Expiry Cosmic Alchemy
As I looked out the window of the commercial airliner, gazing upon the dense aerial landscape of a white and gray stratus blanket, I listened to the grating wheels of the stewardess’ cart as she moved down the aisle. I had been lucky as to acquire a seat by the window, adjacent to a vacant aisle seat, in the last row of the aircraft. Forced small talk with other passengers was something I’ve always sought to avoid and was glad to see the few rows in front of me were empty as well. There was a slight but sustained turbulence rattling the cabin, causing a brief dimming of the overhead lights. I directed my attention now toward the stewardess as she pushed the creaking cart down toward my area of the plane. She stopped at my seat and smiled. “Care for a pillow?” she asked in a soft, tranquil voice.
“No, I’m fine thank you,” I replied nodding back at her. She reached into her apron and pulled out a lighter and pack of cigarettes.
“How about a smoke?” she asked, placing one of the cigarettes in her mouth and raising the pack towards me.
“Sure, that would be nice, but I have my own,” I said reaching into my leather satchel in the empty seat next to me, pulling out a cigarette. She sparked the lighter twice before achieving a flame and lit hers, then held it up to me. I took a few quick drags, igniting the cherry on the end and breathed a small plume of smoke into the cabin.
“So,” she said, putting the pack and lighter back into her apron and leaning with her back to the cart. “What are you traveling to America for?”
I looked over at her taking one more drag on the cigarette. She was an attractive early 20-something, with an expression of genuine interest. I decided to suspend my opposition to small talk, replying, “Going to see an old colleague of mine, from university.”
In a balmy, disarming tone she asked, “What was your study?”
Ashing my cigarette into the tray in front of me, I replied, “Experimental pharmacology.” She narrowed her eyes at me, and I leaned back in my chair explaining further. “Years ago, my colleague and I were the head of our class at Rothbury University. Using the facilities provided to us, we had created many pharmaceuticals ranging from painkillers, which caused only minimal harm to the body, to injections that could cure arthritis. One of our most successful creations was an elixir that could rapidly repair damaged organs. We earned our school a hefty grant and were rewarded with a fair amount of compensation ourselves.”
“That’s really interesting, are you still in the field?” she inquired, taking a seat across the aisle with her body turned towards me.
“Yes, it’s extremely demanding, but I find the work to be the most rewarding thing in life.” I took a deep drag from my cigarette and tilted my head upward releasing the smoke, the taste of tobacco filling my mouth.
“Your friend, where does he live?” she asked crossing her legs.
“Lynmire, Connecticut. But, I admit I am not visiting under the most pleasant circumstances. I have recently been informed that my friend was in an automobile accident.. left with massive head trauma. His vehicle was struck by a drunk driver as he was pulling through an intersection. He is currently in a coma, indefinitely it seems.” I ashed my cigarette once more into the tray and looked back over at the stewardess. I could see that I had somewhat rattled her amiable demeanor as her eyebrows were raised and approachable smile faded.
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” she replied, appearing to regret asking about my ill-fated friend.
“It’s quite alright, things like this happen,” I offered, attempting to quell her consternation. Suddenly, there was a call from the front of the cabin, a man sounding a bit intoxicated requesting the stewardess. She sighed, putting out her cigarette, and rose from her chair, grabbing hold of the handle on the cart.
“Well, it was nice meeting you. Enjoy the rest of your flight,” she said, forcing another smile.
“Likewise,” I replied as she began moving back up the aisle. I inhaled once more deeply from my cigarette and put it out in the ashtray. I stretched my arms upward and yawned, staring at the low ceiling of the airplane cabin for a moment, then glanced over at my leather satchel.
Now, certainly one of a sound mind would dread the news of a friend being in a horrific car accident, and I am certainly upset to have heard about it, but at the same time, I dare say, I’m somewhat excited by the account. Lifting the flap and reaching into my satchel once more, I pulled out a letter which I had finished writing to my friend just as I had received the news of his automobile collision.
486 Wilkshire Lane
February 21, 1987
163 Harpmeadow Street
Let me just start by saying that I sincerely apologize for the lack of communication between us lately. I assure you it is due to no small circumstance. As I have previously informed you, I have been constantly at work in my lab in London with barely a moment in between my pursuits and the obligatory human acts of eating and sleeping. Many nights I have unintentionally slept at my desk, waking the next day only to continue where I had left off. Given this precedent, I’m sure you can understand the delay in my responses.
Let me get to my point... You are indeed aware that, over the past few years, I have taken it upon myself to re-examine and expand upon our experimental organ-regenerating drug from university. After years of intense examination, going over and over our old formulas, laboring constantly, and sacrificing countless laboratory mice in the process... William— I’ve done it. I’ve accomplished what our younger selves could not. Our original goal. One of the mice, one that had been administered the drug after being dead for 23 minutes. It’s alive.
I will soon be taking a leave of absence to reconvene with you in the States.
After reading the letter, I flipped the page to view a photograph showing a tiny white mouse atop a gray lab table, nibbling a crumb of bread. I set the letter and photograph back down into my satchel, next to a small animal transport box with the same specimen inside. Before I heard the news of William’s hospitalization, the purpose of my visit was to, with his aid, begin human testing. My original intent remains unchanged.
