Her heart monitor beeps were in sync with the pain that radiated through her body. The slightest movement sent electric shocks through every nerve. Shallow breaths were all she could stand, the ache keeping her just at the brink of consciousness. If she could have spoken, she would have begged for mercy, a released from her torture.
Men in white coats and woman in blue shirts, stood around her bed, jotting down observations of her condition. Noting her rapid eye movement, and the tensing of her muscles. Sensors taped to her shaved head, sent out a constant stream of hums and blips with every surge of pain.
One of the women, filling a syringe from a silver tipped vial, inserted the needle into her patient’s IV port, slowly emptying the chamber. Stepping back to watch the effects, the patient’s breathing resumed a normal rhythm, and her body visibly relaxed. Despite the outward indicators, her pain remained, she was merely unable to respond to it. Her last thought before darkness overcame her was a fervent wish for the relief death would bring.
Panic welled up in her chest. She knew she was waking up and she braced herself for the pain to resume its control. Her eye lids flickered, and she risked one deep breath. There was no pain.
She opened her eyes without moving her head, trying to get her bearings. The sterile decor of her hospital room had changed. The once industrial green walls were draped in diaphanous pastel fabric. A light breeze through an open window billowed the material, its gentle rustling a welcome change from the mechanical chirping from the absent machinery. The hospital’s acrid antiseptic smell now a pleasant hint of lavender.
She experimented with her seemingly new body. First raising her head, then lifting her body up onto her elbows. A wave of near hysterical laughter from the relief she felt threatened to break the quiet of the room. Memories of the accident flooded back – the sickening sound of metal and glass crumbling, the excruciating pain, the overpowering smell of burning flesh, the endless screaming.
This sudden change, she thought, could only mean she died, her wish granted. She sat up, relieved to feel no pain from the exertion, wondering at the miraculous healing of her fractured and torn body. Swinging her legs off the edge of the bed, she looked around the room, startled to see a man standing by the window facing out onto a well-manicured lawn. His eyes closed, a beatific smile on his sun-bathed face.
Without opening his eyes, he spoke her name, “Welcome home Carla, we’ve prepared your rooms in anticipation of your return.”
Even in profile she remembered the man, his voice, the way he stood.
When she was a teenager, Carla had her wisdom teeth pulled. During the procedure, she had an allergic reaction to the anesthesia and suffered through anaphylaxis. While doctors worked to stabilize her blood pressure, she lost consciousness and woke in this very same room, greeted by the same man.
That encounter ended when the man explained that her rooms weren’t ready yet and she would have to come back another time. Waking in the dentist’s office, Carla remembered little of that other time until this reunion.
She stood and walked to the window. The man held out his hand to her, his eyes now open, looking intently into the distance. Accepting the familiar gesture, Carla looked out the window, wondering what held his attention.
The world outside appeared the same as the one she left, yet different. Crisper, more in focus, colors and textures richer and more detailed. Smells were sweeter, sounds deeper and more harmonic.
“Will you be staying with us this time Carla,” the man’s voice reverberated through her entire body, awaking feelings long forgotten through the pain she had left behind. “It’s still your choice.”
Releasing his hand, Carla pulled back, confused.
“What sort of choice is that,” her voice on edge. “What is there to return to, pain, suffering, regret?”
“Your family is still there, they continue to look for answers, hoping to relieve your pain,” he continued to look at the horizon. “If you stay here, that hope is for nothing.”
“I’m not dead,” Carla questioned her host.
“Not at all,” he finally turned toward her. “You exist on both planes. There, your linear body experiences pain, your memories dominated by that which led you to that reality. Here, your body is whole again, absent of pain.”
“What of my memories,” visions of her young daughter flashing before her, the lingering touch of her husband on her skin.
“Like your pain, those too will be gone soon,” his smile unchanging. “If you stay, all memories of your past will vanish. If you stay, the memories those you left behind have of you will also fade and recede.”
“My child won’t remember me,” for the first time, Carla felt something akin to pain. Her chest contracting, her arms aching to hold her baby. “She won’t miss me, wonder why I left her?”
“No, she will not, and you will be unaware of what came before your arrival here,” he reassured her. “You will remember nothing of your old life, and no one in your old life will remember you.”
The decision was confusing to make. Return to an existence where all she knew was pain, but be remembered by her child, or stay in this utopia pain-free, but also losing all memories of those she loved and who loved her.
While the phantom pains niggled around her consciousness, Carla made her choice. She would stay, comforted by the thought of eventually losing all recollection of her past.
He left abruptly once she made her decision, no words of good-bye nor explanation.
Returning to the window, she was there when two others entered her rooms.
They questioned her about how long she had been there, who had she talked with, what commitments had she made. Carla slowly realized her host deceived her. Her decision had not freed her, it had condemned her.
Her blind faith in promises of freedom were for naught. She wasn’t allowed to rescind her pledge to remain. The stranger’s promise to relieve her pain was true, but not his assurance her memories would also fade. She could not return to her earthly body, her nightmares of never seeing her family again all too real. His other promises also proved false. Her family was destroyed by her temporal absence. Her child aware of who she was, but never knowing her as anything more than the withered shell of a ghost.
This paradise became her hell, worse than her pain, worse than death.
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Michael challenged me with “Blind faith, in your leaders, or in anything, will get you killed. – Bruce Springsteen” and I challenged Lisa with “How do you know where you’re going, if you don’t know where you’ve been?”