I died once. No, really, I did. I’m not talking about the death that happens for five seconds before an EMT gives you CPR and brings you back. I was truly dead. I was put in the morgue and given a death certificate and all that stuff that goes along with being dead.
But I didn’t have any family that I knew of. I didn’t have any close friends or a significant other to miss me, to organize a funeral for me. I guess that is why they chose me. No one would question why my body wasn’t buried and why no one mourned me.
“He’s waking up” were the first words I heard after dying.
The room was so bright when I opened my eyes. All of the surfaces and furniture were either white or shiny steel. There were bright lights in the room that those surfaces reflected. I guess my eyes hadn’t been used in a while so it was very painful to open them.
A man in a white lab coat walked up to me and asked “How are you feeling?”
I tried to move a bit to test how my body was really feeling only to discover I was strapped, standing up, to a large metal slab. I looked down and saw the bindings. I struggled against them a bit.
“Why am I strapped down?” I asked
“We didn’t want you to hurt yourself when you woke up,” said another man as he walked towards me from across the room. He was tall, thin and bald.
“I’m Seth,” he said.
“I know. Mark, welcome back from the dead.” The man smiled at me.
I remembered the hospital and I remember losing consciousness. I also remembered some intense and crazy dreams. Had they happened before I died? Or were they memories of an afterlife? The color red was so intense in the dreams. Fire. Screaming. Earthquakes. Intense heated winds. Had I gone to Hell? Or had I dreamt that I had gone to Hell?
“We pioneered a way to bring people back to life,” the man said. “It is a special serum that repairs the brain tissue and heals most injuries. We’ve been working on it for years. You are the first one to actually return from the dead.”
“I guess that means I owe you my life,” I said.
“You could say that, and we do want your help,” he said.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“We’re not sure how long the serum is actually going to work on you. It’s possible that your body will revert back to its original damaged state." Seth pointed to the man in the lab coat. "This man, Roger, he has been making some great discoveries in the field of human/machine integration. We’d like to try adding machine parts to you to keep you alive.”
“I like the idea of remaining alive,” I said. “But after you bionic me, will I be free to go?”
“You are free to go now, but I wouldn’t advise it. I think your best chance at a full afterlife is to stick with us.”
I agreed and spent the next few months going under for surgery and waking up to tests of strength and endurance. Every time I came back from surgery, I had more memories of that horrible place. I remembered walking through fire, feeling my skin boil. I remembered seeing people crying.
I saw a woman hugging a limp, dead child in her arms, once – only to have the child vanish and then reappear alive and giggling, running around the woman. “Not again,” she had cried out. How many times had she cradled that child and cried?
I told Seth about the dreams after the third surgery. “What if I went to hell when I died?” I asked. “What if every time I am put under anesthesia my soul returns to hell?”
“I don’t personally believe in Heaven and Hell,” he said. “I haven’t seen enough evidence to even suggest that there is an afterlife.”
Roger had been in the room for this conversation. His eyes went wide as if in terror. “Boss,” he said, “the others we’ve tried this on, well, they all had religious affiliations. We’ve had Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even a Jainist.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” asked Seth, a bit of annoyance showing on his face.
“Well, Mark didn’t have anything like that listed. Mark, did you go to church?” he asked me.
“No, I never had much use for it,” I said.
“I think you went to Hell,” said Roger. “I think the reason we were able to get you back from the dead is that you wanted to escape. Everyone else went to Heaven and didn’t want to leave.”
“You’re being a superstitious kook,” Seth said. He looked at me and said, “We don’t know if the others would have had dreams like yours because they never woke up. It could just be that you’re not feeling deserving of coming back to life for whatever reason and your brain is manifesting its guilt in dreams. You’re imagining Hell because you feel undeserving.”
“But people don’t dream under anesthesia,” I said.