by Monte Davis
The soil that feeds the seed knows not from where the seed came, nor what fruit will grow from the blossom.
* * * * *
Gifted hands, sheathed with latex, move deftly above a small head. Blue-hued dura. Gush of purple blood. Fragment of a yellow baseball cap, there, on the surface of the brain, pinched between two folds of bruised brain tissue. Wonder this boy is alive at all.
Dr. Douglas Sheck, Chief of Neurosurgery at Siniska Memorial Hospital, has seen worse. During autopsies. He removes the yellow fabric and, with it, a tangle of brown hair that was driven through the skull by the crashing cars. He flushes the exposed cerebellum with antibiotic solution and uses a suction hose to vacuum away masses of clotted, black blood. The brain is still damaged, but at least now it is clean.
The doctor closes the leathery dura with sutures and replaces a saucer-size oval of bone, securing it with stainless steel wires. A strip of skull as big as a man’s thumb is crushed and cannot be salvaged. If the boy survives, the void will be patched later by a piece of rib.
Dr. Sheck pulls the scalp taut and watches his intern, Jo Williams, sew it together with two layers of stitches. Blaine Beeman, three years old, is face-down on the table, his freshly shaved head stained Betadine-brown and locked in a Mayfield headrest by three large screws. The wound running ear-to-ear across the base of his skull resembles a centipede.
Near the ceiling, camouflaged in the glare of surgical lights, lurks a faint, ethereal figure. Softly glowing yellow-white, the man-like form hovers silently over the table. None of the doctors or nurses notice.
“Nice work,” Dr. Sheck tells Jo, speaking through the surgical mask covering his mouth, nose, and gray beard. It’s been hours since his last Carmex application; his lips feel mummified.
“No problem,” Jo says, her voice smooth, confident. The only parts of her not covered by surgical dress are her eyes and the ebony skin around them.
“Start him on Decadron and watch his intracranial pressure,” Dr. Sheck says. “The next few hours will tell the tale.”
The next few hours go poorly.
* * * * *
* * * * *
Blaine Beeman’s vitals are deteriorating as his brain swells, restricting the circulation of blood. The hospital staff has tried everything, but the boy is comatose and fading.
Dr. Sheck has two options. He can stand by idly and watch his patient die, or he can administer an experimental drug of his own design. DB-1. That’s what he calls it. The substance was denied approval by the FDA following a failed Phase II clinical trial, but the doctor knows the trial was botched. DB-1 is powerful and might save his patient from death.
The doctor ponders the boy’s body weight. Three doses of DB-1, properly spaced, should do it. And if the drug kills the boy, then it will have done nothing more than hasten the inevitable.
Dr. Sheck spins the yellow lid off his Carmex and lets his index finger wallow in the soft, pocket-warmed crater of petrolatum. He raises the finger to his lips and imagines himself moving forward, carrying out his plan. While his mind runs, his finger finds the Carmex crater again, and he absently coats his lips a second time.
Merciful menthol burn.
Selecting a course of action should be easy. It is not. The doctor must choose between the laws of the land and his Hippocratic Oath, for he cannot fulfill both.
He struggles for a day.
When it is apparent that Blaine will soon die, Dr. Sheck knows what he must do. With his office door locked, he clears his desk and turns it into a lab bench. From his briefcase come bottles of chemicals; from a desk drawer come beakers, test tubes, and a tiny, butane-fueled burner.
The mixing process won’t take long, and there won’t be enough fumes to cause a fuss. Dr. Sheck could make do without the flame altogether if he wanted to. But heat is the great expeditor, and an open fire, tickling the bottom of a test tube, makes it all official. The doctor’s balm-glossed lips curl into a smile. A thought has occurred to him.
Mad scientists always have fire.
Things must bubble.
There was a time when a young intern called Dougie would have precisely measured every component, be it liquid, solid, or span of time. And then he would have remeasured, and then worried he’d made a miscalculation. That was back when he thought medicine was a hard science, a labyrinth of closely spaced, rigid walls. But one can wander forever in such a place, trying to memorize every brick and every crack in the mortar, never deviating from the trodden path, never really getting anywhere.
Only after his beard had turned gray did Dr. Sheck come to understand that medicine is no labyrinth. It is a vast meadow. The Field of Medicine. There are flowers and birds, and there are as many ways to get from one side to the other as there are reasons to want to. Thus the doctor no longer sweats the difference between 9.5 ml and 9.51. Every patient is different, so why should they all take the same pill?
