science fiction and fantasy writer

The Greatest Adventure of All

Dole came back from the dead screaming.

“Jesus!” Abby yelled. She slapped the emergency release on the cold bed’s canopy. “Hold him down!”

Dole wrenched at his facemask. His head jerked back and forth while he screamed. Blood spattered as he ripped out one of his IVs. I dove in under the rising canopy to try and keep him still. I got a good look at his expression through the escaping steam: lips peeled back in a rictus, eyes open but not seeing me or anything else around him.

He clouted me across the face trying to get free of his body cocoon. I reeled back and smacked my head against the canopy.

“This shouldn’t be happening!”

 Thanks Len, I thought, clutching at my nose, very fucking helpful.

“Well it is!” Arj snapped. “Help, dammit!”

Len flopped her considerable weight across Dole’s lower torso and legs while Arj grappled with the flailing arms. The moment they had him still, Abby lunged in like a fencer and stabbed the sedative into his shoulder. Dole subsided almost immediately.

“Shit,” said Len, panting, while she fumbled with the loose IV tube. “He shouldn’t have come up nearly that quick. What the hell happened?”

“I don’t know,” said Abby. “His temperature’s still way down. We need to heat him back up quick.” She was already adjusting the temperatures of the glucose IV and the humidified oxygen going into Dole’s mask.

Arj shook out a foil blanket. He looked at me, his mouth quirking up at one corner. “You look like shit, Hoop.”

My hands and shirt were covered in blood. I could feel it congealing on my face. My nose and upper lip throbbed. “Yeah,” I said. “He’s got a mean left hook.”

#

By the time I cleaned myself up, Arj had scrounged me a fresh t-shirt. I stopped outside the recovery room to pull it on.

“How is he?” I asked, rather indistinctly. My top lip had blown up like a balloon. My head ached, too, where I’d hit it on the cold bed.

“Awake. Calm,” he said. “Whole – we think. Physical responses are normal. He’s in mild shock. Hasn’t said anything yet.”

“Abby?”

He shrugged. “Gone real quiet.”

Abby and Dole were a couple, the ringleaders of our little cabal. They were the kind of adrenalin addicts who see extreme sports as a mystical experience. Who’d mangle J.M. Barrie to tell you: “Death is the greatest adventure of all, man.”

Of course, the rest of us were fear junkies too, otherwise we wouldn’t be sneaking around the labs after hours like the cast of Flatliners.

“Come on, I want to see him.”

Len was hovering by the window, letting in a cold draught while she held her cigarette outside. That side of her body was lit with grey twilight. Abby had wedged herself into a corner, arms folded defensively, as far from the bed as she could get and still be in the room. Like she thought Dole’s failure of courage might be contagious.

Dole sat propped up with pillows, blankets round his shoulders and over his legs. His face had a sickly sheen, like grey wax. His hands trembled around the steaming mug of hot glucose drink. He clasped it with the intensity of a drowning man holding onto a life preserver. His eyes and cheeks seemed to have sunk right back into his head. He looked like he’d seen a ghost.

Perhaps he has, I thought, given he’s just been dead for an hour.

He looked up a little after Arj and I entered, like his brain had taken a minute to register the movement. His brow creased slightly as he took in my battered face. His mouth worked a couple of times before raspy words came out. “I do that to you, Hooper?”

“Uhuh.”

“Sorry, man.” He went back to contemplating his drink, as though that handful of words had exhausted his stock.

“So what happened?” Abby said. Her voice was flat, as distant from him as her posture.

Dole took a long time to answer. Eventually, he managed to unstick his jaw again and whisper, “I went to Hell.”

“Bullshit,” said Len and Arj together.

I scowled at them. “Great bedside manner, guys.”

The look Dole gave them said clearly enough that he wasn’t kidding.

“It burned,” he said. “Don’t know if it was hot or cold, but it burned. And…” His whole body shuddered. His drink lapped over onto his blanket and dribbled down the foil. He didn’t notice. “And there was something there with me. Something that hurt me. There were lots of people being hurt.” He frowned, seeming confused. “Lots of things being hurt, I don’t know if they were really people.”

The rest of us exchanged glances.

“Could be an effect of neuron death,” Abby said.

“That shouldn’t have happened,” Arj countered.

Ninety-eight minutes was the record for revival after cryonic death. Dole had been gone less than two-thirds of that. Of course, the record was held by Billy the baboon. Dole was now the human record holder by a factor of two.

