The clock was nearing 12 midnight. Everyone in the Carsagia household seems to be preparing for someone’s big day.
“Quickly! Prepare Johann’s emergency medicine!”
“Are his clothes ready?”
“Affirmative. They’re the larger set we bought yesterday.”
“The cake! Over here!”
“Where are the candles? The matches?”
As the second hand quickly approached the number twelve, the whole family waited, as Johann, a 12-year-old boy, sits in the middle of their dinner table, ready to blow his birthday cake.
“3…2…1…! Happy Birthday Johann!” shouted everybody.
After he blew off the candle lights, the well-expected phenomenon was about to happen. Johann started having a headache, as his arms, legs and whole body started adjusting to his previously oversized clothes, now taking on the body of a 13-year-old.
He faints to the ground, unconscious.
His two sisters made him sniff the aromatic anti-fainting medicine, which led him back to reality, and thus the party started.
The next day, Johann started preparing for school as usual.
“Hey, big bro!” said one of Johann’s sisters. “Tell us what changed in your body!”
“Y-yeah!” said another sister. “Since you’re 13 now…”
“W-well…not much has changed except I just grew a couple of inches…” Johann blushed and scratched his head as he began buttoning his uniform.
Clutching his school bag, he waves goodbye to his family and heads off to school, ready to surprise his classmates.
Johann belongs to a community of humans who were inflicted with radiation due to a nuclear leak. Their growth stages have been stunted every year, so they don’t grow slowly like normal humans. Instead, they drastically age physically on the exact day and time of their birthday.
“Sure wish I could be a normal kid too, like those from the other regions…” Johann thought deeply. “But hey, at least I’m living just as normal as them!”
“Hey look, it’s Johann!” shouted some of his classmates.
“Johann, you’re looking cool, man!”
“Y-yeah…” smiled Johann. “But I’m just like you guys anyway…”
The day continued on as it should, except that in the cold and chilly afternoon, Johan accidentally bumped into a depressed kid on his way home.
The kid seemed like his life had been taken away from him.
“A-are you alright, kid? Are you lost?” Johann slowly approached the poor boy. “I-I know it’s not really my business but...I think you may need help so I—”
“Don’t call me a kid, kiddo,” the boy replied in a dark, mature tone, but with a frail kid-sounding voice. Johann was confused.
“W-what do you mean?”
“Do you have an age counter?” said the boy with longing but serious eyes that were fixated onto Johann’s blue-green ones. “I’d like to prove to you my current age, if possible…so I can share with you my story.”
“Well, I do have one but…” Johann searches his empty pockets. “…I have to get it home. Don’t worry, it’s nearby. Please stay there, I’ll be right back!”
After a few minutes, Johann returns from his house with a measuring device that looks like a metallic bracelet, only with a digital display.
“Papa unexpectedly agreed to me borrowing this…I’m glad…”
“H-huh? But why?” the boy asked in confusion. “I thought you snuck it out…”
“My papa was smiling when I asked him about the age counter, but I’m not sure why. At any rate, please calm down a bit so I can measure your age.”
The two sat down on a nearby bench and Johann put the age counter onto the boy’s right arm, near his pulse. After a few seconds, the meter read shocking numbers.
“26…years…old…!?” Johann gasped and quickly retried the device. “T-that can’t be right…”
The little kid smiled. “Ah, but it’s right. I’m really an older person…but I’m still one of you guys…the RHs or Rapidly-aging Humans…”
“I just…have a weirder case of stunted growth…” said the kid as he tightened his scarf and looked at the sky. It began snowing.
“Weirder…case…?” Johann wondered.
The kid showed a wallet with an old identification card. There was also a picture of two little boys in their school days. One of them was that boy, in his current physical age right now.
“This ID card is proof that me, along with my best friend, were part of a special research team. My father was actually one of the scientists working on the nuclear plant that caused the radiation, so we were one of the first to be exposed. But because I…”
The kid gulped down in tremor, as if he choked on something. Johann listened carefully.
“Because I wanted to save father from committing suicide, I myself purged through the restricted area of the facility, where I saw father instantly jumping to the pool of boiling acid. I cried so hard, and I didn’t notice that the radiation was getting into me. Everyone else around me wore masks but I forgot mine.”
“So that’s why…you’re stuck as a kid until now?” Johann asked.
“Yeah…” the boy had slight tears in his eyes. “Father blamed himself for contributing to the nuclear leak…but really, it was the government’s fault for not putting enough men to work on the security measures…”
“I’m sorry…how rude of me.” The boy wiped his tears and jumped off his seat. “May I know your name?”