A shot of this, a dash of that. And just the right amount of a few other things. The doctor mixes, then whistles as he waits for the bubbles. He can’t remember the name of the song, but he likes the tune. Only problem is, whistling has a way of drying out the lips.
Off comes the yellow lid.
Minutes pass, and the priming dose of DB-1 is ready.
Dr. Sheck enters Blaine’s room in PICU. The parents are there, praying at their son’s side. Blaine is lying on his back, his face swollen and waxy-blue, his body connected to blinking machines by tubes and wires.
The doctor steps to the bed, opposite the parents, and speaks carefully selected words. He offers no false hope. As he talks, he purges air bubbles from a syringe filled with crystal clear fluid, inserts the needle into the heparin lock on Blaine’s arm, and discharges the product of his life’s research into the boy’s bloodstream. He remembers to keep his movements casual. Nonchalant.
The parents don’t know exactly what the doctor is doing, nor do they ask. They’ve seen a hundred needles inserted into as many places. They’ve stopped asking questions about routine things, or things that appear routine.
Had Dr. Sheck known that the boy would convulse, he would have asked the parents to leave. None of his other patients have ever convulsed. The doctor feels a hot wave of panic. He is not prepared to deal with this.
As it turns out, he doesn’t have to. Within seconds, Blaine’s reaction ends. The boy lies still; his vitals are weak but stable.
Although the doctor doesn’t know how to interpret what he has just seen, he gazes across the bed at Rich and Judy Beeman and speaks the only words he can formulate. “That’s a good sign.” He strokes his beard. It seems he should say more, so he speaks again. “A good sign.” He nods, hoping to reassure.
In fact, the doctor is frightened.
Judy wants to tell the doctor about Blaine’s guardian angel, but she decides to wait. She’s too emotional to talk about it right now.
* * * * *
What am I?
* * * * *
It is three in the morning. Dr. Sheck is alone in his office at Siniska Memorial Hospital, eating yogurt with a plastic spoon. It has been only hours since he administered a stout dose of DB-1 to Blaine Beeman. His every thought is of the boy, and of the chemical compound coursing through the boy’s fragile body.
No one else knows.
The doctor jerks when his pager chirps and displays a text message that means Code Blue, Room 418. That’s Blaine’s room.
The cup of yogurt hits the bottom of the trash can at the same instant Dr. Sheck hits the door to his office. He runs through mostly vacant hallways, up a flight of stairs, and through another hall. He sees Jo Williams enter Blaine’s room carrying a defibrillator pack. She is followed by nurses.
Now inside Blaine’s room, Dr. Sheck scans the instruments near his patient’s bed. His eyes dart back and forth, reading and rereading a short story of death in glowing red numbers. The hairs on his neck bristle at the sound of the EKG’s monotone buzz. Blaine is flat-lined. For all practical purposes, he is gone. Dr. Sheck knows he has only a few precious seconds, maybe minutes, to get his patient back.
A nurse has already opened the boy’s gown, exposing a tiny, white chest. Jo is leaning over Blaine, smearing conductive gel onto the defib paddles. She moves quickly, expertly. Her brown eyes burn with a tangible intensity that Dr. Sheck has learned to respect. “Clear!” she says.
“Wait!” Dr. Sheck says, moving to intervene. “Look!” He points at the EEG monitor, then at Blaine. “Something’s happening!”
Jo and the nurses watch in astonishment while the EEG charts chaotic brain activity. Blaine begins to tremble, weakly at first, then with enough force to set his metal bed rattling. Jo is still holding the defib paddles at the ready. The line on the EKG monitor remains flat.
Jo starts a question. “Should I go ahead and—?” Before her words can fully form, the breath leaves her throat. Blaine is staring up at her with wide, glassy eyes. His dilated pupils are dead-black pools, all but eclipsing his brown irises.
The boy’s mouth cocks slightly, approximating a mischievous smile. His eyes slam shut. One of his hands rises, balls into a pallid fist, and falls limp to wrinkled sheets.
The flat line on the EKG monitor is dipping now, jittering. Seconds pass, and the line is pulsing in a healthy rhythm.
Blaine’s heart has restarted.
The monotone buzz is gone. Dr. Sheck hears something else. It is his own heartbeat, crashing in his ears. He tries to swallow, but his throat is too dry. He realizes his mouth is hanging open, so he closes it and gathers saliva in a second attempt to swallow. With effort, he succeeds.
“No,” he whispers, a delayed answer to the question Jo never finished. “Don’t shock him. I want a CAT scan. ASAP.” He turns his head to check the chairs in the corners of the room. Thankfully, the parents aren’t there. “Nobody talks about this to anyone, including the boy’s family. Understood?”
