At that moment Jessica seemed so sweet and innocent. Her blond hair glistened like gold as the little bit of sunlight that had seeped in through the boarded up windows caught her curls. Her rosy red cheeks, so flush and full of life, radiated a warm glow in the dimly lit room as enchanting and captivating as any of Mother Nature’s most awe inspiring phenomena. Truly, Michael thought to himself, she was the most beautiful little girl in the world.

He admired his daughter one last time as he raised the gun to her head. The shot roared through the house like a thunderstorm. Skull and brain fragments flew through the air as his daughter’s carcass slumped to the ground in a broken heap. Carefully, Michael dragged Jessica's dead body across the floor, and laid it next to her mother and brother's corpses. A single tear escaped his eye, but before the grief managed to overwhelm him, he took a deep breath and said a prayer to compose himself. It would all be over soon.

Michael peered out the second story bedroom window of his home. Hoards of the infected stretched as far as his eyes could see and he knew that it was only a matter of time before they would blow through his home like a plague of locusts. Many of them had already made it inside and his bedroom door was beginning to buckle as the banging on the other side of it grew louder. It would not be long before the monsters broke through. He looked into the chamber of his revolver. Jessica had received his last bullet. The final gift a father could give his daughter. And as horrible as it was, at least his family had escaped his fate—the fate that would be crashing through his door at any second.

“What you seek is just beyond this door, young man.”

Young man.

No one had called David young in a decade. Those were words that harkened back to a simpler time for him—before his obsession with immortality began to consume his life. Before he had wasted his physical prime locked away in his den, poring through archaic texts and studying ancient hymns. Before he devoted his life to investigating the validity of age-old legends from bygone cultures around the world.

From the Philosopher’s Stone to the Fountain of Youth, David had researched tales of eternal life stemming out of every corner of the globe. He had even focused his efforts on more obscure, lesser-known lore, like the Owanu Frog of Ghana’s Sisaala tribe and the disturbing story out of Slunj, Croatia that had come to be known regionally as The Night of The Star Child.

It wasn’t until he reached his mid-forties that he was able to piece together a trail of evidence that gave his quest direction. He had begun to recognize patterns throughout his studies of history—tiny consistencies buried in long-forgotten writings, reoccurring symbols carved into timeworn relics, peculiar regularities that had no right turning up in the places and times that they did. And after more than two decades, all of his findings had led him to one place—a lone monastery sitting atop an icy mountain in Eastern Tibet.

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David had braved the conditions in order to speak to the wise holy men he believed held the secret he had spent most of his adult life searching for, but when he arrived he found the temple mostly empty, save for one old monk with tired eyes. Pangs of disappointment surged inside the gut of the frustrated traveler when he first laid eyes on the elderly hermit. After all, he had come so far and been so sure that the monastery housed the key to his deepest desire, but the deep age-lines in the old monk’s face told him a different story. It told the story of muscle atrophy, the story of cognizance withering away, of bones becoming brittle. The old monk’s face told the story of aging—the story of impending, unstoppable death.

With a pair of wrinkled, weathered hands, the hermit seized David by the arm, and led him inside, away from of the cold. The entrance hall of the temple was barren. A row of torches lined the interiors’ gray, stone walls providing only just enough light to illuminate the path ahead of them. The old monk, still clutching tight to his new guest’s arm, began to hobble down the dim, corridor. Together, the two navigated through the darkness in silence, until they reached a winding staircase plunging downward into the monastery’s shadowy depths. With his free hand, the elderly man removed the last torch off the wall and gestured towards the stairway.

“What exactly is this place?” David had asked the holy man as they began their descent.

But the old monk said nothing. Instead he directed his gaze ahead, his tired eyes focusing on nothing but the twisting steps in front of him. David felt alone as they snaked their way into the abyss—like a tiny rock floating by itself in the vacuum of empty space, millions of miles removed from the closest celestial body. The pangs of disappointment he had been feeling just minutes earlier had begun to mutate into something else entirely. Paranoia, angst, and dread were now running rampant inside of his head, weaving themselves into an indescribable terror.

Just when he thought the black void he had found himself in would drive him mad, a golden radiance caught David’s eye. As the two proceeded closer to it, the source of the glow became clear and David realized that his research had not been in vain. The base of the stairs came into sight. They appeared to open up into a small chamber with nothing but a large red door built into the wall. Beautiful ornate symbols were inscribed into the face of it. Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sumerian designs, and a variety of other ancient multicultural characters lined the perimeter of the impressive structure. By the time they reached the bottom step, the old monk’s torch was no longer necessary. A brilliant light was seeping out of every crack in the door, flooding the chamber in a golden hue.

The old monk released David’s arm and raised a wrinkled weathered hand towards the shining spectacle before them. It was here that he uttered those words—those words that had harkened back to a simpler time for the explorer.

“What you seek is just beyond this door, young man.”

“Just beyond this door,” David repeated.

A rush of excitement swelled through him. He had found it. He had succeeded where Ponce de Leon and thousands of others like him had failed. He had located the secret to immortality.

David reached for the handle of the door, and with a quick tug, jerked it open. A blinding light burst forth, enveloping the room, swallowing David and the elderly holy man. He fell to the floor clutching at his chest. As the light intensified so too did the searing pain he could feel in his heart. It was as though the entire core of his body had caught fire. The pain was unbearable—the most excruciating thing he had ever experienced in his life.

Questions started whirling through his head. What is going on? How could it feel so horrible? He had never once read, in all of his studies, that the youth rejuvenation process would be a painful one. Something had to be wrong.

Summoning every last ounce of strength, David crawled along the ground until he reached the door. He propped his shoulder up against it and drove his feet as hard as he could into the ground, in an attempt to force it shut.

With a THUD, the door snapped closed causing the blinding light to disappear behind it, and leaving only a golden glow to wash over the room. Down on the floor again, David rubbed his eyes while he waited for the pain in his chest to subside. When his vision had regained focus, he looked up to scan his surroundings. What he saw ignited an inferno of terror that burned mercilessly inside of his body, spreading like wildfire.

Looking down on him was a familiar face—one he had watched age in the mirror every single day of his life. His face—and it was sporting a satisfied smirk. He was somehow staring up at himself as if another person was wearing his skin like a costume. Shock and confusion overran his mind. No longer able to gaze upon the imposter he attempted to bury his face in his palms, but when he peered down, the sight sent pulse after pulse of panic through his very essence. His hands were no longer his, but he knew he recognized them. They were wrinkled and weathered. Hands he had seen before—hands that once belonged to an old monk with tired eyes.

Credited to Vincent Vena Cava