She awoke, cold, lying on her back, naked. Naked? Yes, though there was some blanket — or sheet? — atop her. It seemed slick, cold, against her body.
She reached up to touch the sheet to test her impression. Her hand struck a wall very close to her. She reached with her other hand. Same experience. So her bed was not near one wall, but two. Or …
Using both hands she explored. She was in a long narrow box. A coffin? If so, it was unlike any she had heard of. There were no useless but pretty satin cushions on its sides or below her. And the box material felt like metal of some kind.
She began to be aware of faint sounds: machinery running, a distant radio or music player, very faint voices. There was a quiet rush of air somewhere outside the box.
She stretched her arms above her head and pushed on the block wall there. This slid her body down — or actually across the surface beneath her, since she was lying down. Her feet came into contact with the other end of her box/coffin/whatever and her knees bent upward, enough to press against the top of her box. Then she began to straighten her legs, keeping her arms stiff.
Nothing happened, even though she exerted all her strength against the ends of the box. She pushed harder. Muscles all along her body, from arms through back and torso through her legs, began to cramp.
Anger exploded within her, but she reined it in. She took a deep breath and held it, relaxed a moment, nursing the anger, saving it, saving it….
She pushed explosively with legs and arms. The door to her box gave a metallic screech and crack and it crashed open. Her legs finished straightening, propelling the bed beneath her out of the box on its rails. Then the bed crashed against rail stops.
Reflexes from more than a dozen years of acrobatic training led her body to jackknife as soon as her knees cleared the opening from which the sliding bed issued. She rolled into a ball, rolled onto her back, straightened into a backward somersault, and used her momentum and straightening to catapult her off the bed. Her arms wind milled to corkscrew her body into a complete turn from backward to forward facing. She landed almost silently on a smooth stone floor, going into a crouch to absorb her drop to the floor.
Then she straightened and, at the last moment, stopped herself from flinging her arms up and out as if she was dismounting from a balance beam or parallel bars. Escaping from a sort-of coffin hardly needed what she called a “Ta-da!” gesture.
That was certainly the opinion of the black-bearded man in a white lab coat who spun in his chair near a desk against one wall. He stared at her, screamed, and jumped up to crash-exit the nearby double doors, leaving them swinging in his wake.
What on Earth…? She shook her head, looked around the room, seeking something with which she might cover her nakedness other than the slick plastic sheet, now lying crumpled on the floor, that had been her sort-of shroud. She spied a couple of doors that might hide closets or cupboards.
One such room disappointed her by containing cleaning supplies including a mop and broom. A second contained towels and other linens, including a small supply of white lab coats. She pulled one off the shelf and unfolded it to slip it about her. Which was when she noticed the fur on her arms.
It was short and very curly and very white. It was also very warm. Which was when she realized that the uncomfortable chill she had felt in the coffin/box had disappeared while she was puzzling about the nature of her confinement. The fur had grown in just a few minutes to — she inspected herself — cover her entire body.
“Whoa, howdy!” No wonder the lab attendant, or whatever he was, had run away! She must have seemed like a werewolf or some such bursting upon the scene.
The fur was going to be a darned nuisance —
Uhm? Suddenly the fur began to thin and uncurl and assume its normal short near-invisible state. With that she noticed that the lab was chilly. She hurriedly wrapped herself in the lab coat before her body decided to grow fur again, thinking emphatically to herself that the air was cool but not cold. Cool but not cold! Luckily the floor, made of a white-and-black checkerboard of stone or linoleum or such, was not chill.
Or was it? She balanced on one leg and brought the other up, bent, so that she could see the sole of her foot and touch it with one hand.
The sole was slightly thickened and only slightly sensitive to her touch. Her foot had adapted so that the floor, likely as chilly as the air in the room, did not bother her. She bent and touched the floor with one hand. Yes, it felt cold, all right.
She wandered over to the desk, looking about at her surroundings. Items that especially caught her attention included a four-high and ten-wide array of small shiny aluminum doors mounted in one wall. One of them was open and a long narrow surface stuck out of it: the bed on which she had lain.
There was also a couple of tables that appeared made of steel with edges that curled up to make shallow tubs. Nearby hoses and a drain in each table suggested the tubs were used to wash dead bodies.
There were no obvious instruments for conducting autopsies, so she guessed that this was a hospital morgue rather than a police morgue.
