Imagine being trapped in a dream that you’re unable to wake from. That might be wonderful if it’s a good dream, but a nightmare? Now imagine it was someone else, a loved one, who trapped you there with the best of intentions. It’s an idea that chills me to my bones, but that’s the premise of Together Forever, a story likely born after a scene in the Stalone/Snipes movie Demolition Man played in my subconscious for years.
A bright, cold light drew Ambrosia forward promising rest and sanctuary as she fled through the tunnel. Numbness dogged her tired mind. Sluggish in the frigid air, she struggled to follow the receding beacon, but it sped into the distance, dwindling to nothing as darkness swallowed her.
She staggered on through the black as the cold seeped into her bones, running as best she could toward the light. Toward where she hoped the light had gone. There was only the eternity of darkness but she kept running… running…
Running… Ambrosia’s feet crunched on gravel as her breath puffed in the crisp morning air. Blue sky above stretched to the horizon, blue ocean followed below. Stanley Park. In the entire world, was there a more enjoyable place for an early run?
A chill wind blew from the Pacific as tall conifers towered over her, framing majestic, snow-capped mountains that loomed in the distance. To the east, the sun rose, streaking the sky in oranges and reds as it hung over the city, almost resting on the towering buildings. West was English Bay leading to the vast open blue of the ocean. Invigorated, she revelled in a morning too beautiful to let pass without savouring every sight and sound. The only thing that could make the day more perfect was…
Danny and Jenna? They were a few hundred yards ahead of her. Even the surrounding natural beauty couldn’t compare to the vision of her young children. She cherished every moment with them; every memory was a treasure.
Laughing, they turned and ran and she gave chase.
“Come on you two, wait for your mom,” she yelled.
Their head start was large but hardly insurmountable.
“Come on mom, catch us,” called Jenna.
“I will. You’d better run,” Ambrosia yelled as, giggling, they shot off.
She sped up but they continued to recede.
Something wasn’t right. She felt sluggish, slow; the ground barely moved beneath her feet. It was like running on a treadmill. Heart pumping hard with dread rather than exertion, Ambrosia struggled on fearful that if she didn’t catch them now, she would never see them again. Fixing her concentration solely on her children the world faded to black. Somehow she kept running through the emptiness and somehow they remained ahead of her.
And then they were gone.
“Over here mom!” The faint answer echoed from all around her.
Which way? Forward, her mind said. There’s no going back.
Ambrosia’s breath fogged in the suddenly frigid air, her clothes stiffened with frozen sweat. Still she forced her leaden legs to move. Slowly one step, then another as the temperature plummeted…until she stood frozen, mid-stride, the caricature of a tortured runner. As vision slowly dimmed with awareness, her last thoughts were of the son and daughter she would never again see.
~ ~ ~
The guide, clad in soothing pale blues, was a stark contrast to the business blacks of the suits following her. She led them through a series of wide, high-ceilinged corridors of nurses and interns, into a bright, luxurious room furnished with comfortable chairs, wall-to-wall carpeting and a large window sill lined with flowering plants. A single, wide bed adorned with digital displays above the headboard rested in the centre of the room. Its occupant slept soundly.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as you see, we spare no expense for our clients. As long as they remain in our healthcare facility their every desire is catered to. In fact, our patients’ stays are so luxurious that an occasional healthy family member asks to check in!
“Mr. Jacobson, here, has been with us about two months. Our tests suggest he will be ready in another three weeks.
“Now, if you’ll kindly follow me.”
A barrage of questions followed her to the next room.
~ ~ ~
Ambrosia shivered in the frigid wind. The dark had turned bright and she found herself atop a dune of arctic snow. Her thin, blue, hospital gown, open in the back, was no more protection against the cold than the fluffy blocks of pink ice on her feet. The white world was empty except for a set of large footprints that stretched past her, disappearing over the nearby crest.
“Jason?” Only a gust of chill wind answered.
She followed the footprints up the shallow incline to the peak. Looking down, her husband stood at the bottom of the gentle slope, tinkering with a snowmobile. Beside him, Growler, the family Doberman, stood out like coal on paper. Jason’s pet in reality; the dog had always terrified her.
He didn’t look up… but Growler did.
The dog approached, sniffing, before his lips pulled back baring a full array of sharp teeth. A low warning rumbled in his throat.
