TIMOTHY D. TUCKER
Paul Bearer was a dying man, a badly dying man but in between his retching coughs and discolored spittle there was a great hammering and commotion, day in and day out coming from his laboratory. Deliveries containing barrels upon barrels of liquid nitrogen and cryoprotectant arrived along with industrial metal fixings and Mr. Bearer worked like a man possessed.
"What in God's name are you building?" Inquired his assistant, Richard Grimm. Grimm had listened to the incessant shearing and pounding with frank annoyance and just a smidgeon of curiosity, as this was the only project on which the services of Mr. Grimm were not required.
"If you must know I'm building Noah's Spaceship, I grow tired of this wretched world of Sodom we have wrought! Be a good lad and fetch us two of every animal species – of course male and female – and bring them back, just as long as you leave me be!" said Paul Bearer, who at seventy years of age was as rotund and portly as a snowman. He measured metal siding against each other, calibrated dials for hydraulic pumps, and hacked and spit the whole time, his cough a death rattle.
"You don't say.?" Grimm grumbled, thin arms across his chest.
"Ok, if you really must know," snarled Paul Bearer, wiping his mouth, "I am crafting my ticket to immortality!"
"Immortality?" croaked Grimm.
"Yes indeed. It's no secret, I'm an old, sickly man and the specter of death looms ever so near. But with this chamber I am building I can turn back the scythe of that hooded knave and reverse the irreversible; I can cheat death!"
"Impossible! No man can cheat death!"
Paul Bearer chuckled. "And that is where you lack the imagination." He traced his plump, sausage fingers across a transparent siding that looked as if it were to be used as a lid. "Cryonics, Mr. Grimm, is the answer. Once this machine is complete it will be used to store my body in cryostasis until approximately 100 years, where hopefully future generations would have caught up to the technological prowess of yours truly by then in order to find a cure for this infernal cancer!" Another series of coughs racked Paul Bearer to his ample core and made his jowls quiver.
"You're obviously lying," challenged Grimm, "but just humor me, how is it you would know to use it? It's not like your corpse is just going to hop in the blasted thing itself!"
"And that is where you come in my esteemed colleague. After I am done paying Charon's fare the job will fall to you to make sure my body is transported safely to the cryochamber. Not only will you be responsible for getting my body into the machine but also the temperature control, logistics handling and maintenance, and your son will take over when you can no longer perform your duties, and then your son's son, and then HIS son!"
"You want me to...babysit a human popsicle?"
"You and your offspring will be responsible for the body of the greatest mind in the history of mortuary science and this will be without question the most important task you will ever be burdened with. I only wish there was enough time to patent and mass produce this device. A coffin not for the resting, but for the waiting! Can you imagine the cost people would save on funeral expenses? Can you imagine the human cost, the hope and promise of a deathless future?" Paul Bearer scoffed. "Of course you can't imagine, silly me!"
"Damn it to hell!" shouted Grimm and stormed out of the laboratory.
The nerve of the coward! Thought Grimm. Can't take responsibility for nothing, not even his own death! Throughout Paul Bearers illness there was everything from anti aging cream, chemotherapy and laser treatment to New Age elixirs and that hideous muskrat he passed off as a toupee just to make himself appear more youthful, but despite all his precautions Paul Bearer was a man wrapped in life's vices, a glass of whine to go with his gluttonous meals, chocolate for dessert and before bed, a smoke here, sweet tooth cravings there and absolutely no exercise spelled the recipe for a man too stubborn to live a healthy lifestyle and too stubborn to die when it was his time, and now this...this cryochamber! Even in sleep he will continue to rake in cash while others toiled away for his dreams, just as it had been for the past fifteen years.
Another month passed in embitterment.
One morning Paul Bearer waddled down to the hardware store for piping. Another evening he was uncoiling lengthy heaps of siphoning cables and still this one time he had accepted an "express delivery" from a medical supply company. It was all Grimm could do was wait like a patient fox until poor old sickly Paul Bearer reached the clearing at the end of his path.
"It's finished! My masterpiece is finally finished!" cried Paul Bearer one brisk afternoon. He coughed once, twice, a third time, his chest stricken with violent spasms and then he just keeled over with a resounding thud, eyes wide open, tongue limp, dead.