The room’s nature was confirmed when she sat in the grey ergonomic chair in front of the lab attendant’s desk. Taped to the wall beside the desk were several documents, among them one in very fine print naming the hospital and detailing some routine regulations, another one a calendar of meetings, and a list of inter-office phone numbers.
She looked for a phone but only found an empty cell-phone recharging cradle. So she could not call her family to come get her.
Well, someone would be coming soon once the attendant got over his hysteria enough to return with help.
Meanwhile she could perhaps find out what had happened to her. She called up a web browser on the computer and entered a search for her name, expertly limiting it to references no older than a month.
After entering the search she noticed a container of bottled “pure glacier” water on the desk and gulped it, suddenly realizing she was quite thirsty.
She gazed at the search results. There were hundreds of references to her, even with the limits she had set on the search. For years she had made good showings at many competitions, and there were several web sites devoted to her personally. Some of them existed because she was attractive, though not nearly so as Silvana, her next-youngest sister, the “beauty of the family” as her youngest sister, Bonita, “the elf,” sarcastically referred to Silvana.
Quite near the top of the browser references was a link to an Oceanside Daily news story. The headline on the story she called up was at the top of the sports section.
Local Olympic hopeful dies a heroine saving family from fire it read.
Sasha Canaro was in the middle of her early-morning six-mile run Tuesday when she observed smoke coming from one of the houses in the upscale North Oceanside suburb near her home.
After calling 911 she smashed a living room window and entered the house when ringing the doorbell, yelling, and pounding on the door failed to awaken anyone. Inside she first rescued an infant child, then a nine-year-old boy.
The story went on to describe her rescue of the wife and husband, then entering the house again to search for other family. Her body was discovered lying in the guest bedroom. Rushed to the hospital while being frantically worked on by ambulance medics, she was pronounced dead on arrival from smoke inhalation.
She had died? She certainly did not feel dead. And she felt no smoke after-affects inside her lungs.
She did feel thirsty, despite finishing the bottle of water. Remembering the large refrigerator on the wall near the desk and behind the chair, she rose and opened it. Inside were numerous containers of some chemicals, their lids so tight that she smelled no funny odors. Except — aha!
She saw two bottled waters and a Mexican dinner in the frig. The latter was only half eaten and covered with a see-through self-adhesive wrap. She popped it in the nearby microwave for a few seconds, then took it back the desk. She tore open a plastic-wrapped package of plastic utensils from a cupful of such packages sitting on one side of the desk. Soon she was hungrily eating the Mexican dinner.
The news story went on to detail her history of athletic competition. She was “survived by prominent artist and sculptor” father and “tough-on-crime city attorney recently retired to corporate law” mother. They also mentioned her two sisters and her “NFL post-collegiate pick” older brother.
The events of the morning were lost to her. All she remembered was going to bed Monday night, expecting to rise Tuesday morning for her usual run. Nor did she remember anything else. Except …
… floating in darkness … seeing a moonlit tree … deciding not to travel to — somewhere interesting.
She shook her head. It might have been a dream, but did not have the unreal distortion of a dream. The memory was of real events, she was sure. Events after her death, they must have been. If her intuition was true.
Sasha retrieved an apple from the frig and a second bottle of water and read another news story about her death. As she finished the apple she heard the clash of someone bursting through the swinging double doors behind and to one side of her. She dropped the apple core into the desk’s waste basket and hurriedly drained the second water bottle. She then closed the browser window on the computer and leaned heavily on one arm rest of the ergo chair.
With seeming weariness she slowly turned the chair and looked up. Leading two burly white-coated orderlies was the morgue attendant, his bushy black-bearded chin set in stubborn lines.
He stopped abruptly and looked all around the room. Its only occupant was a pretty blond looking up at the three men with wide-eyed confusion.
“Me perdone. Estoy tan confundida. Ayúdeme, por favor.” Her Argentine father had ensured that all of his children spoke Spanish as well as they did English.
The two Latinos looked down on the skinny attendant with disfavor. “Boxy,” said one of them in perfect unaccented English, “this is the last time we cover up you smoking that stuff. Then next time we’re telling your boss. And you know how she hates druggies.”
“But…! But…!” The bearded one looked wildly around at the room, dismissed Sasha after a glance, then went on a search of every possible hiding place. This included all of the morgue boxes and under the desk, shooing Sasha out of his way. She pushed herself, still in the wheeled ergo chair, several feet away from the desk.
