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Cryonic Man - Excerpts

Chapters 1 & 2

What happens when the world's first Cryonic Man finds he shares body and mind with "Blood Countess" Erzsébet Báthory?
 

ßChapter 1

I bit down hard on the cold steel barrel of the Colt .38 to hold it steady in my trembling hands. A big eater, I never dreamed gun oil would end up on the menu. The bitter tang almost made me laugh through clenched teeth.

My finger tightened on the trigger. I shut my eyes, drew the hammer back, and pictured Emily’s face for the last time.

Would I hear the gunpowder explode before my lights went out? Terrified, my body went numb as I imagined the bullet tearing through my brain.

Click.

The sound sent me sprawling across the bed.

I checked the cylinders. There were .38 slugs in five of the six chambers. How could I forget that I always left a chamber empty? Maybe my subconscious mind wanted me to play a little Russian roulette, give me an unexpected thrill.

I made sure a slug was under the firing pin, put the barrel back into my mouth, and bit down hard again.

Before I closed my eyes, I saw a reflection of Emily’s portrait over the bed in the dresser mirror. Her face seemed to float above me like a disembodied spirit, her eyes accusing me of cowardliness.

I yanked the pistol from my mouth and shouted, “I’m no coward, Emily. I’m doing this to make it easier for you.”

I shook with anger, but the reprieve gave me time to consider. It wouldn’t be too damn pleasant for Emily to find me in the bedroom with my head blown off. Maybe I should leave a note and take myself out somewhere else. Yeah, that was it; leave a note so she’d understand. Emily would blame herself if I didn’t tell her why I did it. I set the gun on the bedside table and tried to imagine what to say.

Dear Emily.

No, I couldn’t say Dear Emily, I’m going to kill myself.

To Whom It May Concern, I killed myself because . . .

That didn’t sound right, either.

What words might explain why a tough guy like me would commit suicide? How could I describe my lifelong fear, not of dying, but of becoming helpless? People on their way out, lying in bed, unable to wipe their own ass. I always swore that wouldn’t be me and figured if I became helpless, I’d find a way to end it all, quick.

As I opened the nightstand drawer where Emily kept pen and paper, the perfume of her stationery drifted up along with warm memories of her. They say a dying man’s life flashes through his mind and I grasped at my visions like a drowning man.

I crumpled a pillow under my head and tried to enjoy the memories while I worked up the courage to write a note and pull the trigger again.

 


ßChapter 2

I lay slumped on the bed with the .38 in my hand, recalling the night about a month before when Emily insisted I go to the doctor. I’d suffered headaches for a couple of years but they’d been progressively getting worse. I told her after getting whacked in the head so many times since I’d taken up boxing as a kid, I was bound to have a few headaches now and then.

“Well, you go get your whacked head checked,” she’d said.

I figured my headaches were no big deal, but to make her happy, I went. Dr. Everett Dean, my family physician, ran a hundred tests on me – blood, echocardiogram, treadmill, you name it and he tested it. A week later I went back to hear the results.

When the nurse told me to go right in because Dr. Dean was waiting for me, I knew something was up. Usually I got stuck sitting in the waiting room, decorated by some pansy who loved flowers. The flowered rugs, wall-coverings, pictures, and furniture with flowered upholstery annoyed the heck out of me.

When the nurse ushered me to Dr. Dean’s office, the look on his careworn face said it all. I hoped his “I lost my best friend” look didn’t have anything to do with me. But I knew better. For a doctor and patient, we were pretty close. He delivered me twenty-six years before and was my family physician ever since.

“Sit down, Jim.”

I sat.

An even more heartbroken expression spread across Dr. Dean’s face. He reached over his desk and put his hand on mine. “Situations like this make me regret becoming a doctor.”

“Alright Doc, let me have it. I can take it, you know that.”

Dr. Dean’s eyes began to water. “I wish I could give you some hope, Jim, but I believe telling my patients the truth is always the best policy.” He lowered his head and wrote something on the clipboard he always carried. “I don’t know what to do except come right out and tell you. You have only a short time left to live.”

“You’re joking, right?” But I knew by the look on his face that he wasn’t. “You know I’ve never been sick. How can I suddenly be knocking at death’s door?”

“I’m so sorry, Jim. Sometimes a person carries a primary benign neoplasm for several years and has no symptoms at all, or suffers only an occasional headache, like you. Dr. Bernard has more experience with tumors than anyone else at the clinic. I confirmed my suspicions with him. Our prognosis is the same.”

“The same as what?”

“More than likely, despite any treatment, you’ll pass away sooner rather than later.”

“What’s sooner mean, Doc?”

Dr. Dean’s sad eyes softened even more. “Within six months, max.”

