Each time is the same, but each time I get closer. This time, I step closer and closer to the patient – in this case, a woman named Dorothy Pearson I fancied from Sunday’s local farmer’s market. She was inspecting an ear of corn, peeling back the husk and peering inside, not dissimilarly from what I’m doing now. She was asking that Amish woman so many questions you would have thought she was opening her own competing farm.
The electricity is fascinating – the way it pulsates through her body and shines off her teeth and make her once-blue eyes bulge red. Her jaw clenches tighter than I intended as if her body would rather shatter every tooth in her gritting mouth than let her soul escape. Her forearms flex and then I look up her arm to see every muscle doing the same. The veins in her neck are visible now and seem to turn her whole body bright red. Each and every portion of her form is exhibiting a rare collaboration in the effort to keep her soul inside. Every inch screams and fights, almost hard enough to interfere with the experiment. Her vitality is fascinating, but it cannot be allowed. I wrap my fingers around the dial, making sure to artfully search for that voltage that will end the fight like I’m picking a lock.
Suddenly her jaw bone crunches and the sound rings out, seeking the depths of my eardrums. Her bottom jaw stays in place, but the rest of her head twists right, then left and the popping cracks come at a higher volume that almost makes even me wince. Pity – I should have made sure to strap her forehead down tighter. Nevertheless, we’re almost there. I crank the dial a little more: 3,000 mA now. She sure is a fighter, but this round of amplification proves too much. Her body screams louder, twists more, and her eyes roll into the back of her head and her broken face finally drops still.
I quickly shut off the chair and watch the smoke bellow out of her burnt hair. I fan it away as if the smoke could trigger the fire alarm whose batteries I haven’t replaced in the last decade. I then swing my gaze towards the scale which reads 145 pounds and 9 grams. I stare at it intently, awaiting that moment when…here it comes. 8 grams – 7 – 6 – 5. The numbers are dropping faster now and I can’t contain my grin. This part never gets old. 3…2…1…but then it stops. Only 8 grams lost – 8 grams separating life and death.
I yell and kick my medical cart which rolls across the room until it rattles against the wall. “God damn it,” I cry out. I punch the wall. My rage is still there after all of this, but now complimented with throbbing toes and bloody knuckles. I wrap some gauze around my right hand, then look back toward that reading of 145 pounds and 1 ounce and shake my head at it with a fatherly disappointment as if she was one of my own.
I’ve ran this test countless times – well, only countless for exaggeratory purposes. I am a man of science, so I’ve of course kept count. To this point, I’ve ran the experiment 47 times with Dorothy Pearson’s second iteration being the latest. But each time the weight differential changes. I have a few data points with a recorded 8-ounce difference, sure, but they range anywhere from 3 to 14 grams. Fourteen. That’s the approximate weight of a compact disk. Something sometimes the size of a disk is leaving the body and speeding through the air to somewhere I still cannot find and at a weight too variable to identify what are hard data points and what are outliers. On a graph, the differential appears in a random distribution not dissimilar from looking at a field of dandelions: chaos in short.
But I know there has to be a reason for it all, a reason to where we go and what the physical soul really is. In my head I can see the chyrons with my name sparkling and the spotlights on the greatest scientist to have ever lived. “But until then, we go again,” I sing to myself. Until then I separate the soul from the body, track its weight and directional shift, then coax it back to the patient to go again.
I hear something – something whispers by my ear. There she is. “Dorothy?” I call out. The lights flicker one after the other in a line and no random line at that. Her voice tickles my ear almost imperceptibly and points one way – a way almost all have before her. I follow the voice and the string of flickering lights into the next room where all the beds reside, some empty, many taken. But after only a few more paces, I lose the voice just as I have so many times before.
I shake my head and throw a fist at the air. Not this time. You won’t escape again, Dorothy Pearson. I run back to the chair where her body lays limp in the chair, still strapped in and with her broken jaw dropping a steady drip of blood; but at least the smoke has mostly dissipated.
I frantically stick the electrode pads to her chest beneath her fried shirt. I power on the AED with shaking hands. Bringing a patient back from the dead is precise and strictly timebound. Her soul is well on its way now, but I hope I can work fast enough to get it back in time to go again. “Come on, come on,” I whine. The AED picks up her cardiac rhythm of which there is none. It is then ready and prompts me to administer the shock. I slam on the button and Dorothy convulses like a fish out of water, but it doesn’t bring her back. All I can think about is that soul drifting away, waltzing and taunting me as it finds its way home. “Damn it,” I grit my teeth. The AED is soon ready again and I press the button. She twitches once more, but nothing happens. She’s still flatlining. I step back and shake my head, tears swelling to my eyes. Only three shocks can be administered but I’ve done this enough to know she’s gone. Patient number 19 to face such a fate and what a pity – I thought I saw something more in her; enough vitality to run the test at least four times.
I unstrap her from the chair and her body flops forward onto the bed, falling like a sack of potatoes face first. With a shaking head, I roll her down the hall like a damned undertaker. She was supposed to live – at least this time. Often in science you cannot predict outcomes, but I know I’m correct and one day I’ll prove it. I will find my answers. I’m so close. So very close. But until then we go again.
I open the freezer door and lift the back of the bed to tilt it at a downward angle until Dorothy Pearson rolls off and slaps down with that familiar tender meaty splat onto the others.
I fan the smell of fleshy degradation away from my nose. It always amazes me how the gnats and flies find their way, no matter how deep underground and no matter how tight the seal of my freezer. They buzz, feast, die, and repeat, tempted by the freezing buffet.
Next up will be the one who whimpers. She squirms and cries under that sheet at all hours of the day and I can’t stand it much longer. But on the other hand, under all that yelping there must be some vigor in her soul – vigor that will show me the way to the other side. I yank the blanket off her and look into her petrified eyes – I cannot blame her: my eyes must look ghastly given how little sleep I’ve had. I sing to her to calm her down. “Until then, we go again.”