The epidemic was pulmonary in nature. Will spent hours in the dark scan room amid blue white ghost images of ribcages.
Miriam’s ribs were loaded into the computer. Comparison data, the 5th scan in 3 months. There was promise. Infection clearing. This presentation he had seen before, hope only to be ravaged.
Just a tech.
I’m just a tech.
Some people, cases, images adhered to him.
Miriam was a horrible woman, sauerkraut and pickled. Bitter at the fact she couldn’t pay her way out, indignant that she got claustrophobic. And the machine was noisy. No love there. But her ribs. This illness.
His curiosity was piqued. What if he could unlock this mystery. What would a life outside the obscurity of the 400 square foot glassed chamber feel like. He took the longest files, the patients who had survived at least three scans, the ones that turned. Certainly there must be a pattern. Some way to make sense of it all. Looking for anomalies, he overlaid images. Spots that made for a theory. Certainly brute force worked before: Edison tried hundreds of materials before unlocking the right filament.
First, it seemed like chickenscratch, the random striations of bone. Yet there was a screen flicker of recognition. Something here, but not.
He enhanced the area.
He trapped the lines and dialed down the white. He inverted.
Yes. Absolutely familiar but still removed.
Maybe he needed to sleep. Medical is always overworked in an epidemic and the start of shift debriefs was testing pandemic. No one sleeps then.
Lungs, fuzzy pockets, masks, and — of course –panic. Every cough, sneeze, snivel. An evil sign. The return of God Bless You. Some took to pockets of posies. The sterile towers of ivoried science offered nothing. Penitents returned to the supernatural.
It took fortitude and a large lunch to face the twelve hours. Now 3 teslas, 30,000 gauss, were pulling images from the space capsule. The resonant whoomp whoomp whoomp and the higher pitched whirring. Clicked into place. A closed system of sound. No entropy here. But why are we here?
The menu today was Reuben sandwiches, the staff well-fed by donations from those who thought small niceties would speed along answers.
Will was trapped by a scared boy who would not stay still for a scan. The nurse sedated the boy.
A few sandwiches remained and a small sliver of a man in a black suit was cleaning up.
Hey, wait up. I’ll take the last one
A glimmer of gold. A chain. Symbols.
What’s on the chain?
It is Chai, the word for living, perhaps you know l’chiam.
Like Fiddler on the Roof, Jewish writing.
Hebrew but yes.
Thanks for feeding us, I really appreciate it.
To health. To hope. Maybe to life.
Or this great diaspora. Population thins and the chosen remain.
Survival of the fittest.
Science of creation of the creating of science. Such mysteries are for bigger men than we.
Back to the glass coffin.
Reality gets filtered by experience. Of course Hebrew was all around him but it was as meaningless as Kanji. But now, like the number 42, he saw it, this funny alphabet, everywhere. The scans. The chickenscratch of purpose.
The day slogged on. Time trickled measured by coffee pods. Nine down. Two more and end of shift.
All the files.
He checked Miriam first. Geula. A name but in the next scan it faded ,,, and faded … and faded … it was
He had to know.
Her home number was in the file.
Hi, may I speak to Miriam? Oh, I am sorry. Today. Yes. I did her scans. It is a horrible thing. Did they take her? Yes of course. County? Right.
He had been to county coroner’s once before. It made him a little sad. The quiet grey space. The gleam from CFLs on the silver tombs. The smell of stainless sterility.
Will’s deadly counterpart tried to size him up.
So you want to scan her. It’s pointless.
Yes but I have a theory.
It’s chaos here. We both know it.
I’ll lose my job.
I’ll take the blame.
That never works.
Listen Scott, it’s Scott, right?
Well haven’t you ever wanted to be bigger than this…this mausoleum? I’m not judging, I work in my
own. Hell, yours is quite…relaxing, even.
I don’t know.
Yeah you do. The docs never come here. They need us, right? The girls, nurses, pages, lady docs…we are invisible, man.
I have someone.
Had. Ring finger Scott. What? Two months into this thing. The world goes turvy and you are slammed. Bamn fuck off. That has to sting.
I need this job.
Right now we all wish these jobs were gone. What if we could end it Scott?
What? The pandemic?
Pandemic for a week now. Medical is the last to know, need to boost morale.
I am a little guy. Like you Scott. I have a hunch. I can’t go to the docs, what the fuck does a tech know? But I have to know. Scott, I’ll have you know it’s possible I’m on to something. That the little guy can rise above.
Use our machine.
What are you looking for?
Help load her and I’ll explain.
See the right side in the first scan. Here is the second. It looks like these marks are fading, being washed clean. I want to see if they are gone. I think they will be.
What of it?
I don’t know yet.
You are batshit, man.
Put her back when you are done.
Will do, Scott.
Miriam was on her best behavior. Still and peaceful. The ire held in her eyes turned to placidity. The gurney was swallowed.
Ground control to Major Tom: Commencing Countdown.
The symphony of sound.
The pale blue dots filled into ribs.
Geula was indeed gone.
File after file. The marks. A name. The fade. A death.
Each name was different, strange, old Hebrew names, words, in one case a phrase.
I am but dust and ashes.
With trepidation, Will laid on the white bed and blasted into the cacophony of clicking.
The empty control room registered his ribs. Will was disconnected from this patient. Drifting past the mirror.
Bright white . . . fade to black.
His hand shook at the door handle. He suddenly feared the screen.
It will be okay.
The right bottom rib.
Akiva–a man who could not read aleph or bet.
Yes of course. A cosmic play meant to fade away. Reborn again and again on the ribs of men.
I highly recommend against this surgery. Will, it’s unnecessary.
It’s my life, my savings.
I don’t know if I can even get an operating room. We are all nurses now tending the sick.
Please it’s my life. I have never asked this hospital for anything. 15 years of dedicated service. Not even a sick day.
You need a break.
You guys can’t afford it. I am one of six and you all know Martin is showing signs.
The tribunal whispered behind cupped hands.
Legal wants blanket immunity. You okay to do this doc?
Do no harm. . . but I don’t see the good.
I want the rib preserved, please.
It’s best preserved in your body, Will.
The cadaver beetles creeped him out but their work was clean.
He filed deeper cuts. It was very clear now. This name from across the void.
A suspension of calcium hydroxide and isopropyl alcohol mixed with regular air created a calcium carbonate seal against the elements. Applied again and again to penetrate at nano.
The rib gleamed in the climate controlled bell jar he built.
He was healed by the time the pandemic flowed backwards to epidemic and eventually calm. The sense of infallibility of surviving. Life beat onward.
Will wrote his theory up to garner support. As dust settles the need for answers fades.
He found tales told of ancient Frankensteins called Golem. Clay men brought to life.
He released the comparison data.
Violating patients’ privacy was the official reason but he suspected his work had made him a pariah. The secret to everlasting life is not as romantic in reality.
Will moved. They still needed techs. He needed a different pace. His rib secured in the passenger seat. His eternal companion.
He outlasted many and then moved. To cities, then small towns. Across the sea. Married once but the devotion to the bell jar eventually ended it. She was unwilling to join her rib to his.
So many years and he became wearisome, wandering alone.
The letters still deeply set by his own hand. Unchanged from lifetimes ago.
A stone mantel in the woods. A hermit’s life. The rib lived below the majestic 12-point buck overseer. Companions in still life. A window left open. Who feared intruders in the house of everlasting?
The masked scavenger crept onto this resting place. The rascal Loki in critter form. Ever searching for the gleaming egg favored by raccoons.
A paw. A crash.