"I hope that chicken sandwich keeps you warm in hell!" was the last thing I said before I died.
That's the only way to describe it. It was like there was a cable plugging me into life, then something came by and just knocked it loose -- the metaphorical dog got excited at something walking past the metaphorical window, like a metaphorical cat, I guess, and ran in front of the TV -- and that was it. The thin silver cord connecting me to the living world was knocked out of its port.
And I metaphorically swore at that metaphorical dog, for it had cost me my last metaphorical guy, and metaphorical MegaMan is really fucking metaphorically hard.
And life did not auto-pause: The game continued, but the player was not present. As I floated up from my body, I felt a kind of fundamental detachment from self -- like the stuffy euphoric dizziness one gets from autoerotic asphyxiation, though there was nothing erotic about this, of course; my raging erection felt, if anything, somewhat inappropriate in the otherwise austere circumstances.
I surveyed the scene from above: The crying girl in the penguin suit; the bloody, 1:1 scale cardboard cutout of Captain Kirk; the smashed drive-thru speaker pedestal; the burning Go-Kart; and there, in the middle of it all, lay my former body, twisted and immobile. Slowly, the world around me darkened at the edges, and lost resolution. No, not losing -- receding. I was traveling steadily away from the scene, down a tunnel of perfect black. There was a sense of comfort in that surrounding emptiness. And then, in the distance, a solitary dot of light broke through the soft absence, like a hole stabbed through a sheet of velvet, held up before a lamp.
A torrent of emotion flowed through me, beginning at the crown of my head and rushing downward. Rage, grief and sorrow each poured into my skull, ran down my body and shot right out of my persistent, inappropriate deathboner until I was emptied out. When it was over, a sense of blissful apathy was all that remained. The pinprick of light became a moon, became a sun, became everything. The light was as pure, ceaseless and unbroken as the dark had been, and I could tell what it was without actually discerning the shapes: The denseness of iridescent souls, millions -- billions strong. They were layered upon one another in such number and for such unfathomable distance that they formed a sea of white so bright, it could not even shimmer for the momentary darkness that would entail.
That's a lot of words to say "really white," dude.
"It's OK," a familiar voice spoke to me, "you're safe here."
"Who are you?" I asked, though I knew I had no voice to speak the words.
"I'm that guy you killed with a Firebird that one time. I guess I'm the closest thing you have to a friend, so I've been sent here to speak to you."
"What do you want?"
"I'm here to tell you that it is not your time. You still have work to do, down there. Your mission is not yet over." The voice was male, but at the same time genderless. It was the inaudible thrum that remained in the air after a string was plucked. I did not hear it, so much as felt it resonate within my essence.
"The ... the thing. You know? The stuff that's ... ah ... OK, listen: We just really don't want you up here yet, all right? Someday, maybe, sure. But just not right now, man. We're all having a pretty good time; Ezekiel was just about to set up the ping-pong table and Samael is pretty sure he can get these two bitches to kiss later if we keep feeding 'em margaritas, so like -- 10 years? Can you give us 10 years?" The voice began to recede.
"They just look bi, man. Sometimes you can tell, you know?"
"Wait," I said, desperately trying to seize onto something, though I had no limbs to do so, "don't I get to relive the best parts of my life here first?"
"You don't even remember half of it! Most of your memories fall firmly into the 'morning after' category. Do you really want to relive throwing up candlewax into a sombrero for six hours?"
"No! But for the record, I'm pretty sure I won that bet. Come on! At least teach me some great truth about the cosmos before you send me back!" My distress became manifest, and I somehow managed to claw into the meat of the sparkling non-flesh around me. Something with a voice like the sound between notes squealed; I was pretty sure I'd seized onto some soul-ass.
"OK, sure, whatever. The secret to making love last is independence and indifference, infused with affection and generosity." The voice answered, each syllable like harmonic vibrations in a set of train tracks that ran straight and unbroken to infinity. Then it kicked me in the face with a foot of pure glory, and I spiraled back downward into the muffled dusk.
My first living breath was ragged with spit and disuse. My eyes refused to focus. A blinding light, figures, splotches of vague coloring resolving and dissolving with every heartbeat.