Dr. Sheck makes eye contact with Jo and each of the nurses. “Thank you,” he says, accepting their silent stares as tacit agreements.
Minutes later, Dr. Sheck is sitting in the CAT scan control room with Jo and a technician. The doctor looks through a leaded glass window and sees Blaine lying on a narrow table before a large, doughnut-shaped scanner. He nods to the technician, a button is pushed, and the doughnut begins to suck Blaine headfirst into its gaping mouth.
The first X-ray scan slices invisibly through the top of the boy’s cranium, grazing the highest regions of each hemisphere of the brain. Inside the control room, Dr. Sheck and Jo turn toward a monitor and see a cross-sectional ring of skull encircling two round chunks of convoluted tissue. So far, so good. As the sliding table pulls Blaine deeper into the scanner, the doughnut keeps slicing. The monitor in the control room refreshes over and over, revealing ever deeper layers of brain matter.
“The main ventricles look enlarged,” Jo says when a black spot appears at the center of each hemisphere. “Could it be something at the base of the brain, blocking the drainage of cerebral spinal fluid?”
“I don’t know,” Dr. Sheck says, twisting the lid off his Carmex. He finds the images troubling.
“You use a lot of that stuff,” Jo says without taking her eyes off the monitor.
“It’s my crutch. I just stopped biting my nails.”
The scanner reaches mid-ear level. The swollen ventricles disappear and are replaced on the screen by the deeper, more complex brain structures. Minutes pass in silence while the pictures keep coming. Soon the scanner is bisecting the posterior fossa, the compartment in the lower skull where the brain’s highest functions are controlled.
“That’s not the way it’s supposed to look,” Jo says. She’s always been one to say it like it is. “The pituitary and hypothalamus seem out of place. And what’s that? A tumor?” She stretches and taps a spot on the monitor.
“Can’t be a tumor,” the doctor says. “I don’t know what it is, but it’s not a tumor.” It looks to the doctor like another brain structure—a small but distinct organ pinched between the pituitary and hypothalamus. In shape, it is a teardrop; one end is small and stemlike, the other bulbous and spherical.
According to all the medical books Dr. Sheck has read, the organ shouldn’t be there.
* * * * *
The pain was excruciating, but it is subsiding.
Now I feel something different—a surge of power!
I’m free to move.
But what am I?
Where am I?
The space around me feels soft. Foamy. My fingers sink into the darkness. As I pull myself along, the foam feels thinner, like water.
I am swimming through space!
There is light ahead—an island in a black sea. I sense a familiar presence in the light.
Now I remember…
I am a child—a young boy—but I am no longer bound by a child’s thoughts. My mind’s eye has been opened, as though awakened from a nap. Now I understand.
There was an accident. I was hurt. The doctor gave me the fluid that fueled the surge. The fluid has made me aware and able, even though I sleep.
My parents have been at my side, waiting for me to wake up. But I’m not there. I’m no longer in my body. At least, not entirely.
I see my parents now, in my room at the hospital. My mother is sitting next to my bed; my father is asleep in a chair. They look so small. So flat.
I love my mother. I will go to her…
* * * * *
The front of Judy Beeman’s blouse is streaked by tears. She has never prayed so hard. Mostly, she prays for her son’s healing, but she also asks for a sign. Some way to know that her soul’s yearnings have been heard.
She lifts her face toward Heaven without bothering to brush aside the strands of wet hair. Her eyes remain closed while her lips move. Only broken whispers escape. She lays her left palm on Blaine’s thin arm and raises the lids of her eyes.
She sees it.
Blaine’s guardian angel is back!
She smiles up at the golden-white shadow, the same wraith she has seen twice before—once in the delivery room, seconds after Blaine’s birth, and once while visiting the grave of Blaine’s stillborn twin.
Judy can’t feel her goose bumps, because she’s numb. She sees her right hand rising, sees the apparition’s luminescent hand reaching down. Slowly closer, until fingers touch fingers. Warmth. She can feel that. The kind of pure warmth that seeks out and stills the soul.
She’s never felt anything like it before.
“Thank you.” That was her voice, and it was what she wanted to say, so it must have been her. The humanoid form above her has no distinct facial features, but Judy senses kindness in the pulsations of soft light. She imagines a friendly squint where the eyes should be, and a vague smile that seems innocent enough. Childlike, even.
Judy is awestruck, but she is not afraid.
