“Don’t talk like that, Andrew,” I implored.
“But it’s true, isn’t it? I’ve been in this damn bed for months. I can hardly stay conscious anymore.”
“Okay, Andy. What is it?” I patted his pallid forehead with the washcloth.
“Peter, you’ve got to promise that you’ll try your best to carry out my wishes.”
Andy was seriously doped up; I knew this. The cancer in his brain was way out of control. If it wasn’t the tumor causing hallucinations and delusions, it was the morphine. My time as a doctor has taught me many things, and one thing I’ve learned is to comfort those near death.
“What is it, Andy?”
“This sounds very insane, but I want you to know that I’m completely lucid right now.”
“All right, just tell me.”
“After I die, I’m donating my body to your university for study. When it arrives, I want you to collect my corpse. I want you to re-animate it.”
“Jesus, Andrew!” I exclaimed without meaning to. I knew he was ill, but this was ludicrous. “I can’t promise that. There’s no way. It isn’t possible.”
“But, you’ve attempted it. I know you have. And, you’ve had some promising results.”
“How do you know that?” I asked. I thought I’d done my best to keep my work under wraps.
“I have my resources. Use my body, Peter.”
“No, Andrew. No way in hell.”
“Why? Are you afraid you might succeed?” asked Andrew in a condescending tone.
“A little,” I admitted.
A quiet beat passed.
“You need to rest now,” I said. I’ll be back later this evening.”
“If you don’t do this, I swear I will haunt you forever,” he said as I stood from my chair.
“Andy. . . please sleep. I will see you later.”
I walked out of his room, anxious. How did he know about my private studies? Was there a leak? No one knew of my experiments but me. I thought no one else knew. If someone did know enough to inform Andrew, who was it?
As I entered my office, I quietly shut and locked the door. I went to my desk drawers. The lock was tampered with, and the drawers opened with ease. Marveling, I retrieved my notes from them. Whoever had broken into my locked desk drawers could have told Andy. I still couldn’t think of anyone who would know to search there. Maybe my desk burglar had been searching for something else. For what, I don’t know.
It was a part of my career of which I was not proud, and a part that I was willing to forget. The paper shredder was in my closet. I removed it. I fed the machine page by page of my insane notes. Out of sight, out of mind – I hoped. No one else would be releasing information detrimental to my career, my status as a trusted physician, and detrimental to my freedom from a mental facility. If any medical societies – or the government – discovered my findings. . . I put it out of my mind.
“Dr. Keller,” my secretary’s voice rang out from the intercom and startled me.
“Your friend Andrew Franklin . . .”
‘What about him!”
“He’s passed away in his sleep,” she answered, her voice carried a morose tone.
I raced across the street to the hospital, down the sterile, freezing corridors to Andy’s room. The coroner and two other men were exiting.
“I’m so sorry, Peter,” the coroner, John, said and placed a gentle hand on my shoulder.
“But, I’ve only left him an hour ago!” I wailed. “I only left him an hour ago!” I repeated as I collapsed to my knees. “It isn’t possible,” I whispered, tears warming my cheeks.
The coroner’s two assistants helped me to my feet.
“Peter, go get some rest. There’s nothing more that you can do.” I don’t know where this voice came from. I was swooning. Everything around me began to swirl. I closed my eyes tight, then opened them again. Still, the swirling did not cease, and then everything went black.
I was awakened by the warm afternoon sunlight on my face. According to my watch, I’d been asleep for four hours. I was lying on a couch in my office. There was a hard knock on my door, and I started.
“Come in…?” I responded, still in half sleep.
“Peter,” it was Jack, my assistant from the university. “I’m so sorry to bother you right now, and especially with this, but you have to sign for Andy’s body. It’s just arrived at the university’s laboratories.”
“Why do I have to sign for it?”
“You’re the head of that department, Peter,” said Jack, concern in his voice. “Just sign here, and we won’t have to bother you anymore today. You’re very pale. Has anyone had a look at you yet? I suggest you go home, have a drink of whiskey or two, and get some proper sleep.”
“Sure. Thanks, Jack,” I said as I apathetically signed his papers.
“Cancel your engagements, if you have any. Just get some sleep.”
I remained silent as Jack gathered his papers and prepared to leave the room.
