“BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING” IS THE PHRASE. I CANNOT DO THAT. I begin at the end—the conclusion of my life on earth. I present it to you as it happened—and what happened afterward.
A note about the text. You have read my writing, Robert. This account may seem unlike it. The reason—I am limited by my transcriber. My thoughts must travel through her mind. I cannot surmount that. All the grains will not pass through the filter. Understand if I appear to oversimplify. Especially at first.
Both of us are doing the best we can.
* * *
Thank God I was alone that night. Usually, Ian went to the movies with me. Twice a week—because of my work, you know.
That night he didn’t go. He was appearing in a school play. Once again—thank God.
I went to a theatre near a shopping center. Cannot get the name through. A big one which had been divided into two. Ask Ian for the name.
It was after eleven when I left the theatre. I got in my car and drove toward the golf course. The tiny one—for children. Cannot get the word through. All right. Spell it. Slowly now. M-i-n…i-a…t-u…r-e. Good. We have it.
There was traffic on the—street? No, wider. Av…e-nue? Not exact but good enough. I thought there was an opening and pulled out. Had to stop, a car was speeding toward me. There was room for it to move around me but it didn’t. Hit my left front fender, sent me spinning.
I was shaken but had on my belt. Not belt. H-a-r-n-ess. I would not have been too badly injured. But a van came up and hit the right rear fender of my car, knocking me across the middle line. A truck was coming in the opposite direction. Hit my car straight on. I heard a grinding crash, the shattering of glass. I hit my head and blackness swept across me. For an instant, I believed I saw myself unconscious, bleeding. Then came darkness.
* * *
I was conscious again. The pain was dreadful. I could hear my breathing, an awful sound. Slow and shallow with sporadic, liquid sighs. My feet were icy cold. I remember that.
Gradually, I sensed a room around me. People too, I think. Something kept me from being sure. Sidayshin. No, re-do. Spell slowly. S-e-d-a-t…sedation.
I began to hear a whispering voice. I couldn’t make out the words. Briefly, I could see a form nearby. My eyes were closed but I saw it. I couldn’t tell if the form was male or female but I knew that it was speaking to me. When I couldn’t hear the words, it went away.
Another pain began, this one in my mind, increasing steadily. I seemed to tune it in as though it were a radio station. It was not my pain but Ann’s. She was crying, frightened. Because I was hurt. She was afraid for me. I felt her anguish. She was suffering terribly. I tried to will away the shadows but I couldn’t. Tried in vain to speak her name. Don’t cry, I thought. I’ll be all right. Don’t be afraid. I love you, Ann. Where are you?
That instant, I was home. It was Sunday evening. All of us were in the family room, talking and laughing. Ann was next to me, Ian beside her. Richard next to Ian, Marie on the other end of the sofa. I had my arm around Ann, she was cuddled against me. She was warm and I kissed her cheek. We smiled at each other. It was Sunday evening, peaceful and idyllic, all of us together.
I felt myself begin to rise from darkness. I was lying on a bed. The pain was back again, all through me. I had never known such pain before. I knew that I was slipping. Yes, the word is slipping.
Now I heard a ghastly sound. A rattling in my throat. I prayed that Ann and the children were not around to hear it. It would terrify them. I asked God not to let them hear that horrible noise, protect them from that horrible noise.
The thought came to my mind then: Chris, you’re dying. I strained to draw in breath but fluids in my windpipe kept the air from passing through. I felt thick and sluggish, trapped in density.
There was someone by the bed. That form again. “Don’t fight it, Chris,” it told me. I grew angry at the words. Whoever it was, they wanted me to die. I fought against that. I would not be taken. Ann! I called to her in thought. Hold on to me! Don’t let me go!
Still, I slipped. My body is too badly hurt, I thought in sudden dread. I felt the weakness of it. Then a strange sensation. Tickiling. Odd, I know. Ridiculous. But that was it. All over me.
Another change. It was not a bed I lay on but a cradle. I could feel it rocking back and forth, back and forth. Slowly, I began to understand. I wasn’t in a cradle and the bed was still. My body was rocking back and forth. There were tiny, crackling noises deep inside me. Sounds you hear when pulling off a bandage slowly. Less pain now. The pain was fading.
Afraid, I fought to re-establish pain. In seconds, it was back, worse than ever. Agonized, I clung to it. It meant I was alive. I would not be taken. Ann! My mind cried out, pleading. Hold on to me!
It was no use. I could feel life draining from me, heard the sounds again, much louder now; the tearing of a hundred tiny threads. I had no sense of taste or smell. Sensation left my toes, my feet. Numbness started up my legs. I struggled to recapture feeling but I couldn’t. Something cold was drifting through my stomach, through my chest. It stopped and gathered icily around my heart. I felt my heart thump slowly, slowly, like a funeral procession drum.
I knew, abruptly, what was happening in the next room. I could see an aged woman lying there, gray strands of hair across her pillow. Yellow skin and hands like bird claws; cancer of the stomach. Someone sat beside her, speaking softly. Daughter. I don’t want to see this, I decided.
Instantly, I left that room and was in mine again. The pain was almost gone now. I could not restore it no matter how I tried. I heard a humming sound—yes, humming. Still, the threads kept tearing. I felt each severed thread end curling in.
The cold “something” moved again. It moved until it centered in my head. Everything else was numb. Please! I called for help. No voice; my tongue lay paralyzed. I felt my being drawing inward, totally collected in my head. Mimbins were compressed—no, try again. M-e-m-b-ranes. Yes. Pushed out and toward the center all at once.
I began to move out through an opening in my head. There was a buzzing noise, a ringing, something rushing very fast like a stream through a narrow gorge. I felt myself begin to rise. I was a bubble, bobbing up and down. I thought I saw a tunnel up above me, dark and endless. I turned over and looked down and was stunned to see my body lying on the bed. Bandaged and immobile. Fed through plastic tubes. I was connected to it by a cord which glistened with a silver light. Thin, it joined my body at the top of my head. The silver cord, I thought; my God, the silver cord. I knew that it was all that kept my body living.
Revulsion came now as I saw my legs and arms begin to twitch. Breath had almost ceased. There was a look of agony on my face. Again, I fought—to go back down and join my body. No, I won’t go! I could hear my mind cry out. Ann, help me! Please! We have to be together!
I forced myself down and stared at my face. The lips were purple, there was dewlike sweat across the skin. I saw the neck veins start to swell. The muscles of my body had begun to twitch. I tried with all my will to get back in. Ann! I thought. Please call me back so I can stay with you!
A miracle occurred. Life filled my body, healthy color suffusing the skin, a look of peace across my face. I thanked God. Ann and the children wouldn’t have to see me as I’d been. I thought that I was coming back, you see.
Not so. I saw my body in a sack of many colors, drawn up by the silver cord. I felt a dropping sensation, heard a snapping noise—as though a giant rubber band had broken—felt myself begin to rise.
A flashback then. Yes, that’s correct. A flashback; just as in the movies but much faster. You’ve read the phrase and heard it many times: “His whole life flashed before him.” Robert, it’s true. So fast I couldn’t follow it—and in reverse. The days before the accident, back through the children’s lives, my marriage to Ann, my writing career. College, World War Two, high school, grammar school, my childhood and my infancy. 1974-1927 every second of those years. Each movement, thought, emotion; every spoken word. I saw it all. A blur of rushing images.
Copyright © 1978 by Richard Matheson