Online, Cosmic Roots & Eldritch Shores, and Metaphorosis Magazine. Find him online at or follow him on Twitter @aj_cunder.

“In college, I wrote an essay about Edgar Allen Poe’s consideration of death in some of his works, and how, for him and other American Gothic authors, mortality might not be such a bad thing. After all, what would the world really look like if no one ever died? Then I started wondering how Death, if personified as a supernatural being, might feel if no one died, how the loss of purpose might affect their own perception of the world, and what they might do in such a void.”

“The Cure” by A.J. Cunder. Copyright © 2021 by A.J. Cunder.

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