His words jolted me more than any blow I’d ever received in the ring. “I ain’t gonna let no fucking tumor screw up my life. I’ve got too much going on to die now. Can’t you just cut the damn thing out?” 

“Unfortunately, at this time, there’s nothing we can do. A brain tumor of this type, and its location, makes surgery impossible.”

“Come on, Doc. I only have headaches and now you’re telling me I’m dying, right before I win the championship?”

Dr. Dean’s eyes pleaded with me. “Do you want me to call your wife? Maybe it would be easier for you if I told her.”

“No! Don’t tell her anything. I’ll do it myself. I have a big fight coming up in a few weeks.”

“You’re done fighting, Jim. Try to enjoy the time you have left with your family.”

“I ain’t done ‘til the day I die. You should know that . . . If this tumor will kill me, how come I never felt it when I took blows to the head?”

Dr. Dean gazed at me thoughtfully. “Do you remember when I treated you for a concussion two years ago?”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“Do you remember how the bump on the outside of your skull hurt but there was no pain inside your head? That’s because your brain has no nerve sensors in the meninges to feel and transmit pain signals.”

“Well, if I can’t feel pain, why can’t I fight?”

“It’s entirely up to you, but I can’t condone your doing so.”

“Condone? I don’t care, Doc. You know how I feel about stuff like this. We talked about how I’d rather die than live as an invalid.”

“But Jim, you won’t be an invalid. Your death will come quickly. Fighting might even speed your death up.”

“If I can’t fight, I may as well be dead.”

I didn’t want to get into an argument with Dr. Dean, so I got up and left. On my way through the waiting room, I punched a hole through the big flower painted on the door.

I never once thought about dying before. In my prime, I’d recently won my twenty-eighth heavyweight pro boxing match. A victory in my next fight would put me in line for a championship fight. Money I anticipated earning would pay for a dream house to surprise Emily.

Six months! My gut churned in frustration when I thought of little Joe. He’d just turned five months old and I’d be dead before his first birthday. Not only that, Emily dreamed of having a sister for little Joe. It couldn’t happen now.

On the way home, I recalled what it was like hearing that a loved one was going to die soon. When my mutt Molly was a pup and I was twelve, I’d take her running every day. Because of running with her, I became inspired to start training to be a boxer. I kept jogging with Molly at my heels for ten years. When she no longer could keep up, I put her out to pasture to relax in her last dog days. That’s when I noticed the lump on her head and took her to the vet.

“Could be a tumor or an osteoma,” he’d said. “Let’s do a biopsy and some X-rays.” The bump was benign but he found a little shadow on her brain. “We’re catching the brain tumor early, but at her age, she won’t beat it,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

I couldn’t breathe when he told me. I wanted to bust out bawling, but remembered what I learned as a boy: Suffer any pain in silence. Only sissies show emotion. Keep your emotions locked up in your heart.

But Molly was my best friend and her death was the conduit that allowed my feelings to flow. Dogs ranked high on my list of things that were okay in this messed-up world.

When Molly couldn’t hold her bladder or her bowels any more, I carried her to the vet one last time. “You’re right, son, it’s time to put her down,” the vet said. He spread a blanket on an exam table and lay Molly down. Her eyes opened wide as she watched him take a needle from a cabinet.

I let the river of tears flow that I’d held back all my life. “Molly, it’s my turn to sit and stay. You’re my buddy and I love you.”

Her eyes shone at my words, but the delight in them froze into a blank stare.

The vet rubbed her head with compassion. “She’s gone.”

I cried all the way home like a goddamn sissy, but I didn’t care because I missed her so much. “Where are you now, Molly? If there isn’t a heaven for dogs there shouldn’t be one for people.”

I’d never told anyone how I cried over Molly’s death, but I knew if I told Emily that my time had come, she’d certainly cry too. A lot. How could I cause her so much pain?

The phone rang, jangling my thoughts. I looked at the bedside clock. An hour had flown past since the pistol’s hammer struck an empty chamber.

I picked up the phone. “Yeah?”

“Jim, are you okay?” Dr. Dean sounded excited.

“Yeah, fine, great,” I said flatly.

“I’m sorry to intrude, but I’ve got some better news. By the way, I added the price of a new door and the installation to your bill.”

I smiled sheepishly, knowing he said that to lighten the situation and it did make me feel better for an instant. “Sorry, Doc.”

“After you left, I consulted Dr. Bernard again to see if there’s any experimental treatment that that might help.”

“Yeah, and?”

“Well, one thing came up. However, I question the viability of the procedure and maybe I shouldn’t even mention it.”

“You call me and say there may be hope, but maybe you shouldn’t tell me? Don’t give me that bullshit!”

Dr. Dean remained silent for a moment. “I was just wondering out loud. There’s a new procedure, but it’s pretty radical.”