After our aircraft had docked, I threw the strap of my satchel over my shoulder and took position behind the line of passengers filing out of the cabin. I made my way out of the terminal and into the airport. Walking to the baggage claim, I stared at glossy tiled floor, reflecting back up the overhead fluorescents. My surroundings, the crowd of people all around me, seemed to blend into one big inconsequential mass— my plan rendering everything else insignificant. Reaching the baggage claim, my thoughts became preoccupied with dosages and formulaic measurements, the pages of my notes being pondered over so many times I could recall the smallest detail without even referencing them. I watched as my suitcase of clothes and other assorted supplies fell from the ramp and began circling the conveyor belt toward me. I grabbed it and hastily made my way to the exit of the building.
Pushing the large double doors, I stepped outside into the cloudy, overcast New England weather. I hailed a cab and threw my suitcase and satchel inside. I asked the driver to bring me to a nearby hotel in Lynmire, one town over. As we left the airport and made our way out of the surrounding city, I watched as the densely populated landscape gave way to the more sparsely suburban Lynmire. I gazed towards the darkening sky, small droplets of rain appearing on my window. We traveled down the thin, winding, Connecticut back-roads, flanked on our sides by rolling, forested hills, scattered with towering, densely covered trees. The poorly paved roads rattled our vehicle as we traveled up and down the various forested hills. Eventually, we had made our way out of the woods and into a clearing to the somewhat rustic looking hotel.
“Keep the meter running please, I will be just a moment,” I requested, exiting the vehicle with my luggage, and entered the tiny hotel. After making my payment at the front desk, I hurried to my room. I unlocked the door and threw my suitcase on the floor, not bothering to unpack. I made note of the room’s phone number, jotting it into my pad. After quickly cleaning the mouse transport and feeding the animal, I put it back into my satchel and ran back downstairs, through the lobby, and out into the parking lot.
As I re-entered the cab, I imparted my destination to the driver— “Lynmire Hospital, please.” The rain was beginning to fall at an increasing rate. The driver engaged the windshield wipers and headlights of our automobile. It is getting late in the day I thought to myself, uncovering my watch from my left coat sleeve— 6:49 p.m. I closed my eyes tightly, trying to fight off the enervation that was setting in. Luckily, the hospital was only a short drive away. We made our way through the center of town which did not seem to have much commerce, save a few locally owned shops inside some old, quaint buildings. We kept on our way and eventually reached a more remote area with the hospital coming into view in the distance. It appeared to us like a lone monument protruding from the ground from the lack of any other nearby buildings. Moments later, we pulled into the parking lot.
When we parked, I paid the driver and exited the vehicle with my satchel. As I slammed the door behind me, the cab immediately took off down the road. I hurried for the door of the hospital across several empty parking spaces and down a path leading to the front entrance, the building and pavement taking on darker shades from the rain. The smell of the wet asphalt rose up to me as I sprinted forward, with my head tilted downward from the rain. Reaching the large double glass doors of the hospital, I grasped the metal handle and pulled it open. As I closed the door behind me and walked into the main entranceway, I took a second to clean the rain from my glasses. The cool air from the overly air-conditioned room on my damp skin and clothes gave me a sickly chill. I squinted against the oppressive fluorescent lighting, wiping the rainwater from my brow. Re-donning my glasses, I observed the main lobby, lined with rows of chairs beside small wooden tables covered with various sports and news magazines. There were several black letter boards affixed to the white walls listing the different patientwards. I made my way over to the clear receptionist window. As I stood in front of it, a gaunt, middle-aged woman with protruding cheekbones looked up at me and opened the window.
“What can I do for you?” she asked.
“I’m visiting someone, William Moore.” I replied. She then pulled out a stack of paperwork from her drawer and started rifling through the pages.
“Friend or family?” she questioned.
After a minute or so of searching, she seemed to have found the page she was looking for.
“Here we are, Floor G, Room 8,” she said, pointing a thin boney finger to the page. I thanked her and walked over to the elevator on the side of the lobby and pushed the button. After a few moments, the door slowly opened and I stepped inside. I hit the button for Floor G, closing the elevator door, and shut my eyes listening as the bell sounded for each passing floor.
There I stood, staring at the sign on the wall, my hand on the doorknob. Room G-8. I took a deep breath and opened the door. The room was completely dark, with the exception of lights on the various hospital equipment, I felt along the wall for the light switch. I turned the power on and there he was, looking barely different than I remembered him at university. From this distance, he had no noticeable injuries. I closed the door quietly behind me and moved over to the side of his bed. The rain from outside was coming down significantly, becoming a sort of white noise as it fell on the roof and window of the room. One sound I heard over the cascade of the rainfall was the constant, steady beat of the heart rate monitor to his side. Inspecting closer, I could now see the extent of his head injuries. On the left side of his head, a substantial, multi-colored bruise from blunt force trauma covered a sizable area, combined with a rather large, healing gash extending from his eyebrow to his temple and into his hairline. During the collision, William’s head must have struck the driver’s side window with incredible force. I stood there staring at his unconscious face. Always a frail man, I wondered how much this played a role in the extent of these injuries. I inhaled and exhaled slowly, deeply.. crossing my body with my left arm, and lifted the flap on my satchel. I reached my hand inside, when suddenly my heart lurched and eyes grew wide as I heard the turning of the doorknob behind me.