“Don’t blame yourself, Peter. Doctors can only do so much. You aren’t God, you know.”
“If I were, I wouldn’t take the life of such an intelligent and young man as Andrew. He was only thirty-five, Jack.”
“Death is not restricted to the old and weak, Peter. You’ve seen enough to know . . .”
“So what! I’ve seen many things. You’ve seen many things. What if the things we’ve seen could have been prevented?” I said.
“That is the reason Andrew has donated his body to research, so that perhaps in the future more people won’t have to suffer as he had. Peter, Andy was my friend, too. I know you’re angry, but don’t take it out on those of us who are still here to help you grieve.”
“There’s a way to beat death, Jack, and I know it. I’ve seen it.” I felt madness creeping into my head.
“You have not.”
“Yes, I have.”
“Prove it, then!”
But I couldn’t prove it. I couldn’t because my notes were reduced to confetti, because I’d gotten a pang of guilt over trying to undo God’s mistakes.
“Death is a part of life that we cannot escape, Peter,” said Jack. “God does not make mistakes.”
“My ass,” I thought, but I didn’t verbalize it to Jack.
I did take Jack’s advice. I eventually made my way home, took two diazepam, and lay in bed. Although I lay wrapped in the coziness of the anti-anxiety medication, something was still haunting my mind. What if I could re-animate dead tissue? Of course, Andrew’s brain would not function. Even if I blasted it with all the electrical impulses in the universe, he would only regain the most basic involuntary actions. Replacing his mind with another’s was out of the question. That would not work either. Any brain that has died would not regain enough function for anything other than involuntary performance. When Andrew referred to my near success, he was referring to one subject whose heart and lungs I’d actually been able to stimulate. I was so disgusted that I abandoned the experiments altogether. I was already risking my entire career and the possibility of being charged with abominable crimes.
With this on my mind, and under the influence of a third dose of diazepam, I fell asleep. My sleep was interrupted by terrible dreams, and I awoke every so often, shivering and sweating. It seemed someone stood at the foot of my bed, pointing at me. I shot up and gazed madly about for this anonymous visitor at my bed.
“Is someone in here?” I asked aloud, but I didn’t see anyone. “Who’s there?”
I still saw no one, but my curtains whipped about madly; the hanging lamp above my bed swung back and forth as if caught in a gale. I felt a sudden chill and shivered. Then, very suddenly, everything stopped. The new motionlessness of everything and silence felt maddening. I realized I couldn’t hold out on Andrew any longer. If there were a way, I’d be the man to discover it.
I should have weighed the consequences, but I didn’t. That isn’t the way these kinds of tales go, you see. Men like me never weigh out consequences; we merely act. We act, and then we cringe and cower from our revelations. But I get ahead of myself.
The streets were empty as I drove to the university’s research laboratory. It felt as if some ethereal being accompanied me. You know that bizarre feeling of being watched, even though you seem to be alone? The hair on my arms stood rigid, and my head began to feel as if someone were crushing it, as if a great vice were gripping my skull. Again, I swooned, and I hurriedly pulled my car to the side. I leapt out like a madman. A passing police vehicle stopped behind my car, and the officer got out.
“Are you all right, man?” asked he.
“Yes, I’m fine. I’m fine,” I answered, my hands shaking out of control.
“Have you been drinking tonight, sir?” The officer asked as he shone his flashlight in my face.
I shielded my eyes and turned away, “No, I haven’t been. My name is Dr. Peter Keller, and I have an emergency at the university. I have to get there right away.”
“Something wrong with your car then?”
“Um . . . Yes, something is wrong with my car. It sputtered and died on me. Thankfully, I was able to pull out of the road in time,” I lied.
“You need a ride to the hospital or whatever, then?”
“Yes, yes that would be great, the university hospital. Thank you.”
“What about your car? Want me to call a tow truck?”
“Sure, yes. Call a tow truck. Have it towed to this address,” I said as I scribbled down my house number and street on a slip of paper.
“Gee, you doctors don’t practice penmanship, do you?” commented the officer as I handed him the paper.
“No, we don’t. Can we go now?”
“Yeah, get in the car.”
