Full Name: Eric Goulding
For Eric Goulding, business was business and the most serious matter in the world. Money was power and he had plenty of both. He felt he was unstoppable, then he was diagnosed with cancer and everything changed. All of Eric’s money and power could not avail him. Awaking that first morning after the diagnosis and recognizing he had no more than sixty days remaining, he realized he didn’t care about his money, now he cared only for survival.
The bittersweet irony of it all was that Eric had considered a career in medicine before embarking on the path he followed. He was caught off guard, because a healthy, fit man in his prime with a disciplined lifestyle worthy of a Tibetan monk was not supposed to go down with lumps on his right lung.
By the end of the first day after his diagnosis, Eric’s finger was sore from dialing those university friends who had become oncologists. By the end of the week, his body was weak from the chemicals and the radiation that seemed to be the only treatment option for his aggressive condition. Processions of lawyers, priests and family stampeded through his hospital room. Each of them tried to mediate a peace between him, the Maker, the IRS and other nameless powers, each wanting part of Eric’s temporal influence.
Desperate, Eric reached out to less savory acquaintances. Connections were made and Eric soon had a caller. A peculiar and twitchy man, he came carrying a bundle of ancient scrolls. The odd little man promised Eric that the texts stated that he could cheat death, and have all the riches of Midas if he asked the right question when his time came. The strange man offered this in exchange for half Eric’s wealth and unfurled a lengthy contract. Eric gambled as he had nothing to lose, signing away half his fortune for the promise of extended life and greater wealth. Then the man was gone.
When at last the ward finally fell quiet, Eric’s final visitor appeared, embodying life’s last expectations. Eric was disappointed in how clichéd the moment felt. The visitor’s bony, pallid face was unmoving, but he heard the black silhouette say “Eric Goulding, you must come with me. It is time.”
Eric followed as instructed, and they walked a near-endless hospital corridor until eventually the walls became transparent. The luminescent ceiling arched like a gothic cathedral, as a pitch black portal appeared in front of them.
“Once you go through, there is no turning back,” the ghastly guide whispered.
“Do I have to?” Eric asked as a final jolt of fear shot through his body. It was the question the texts had decreed could change his final path.
“No. There are other doorways.”
The dying man was shocked, despite what he had learned, and after a momentary hesitation replied, “Wait, if there are other options, then why do people choose to die?”
“They do not ask the question. No matter what you choose today, you must live with the consequences of your decision.”
Six other portals appeared, or maybe they had been there from the beginning and Eric had not observed them. Eric felt that the one made from golden shimmering light was the one he must pass through. “What’s behind this one?” he asked.
“An eternity of prosperity, endless knowledge, and immortality. It comes at a price; you will never feel again.”
“Worth a try, I guess, let’s do it,” said Eric firmly.
“Are you certain?” the apparition asked. Before Eric could reply or react, the Reaper reached forth and plucked out his heart, replacing it with a cold stone. The wound sealed with a thick layer of liquid metal, but it did not hurt. The gleaming solution rolled through his veins until it filled his eyes with gold.
“This stone belonged to the greatest alchemists of the world and now it is mine. I am wiser than I ever was, yet that doesn’t excite me. I stand at the threshold of a new era and endless life and yet I am already bored. I see the tradeoff. I will embrace it and find ways to enjoy my life again, and new domains will bend to my will. I will have my gold, and I will have all of my wealth returned and more,” said Eric, his words betrayed by a lack of emotion.
Eric looked behind him and saw another Reaper leading a recently departed.
“Am I dead?” asked the newly arrived man. Eric grabbed the questioner with a golden fist and effortlessly shoved him into the black portal he himself had disregarded.
“We can make that assumption now. Please tell them Aurelius sent you.”