I instantly decided to hate the one on the left and bone the one on the right.
"What is this? Heaven?" I rasped. "Are you guys angels? If you're angels, you have to tell me. This is entrapment!"
"No," a dark splash of blue spoke. "This is St. Augustine Hospital, and I'm afraid you've been in an accident. I believe you may have experienced something called an NDE."
"Yeah, you know me!" I reached my hand up into the nebulous shape for a high five, or however many a nebulous shape has.
"I'm sorry ... you?"
"Know me, yes." My hand still hung.
"Who's down with it."
"Down with what?"
"OPP." Still nothing.
"I don't under-"
"You know who's down with it."
"Who's down with what, OPP?"
"Every last Home-ey!" I took initiative and slapped at what I hoped was the area's hand or hand-analogue. I swung through it, hit metal. Something crashed to the floor.
"I'm afraid there may have been some brain damage," the shape said to a thinner, whitish blotch.
"What's up, baby?" I said to the blotch. The blotch did not reply, either because it was a stuck up bitch, or possibly a drinking fountain.
She either thinks she's better than me, or will give me herpes if I drink from her. Probably both.
"I'm going to sedate him," the blotch answered the nebulous shape, and then stabbed me with something.
"I'll cut you back," I mumbled, fading. "Nobody punks me! Noboooo ..."
When I awoke again, a patient-looking doctor was smiling down at me benignly.
"Good to see you're up," he said, when I finally stopped swinging at his stupid face. "Still some loss of impulse and emotional control," he said to the nurse, as an aside.
"No, that's normal," I gently assured him.
"I'm sure you have a lot of questions," he began. "So, please, feel free."
"Just one: What's your fucking problem?"
"I'm ... sorry?"
"You should be! I had a death grip on what I think was angel-junk, and I was totally going to crash the shit out of that heaven-party. Then you soul-blocked me! Motherfucker!"
"Aren't you worried about time paradoxes?"
"I don't think I follo-"
"I only ask because you just won't stop fucking your own mother! It's like you've suddenly contracted a rare form of cancer and been informed that the only treatment is alternating rounds of aggressive chemotherapy and motherfucking you MOTHERF-"
"Anger is a normal emotional response after an episode like yours," he finally spoke in a ceaseless rush, effectively slipping through my swear-blockade, "and I want to ensure you that you are in the best possible environment to explore and understand your near death experience. This hospital is part of the University of Southampton's international study on NDEs, called the AWARE program. That stands for AWAreness during REsuscitation."
"Ha! OK, sure: I've got a group too, it's called 'FUCKING stop chEATing at acronyms, MElanie."
"I did not choose the name, sir. But again, this irrational fury is a normal reaction, at first. Many people who experience a NDE complain that they have been pulled away from something beautiful, and actually find themselves resentful to still be alive. We've seen dozens of cases like yours, and the good news is that we do know exactly what to expect, moving forward. Before we move on, however, I would like to verify a few key elements of your experience while they're still fresh in your mind. It began with a feeling of detachment, correct? Followed by some movement down a dark tunnel, toward a bright light?"
I nodded, glaring at the silent nurse. There was something I was supposed to do ...
"And then you heard the voice of a loved one?"
"Some carnie I blasted with the quarter panel of a Firebird, but yeah, close enough."
Pictured: Love, in its purest form.
"And there were holy, or somehow sacred beings-"
"Kinda fratty, actually, but yeah, I guess they were made outta light or whatever." There was something in the nurse's expression, some unspoken need to be stabbed that I could just read on her face. But why?
"And you were told something about a mission, something left incomplete here on Earth?"
"Hey, yeah! Did you ever find out what that was?" I snapped my focus back to the doctor.
"Did I? I don't- I don't have the means to interpret your individual NDE, if that's what you're asking. We're mostly studying potential causes of the effect, here. Why, 10 to 20 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest experience an NDE, and almost always with similar if not identical effects, it really is a fasci-"
"Good good, but what's the mission, man?! You said you've hassled a lot of dying dudes, right?"
"Well no, we don't 'hassle' anybody. The program uses a state of the art cerebral monitoring system in conjunction with a series of pre-established tests -- cards and images placed above the patient, for example -- to test the accuracy of their 'above-body' perception." The man gestured to a series of shelves mounted just above head level.