“That’s right,” said Len. “None of the animal subjects showed any sign of neural failure or distress after we brought them back up.”

“No other human subjects reported anything like this,” Arj added.

“They weren’t dead long enough to know,” Dole interjected.

“That’s my point,” said Abby. “Neuron death wasn’t…”

“Hold on a minute,” I interrupted, unable to contain myself any longer. “I think you’re all missing the point. Dole was fully aware on the other side of death.”

They weren’t as impressed as I thought they should be. Arj rubbed his jaw and shrugged. “Maybe cryonic death isn’t as dead as we thought it was.”

Len directed a cloud of smoke out the window from the corner of her mouth and flicked the butt after. “Or, maybe it is. And if Hell exists, so must Heaven.”

“Then why’d I go to Hell?” Dole said, an edge of anger in his voice.

Arj waved a hand. “Too much lovin’ from Mrs Palmer and her five daughters, bro?” No-one cracked a smile.

I backhanded his shoulder. “Enough, already.”

“I’m going next,” said Abby.

“Next?” I could hardly believe my ears. “Who’s talking about next? I want to be sure this guy hasn’t got any holes in his brain, first. Then we’ll talk about what we’re doing next. Abby? Right?”

I glared at her until she nodded.

“You won’t find any damage,” said Dole.

“I hope not,” I told him.

#

“So, what’s the score?” Dole demanded from the daybed. The tone of his voice didn’t quite match the lightness of his words.

He had a tube in each arm: one clearing out glycoprotein-loaded blood, the other topping him up with treated plasma that would help break down the antifreeze and other gunk we’d pumped into him before he went under. A day after his resurrection he’d recovered well from the shock, although his eyes still looked sunken and shadowed.

Arj flipped the monitor around so Dole could see the results of the MRI.

“Says you’re as stupid as you ever were, bro.”

Dole squinted at the screen for a minute. “I told you it’d be normal.”

Abby tapped a finger against her lips. “So, there must be some other explanation for what he experienced.”

I noticed the ‘he’. She wouldn’t address him directly, wouldn’t even look at him. She hadn’t kissed him goodnight when Len took her home, leaving Arj and I to stay at the lab and keep an eye on him. Like all of a sudden Dole was reduced from a partner to just another dumb test subject.

Dole spaced his words: “I went to Hell.”

“That’s a cultural interpretation,” said Len. “You’re not thinking scientifically.”

“Fuck science. What does science know about it?”

That got a rise out of Abby. She jabbed a finger at him. “You’re no longer a reliable observer,” she snapped, then, to the rest of us: “I’m going under next.”

Dole surged to his feet, lunged at her.

“You’ll regret it the rest of your miserable life!” he shouted into Abby’s face. “Some things aren’t meant to be known,” he flung over his shoulder as he stormed off, wrenching his IV stands along with him.

Len winced, watching him go. “Jesus. Arj, you sure that scan’s normal?”

#

We put Abby under.

Dole wouldn’t participate. Abby said to just leave him alone for a while. The Centre’s Director was on sabbatical and Abby was acting in her place, Dole wasn’t teaching any undergrad classes that semester, either, so we had no-one we needed to explain his absence to.

Abby had moved in with Len, while she prepped for her impending death, dosing up on glycoproteins to reduce the risk of tissue damage from localised freezing.

“You sure about this?” I asked, zipping her into the body cocoon. Pointless question. Abby-girl would never admit to fear of anything.

She nodded. Arj stuck in the second needle and attached the pipe that would pump cold plasma into her blood stream. Len slipped the mask on over Abby’s head. It steamed up immediately as she breathed in oxygen humidified with cool perflourocarbon.

I checked her EEG and pulse monitors one last time and ducked out from under the canopy. Len tapped the switch to lower it.

I started up the cocoon, running refrigerant through it that, together with the drips and gas, would drop her body temperature by a degree Centigrade every two-and-a-half minutes. I saw her eyes close before the canopy started to mist up.

“She’s comatose,” said Len, a couple of minutes later.

I watched the monitors. “She’s gone.”

“Time,” said Arj, setting his wristwatch: backup, in the unlikely event the apparatus failed to start warming her up after the programmed interval.

I checked the displays. “Temperature’s steady.”

