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Ending Forever by Nicholas Conley Book

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Overview: Axel Rivers can't get his head above water. Throughout his life, he's worn many hats — orphan, musician, veteran, husband, father—but a year ago, a horrific event he now calls The Bad Day tore down everything he'd built. Grief-stricken, unemployed, and drowning in debt, Axel needs cash, however he can find it.

Enter Kindred Eternal Solutions. Founded by the world's six wealthiest trillionaires and billionaires, Kindred promises to create eternal life through mastering the science of human resurrection. With the technology still being developed, Kindred seeks paid volunteers to undergo tests that will kill and resurrect their body—again and again—in exchange for a check.

Axel signs up willingly, but when he undergoes the procedure—and comes back, over and over—what will he find on the other side of death? 

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Ending Forever by Nicholas Conley Book Read Online Chapter One

It was six a.m., the sun was rising, and Axel Rivers had signed a contract permitting a horrendously wealthy organization to kill him—and bring him back—in exchange for money. 

Cold winds whistled between concrete buildings. A bus, plastered with the pale-blue logo of Kindred Eternal Solutions, pulled up to the curb, its tires crunching through gravel in a way that sounded as tired as Axel felt. His fellow human lab rats on the sidewalk—each one’s face etched with its own tale of poverty—spilled toward the bus, where an attendant checked their papers. Dozens of people had signed their lives away. And by the end of the day, Axel realized, all of them would have awoken from their first death, with six more scheduled for the week ahead. 

Axel stood back from everyone else—being six feet five and built like a tank, he often pushed himself backward to make others feel more comfortable—and clutched his contract between two blistered hands. I should walk the hell away from here, he told himself. His foolish signature glared at him from the printed page, giving permission for his murder and resuscitation. What kinda moron signs this? He started to crumple the page, then stopped. But I do need the money. 

The pay was decent enough, after all, particularly for an unemployed welder in a recession. Nothing to write home about, but it would cover a month’s rent. This was the excuse he’d told his best friend, Malik, about why he’d signed up for what he’d referred to as a “sleep study.” Malik had rolled his eyes at this—he always saw through Axel’s lies—but he hadn’t asked questions, likely knowing that Axel wouldn’t answer them. He never did. 

The tangled crowd straightened into a single-file line. Axel took the last place, towering over his peers, as everyone shuffled toward the bus. Papers rustled. Some people were turned away at the door, and Axel noticed that their faces looked relieved rather than disappointed. They must’ve failed the psych examinations and personal history inquiries, he thought. Maybe that’ll get me booted, too. The hope that this brought him, though, seemed as dim as the shards of light peeking through the cloudy sky. 

Axel’s phone buzzed—a reminder that his credit card payment was three months overdue. He sighed. He’d planned to use the Kindred money for rent, but at some point, he’d also have to tackle the credit cards, the personal loan, the insurance bills, the electricity, the collections bill, and all the other junk that had stacked up since The Bad Day. 

Don’t think about it. He closed his eyes, counted to three, then opened them. 

“Papers, please,” asked the attendant, a mustached man with noticeably chapped lips. Axel jolted back into reality. He held out his contract, and the attendant scanned the barcode. “Axel Rivers,” the attendant said. “Thank you for your service.”

Axel nodded. Part of him appreciated it when people said that. Another part of him was tired of it—tired of wondering whether people actually meant it, or if were just commending him because they felt guilty not doing so.

“When we arrive, sign in on the second floor,” the attendant said. “Next!”

Axel boarded the obnoxiously short bus, ducking his head down to fit inside. Claustrophobic. Hate it. He hunched down into an open seat, took out his phone again, and swiped away dozens of unpaid bill reminders. Just as he was about to open his email, his photos app blasted its own reminder—“Two years ago today!” it said while displaying a photo of a little boy in a Superman costume, jumping off a couch with the world’s widest grin. 

Axel’s heart pounded. Aaron.