The cop dropped me off behind the building, as I’d instructed. When he was out of sight, I removed my keys from my pocket. My shaking hands struggled to get the key into the lock. No one entered the building this way anymore, no one but me. The door slowly creaked open. I was afraid to enter the absolute darkness which lay inside. From my bag, I removed a large flashlight. The spears of light illuminated my path as I rushed to my secret lab. This portion of the hospital had remained unused for years. No one ever came down this way. It was the morgue before they added on ten years ago. Some space was used for storage, but not much. I did not want to be alone in this building, and I truly did not want to be alone in this building with Andrew’s corpse before me on a slab. But, I could not disappoint my deceased friend. Though I was at first skeptical about life after death and any spirit’s ability to haunt anyone, I’d changed my mind.
The place was cold as the arctic. I flicked on the lights. Each fluorescent cylinder fluttered to life one by one, and I set up my workstation. The hum of the machines was deafening. I wished I had brought a radio to drown out the sound.
To retrieve the body, I would have to enter the inhabited section of the hospital. I needed some sort of strategy. There was no way to explain my bringing a corpse down here. I could not rouse suspicion. If anyone found me out, my entire endeavor would be over.
I walked through the corridors, as casual as always. I nodded to the nurses, interns and students working in various departments of the hospital. I did not notice someone jogging behind me to catch up, however.
“Peter, where are you going? Why aren’t you home asleep?”
“Jack! Hello!” My hands were trembling still, and I put them in my pockets. “I . . . I decided to get this over with. I’d really much rather do these dissections now than have to wait.”
“I don’t think you’re well enough, Peter. You’re shaking like crazy. Did you drive over here like this?”
“No, I caught a ride over. I’m fine, Jack, really. I just don’t think I could do it any other time.”
“Then let me come assist you. I don’t think you should be handling any sharp tools right now. You’re liable to chop off your own hand!” said he with concern.
“Please!” I hollered without meaning to. “I’m sorry, Jack. Just let me do this, all right?”
“I think we should find someone else altogether to do this, Peter. How can they expect you to do it? Andrew was your best friend. The director . . .”
“The director has seen so much suffering that he is immune to it by now! I am the head doctor, and I shall perform the procedures!”
Jack stood back and stared at me in wonderment. There were no words, and I really didn’t feel like speaking to him at this moment. For a few very long moments we stood silently glaring at one another. I finally dropped my head and brushed past him, but the stubborn fool followed me.
“Peter, stop! Stop for God’s sake!”
And, I did stop. I stopped and doubled over in a hysterical fit of laughter. Jack stopped some feet away from me; he was afraid of me at that moment. This realization caused me to laugh even more.
“You’re insane with grief, Peter! I’m calling down a psychiatrist from upstairs for you.”
I stopped laughing abruptly and caught his arms in my fists. His face twisted into an ugly grimace, and I put my face close to his. “Don’t you dare,” I growled.
“Peter! Stop this! Let me go!”
We struggled together, finally ending up on the floor. I removed my hands from his wrists and wrapped them perilously around his throat.
“No, now you have to come with me, Jack,” I whispered. “I can’t have you upsetting my plans with your silly suspicions, now can I?”
“What plans? You’re insane!” choked he.
“Come help me get the body. I’ll explain downstairs,” I said rising off of him.
“Downstairs? What in the hell is downstairs, Peter! I won’t move from this spot until you explain this craziness!”
I reached out and grasped his jacket. With a tremendous yank, I pulled him toward me. He cried out. “I said I will explain downstairs,” I growled. Jack’s eyes grew wide and then closed in resignation. I freed him from my grasp, and he stumbled backward. “Now, come on. Be quiet about it, too,” I said. “It’s bad enough I have you tagging along,” said I, straightening my jacket. “Don’t try anything funny, either,” I added.
Jack and I wheeled the gurney to the elevators in silence. His eyes never left me, and I felt like an insect under a magnifying glass. No one paid much attention to us, which made me very glad. My previous fears melted away. I realized that most of them probably had no idea whose body was even under the dull white sheet, nor did they care. It may seem odd that we’d be handling this at three in the morning, but I’m a busy man. There are plenty of nights that I stay at the hospital to catch up on my work. I think the fact that Jack was with me helped, though I didn’t really want him there. I had no worries about him reporting me, however, since I’d already explained that if he decided to do so, I would simply name him as my accomplice.
