It was an accident. Just an accident. After I had lost control, I knocked another car right into a railroad crossing. The train wasn’t carrying coal or chemicals. It was a transit line. Not many people were riding at that hour, but enough. One derailed car hit a sewer access, just an elevated concrete block. It tried to flip over, but a subway car isn’t meant for those kinds of stresses. It tore in half and slammed down, spilling humans across the street. The dead . . . they aren’t bodies. When you read a story, you have such a clear division. There are men and women, and there are corpses. One has hopes and dreams, and the other is meat, a set piece to decorate the landscape of a television series, or a video game.
It just isn’t like that.
I stood in shock, watching people crawl to their loved ones, weep over the injured or dead. Through my tears, I saw a mere cadaver become a man again as the EMT’s struggled to save people. It was a beautiful thing. The relief that flooded through me was greater than any grief I felt that day. The shrinks tried to help, but they always wanted to steer me away from the most intensely euphoric experience of my life.
It wasn’t a healthy course I chose. Oh no, god no. I was a broken man, a junkie for that moment when I saw meat turn into a man. Everything that troubled me didn’t matter, not compared to that. For a little while, I felt human.
I checked my watch. It was his fifth time, and adding thirty seconds each round, it was almost time. I checked the straps on my mask and turned on the defibrillator, the whine of the capacitors bringing a moment’s peaceful contemplation. I looked down at his face. Green eyes. Messy black hair that had been precisely parted, when I took him. Faint acne scars marked his cheeks, giving him a rugged look. He was a slick and savvy businessman, but a volunteer at the local soup kitchen, too. This was a complicated man with many friends.
I tapped record on my phone – a basic model that I had taken the antennas out of, made untrackable. I used it only to chronicle my time with the travelers, as I called them, to the next world and back. I put the paddles to his chest, watching the timer, and triggered them when the time was right. His back arched with the discharge, his eyes flew open, and he gasped, struggling against his bonds. Relief and amazement flooded through me, a catharsis of wonder.
“Welcome back, Barry.” He screamed something incomprehensible and probably vulgar, muffled by the mask taped over his nose and mouth. “That was two minutes and thirty seconds. Do you know how profound it is, to see life brought from death? Let’s try three minutes next.”
He struggled and whipped his head back and forth, his body trying to writhe out of the bonds. I turned a valve, and nitrogen began flowing into the breathing mask over his face. Nitrogen was a kind gas. There was no sense of suffocation, just the displacement of oxygen. His struggles weakened for the sixth time, and as he stilled, I touched his neck. With my free hand, I found my phone, and I tapped ‘reset timer’ every time I felt his pulse. Until . . . I didn’t. The timer had begun. It would be three minutes until I welcomed him back.
I wondered how long he would last. The ice water bath he was partly submerged in would stave off cell death. There were stories of people who lasted over an hour in frozen lakes and revived. What must that be like, to see someone shed an entire hour of death?
One day, I would find out.