As the door opened, I quickly closed the flap on my satchel and turned to see the unwelcome guest. A woman, looking a bit younger than I, entered the room, and upon seeing me, looked surprised and confused by my presence. Feeling suspect, and doing my best to conceal my own disconcerted look, I introduced myself.
“Hello there, I— was just visiting, I’m a friend of William’s fro-,”
“I know who you are,” responded the woman resolutely, walking closer and studying my face. “William has several pictures of you two in his study from his college years. It’s nice to finally meet you Mr. West, I’m his wife, Susan,” she said, gently extending a hand. “He’s told me a great deal about the work you two have accomplished together.” My apprehension began to fade, but I knew I could not reveal my true intent for being here.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you Susan. I’m deeply sorry about what has happened to William. I just wanted to come visit him in the hospital and see the extent of his injuries for myself.”
“Yes it’s... some days are really difficult but it’s just one of those awful things we have no control over,” she sighed.
“What have the doctors told you about his condition?” I asked, glancing over at the machines tracking his vitals.
“They say that, due to the severity of the injuries, they are almost certain he will never come out of it. They tell me that they have not seen any improvement since he’s been admitted, but when I come here, and see him, I just... I don’t think I have it in me to pull his life support.”
As she stood there staring at her husband’s motionless body, tears started forming in the corners of her eyes, which she attempted to discreetly wipe away. I stroked the stubble that had grown in on my chin and cheeks, watching as William’s wife moved over to her husband’s bedside. I knew there was no way I could advance in my operation with her in the room. There was a pause between us, one that would have been far more unpleasant if not for the unrelenting rain and beeps of the heart rate monitor pulsing throughout the room to cover the silence. I felt my eyes beginning to get heavy. I was growing incredibly weary from my chronic lack of sleep, combined with the fatigue of the jet lag. William’s wife was becoming more visibly distraught by the second, now audibly sobbing. I uncovered my watch— 7:56 p.m. and prompted my exit with a fake cough.
“Well, I’ll leave you to be alone with your husband.” I said, backing towards the door. Turning the doorknob, I heard her give a half comprehensible, grief-stricken goodbye, and I nodded, exiting the room. Turning down the empty, almost greenish looking hospital corridor, I started walking back towards the area where the elevators were located. As I made my way past the rows of hospital doors, I saw a red light coming from around the corner and extending across the floor. I turned into the small opening in the hallway to see the warm glow of a vending machine. Yawning deeply, I took some change out from my coat pocket to purchase a cola, hoping to stave off my exhaustion. I hit the button and took the beverage, drinking a few large swigs, nearly finishing it. I looked around the corner, down the empty corridor. The stillness of this floor made me a bit uncomfortable as I imagined every poor individual’s situation behind each door, trapping them to their beds.
I returned to my dimly lit recess with the vending machine, one of the dying lights behind its plastic display giving off a hypnotic flickering. I pressed my back to the wall behind me, closing and resting my eyes. After several passing minutes, the closing of a door echoed down the hall. Moments later, I heard the sound of the elevator’s bell and the doors open, then close. I stepped back out into the hallway and made my way back to Room G-8.
There I stood once again beside him, watching his lifeless, expressionless face. His unconscious state seeming even worse as the machines around him beeped and whirred with life. I set my satchel on the floor beside me. I opened the flap and from it, pulled out a small black tin box. Undoing the latch on the side of the box, I opened it to find my three carefully protected syringes, fastened tightly in place with their respective vials. I took the first from its holder. I drew the plunger on the syringe, pulling the liquid from the vial, and watched as the vibrant green fluid began slowly filling the barrel. I brought it close to my face, getting the exact measurement that I intended. I set the vial down into my satchel and pushed William’s head to the side. I paused, looking over my shoulder and listening, making sure that his wife would indeed be the last interruption, and with one quick motion I thrust the syringe into his neck, pushing down on the plunger. After the green liquid had disappeared into his bloodstream, I pulled the needle away and quickly put it back into the black tin box. Now I waited.
I sat in the guest’s chair across from William, watching his hands and eyes for movement. I lifted the clear, plastic mouse transport box out of my satchel and stared at it momentarily. I placed it on the table next to me and continued my observation of William. The minutes stretched on, turning into hours. I looked at my watch— 11:22 p.m. At this time I had gone without sleep for well over 80 hours. Unsure of how long the concoction would last before being rendered ineffective, I had worked incessantly in my lab over the past three days to prepare enough for my human subject. I fought ever harder to stay awake against the sedative, torrential cascade of rain, the mesmeric beeping of the heart rate monitor, each tone seeming to bleed into the next. I stared, watching, waiting for flicker of an eyelid, a twitch of a muscle, anything. Leaning forward and resting my chin on my hand, I felt my own eyes drifting, away from William, down toward the glowing screen of the heart rate monitor. My eyes becoming fixated on its rhythmic jumping green line. I slouched forward, and with a few more passing moments, I surrendered to the demands of sleep.