I set my own watch and propped myself against the bench to wait. Len fiddled with the crash cart. We were bringing Abby back up slower than we had with Dole, but we’d kept the cart prepped in case she burst back into life, like he had, and put herself into cardiac arrest. Arj wandered aimlessly around the lab, slapping an idle beat on the sides of his ribs as he hugged his chest.

Passing across my field of vision, he yawned. I did, then Len.

Len started tapping her fingernails on the metal casing of a monitor. I tried to ignore her.

My attention was caught by the sad little animal noises that drifted in from the cage room down the hall. The animals had never bothered me before, but now I wondered if there weren’t plenty of reasons why we’d all be shown the down escalator rather than the up after we died.

“Perhaps we’re not meant to be doing this,” I said, only half intending to voice the thought.

Arj and Len stared at me.

Sacrilege, their faces said. What kind of a scientist are you, Hooper? Give the monster life first, just to see if you can: then bemoan the consequences of what you’ve already unleashed.

Nobel and Oppenheimer would have loved them.

Dole’s experience and his reaction to it had me rattled. I knew he considered himself a Christian, although always a scientist first. The more cautious experiments of our predecessors had left me unprepared for the possibility that there was something to experience after death. But, even as we flung ourselves after a scientific explanation for the phenomenon, I wondered whether, deep down, any of us had ever been free of the possibility – the hope, if I was really honest with myself – that there was something on the other side.

Maybe Hell is all there is. I shivered. Dammit, Len – why can’t you keep your big mouth shut?

Arj’s watch alarm chimed, making me jump. A moment later, mine started beeping as well. I shut it off and checked the bed. The cocoon had switched over from cooling to heating. I flipped the IV nearest me from the cold drip to warm glucose-dextrose. Len did the other side and checked that the gas had changed from cold oxy-PFC to warm, humidified air.

Abby came up smoothly and quietly. We all sighed with relief as the canopy came up. But then she stayed quiet, unmoving and unresponsive, her eyes glazed and staring at nothing.

All of a sudden she convulsed and dry retched. I pulled the mask off and rolled her onto her side to stop her from choking herself. She started to sob.

#

She looked tiny, in the recovery bed that Dole had filled: sharp-faced and brittle-boned like a bird. Far from the dynamic ball of energy she usually appeared. Her face was rigid, giving nothing away, as though we hadn’t all witnessed her earlier lapse.

Len had assumed her post by the window. The breeze blew her smoke back into the room. Arj and I propped up the wall opposite the bed, giving Abby the space she needed to feel like she was in control.

“You up to telling us about it?” I said.

Her eyes flashed. My question was deliberately provocative. I wanted an answer. It occurred to me that I was treating her as coldly as she’d treated Dole. She’d become a subject, too.

Like Dole, she took a moment to find her voice.

“There was no physical sensation,” she said. “But I was definitely aware.” There was a catch in her voice, but her mask didn’t slip.

“Any sense of time passing?” asked Len.

Abby shook her head. “I saw the white light for a while, but no, not really.”

“Were you aware the whole time?” said Arj.

A frown. “Not sure. I think there might’ve been a gap.”

“What else?” I said.

Our eyes all went to the pulse monitor we’d left on her. Her heart rate had jumped. She was breathing more deeply, too. She seemed unaware of it.

“There was… a sensation.”

“But not a physical one?”

Another shake of the head.

“Painful?” I pressed.

A nod. Tears threatened. She fought to get control of herself.

“Did you sense any other presence?” said Arj.

We all caught the fractional hesitation before she shook her head. Her heart rate jumped again.

Len stubbed out her half-smoked cigarette on the window ledge. “I reckon that’s enough, for now. Let’s give her some rest.”

We reconvened our diminished cabal outside, around the lab’s tiny conference table.

Len took a deep breath. It shuddered on the way back out.

“Sounds like she had the same experience as Dole,” I said.

“It must be something that kicks in after the thirty minute mark,” said Arj.

“A post-physical experience,” I added.

“So maybe life is more than just physical processes,” said Len.

Arj eyeballed her. “You’re not getting all mystical on us, are you, Lennie dear?”

“Define life,” she retorted.

He smirked.

Len said, “It could be an effect of the process of life leaving the body.”

“The soul taking wing?” suggested Arj.

“I’m serious, Arj!”

He held up his palms. “Sorry.” He thought a moment. “Okay, so if that’s the case, it’d be temporary.”

“Right. So, does it last all the way up to the point where revival is no longer possible?”

