Excerpt

HappyBirthdayToMeI shoved my hands over my ears to alleviate the sounds of arguing behind me. I just wanted to concentrate on me for a moment, me and my new face.

It still looked the same as this morning. My face was not disfigured like a horror movie monster or wounded like I had been on the receiving end of a knife fight. The differences were subtle, but collectively they made for a truly dispiriting sight. Even with the beard the last few days, I thought something had felt different about me, that something might be wrong.

My face had aged. I looked nothing like a teenager anymore. To a stranger, I looked to be in my late twenties to early thirties. I was still handsome, of course, maybe even more so than my seventeen-year-old self, but the face in the mirror before me was one I didn’t want to see for another fifteen years.

As much as I hated to say it, I wanted the virgin back.

The door started opening, and all three of us turned toward it. I could tell we were all holding our breaths, not daring to release them until the doctor made his way inside.

“Mr. and Mrs. Martin, hello,” Dr. Carol said as he shut the door behind him and made his way to his desk, “and hello Cameron.” His fingers pressed against a file—my file, I presumed—as he took a seat. He was a tall fellow, with thinning black hair and an elongated face that appeared to be stretching toward the ceiling.

“Well?” my mom asked, taking a step forward. She held onto my dad’s left arm with both her hands. “What’s wrong with my boy?”

“And don’t sugarcoat it, doctor, please,” my dad added. “I’m a doctor myself. I’ll know if you’re lying to me. Give it to us straight. We can take it.”

The doctor nodded, and the first person he looked at was me. I could tell from his glance that the news he was about to bestow on us was in no shape or form good. How bad, I didn’t know. I hoped it wasn’t cancer. I really hoped I didn’t have cancer.

“Cameron, please have a seat,” he said.

I walked past my parents, my mom putting her hands on my shoulder for a brief, comforting moment. I took a seat and stared forward.

“Lay it on me, Doc,” I said. “What’s wrong with me?”

He took a deep breath and clamped his hands together. “Cameron, since these strange symptoms began, how have you been feeling? Have you experienced any pain?”

“Pain?” I tried to think. While the whole flabby belly scenario was something I wanted to forget sooner rather than later, I hadn’t actually been in any pain the last few days. “No. Not really. I’ve felt pretty normal, I guess.”

“Except for the recent episode when you gained a lot of weight and had elective liposuction surgery performed to quell the weight, is that correct?”

I could see my mother seething from the back of my head. My dad had told her about the secretive surgery upon arriving at the hospital, wondering initially if I had suffered a complication.

“This is all your fault!” my mom had screamed barely an hour ago to my father, who I had never known to keep something from my mother like he did the surgery. “You did something to him! When you put him under! You messed with my son’s face!”

“I did nothing of the sort,” my dad had said. “You know as well as anyone that I want nothing more for Cameron than for him to be perfect. Why would I ever want to turn his face into that!”

Now my mom wasn’t saying a thing. I could tell she was tapping one of her shoes against the carpet, but I didn’t want to know what else she was doing with her body language. I hoped she wasn’t going to try to attack my father with a meat cleaver or something.

“OK,” Dr. Carol said. “Let’s not beat around the bush.” He looked up at my parents and refrained to look at me for this next part. “Mr. and Mrs. Martin, this is the conclusion we’ve come to. Your son appears to be a normal, healthy twenty-eight-year-old man.”

Silence ensued. It felt like five whole minutes passed before someone said something.

“Umm… what?” my mom finally blurted out.

“What are you saying, doctor?” my dad added.

“Now given that your son is, of course, only seventeen,” the doctor continued, “it brought up many questions. We got the results back from Cameron’s blood tests, and I must say they are extremely disturbing—”

“Stop talking in ambiguities, Doc!” my father shouted. “Tell us what’s wrong with him!”

“In my thirty-five years of medical practice, I have never come across anything like this before.” The doctor glanced at me briefly, and then focused his gaze back on my parents. “But in a brief conversation I just had with a colleague of mine in San Francisco, I confirmed it does exist. What Cameron seems to be experiencing is a rare form of an already extremely rare disease known as Progeria, also known as Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome. This disease in almost all cases occurs in infants and children. I have more research to conduct, but the oldest I believe it’s ever been known to happen is in a thirteen-year-old. And furthermore, the disease has never been known to work this fast and efficient.”

“Speak in English, doctor!” my mother shouted. “What are you saying!”

Now the doctor was looking at me. I didn’t notice until now the tears welling up in my eyes.

“Cameron, what I’m trying to say is this. You appear to be aging an entire year of your life with each passing day.”

