When at last Pater was certain Giselle was settled in for the night, he took some time to have an incredibly rare nap.
It seemed he had only just closed his eyes when he heard the beleaguered howling of the small child. He sat straight up and listened for a moment before climbing off the couch. Did he also hear the footsteps of Giselle’s mother? Not hardly but he was aware of her presence in the home.
Sure enough as he climbed the stairs to the second floor he noted the clattering of the computer’s keyboard as Hansu scrolled through Simface. ‘Like, like…like, like, like’ she clicked away, unaware or unconcerned about her daughter’s discomfort. He cleared his throat loudly and with a gasp, she turned to face him. Immediately, she leapt out of her seat and disappeared up the spiral staircase that led to the nursery.
When he reached the top of the landing, he found mother and child reunited, the toddler still hiccupping with tiny tears soaking her full lashes and Hansu looking panicked. But rather than telegraph his extreme anger at her disappearing act, Pater smiled in as disarming a manner as he could. “Hansu,” he began, fingers tented. “I have a new proposal for you. How would you like to live forever?”
Hansu appeared bewildered. “But, I will live forever if I stay young, won’t I? Won’t I?”
“Not at all. Your time will come eventually. You will simply be a very well-preserved corpse,” Pater explained. “All I ask is that you let me take her away from you—“
In her confused and troubled state (for she was leery of another of Pater’s proposals, after all, wasn’t that how she had become saddled with Giselle after the mostly humiliating relationship with Bert Alto?) Hansu completely misheard her benefactor, thinking he said ‘take it away.’
“Oh, no, no, no! Please don’t take it away from me, please!” She entreated, her hands clasped in a prayerful position, her eyes filled with desperation.
“That is how you think of Giselle? Not as her but as it?” Pater shook his head wearily, not even attempting to hide his disgust.
“Not that brat!” Hansu answered, angry now, hearing the severe disapproval in Pater’s voice. “The Fountain of Youth!”
Pater turned away from her snarling face. He had created many monsters before the one in front of him now, it was not her attitude that troubled him. It was the fact that she thought nothing of speaking so ill about her daughter in Giselle’s presence. Granted the child was barely more than a baby and only had just started putting words together. It was the principle and principles were clearly what Hansu lacked. All the more reason to reinforce his suggestion, a trade-off: she would give him Giselle and he would give her the gift of immortality.
Pater put on his most charming and convincing voice. “It is so clear that you are not cut out for the burden of mother hood. Why don’t you let me ease that burden as well as ease your mind about the future? Besides, imagine how it will be for your daughter to grow up and have a mother remarkably younger than all the other mothers? To reach her middle years only to see her mother has not aged at all?”
Hansu had not considered her daughter’s future. What, she wondered, would be the harm of turning over Giselle over to Pater? He was wealthy and wise, after all and he had taken good care of her and the girl so far. She took a deep breath, forced it out with a sigh. “Yes.”
On Pater’s face slowly spread a smile. His eyes twinkled. “So be it.”
That evening, as the full moon rose…
…and the windchimes tinkled on the soft nighttime breezes…
Hansu fell into a deep slumber.
She found herself in a dream. In it, she was wearing the special white gown she only wore when visiting the magical fountain. She stood in front of its mysterious waters and then bent over with a cupped hand to drink. The water smelled oddly foul and instead of swirling brightly was stagnant and murky. She sipped and immediately was sick to her stomach, a reaction quite different from the enervating tingling she normally felt. In terror, Hansu turned away and stumbled blindly through the dense woods. Her precious youth-serum was no more!
It was not long before Hansu realized she was terribly lost. Instead of being back at her house, she discovered to her anger that she was near the edge of an unfamiliar road.
Heart pounding and legs feeling heavy as lead, Hansu ran and ran, away from or towards she did not know what. She simply wanted to get away, away, away.