"Right," I nodded in agreement, "you spend the last minutes of people's lives trying to trip their soul up on semantics -- I got it. I just wanna know the mission. What are we being sent back to do? Is it wetwork? It's wetwork, right? We're like a sexy army of the undead being resurrected to assassinate bin Laden or something, yeah?"
"More like resERECTed, amirite fellow undead?!"
"Actually, bin Laden's already been killed ..."
"Boss! NDEs represent!" I formed a pistol with my hands and leveled it at the nurse. No, that didn't feel right, not a pistol ...
"No, I didn't mean ..." The doctor sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. He removed his glasses, cleaned them and replaced them before continuing. "I worry you may still be addled by your experience. Perhaps we should resume another day."
"No, no, I'm good. I'm professionally addled. It's cool. You go on, homey. Get your spiritual pedant on, I won't judge."
"Well, the goal of our program is first and foremost to record cerebral activity when full cardiac arrests sets in. At the next stage, yes, we also have a series of noninvasive tests set up to gauge the accuracy of the experience, but I assure you, it is not unpleasant in any way for the patient. We do not seek to 'hassle' the dead and dying. Next, we take a thorough survey of all NDE survivors, and record their stories in order to build a proper census of the phenomena. We've already recreated the out-of-body experience in a laboratory without cardiac arrest, but eventually we'd like to recreate the entire NDE simply by replicating the cocktail of endorphins, chemicals and hormones released in the brain at the time of death."
"Wait wait wait, cocktails? Chemicals?"
"Well, yes. Though some of his methods are controversial, Dr. Grof has had great success emulating NDEs in laboratory conditions using LSD. While other research has shown promising results with both PCP and Ketamine."
"Yes, it is rather groundbreaking work." The doctor smiled proudly.
"You guys told the government you wanted to beta-test ghosts, and they gave you free hallucinogens?!"
"I guess that could be one horribly inaccurate way of putting it, yes."
"Fucking sign me up! I ain't afraid of no ghosts!" I tried to bolt upright in bed, but caught on the IV. The drip pole rattled, tipped, stabilized.
"Well, I uh ... I do actually have a sign-up form here. I was going to ask if you were interested, but your enthusiasm, it seems somehow ... wrong."
"Wait, I'm supposed to be disturbed by this? All I have to do is get in a terrible accident and then, when I wake up, tell people I saw a tunnel and heard my grandma, and you give me an all-you-can-eat buffet of free acid and Special-K. Sounds like a sweet deal to me! Would it make you feel better if I was showing more signs of psychological distress?"
"Yes, yes I suppose it would," the doctor folded his arms and sat defiantly.
In one fluid motion I withdrew my IV and plunged it deep into the nurse's bosom. She screeched and flapped about the room for a moment, the wheeled metal stand pursuing her like an excited dog, and then she was out into the hallway, and gone.
"I ain't forget!" I hollered after her, "I ain't never forget! WESTSIDE. WESTSIIIYEEEDE."
The doctor was leaning comically backward in his chair, his face twisted in fear.
"I don't even know why I said that," I laughed to him. "I'm over on the northeast, myself. Just doesn't have the same ring, you know?"
A nearly imperceptible rattle sounded from his throat in response.
"No, hey: Me and you? We're cool, buddy. You're my hook-up!" I reassured him, standing wobbly-legged on my shaking hospital bed and holding my fist aloft. "Now let's get fucking wrecked and play Flatliners ... FOR SCIENCE!"
I like to think the good doctor was freeze-framing with me, but in retrospect, it was almost certainly just the early stages of shock.
You can buy Robert's book, Everything is Going to Kill Everybody: The Terrifyingly Real Ways the World Wants You Dead, or follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Or you could step in front of a bus for free acid! Wait ... no. No, that's probably not a good idea, after all; there's no guarantee you'd get one of the good drugs-for-dying hospitals.
For more from Robert, check out Choose Your Drug-Fueled Misadventure: Dragon Ass, Takin Names and How Hollywood Decided to Reboot Spider-Man (Probably).