Grimm tiptoed over to his fallen colleague as if he were afraid the tub of lard would arise, ghastly and hungry for respite. A final, trumpet like flatulence escaped from the bowels of Paul Bearer, proving that even a solemn dignitary such as death had a sense of humor. Grimm whipped out his cellphone and hastily dialed a number.
"Hello, Elysium Fields Mortuary? This is Richard Grimm, will you send a wicker – extra strength – please? Yes, for Mr. Bearer. Yes. Thank you. Thank you."
Grimm gave the mortuary people specific instructions as they took Paul Bearer out on their reinforced wicker. "Ordinary coffin – make it pine. And no funeral arrangements. He would've wanted it this way, simple, no burdens for his loved ones."
Once the morticians had departed Grimm greedily rubbed his hands together. "Now let's take a look at this cryochamber. What he doesn't know won't hurt him!"
He entered the laboratory.
The cryochamber stood before him, gun metal grey, majestic, imposing, a technological marvel. Thick snake like cables ran from a hydraulic pump system in the rear of the contraption to a vat of roiling liquid nitrogen and the entire thing sat on wheels for ease of maneuvering. The interior was lined with dark velvet with multiple sprocket holes along the sides. Grimm opened the lid and felt about. He found a small remote attached to the lining of the chamber that regulated temperature, duration, and other variables.
There would be no harm in testing the chamber out. After all, there was no more Paul Bearer to tell him what to do, to take all the credit for their work, and when Grimm himself became a stooped old man there would be no one to use the cryochamber, no one to claim it as their own except for him! Grimm hoisted himself into the chamber.
He felt like a child getting into a bath tub, naked and a bit indecisive. Edging himself down he laid against the cool velvet and for a moment pretended that he was dead, that people were pouring tears because of him, that the world itself had stopped in its tracks because of his departure. He put on his best slack impression, shut his eyes and folded his arms about his chest. A hidden mechanism whispered smoothly from inside the chamber and the lid slammed down.
Richard Grimm lay in the chamber, his muscles relaxing. There was no need for concern, he still had the remote clutched in his thin hand. He need only press the symbol marked "open-"
- And wait for nothing to happen.
Grimm stabbed at the button but each time it failed to release. He flexed his arms upwards in hopes that he could force the lid open.
It was locked.
Grimm began to shift about uneasily in the chamber. A burst of static cracked through the confined space and then the gentle voice of a dead man floated from unseen speakers.
"Hello, my name is Paul Percival Bearer and if you are listening to this that means that I am as one, dead. If you are listening to this that also means that you are one, Richard Isaac Grimm and you have made a grave, grave mistake. I want you to look out the chamber Mr. Grimm, it's a very inspiring view, no?"
Through the glass lid he saw sunlight filtering digitally through evergreen leaves and spilling into the laboratory from the high paneled windows. It was indeed a lovely day.
"I would just lay for hours inside of my unfinished masterpiece and stare out that window and I would think to myself what will become of my legacy once I am frozen in suspended animation? It was then one cold, arduous night that it hit me, an epiphany to end all epiphanies! My legacy was mine to nurture and mold to my hearts content while I was living, but when I died it was ripped from my teat and once it is gone it should not be thrust back into my hands no matter how long it's been. I did not want to be remembered as the man who was too afraid to die but as the man who was not afraid of living, so I left the design schematics and blueprints to build the cryochamber to you Mr. Grimm! To You! You were to be the one to carry on my legacy in however way you saw fit. I gave you Eden, and much to my chagrin you have turned it into Sodom!"
Without warning the sprocket holes spewed fourth a storm of nitrogen mist into the chamber. Grimm screamed, but there was nobody listening.
"And now I must bid you adieu my esteemed colleague, but not without a proper goodbye. This is your coffin now after all!"
If there was anybody outside of the chamber they would have heard the pounding, kicking, blathering, and yelling of a dying man.
"Ashes to ashes."
They would have heard the manic contorting of his body.
"And dust to dust."
They would have heard a shrill shrieking like the whine of a tea kettle boiling over.
"May you, Richard Isaac Grimm, Rest In Peace..."
And then – the final, anguished scream that was cut off by a resounding ding!