“My name? Johann…Carsagia…and you are?”
The boy gasped. “W-well, my name is Graham Sebastian…but if you say your surname is Carsagia then that could only mean…”
“…your father is…”
Graham’s face lightened up. “Please take me to your father right away!”
“R-right! But promise me you’re a good kid, okay?”
“I told you, don’t call me a kid!”
The two went back to Johann’s house, where he called his father, who was smiling as he saw Graham.
“Graham…I knew you’d return someday…” Bach smiled as he took back the age counter from Johann. “I had the age counter prepared as we promised…”
“Bach…” Graham took off his scarf and looked down on the floor after looking at Johann’s father. “You remembered our promise…”
Bach offered the guest to sit and have a drink. Graham took a sip. It was wine.
Strangely enough, the whole house smelled like a wine cellar.
“I’m 29 now, so you must be 26, right?” Bach smiled, as he patted the poor boy’s head. “I’m just glad that we found each other again after you ran away out of depression…”
“I…lived in remote towns. Some had RHs, but normal people were just too scared of me, thinking I was some immortal of sorts. I’ve asked a lot of RH doctors and specialists but none of them could find a solution for me either…I’m hopeless…Bach…”
Graham started crying like a little kid, but in a matured tone of sobbing, with each word inflicting Johann’s heart.
To this end, Bach hurriedly embraced his long-time-friend, Graham. Both their hearts throbbed at an unbelievable pace.
“Graham…I’m sorry…I’ve been trying to find you all these years and I had no luck. But I always had hope you’d return again…I’ve been doing research on my own as well, but so far, there hasn’t been any luck at—”
Graham suddenly felt an intense pain in his head.
Johann was surprised. “W-wait a minute…is this…age migraine? T-then that means he’s…going to…”
“I knew it…” Bach smiled. Johann noticed that his father smelled like wine.
“Papa…you smell like wine…”
“Looks like my years of researched finally worked, son...I’m really happy right now…”
Indeed, Graham’s clothes started ripping apart, as he kept growing and growing to the ages he’s missed. He immediately took off his shirt before it broke down, but his pants were somehow suffocating him.
“This is it…finally…” Graham shed tears of joy with a gradual change in his timbre of voice, as he felt pain with each stretch of flesh that occurred in his once frail and stagnant body. “I’ve been waiting for this my entire life…I can now…live normally…”
“Papa, get him some clothes!”
Bach helped him out and immediately grabbed some of his clothes from his room. Graham immediately wore the white polo shirt and black pants that he was given.
He then passed out after the rapid growth. Johann immediately grabbed the aromatic medicine from one of the nearby cabinets to wake his father’s friend up.
“Bach…you did it…you cured me…” said Graham with half-eyes closed and a deep, hoarse voice, fitting for his 26-year-old body. “Thank you…very much…”
“Graham…” Bach brushed Graham’s newly-grown longer hair, helped him sit down and gave him his scarf that now ran a bit short for him. “All these years I’ve experimented on wine, and the possibility that our radiation reacts to its chemicals…”
“That’s great…you really deserved more than me back then in the facilities…”
“N-no…I just…worked hard because I know you’re suffering more than ever.” Bach took him to the couch to rest. He had Graham drink some post-rapid-growth warm drink that’s usually prepared after such circumstances happen to any RH, to calm their senses.
“I drank a small amount of wine when I set out to the normal humans’ territories to find some answers to your condition, and to possibly find you somewhere. But then I noticed, little by little, that my body started growing just a little bit in 6 months, even if it wasn’t my birthday yet.”
“So this is why when you came back, the house always smelled like wine…” Johann said to his father.
“Indeed, but because our bodies don’t have enough radiation compared to Graham, it couldn’t react as much as what happened to him today. But because of that theory, I’ve decided to let him have a very strong wine that I’ve chemically modified…”
Graham’s sweaty face brightened up, as he wiped his face. “This is a breakthrough…maybe all we need to do is to drink wine to become normal humans…”
“Indeed,” said Bach, looking at his friend’s newly-developed body, with a slightly unbuttoned shirt that revealed part of his chest. “For now, since you’re here with us, you’re gonna help me with that wine project. Pretty soon, all of us, our sons and daughters, will grow normally and not have to risk their health having age migraines yearly…”
“Of course, I’ve nothing else to do…I have no family left, remember?”
And so, Graham lived with Bach’s family and he was greatly accepted. Johann and his siblings called him their uncle.