9:23 pm . . .
Ricky just jabbed a cold needle into my wrist. It looks to be about the size of a length of garden hose, and just as wide. I’m going to be on 500 milliliters of normal saline, to keep my body from dropping temperature so dramatically. We’ve tried this in the past, and all the saline did was help me when I returned from Deadside, but Ricky still says we need to be plugged-in. Plugged-in means big-ass needle in your wrist.
I’m on my bed, surrounded by the team. Ms. Josephine is sitting on my right, Ricky on my left. Billtruck has just fitted an experimental device around my head.
“It’s an fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imager) that maps and measures your brainwave activity. It’s only in the early stages of testing and trials,” Billtruck says as he leans in, pressing the pads on the side so they are making clean contact with my head.
The theory is that when I cross over, my brain should be doing all manner of exciting, marvelous things. The fMRI will attempt to capture that. We won’t be able to look at it in real time, or anything like that, but we’ll be able to study the data later, with Hal’s help, of course. We may be able to show physical proof that what’s going on in my head somehow links to what’s going on in the Land of Sorrows.
Plus, I think Billtruck just wants some proof that I’m not an insane lunatic. If he could just give himself one tiny little piece of evidence, no matter how thin, he’d be a changed man. I like that he’s rather skeptical of all this. It keeps the rest of us honest. He’s like Special Agent Scully on the X-Files, and the rest of us are the various faces of Fox Mulder.
Anyway, I’ve agreed to be a part of the experiment if they’re a part of my trip across to the Land of Sorrows. The reason I’m going is a bit more complicated. You see, after this whole affair with Jesse Taylor—me seeing her surrounded by spooks, me hearing about her collapse, me seeing her being ripped apart by gatherers, and then me bumbling around that funeral with Angela—it’s all just left me feeling like I owe them both something.
I got myself into all of this when I opened my big mouth at the book store. Everything since then has been damage control. I shouldn’t have ever said anything. Who am I to play savior? But once I did, I owe it to Jesse and Angela to do what I can to make it right.
So what I am going to try to do, with Ms. Josephine’s help, is to find Jesse. I want to talk to her and explain what’s going on. Tell her what to look out for. I don’t know if that will make a difference, but I think she needs to know that somebody cares about her.
Now, I haven’t mentioned any of this to Angela because things are tense enough without telling her that I’m going to hike on over to the place between dogs and wolves and try to use my cathartic prowess to calm her dead friend.
That might be misinterpreted as slightly intruding.
What I did do was call Angela a little while ago and ask her, delicately, if Jesse had a special place she liked to go. Angela couldn’t remember anything that stuck out, so I have decided to have a look around, and ask the first Deadsider that I see to point me in the right direction.
Ms. Josephine leans in over me, “Jack, are you ready to do this? You haven’t crossed over in several weeks.”
“I was born to die,” I tell her, acting all cavalier.
“Let’s hope not,” Ricky says as he hangs the bag of normal saline. He has a stopwatch hanging from his neck, like he’s about to time me in the 100-meter dash. He’s hooked me up to the Lifepack-10 cardiac monitor/defibrillator, placing the sticky patches on the upper right side of my chest, and another one on the lower left side of my chest, near my ribs.
Somewhere around here is a syringe full of hydrogen sulfide. What that will do is inhibit my cells from using oxygen, thereby leaving me in a place of suspended animation. Kind of dead, but not dead dead. At some point in the adventure, if he needs to, he’ll shock the piss out of my heart, stopping it, so that it can reboot on its own.
There are so many ways a stunt like this can go wrong that it’s best not to question it. Leap boldly forward, now, and deal with the aftermath later, that’s my motto. Well, one of them, anyway.
Ms. Josephine leans down beside the bed and pulls up her bag of horrible, creeping things, and extracts a necklace with a little leather pouch on it. At least, I hope it’s leather. She then leans back over me, placing the necklace around my neck and fastening it.
“You know what dis is for,” she said, reminding me of the still horrible method of getting back from Deadside if I lose my body. The memories of crawling, stinging, biting, poisonous insects having their way inside my mouth and throat are still far too fresh in my mind.
Yes, I know. But it isn’t going to come to that. Hopefully you can help me find her.
She nodded, turning her hand over and gently brushing my forehead with the back of her fingers. “We’ll find her. One way or another.”
I turn to Ricky, who looks primed to watch me die for a while. He nods at Billtruck, “You got your gizmo ready?”