I came to at the sound of thunder, shooting backwards in my chair, disoriented, vexed, wondering how much time had gone past since I had accidentally given in to my unintentional dozing. I took another glance at my watch— 2:07 a.m. Nobody had come in the room, I’m sure, or else they would have roused me from my sleep and asked me to leave the building. Looking beside me, I reached to the bottom of my satchel for the black tin box. I pulled it out and sat up from my chair, making my way over to William’s bedside.
He still lie comatose, the dose of elixir having had no effect on him. The room was exactly as it was before I had fallen asleep. The un-abating sound of rain still beating down on the building along with the metronomic heart rate monitor, counting away the passing moments of William’s insentient life. I paused, staring at his face. I could free William from this perpetual unconsciousness. I could begin the exploration into new and uncharted sciences of death.
I knew what needed to be done. I took off my glasses and ran my hand across my forehead and through my hair. As I set them back upon my face, I threw the latch on the box and opened it. I pulled the second syringe and vial. My eyes followed the clear liquid as it filled the syringe. I set the vial down, back into the tin box. With my left hand, I pushed his head to the side exposing his neck, bringing the needle closer with my right. When I pierced the skin, I pushed on the plunger until the liquid was gone. I pulled it from his neck, putting it back into the box and took out the last syringe to fill it with the contents of the vial. As I watched the green liquid enter the barrel, eyeing it for the proper measurement, the beeping of the heart rate monitor had ceased and turned to a steady tone as William flat-lined. While I continued watching the syringe fill, I felt my heart beating harder and accelerating, as if compensating for William’s. I detached the vial and put it back into the box. Then, looking back at William, I brought the needle closer to him. A flash of lightning drew my gaze to the window momentarily, then, with the following thunder, I sank the final syringe into his neck, injecting the last of the elixir.
With the tin box now empty of all but the used vials and syringes, I placed it back into the satchel and glanced at my watch, making note of the time of injection. I resumed my spot in the chair continuing my observation. I prayed for a quick result, and a slow response from the medical staff to William’s flat-line. “Please, please work,” I whispered to myself. Each second felt hours long. Still no movement. I stared at the glowing, green, flat-lining monitor. “Come on, give me something!” I entreated. My vision becoming blurry as my eyes welled with tears. More seconds passed. Then, a jolt of adrenaline shot through me as the machine beeped and the green line jumped.. then another. I learned forward with overwrought anticipation. Suddenly, the heart rate monitor burst into a frenzy of beeping in irregular patterns. I put my hand on the table next to me about to stand, when my heart nearly sprang out of my chest as William shot up in his hospital bed. With an extended gasp, he opened his eyes. The heart rate monitor slowed to steady intervals. “William, William!” I called softly. His eyes seemed unfocused. I stood from my chair, walking alongside the bed, glancing once more at my watch. “William, can you hear me?” I said anxiously clenching my fist. Finally, he blinked his eyes and let out a long groan as he touched his head wound.
“Ohhh, where am I? West? West, how.. what is going on?” he asked, squinting his eyes.
My eyes were wide open and my mouth agape. I fought against my shock for words. “You were in a car collision about two months back that left you in a coma.” I walked over to my satchel, fumbling around in it with my eyes still on William. Then, I felt it, and pulled out the letter I had written to him before his accident. “Here,” I said, handing him the paper with sweating hands. As he read it, I could see his expression change to disturbed confusion. He then looked over at the mouse transport box on the table, the animal still as lively as ever. “William,” I said, “You were just dead.” Suddenly, our attention was directed to the turning of the doorknob, and one of the doctors entered the room— a reaper denied a soul.
After thorough deliberation with William on how to proceed, we decided to reconvene back at his home. We wanted to keep the success of the drug quiet for the time being to avoid unwanted attention from the authorities. We constructed a story to tell William’s wife, for she would need to be kept in the dark as well. We phoned a cab and left the hospital despite several objections from William’s doctors. During the cab ride, I could see that William’s injury was causing him much distress as he frequently held his head. He was mostly silent, holding his eyes closed tightly for most of the trip, only occasionally glancing out his window, up at the stars appearing through the dissipating storm clouds above. Upon our return to his house, I paid and thanked the driver, then helped William from the cab.
Once in his home, I waited through a teary eyed embrace between him and his wife, preparing my notes. I recorded the specific measurements of the dosages, elapsed time between their creation and injection, and elapsed time before effect had taken place. We decided to retreat to his study where I resolved to go over with William the formula for the elixir.
“So this drug, it works on severe injury, cognitive disruption, and comatose individuals in addition to death?” asked William, taking a seat in the black leather chair at his desk. I took a seat on the couch across from him, next to a white marble fireplace and walls lined with pharmacology texts and medical plaques.
“No... just death,” I replied.
“So how am I here right now? Why am I not still in a coma?” William asked looking perplexed.
