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Death by Deaging

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We'll all get younger and younger until we suffer a fate worse than death: pre-life! Then death.
Professor Farnsworth, Futurama, "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles"
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The Fountain of Youth seems an attractive idea, especially for the elderly; you get to wind back the clock and prolong your life. However much like a drug, it can come with dangers if overdosed. If it has a continuous effect, the youth could make someone so young they regress to before they were born, becoming a fetus exposed to the world and at severe risk of dying. Or worse, regressing beyond that to the point that they don't even exist!

Maybe it's because someone spent too much time in the Fountain of Youth, causing it to go horribly right. Or the youth continues to decrease someone's age even outside of it. If someone suffers from Merlin Sickness, this might be how it ultimately kills them. Could be considered a form of Harmful Healing, with the "healing" part being healing away age.

When someone's birth is literally undone instead of reverting before it, it's a Ret Gone situation. Contrast Rapid Aging, where someone rapidly ages and can be at risk of becoming too old to live rather than too young, or No Immortal Inertia, where someone reverts to their true ancient age and dies because of it. This might be part of what makes the Devolution Device so dangerous, though it usually "just" sending someone back down the Evolutionary Levels.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics
    • Drom the Backwards Man was a one-shot Marvel villain who was born in the body of an old man and aged backwards, Benjamin Button-style. He attempted to stop this trope by absorbing life energy from others with a magical mirror, but when the mirror was shattered during Drom's battle with Spider-Man and Iron Fist he rapidly de-aged into a newborn baby and then disappeared.
    • Spider-Man: Silvermane, a Maggia crimelord, had feared death due to his age and blackmailed Dr. Curt Connors into making a serum with the aid of a special tablet that was discovered. It worked too well and he ended up being de-aged out of existence temporarily.
  • Requiem Vampire Knight: On the hellish afterworld of Requiem, people (or at least vampires) age backwards. Hence, especially long-lived characters such as Lord Cryptos look like babies, and it is inferred he will continue de-aging until he truly dies. Only members of Dracula's bloodline possess real immortality.
  • In Phase V of Zenith, Dr Michael Peyne is cursed with a nice dose of Merlin Sickness by the Lloigor, just so he has enough time to appreciate the reality-warping apocalypse he's caused. Worse still, it actually seems to pick up speed over time. Eventually, writing the final pages of his Apocalyptic Log in a childish scrawl, a very young Peyne crawls into bed for a nap; when Ruby arrives to say goodbye to him, he's just a baby draped in his adult-sized shirt. Gloating, Ruby takes baby Peyne to the balcony to give him one last look at the world he created, whereupon he floats away, shrinking down into a fetus, then an embryo, before he finally vanishes into nothing.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the 2002 film Malefique, prisoners sharing a cell discover a mysterious book that make their greatest wishes come true — albeit with massive caveats attached. The original owner of the book, one Charles Danvers, attempted to use its powers to regain his youth, but as the flashback shows, got more of it than he bargained for: shrinking back down into a toddler, he is quickly reduced to scrambling out of his oversized clothes and hiding under the bed in a futile attempt to escape the effects of the magic; the very next cut reveals that he's transformed into a fetus, which then dissolves into nothingness.
  • Crops up in an unusual way in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps. After realizing that he needs to reabsorb Buddy Love in order to restore his own collapsing intellect, Sherman Klump fills a rubber ball with his prototype youth serum and tricks Buddy into chasing it like a dog — exposing him to the serum when he manages to catch it in his mouth. Regressing to a toddler, Buddy manages to escape the room after further antics... only to continue regressing into a puddle of transparent blue slime that continues fleeing the building. Following a chase scene, the slime finally evaporates after being outside for too long, at first making it look as though the story is going to conclude on a Downer Ending — up until the last few traces of Buddy end up in a fountain, which Sherman drinks from to regain his mind.
  • The Poof Point: This is the central plot, where two kids are fighting to figure out what went wrong with their parents' invention while said parents mentally regress from middle age into infancy, knowing that their parents' previous experiments all went "poof" the second they had no further left to mentally regress.
  • In Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies, the wounded thief who accidentally frees the Djinn is so terrified by his appearance and the predicament he's been left in that he wishes that he was never born. Cue painful devolution until he does just that.
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    Literature 
  • Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator: Willy Wonka has managed to develop Wonka-Vite pills, which decrease someone's age by 20 years exactly. The elderly characters take four, despite some of them barely being in their eighties. One is younger than eighty, causing their age to be in minus years which leads them to become strange negative ghosts who are at risk being the prey of Gnoolies.
  • Goosebumps: A variation occurs in "Cuckoo Clock of Doom", where the protagonist is gradually sent further and further into his own past by the titular object and has to find a way to reverse the process before he disappears.
  • In A Million Adventures, an Alice, Girl from the Future novel, there is a time screen, under which time goes backwards. When it's accidentally left unattended, a rooster comes under the screen, turns into a chicken, then into an egg, then vanishes completely. Heracles, a pithecanthropus, crawls under the screen to eat that egg and barely escapes the same fate.
  • Frank R. Stockton's The Queen's Museum and Other Fanciful Tales, short story "Old Pipes and the Dryad". When a dryad kisses a human being, the person's age is reduced by ten years. People who live in an area where dryads are found are careful to not allow children of ten years or less to wander freely. If a child that young is kissed by a dryad, they will be made so young that they will cease to exist.
  • In Red Dwarf: Backwards, Lister has been transported to the Backwards Universe in order to reverse his fatal heart attack in the previous book. After living a long, happy and time-reversed marriage with his girlfriend Christine Kochanski, he is eventually due to be picked up by the Red Dwarf crew in his mid-twenties and returned to the normal universe. Unfortunately, given the crew's predictable screw-ups, they end up missing the window to leave and getting trapped there for ten years, during which Lister and the Cat are regressed to teenagers. When they finally get to try again, Kryten is deeply concerned that if they screw up this time, they won't get to leave until the two organic crew-members are toddlers, with any further mistakes resulting in them regressing even further and suffering "a very sticky end." Fortunately, they get it right on the second try.
    • According to both Backwards and Last Human, Lister and Kochanski's children have already experienced this in the Backwards Universe; having been rescued alongside her husband in Last Human and having acclimatized to living in a Forwards Universe, Kochanski can now remember seeing her children shrinking down into infants before being pushed back inside her.
  • In Turnabout by Margaret Peterson Haddix, elderly people are given a de-aging treatment. While they don't know exactly what will happen when they de-age to zero, the tests suggest this trope.

