A Fate Worse than Death (Short Story)

 

CHAPTER I

   I had been comatose since the accident. It seemed like I was in that state for an eternity. I could feel and hear the presence of people around me. Someone was holding my hand. I heard the sobbing voice of my fiancé. She was telling someone in the room that our wedding plans had been put on hold. There was another voice that I did not recognize. He was telling my fiancé that she should be prepared for the worst. I am not sure, but I believe he was a doctor. He was using a medical vocabulary to explain my condition. I did not realize it at that moment, but I was on a respirator. I heard the voice of my father discussing my condition with the doctor. My father was saying that I had been in condition for months and he did not see any reason to continue to leave me in that state.  My father asked my fiancé what he should do. There was a long silence. She said that she agreed with him.

    I heard the doctor say is this your final decision. Both my father and my fiancé said yes. The doctor told them that he would be back in a few minutes and have them sign some paper work. I heard my father say to my fiancé that they were doing the right thing. I heard a woman who identified herself as a grievance counselor. She was telling my father and my fiancé that they were doing the right thing as well. 

   It seemed like an hour before the doctor returned to the room.  I heard him ask my father to sign something. He then asked my father and my fiancé if they wanted to remain in the room when he turned off the respirator. There was a long silence. Then they both indicated that they wanted to remain. 

 

In an instant the noise from the respirator stopped. My breathing became labored. I finally stopped breathing altogether. I felt a numbness come over my body. I could no longer feel the hand of my fiancé. I could still feel her presence and I still had the sense of hearing. After a few minutes, the doctor said that I was gone. But I was not gone, I was still here.  The doctor asked my father what arrangements he wanted the hospital to make. He also posed the question if my father wanted to donate my body to science. My father said that he had a family plot and wanted to bury me next to my mother. He further told the doctor that he would make arrangements for a funeral establishment to pick me up. How could I communicate to them that I was still here?

   Suddenly, the room became very quite. I was alone. I had to find a way to tell someone that I was still here. I was not dead. I estimate about an hour passed when I heard voices in the room. One person said to the other to put the gurney closer to the bed. A voice said I have him if you will get the other side. Everything was quite for a few seconds, when I heard what I think was the rustling of a sheet being draped over my body. One of the wheels on the gurney made a squeaking noise as I was being rolled down the hall. We stopped after a period of time. Then we moved a few feet into what I believe were an elevator. One of men that were moving me asked the other which button on the elevator he should push. I heard the other one say the basement.

   I heard the elevator door open. Once again, I was rolled for some distance. The gurney stopped and one of the men said that he would pull the hearse around. The man that was left with me made a phone call. He told someone that he would be late in getting home. He said that just picked up a body from the hospital and they wanted to get it embalmed tonight. My brain became frozen. They were intending to embalm me tonight and I am still here. I heard the hearse back up to the loading platform. The driver of the hearse got out and I heard him open a door. The other man told whoever he was speaking that he had to go. 

   They moved the gurney into the hearse. I could not believe that this was happening to me. We must have driven several miles when the hearse came to a stop. I heard the back door once again open. I was wheeled out and into a room that had a strange smell. It was an aroma of chemicals. I realized at that point, I had the sense of smell as well. About the only chemical I recognized was bleach. 

   The men moved me to another table that had sides. I heard one of the men tell the other to be careful to not bruise me on the table’s side. After what seemed like a half hour, I heard the voice of another man. He began to read something aloud. He was reading my death certificate. He indicated to the other men in the room that I succumbed to massive internal injuries. He said to the other men that he wanted to get started. He further said that they could get the embalming done this evening and they could take their time preparing my body for the viewing tomorrow.

   What they did not know is that I was still here. How could I communicate to them that they were about to make a terrible mistake. I could not move. I could hear every word that they said and I still had my sense of smell. I was conscience in an unconscious state. This whole situation was the worst of nightmares and I was living it in real time.

   The man who read my death certificate asked one of the other men to pass him what I believe to be some kind of hypodermic needle. He was using terminology that I was not familiar. I heard one of the men say to the others to be careful not to get any of the blood on themselves. One of the other men commented that it is amazing the amount of blood a person has in their body. They were draining out my blood. Nothing seemed to change. I was still here. 

   After some time, the man who had read the death certificate said to one of the other men that there was nothing coming out now but water. I was completely drained of all my blood. I had to be dead. No one can live without blood in their body. I heard one of them use another terminology that I was not familiar. Then I heard another one mention a terminology that I was familiar. He said that he wanted to insert the formaldehyde.  They were about to embalm me. Then I heard a noise that sounded like pumps being turned on. I had no feeling at all. The smell of the formaldehyde had a sweet aroma. One of the men said to the others that the needles were inserted and he was ready to release the chemical. Let it go said another.