“I’m good,” Billtruck says, kneeling over a laptop that he’s typing furiously into. “This should be . . . enlightening.” He looks up. “Kill him at your leisure.”
Thanks, guys. I don’t know what I’d do without you.
Then Ms. Josephine tells me to close my eyes and focus. I know what’s coming. I know it’s going to be horrible. And still, there’s just no way to get used to it. I fear that I will always hate drowning myself. I start my counting. I take big deep breaths and slowly exhale, counting . . .
10 . . .
9 . . .
I’m imagining Jesse. Trying to keep her image in my mind.
8 . . .
Angela’s face, and how completely full of despair she was during those hours we spent in the hospital, waiting for the bad news that we knew was coming.
7 . . .
Ms. Josephine is talking to me, her words nice and slow, a particular cadence to them that puts me into the most relaxed state of consciousness. Just barely above sleeping. Her words start to shift and pitch. My body wants to give up and fall into sleep, but my mind is still very much awake. And she’s talking me down towards the water.
I smell pine trees.
The air is thick and moist.
6 . . .
I’m in this dense wooded area, it’s blue outside. Everything is a shade of blue. And there is a kind of dark serenity to this place. In the middle of the trees, there is a clearing. I make my way through the wet grass towards this small lake. The water is completely black, and there is steam rising off of it.
And I feel this rumbling sound, almost as if a pressure is being exerted all around me.
5 . . .
She talks me to the edge of the water, and I step in, inch by inch submerging myself into the lake’s warm embrace. And I feel this peacefulness and calm that I can’t explain. Like I’m lowering myself into sheets of warm silk.
4 . . .
Ms. Josephine’s voice is the only thing that remains of the Earth plane. She continues to instruct me with her soothing words. My mouth is just above the surface of the warm liquid. And I feel every fraction of a millimeter that my body lowers. The black liquid, it’s creeping towards my bottom lip. I take every last breath I can manage, though Ms. Josephine constantly reminds me to just, let go.
3 . . .
I’m completely submerged, now, sinking into the darkness where there is no noise, no light, no earth. I feel weightless and abstract, like a copy of a copy of a copy of me. I’m still here, but I’m trying to find me before my air is gone. I struggle to hold my breath, despite Ms. Josephine’s instructions to the contrary. My lungs are on fire.
“ . . . let go, Jack.”
“ . . . let go.”
2 . . .
My air is all gone. The fire in my chest is burning out of control. I don’t have a choice now. I can’t fight it. I know I’m supposed to submit to my worst fear. But I can’t. I’m shaking and quivering, and in so much pain that I can’t feel the roar anymore.
I can’t win this battle.
And so I take a breath, the warm water rushing into my mouth, traveling to my lungs. I’m drowning now, and the burning has been replaced with an intense stabbing pain. Like sharp barbs being thrust into my chest and lungs from every direction.
Stabbing, stabbing, stabbing.
I try to scream, but nothing comes out of my mouth. This losing battle with life, it’s in vain. Now comes the truly ghastly part of this . . . while the pain starts to collect each and every cell in my body—like a virus—all I can do is wait.
I’m watching me die. Full horrifying, tormenting suffering.
This isn’t Death Lite, it’s the original, with all the flavors, sweetener, and preservatives.
And there’s no point fighting. The pain can’t get any worse than this.
So I give up.
1 . . .
This quicksand of my worst phobia.
My passage from life, through an imagined death.
I’m being killed to be alive . . . among the recently deceased.
“ . . . look for da light, Jack. You know it’s dere,” Ms. Josephine’s voice tells me, trying to be as comforting as possible. Her voice of honey and flowers and mist. I trust her more than anyone I know. She’s leading me to my peaceful death.
That water that was suffocating me, now it’s a warm blanket.
Normally, I would have been a raving madman at this point. But I’ve done this before. Dying is just a part of my job description. Man up or back down. That’s what Detective Todd Steele says.
And really, this is my environment. It’s in my mind. This drowning I’m doing is only to conquer some kind of block my mind has on dying. I have to cross that barrier each time in order to access the Land of sorrows.
And right then is when I start to see the little bits of light. Nothing more than glittering flashes here and there. I start to swim towards them, the dots becoming thicker and longer. The streaks of broken light becoming rays of warmth. These filtered specs are now turning into a solid, bright line.
And I reach out my hands as far as they will extend, grasping in the warmth for the surface. I finally grip the edges of this brightness and pull myself towards it. As I kick and fight towards the surface, I feel a rush of cold as my head breaks through.
I blink, opening my eyes as I climb out of my own chest.