He looked no older than twenty. Athletic physique, pale as the moon. “The paramour of a certain lady of high standing. It is not our place to judge, of course.” He winked as Scholls lifted the quivering young man onto a gurney and wheeled him towards a small but well equipped lab at the edge of the great warehouse.
“What happens to him now?” I pried. Now secure that I did not intend to share any of it, he was more candid than before. “A warm bath. Any open wounds stitched shut. They will never heal of course, but can be handily concealed with cosmetics. She’ll be around to collect him after we’re done with you. Once a month, providing payments continue, we’ll send her a set of five injections. What’s needed for the coming month plus a small reserve for emergencies.”
I again inquired as to where it comes from. He became mildly irate. “It is not your concern where it comes from. Do you realize what we can do for you? Would you really look this particular gift horse in the mouth?” I thought of Annika, and bit my tongue. They led me to the motorized hydraulic lifter which was now busy retrieving a new casket. As it descended into view, I gasped in recognition.
Only yesterday I’d watched the same casket descend into the Earth. Never imagining it would descend further. Never imagining I would glimpse it ever again. I trembled, envisioning her cold, lifeless body inside. I still did not want to see it. Sensing this, Beady spoke up. “You don’t have to watch. There’s a waiting room by the lab.” But, could I come this far and still look away during the crucial moment? I felt as if I had to see it with my own eyes to believe.
Several times I began to object as they undressed her. “That’s my wife”, I might’ve said. Was my wife. Still, I dared to hope. It only continued to grow, refusing every effort to tame it. Could I believe? Was it safe? Having reinforced my heart for a lifetime of solitary misery, was it truly possible that I might walk out of here with Annika beside me?
Scarcely breathing, I stared, enraptured, as they dumped her into the cylinder. She flailed aimlessly, sinking to the bottom before the slight buoyancy afforded by gases which accumulate during decomposition propped her somewhat upright. The intense vulgarity of it, to do such things with a corpse. Yet, if I could believe it, soon it would no longer be one.
Beady slid a throttle gently upward. A jet of the black fluid blasted forth into the chamber, soon achieving the desired mixture. Amidst it, I could see her hair gently swaying in the fluid like seaweed in a current. Still, I dared to hope. So strongly now that I wanted to shout. To tear at my clothing, at my hair. On the verge of losing my mind. Could it be? Could I believe it?
Beady toggled a switch. I felt the small hairs on my body stand on end as some unseen electrical field radiating from the chamber engulfed us. Muffled pops signalled electrical arcs within the chamber, the same rapid blue flashes as before. Then, suddenly, confirmation. Of what I both dreaded, and desperately wished for. She began to move.
Sluggish at first but then suddenly violent. Thrashing about in a panic. “She won’t drown, will she?” I cried out. “You said they can’t drown!” Scholls put a hand on my shoulder to steady me. “Settle down, it’s nearly finished.” The silicone orifice dilated as Annika, coated in a thin film of oily residue, slipped through it. At once, I was beside her.
“Don’t touch her just yet”. I had in fact meant to shake her, but obeyed the instruction lest I somehow disrupt the procedure. She clumsily struck at empty air, kicked, and gasped like a fish out of water. Then slowly, she grew docile, and her eyelids began to flutter.
The hope building within me until now reached its climax as, in defiance of everything I knew to be impossible until today, her eyes opened. The pupils constricted, she squinted on account of the bright lights overhead. Then looked at me.
“…Charles?” I burst into tears. There was no controlling it. I fell to my knees beside her, holding her cold, frail hands in mine. “Why am I so cold?” she weakly inquired. Scholls and Beady gently helped me to my feet and set about wheeling her off to the lab, with myself in close pursuit. I insisted that I be the one to bathe her. They produced a fresh set of clothing. “Best that she not leave here in the gown she was buried in”, Scholls cautioned. I could see the wisdom in that.
She fell silent on the trip back to the office. No doubt finding her surroundings as strange as I did on the way in. I was content simply to hold her close to me, warming her body with mine. Marveling at how taking a chance on that business card had restored my life, my heart, and my reason to continue in this world.
As we departed, Beady assured me he would handle the official side of things. The coroner who’d originally pronounced Annika dead would publically reverse himself, attributing the diagnosis to the nascent state of science where death is concerned. After which I knew a great many people would be eager to confirm it for themselves.
For her part, Annika seemed surprised. And troubled. I could feel nothing but elation to be sitting across from her as I drove home. “It was quite a lot of trouble to get this heap running again after they pulled it out of the drink”, I quipped. “Motor, wiring, batteries, the whole lot needed replacement. But it’s your favorite. I knew you’d want-”
She finally spoke. “Charles, how did I get here? I remember now. The bridge collapsed. I couldn’t get out of the car. Gulped down water, and blacked out. Am I dead?” It took the wind out of my sails, but I quickly recovered. “Not anymore.” It just confused her. “What was that place, Charles? I saw bodies.” I didn’t have an easy answer for that which I thought would satisfy her. So I told her the truth. Most of it.
“You were believed dead. But death is still poorly understood. There are men who, by remarkable technology, can pull the apparently deceased back from the brink. For a steep price.” Still, she looked unsettled. As if struggling to remember something.
“Annika, put all of that out of your mind. What’s important is that you’ve come back to me. All I’ve thought about since the accident was the Summer that we met. The happiest time of my life. When I thought I’d lost you, winter took hold. That was to be the rest of my life. Wandering the barren wastes alone, in freezing darkness until at last my body gave up the fight. To see your beautiful face is as though the clouds have parted, the sun has emerged, all the snow and ice melting to make way for Summer’s return.”
Faintly, she smiled. As I relished it, I became aware of the weight of a leather case jostling about in my jacket. Five full syringes. I insisted she get some rest when we arrived at my estate, against her protestation that she felt fine. I spent the rest of the evening making calls. Her mother and father would be the first to visit.
The depth of their anguish quite possibly exceeded my own following the accident. So, as expected, their euphoria upon learning she was alive bordered on the explosive. I almost couldn’t stop them from visiting that night. After she spoke with them at length on the phone, they agreed to delay their visit until the following day. Also the first day I would administer an injection.
It was a frustrating affair. She didn’t understand the necessity of it and simply wanted breakfast. When she gets hungry there’s no reasoning with her. But no sooner had she chewed and swallowed the muffin than it came right back up. I held her hair as she emptied her stomach into the toilet. “What’s wrong with me?” she whined.
Thereafter it was easier to convince Annika that the syringes were necessary. I told her it was medicine, relating to the treatment which revived her the day before. She’s never liked needles and had to scrunch her eyes shut as I did it. Then came the heart stimulation. The little wand plugged easily enough into the outlet and, upon pressing the trigger, emitted a satisfying electrical crackle.
“That’s really going too far” she whimpered. But I insisted the injections would do her no good otherwise. So, she rolled up her nightgown and laid back, small conical breasts exposed, as I searched for a heartbeat. Of course I didn’t find one, and felt foolish for a moment, having forgotten such a detail. Instead I felt for my own to get an idea of where to place the wand electrodes on Annika.
Once in place, I pressed the trigger and held it. The instructions said to maintain current for a little over one minute, in order to ensure at least a single full circulation through the vascular system. I held it for two, just for good measure. I studied her face waiting for some color to return. Of course it never did, but she soon proclaimed that her hunger and nausea had vanished.
Stay Tuned for Part 5!