She was faintly aware of some imperceptible activities around her. She heard people talking. Their voices reached her as if these were echoes from distant hills reaching her far below in a vast valley of sinister darkness where she was. She understood what they said but couldn’t make sense of most of it. Even her olfactory sense was acutely sharpened, yet there was no smell of vegetation or earth or even of animals. The valley of sinister darkness smelt of… chemicals.
But she couldn’t see anything. Well, yes, she saw it. The darkness. Black Abyss. Yet however hard she tried to open her eyes wider and wider, to focus, to try to make out the shape of the people talking so near her but in echoes – and about her, she realised – she could see nothing but the blackest, densest, most oppressive darkness she could never have imagined before.
Wasn’t Black Abyss a euphemism for Death?
As she had done several times earlier, she screamed again. Louder each time. Where am I? Who are you? Why am I here? She paused each time to give whoever they were time to answer each question. Nothing. They kept on talking, ignoring her questions. What were they planning to do with her? Where on earth had she landed? Her heart was pumping in her ears and she tried not to panic. She needed to know what was going on. Something was trying to get to her mind from memory but slipped back into oblivion. Yet she instinctively knew that whatever it was had to be of paramount importance. Had something to do with her own self-preservation. The sinister valley reeking of chemicals was a threat to her life. She’d better run… Curious, she couldn’t feel her body. Excuse me, could you – any of you – please tell me where I am and what’s going on?
Nobody answered her but they continued their echoed talking. She registered and knew almost all of the words the people were talking about. But she didn’t, couldn’t, grasp the meaning. Except that it all sounded sinister, life-threatening. Who were they, friends or foe? Or relatives? Please answer me!
“Reactivity zero. Perceptivity too.” A woman’s voice. Any concern in it? No. But what kind of an answer was that? Please tell me what your answer means!
What the next voice said sent her panicking again. This was a man’s voice, deep and aloof. “Damaged tissue swollen and congested. Under observation for the next twelve hours to see whether we need skull removal for cold storage to better accommodate the swelling and congestion. The unresponsiveness is worrying too, Dr Camus.”
What? I’m responding! I’m asking you questions and you’re ignoring me! What skull removal? Am I a guinea pig here? What congestion and swelling? Answer me!Dr Camus, whoever you are, please tell me what’s going on?
Ancestors and the Gods, there was something she had to remember. Something she must remember in order to get out of this darkness. But what was it? There was something very significant that must have happened… somewhere else before she landed here. Somewhere out there in this impenetrable darkness she had done something. Experienced something. WHAT?
Another male voice. A different one to the first one. “What does all that mean, Dr Ziegler? You’re here as one of the world’s best, for God’s sake.” The voice was… utterly grief-stricken. “It sounds as if she’s ready for the horror chambers…” The voice trailed off. Whiny. Weepy. Teary. A loud sniff-and-sigh. “When will the nightmare be over, for God’s sake. When will it be over for all of us? This is the fourth day and just look at her! As good as gone, Phillip… And I’m as good as a zombie even around the children who so desperately need me… need her… What’ve you found out to make you talk of horror chambers?”
Odin in Valhalla, they’d already fiddled with her head enough! Bored holes into it to contain this God-knows-what subdural haemorrhage. The hole or holes supposedly removed the blood out of her skull bone to drain it out. Wasn’t that enough? Horrible enough?
The second man’s voice… had she heard it before? Something about it sounded familiar. But what? And why was the man so distressed? On her account? Sir, you sound so grieved. Is it on my account, and why is that so?
“It sounds more disturbing than it really is, Erik.” That was the first male voice. Phillip? Dr Camus? Dr Zeigler. Two people or three? Was Erik the second male voice? Was he Dr Ziegler, this distressed one? Or was he a third male? Fourth person, if Phillip and Camus were not one and the same person. Concentrate. Avoid panicking. Try to remember that something! A person? Man or woman? An Event? Family event? Happy or… not happy? Calm down. Calm down.
First Male Voice continued. “But we have to consider all angles. Here, I’ll explain from the MRI and CT scans. The brain is quite a large organ with various parts. See? The two main portions are divided down the middle – what we call the right and left hemispheres – containing the frontal (here), parietal (here), temporal (here) and occipital lobes (here), housing movement, sensation, speech and thought. The balance and coordination are in the cerebellum which sits under the cerebral hemispheres, whereas the automatic responses to the body such as blood pressure, breathing and heart rate are controlled from the brain stem – here.