Not even a word of acknowledgement from her husband.
Growler lunged, teeth first, but sank in the deep snow before reaching her. He struggled, swimming through the powdery white.
Her own bare legs sank knee-deep and she struggled to wade through the ocean of snow as a crazed Growler gained on her with every stride.
Snapping jaws now right behind her. She turned, fearful eyes wide as Growler lunged, swallowing her in the darkness of his maw. And her world went black.
~ ~ ~
“… legally the signature of any adult member of the immediate family is sufficient, as the patient is obviously not of sound body and/or mind. However, we prefer to think of the entire family as our clients, our patients, and our friends.”
The group stood before a transparent tank the size of a small room. A thick fog hung over the top of the clear liquid that filled it. Collectively, the group pulled their warm, pale blue parkas more tightly closed.
The tank was in a utilitarian warehouse. Insulated sheet-metal walls surrounded it with only a forklift and a raised, operator platform to complete the décor. Apart from the group there were only two technicians. Both were busy manipulating a series of controls on the platform.
“The Bath Room. I’ll try and keep this short, since it’s a little nippy in here,” the guide said, to many agreeing nods. “If you will look up…”
A transparent box hung from the ceiling, corners supported by large chains. Within, the outline of a body lay still. As they watched, the box sank toward the steaming liquid.
“Mrs. Hisumi, bless her heart, a lovely woman with a very caring family. That’s really the reason we do it,” the guide said, turning to the group, “so that people like her will be reunited with the family she cares for so much and who care so much for her.”
~ ~ ~
Light suffused the emptiness, washing out the dark with a hazy-grey sameness in all directions. In the distance, a dark point grew as she watched. Not grew, approached. In moments, it was discernable as a male form. Jason?
He stopped before her.
“Jason, what are you doing here?”
Silent, the body shrank away to nothing while the head expanded, growing to fill the void before her.
“Jason? Do you know why I’m here?”
He gazed at her with loving malevolence, “I did it for us.”
“Did what, Jason?”
“I couldn’t live without you.”
“Jason. What did you do?” Her chest constricted as a new fear swelled inside. Irrational though it seemed, she did not find it hard to believe he was somehow behind this horror.
“You were dying, darling. I couldn’t bear it. This way we could be together forever. You know I could never live without you.”
And then she remembered: the hospital, the disease, the pain…and Jason’s last words.
~ ~ ~
As the guide led them into an immense warehouse, the group passed beneath a sign that read:
Keeping Families Together For ALL Time.
Thick conduits crossed the ceiling, running down the walls like fat, metallic strands from a giant spider’s web. Technicians stood, recording measurements from long panels smothered in blinking lights. And, stacked like boxes of clearance merchandise in a discount outlet, rows of transparent coffins steamed in the cool warehouse interior. Like immense intravenous tubes, bundles of coolant pipes climbed from the floor to feed faint human forms visible through the translucent ice.
The guide moved down the nearest aisle, stopping the group before one of the coffins. “Here is a new arrival, Mrs. Ambrosia Crombie. When she became ill — cancer of the bone marrow, very sad — her husband, bless his poor, lovesick heart, couldn’t stand the thought of being without her. Once he legally transferred care to us, we were able to monitor all aspects of her health. Our proprietary HealthWatch system allowed us to characterize her deterioration and predict, with a high degree of certainty, the exact time of Mrs. Crombie’s death. Approximately five minutes before the predicted time we administered a mild sedative and moved her to the Bath Room — we prefer to freeze our patients just before death to give future generations the maximum chance for restoration.
“Once frozen, Mrs. Crombie was moved here. The cryo-storage facility is completely self contained and was constructed to withstand most acts of God and man. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the only building in the city still standing after a nuclear strike.
“After they are laid to rest in their beds of ice, our sleeping beauties repose peacefully, oblivious to the passage of time, until medical science can revive them into another long, happy life. Our current estimates suggest that this will be anywhere from seventy to one hundred and twenty years.
“Just look how peaceful she is. The dear has only been here a week; she still has a long, blissful sleep ahead.”
~ ~ ~
Jason’s enormous head faded from view. As the last trace of it left the void his final whisper hung in her ears like the booming toll of an eternal funeral bell.
“I did it for you. I love you Ambrosia. How could I live knowing you weren’t with me?”
The white mist surrounding her faded and in its place another vision appeared.