Well, I lied. It seems there will be at least another part afterall. I won’t argue with the path the story wants to take. This is my least favourite chapter. I probably should have sprinkled the science around a little more. Instead, it kind of got jammed together. Hopefully that doesn’t create a giant reading dam.
Here is chapter 4. Stay tuned for chapter 5 in the not so distant future.
Gerard and Cheryl were helpless for the nearly two hours it took Dr. O’Connell to arrive at their home.
It was obvious the personality of the boy, Tyler, whose mind was supposedly replaced by Jimmy’s was beginning to reassert itself, although they were assured such a thing was impossible.
When Dr. O’Connell explained the procedure she said at the moment of death the host’s body was cooled to reduce metabolic decay, slowing cell death in the internal organs and the brain. The method allowed the revival of the host’s anatomical systems but would result in a complete loss of original memory, including automatic brain function. Imprinting a new host mind into the revived cells would reactivate the automatic functions of the brain and essentially transfer all of Jimmy’s memories and resulting personality.
Gerard and Cheryl were too deep in shock to question the science. The chance, no matter how remote or how far-fetched, their son would live was all that registered.
However, now, as the child lay on the floor screaming and thrashing against Gerard’s careful but firm grip one moment pleading to know where he was and the next begging his parents to stop the pain in his head, Cheryl had a thousand questions.
If it were possible to save her son in the body of this other boy would it not have been possible simply to revive the child she now knew as Tyler? Had she taken the life of another parent’s child in favour of her own? What horrified Cheryl most was even with the knowledge she was unsure her choice would have been different.
“I’d sacrifice a million children for you,” she whispered.
Gerard gave her a questioning look, he clearly didn’t catch what she said. Cheryl shook her head dismissively, it was not something she wished to repeat.
It took an hour for Jimmy’s thrashing to stop. He was sweating from the rigour, his face was flushed and his eyes were so bloodshot they were nearly crimson. Gerard wiped the boy’s tear-streaked face and stroked his hair. The screaming had ceased, but what came next was no relief. Jimmy was now staring blankly at the ceiling his eyes darting back and forth as if tracking some terrifying, unseen apparition. The boy’s lips would move as if he was about to speak but only silence followed. It made him seem like a fish out of water gasping for air it could not breathe.
Gerard could only stare into the boy’s haunted eyes. Cheryl was now sobbing, her head resting on Gerard’s shoulder as her body shook with each bone-rattling breath. Neither knew how long they sat that way on the floor, huddled together as if shielding each other from a storm.
Cheryl heard the sirens first. They came into her thoughts like the blaring of an alarm clock clawing through a dream. When the red, flashing lights began dancing off the walls of the kitchen she jumped to her feet and stumbled towards to the front door; her sobs of sorrow transformed to ones of hope and relief.
She opened the door just as Dr. Grace O’Connell and two paramedics topped the stairs. The paramedics dropped the legs on a stretcher as they reached the landing and rolled it through the doors. Cheryl was automatically leading them to the living room and Grace followed the rushed procession through the kitchen.
Gerard was still cradling the boy on the floor, his face was haggard and his puffy, blood-shot eyes made a mockery of his usually strong features. He looked up at the paramedics his expression confused and guarded, unconsciously he pulled the boy closer.
Grace placed a hand on the big man’s shoulder. “Gerard, let these men do their jobs.”
At first Grace thought he wouldn’t comply and then he released the boy into the arms of the paramedics. If it weren’t for the wild movement of his eyes Grace would have thought Jimmy had dropped into a coma.
“Get the boy into the ambulance and meet me at the hospital, I will follow in the Williams’ car,” her tone told the paramedics time was of the essence.
The two men quickly finished strapping the boy to the stretcher, extended the legs and quickly rolled it to the door.
When they were gone Grace used the same authoritative tone to snap Gerard and Cheryl into action, they responded automatically, their fear had driven them to pure instinct. “I’ll drive, where are your keys,” she said. Gerard wordlessly walked into the kitchen and grabbed a set of car keys hanging from a hook near a wall-mounted phone. He handed them to Grace and both he and Cheryl followed the doctor to their car.
Silence filled the vehicle as Grace matched the ambulance’s speed, the flashing red lights reflected coldly in her eyes.
“I need to know what happened,” she asked the couple quietly, her voice sounded violent contrasted against the introspective, silent confusion that enveloped the interior of the BMW.
For a moment Grace didn’t think either parent had heard her but just as she was going to repeat the question Cheryl began to speak. Her voice was shaky and each word seemed to come independent of the one before, making her sound nearly robotic.
Grace listened without interruption but as soon as Cheryl began describing the boy’s symptoms she already knew what was happening.
“It appears that remnants of the former host have created an almost spilt personality in your son. But, unlike typical cases neither personality has established itself as the dominant because the remnant memories are not actually aware and are relying on Jimmy’s consciousness to manifest, resulting in a catatonic-like state,” Grace’s voice was calm and clinical, but her thoughts were racing, focused on how to salvage her experiment.
“You told us that was impossible,” Gerard’s tone was angry.
“I believed it was. The boy we gave Jimmy’s body to had drowned. The water was extremely cold and he was under for more than 30 minutes. Temperature should have preserved the tissue in the brain but the lack of oxygen would have resulted in complete loss of memory, almost like formatting a hard drive,” Grace explained the procedure almost absently, speaking as she reviewed the theory in her head.
Her initial trials had been complete failures. Three adult women and three adult men had been the first test subjects for the procedure. Each result would have made most researchers abandon the experiment. The first test subject seemed completely catatonic, except brain scans showed too much activity and the woman’s face was frozen in a silent scream, her eyes filled with terror.
The two following subjects convulsed so hard they broke bones. Sedation was ineffective and eventually the bodies wore themselves out.
Two more trials resulted in suicide. The first cut her throat with broken glass she smashed out of a bathroom mirror. The second bashed his head against a metal bed frame until he split his skull.
The sixth and final adult subject survived, but her motor and speech skills were similar to a person with late stage MS.
Despite the failures, Grace convinced the hospital to allow her to try the procedure one more time, theorizing the transfer was failing because all her subjects were adults; adult brains are more rigid than children. Her success with Jimmy seemed to prove her theory right. Children have more neural pathways compared to adults who have fewer but which are more defined into specific skill sets, behaviours and habits. Grace determined two children would be more compatible while her adult subjects were failing because she was basically trying to upload software into an incompatible system.
“Cheryl, Gerard, I am very sorry. I did warn you there would be side effects. Our understanding of the human brain, despite all our advances, is imperfect,” Grace said.
Gerard looked hard at the doctor, he was having difficulty wrapping his mind around what was happening.
“Did we steal another child’s body,” Cheryl finally asked.
“No..no, of course not,” Grace sounded unconvinced. “We tried numerous times to revive him, he was clinically dead.”
“But I heard the other boy speak. He was afraid. He was screaming,” Cheryl began sobbing again.
“What you heard was a remnant memory being processed by Jimmy’s awareness. It would have seemed authentic, but it was not,” Grace didn’t look at either parent while she was speaking. She was still going over treatment options in her mind.
Grace followed the ambulance into the hospital parking lot and drove the car under an awning near the emergency entrance as the ambulance stopped near the patient loading bay.
Cheryl was about to ask if Grace could save her son when the back doors of the ambulance popped open. The paramedics jumped from the vehicle, their faces severe. When they pulled the boy’s stretcher from the back Cheryl clasped her hand to her mouth to stifle a whimper. The little body was convulsing so hard the two men could barely hold the stretcher.
Grace flung the car door open and nearly jumped out of her seat.
“Get him into the examination room, now,” she barked.