“Certain actions needed to be taken,” I divulged softly, looking towards the window.
“West, you killed me??” William retorted, leaning in over his desk.
“No, I gave you life!” I yelled, coming to my feet.
“You attempted this with one successful.. non-human subject, are you mad?! I could have come out of the coma on my own.” said William with a look of revulsion.
“The doctors said that you would have most likely never come out of it and should you have died naturally while in the coma, I may have not been able to administer the elixir in time for it to work, or even been allowed access to your body. You should be thanking me!”
After the argument with William had begun to subside, I withdrew my notes and pen from my satchel. I asked William to go over what he felt moments before he woke from him coma.
“I have actually been meaning to go over this with you,” he said, dimming the light from a lamp on a table near his desk. “I’m sorry, the light has been quite a bother to my eyes, my senses probably just need some time to re-adjust,” he offered, taking a seat back at his desk. He paused for a moment, exhaling deeply as he stared down at his desk. “West.. when I died there in that bed, I felt something that will be difficult to convey with words. I’ve been piecing it together in my head since we left the hospital, like one trying to remember a vague dream that they have forgotten upon waking. Now, I don’t know if this is some bizarre hallucination brought on by your drug, or merely from the turmoil my body has been through over the past couple of months, but when I died there in that moment, my existence did not cease as I would have expected it to. I am trying to find the words to describe what I felt. It was.. as if I was suspended, in a soft sea of light. Endless, a swaying, cascading void of incredible light, yet I had no body, no eyes with which to see it. It was as if I were a part of it, connected to it, then, I felt myself pulled from it, as if reborn. And for a brief fleeting moment before I came to in that hospital, I looked through the eyes of this new form, a form not of this earth. I was low to the ground, gazing out upon a field of strange undulating grass-like flora, dotted with what looked to be trees, but strangely spiraled and warped in their appearance. My vision, though reduced in the perception of color, was sharpened to an immense degree, and the rush of sound I felt was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Then it seemed to all vanish and I awoke in that hospital bed seeing you.”
“Head trauma can bring about many changes to the brain,” I proposed. “This fantastical experience you had is most likely due to that. I wouldn’t give it too much weight,” I said, writing down William’s recollections in my notes.
After some time, I could see that, like myself, William was in desperate need of rest. Around the corners of the blinds I could see that the sun was beginning to rise. Still in too poor a shape to drive, he lent me use of his car to take back to the hotel room. I thanked him and gave him the direct line to my hotel room phone should he need me. As I gathered my things and began to leave, William stopped me at the front door. “West, that mouse you have in your satchel, can I keep it here in my study for observation? I want to know immediately if starts to exhibit any side effects, or God forbid, if the effects of the elixir wear off.” Understanding his concern, I pulled the mouse transport box from my satchel and handed it to him, bid him good day, and said I would return later on. I made my way down to his car in the driveway, opened the door, and sat down inside. Closing my exhausted eyes, I tilted my head upward as I leaned back in the seat. Then, I felt my heart jump as I heard a knocking on the window. I looked to my side to see William’s wife with a somewhat bewildered look on her face. I reached over and rolled down the window.
“Yes Susan, what can I do for you?” I asked.
“I know you had something to do with this, Mr. West. I’m not sure how, but.. well, I’m just glad to have him home again.”
I replied with a lie I knew she wouldn’t believe. “It’s just a coincidence. As I was waiting for my taxi to arrive, I realized that I had somehow left my passport in William’s room. It must have fallen out as I was rummaging through my satchel. When I went back up to his room, I saw that he had come to, surrounded by several doctors and looking a bit dazed. After their examinations, they confirmed that his condition was satisfactory enough for us to leave. It was a shock that all of his speech and motor skills were intact after such a lengthy incapacitation. A truly remarkable recovery, indeed.”
She gave a sort of half smile and nodded backing away from the car. “Goodbye, Mr. West.”
I left the Moore residence and drove along the peaceful, wooded Connecticut backroads. During moments of my drive, I would shut my eyes tightly, then open them wide as I fought against the call of sleep. Then, in a particularly densely wooded part of my drive, a large squirrel darted out onto the road. With exhaustion stifling my reflexes, I turned the wheel a bit too late, swerving as the animal ducked under the vehicle, hitting the back right tire. After the thud of the impact, I grimaced looking into the rear view mirror as the animal twisted and writhed with pain on the road. Soon the animal lay still, until it disappeared from view. After a few more miles of traveling, I reached the hotel. I parked and made my way through the lobby and up to my room. I threw my satchel onto the floor beside my suitcase and fully clothed, I lay upon the bed, closed my eyes, and awaited my well-deserved sleep.
Sometime later, I was roused by the sound of the hotel telephone ringing on the table next to the bed. The blinds were tightly drawn and I was unsure of the hour, the alarm clock displaying a blur as I fumbled about for my glasses. On the table, I felt the wire frame and brought them to my groggy face. I picked up the receiver.
“West here,” I spoke raspily.
“I had those visions again.” I heard William say. “It was too real, I was there. I felt everything, I swear to you, West. This was no lucid dream. Please, you need to come here now, I have no idea what is happening,” he pleaded.