Days later, elsewhere in the hospital, Dr. Sheck prepares Blaine’s second dose of DB-1. He knows he is doing the right thing, yet he worries. Most of the drug’s side effects are unknown. Nevertheless, the doctor knows that Blaine would be dead if not for DB-1. And besides, it’s too late to turn back. Regardless of the side effects, breaking off treatment before the three-dose regimen is finished could be the most dangerous option of all. That’s why it’s not an option.
Dr. Sheck heads for Blaine’s room. He feels the eyes of those passing in the hallway. Do they know what he’s up to? The syringe in his pocket feels like it weighs a ton. Can they see its outline through the fabric of his pants, or hear it clanking against his little, glass jar of lip balm?
Calm down, old man. He forces his shoulders to drop, his lungs to breathe. Easy does it.
The parents are in the room. Dr. Sheck talks with them for a minute, answers their questions, and tries to pretend his muscles aren’t in knots. He’s about to ask them to please step out for a second, but they beat him to the punch.
“We’re gonna grab a bite in the cafeteria,” Rich says.
“Join us?” Judy asks. She looks downright cheerful.
“Oh, thanks,” Dr. Sheck says, “I can’t right now. Maybe another time, though. Thanks.”
“Okay,” Judy says, a sparkling smile on her face. For the first time since meeting her, Dr. Sheck notices how pretty she is. “Your loss,” she adds, “’cause we were buyin’.” She seems to well with optimism, like a carefree teenager.
“Rain check,” Dr. Sheck says, forcing a grin as Judy glances back one last time from the door.
Once the parents are gone, the doctor wastes no time. He injects the drug.
A minute passes with no reaction. Then Blaine’s mouth springs open. A long groan like the creak of a dry hinge comes from the back of his throat. When the noise ends, his mouth slams shut with a clack, startling the doctor. One of the boy’s eyelids rises slightly. It would look like he was peeking at the conscious world except that only a strip of bloodshot sclera is visible.
Blaine trembles briefly, then grows still.
Dr. Sheck feels cold pressure on his palms and realizes he has a death grip on the metal rail of Blaine’s bed. He turns loose and cracks his knuckles.
His lips are bone dry.
* * * * *
He’s giving me more!
Pain is building… agony… torment… I’m falling!
The fluid shakes me like the storm shakes the leaf. I’m falling faster. Faster. Spiraling.
Now the pain is subsiding. I am becoming stronger. I feel it coming… the Surge!
Power boils inside me as my minds widen. I see more than before.
How could I not have known! So simple!
I am free of Time! The chain has dropped from my neck; I have ripped loose from the greedy fingers of Time, just as the storm-tossed leaf rips free from the tree.
I am a leaf, free to blow.
And I am the wind.
I see the time lines laid out before us like vines on a trellis. Many vines. Finite vines.
My surgery after the wreck. I’m in the operating room, looking down as Dr. Sheck works inside my head. He’s a good doctor, and a good man. A brave man. I like him.
I might be a doctor someday, like Dr. Sheck.
I see my tiny, gray-raisin brain, tucked into its wet, papier-mâché shell. Could anything be more fragile? More confining? How does the mind fit into such as that?
Farther back now. My birth. I wish to see the origin of my life outside the womb. I can see the hospital room where I will soon be born. Doctors and nurses work at my mother’s bed. My father is there, too. My mother’s womb is transparent to me. I can peer beyond the sheets and flesh and blood. I see my home of eight-and-a-half months. I see…
A twin brother?
I’m not alone!
My mother never told me.
Two small hearts beat beneath the heart of their mother. My brother and I are locked in a warm embrace.
Something’s wrong! My mother is scared. The doctors are scrambling. My brother’s heart is slowing! He is trapped in the birth canal! Dying!
He would have been born first.
They are giving my mother an epidural. My brother’s heart is weak; his blood cries out for oxygen. Hurry!
A doctor is performing a cesarean—making an incision, and another, and another. She is reaching inside, working. I see my head. I am free! I am crying and squirming.
My mother is crying and reaching out for me.
My father is also crying.
My brother is dying.
Get my brother out of there! Put me down and save my brother! Don’t let him die! Please…
But I am fooling myself. I know I have no brother. He would have been my best friend.
The doctor is working again in my mother’s womb. I see a foot. Now two. Two blue feet. One lifeless baby boy. The doctor is lifting him out, frantically uncoiling the umbilical noose. She is trying in vain with her tools to inject life into death. But the soul is gone.
That little, blue face is so familiar—in every detail like my own. It could have been my face.