“You’d need a ouija board to find out,” said Arj. He shrugged. “Theory says about two hours is the max. We can find out if it cuts out before then. Let’s go back to animal testing and push the limit.”

They were getting excited, fired up with having a problem to solve. I brought them crashing back down. “What about this other presence?”

Len shook her head. “Abby said there wasn’t one.”

“Abby lied,” I said. Len didn’t argue.

“What about it, Hoop?” said Arj.

I spread my hands. “Well, maybe we should see if we can communicate with it.”

“How?” he said. “You can’t take nothin’ with you when you go. What you going to do? Count prime numbers? Think happy thoughts?”

I slapped the tabletop with both hands. “How the fuck should I know, Arjun?”

My outburst shocked me as much as he and Len. I sucked in a lungful of air. “Sorry.”

Everyone has their own coping mechanism. Some are just more annoying than others. And Arj was right: this was blind science. Whatever happened on the other side, we had only our minds to confront it.

#

We went back to animal subjects.

Abby was still participating. She had the look of someone who hadn’t been sleeping. Len said she’d been having nightmares. She’d latched on to Arj and Len’s theory that the pain was a temporary state, pursuing the experiments with the cold intensity she faced every challenge, from research to canyoning. But there was nothing of the bright spark of enthusiasm that had animated her before.

I tried to contact Dole, but the home phone was off the hook and his mobile was switched off. When I went round to his apartment one evening, I was mildly surprised to find Abby back in residence.

“Gone,” was her monosyllabic response to my question. She looked a mess, her face slack and eyes obviously dulled by tranquilisers. I’d surprised her, catching her with the facade down.

“He leave a note to say where?”

“Nope. Just texted me to say the apartment was mine again.”

I told Arj and Len, and between us we called around all Dole’s other friends and his family, without success. I wanted to register him as a missing person but Abby argued against it.

“Trust me, Hooper. Harming himself is the last thing he’d do.”

The honesty behind that remark – the first emotionally honest thing she’d said since we brought her back – stopped me short. Reluctantly, I let the matter drop.

The animal experiments went smoothly and the theory tested true. None of the revived animals showed any physical or psychological abnormality afterwards, other than increasing – but temporary – lethargy the longer we left them under. But we couldn’t resurrect any animal after longer than one hundred and twenty-five minutes and eleven seconds. We killed two macaques and Kermit the labrador before we decided that was the limit.

When Kermit died, I cried. Abby looked triumphant: somebody was weaker than her. Arj and Len didn’t quite know what to do with me.

Len wanted to test on a near-human before any of us tried it, so we started prepping Doris the chimp.

When it came to the day, I found I couldn’t take part. I sat on the steps outside and smoked Len’s cigarettes until Arj came and told me Doris was the new Messiah and today was Easter.

“You still in?” he asked.

I nodded.

“We’re drawing straws to see who goes next.”

#

Absolute blackness. It faded. A point of light appeared, grew until it surrounded me. I basked in it. Then, as suddenly as if someone had just flipped a switch…

     Nothing.

Not dark, or light. Just a complete lack of visual information. No sound either, nor any physical sensation at all. I waited, without any idea of the passage of time, mildly curious that I felt no sense of panic or fear. Emotional responses are largely the product of chemical reactions in the body and brain, I reasoned. With no body, I felt nothing.

I became aware of a presence in the void. I sensed its awareness of me.

Okay, so now what?

Whether or how the presence might be examining me, I couldn’t tell.

Fuck you, anyway, Arjun. One, two, three, five, seven, eleven, thirteen…

Something stabbed into my consciousness like a claw into flesh. A thousand claws engulfed me. Searing pain followed, unlike heat or cold or acid, but burning wherever the claws pierced. The pain was like nothing I had ever imagined, and I had no voice to scream. I was joined to countless others as the thing fed without ever diminishing its victims.

The pain went on without relent…

#

Cold hit me.

I realised I could feel my body again. I felt my tormentor’s rage as I was torn from its grasp.

I woke up with a yell.

#

I stood a foot back from the glass balcony doors, crippled by vertigo. You used to base-jump without a twinge, Hooper, I told myself. Used to.

But this had me beat. The one time I’d made it out onto the balcony, the terror of throwing myself over the edge had been so overpowering I’d collapsed, half in and half out of the door. When Arj found me, he’d assumed it was because I was still physically so weak. I hadn’t told him otherwise.