As we entered my lab, in the practically abandoned portion of the hospital, Jack stopped still and stared about.
“Come on, lock the door behind you, Jack,” I ordered.
“What kind of things are you doing down here, Peter?”
I sighed, “I said I would explain, so I will. Some years ago I began to think that as such highly evolved beings, we should be able to conquer simple natural occurrences.”
“Such as death?” asked he in a frightened tone.
“Exactly, Jack. Such as death.”
“You’re talking about the re-animation of dead tissue. You’re talking about playing God, Peter!”
“Perhaps if God does not want us to perform these experiments, He can stop us now, eh?” I said sarcastically.
“I wish He would,” responded he.
“Well, let’s see what He’ll do, then. Help me move the body to the slab, will you? I don’t have much time. Andrew’s already been dead for too long.”
“You realize this is an impossible task.”
“No, apparently I do not realize that, Jack,” I said as I backed him against the wall.
“Put the scalpel down, Peter. You’ll have a hard time disposing of my body.”
“Good point, old man. Good point! Don’t make my task any more difficult than it already is, OK?”
“OK, Peter, all right. Let’s just get this nightmare over with, please, before I vomit.”
Andrew’s body was rigid with rigor mortis; his abdomen was bloated with trapped gases, and his blue lips lay open. As I opened his skull with my saw, his leg gave an involuntary kick. Jack screamed, and I wanted to turn on him with my instrument.
“There’s still energy in his muscles. That’s good,” I said.
“This is sick, Peter.”
“You’ve seen plenty of corpses kick, Jack. You’ve even had them sit up on you before.”
“I know, and I hate it more every time.”
I attached wires directly to different sections of the brain. With some blood I’d acquired from upstairs, I set up an IV to replenish the dead tissue. As I was placing the oxygen mask over his face, Andrew’s corpse jerked and spat a great stream of dead blood. Jack turned away, gagging. I rolled my eyes at him and cleaned Andrew’s face.
“It’s merely the release of air, Jack. Don’t be a fool. I haven’t even totally powered up the machines, yet.”
Once everything was in place, and I was sure we were set to begin, I went to each machine one by one. I began with the electrical stimulators attached to the brain, then the oxygen, and so forth. If first results proved promising, I would turn on the life support to sustain Andrew while I finished working.
“Jack, get the defibrillator ready. I think we may need to give him a jump start.”
Jack did as I ordered. He handed me the paddles and returned to his spot in the corner.
“Clear!” I shouted in my madness – ZAP.
Andrew’s body jumped a good foot from the slab. I could hear Jack sobbing in the corner, and again I wanted badly to harm him.
“Clear!” I shouted again and shocked Andrew’s body.
It gave another short jolt then flopped down.
“Come on, man! Do something!” I screamed and slammed my fists into Andrew’s chest.
Another great pool of blood spurted from his dead mouth. It covered the inside of the oxygen mask in a dripping crimson stain. I slammed my fists into his chest again, another spurt of blood. I repeated this over and over until finally Jack tore me away.
“Stop it, damn you! Stop it! He’s dead! Why can’t you realize this?”
I tore and growled like a wild animal until Jack subdued me to the floor.
“He’s not dead, Jack. He isn’t! He isn’t!”
“Yes, he is, Peter. Stop this . . .”
Jack’s words were interrupted by a thunderous wail. Both of us jumped to our feet. It was coming from Andrew.
“Oh, Jesus, what have you done, Peter? What have you done!?” Jack choked back a sob.
I raced over to the body. It was definitely wailing in agony. I pulled the oxygen mask away from his face. His body shook as if in hypothermia, and I covered him with several sheets.
“I told you, Jack! I told you!” I shouted with delight as I rushed about removing wires. “Come on, before he goes into shock, we must anesthetize him!” I hurriedly hung up a morphine drip and inserted the IV into Andrew’s vein, which took me a few seconds as it was busy twitching about.
Those seconds could mean life or death. Immediately, I replaced the oxygen mask over his face and instructed Jack to turn up the heat. I would have to replace the cranial cap soon, and I would not be able to as long as the body was nearly convulsing.
“How shall we explain Andrew’s recovery, Peter?”