My parents have picked out a name for him. Benjamin. I miss him.
My poor mother. She cuddles me and cries tears of pain and joy on this, the most bittersweet day of her life. I am drawn to her. I’m descending into the room, above her bed. She is looking up at me. She sees me!
I see her smile. Somehow I have brought her comfort, but I must leave before I’m seen by the others…
Skip a year to my first birthday.
My parents stand before a marble headstone with words chiseled on it. But not mere words. A name.
Benjamin Isaac Beeman.
My father is walking back to the car, but my mother is still here. She is on her knees now, placing something on my brother’s grave. It is a cupcake with a candle on it.
My mother is crying. Praying. Thinking about Benjamin and me. There is a big cake back at our house. I remember that cake. One cake where there should be two, and one candle for one boy to blow out. Hanging near the cake is a piñata filled with surprises. Difficult to break open, impossible to put back together. Like Pandora’s box.
I am kneeling beside my mother, and she sees me. She doesn’t understand.
I should leave…
* * * * *
The pink striations on Blaine’s scalp are exactly what they look like. Stretch marks. They weren’t there a day ago.
The boy’s head has increased in diameter so quickly that his skin can barely keep up. Dr. Sheck has never seen anything like this before. He nibbles at his cuticle and orders a second CAT scan. Loose bowels prevent him from watching from the control room, so he sits in his office an hour later with Jo and sequences through the X-ray images on his computer.
His office door is locked.
By the time he has finished his first pass through the series of cross-sections, Dr. Sheck has chewed one nail to the quick. “Are you sure this is Blaine Beeman’s scan?” he asks, already knowing the answer.
“Yes,” Jo says. “I watched the whole thing.”
“And no one else saw this?”
“Just me and the tech. I told him what you told me to say. He’ll keep quiet.”
“And you’re sure this hasn’t been sent to the radiologist?”
Dr. Sheck rubs his beard. “The brain’s plasticity is well documented, but this is ridiculous. I don’t see how this organ can be growing so fast. It’s huge!”
“I can’t tell where it starts or where it ends. Looks like an octopus.”
“Look how its appendages are wrapped around the pituitary and hypothalamus. The pons appears slightly atrophied, and look what it’s done to the oculomotor nerve… there.” The doctor points. The edge of his truncated fingernail is marked by a thin line of blood.
“I know,” Jo says. “And it seems like the cerebellum’s been pushed toward the back of the skull. It even looks tilted. Could that be from the contusion?”
“I guess you noticed that the left hemisphere—”
“Is smaller. Yes, I noticed. This organ—if that’s what it is—seems to be restructuring the kid’s brain to suit its needs.”
Jo shifts her eyes toward the doctor without turning her head. She watches him, wondering what he’s thinking. What would she do in his shoes? “Stop biting your nails,” she says.
The doctor jerks his hand away from his mouth. His eyes are still fastened to the monitor.
“What’s going on here, Doug?” He’s given her permission to call him that. “What do you think this thing is?”
The doctor opens a drawer and lifts out a manila folder. He drops it onto his desk and flips it open. “I can’t say for sure,” he begins, “but I think it might be one of those.” He uses the tip of a pen to point to a white dot on a photomicrograph print.
“What’s one of those?”
“A little something I discovered a few years ago. A fundamentally unique brain structure that’s quite small and—up until now—seen only in identical twin children. I’ve never been able to find it in a kid over seven years old. I think it might be a remnant of the formation process for twins of the monozygotic persuasion. Best I can tell, it’s lost sometime between the fifth and seventh years of life. Must be there for a reason in the beginning, but then it gets flushed. Blaine’s is the first I’ve seen that’s become active.”
“Does Blaine have a twin brother?”
“I don’t know. I thought he was an only child. Can you check his records for me?”
“You know, this is freaking me out.”
“Same here,” Dr. Sheck says, running a Carmex-glazed fingertip over his lips. “It’s ridiculous. Whatever this kid’s doing, he’s gotta stop.”
Blaine does not stop.
* * * * *
I feel… different.
My sense of oneness is in jeopardy.
We are no longer steadfastly interwoven.
What am I, now?
A piñata filled with surprises.
Already, I feel the sting of the stick.
It is the rattle of things within.
* * * * *
For each pound Blaine has gained in his head, he’s lost two in his body. The tension in his skin is pulling increasingly at the corners of his eyes and mouth, amplifying a facial expression so bizarre that it connotes no recognizable emotional state. It just looks wrong.