I craved a cigarette and at the same time was almost reduced to tears by the years that habit might already have taken off my life.

I shivered. The flat was cold. I didn’t like to use the gas heating anymore. I stood with my hands tucked under my armpits. They shook, otherwise. It wasn’t from the cold.

I was still very weak, but that wasn’t it either. I was bone-tired, but I could no longer sleep. When I had, my dreams took me back to the other side.

The others had agreed to the theory that the pain was a temporary state, linked to the dissociation of immaterial components of life from the physical being.

I’d asked why none of the animals seemed distressed by their experience. Len had theorised that the difference had to do with sapience. I’d wondered silently if it had to do with innocence. Thinking culturally, Len would’ve said. Not scientifically.

“What about other presence?” I’d said.

Abby had looked at me directly and said, “There was no other presence. That was just your interpretation of the pain. Probably influenced by Dole.”

I could see that she needed to believe that. Equally clearly, I could see that she didn’t. Arj and Len could deny it, because they hadn’t experienced it.

“A temporary effect,” they had insisted.

“Untestable,” I’d replied.

They didn’t want to know. I’d wanted to scream at them. Len had reached for her cigarettes, hesitated, and changed her mind. Arj and Abby pretended not to notice.

“I want to publish,” Abby had said.

I’d lost it, then. “Are you fucking crazy? I mean, forget about the fact that we weren’t supposed to be experimenting on ourselves and we’d all lose our fucking jobs, what the fuck are you going to publish? You going to tell the world that pain is all we can find on the other side of death?” I’d jabbed a finger into her chest. “You know what that knowledge does to a person, Abby.”

We’d glared at each other, nose to nose.

“You’ve lost it, Hooper,” she’d said, and turned her back on me.

“So have you, Abby-girl.”

Arj had taken me home then. “You’re freaking me out,” he’d said.

I’d continued to do so. A couple of days later, I’d had a melt-down when I caught him digging in the toaster with a knife, startled him so badly with my shout that he’d dropped the toaster and smashed it on the tiles.

I wished I knew where Dole was, how he was coping.

I heard the front door open and shut. I turned as Arj came in, burdened with groceries.

“Shit, Hoop, it’s freezing in here.”

“I hadn’t noticed.”

He put the bags down on the kitchen counter, gave me a look I couldn’t meet for long. I turned back to the window.

“Any calls?” he asked.

“No.”

A moment later: “Hardly surprising, bro, when you’ve left the damn phone muted again… There’s a message.”

“Arj, you there?” Abby’s voice. “Hoop, pick up, fuck you… Shit. Dole’s back. We had an argument. He left… I think he’s gone to the lab. I’m going to go after him.”

Arj and I stared at each other. We both started for the door at the same moment. I followed him down the stairs as fast as I could, holding onto the railing with both hands and trying not to see down the middle of the well.

In the car, he tossed the phone into my lap. “Call Len.”

I tried Abby’s mobile first. It went straight to voicemail. I called Len.

She answered immediately. “Yeah?”

“It’s Hooper. You heard from Abby?”

“Nope. Been out.” She owned neither a mobile nor an answering machine.

“Dole’s back… Fucking hell!” I yelled, as Arj slewed the car too fast around a corner. “Dole’s back. Abby thinks he’s gone to the lab. We think he might do something dumb.”

“I’ll be there.” She hung up.

I braced against the dashboard and the door handle. Arj raced an orange light. I shut my eyes and concentrated on my breathing, trying not to vomit.

The journey seemed never-ending.

“Oh, shit…”

I opened my eyes. We were pulling into the carpark at the Centre, nestled in the back of the University’s science precinct. Smoke billowed out of the main entrance. We heard the clamour of the fire alarms.

Arj was out and running as soon as he’d switched the engine off. The stink of burning wood and plastic came in through his open door. I got out as he was bounding up the steps.

“Arj! Don’t!”

He ignored me and charged inside. I swore and fumbled at the phone, managed to stay coherent long enough to call the fire brigade.

I hung up and stared at the burning building. I fought the urge to pee my pants and willed myself across the gravel and up the steps. A spider monkey raced past me as I crossed the threshold. Three rabbits followed it, slipping and skittering past my feet. The surreality of the moment made me light-headed.

The brittle calm of emotional shut-down, that I’d craved since my resurrection, finally descended over me.