    Live-Action TV 
  • This is narrowly avoided in House of Anubis: when Alfie is cursed to de-age, he becomes a pre-teen, and then a baby, with the implication being that if Nina, Fabian and Patricia weren't able to stop the curse in time, he would've been de-aged out of existence.
  • The Man From Uncle: "One of Our Spies Is Missing" involves a biochemist who has discovered the secret of restoring youth, which he uses to restore a retired famous statesman Sir Norman Swickert back to vitality to carry on his career. However, the process puts a considerable strain on the body, with him warning if used to much the machine will "turn you into a boy, a dead boy." He later uses the same process to commit suicide rather than risk his technology being controlled by THRUSH.
  • In the The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Last Supper", a Mad Scientist kidnaps an immortal woman in an attempt to manufacture a de-aging drug from her blood and heal the scars he gained the last time he captured her. Unfortunately for him, he miscalculates the drug's potency by a wide margin: after a brief Hope Spot in which he appears to have stopped in his twenties, he undergoes an extremely painful and Body Horror-iffic regression process, shrinking back through adolescence, childhood, infancy, before finally dissolving into a a puddle of cells.
  • Referenced in Red Dwarf, when Kochanski warns that carelessly playing around with the Time Wand could end up transforming Lister into a sperm.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Too Short A Season" features the famous, elderly admiral Jameson having discovered a drug on Cerberus II which can restore youth but carries a high mortality rate at the best of times. Despite initially planning to slowly take it with his wife, upon Karnas, an opponent of his from decades previous, organising a hostage situation and demanding to speak to him. Jameson takes both doses so he'll be young enough to face him. The effect causes him to de-age younger than the point he met Karnas, with the strain of the changes killing him shortly afterwards.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement Curse of the Chthonians, adventure "The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn". The Time/Space Machine is able to de-age an object or creature, moving it back in time and making it younger. If a creature is moved back to before it was born, it will cease to exist.

    Video Games 
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police: In the episode "Moai Better Blues", Sam & Max encounter various people who had gone missing years ago that have turned into babies from drinking the fountain of youth. Among them is Jimmy Hoffa, who blocks the way into a cave the need to access. In order to get rid of him, Sam & Max have to trick him into drinking more of the fountain of youth, causing him to vanish.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • In The Dragon Doctors this happened to most of the research team that discovered the Fountain of Youth, as well as every other living thing in the area. When the water is replicated and mass-produced it includes a safeguard that stops the de-aging process at babyhood.
  • Magellan a woman who obtained deaging powers from a genie nearly does this to hero Gola Beh. While she's stopped before Gola de-ages into non-existence, Gola still winds up as a teenager from it.