The question I kept asking myself, how was this possible. My body for all practical purposes is dead. But I could hear and smell. It did not make any sense. After about twenty minutes they turned off the machinery. They began to wash down my body. I could hear the water running and draining underneath the table. Finally, they turned off the water and began to dry me off. One of men said to the others to turn off the lights when they leave. The two remaining men began to discuss their plans for the evening. One of them said that he was meeting with my family tomorrow morning to discuss the funeral arrangements. The other man was moving some clothing around and was commenting on what kind of suit did the other one think would complement me. The other one stated that they should reserve judgment until after he meets with the family tomorrow. I heard them turn off the lights and close the door. I was alone. 

   Hours passed and I had time to reflect. The night of the accident was like any other. There was a party to celebrate my engagement to Janet. All of our friends were there from college and it was good to see many of them. Both of us had graduated five years before. I had a great job with a prestigious law firm and Janet just began her new job in a CPA firm. Things were looking up and life was good. I had quite a bit to drink that night, but I had a designated driver. Janet was spending the night with her bridesmaid to be. Around one-thirty, I decided to call it a night. Janet and I were scheduled to pick out furniture for our new house the next day. We had just signed for the mortgage that afternoon. 

   My best friend Albert was going to drive me home. He was an ice tea drinker and he was the perfect choice for a ride back to my apartment.  We used to kid him in college. We would tell him that he was the only member of a fraternity that never drank anything but ice tea. We were threatening to have his name put into the Guinness Book of World Records.

   I lived about ten miles from the party. We were required to drive down a lot of country roads. About six miles into our drive, suddenly and out of nowhere, a deer came out of the woods and stopped in front of Albert’s car. Albert swerved to the right and we headed for a tree. That was the last thing that I remembered for some time. Then I heard the sirens. A few minutes later there were voices. One of the voices said to someone that this one is dead. He was referring to Albert. They came around to my side of the car and lifted my body onto a gurney. They administered oxygen in the ambulance. When we reached the emergency room the doctor ordered me on a respirator. They took me to x-ray and did a CAT-scan. I heard one doctor order to have me taken to surgery. Several hours later, I was in a room with my father and fiancé. They were standing over my bed. I could not see them, but I heard them plainly enough. I heard my father tell my fiancé that the doctors gave me a slim chance to recover, so they had to keep faith that I would. That was several months ago. I am still here and they are preparing my funeral. 

   I just continued to lay there and wait. After several more hours, I heard voices. Someone said, “I will get him ready.” They asked someone else if they had a picture of me. Apparently someone produced a picture. That same voice said that it was a shame for someone as young as me had to die. They also commented that I was a nice looking young man. Another voice said that they would fix my hair like it was combed in the photo. Then another voice asked the other which shade of makeup would be appropriate. These two people spent a few hours applying makeup and fixing my hair to match the photo. 

   The two men who picked me up yesterday had come back into the room. One of the men said that my fiancé told him that she would like to see me in a navy blue suit. She gave him my favorite tie to wear with the suit. These men began to dress me. They made comments about the choice of clothing that my father and fiancé had picked out. It took them more than an hour to get me presentable. I heard one of them say that my father really was spending a lot of money on this funeral. He said that the coffin alone cost more than most people spend on the whole funeral. Before long they moved me into the coffin. One of the men asked the other was there going to be any religious artifacts such as a crucifix or a rosary going to be place in my hands. The other man said that my father had indicated that they were not a religious family. They closed the coffin and left me like that for a few hours. 

   Eventually, I could hear the coffin being moved somewhere else. We must have gone into a room that was filled with flowers. The sweet scent was overwhelming.  I heard the coffin lid being lifted. The man who had read the death certificate came into the room. I recognized his voice. He said to the other two that I really looked good. He was proud of the work that everyone did. He said that it was going to be a few hours before the viewing was scheduled to begin. I heard one of the men comment about the collage of photos that had been provided to them. The photos had been scanned to a DVD for visitors to view. Apparently, my father had provided a number of photos that presented an overview of my life from the time I was a child.  

   Once again, I was left alone. 

   After about an hour, I heard a familiar voice. I had not heard that voice in about five years. It was the voice of a young woman that I knew from college. I dated her for a period of time before I graduated.  Her name was Aimee. She was an exchange student from France. She was a very attractive young woman and she had a French accent that was very seductive. Aimee belonged to a sorority that was a sister to my fraternity. We would have dances and parties together. The first time I saw Aimee, I was smitten. I asked her to have dinner with me. After that, I did not date anyone else for a year but Aimee. We spent hours together studying and just hanging out. One evening, I fixed dinner and we drank two bottles of wine. It was that night I committed an indiscretion. 