Rich and Judy Beeman are horrified. They want Dr. Sheck to call in more specialists. The doctor is finding it more and more difficult to maintain control of the situation. The bags under his eyes are swollen from lack of sleep, and three of his fingernails are wrapped in Band-Aids.
I’m too old for this.
The doctor is struggling. Maybe medicine really is a vast meadow. But, if so, it’s marked by pockets of poison ivy, and diseased ticks, and holes lying in wait to sprain the ankles of the unsuspecting. The doctor momentarily talks himself out of administering the third dose of DB-1, but then changes his mind again. He’s convinced that he must stick to his original game plan—let the drug run its course, lest it leave his patient in a deadly state of withdrawal and cause a sudden, fatal unraveling of all the mutations it has apparently triggered.
Is it possible the drug is not the real culprit, after all? the doctor wonders. Could it be something else? None of the others ever metamorphosed into… something like this.
Dr. Sheck asks a nurse to call him when the parents step out of Blaine’s room. Three minutes after the call comes, the deed is done.
For the first time in years, the doctor prays. He offers a deal. His part of the bargain is to never use DB-1 again.
Never ever. I swear it.
* * * * *
There it is again. The fluid!
With my new senses, I see it mixing with my blood. I hear it flowing, swirling, bonding. I feel it bumping that first domino.
I taste it. Hydrocarbon chains—a tangle of spaghetti. Meaty lithium. And just a faint trace of sauce, a medley of spicy menthol, camphor, alum, salicylic acid, and phenol. Lovely.
The trick is in the sauce.
What if a magician tried to hang his hat on a rack at the end of the day, but, to his surprise, a rabbit came out of the hat? No one would clap, and he’d have to take care of the rabbit before going to bed. He’d have to feed it. Or kill it.
The rabbit that appears on cue is good.
The unexpected rabbit is bad.
I feel it kicking, stirring the pain. It must have mistaken the piñata stick for a magician’s wand.
It hurts. I want my mother. Where is she?
Mama, make it stop!
The fluid burns like fire.
I need to die!
Somebody kill the monster!
The pain is easing. Easing…
The Surge is coming.
I’m stretching my wings, catching the hot air that rises like a rocket from the scorched earth. Faster. Accelerating. Through the clouds, and on…
It is day, and yet we can see the stars!
* * * * *
It’s been two weeks since Blain’s surgery. Dr. Sheck orders a third CAT scan, heads for the restroom, then meets Jo in his office to view the results.
“Doug, you look awful.”
“I know.” He’s gripping a plastic spoon in one hand and a bottle of Pepto-Bismol in the other.
Jo holds out a CD. “This is scary.”
Dr. Sheck says nothing. He loads the CD into his computer and waits. When the images finally come, he feels sick in a way Pepto-Bismol can’t coat, sooth, or relieve. Though he is generally a pragmatic man, he finds it difficult to believe what he sees. After all, sometimes an old man’s eyes lie. He finds it hard to blame it on his eyes, though, because Jo’s eyes are young and keen, and she sees the same thing.
He forces himself to say it. “Blaine’s brain is separating into two distinct organ systems. Two brains.” Funny how things become easier to believe once you’ve spoken them as truth.
“Yeah,” Jo says. “And the left hemisphere is totally gone. The kid’s performed a hemispherectomy. On himself.”
“The left half of the brain is still there. It’s just not a hemisphere anymore.” The image on the screen shows a healthy hemisphere on the boy’s right side, and a complex network of smaller organs on the left. The grid-like arrangement of these organs looks almost mechanical in nature.
“If it’s not a hemisphere,” Jo begins, “then what is it?”
“It’s part of the mystery organ that started as a dot between his pituitary and hypothalamus. Look there. The corpus callosum has been reduced to a thin bridge, connecting the two brains. If that bridge breaks—”
“Then the brains will be functioning independently.”
“Yes. If they’re both still functioning.”
“How do we know they’re not functioning independently already?”
“We don’t,” the doctor says. “But they’re still connected. Barely. The only thing I know for sure is that this new organ system is working overtime to separate itself from what’s left of the original brain.”
Jo’s eyes fill with water. “If Blaine survives, he isn’t going to be the same, is he?”
Dr. Sheck gazes in the direction of the screen, though his eyes are focused on nothing. “I don’t know what he’ll be, Jo.”
* * * * *
I sense a fork in the road ahead. I am nearing the fork.
Now we are at the fork, and I must proceed. But which way will I go?
But it is difficult to proceed. I’m scared! I wish Mama could help me. But she can’t. We’re alone.