Meanwhile the two attendants soothed Sasha’s fake distress and one of them retrieved a wheelchair from somewhere outside the morgue. Then they moved her gently into the chair and out into the hall. They left with backward exasperated glances at the attendant, who was repeating his search for a white werewolf.
Sasha was shortly ensconced in a private room in the intensive care ward. She was quickly surrounded by what seemed a dozen doctors, but not for long. A formidable grey-haired older nurse who stood no more than five feet tall quickly scattered them to make way for a distinguished-looking older man and a handsome dark-haired thirty-something younger man. They seemed to be a doctor-administrator and her newly assigned personal physician.
The younger man went efficiently through a number of tests that started with a stethoscope exam of her heart and progressed through ever more esoteric ones involving various machines wheeled in or pulled out of the wall. The last yielded to a set of wires attached to her chest and wrists and to a wall-mounted console.
The young doctor smiled down at her while he held one of her wrists as if to take her pulse a second time.
“Well, young lady, you seem to be in very good health. Quite surprising, considering all you went through. How do you feel?”
“Hungry. Very hungry.”
“We’ll take care of that very soon. Anything else? Headaches? Bodily pain? Shortness of breath?”
“No. I feel fine. Where is my mother?”
“Your family will be here shortly. They’re looking forward to seeing you.”
He was lying. Sasha did not know how she knew, but she did. They had not informed anyone of her apparent return from the dead.
Apparent to them, that is. She knew she had died and that her body had fixed itself. Like the lie detecting, she did not know how she knew, but she did.
She was not about to let them run any more tests. If she did nothing she might slide into becoming an experimental subject.
She deployed a weapon learned from watching her middle sister, as cunning a manipulator for all her sixteen years as any famous intriguer from history. She burst into sobs.
Rather to her surprise her nose stung and actual tears ran down her cheeks.
“I want my mother!”
The older man came forward and took her free hand. He patted it.
“Now, now, of course you can see your mother. She’ll be here any minute now. While we wait we may as well take a few more tests. Just to make sure we have not ….”
Sasha commanded her heart rate to increase, another skill acquired since she had returned from the dead.
“I want my mother! Get me my mother!” She repeated that, letting her voice get louder and louder. She was ready to start screaming if they did not act soon to notify her family.
The little senior nurse was somehow at the older man’s side, murmuring something to him quietly but firmly. He shook his head but, at more and quieter speech from the nurse, looked sour and dropped Sasha’s hand.
“Of course, young lady. Here now, I’m going to go make sure that she is on her way.”
“Really?” She sniffed loudly and used a hand to wipe her nose, forcing the younger doctor to release her wrist.
“Really, dear. Here now, no need for tears.” The formidable little nurse had rounded Sasha’s bed and entered the bathroom. She came back with a damp face cloth and squeezed in beside the younger doctor. Impatiently he moved over and away from the bed. The nurse bathed Sasha’s face.
Giving way to the inevitable, for the moment at least, the doctor forced a smile, said something noncommittally comforting, and left the room.
Sasha thanked the nurse and asked about food. The woman said the doctor had ordered an IV and that Sasha would get food after he was sure her blood sugar had stabilized.
An inner sense told her that her blood sugar was fine. However it also told her that she was badly dehydrated despite finishing two water bottles in the morgue. She decided not to object to the IV.
Her body objected, however, when a few minutes later a young female nurse tried to insert a needle into one of Sasha’s veins. The woman tried three times but could not penetrate Sasha’s skin. She apologized to Sasha and hurried out to get a more experienced nurse to put in the needle.
While she was gone Sasha realized that her skin had turned as hard as tire rubber at the first touch of the IV needle. That would ordinarily be good but she had already gotten too much attention. So when a tall black woman with almost a military bearing returned with the young nurse Sasha commanded her body to allow the needle to enter a vein.
The older nurse and the younger left as soon as the IV was dripping into Sasha’s vein at the proper rate, the older lecturing the younger in proper procedure — unjustly so since it was Sasha who had kept the younger nurse from succeeding, not the nurse’s inexperience.
With nothing of importance happening Sasha decided that the best thing she could do was to sleep. She had an instant to feel surprise before a great wave of lethargy washed her into deep rest.