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The Mythological Guide to Living the Longest Life

You seek eternal life? You won't find it in this little hovel.

Of course, I've heard some stories. Haven't we all?

You look as if you've traveled hard. Sit and have some soup with an old lady and keep her company a little while.

Maybe you're already immortal, the offspring of a goddess or a god. How well do you know your parents? Perhaps your mother had a dalliance, not that you'd judge her for that. Or they found you in a basket thrown from a cliff, left under a tree, or floating in a river, and your kind, oh-so-mortal parents took you in.

You're sure that's not the case?

What about waiting for death itself, then bargaining for another chance? It's been known to happen. In the Babylonian underworld land of Irkalla, Inanna offered such a trade during her meeting with Ereshkigel, the Queen of the Great Earth. You might be surprised whom you'd exchange. Inanna sacrificed her husband.

Not properly grieving a deceased wife isn't such a good idea.

You fear that once you die, it'll be too late?

Very well. Let me think...I once met a Chinese merchant who mentioned the hidden gardens of the glory who is Queen Mother of the West. He went on and on about its fruits--the variety and the fragrances and the tastes, as if he had experienced them himself.

One item might interest you. A bite of one of its peaches could prolong your life for a thousand years. I believe he called them Peaches of Immortality. The difficulty is not in the finding, but in the taking. He told of Sun Wukong, the Monkey King, charged with protecting the peaches. He chose instead to take one for himself. The gods hunted him down for his transgression. Unable to kill him, they tortured him in a long, excruciating way.

Eternity is such a long time. Are you sure you want that?

Really? You've searched for the Queen Mother's gardens, unsuccessfully?

What about endearing yourself to a god or a goddess and becoming a consort? Those Greek ones have a fondness for bestowing eternal life on their favorites.

It's not that hard to fall into their amorous graces--they visit often and treat humans as their playthings. 

If you're successful, and your Olympic partner asks the gods to bestow upon you eternal life, make sure he or she also requests eternal youth. You might reacquaint yourself with the story of Tithonus, Eos' consort, immortal but forever growing old.

You've tried that route, but Apollo refused to give you immortality?

Oh, so he did offer it, but it was the kind that he gave Orion, killed but placed in the stars for all to remember?

I understand why you didn't accept.

I hear that the Norse gods eat Apples of Youth to keep hearty and hale. Idun, the goddess of spring and eternal youth, always keeps some in a basket, and no matter how many are eaten, the basket is always full.

It has one little drawback. Unlike the Queen Mother's peaches, you don't need just one bite--you need to eat them constantly. An apple a day, in this instance, keeps death at bay.

Even if you did sneak into Asgard as a mortal, knowing what I know about those Asgardians, stealing Idun away to possess her infinite apple basket might incur their everlasting wrath. Consider instead finding where Idun grows her apples.

No stranger there, either?

Yes, that is a nasty scar. You're lucky to have lived to tell the tale.

Your experiences are quite vast. I'm sorry not to offer anything useful.

Yes, that is a large sword.

What does it matter to me that it's tasted the blood of men and monsters across the known lands and several ephemeral plains?

Yes, I do see the logic in your test. There's no need for that. Seeing that you've come all this way, I'll give you one more story.

As a girl growing up in Fukuoka, the sailors would joke of ningyos, sea creatures much like your mermaids, but not as romantic as in your tales. Imagine a large fish with the head of a monkey. Sounds ugly and unappetizing, no? But eating its flesh would give you everlasting life.

So I fished, casting lines and nets day by day, night by night, until my hands calloused over, all while praying to catch a ningyo so that I could save my grandmother, who had become so ill, she never left our house.

And finally, I caught one in my net. I could sense its magic as it fought to be free, its mouth open and gasping, revealing its jagged little teeth.

Only it was the day after my grandmother died.

I did not think of the price it would fetch for my poor family. Instead, I tore it open and took a bite, and another, and another, until only head and entrails and bones were left.

I grew up, found a husband, and raised a family, all of whom I outlived. I ran south to a different town when I couldn't bear to face the whispers of my neighbors. I married again, only to have my heart break as those I loved passed away, and I did not.

I became a wanderer and nun, providing aid and comfort to the poor and the sick, until even that started rumors that I could not escape.

And so you find me here, cloistered in this small little hut at the edge of the world, tending my little flock of sheep, waiting and waiting for what, I don't know.

If you've enough answers, then be gone.

I was unlucky enough to satisfy my quest.

Perhaps you will be, too.

About the Author
Todd Honeycutt is a Texan living in New Jersey who is confused daily by the juxtaposition of those two cultures. In alternate universes, he is a philosopher drummer for a rock band, a mushroom farmer, a psychotherapist, a geophysicist, and a truck driver, but in none is he the President of the United States. A Viable Paradise graduate, he has previously published in Nature: Futures and Fiction Vortex.