“Spit it out, Doc.” 

“Jim, please keep an open mind and remain calm so we can discuss this realistically.”

“Okay, I’m calm and my mind’s wide open. Now what in the hell are you talking about?”

“There’s a new science called cryonics. Not to be confused with cryogenics. Cryonics is – ”

“Could you just get to the point, Doc? I don’t understand scientific stuff and I’ve got important things to take care of here. What does cryo-whatsis have to do with my tumor?

“Jim, I’m trying to explain that cryonics is a technique that involves cooling legally dead people to liquid nitrogen temperature until physical decay essentially stops. The preservation process is performed in the hope that advanced scientific procedures will allow patients to be revived and restored to good health someday. A person held in such a state is called a cryopreserved patient. The medical community doesn’t regard the cryopreserved person as truly dead.”

“Oh, goody. Sounds like a sci-fi movie. The zombie fighter rises from the laboratory. . . You’re not holding out much hope here, Doc.”

Dr. Dean cleared his throat. “It’s the only hope you’ve got to preserve your life.”

“How in the hell do you preserve a corpse for that long?”

“Once you’re declared dead, the Cryonic Foundation technicians will pack you in ice and water until the preservation process is started. Then they replace your blood with cryoprotectant chemicals, like antifreeze, and slowly lower your body temperature until they can store you in liquid nitrogen. When science learns how to shrink brain tumors like yours and how to rejuvenate cryopreserved individuals, you’ll be revived, your tumor cured, and you’ll be able to live out your life.”

That silenced me for a moment.

“You’re right, Doc. That’s pretty damn radical.”

Doctor Dean sighed. “You asked me to help. Fact is, you’ll expire within six months. This procedure may give you a chance to live again, though in the future. “

What did it matter what happened to my body after I died? I wouldn’t be around to find out, I hoped. What if I got preserved and still had feelings? I hated the cold worse than anything. What if my mind or spirit remained aware while my body was trapped in a tank full of nitrogen? Even worse, what if I was revived long after Emily and little Joe were gone?

“I don’t know. I can see some problems down the road. If I go through with this cryonics stuff, will I have any feeling?”

“You’ll be legally dead before your head is cryonically preserved,” Dr. Dean explained. “Your mind will be a total blank when we start the process.”

I was relieved to know I probably wouldn’t know or feel anything. No worse than being six feet under. Then I realized exactly what Dr. Dean had said.

“My fucking head!? I need my entire body, Doc, you know that! I don’t want to end up some kinda patchwork Frankenstein. No way.”

Dr. Dean was silent for a moment. “Your long-term memory, personality, and identity are stored in the structures of the brain. Neuropreservation is more economical, and the premise is that your body is expendable and regeneration of it may be routine in the future. So far, cryopreservation hasn’t worked well with large mammals, but cryopreservation of single organs, such as kidneys and brains, has been successful.”

“No fucking way, Doc. It could take a thousand years to figure out how to regenerate an entire body. I’m an athlete. This plan is out of the question.”

Dr. Dean sighed. “Cell damage caused from freezing is one of the problems with cryopreservation of larger masses of tissue. The current process can keep your brain in good shape, but it’s a dice roll for your body, if they’ll even attempt it . . . I know this is a tough decision, Jim. If you decide not to try this procedure, all you have to look forward to is early death. If you decide to do it, one day you may live again. I only mention it because you’re young and should have a future ahead of you. And you can afford to try it. Some people can’t.”

What the hell, I thought. Why not give it a shot?

“Hearing you put it like that, go ahead and make the arrangements,” I said. “I’ll call my attorney, so he can check into the financial details and set aside some funds for Emily and little Joe. But I insist – and I want this in writing – I insist that they preserve my entire body. What have I got to lose? Nothing, basically. I’m as good as dead now and if they can’t revive me, I’m still dead, right?” 

“Good thinking, Joe. And putting money away for your family’s future is an excellent idea.”

Dr. Dean was right. May as well plan for a miracle. We had a little money tucked away already. Maybe I could win the championship before I croaked and leave a good nest egg as well as the insurance. Or maybe I’d be the comeback kid in a decade or two and get back on the championship track, start life over again with Emily and Joe.

After I hung up the phone, I began to wonder just what in the hell I was getting myself into. I swore I’d never be a guinea pig for the guys in the white coats. For all I knew, the CIA or somebody was experimenting with cryonically preserved bodies. I sure as hell didn’t want to get mixed up in something like that.

Then I remembered Dr. Dean’s reassurance about not feeling anything during the procedure. I may as well relax and spring for the experiment. I’d be dead anyway, so what the hell could anyone do to hurt me?

This cryonics stuff changed everything. I sure as hell would never live again if I blew my brains out.

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