80, he did begin to wonder, and so did his neighbors. He'd been reported, anonymously, as possibly
afflicted, turned in to the authorities and made to undergo their "testing". Even after being exiled he'd
remained in denial, certain he would begin to decay and diminish all at once one fine day, absolutely
sure he'd weaken and develop the customary aches and pains of elderly decrepitude, but it never
occurred. He'd never once felt a day older, not since that time, so many years ago he could barely
remember, when he'd been carted to the edge of the woods and was basically dumped within.
And now he'd been called to order. He almost wanted to laugh. He'd heard all the fairy tales, naturally.
The Hidden One was said to be the first victim, the original subject of The Perpetrator's nasty scheme.
Other rumors had it that The Hidden One was The Perpetrator herself, an old woman who hadn't
wanted to die and so had invented the cure and became her own guinea pig. Neither of these stories
had any basis in fact, or really made any sense. Why was the curse still happening? Why were people
still being brought to the woods, people who were obviously afflicted, seeing as they could never die, or
even get sick, or even change in any single way after the moment they reached their sticking point. Even
their hair stopped growing. How could it still be happening if it was some particular potion or program
or substance or drug? Why would it happen seemingly at random, to all different kinds of people at
different times in their lives? No one understood it and in time the mortal people stopped caring. They
grew frustrated with their futile attempts to figure it out and eventually only wanted not to be
bothered, not to have these mutants in their midst, these creatures whose existence only reminded
them of their own meager mortality and rather than continue to abuse and mistreat these specimens
(as they'd originally done, during the bad old days), they preferred to quietly remove them from their
lives, deposit them in this wilderness containment, and pretend that they didn't exist. Easy for them.
They could go on changing and dying like normal. It wasn't so easy for Baudry and his fellow outcasts.
They had to live in those dark, damp woods, surrounded continually by trees and rocks and sediment.
Some had taken to living up high in the branches. Others built huts out of sticks, while still others
preferred to dig holes in the ground and live there. The weather wasn't so wonderful, either. It was
often quite chilly at night, and rained more often than not. The forest was long since divested of
predators, but there was very little meat to sustain them, mostly the occasional squirrel or bird could be
captured and roasted. The people lived mainly on berries and tubers and nuts. In time, like anything
else, they got used to it and no longer minded their living conditions. As a 64 year old forever, Baudry
did mind. He never came to like being cold and he felt he was cold all the time. This was one of the
reasons he was generally a sour type person. He didn't want to be always complaining, but insid e his
mind was a constant refrain of complaint. He didn't like this. He didn't like that. He didn't like trees, or
dirt, or even birds, and he especially didn't like hunting for goals. He didn't have many friends. The other
"old people" were too much like himself. The "young" ones were simply too different. And there wasn't
ever much to talk about. The weather? The trees? The gossip? No, Baudry didn't have much to say, at
least not to anyone else. He did have some news, though, that others might be interest ed in, now that
he'd been "called to order", called by a squirrel.
"Called by a squirrel?" he stopped himself in mid-stride. "Now I know for sure I've gone nuts." He sat
right down on a rock and shook his head.
"What am I doing?" he asked himself out loud. "I'm talking to squirrels?"