“Yes, yes, I’ll be right there, get ahold of yourself, William! You’ve been through a great deal.” I said, trying to reassure him. I looked at the clock— 3:23 p.m. Before leaving, I un-zipped my suitcase that still lay on the floor and took out some new clothes. I threw the strap of my satchel over my shoulder and ran down toward the buffet, grabbing handfuls of anything I could as I hurried past. I shoveled the food into my mouth as I hastily dashed to William’s car in the parking lot. I started the car and made my way down the meandering backroads once more.
As I reached his home and pulled into the driveway, I opened the door and walked up the pathway to the front door. Susan opened the door to greet me before I even had the opportunity to ring the doorbell, motioning me inside.
“He’s in his study. He asked me to send you in and he wishes to speak with you in private,” she said with a worrying timbre. Breaking eye contact, she moved closer to me allowing me to audibly hear her whisper. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I called Lynmire Hospital, and they said that no tests were run on William’s condition. They gave him no approval to be discharged so soon and said that he all but fought them to leave. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know you’re involved with it somehow. He hasn’t left his study since he’s been back.” She then leaned in closer, lowering her voice even further. “I saw the needle marks on his neck. If I find out that you are using my husband for some sort of science experiment and something happens to him, I won’t hesitate to turn you in to the authorities.” With that final remark, she walked past me into the kitchen.
I walked over to the closed study door and opened it slowly, looking over to William’s empty desk chair.
“Over here, West,” I heard from the other corner of the room as I walked through the doorway, the blinds drawn and lights off. As I shut the door quietly behind me, I saw William lying on the couch by the fireplace. Even in the darkened room there was a noticeably sharp decline in his appearance in the short hours that had passed since my previous visit. His eyes looked hollow, sunken, and unfocused, his skin taking on a sickly tone. “Please, sit,” he uttered softly, pointing towards his black desk chair. I took the seat at his desk and placed my satchel on the floor beside me, taking out my notes and pen. I could sense William’s apprehensiveness, noticing quick convulsive shudders as he repositioned himself on the couch.
“I’ve barely been able to sleep since our last meeting,” he began. “When I did fall asleep briefly, I had the same experience that I had in the hospital bed. I swear to you, listen to me, this is real.. I experienced life as this other creature. I know I am here right now because I am talking to you, living in this moment, but it is as if—,” he paused. “I was in the same field as before, all around me I could hear distant vocalizations of other beings, the sounds indescribable with the English language. The body I inhabited seemed much larger than before, as if aging rapidly. I felt something moving in my mouth, then without thinking, the instincts of this creature I inhabited took over. I shook my head a few times until I heard a crack, which seemed to bring me a bizarre satisfaction. I looked down to see the writhing, twitching, body of this hare-like creature, fur-less with yellowish skin and gray eyes. I held it down with one of my limbs, which was an arm-like appendage, but with black protruding claws. Then, I leaned my head downward and bit into its neck, tearing off a piece of its flesh and devouring it. As soon as this happened, I awoke and was back in my study.. Please don’t look at me that way, I implore you, this was real!”
“Merely hallucinations, William,” I began. “It has to be brought on by th-”
“They are not hallucinations, I killed that creature!” he shouted, interrupting. “West, I know how insane it sounds! But I can still taste its blood in my mouth!!”
William’s increasingly unhinged delusions began to seriously worry me. I looked across the room at the mouse in its transport box, the animal still acting completely normal. “William, there has to be a scientific explanation for this vivid delirium you are experiencing. You need to get some sleep, you’re physically and mentally drained from all of this!” As I spoke, I could see him constantly eyeing the window with the drawn blinds, as if the tiny bit of light coming through was causing him discomfort. Then, I heard the doorknob turn and his wife came into the room.
“Is everything alright in here?” she asked.
“Yes, we are alright,” I answered, still looking over at William who looked anything but.
“Everything’s fine,” blurted William.
“I heard shouting, I just wanted to check,” she said slowly closing the door, perceptibly distraught by William’s increasingly feeble movements and sallow complexion.
Moments later, William let out a hideous groan, so loud I thought it might bring his wife back into the room. He touched the bruise on his head from the car accident with an expression of the sincerest agony. “Are you alright?” I asked.
“Ungh, yes I’ll be fine. I’ve just been having these sudden rushing headaches,” he uttered.
We talked for another hour or so. He was considering going back to the hospital, and I was doing my best to dissuade him, fearing that the doctors would find the chemicals I had injected, should they start running tests. I wrote in my notes all of the phantasmagoric visions he was having, as well as the abrupt headaches and tremors. Eventually, I noticed William beginning to nod off. Looking over at the window, I could see the dying light of dusk coming through the blinds. After a few more minutes when I was sure that he was indeed asleep, I picked up my satchel and made my way for the door. Wishing to avoid another confrontation from Susan, I opened and shut the door quietly behind me. I made my way through the living room to the front door and silently exited the house. I started the vehicle and quickly exited the driveway. On my drive back to the hotel, my hands began to sweat on the wheel as I kept thinking about the sight of William on that couch, and what could be happening to him. While my head was clouded with these thoughts, I passed by the squirrel I had struck with my car earlier in the day, causing me feel overcome with nausea.