He closed his eyes and counted to three again. Don’t think about it. He counted to ten. It’s been a year. Don’t. Think. About. It.

Exhaling, eyes open, he pocketed his phone, thinking—not for the first time—that he should sell it online and get himself a cheap flip phone instead. Outside the window, the clouds cracked open, releasing the rainfall they’d been pregnant with all morning. Axel thought about how each individual raindrop plummeted downward—down, down, down—never knowing, perhaps, that it was headed for such a hard landing. 

“Daddy,” Aaron had once asked him, pointing at a puddle. “What’ll happen to that rainwater when the sun comes out?”

“Depends,” Axel had told his son. “If the sun’s hot enough? It’ll evaporate, probably.”

Aaron had paused for a long time, his big hazel eyes looking remarkably concerned about this concept. “When water evaporates, Daddy, does it... die?”

“Nah, kid. Water never dies. It just changes.”

Axel rested his head against the cool glass. He stared into the murky stream that was forming alongside the curb. It just changes. He stared at the contract, trembling with anxiety, and wondered if—when he died in a few hours—the Axel Rivers who came back would be the same person. 

Many possible answers to this question swam through his head, but none of them brought him comfort.


“DUDE, ARE YOU FUCKING serious?” A seventeen-year-old Malik passed the burning joint. “You’re joining the military... what, after graduation? That’s your plan?”

The group of high schoolers laughed. Ax Rivers—back then, he didn’t like using his full name—cracked a grin, though it had more to do with him being stoned than any amusement at Malik’s comments. Taking the joint that was passed to him, he said, “Yeah. So?”

“It’s weird. That’s all,” Malik said while glancing out the basement window, to make sure Tim’s parents weren’t coming. “No offense or anything.”

Ax pulled smoke deep into his lungs. “Whatever.” He stifled a cough.

“It’s just not what anybody would expect from you, Ax,” said Tim, their friend from History class, and the one in their friend group with the biggest house. “You’re, like, a musician, dude. I thought you were gonna be the type to hit the road with your guitar, in a van or something, then hit the big leagues, be in a major band.”

Ax wrapped his fingers around the neck of his guitar protectively. “I can still do that, after I get back. Can do both.” 

He took another hit then passed the joint to Cynthia. The group kept talking, but as the cannabis sunk into them, their voices blurred. He cared less and less what the others thought. His comfy, middle-class friends—other than Malik, his fellow foster kid—couldn’t understand. They had supportive parents. Colleges to sign up for. Futures laid out for them. Families that would have their back and two-story houses with yards and garages that they could always come back to if things went wrong, with all their childhood things waiting in their childhood bedrooms.

Ax didn’t have any of those luxuries. His parents had died when he was five. He had no family, no clear future, no guaranteed success. After growing up in foster care, bouncing from home to home—the latest being his current place, where his foster parents barely spoke to him and kept locks and alarms on everything from the windows to the fridge—he knew full well that the world didn’t care if he failed. Nobody was in his corner. Joining the military, as much as it scared him senseless, seemed the only surefire way to build a stable future for himself.

Malik’s voice broke through the smoky haze. “I’m worried you’d get killed, man,” Malik said. “Aren’t you scared of that?”

Ax shrugged. 

“That stuff freaks me out.” Malik passed the joint again. “Death, I mean. Not the physical part, but what happens after. Like, what if God is real? Or any deity. What if the universe... wherever we go, when our bodies die, what if we just have to face up to something so absurdly huge, so impossible for our dumb little brains to comprehend. Existence itself, infinity, God, whatever. I mean, what if we’re just tiny fucking cogs in some goddamn huge wheel that doesn’t give a shit about us, and when we die, we realize how small we really are?”

Ax had never really thought about it that way, before that day in the basement. But after hearing Malik put it that way, he never stopped thinking about it.