    Western Animation 
  • Codename: Kids Next Door:
    • The Delightful Children from Down the Lane threaten to do this by setting the dial on their age-changing ray to "age 0", saying it will make the Kids Next Door vanish forever when they use it on them. They never actually get the chance to try it, though.
    • Leaky Leona tried to kill the Kids Next Door by spraying them with the waters of the Fountain of Youth in order to get rid of witnesses. She was stopped by the Delightful Children from Down the Lane when they destroyed the Fountain.
  • Family Guy: In "Yug Ylimaf", Brian's screwing with Stewie's time machine causes the time to run backward and at an accelerated state. Stewie becomes panicked when he starts to revert in development, and the two are in a race against time to set things back to the normal before Stewie is returned to the womb and gets unmade.
  • Futurama: In "Teenage Mutant Leela's Hurdles", the crew visits a Neptunian spa so the rejuvenation tar can make Professor Farnsworth less of an obnoxious old man. They end up getting in the tar and turning into teenagers (Farnsworth becomes middle-aged). He attempts to cure them of the tar with bacteria (except Leela who chooses to stay a teen). Not only does it fail, but the bacteria starts spreading the tar, causing them to become progressively younger over time. The crew is in a rush to get to the Fountain of Aging before they regress to pre-life, then death and non-existence.
  • The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy: "The Halls of Time" has the crew visiting a realm where the hourglasses of people's lifespan is kept. Billy ends up putting his, Irwin and Mandy's hourglasses upside down, causing them to de-age. They become progressively younger until they're reduced to fetuses, and Grim chooses not to turn their hourglasses back to normal so they can cease to exist. Thinking he has the last laugh, Grim learns that Billy put his hourglasses upside down. He's unable to lift his huge hourglass by the time he reaches it, and de-ages out of existence at the end of the episode.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot: Due to complications involving Time Dilation in "Good Old Sheldon", Sheldon ends up becoming an old man. Dr. Wakeman manages to create a de-aging mechanism based on Jenny's movements, however, she's still fighting once he gets back to his normal age. By the time he's an infant, Dr. Wakeman warns Jenny not to make any movements lest Sheldon be reduced to a zygote, and has to age another 15 years to get back to normal.
  • In the Rainbow Butterfly Unicorn Kitty episode "Fountain of Too Much Youth", Miguel was at risk of dying in this way after going in the fountain of youth. This was inverted in that same episode when Felicity fed him stinky cheese which aged him to an elderly condition. Later, he was returned to normal.
  • In the The Real Ghostbusters episode, "Three Men and an Egon", Egon gets caught in the proton beams along with a ghost that ages in reverse, causing them to exchange aging processes. As a result, Egon begins to de-age from an adult to a baby at an alarming rate. Ray, Peter, Winston, and Slimer have to find the ghost and reverse the process before Egon disappears.
  • In the Regular Show episode "Terror Tales Of The Park II", Margaret tells a ghost story of how Mordecai, Rigby, Eileen, and herself joined a party bus, only to soon discover that everyone was rapidly aging to the point of turning to dust. The four try to escape but the bus driver laughs as he refuses to stop. They find a hatch on the roof to climb out of. As everyone jumps off the bus to freedom, they suddenly start de-aging into young adults, then teenagers, then children, then babies, then finally into nothing.
  • The final episode of Star Trek: The Animated Series features the crew accidentally getting stranded in a backwards universe, in which the "old" ultimately die at the nadir of infancy; for good measure, in the novelization of this episode, Spock admits to being rather curious as to how obstetrics work in this reality. Later, while speeding towards a nova star that can return them to their universe, the crew of the Enterprise begin to experience the effects of reverse Time Dilation: instead of observing the passage of time at a much slower speed than anything outside the ship, they experience it at a drastically accelerated rate - and because people age in reverse in this reality, the crew find themselves getting younger and younger until they run the risk of ceasing to exist. Worse still, the regressed also lose access to their adult knowledge, leaving them with progressively fewer qualified crew-members to get them to the nova star in time. Fortunately, there's a septuagenarian commodore and his wife on board to save the day.
  • Discussed in the Steven Universe episode "Steven's Birthday": Overusing shapeshifting to appear older ends up reducing Steven to infancy. The morning after he fell asleep as a baby, Connie finds the shirt he was wearing lying around and is afraid he regressed further into a zygote. Steven actually returned to normal and just changed clothes before she woke up.
  • In the T.U.F.F. Puppy episode "Pup Daddy", a gadget called the Young Gun causes the agents sans Dudley and Snaptrap and his gang to gradually de-age from teen to toddler to baby. Dudley has to return them to normal before they age backwards too much that they cease to exist.
  • A mental variant occurs in the Young Justice episode "Bereft", where the team is hit by a psionic attack which erases the last few months of their memory. For the vat-grown Superboy, that's all the memory he has, so they end up with a mindless berserker.

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