Chapter 1 - Wrestling with Angels

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Operating Room 6, case 3, to follow

Surgeon: Helman

Patient: Moran

Anesth: Warden

Procedure: temporal lobe biopsy

Equip: cranio tray, Lucidine protocol



Most of us only die once.

Death is something we fear, we avoid, we struggle against, denying its inevitability. Not so for Grace D’Angelo Moran. For Grace, dying held no fear.

Rather, it offered hope.

She had danced with Death, cheated Death, even stolen from its all-consuming greedy grasp. Now, finally, Grace knew her time had come. She was Death. Why else the paralysis of her limbs, the eerie disconnected feeling as if she floated outside her body?

She heard Jimmy’s voice and began to struggle, impatient, desperate to return to him. All those years of her taunting Death, it should come as no surprise when Death chose to return the favor.

As always, it was Jimmy who provided her with much needed patience and solace. “Our love,” his voice rang through her mind, his Irish lilt as crisp as fresh-bloomed jonquils, “will live forever.”

He had used those same words, in both English and Gaelic, when he toasted her on the night they became engaged, drinking Guinness from champagne flutes, their glasses meeting with a sparkling chime.

“Promise?” Grace had asked, reaching her hand with its new shimmering emerald engagement ring to wipe foam from his lip.

“Promise. Our love’s too strong to die.”

That had been four and a half years ago. Now Jimmy’s voice rang clear once more, pealing like church bells on Easter morn.

And so Grace struggled. Where was he?

Grace fought. Harder than she ever had in life.

She gagged and retched, struggling with the unseen forces keeping her from Jimmy. She felt pain. First it was faint. Distant pins and needles in her toes. Then a stabbing spiraling into her chest as she tried to force her lungs to expand.

If her head had been less muddled, she might have remembered that corpses don’t fight to breathe.

But her entire being was focused on finding Jimmy. It had been so very long. His voice was so clear in her mind, he had to be near.

As a final cacophony ricocheted through her head, she wrestled her eyes open, anticipating being greeted by Jimmy’s wide grin.

A bright white light flooded over her, drowning her in its brilliance. Grace did not close her eyes against the radiance. Damned if she would. Not after fighting so hard to get here.

“What the—Eve, get her back under!” A man’s voice thundered through Grace’s awareness, shattering the silence.

“I’m working on it, Dr. Helman.” The silhouette of a woman’s head eclipsed the light filling Grace’s vision. “It’s a reaction to the Lucidine. Give me a second.”

Grace’s body bucked as an invisible force drove air into her trachea just as she was trying to breathe out. Her throat spasmed against the sneak attack. Tears seeped from her eyes.

Corpses didn’t cry.

The woman turned toward her, revealing deep grey eyes above a surgical mask, wisps of blonde hair escaping from the paper cap that covered her head.

“Hurry up! I’m drilling into her brain!” The unseen man’s voice roared like a lion, dissolving into nonsense syllables as it penetrated the mists shrouding Grace. He sounded nothing like Jimmy. Where was Jimmy?

“You’re at Angels of Mercy Medical Center,” the woman told Grace in the chipper tones of a disk jockey announcing top ten hits. Her hands flew in and out of Grace’s peripheral vision, revealing fluttering glimpses of shiny glass ampules. “I’m Dr. Warden. I’m going to put you back to sleep and when you wake up again everything will be all right.”

Grace no longer fought the tears. She closed her eyes, surrendering the light.

The woman lied. Jimmy was dead. And she was still very much alive.

Everything would not be all right.

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