Thursday, September 22, 2011

Third Person Thursday: Ripped Van Winkle

The place: a hospital not unlike the last one you might have been in.

The time: one hundred years in the future.

(Come to think of it, since this story takes place one hundred years in the future, the hospital doesn’t look much like the last one you were in after all.  It probably looks very different, meaning it has cooler lighting effects, floating beds, robot nurses and stuff like that.  Moving on…)

The man: nobody is sure just yet and neither is he.  All he knows is that he has a killer headache and woke up wishing the hospital he found himself in didn’t have so many cool lighting effects.

“Movement detected,” came the synthesized voice from his bedside.  “Alert doctor.  Alert doctor.”

As he turned his head in the voice’s direction, he felt a hard object clamp around his wrist.  As his vision began to focus slowly, he realized some sort of machine had grabbed him.  The top portion of it, which vaguely resembled a head turned what he thought to be its face in his direction.

Too weak to actually jump out of surprise, he sneered slightly in repulsion as the human doctor walked into the room.

“You’re awake,” he proclaimed and strode to the man’s bedside.  Then asked the machine, “Vitals?”

“Body Temperature: thirty-eight point three degrees Celsius. Heart rate: fifty beats per minute.  Blood pressure: ninety over sixty.  Respiration: normal.”

“Excellent,” the doctor said to no one in particular.  “Sir, do you remember anything?”

The man opened his mouth to speak.  He intended to explain what he had been doing before ending up in the hospital but realized he had no answer.  Instead of saying no, he simply shook his head.

“Well, you have been asleep for a very long time,” he continued, “and the fact that you seem to be in fine physical shape is nothing short of amazing.”

“How did I get here?” He asked.

The doctor paused, looked at the man on the bed and sighed.  He turned to the machine standing next to him, said, “Dismissed,” and it rolled quickly from the room.  Then he rubbed his forehead and began to explain what he knew to his patient.

“You were found beneath some ruble.  The manner in which the debris fell around you created a sort of cave.  You had a scar on your head, which has been theorized to be from a piece that had struck you and knocked you unconscious.  Beyond that, you were nearly perfectly preserved and alive in a state of hibernation.  We have no full explanation for what happened and hoped that you would wake up one day and be able to shed some light on the subject.”

“But I don’t remember anything,” the man apologized.

“That’s alright,” said the doctor.  “We’ll have specialists meeting with you soon who might be able to help with that.”

“How long was I asleep,” he asked the doctor.

The doctor sighed again then answered, “About one hundred years.”

In the shock of realization, he nodded to the doctor as if this all sounded very normal to him.  The doctor, in turn, thought to himself that this man must have a very firm grasp on the importance of his even still being alive in order to be able to handle such news so gracefully and promptly left the room.

Over the next few days, what seemed like hundreds of people met with the man.  Most of them were annoyingly condescending, speaking slowly and loudly.  He wanted to grab them by their collars and explain he could not remember his past but that he was still able to hear just fine.

Some of them showed him flash cards, then marveled at the fact that a silhouetted image of an igloo did nothing to jar his memory.  Others looked into his ears for what seemed hours on end.  Still others told him stories about what had been happening in the nineteen-seventies then just sat back and stared at him as if waiting for the miracle.

None of it did a thing.  He still could not remember who he was, how he had arrived in the hospital or what he had been doing the last time he had been awake for this long.

One hundred years, he thought.  Things must have changed so dramatically since he was buried.  He even felt as if his surroundings were very foreign, yet he could not point out a single detail that was different.  He simply could not remember.

The last “specialist” to visit with him was different.  He seemed more down to Earth.  He was definitely more honest.  He told the man things he had not been told by the others.  It was revealed to him that he had actually been in the hospital for forty years when he was recovered form the pile of ruble and had been hidden beneath it for approximately sixty years.

Apparently there had been an accident in the city where he presumably lived, which they were referring to as “Old Toledo.”  A scientist at a nearby lab had been conducting some experiments and caused a massive explosion.  It had leveled the entire city.  Rescue workers had given up hope of any finding any survivors any closer to the blasts epicenter than where the man was found.  It wasn’t until many years later as the city was slowly rebuilt and the area where he was found deemed clear of dangerous chemicals that construction workers found him.

“It was impossible to determine exactly what manner of structure it was you were found in,” the latest specialist told him, “but it has been assumed to be your home.”

The man nodded and he continued.

“It is my hope that if you can see the very few items around you that were found around you it might provide you with some clues to spark your memory.”

While the specialist was concerned, the man agreed.  He remembered nothing and found that this caused him to fear very little.  It was a rather carefree existence in a way that he was tempted to maintain.  In the end, however, he figured the questions would one day become too many and he would want to know more.

So it was that the man was lead through the brightly illuminated hospital hallways, traveled in multiple elevators and ended up outside of a door that his visitor hesitated to open.  After a few words of encouragement and reassurance that he would be cared for if he fainted from the overwhelming shock of it all, the door was swung open with a flourish and the man stared at the room’s contents.

In a sterile white room sat what looked to be a strangely shaped collection of brown cushions with a few items scattered around them on the floor.  As the man stepped into the room and inspected the cushions closer, it became clear that it was really a chair.  It was a big, comfy chair.  Next to the chair sat nearly two dozen silver cylinders.

“The incident knocked down hundreds of buildings, but a, area was formed around you.  Afterwards, flash fires quickly spread over the area which seem to only have served further to seal you into a protected dome of sorts,” explained the specialist.

“May I?” the unnamed man asked his companion and waited for a nod before sitting down on the chair.

He settled into it.  It conformed around him backside perfectly.  It felt like an old friend.  It was comfortable.  It felt like home.

“My garage,” the man said.

“What?” asked the specialist, scrambling to remove his electronic pad from his pocket.  It was obvious a breakthrough had occurred.

“I was in my garage,” the man repeated and pulled the level on the side of the chair.  His legs were suddenly supported by the extending metal bars of the old recliner, much to the specialist’s surprise.  “I was drinking and watching old movies in my garage.”  He picked up one of the metal cylinders from beside the chair.  “Pabst Blue Ribbon.”

“This is amazing,” the specialist muttered.  “Is there anything else you can remember?”

“My name is Paul Winkler and I had a bad day,” he said, the smile spreading across his face.  “I had just been laid off.  My wife had left me and had gone to stay at her mother’s house.  She was probably in California already.  I was having my own Star Wars marathon and getting drunk.  Drank more than I ever had before in my life.”

“I have to tell the others,” the specialist said aloud.  “We should go back to your room now so I can call your doctors.”

“If you don’t mind,” Paul said as he leaned the recliner backward and shut his eyes, “I’m just going to sit here for awhile and get back to business.  See if you can find me a television and some beer while you’re gone.”

The specialist rushed form the room.  He had discovered how their mysterious subject had remained perfectly preserved for so long.  He touched the communicator on his eye as he raced down the halls.

“Yes, sir, he remembers,” he spoke into it.  “We have our answer.  He was pickled.”

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