Suzan felt honored and a bit awed when Ellen took her to the third floor sanctuary the next day. Among the rows of funerary casks, she ran her fingers reverently across the polished wood surfaces and noted each name. Ellen had told her an abbreviated history of her past loves, from Penelope to Charles. His was the newest addition to this stately green marble and carved granite room.
Her awe turned to wonder as Ellen revealed her special cache where she kept her prized elixir. Suzan’s gaze drank in the details, the Egyptian symbols in gold, the exquisite inlay of fine stones, and the master craftsmanship of the box itself that opened with a special series of springs. When Ellen opened the box, she allowed Suzan to take note of its contents, the frosted blue bottle that held the secret of life, its shape round at the bottom and tapering to a slender neck, its mouth rimmed in gilt and capped with a stopper studded in small, gleaming, semi-precious stones. It rested on a gold base within a compartment lined in purple satin.
As Ellen retrieved the bottle and held it in the palm of her hand, she smiled proudly. “This is what I have to offer you, my darling, the secret of eternal life. Over the years, I have redesigned the shape and substance of the bottle, but the formula has remained the same; although, what you see now is not the true elixir.”
Suzan furrowed her brow. “No?”
Ellen shook her head. “No. This is only a facsimile. I knew Charles, in his despair, would try to contaminate the real formula. Alas, his mind had deteriorated to thoughts of revenge, prompted by his rage and jealousy. If he could no longer have me, he wanted to make sure no one else would ever take his place.”
As Ellen gazed at the fake bottle, her thoughts seemed far away. “I knew he contaminated what he thought to be the elixir with his own mix of revenge, replacing it with rubbing alcohol, most likely, and some other benign substances to give it the approximate color and not-so-pleasant scent. No doubt he added a bit of rat poison from the cellar, although I haven’t had the contents analyzed. But I knew what Charles had in mind. You see, I made it easy for him to find the secret combination to the box in my desk drawer, and placed the materials for his lethal formula in easy reach.”
Suzan couldn’t quite fathom her purpose. “But why?”
Ellen sighed. “It was the least I could do to help ease his mind in the last hours. When he thought he had gotten away with his ultimate plan to cause me great pain and suffering, he went from this life quietly and peacefully.”
“Do you want me to analyze the contents for you?” Suzan’s curiosity had been piqued, as it usually did with anything that needed to be broken down into specific parts, categories and quantities.
“No, no, it is not necessary. Our concern is for the real elixir.”
After setting the dummy bottle aside, Ellen went over to the marble wall behind the cache and ran her hand along its smooth, cool surface until she found the hidden release that opened a secret panel. From the interior of this hiding place, she brought out another bottle, exactly like the first. Although with this bottle, Ellen treated it carefully and reverently as she cupped it securely in her hand.
“Here is my fountain of eternal life, bestowed upon me by the gods who deigned me worthy of their gift.”
Suddenly her triumphant smile faded. “But it is not a complete and perfect gift, no matter the adjustments I have made throughout the years. Something vital is missing. I yearn for a complete elixir, a perfect formula, which will give me you, Suzan, all of you, forever and always.”
“I will try my best.” Retrieving the lab kit she had brought with her, Suzan took out a medium glass vial and small funnel. The two women worked together to pour a little of the liquid into the vial. Suzan caught a whiff of the mixture, strong and biting, like rotten food and offal, with a hint of something else, the scent of death and decay, perhaps from an ancient tomb. Yet the elixir’s appearance, its emerald color, proved appealing and refreshing.
Ellen had told the doctor about her initiation into the immortal world as a young woman in Egypt, including the events that led to her death, the death experience itself and the process she went through to achieve immortality. Her recollection seemed as vivid as if it had happened last year instead of during the time of the pharaohs—and before Christ walked the earth.
It still stunned Suzan to realize that this beautiful, vibrant woman who stood before her, who gave of her perfect, lithe body, could be thousands of years old. As a doctor, she couldn’t fathom such a fantastic concept. It was something to be found in science-fiction novels and movies, not in real life. But as a woman and a woman in love, she relied on her faith and imagination to embrace this miracle, whether it had been bestowed by a deity or deities, or came about as a fluke of nature, a fantastic ripple in the process of life and death. Were there other immortals like Ellen? Ellen thought so, and like her, they moved quietly and unobtrusively through time.
Now when she had enough elixir to test, Suzan capped the vial and placed it carefully in her kit tray. Next, she produced a test tube, a syringe and the necessary items used to extract blood for testing.