I ducked low to keep out of the worst of the smoke. It was coming from the cryonics lab, but I couldn’t see any flames.

“Arj?” The din of the fire alarm above the main entrance rattled my brain and swallowed my voice.

I found him in the cage room. He had Dole up against the wall, a forearm under his jaw. Dole’s feet barely touched the ground. He struggled, but Arj is a big guy and Dole seemed to have shrunk in the time he’d been away.

Half the cages were empty. The remaining inhabitants were frantic. Doris the chimp screamed at me and hurled herself against the bars.

“What the fuck have you done, asshole?” Arj yelled at Dole, over the noise of the animals and the alarms.

I pulled at his arm. “Arj, this isn’t the time.” He backed off. Dole slid down the wall. “Get the rest of the animals out.”

Arj nodded, so pumped that he was beyond thinking for himself. He’s one of those who never shuts down, but has to let the overflow out instead.

I looked down at Dole. “Where’ve you been?”

“A monastery.” His answer dumbfounded me for a moment. He pushed himself up the wall. “Trying to find my faith again.” He gave me a death’s-head grin. “I couldn’t.”

I grabbed his shoulders. “Where’s Abby?”

His face seemed to collapse, becoming an old man’s. He burst into tears. Weak as I was, I flung him away from me. “Oh shit, man.”

I raced down to the lab. Dole had started fires with the bedding in the recovery room, knocked over the filing cabinets and lit the spilled contents. The cold bed and the computers were smashed up and he’d started fires in the wreckage. Fortunately, the oxygen cylinders weren’t stored with the bed. There was more smoke than flame. My eyes teared, nearly blinding me. The fire alarm felt like it was drilling into my brain.

Panic threatened to overwhelm me again.

Abby lay near the cold bed. I got a grip on myself and lunged through the doorway. My courage failed a couple of metres from the burning bed. I stretched across the floor to grab Abby’s ankles and drag her away from it, stopped when I saw the thick smear of blood she left on the tiles. Her eyes were open. I checked for a pulse, knowing I wouldn’t find one.

I retched and got my feet under me. As I staggered out of the lab, I saw Arj and Dole silhouetted at the front entrance. A surge of anger powered my limbs. I charged down the corridor and hit Dole with a shoulder in the small of his back. The blow knocked him clean down the steps.

I leapt after him. He rolled away but I kicked him in the gut. Neither of us made a sound beyond our gasps of exertion. Arj caught me in a bearhug, pinning my arms, and dragged me off before I could aim a second kick. I thrashed about madly for a minute.

“Christ, Hoop. What’s got into you?”

“He fucking killed Abby!”

Arj’s arms dropped away. We both stared down at Dole, shocked and revolted. He looked back, lying on his side and cradling his left arm awkwardly.

“She tried to stop me,” he said.

I stared at him. She wanted to tell the world. Oh, Jesus.

Arj snarled and took a step towards him. Dole flinched, but I caught Arj’s arm. Dole focused on me. “You’ve been there, Hooper?”

I nodded. His eyes burned. He knew. Neither of us shared Abby’s mad refusal to admit defeat. “Then you know why it has to stop here.”

There was a crash from inside the Centre. “Get him up.”

Arj hauled Dole up by the collar and dragged him over to the grass at the edge of the carpark. He sat where Arj dropped him and concentrated on making a sling for his broken arm out of his sweatshirt. Neither of us offered to help.

Doris the chimp crawled over and curled up against my side. It broke my heart, after all we’d put her through.

Len arrived at the same time as the firetruck. By then the fire had got into the roof. She gazed at the Centre for a while, then walked over to us, a little unsteady on her feet. She stopped a couple of feet away and looked down at the three of us. I could see the whites of her eyes all the way around the pupils.

“Where’s Abby?”

“Inside,” I said.

She stared at me. Her jaw started to tremble.

A cop car pulled up. I nudged Dole with my toe.

“Better go tell them what you’ve done.”

He nodded and stood painfully.

“No-one can ever know,” he said. “Promise me.”

I stared back at him, this shell that had once been my friend. I wondered if, looking back at me, he saw the same thing. I thought back to what life had been like before I knew what came afterwards. The wonderful, beautiful lie it had been.

I nodded. Arj and Len didn’t move.

Dole seemed satisfied. He turned and walked towards the cops. Len crumpled slowly to the ground and started to keen.

~END~

(c) Ian McHugh, 2004

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