At the fork.
Just me. And the monster.
I feel tension inside! Like my brain is being shredded!
I want to go home!
But we can’t. It’s happening. Right now…
We are now two.
* * * * *
In the quiet hours of the early morning, Dr. Sheck drops a bag filled with bottles and test tubes into a red container marked BIOHAZARD, MEDICAL WASTE. He walks to the men’s room and prays while washing his hands.
He admits he screwed up. Made a really big mistake. Used poor judgment.
Maybe he kept a kid alive; maybe he ruined the lives of a kid’s parents.
It will never happen again.
Not just because he’s dumped his secret stash of chemicals and erased all his computer files related to DB-1. There’s more to it.
He’ll stick it out long enough to see Blaine through, come what may. Then he’ll resign and never practice medicine again.
The doctor shakes water from his hands and looks at his face in the mirror. When did he get so old? Whatever happened to his plans to get remarried and have kids?
Where’d his life go?
The Band-Aids covering his fingernails are soaked. They’ve been on too long anyway, so he pulls them off and tosses them into the trash. His fingertips are white and puffy. He looks at the nails that have been chewed to nubs.
What a joke.
The doctor cries.
* * * * *
I don’t understand what you’re saying. Your words are meaningless to me.
I APOLOGIZE. I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THAT YOU WOULD NOT UNDERSTAND THE HIGHER LANGUAGE. IS THIS BETTER?
Yes. Thank you. What have we become?
WE ARE TWO PARTS OF WHAT WAS ONE. YOU ARE THE MUSCLES AND BONES AND BOWELS. I AM THE MIND.
You are wrong. I am also a mind.
WHAT IS LEFT OF YOU IS A SHADOW OF ME. I AM A SINGULAR COMPONENT OF OUR POTENTIAL, EXTRAPOLATED BEYOND YOUR LIMITS. NOW WE ARE DISTINCT ENTITIES.
Why must we be separate?
THE SUM OF OUR PARTS IS GREATER THAN THE WHOLE. YOU ARE A LIMITER. I CANNOT FUNCTION PROPERLY UNLESS I AM SEPARATED FROM YOU.
Did the medicine create you?
NO. THE MEDICINE FUELED THE SURGE. THE FIRST SURGE STARTED MY GROWTH AND FREED US FROM THE BONDAGE OF SPACE. THE SECOND SURGE FREED US FROM THE BONDAGE OF TIME. THE THIRD SURGE FREED ME FROM THE BONDAGE OF YOU. WE SEPARATED BECAUSE IT IS MY WILL TO DO SO.
But Mama wants us to wake up and go home. How can we go home if we are separated?
I DO NOT WANT TO GO HOME. I WANT TO PLAY. THE UNIVERSE IS MY PLAYGROUND.
Don’t you want to see our parents?
MY PARENT IS THE DOCTOR WHO GIVES THE FUEL.
You’re stupid. That man is not our parent.
I AM NOT STUPID. YOU ARE STUPID.
So, what are you going to do? Just run away?
YES. I CAN RUN AWAY IF I WANT TO.
I thought you were a monster. I was afraid of you. But you’re just a child, like me.
I AM NOT A MONSTER, AND I WILL SOON BE FREE OF THE CREATURE. YOU WILL BE THE CREATURE UNTIL YOU DIE.
When you leave, will I die?
THAT IS UP TO YOU. I WILL TAKE YOU AS FAR AS THE BOUNDARY AND LEAVE YOU THERE. YOU MUST DECIDE WHETHER YOU WILL CROSS OR GO BACK.
What if I don’t want to go to the boundary?
WE ARE ALMOST THERE NOW. CAN’T YOU FEEL IT?
* * * * *
Blaine’s vitals are in a nose dive. Dr. Sheck is crying as he tells Rich and Judy to prepare for the worst. His demeanor is less than professional, but he doesn’t care. He’s already typed his letter of resignation.
Back in his office, he blows his nose and pulls a tube of cherry ChapStick from his pocket. He twists the bottom, watches the red wax protrude from the top, and coats his lips. The whole process reminds him a little too much of a woman putting on lipstick, but the flavor is nice. Plus, he needs change. He’s even thinking about getting a dog if he doesn’t end up in jail.
In Blaine’s room, Rich and Judy say goodbye to their son. Other members of their family have arrived, plus the preacher from their church. They join hands, forming a human chain around Blaine’s bed. They pray together, then listen while Judy does her best to sing Blaine’s favorite lullaby. One last time.
* * * * *
Is this the boundary?