Back at the hotel, I lied in the bed pouring over my notes, trying to figure out if William’s delusions were the result of a miscalculation on my part in regards to dosage or creation of the elixir. My analysis continued through the evening and into the night. He had received two doses, but the hours between the injections should have rendered the first one inert. And as far as I could tell, I had followed the procedure for creating the elixir that had brought the mouse back perfectly, only adjusting the ratios of the chemical compositions to accommodate the larger human subject. My scrutiny had proved fruitless. I could find no reason why William would be having these hallucinations. Perhaps the drug had disturbed one of the infinite, delicate perplexities of the brain that I was un-accounting for. I glanced over at the clock on the table next to me— 12:44 a.m. In an attempt to try and restore my normal sleeping patterns, I turned off the light and lie in bed, staring at the ceiling in the darkness. Susan’s threat and William’s receding health stayed looming in my mind. I prayed that he would be feeling better in the morning. Perhaps another hour or so had passed, and slowly, eventually, sleep came.
I’m not sure of the exact moment I had fallen asleep, but at some point I began experiencing a series of dreams, the last of which being quite lucid. I was back in Lynmire Hospital, William’s floor. My vision forcibly narrowed as I squinted from the lights on the walls and ceiling which were far too bright. I walked down the uninhabited greenish corridor toward William’s room, each footstep echoing loudly against the floor. I heard the rain, a relentless torrent, hammering the roof. As I reached the door G-8, I turned the knob and looked inside to be greeted by a doctor staring at me from the end of the room. William’s bed was made and empty. I tried to speak, but no sound left my throat.
“Down the hall,” the doctor said, raising his arm and pointing. I shut the door and ran down the corridor I had just come down, the rain growing louder. I stared through each door I passed, searching for William’s room. I rushed even quicker down the hall, the lights now blinding. All I could hear was the sound of rain, my senses inundated, awash so completely that it seemed to be nothing at all. Covering my ears, and running forward with my eyes closed, I reached the end of the hall, crashing through the last door.
In the blinding light, my eyes opened to the darkness of the hotel room. There was a moment of silence, then a ringing of the telephone on the table next to my bed. Disoriented, I was still unsure if I was even truly awake. I picked up the phone and gravelly voiced, I addled, “West, here.” I listened, and heard nothing. I waited a few more seconds. “Hello? West, here.” More silence. Then, just as I was about to pull the phone from my ear to hang up, I heard what sounded to be a distant thud. Moments later, it sounded as if the phone was knocked off of a table, and the line ended. I put on my glasses, turned on the light and glanced at the clock— 4:47 a.m. Barring a wrong number, William was the only one to have my room telephone number. I put the phone back down and picked it back up listening for the dial tone. I pushed the numbers for William’s house and got a busy signal. I attempted once more, getting the same result. The phone call had caused me great unease. Had William collapsed while attempting to reach me? His wife would surely call for help, should he need it, but due to my involvement in his condition I reasoned that it would be best to check on him. I crawled out of the bed, splashed water on my face from the bathroom sink, dressed, and grabbed the keys to the car. I made my way down the hotel hallway, through the silent vacant lobby, and out across the parking lot to the car. I drove down the curving backroads through the woods with no streetlights to brighten my way. I looked up towards the spindly leaf covered branches of the enormous deciduous trees as they swayed over me. Once more I happened upon the spot where I had killed the squirrel with my car, only to find it was now gone. A road crew cleaned it perhaps, or possibly a coyote had run off with it. I continued on my way until eventually I reached William’s house and pulled into the driveway. No ambulance was at the house and his wife’s car was in the driveway, but just to put my mind at ease I decided to view William’s condition regardless.
I exited the vehicle and ran up the front steps to the door. If indeed nothing was wrong, I would feel quite foolish showing up at this hour. I rang the doorbell and waited, pacing back and forth on the front steps, looking up at the stars fading into the lightening sky. After a brief period of no response, I rang the doorbell again, this time followed by a loud knocking at the door. Again I waited, only to be greeted with the silent stillness of the early morning. No light had even been turned on in the house. I pulled out the key ring that William had given me. Next to the car key was a slightly smaller one for the house. I put it into the keyhole of the front door and turned until I heard it click. Turning the knob, I slowly pushed the door open. “Hello?” I called into the darkness of the living room. I walked forward pulling the door closed behind me. As I moved through the living room with my eyes straining in the dark, I saw the door to William’s study slightly ajar. I moved towards the door whispering, “William, are you alright?” I pushed the door open and viewed a sight that unnerved my soul. With the small bit of twilight coming through the closed blinds, my eyes could make out a figure of a person on the floor.