“Don’t you understand? If we’ve succeeded, we’ll be hailed as heroes! Experimenters only face trouble if they fail. We have not harmed anyone, Jack! We have discovered the key to eternal life.”
“We have sentenced ourselves to eternal damnation, more like!”
“Don’t be an asshole, Jack! Look! Andrew is no longer dead. Come on, help me replace his head.”
“Oh God, what have we done? Forgive me, I never wanted to be a part of this,” Jack mumbled.
Still, Jack helped me replace the skull and hooked up the life support to Andrew’s body.
A long ear-piercing shriek rang out from the heart monitor, indicating that Andrew’s heart had ceased beating. For a moment, the alarm left me dumbfounded.
“No!” I wailed. “No! No! No, no, no!” I again grabbed up the paddles and began shocking life into Andrew’s body, which jumped but showed no other responses.
“Peter, you’re going to fry him! Stop it! Stop it!” Jack exclaimed, tearing the paddles out of my hands.
“This is your fault, Jack!” I said, pointing my finger accusingly at him. “This is your fault.”
Behind me were the instruments, and I took up the bone saw without his notice.
“This is not my fault, Peter. This is no one’s fault. Please, let me get you someone to talk to or something. Please, Peter . . .” his voice trailed off as his eyes fell on the tool in my hand. “You don’t want to do this, Peter. Peter! Peter, stop.”
“But I do want to do this, Jack. I was so close, so close . . . and you ruined it!” I screamed so loudly that my throat felt sore. “Jack, listen to me,” I was suddenly calm. “Don’t be afraid.”
“Put down the saw,” said Jack, slowly nearing the door.
“Oh,” I said absent-mindedly, looking down at the saw in my hand. “Oh!” I threw it down. “Jack, Andrew is . . .” I looked about and lowered my voice, “Andrew is haunting me.”
Jack gasped, taking my wrists in his hands, “Peter, you need to talk to someone. Andrew is not haunting you, do you understand me? Why would he want you to desecrate his body in this way?”
“Jack, he asked me to before he died, and I told him he was insane. And, I told him to sleep. And, I left. I left him, and the last thing I said was that he was ludicrous and insane and that I would not do it. I left him and went to my office. I went to my office and I was destroying all of my old notes on . . .” I could not continue the sentence. “He died while I was doing that, Jack. Andrew told me that if I did not try, that he would haunt me forever. And, he has been haunting me, Jack. Tonight, just tonight, he was haunting me in my bed. Then, then he was in my car.”
“I thought you said you caught a ride, Peter?”
“I did catch a ride, from a police officer, after I had to pull over my car. I lied and said something was the matter with it. I lied, but I wasn’t going to tell him that my dead friend’s spirit was trying to murder me in my car while I was driving. Oh no, I wasn’t going to say that. He would have thought me mad!”
“You are mad!”
“I most certainly am not! You think that I am mad, but you haven’t seen what I have seen, my friend. Oh no! I saw Andrew’s spirit looming over me as I was trying to sleep, and he was pointing his wretched accusing finger at me! He was pointing at me as if to say, ‘You have let me down, Peter, and I trusted you! I have trusted you with my life, and you left me and let me die. I have trusted you with my body to give me life, and you have not even tried!’ Then next time, he will say, ‘You are a failure, Peter. You are a failure, and I was a fool to trust you!’”
“Peter, sit down,” said Jack. “Sit down here and wait for me to come back.”
“Where are you going? You’re not going to get the police, are you? Because I am not mad, Jack! I am not!”
“No, Peter. I am not going to get the police. I am going to get my things, and I’m going to bring you home.”
I gasped and grabbed at his jacket, “Don’t leave me alone there, Jack! He’s going to come back!”
“I won’t leave you alone, Pete. I’m going to bring you home. I’ll stay with you, all right? You’ll be fine.”
“Thank you, Jack.”
“Can I trust you not to leave this spot until I return with my things? I can’t have you running around the hospital like this.”
Jack was right, too. I couldn’t be seen like this. My hair was mussed; my coat was covered in Andrew’s blood. I’m sure my eyes were bloodshot, and I probably did look like a true madman right at that moment.
“I won’t go anywhere, OK? I’ll be right here, Jack. Please just hurry,” I said as I glanced at Andrew’s body. “I don’t want to be left alone with it, Jack. It scares me,” I whispered.
