lj idol season nine | week 16 |975 words
A Terrible beauty has been born
At first, everyone thought it was a blessing. We had all lost someone we loved, and then lost our own futures to the endless sorrow from which some do not escape. That the dead could be restored to life seemed like a miracle in a merciless age.
It wasn't until later that we realized those we reclaimed were somehow… wrong.
Senator Bradigan's son, Dylan, was one of the first to come back. He'd been in a car accident and needed several organ transplants, but after surgery he slipped into a vegetative coma. The doctors said Dylan's body was just too traumatized by the damage he'd suffered, and that he might never recover. After months of waiting for Dylan to wake on his own, Bradigan became desperate enough to plead for the experimental drug Lazaryl to be used.
His son came out of his coma within minutes.
There were news reports, articles in scientific journals, and demands to speed up the approval process for the drug. Coma patients of all ages, and even a few people suffering from trauma-induced catatonia, responded well to it. No one heard about the next development until it was already too late.
It was John Stallings, one of the lab scientists working on the Lazaryl test trials. His wife's cold had turned out to be viral meningitis, and she had died almost as soon as their neighbor brought her to the hospital. Stallings was at the lab when the phone call came, and he grabbed a sample of the drug and stuck it in his pocket without even being sure what he intended to do with it.
They left him alone with his wife's body to say his goodbyes. "But just one look at her sweet, beautiful face," Stallings said, "and I just couldn't let her go. I tore the room apart until I find a syringe, and then I injected the Lazaryl into her heart." The scientist was about to try restarting her heart, when she drew breath and opened her eyes. Two days later, the hospital released her and he took her home.
Other cases soon followed.
There were mothers who had died in childbirth, crime victims who had lost too much blood. Often, they just needed a little more time for the doctors to treat their injuries, and given that, the drug could bring them back.
Our own mother would have died last month, when her appendix burst and toxins spread all through her, but the doctors were able to revive her.
We were so grateful for the triumph of science that let us keep her, so relieved she was still with us. Those feelings pushed everything else away so that it was at least two days before we noticed that something about Mama just wasn't quite right.
She still looked and sounded like herself, mostly. She did all the same things she used to do, though she did them more slowly. Still, she ate her meals without any particular interest, and if you happened to meet her eyes, there was a hollowness in them you might expect from a stranger, instead.
"Are you all right, Mama?" I would ask.
"Yes, Lissy, of course," she'd say. But my name was just a label in her mouth, like Minister or Monday.
It made me feel empty inside, and forgotten. My brother Jax's name sounded no better.
We thought at first it was just having been so sick (having died, though we didn't either of us say it). But Mama didn't get any better, not in weeks or even months. She became less and less like herself, as if she was forgetting how she used to be, or what Jax and I were to her. She was like a shell that looked every bit like Mama on the outside, but inside there was just… well, it certainly wasn't Mama. It was something cold and unnatural that only knew the patterns of surviving.
We heard rumors about the lab scientist's wife, that she'd gotten strange and had to move away from her family and friends. Nobody felt like they quite knew her anymore, and she didn't seem to care.
I wondered what Mama did all day long, when there was no one there to see?
Jax and I visited her less and less often, and when we did, we always went together. We couldn’t not go—we had a duty—but her obvious indifference to us was disturbing.
"She's not the only one," Jax said to me once. "I hear they've all turned out that way."
"All the people that Lazaryl stuff brought back after they died. They're all different and spooky now, just like her."
"You're talking about our Mama, Jax."
"You and I both know that ain't Mama anymore..."
Jax was right about the drug. They stopped using it for people who'd gone all the way over into death, though nobody said anything official about why. But what was to be done with the people who'd come back? You couldn't kill them—their families would never allow it. There was even the question of whether it was possible for them to die.
In the house where Jax and I grew up, someone dressed in Mama's clothes and used her things, and looked for all the world like it felt right at home. It was a terrible lie, a lie that wore our Mama's smile, those rare times when it remembered.
We had no sense of what to do about it, or whether there was really anything that could be done. All we had left were questions without answers, sadness with no foreseeable end.
How did something that had seemed so wonderful turn out so badly?
How did you mourn someone who wasn't entirely gone? And how could you ever manage to stop?
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