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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Gift
by Gary Alexander

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He was aging, deteriorating, lots more rapidly than was his hoard of money. And as the days passed, the question of what to do with his amassed wealth loomed, oppressively.

There were no progeny, no wives, none of the usual nieces and nephews waiting in the wings for the final curtain.

He had only recently come upon the larger portion of his great financial worth. After years of building a sound business he sold it for a tidy sum in hopes of pursuing a comfortable retirement, short though it might have been. But then he began ailing, suffered a crumbling relationship with his "companion" and was forced to confront the reality of restricted mobility and constriction. He became a man with no prospects.

What future did lay itself open before him and indeed did beckon to him was the distribution of his money and the establishment of trusts. What he wanted in return for this largesse was some small guarantee of immortality.

The sums of money to be donated were not overly great, but were considerable enough to draw and hold interest from the establishments singled out to benefit from his magnanimity.

At first, small and needy organizations were considered. But then, as he became increasingly aware of the instability around him and the inevitability of ruin and change, he thought more cautiously of the institutions he sought to profit by his gifts. Better, he decided, to put his money to greater purpose; better to be assured of the immutable; roots, something solid. He craved the stable, the constant. What he sought had to be enduring in a place that had endured, that would endure. Such was the house required to accommodate and preserve just a small corner of immortality.

And that was what he bargained for: A small corner of immortality. It was on the back wall of the largest church in the country, adjacent to the right far corner of the holy place. There, erected in bronze, was the statue of a pious saint. Beside her were the blessed candles, sacred waters, and, inscribed on a heavy and thick bronze plaque on the pedestal beneath her immaculate figure, were the venerable words proclaiming the donorís name and the abiding dates of his deeds here. Unfaltering. Unalterable.

The money was to be donated over a period of ten years by the trustees of the charity. But after two years, following the death of the benefactor, it was decided that the distribution would take the form of a lump sum. The transaction was consummated. Perpetuity should not be postponed.

It was some years later that one of the executors of the trust passed the church with his daughter and thought to show the little girl the beautiful bronze saint, the sacred corner, and reveal the story of the divine, now immortal, connection of the once living donor.

The pair entered the church, and the father, holding the little girlís hand, moved toward his right. No homily was in progress. What few congregants filled the aisles were embraced by the multi-storied silence reaching up and up through the light, quietly seeping through the stained glass windows.

"Where are we going, daddy?" asked the little girl.

"I want to show you something," said the executor, aware of the lingering incense wafting about the apse.

"Where?" said the girl.

The father looked about. It had been right there, where he stood. But there was no bronze anywhere there now. There was no plaque. There was a rack for holy candles. There was blessed water. There were no immutable words, no eternal corner. There was the wafting scent of incense.

"Where, daddy?"

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