“I will hurry. Be still, Peter. It can’t do you anything.”
Jack left me alone with the corpse, and I could already feel the hair on my neck standing. I moved as far away as I could from the body, but it still tortured me. It seemed to be twitching, and I assumed this was the release of the great energy with which I’d filled it. But, it was not only twitching. With a more attentive look, I realize it had turned its head to me. The eyes shot open. I wanted to scream, but I was frozen in sheer terror. My limbs felt numb, and I was filled with adrenaline. It seemed my heart would pound right out of my chest. My head became light, and a great nauseous feeling arose in my stomach.
“Peter,” whispered some disembodied voice.
I screamed in horror and shrank against the wall, “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”
“Peter we’re here to help you, don’t be afraid,” said the voice.
Confused, I opened my eyes. Jack stood before me with a team of psychiatrists.
“You lied to me, Jack,” I said.
“For your own good, Peter,” answered he.
I glanced at the corpse, and it seemed to shudder with silent laughter. I became incensed.
“Look at it!” I shouted, pointing. “Look! It’s laughing at me. Laughing at my failure! How dare you!”
I leapt up before anyone could stop me and raced toward the laughing dead body. Climbing atop it, I grabbed at it and shook it.
“Stop laughing at me! Stop it! Stop it!”
Jack and the four other men tore me away from the corpse. I kicked and fought, but there was no way I could escape them. There were too many of them and not enough of me.
“You’re all against me! Leave me alone! Stop laughing!”
The entire room filled with raucous laughter, and I wanted to make it stop. How dare they laugh at me!
“Jack, I trusted you! Now, you are laughing at me! Stop laughing!”
“Peter, no one is laughing. Calm down; stop fighting.”
“I think we may have to sedate him,” said someone.
“I’m afraid so,” sighed Jack.
I was not going to allow that! I knew they were planning to do something terrible once I was unconscious, and I would not have it. It was a terrible struggle, but I finally kicked them off of me and got away. I ran out of the open door and down the dark corridor, but I stopped when I ran head on into something. I put my hands out and felt something cold and pliable. With realization, I screamed as loud as I could. It was Andrew’s corpse! I turned and ran in the other direction, but Jack and the other doctors stopped me.
“He’s there! Look that way! Shine a light! He’s not dead; he’s down there, and he has come to haunt me! Let me go! Please!” I cried out and fought as they brought me down and injected me a sedative cocktail. “Please,” I sobbed as they worked me into the straight jacket. “I’m not mad. Why don’t you believe me?”
It was futile to fight at that point. I didn’t resist as they walked me down the hallway and into an elevator. In the elevator stood the police officer that gave me a ride to the hospital.
“Where did you come from?” I asked.
“You just ran into me back there in the hall,” he answered.
“But, I saw you drive away.”
“I only pulled around to the front of the building. I figured you were up to no good. I figured it was something serious, the way you were acting,” he said
“Are you arresting me now?”
“Jack, you knew the whole time?” I whispered. “I’m going to the loony ward, aren’t I?”
“Peter,” Jack put his hand on my back, “how many times do I have to tell you not to call it that?”
I grinned to myself. How fitting that I was on my way there. Jack was always warning me of the vengeful powers of karma, or some sort of other omnipotent presence.
The next few months passed in a blur of psychotic medications. I do recall a few things, however. After two or three weeks at the hospital, I was transferred to a private facility. I was deemed incompetent, and Jack was given power of attorney over me, since there was no one else. I believe there was some sort of court proceedings, but I don’t remember everything. My license to practice medicine was revoked. That much I remember. I remember the great disappointment in the eyes of my staff. I also remember the whispers that went on behind my back.
I never did discover who told Andrew about my experiments. I don’t believe it was anyone. Before Andrew was ill, he could have broken into my private desk drawers and obtained any information that he wanted. He was my best friend, and I was disheartened to think that he would pry into my private affairs, but there was simply no other explanation. Everyone was so shocked and astounded when I was finally found out; I don’t believe they could have known.
Jack visited often, and he always brought some news from the university. He was offered my position, but he declined, stating that he was ready to move into a different area of medicine. I believe he said he was returning to school to study Pediatrics – or something like that. He said he’d seen enough cadavers for one lifetime, and I imagine he had.