When I was a child; when I was seven or eight or ten, I remember being told that if you saw a shooting star you could make a wish and it would come true. Living in a city, I didn’t get to see shooting stars very often and those I did see were already burnt out and growing dim before I could decide between a new video game and the answers to the upcoming physics test. Physics! If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have taken philosophy as a major, or maybe religion. My life might have made sense in that case.
I was in my twenties by the time I saw one and remembered to make a wish. Some friends from college and I were camping at a rock festival in Wiltshire and happened to be lying on our backs listening to the music from the outdoor stage. It was only the second night of four and we’d already run out of beer. I had no hesitation in making a wish this time. I wished I had more beer. Not five minutes later Andy, a chap we used to share non-Euclidean course module with fell over a guy rope into our little circle. We invited him to join us and lo and behold, he had four more crates of beer in the boot of his car.
Was this how wishes worked? I wondered. A series of events that could be explained as coincidences? I lay back with a fresh can of beer and watched the skies. When the next star fell I wished I could get laid.
It took Jennie five minutes to find where her brother had taken all the beer. I didn’t even know Andy had a sister until she lay on the grass next to me. I stopped watching the sky that night. I had better things to do.
The third night it rained but the fourth night, the last before I headed back to the city, was clear. The festival had officially finished but there were still enough campers and sideshows to keep the party atmosphere alive. I think I was the first to spot the falling comet. In truth I think I was the only one looking up at the time, wishing I could find a shooting star of my very own. It fell three fields over and the rest of the party goers were too drunk to care. I was out of beer again and stone cold. I set off at a run with my little torch to guide me.
It took most of the night to find it. I’d been expecting something that would make HG Wells think twice when in reality it was no bigger than a marble. I found it almost by accident, treading on a lump of soil it had thrown up then digging into the sun-baked earth of a cow pasture almost two feet with a biro and a piece of wood I’d found under the nearby hedge. I assumed it would be cold but I should have remembered my thermodynamics. It was, beneath the layer of hardened mud, still red hot and picking it up melded the lump of meteoric iron right into my palm. I lost track of the number of wishes I made while doubled over in agony for the rest of the night; most of them were wishing I’d never looked for the damned thing, but by first light the pain had died and I was looking at a cauterised wound.
I was thirty-two when I noticed the first grey hair. My wound had been reduced to a notation of medical curiosity. Cutting it out would damage more nerves than I’d already lost, and I’d become used to the reduced dexterity. Even the nickname ‘Iron Man’ had faded after I left college. I looked in the mirror, debated pulling out the hair and said, quite clearly, “I wish I could never age.” I didn’t make the connection between my wish and the car crash that killed my parents the same night.
By the time I was forty people began commenting on my youthful looks. Every one of my peers showed some sign of age. Balding, grey hair, brittle bones, liver spots. Not me. I looked fitter than most kids twenty years my junior. I guessed the reason was the lump of iron embedded in my right hand, but every physical test I performed proved it was inert.
At fifty-four I had to fake my own death, move to the States, assume a new identity. It became a pattern. The longer I stayed in one place, the more people who died around me. It was as if I was feeding on their life force to sustain my own. People began to notice. The older I got, the more people died. If I didn’t keep moving my position could be mapped as the epicentre of an ever-expanding circle of death.
I’ve changed identities seventeen times now. I’ve seen more summers than Methuselah. I’ve seen cities die, governments, countries. Not the planet, though. I don’t seem to affect anything other than people. I’ve lived with apes and monkeys and they lived full, productive lives. Now I’m the last man alive. The last woman, my twenty-third wife, died two days ago on the other side of the planet. I’m almost alone.
There’s still my teenage son, somewhere on what used to be Japan.
And I’ve just spotted my first wrinkle.
Rachel Green is a forty-something writer from Derbyshire She lives with her two partners and three dogs. Although primarily a novelist, she is enraptured by the stage where her work has been performed in London and elsewhere. She also writes poetry, paints and illustrates. When not writing, Rachel walks her three dogs, potters in the garden, drinks copious amounts of tea and stabs people with swords. She twitter a haiku daily. She can also be found on Facebook (Rachel Green) and Twitter (@leatherdykeuk)