Soul sleep, more properly known as psychopannychism, is the belief that the human soul is uncomprehending during the time between bodily death and resurrection on Judgment Day.
“The virtuous man is content to dream what a wicked man really does.” —Plato
Vincent stumbled through the hospital’s unexpectedly automatic door. A sudden blast of heat burned his bloodshot eyes. The antiseptic air made his skin twitch, his stomach roil.
Though he hated hospitals on principle, he knew his nausea had more to do with the empty bottle of whiskey back at his apartment. All those hard-fought months of sobriety, wasted.
But am I drunk enough?
Vincent batted the thought aside and focused on walking a straight line to the elevators. When he spotted a policeman leaning against the information desk, he nearly lost his nerve.
No, not a real cop. He doesn’t even have a gun.
Keeping tabs on the middle-aged security guard out of the corner of his eye, Vincent performed his best impression of a model citizen as he crossed the lobby and waited for the elevator, but the guy seemed more interested in flirting with the blonde behind the counter than scrutinizing visitors.
The elevator opened, and he hurried in, letting out a big breath as his view of the rent-a-cop was replaced by the shiny metal door. His relief was short-lived, however, as he considered what lay ahead.
Leaning against the elevator’s faux wood paneling, he wished he had some liquid courage left. If he had brought a bottle with him, he would’ve emptied it fast.
But there was nothing fast about the elevator. Why the hell wasn’t it moving? Panicked thoughts about the sly security guard and a master control panel disappeared when it dawned on him that he had never pressed the button for the floor he wanted.
Focus, damn it!
He jabbed a finger into the number three. The elevator’s sudden acceleration tightened his stomach. When the door opened, he took a few steadying steps onto the third floor—the long-term patient observation ward.
The vegetable garden.
As much as he wanted to avoid contact with hospital staff, he knew he’d never be able to find his destination without help. He had visited his brother only once before, and that was eight months ago. The day Danny went into a coma.
Vincent wiped his brow, smearing the sweat into his wild tangle of hair. He resisted the urge to rub his eyes as he approached the front desk.
A middle-aged woman with curly black hair and wearing a frumpy brown pullover looked up.
He forced his mouth into what he hoped would pass for a smile and said, “Hi, I’m, ah, looking for Danny—” He cleared his throat. “—Daniel Pierce. Can you tell me what room he’s in?”
The woman—her nametag said “Suzanne”—regarded him warily. Her nose twitched, and he wondered if the stench of booze could ever be mistaken for cheap aftershave.
“Mr. Pierce doesn’t get many visitors,” Suzanne said. The statement might have been an offhand comment or accusation. “What is your relation to the patient?”
“I’m his brother. Half-brother, actually.”
The receptionist’s eyebrows arched. “So you’re Vincent—Eve’s other son.”
He winced. Eve’s other son…Cain.
“Yeah, I’m Vincent,” he said. “Wait a minute. She’s not here, is she? My mother, I mean.”
“No, not yet.” She glanced at her watch. “Mass won’t be over for another hour or so. You’ll have to sign in.”
She pushed a clipboard toward him, and he scribbled his name on the line. It felt like signing a confession.
“It’s Room 307,” she said when he returned the clipboard. “Down that hall and take a left.”
Vincent dropped the pen and walked away. While watching his feet to make sure they did what they were supposed to, he almost collided with a big, grim-faced man in a white uniform. Vincent muttered an apology and continued down the corridor. His pulse quickened with each number…301…302…303…
The door to Room 307 was open. He paused at the threshold.
Daniel Pierce lay on his back, a tightly tucked blanket covering his lower half. His red hair—usually an untamed mess of curls—had been cut short and combed. He looked pale, but then again Daniel always looked pale. Were it not the hospital gown and the many tubes connecting him to several bedside electrical devices, Vincent might have believed his brother was just sleeping.
He is sleeping. Asleep and then some.
Without realizing it, Vincent had walked into the room. Looking down at Daniel’s peaceful expression, he remembered the last argument he had had with their mother, who was waiting for a miracle. But Vincent had sided with the doctors, trusting facts over blind faith. Daniel was a hopeless case. He would never wake up.
Vincent would make sure of it.
People always said “pull the plug,” but there were a lot of wires and tubes. If he cut the wrong ones, would it alert the staff before he found the right one? Was it as easy as just yanking the cord out of the electric socket? He couldn’t afford to make any mistakes. There was no such thing as a second chance.
He reached a hand inside his pocket and grasped something small and cold. Still staring at his brother’s face—he half expected the intense blue eyes to open or the lips to curl into a smirk—he brought out the jackknife and opened it. The click echoed inside his skull.
He held out the knife, his arm trembling. He wondered what would be quickest. Slashing his throat? Cutting his wrists? Plunging the blade into Daniel’s heart, vampire-style?
The thought was so ridiculous he laughed out loud. Then he doubled over, gagging and gasping for air. When he righted himself, the room was spinning, but all he could see was Daniel, as a kid, playing with Matchbox cars and reading comic books…Daniel, the adolescent, snitching cigarettes from their mother’s purse…Daniel, a young man, holding his newborn niece for the first time…
Tears streaming down his face, Vincent took a deep breath, whispered, “I’m sorry.”