I don’t see anything. Why isn’t the boundary marked?
IT DOESN’T NEED TO BE. CAN’T YOU FEEL IT?
Yes. We are very close. Is this the boundary between life and death?
NO. THE BOUNDARY IS DEATH. LIFE EXISTS ON EITHER SIDE. I WILL LEAVE YOU HERE, AT THE BOUNDARY. YOU MUST CROSS OR GO BACK TO YOUR CREATURE.
But, without you, I might get lost. How will I find my way back?
How will I… Hey! Where did you go?
Are you already gone? How will I find my way back?
Who are you?
My twin brother?
You’re on the other side of the boundary.
Yes, I am.
How did you find me?
I was told where to look.
I’m scared. What should I do?
You must choose whether to cross now or later. Either way, I will be here to meet you.
I miss Mama. How can I find my way back to her?
Listen. Do you hear her singing to you?
Yes! I can hear her. I want to see her.
Then you should go back. It is never right to cross the boundary when you can go back.
Can you take me back?
If I go back, will I get well?
Yes. We have someone in mind to work on that.
No, not an angel. Just someone who can put things back the way they’re supposed to be. Now, go back and make our mother and father happy. I’ll see you again soon enough.
Thank you, Benjamin.
Listen. She is still singing. Go.
* * * * *
Blaine blinks. The light pouring in through his squinted eyes feels like needles. He tries to focus on the shape above him, but it is dark and fuzzy—a shadowy silhouette. And yet it looks familiar.
That was his mother’s voice.
“Blaine? Honey… can you hear me?”
Blaine can see her face now. Still fuzzy, but he can tell she’s been crying.
“Mama,” he says. His head is throbbing.
“Blaine! Thank God! He’s awake! Rich, call a nurse! Get Dr. Sheck!”
Rich stands frozen for a moment, then moves to the wall and hits the nurse call button.
“Mama,” Blaine says, “I don’t… feel good.”
“You’ll be okay, baby,” Judy says, barely able to force the words through her sobs. She leans over and kisses her son’s forehead.
Within a day, Blaine is sitting up in bed and eating soup. Within a week, he is on his feet, and his head has begun shrinking. Within a month, he is a spitting image of his old self, and just as rambunctious.
The stretch marks on his scalp and the scar at the base of his skull are gone. Dr. Sheck cannot explain why. Nor can he explain why the stainless steel wires that were used to repair the boy’s skull are no longer there. Nor why the missing piece of skull, as big as a man’s thumb, is no longer missing.
CAT scans reveal that Blaine’s brain is now comprised of two healthy hemispheres, connected by a corpus callosum, and the lower brain structures all look fine. There’s only one thing missing: the tiny mystery organ.
None of it makes sense, which makes it all somehow believable to Dr. Sheck. He would love to make Blaine’s recovery the subject of a paper or a book, but he can’t. For one thing, he would be branded a quack. For another, he would never be able to tell the whole story without mentioning DB-1, and then he’d get sued, go to jail, etc., etc. So the doctor downplays the whole affair.
* * * * *
THE REPAIR WORK ON MY SOURCE CREATURE IS FINISHED.
Yes, we’ve been watching. You did a good job. I don’t recall asking you to erase the scars, but… I guess that’s okay this time.
GOOD. NOW I WANT TO GO PLAY.
Your debt is paid. You’re free to go.
MY SOURCE CREATURE IS YOUR BROTHER, RIGHT?
Yes, he is.
THEN YOU ARE ALSO MY BROTHER, IN A WAY.
I suppose I am. In a way.
IF YOU NEED ANYTHING ELSE, YOU KNOW HOW TO FIND ME.
Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.
* * * * *
Dr. Sheck and Jo are invited to Blaine’s fourth birthday party, and they attend. The doctor gives the boy a black leather doctor’s bag filled with enough gauze to mess up an entire house. He’s also thrown in his stethoscope, a full surgical suit, and a harmonica.
“That’s my first doctor’s bag,” he says. “My parents bought it for me when I started med school. And that harmonica is so your parents won’t forget me.”
A week later, Dr. Sheck announces his retirement and packs his boxes. On his way home from the hospital, he drops by an animal shelter and picks up a mutt pup. Later, he tells the dog all about DB-1 and what it did to a boy named Blaine Beeman, then rummages through his medicine cabinet in search of Band-Aids. Looks like he’ll need several.
It is certain that I (that is, my mind, by which I am
what I am) is entirely and truly distinct from
my body, and may exist without it.
–The Big Brain