“Now I must take a sample of your blood. I hate to do it but it is necessary if I wish to make a thorough test.” Suzan tried to remain clinical although her expression reflected the pain she felt for having to hurt a loved one.
Ellen simply smiled. “I understand, my darling, and I am not squeamish. Take as much as necessary.”
“Well, it won’t be a gallon, just a tube full.” Suzan tried a light laugh. It seemed ironic, having to take blood from a creature who thrived on extracting blood from others in order to achieve physical and mental rejuvenation. Like a vampire, but not a vampire in the accepted folklore vein. “The process would go faster, though, if I had a sample of Charles’ blood. Of course that’s out of the question now.”
“I had him cremated,” Ellen stated and walked over to the newest cask in her collection. “I keep his ashes in here, along with a lock of his hair.”
“I could work with a strand of his hair. Just one strand contains an individual’s complete DNA makeup.”
“How fascinating! Here’s his hair, as much as you wish.” Turning the little gold clasp that opened the cask, Ellen lifted the lid and then extracted a lock of Charles Lambert’s hair
“I don’t need all of it,” Suzan told her, fearing that she might destroy the last, tangible link to the woman’s former lover.
Ellen nodded. “This is just a small lock. In his prime, Charles had thick lustrous hair, the color of rich brandy. I cut his hair as soon as he joined me in immortal life. I have quite enough of it for my memories, and enough to give for such an important cause.”
Suzan gingerly took the curled strand that Ellen handed her and deposited it in a fresh specimen bag. She recalled her last glimpse of Charles Lambert, the elderly man at the Metro station with hair as thin and delicate as silver-white thread. But she had seen him earlier in the day, with that lustrous head of hair, a vital, handsome man, not more than thirty years of age. Yet in the span of hours, he had been reduced to a bent, shuffling octogenarian. Why such a rapid degeneration and what caused it?
As Suzan ruminated, Ellen closed and secured the cask lid. Then she turned to the doctor with a positive smile. “I’ve done the same for the others, Penelope, Leif, Doric, Generosa, Florio—right after their rebirths. Perhaps it seems strange or disgusting to you, but it has been an old custom of mine, the taking of the body personal to cherish forever.”
“It’s not strange at all,” Suzan assured her. “Many people cut a lock of hair from their significant others or their children to save as mementos. My own mother did the same with my hair, I suppose in lieu of bronzing my baby shoes. She kept a snip of my curls in a heart-shaped gold locket that she wore constantly. When she died, I saw to it that she was buried with her locket. Some people thought it strange, that I would forego taking that piece of fine jewelry as part of my inheritance; but my mother had cherished her locket in life, and she would do the same in death.”
“How very sweet and touching! You know, the ancient Egyptians buried their dead ones with earthly possessions—household items, fine jewelry and clothing, precious stones and metals, and even food—so that a person would be comfortable while awaiting Anubis and Nephthus to take him or her across the River Styx to the eternal hereafter. Then the gods went back to split the loot.” Ellen laughed lightly, her eyes dancing with amusement.
But as Suzan tucked the hair sample away in her kit, she glanced up and gave her lover a serious look. “Did you believe in those rituals and in the gods, and do you still?”
“Yes, I did, Suzan, very much so. And I confess I still do, but in a different light. I cheated Anubis and Nephthus, the god and goddess of death, out of their share of my possessions; and if by chance we ever meet, I owe them a few earthly goods. Of course, that may never happen.” Her smile faded for a moment. “Yet, I have never regretted my decision to become immortal. I still remember, but not as much as I should. I must tell you more of my story so I will not forget...and neither will you.”
She brightened again. “But that’s for another time and place when we can sit by a cozy fire, relax, and sip wine. Then I will regale you with my epic tales of life and death, love and desire. But for now...”
With her hands at the back of her neck, Ellen unfastened the ties of her sundress and allowed the bodice to fall away, exposing her bare torso. Her flesh appeared smooth and pearly white like the marble statue of a Roman goddess, her arms, shoulders and breasts carved with beautiful details. “We must continue on to the next step. You need a blood sample from me, correct? Well, I’m ready when you are, doctor.”
Glancing away from such a tantalizing sight, Suzan clutched the handle of her kit and turned toward the door. “We’ll go downstairs where there’s a table and chair. Your arm needs to be in a relaxed position.”
“And later on,” Ellen added with a provocative lilt as she started to follow the doctor, “We’ll relax together.”