Within the stem is the so-called reticular activating system, RAS, which is the turn on/turn off button of the brain. Do you follow me so far, Erik?”
Another sniff and sigh before a broken voice said, “Not in this life, Phillip. But carry on. What’s this talk between you, Dr Ziegler and Martine about skull removal and cold storage, for God’s sake? Are you planning to saw her head off or… what? You’ve already drilled holes in her head…”
“One hole, Erik, to drain blood beneath the skull bone.” Phillip.
Okay. Got holes or a hole in my head already. Fine. But I’d like to know that too, by the bones of the ancients: Why skull removal and cold storage? Tell me. Right. Now. Have I gone mad? Is this what I’m trying to remember – that I suddenly went mad? Why should my skull be sawed off and put in… cold storage? Am I dead?!
“As I said, it sounds worse than it really is.” Phillip, Dr Dumas or Dr Ziegler?
“Erik.” The woman. Or at least a female voice. “The skull is a very stable enclosure which protects the brain, but if the brain is injured inside the skull it begins to swell. In medical terms we call it edema. It means there’s no space for the additional fluid and this in turn causes the brain to push against the sides of the skull. The brain compresses and continues to swell unless the pressure is relieved, until it pushes onto the stem. When this occurs, the RAS is damaged and this subsequently affects the centres for blood pressure and breathing control. Her brain may have been shaken, causing shear injury. But head trauma may also cause swelling of the brain without any bleeding but resulting in a coma.” The female voice stopped for a moment, then continued in the same gentle but pedagogic tone. “Head traumas cause a variety of brain injuries from brain tissue to intracerebral haemorrhage which could turn out to be of less concern. But when associated with swelling this can cause damage, Erik.
“The brain has a lining with multiple layers which can act as potential spaces where bleeding could occur. The outer lining (here) is the epidural, followed here by the layer below it known as the subdural which, when injured, may not cause immediate coma. But if bleeding continues, it compresses the injured side of the brain which shifts it to the uninjured side. We then have both hemispheres affected and coma occurs. The more the swelling, the deeper the coma. Mrs Lindqvist’s GCS – Glasgow Coma Scale, remember? – shows severe brain damage. Eyes closed, no verbal sound and no movements. It would…”
“For God’s sake I did this to her.” There was a loud thump. Her heart? No, there was another thump and an even louder screech. Like that of furniture on the floor. Somebody was sobbing. A man. Erik? Had he killed her? And who was Mrs Lindqvist? It couldn’t be her because her eyes were wide open even if all she saw was the black void, and she was shouting, wasn’t she? WHO IS MRS LINDQVIST? CAN’T YOU HEAR ME? AM I SHOUTING IN THIS LIFE OR ANOTHER LIFE? DID THIS ERIK PERHAPS KILL ME? DO YOU WANT TO CUT ME UP FOR MEDICAL PURPOSES? ANSWER ME! YOU MUST HEAR ME BECAUSE I HEAR YOU!
“I did this to my Gudinna!” The sobbing was piteous. But who was Gudinna? Was it another name for Mrs Lindqvist? Her first name perhaps? “It’s all of four days now, Phillip. I’m hanging on by… It should be my stupid skull…”
“Would you like us to have a break?” Definitely Phillip. Sympathetic.
Desperate sigh. “No. Bring in a few inquisitors to perform on me as you explain. It’d be more merciful than facing our children every evening. Go on.”
Children. That too was familiar. Very familiar. Erik said our children. Did he mean Phillip’s children and his children? Obviously the men couldn’t have had children with each other. Is Mrs Lindqvist your wife, Erik, or Phillip’s? Answer me!
A door clicked open. Or shut? “Pardon.” A female voice but not Martine’s. She must have just come in. “Mr Lindqvist, your daughter. It’s urgent.”
“Herregud!” Erik. Then some commotion. Mr Lindqvist? Was that Phillip’s or Erik’s surname? Confused jabbering in at least three different languages. The echo of voices retreating. Were they all leaving her alone? No!
WAIT A MINUTE! I DEMAND ANSWERS FIRST! WAIT! DON’T LEAVE ME ALONE IN THIS BLACK SINISTER VOID!
A door clicked. Shut. Silence as oppressing as the dense void she was looking at. Her heart screaming in her ears. She must not panic. Must. Not. Remember the something! Erik. Children. Mrs Lindqvist. The something sinister!
Herregud. She knew the language. She understood it.
It was Swedish for God almighty.
The something sinister to remember was frantically scraping her memory.