WHEN AXEL EXITED THE bus, the rain had stopped, much to his relief—ever since The Bad Day, rainstorms had become one of his worst triggers. He stared up at the surprisingly nondescript office building for a moment, his legs shaking like two dominos in a breeze, and then followed the crowd inside. Turn around and march out of here, dumbass, he thought. No check is worth getting killed over. 

He pressed forward. The décor of the office building was elegant but artless. He followed the signs until he landed at a lobby that looked more like an emergency room—aside from the glowing blue KINDRED logo on the back wall, anyway—and was filled with rows of chairs, each one occupied, with much of the floor crowded with people as well. Most of these people, he was fairly sure, were homeless. He saw it in their clothes, their postures, and particularly the way they lowered their eyes when he faced them. Thinking about Kindred’s strategy—taking advantage of the vulnerable, to create new privileges for the rich—made Axel sick, a feeling only worsened by the realization that he, too, was a vulnerable person being taken advantage of. He hated seeing himself that way.

Carefully stepping over a homeless old man sleeping on the floor—another veteran, he noticed—Axel approached the receptionist, who was shielded behind bulletproof glass. She was a tiny, fortysomething white woman with blond pigtails, and she flashed him a phony smile. “Hi, sir! Are you here for Kindred?”

“Yep.” Axel reached behind his head, rubbing his neck. “Got this contract thing.” 

He slid the papers beneath the glass. She picked it up by the corner, between two fingers, as if avoiding contamination. Running down it with her spectacled eyes, she pointed to the bottom. “You left some questions blank, Mr. Rivers. Do I have your permission to get verbal answers? Kindred requires every part of this to be completed, for legal reasons.”

Great. “Sure.”

“Do you suffer from any underlying medical conditions?”

“Knee cartilage issues. Broke my back once, when I was in the military. Just a bad fall. Healed up, but still get pains when I lift something. Nothing else, I don’t think.” 




“Multiracial,” he said. 

She eyed him carefully. Oh, here it comes. He could hear her objectifying question before she even uttered it. “What are you, exactly?” she asked. “Can you be clearer?”

Axel knew there was no way to win this. Not answering led to judgment, prejudices, and more questions. Answering it did much the same. With a sigh, he finally took the tactic of overexplaining. “My mother was Cambodian. Some French, too. Father was Black. He had a white English grandparent, and some Samoan, too. Supposedly there’s a little German somewhere, forget which side.” He rubbed his eyes. “Clear enough for you?”

She didn’t react. “Religion? Beliefs about the afterlife?”

He shrugged. “Don’t know. Nothing specific.”

“Hmm.” She seemed annoyed by this. “Okay, well, bloodwork looks good. No criminal background. You still need to go through orientation, though. You’ll be in Group 13.” She passed him a slip of paper under the glass. “Now, let’s see...” 

A TV screen behind the woman played an antidepressant commercial, depicting a father and son on the beach, racing into the ocean together. The man held his boy up into the air, teaching him how to swim, as a muffled voice announced carefully scripted platitudes about “taking your life back” while rapidly moving subtitles listed all the potential side effects. The little boy squeezed the father’s hand, and as the father smiled, Axel tensed up. Don’t think about it. Axel closed his eyes and started counting as fear boiled within him. Don’t have an anxiety attack here. Don’t do it.

“Mr. Rivers?” the receptionist asked, and he realized that he had zoned out.

“My bad. Can you repeat that?”

“Again, for legal purposes—in the past six months, have you ever experienced suicidal thoughts, even once?”

Axel glanced back at the TV. The commercial was over. He squirmed under the receptionist’s razored gaze. You’ve lied your way in so far. Why stop here? You going to chicken out at the last second by telling them the truth? 

“You’re going to be dying, Mr. Rivers,” the receptionist said. “Over and over again. We need to know that there’s no risk of you trying to use our program as a way to commit —"

“Don’t worry,” he said with a forced smile. “I’m good.”

She checked a box. “Great! Welcome to Kindred.” 

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