“What?”

“What!”

“WHAT!”

The three of us all screamed and Dr. Carol scooted back in his chair, clearly frightened we’d all tackle him to the ground.

“You said it all started when you noticed facial hair, right, Cameron?” the doctor asked, clearly trying to remain in a tranquil state. “That was ten days ago, correct?”

The room was spinning. I tried to keep myself from fainting because I needed to hear every detail. “Uhh, yeah. That sounds right.”

The doctor nodded. “Then you started gaining weight—”

“This is ridiculous!” my mom shouted.

“You expect a doctor like myself to believe this fantasy nonsense?” my father added, pacing back and forth, veins in his forehead looking ready to burst not just blood but angry little leeches ready to pounce on Dr. Carol and feed on him for dinner.

The doctor ignored my parents’ commentary. He just kept looking at me, not taking his eyes away. “For your sake, Cameron, I hope I’m wrong. I want you to get a second opinion. I want to be as far off on this as possible. Maybe you’ll wake up tomorrow normal again, with all these aging symptoms gone forever. But…”

He stopped talking.

But?” I asked. “But what?”

“Cameron,” he continued, “we have to face the probability that you will continue to age. That tomorrow you will wake up twenty-nine, that on Sunday you will wake up thirty. That in a few short days you will be seeing year thirty-five, year forty, and soon grow older than your very own parents—”

“I can’t take any more of this,” my mom said, shaking her head as she walked to the door. She turned around, her cheeks stained with tears. “For God’s sake, you quack! This isn’t the goddamn Twilight Zone! This is real life! This is my son! This is my… little boy…”

She started crying into the palms of her hands as she charged out of the office and slammed the door behind her so hard a painting next to the door starting swinging back and forth.

I turned around to see my father with his hand on his chin, staring at the floor, lost in thought.

I looked back at the doctor. He seemed like he’d rather be anywhere else than here.

You have no idea, Doc.

“So,” I started, not knowing how to end the sentence. “So I’m sick?”

“Well see, Cameron, that seems to be the biggest miracle of all here—”

“A miracle?” my dad screamed. He took three giant steps forward and brought his fist down against the doctor’s wooden table. “This ain’t a miracle, Doc. It’s the farthest thing from it! Do you understand me!”

My dad slapped one of the doctor’s plaques off his desk and stormed out of the room.

Now it was only me. “Doctor. Please. Let me understand this.”

“As I was saying, Cameron,” the doctor said, clearly wired from all the high stress from my parents’ outbursts, “you appear to be completely healthy in every way. You just happen to be healthy in a twenty-eight-year-old body. I can’t call it anything but a miracle. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“So when I wake up tomorrow?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll be twenty-nine?”

“In theory. Yes.”

“So in two weeks I would be—”

“Let’s see… If this continues, in two weeks you’ll be forty-two.”

“Forty-two? My dad’s forty-two.”

We stared at each other for a few seconds. Neither one of us had an idea what to say next.

“Doctor. I have graduation coming up. I have college! I have plans!”

“I know.”

“I can’t just—”

“Cameron, if my theory holds true, your life, as you know it, has to be put on hold indefinitely.”

I started shaking my head before standing up with difficulty. I turned around for a moment, trying my best not to pass out. It was getting harder not to with each passing minute.

I looked back at the doctor. “So, if this is true, then in just a few weeks I’ll… I’ll…”

“In theory, Cameron… and I’m really sorry to have to tell you this… you might only have a few more weeks to live.”

“Oh my God—”

I couldn’t help myself. I collapsed on the ground and started vomiting in the nearest trashcan. Anything I had eaten in the last forty-eight hours shot up my esophagus with great speed and landed with loud splashes in the once-empty can, now filled to the brim with foamy yellow puke.

The doctor stood up and tiptoed toward the door. “I should give you a few minutes alone. I’ll be down the hallway if you need be.”

By the time I turned my head toward the door, he was already gone.

I don’t know how, but I managed to get back up on my feet. The colors in the room started to drain from my eyes, and any and all feeling in my body began to dissipate. Everything became a blur, one big turd of a blur. I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t think.

One of the few items I could still see in the room was the mirror. It looked to be shining in the back corner, calling out to me.

I stumbled toward it and rested my hands against the wall for support. I looked at my wretched new face again, one that was supposedly going to be transforming on a daily basis into one of a crotchety old man.

I looked at my left profile, then my right.

Then I punched the mirror with my right hand, successfully shattering it into a dozen pieces.

I fell back to the ground and hit my head on the corner of a leather chair.

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