The second time he died was a Thursday. He had prepped for it since April’s last snows piled a perimeter of walls surrounding the institute like some fortified castle. Here it was now, deep into June, and from his window Trebor Patrokos could detect the late appearance of saffron crocuses on short stems, poking yellow crowns through garden beds. The mystery of nature: the cyclic journey from seed to bloom to death to seed again.
Scientist Carr had asked, “Why not human beings? Why not after death to blink one’s eyes like newborns and awake to the flash of new sunlight?”
“What do the mort-pics show?” he asked Carr. “Was I dead again?”
“Very much dead, Trebor. Deader, as they say, than a doornail. Dead as stone.”
Trebor Patrokos raked a quick hand through long graying hair. “How long this time?”
Scientist Carr checked his notes and read the Thanatos-meter he had attached to Trebor‘s temple. “You were dead for nearly thirty hours. No heartbeat, no brainwaves, no coursing of blood, organs somewhere down in Death Valley. Total inertia. I’d call this one even more successful than your first outage. You did just fine, Trebor. Once we set the Thanatos-meter at zero, it sucked the life out of you. For all intents and purposes you were a corpse, but the meter took on vital operations so that, yes, you were physically and mentally gone, but it transferred your life force into itself.”
Twice Carr had sloughed away the multi-tiered personas of his ersatz life. Trebor had been pronounced dead, a fact he had known all his life. The bald truth? Trebor Patrokos regarded himself a nothing, a kind of Invisible Man divested of clothing and facial bandages. Volunteering for the secret Thanatopsis Project, he had harbored a secret of his own, a longing that the Thanatos-meter would fail, and the death it had delivered him and then stored in its chip would prove his undoing.
Scientist Carr had, in an accidental but momentous experiment, managed to defang venomous death. In his laboratory he had failed to unravel the mystery of insidious cancers, find cures that would prolong lives, but all that was moot now. He had bypassed the long winding road through the mire of failed steps, leaping from Point A to Point Z in a single bound. He had conquered death! And those who would flock to his door would pay heavily to relinquish their fear of endings.
“To you and to the others in this study I am indebted beyond words,” said Carr. “In these experiments, time and again, the Thanatos-meter has replicated death and then restored the dead to life again. This tiny black box,” Carr said, raising the meter as if to announce it to the world, “attached to the temple…” The scientist allowed himself to drift off into fantasy. Then to Trebor Patrokos he said, “One more time?”
Trebor nodded, proceeded to lie down on the white surgical table where shortly before he had returned after thirty hours dead to the world.
Scientist Carr sang off-key while he attached the Thanatos-meter to the supine Patrokos. It was a song made popular decades before when Carr attended Columbia Med. School and wanted so much to show them all he had what it took to realize his dreams.
“And the world will be better for this
That one man, scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable star.”
Trebor felt the cold black metal of the meter against his forehead. Carr’s voice trailed away. Trebor’s eyes lost their grip; objects in the lab were fading fast. But so far his mind was clear. He did not want to live again. For what? Life had not been kind.
When Trebor heard the whining blue siren beating inside his head, he reached up his hand, touched the pulsating Thanatos-meter and yanked it from his temple just in time to take death like a man in despair.
Scientist Carr screamed Trebor’s name.
Salvatore Buttaci is a retired teacher and professor whose work has appeared in The Writer, The New York Times, The Christian Science Monitor, and elsewhere here and abroad. He was the 2007 recipient of the $500 Cyber-wit Poetry Award.
Sal Buttaci’s recent flash-fiction collection, 200 Shorts, was published by All Things That Matter Press, and is available at http://www.amazon.com/200-Shorts-ebook/dp/B004YWKI8O/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1369920397&sr=1-2&keywords=200+Shorts
Visit Sal at www.salbuttaci.blogspot.com