I rushed over to the body with my heart in a frenzy, thinking William had fallen into the grip of death once more. Then, as I moved closer, I was overcome with a rush of confusion. This was not William on the floor. I fumbled backwards, reaching my hand across the wall for a light switch. As I hit it, a lamp on a table by the desk illuminated the room, revealing a sight that sent my mind into a jittering shock. On the floor lie William’s wife, Susan, with the side of her skull viciously caved in. Blood was smeared across the top of the white marble fireplace where the blunt force trauma must have occurred. I stepped cautiously toward her body, shaking uncontrollably. Blood had been pooling into the carpet around her and I could see what looked to be long slashes across her arms, tearing straight through her clothes. Moving in closer, it appeared that flesh had been.. bitten away from her left cheek and neck. As I leaned in to have a closer look at the deadly wounds, I heard movement from the side of the room, behind the desk.
I looked over at the location of the shuffling, seeing a hand appear on the desk from below, and William slowly rise to his feet, holding his right hand under his left arm. His skin had turned to an even deeper jaundice-like yellow and his mouth and chin were stained red. He looked at me as if struggling to realize who I was, his eyes looking startlingly dilated and his once blue irises seemed to have faded, looking pale and sickly. I took a step backwards, unable to speak clearly. His attention was drawn to the light emanating from the lamp on the table. He let out a guttural, otherworldly noise and angrily swatted the appliance off the table with his left hand. It crashed to the floor with a flash of blue, extinguishing the light in the room. Then, his darkened figure began walking out from behind his desk, and across the room towards me in an awkward staggering gait. William came closer, and in a voice barely sounding like his own, he began stammering in unnatural drawn out syllables, “Weuust-t-t, I can’t breeeeeath th-th.. this air, Weeeaaast.. my lungsss, it-t-t hurrrts.” Looking beside me, I grabbed the fire iron out of its holder beside the fireplace. I backed up more until my back was close to the wall.
“Stay away from me,” I yelled, with my wits scattering into a frantic primal fear. William moved closer, his head and torso jolting around in violent spasms, so harshly that I could hear the joints in his vertebrae cracking. “Get away from me!” I shouted once more at the encroaching figure. I swung the fire iron in front of me, narrowly missing my target. William paused for a moment, and then resumed his reeling toward me. I could hear a freakish high droning in his breathing, increasing in pitch as if being choked or suffocated. He was mere feet from me and I could smell the metallic stench of blood in his breath, and feel him looking at me with those horrid, enlarged pupils. I was backed all the way to the wall, holding the iron in front of me, trying to force him back to no avail. Then, William lunged toward me and I swung the fire iron, hitting him in the head with a shattering blow, dropping him to the floor. He lay there still for a moment. Then, just as he began moving to pick himself back up, he began convulsing violently on the floor. I could hear cracking, horrendous cracking of his joints and limbs as if being reconstructed by some hideous force. One by one the bones in his face jutted forward illogically, forming a sickening mass under his skin. Then, his spine began repositioning into some uncertain alignment, starting with his lower back, then rising to his neck. William began thrashing, gasping, reaching his left arm towards me, as if pleading for help and wishing to slaughter me all at once. The bones in his fingers began curling, snapping, breaking into positions in which they could no longer move. I leaned back against the wall with my mouth agape in terror. His arm slowly turned over, shaking, as if being pulled without his control, and a bone in his forearm broke midway, rupturing upward through his skin. Then, with a twitch, a cervical bone in his neck jutted out towards the front of his throat, and he collapsed backwards, all movement ceased. That’s when I saw it, his right hand… the claw of the unearthly creature he described from his dreams.
I staggered back to the desk, bearing witness to the unspeakable horrors of the room before me. Tears filled my eyes as I leaned over the desktop, looking at the two innocents, now dead because of my impetuous actions. And William, I looked at him.. a sight that will be forever ingrained in my eyes. A haphazard mass of bone and flesh, resembling nothing of the person I knew. I cannot begin to guess what laws of the universe were broken that night in that hospital room when William’s body had been administered the dose of the elixir post-mortem, but as I stare at this disfigured heap on the floor, I knew this was no place intended for man to tread.
I cried, silently. The culmination of my life’s work, the conquering of death, its antithesis strewn violently across the room for me to take in. What in God’s name had I brought to this Earth? And yet, with my tear filled eyes I looked down, down onto the desk, into the little plastic transport box with the mouse happily scampering around. Why had this tiny creature not experienced the same fate as William? Had it not yet been born into a new form after its death? I looked once more at William’s mutilated body. My most trusted and experienced colleague, a genuine man of science, and my friend. Sobbing, I lifted the lid on the transport box, palming the little mouse out. I gently closed the lid and set the mouse down on the table holding it still with my hand. Then, with my other hand I reached to the side of the desk picking up a sizeable paperweight, lifted it up in the air, and brought it down with all my strength onto the mouse’s neck. So many unanswered questions. And so.. that is what they shall remain.
I exited the study, weakly staggering out with my hand on the doorway. My pursuits in the sciences have come to a close. My tampering with death, my one lone light of mankind, shining into the darkness of this unknown, now extinguished. The cycle of the universe would once again be left to operate under its own accord. I trudged into the living room, my soul spent. I collapsed backwards onto the couch, looking forward through the window across the room. I watched as the light from the new morning began piercing through the cracks in the blinds, reflecting the dust as it danced in front of my eyes, the world turning to greet the sun once again.