   Aimee had convinced the funeral establishment she could not attend the regular visiting hours. She pointed out to them she was a very close friend and wanted to pay her respects. She walked up to the coffin and stood there for a period of time without saying anything. In that beautiful French accent that I remembered, she said, “I was sorry to hear that you passed away. I was sorry because what I wanted to say to you, I wanted you to be able to hear.” What she did not know was I could hear what she was saying. She continued. “I think that you were the most despicable and dishonest person that I ever knew. That evening five years ago, when you took my virginity in your apartment, you had made me a promise. I told you that I would not have sex with you if you were not willing to make a commitment to me. I impressed upon you that the women in my family go to their weddings virgins. You told me that you loved me. I know now that you were just saying what I wanted to hear to satisfy your carnal desires. When you got what you wanted, you threw me away. After that night, you stopped calling or seeing me. I held out hope that eventually you would come back. A few months later, when we graduated, you disappeared. I went back to France used goods. I was also pregnant with your son. I was disgraced. My family disowned me.  About a year ago, one of my sorority sisters wrote and told me that you were getting married. Your new intended bride just happened to be my best friend in college. The one good thing that came out of your demise is that you will not be marrying her or anyone else. Since I could not have you, no one else will. I guess in this case justice was done. I just wanted to say those things even though you cannot hear them.” She leaned over and spit in his coffin. Then she turned and left. 

   I heard every word she said. My conduct back then was despicable. She should have told me she was pregnant. I would have done the right thing and married her. I wish that I could have told her that. I am glad though, she had the opportunity to get that off her chest. In a way, I did love her, but I was not ready at that time to take the next step. She was going in one direction and I was going in another. Oh well, it is too late now.

   Another hour passed and I heard the voices of my father and my fiancé. They commented how good I looked. I thought it is incongruous to think that someone in a coffin looked good. Considering the amount of money my father has spent on this funeral, I should at least look presentable. I heard them commenting on the video presentation of the pictures. My fiancé remarked what a beautiful child I was. My father agreed and stated further that he was always proud of me. It was good to hear my father say those things. He was not a real warm person and did not always express his feelings.

   Other people began to file into the room and many of the voices I recognized. There were several of my fraternity brothers along with their wives and girl friends. Two of the law partners from the firm where I was just employed commented that it was a waste of a young life. They indicated that I had a promising law career ahead of me. I could hear other people approach the coffin without saying anything. I could only guess what they were thinking. 

   Suddenly, I got this terrifying thought. How long is this consciousness going to last. For all practical purposes, I am dead. Maybe it would have been better if they would have cremated me. In that case, there would not be a brain and without a brain, I would cease to exist. I cannot dwell on this too long, I thought, or I will go out of my mind. 

   Several hours went by and the room emptied out. My father and fiancé were the last to leave. It was just me and my thoughts. I heard some say that I was to be buried tomorrow. I had to be completely dead before that takes place. Do I not? I kept saying to myself over and over do not think about that. I tried to have nice thoughts. I remembered all of the good times I had growing up. I was an only child and my mother doted on me. When I was eighteen, my mother and father spent a good deal of money to send me to the college of my choice. Those were four great years in my life. I was a very fortunate and lucky individual. Then it was on to law school. After graduation everything was looking up and then tragedy struck.  And here I am at twenty-six years of age. What is next?

   Hours passed and again when I heard voices in the room. I heard my father speaking with someone about a religious service. I guess they had decided for those who were attending the funeral would expect some prayers. I was never a religious person, but I was beginning to pray that this consciousness I was experiencing would finally come to an end. 

I heard the minister request for everyone to sit down. He began his religious service. He went on for about twenty minutes. He made a few announcements about those going to the cemetery and how they should follow the hearse. He also mentioned something about everyone being invited to my father house immediately after the interment. Everyone began to file out. When the room was empty someone closed my coffin. I was wheeled out and put into the hearse. After a few minutes, I could hear the hearse engine start up and we began to move. I had no idea how long it would take to get to the cemetery, but it was the longest ride I can ever remember. What seemed like hours the hearse came to a stop. I could hear car doors closing and people talking. I heard the back door of the hearse open. I recognized the voices of some of my fraternity brothers. They were lifting my coffin out of hearse and carrying it somewhere. Eventually, they sat it down. Over the voice of the minister who was saying some last words, I heard the sobs of my fiancé. I guess that that will be the last sounds from her that I will ever hear. She is a twenty-three year old attractive woman with her whole life ahead of her. She will eventually meet someone, fall in love again and have a family. 

  The service was finally concluded and I heard the minister remind everyone that my father was having an open house. It was going to be in my honor, but I would not be attending.

   After a while, I could hear people starting their cars and leaving the area. Then for a period of time everything got quite. I heard the voices of two men complaining that they had to get this finished before it began to rain. The sound of a large piece of heavy equipment was moving close to where I was. I could hear the men say something about removing the flowers on the casket. Then I could hear the noise from the straps lowering my casket into the ground.  

   The coffin came to a sudden but definite stop. This is it, I thought. This is where I am going to spend the rest of eternity. I was in complete depression. Is this what everyone that dies experiences or was I being singled out. Did I do something so horrible that I deserved this torture? Was it because of the vow that I broke with Aimee? When my brain is finally decomposed would this consciousness cease? 

   I could hear the dirt being dumped on my coffin. Please, I thought, please bring this to an end.