Joshua Wells was executed, by lethal injection, at 12.01am on Monday, 1st January. He died quickly and relatively painlessly.
At 12.22am, he became aware of silence. He was fairly agnostic about the afterlife, but when – on the rare occasions he’d given it any thought – he’d thought that there’d be fairly sure-fire ways of telling whether or not he was in heaven or in hell. At the very least, he’d expected some sort of background chatter, and he couldn’t hear anything; the silence was almost more foreboding somehow. He felt a chill run down his back.
I’ve have expected harps or sulphur, he thought.
It had been a case of mistaken identity, his imprisonment and execution; Josh hadn’t been anywhere near the garage – or 7-11, as they were called here in the States – at the time of the murders. The shop assistant, plus three customers, had been killed at just gone 3am one winter’s morning three years ago. Six months later, police had turned up mob-handed at his door and taken him away from his family.
I know I wasn’t there! he had protested. I don’t belong in prison. I know I sleepwalk, but I can’t even boil a kettle when I’m sleeping.
Despite the circumstantial evidence, he was quickly – and depressingly easily – convicted of the deaths, then sentenced to death. Despite innumerable appeals and stays-of-execution, he was finally strapped onto the gurney just a few minutes ago. He felt the prick of the needle stabbing into a vein in his arm and he silently wept for his un-lived life; he was just 32 years ago.
I’m meant to die of old age, not on some cold operating table watched by the victims of those people who were killed.
But he wasn’t dead. He’d woken up again, just like he woken up from a deep sleep; he felt refreshed, re-energised and, more potently, alive.
What if I’ve woken up in the middle of my autopsy?
It was a strange thought to have, but he couldn’t help himself; would he stand up and see all his vital organs falling out from a cut in his stomach, or some other equally disgusting place. He was always fascinated by the gruesome – his favourite TV shows were all autopsy shows, especially by that famous German doctor whose name temporarily escaped him – but this was a step to far.
Am I a zombie?
He answered that question without much effort; he felt for a pulse in his neck, and quickly found one. Checking his wrist as well, the same pulse was there. He was on the same cold, metal gurney as when he’d died, but he’d moved; the lights above his head were different. Gingerly feeling down his body, which was now naked aside from a single sheet covering his nether regions, he couldn’t detect any cuts or anything indicating an autopsy scar.
Looking around, he realised that he was in a medical room; there were implements dotted around that could only exist in one of two places; an autopsy room or a torture chamber and, since everyone had assumed that he was dead, then the torture chamber was fairly unlikely.
He pushed himself off the gurney; he was alone in the small room. A quick glance at the clock told him that he’d been dead for 21 minutes. He quickly found his clothes piled on a chair in the corner.
How kind of them.
He was suddenly aware that, if he’d been left out on a gurney in the middle of the room, then someone would surely be back to see him any moment . They’d undoubtedly want to cut him open and try to work out his physiology, perhaps even find the killer gene that made him flip.
Except that there isn’t a killer gene in me! he thought. I couldn’t even harm a fly.
He opened the door and peered down the corridor; it was empty. He was possibly in a basement, as there weren’t any windows. It was cluttered and untidy, with boxes and gurneys littering the corridor. This place had clearly been half-forgotten about by everyone except those who worked down here.
He walked down the silent corridor, carefully listening out for any approaching footsteps, but none came. He quickly found the elevator and, before he could change his mind, called the lift. The doors opened almost immediately, and he hesitated for a moment; the light was flickering inside the overhead compartment.
It’s just a faulty bulb, he chastised himself. Stop being so stupid.
The lift juddered slightly as it rose, and he had to work hard to suppress his sudden fear. Perhaps he should have used the stairs after all.
He reached the ground floor, and the doors stuttered open. He had to actually push them apart manually to give himself enough space to get out, and it was to another deserted corridor that he now found himself.
He found reception in no time, and even that was deserted; the shop, the small café, the desk were all unmanned. Okay, it was the middle of the night, but there was always someone around in any hospital; illness stopped for nothing, of course.
Except for me. It looks like even death stops for me.
The unease began to make way for another emotion; satisfaction. He’d survived death, and now he’d survived re-arrest. He was confused by the emptiness of the hospital, to be sure, but there had to be a logical motive; most likely, it was something to do with a fire drill or a bomb scare. If he looked outside, he’d see everything congregating on the park green opposite.
When he’d been arrested, in the middle of the night, he’d tried to run. Despite being dressed in nothing more than his boxer shorts, he’d tried to hi-tail it out of his bedroom window and down the drainpipe. The prosecution used it as evidence of his guilt. Josh had just explained it away as a panicked reaction against armed men barging into his home at 3 o’clock in the morning.
Okay, so I told one little lie, he thought defensively. It’s just one lie.
In reality, he was running because he was afraid that his fraud had been uncovered, and he was running to dig up a couple of his secret stashes. He would have come back for his family – who knew nothing of his double and triple lives around the country, fleecing little old dears of their money – and they could have set up a new life in Barbados or Antigua, somewhere like that. As long as it was hot.
But it turned out that the police really were as incompetent as he always suspected them to be. They hadn’t found out about his secret lives; he’d hidden them all too well. However, they suspected him of murder under his real name – the only one they knew about – and tried to frame him. No matter how legendary his powers of persuasion were, he had failed to sweet-talk the jury.
That was odd; he was usually so good with people. He was an extrovert, after all; he loved being around people. He thrived on it. That was probably one of the reasons he was so good as a fraudster; people trusted him, they liked him, and he could fit it into any situation.
But now I’ve got a second chance. I’ve got two other identities waiting for me out there, and cash in rather large quantities. I’ll get myself back on my feet, and then my wife and the kids can quietly retire to somewhere near the equator.
He went back to the stairs, which he’d noticed as he had first left the lift. He’d go back down to the basement and find another way out. There had to be a fire escape, right?
As he disappeared into the stairwell, a figure peeled himself away from the yukka plant by the front entrance. He had an ability to fade into the background, to be seen and yet not seen in the same instant. He’d not disappeared or used an invisibility spell, but just faded gently away, so that Josh had seen the plant and nothing else. Just as he hadn’t seen everybody else, and they hadn’t seen him.
It was complex energy to harness on Earth, especially after bringing him back to life, but this visitor had done it. It was worth every drop of power.
Josh needs to learn, he knew. I can see a lot of potential in him, but not with his sanity still intact. I need to break him, and this most certainly will.
This observer didn’t belong to the world, of course; he sat outside it or, rather, below it. He lived in, and ruled over, a place of sulphur and brimstone and fire. And it’s time for me to recruit the next generation of lieutenants for my expansion. I need to free their minds, though. I’ve got time.
Josh was a good subject; when he finally broke, then Dr Cypher would be there to comfort him – and then recruit him.
Louis Cypher walked out of the hospital with a smile on his face. He was building his army and, one day soon, he would break out.
And I will win.