At last she found herself somewhere…a neglected, overgrown cemetery. Scattered about were half-dead trees and withered weeds. She wandered from one broken headstone to another, giving each one a cursory glance. On all of the gravestones she was startled to discover the same surname…it was own, Notorious. Suddenly, she felt a cold, almost bone-like finger on her shoulder. Whirling, with a scream in her throat, she was facing a statue of her worst enemy: the faceless, hooded Grim Reaper. Just as the scream was about to escape her lips, she awoke, panting and drenched in sweat.
Hansu threw back the antique patchwork quilt she slept under and jumped up from her brass bed. The details of the dream faded fast but her sense of apprehension did not. In a rush, she remembered her discussion with Pater and the agreement she had made. Had they already left, he with Giselle under his arm? She scrambled up the stairs to the nursery and was relieved to discover them both. Oddly, Pater was dressed in formal clothing.
So too was Giselle. Her dress was the daintiest of lilacs and her hat was adorned with a matching daisy. She burbled over a toy pony, her face filled with wonder and delight.
“Why is she so dressed up? And you?” Hansu addressed Pater, her voice husky with the fear that was so pressing. For somewhere in her black heart, this mother of one knew what she had contracted was some terrible kind of evil—abandoning her baby girl for a life that would never end.
“Don’t you know what today is?” Pater rumbled with no discernible emotion in his voice. “It is Giselle’s birthday. I expect you to put on your best clothes and meet us in the kitchen for the celebration.”
Hansu changed quickly and descended the kitchen staircase to find Pater in an unusually tender pose, holding Giselle against his broad chest. The little girl looked perfectly content, as if she had the prescience to know this man was now going to be her guardian. The candles were already lit on the cake, the flames dancing about as if in anticipation of what was to come next.
It all happened so fast. One minute Pater and the toddler were leaning over the cake as he told her to ‘blow, blow!’ Next she was sitting on the ground, looking up at Pater and Hansu with expectation in her hazel eyes. Finally, a grown child stood before them, her face in an unreadable expression behind wire-rimmed glasses, her hair pulled back in a stern bun.
But before Hansu could consider her daughter further or even speak to the little girl, she began to feel the most bizarre sensation. It was not pain, exactly, but rather a strange, stretching feeling. Her skin felt prickly all over and then, if she was not mistaken, she could literally feel it wrinkling and sagging. In horror, she turned away from the birthday celebration and ran up two flights of stairs, back to the nursery and her beloved mirror.
With a mix of consternation and despair, she was shocked to see the woman staring back at her. This woman’s face was not moist and dewy, the face Hansu was so used to, but rather puckered and creased. The lines around her nose and mouth were sunken in and a bevy of tiny lines had gathered at the corners of her lips and eyes. Hansu tried to smile, tried to make the best of it thinking, a little aging isn’t so bad, I suppose it was inevitable with my daughter getting older as well. She was about to turn away from the mirror when she noticed gray hairs shot all through her updo. Before her very eyes, the gray turned to white and spread at an alarming rate. Hansu wanted to cry out, to look elsewhere but she was frozen in place.
For it was only a few moments later that staring back at her was a hag of a person! The hair was the color of dirty snow, the face wizened beyond recognition and in place of the beautiful blue dress was a hideous blue housecoat. Hansu was speechless. She held her hands up to her cheeks, patting them carefully. Yes, it was indeed her, not some random woman who had entered the house and taken over the mirror. Well, if this is how I have to spend eternity, I had better get used to it. A little hair dye, a change of clothes, daily trips to the spa…I won’t look so bad. At last she tore herself away from the mirror, not wanting to see the reflection at all anymore. But as she walked towards the stairs, she felt an even stranger feeling than before. It was if her very flesh were melting away. The room grew dimmer and dimmer and her gait slower and slower. She backed up and turned creakily, nearly blind now, but determined to see what was going to be looking back at her now.
Though she had no eyes, in fact no organs at all, Hansu was still a sentient being. And in her mind’s eye she saw something hateful. As hateful as the laugh that roared through her conscious as it echoed around the house, and echoing inside what was left of her mind were these fateful words from Pater’s own mouth and own mind, a telepathic shout: “Immortality is yours, dear Hansu! Yours forever and ever and ever!”