Below zero

This is a work of fiction, a short story of 1200 words.

Astrid didn’t want to die. She was only fourteen, after all. Surely too young to face this?
After the headaches had come the double vision, then the vomiting. She could no longer cope with school, and not long after that, her mum gave up work to look after her. Sometimes, Astrid screamed for hours. Those times when nothing would take away the pain in her head. She would tremble in her mother’s arms, pleading for relief.

Her mum Barbara was at the end of her tether. Astrid was her only child, and she had never expected this. Only three months before, they had argued, like any mum and teenage daughter. Astrid was doing well at school, and was the leading light of the soccer team. She had the occasional fit of hysteria, mostly when she was refused permission to stay out late, or to go out with people that Barbara didn’t approve of. But mostly, it was fine. Just normal life, in 2010.

The family doctor prescribed pain killers, but they didn’t work. He gave up, and referred the girl to hospital. After a while, the neurologist sent her for tests, and gave them the worrying news that her brain function was impaired. He sent her for more tests, including a CT scan, and an MRI. When they were called in for the meeting, Barbara had no idea how that would change their life. Inoperable brain tumour. She couldn’t take it in. It was congenital, growing since birth. Nothing could be done.

Astrid was surprisingly calm. She was pleased to know that it was real. So many people had presumed it was some sort of teenage crisis, she had started to believe it herself. Although she really didn’t fully comprehend the facts, she did understand it when they told her she had less than three months to live. Some type of resignation settled over her. She became very calm. The stronger pain relief helped of course, and many of her waking hours were spent in a dream-like state. It was Barbara who couldn’t cope. She wailed and cried. She drank too much white wine when her daughter was asleep, and started smoking again, after fifteen years off of the cigarettes.

Astrid spent a lot of time on the Internet, researching her condition. Mum was divorced, and she rarely saw her dad, but she got on well with Brian, mum’s boyfriend. He was very rich. So rich, they never talked about it. He wanted to marry her mum, but Barbara was still thinking about it. Despite Brian’s vast wealth, and good nature, she had experienced a bad time with Bob, and was in no rush to get back into a marriage of any kind. One afternoon, Astrid telephoned Brian, and asked him to come over. She sat him down with her mum, and put a proposition to them.

She had read about cryogenics online. They could freeze her body after death, keeping the tissue and organs alive and healthy. If some time in the future they discovered how to cure her brain tumour, they would thaw her out, and restore her to health. Naturally, it might be after they were both dead, so it was only of benefit to Astrid. And it was very expensive. The initial cost was almost half a million, and then there was the yearly upkeep. If they thawed her out later, there would be additional expenses too. Somewhere to live, charges for the necessary rehabilitation, fees for college, and enough to get a good start in life. Brian had enough to help, if he was willing. It was all in his hands. Barbara and Astrid looked at him, waiting for the answer. He didn’t hesitate. He would sign the papers, set up the trust required, and settle the fees up front. Barbara was so grateful, she finally agreed to marry him.

Dying was nothing like she expected. When the pain got so bad that she had fits, they gave her Morphine. Once that was in her system, it was only a matter of time. She was able to go home from the hospital to die, and Brian paid for nurses to attend her around the clock. Mum was always there too, and Brian managed to see her most days, despite the pressures of his business. One night, she operated the pump for the drug, but it didn’t seem to ease the intolerable pressure in her head. So she kept tapping the controller, and just went to sleep.

There was no funeral, but Barbara insisted on an emotional memorial service. She kept her promise to marry Brian, three weeks after that. Astrid’s body had been taken from home to the facility. Prepared as described, and inserted into a tank, to await the future.

There was a fuzzy feeling in her head. Astrid opened her eyes, but they felt dry, and seemed not to want to open fully. She was aware of looking though a screen. It was glass, she thought, maybe perspex. She couldn’t move her head, and her body felt as if it was made of sponge; unresponsive, and flaccid. There was something in her mouth. She couldn’t really see it, but she felt it, so knew it was there. There was a woman’s voice in her head, tinny, like it was coming from an old speaker.
“Hello. Can you hear me? Blink your eyes, if you can.” She blinked.
“Number 641 is awake.” The woman spoke louder, as if addressing someone else.

It took a very long time for Astrid to realise what was happening, and where she was. The freezing had worked. They had cured her tumour, sometime in the future. She was overwhelmed with emotion, and felt warm tears appear in her eyes. Could it really be true? Was it a dream? Was it possible that her mum was still alive too? The pain in her head had gone. She wanted to speak, to move, to be alive again. But nothing happened. Nobody came, and the tube was still in her mouth.
She had no idea how much time had passed, when the voice sounded in her head again.
“Do you understand what is happening? It is the year 2204. You have been in stasis for almost two hundred years. But you are fit and well, and will soon be processed. Blink if you understand.”
Astrid blinked. She tried to smile too, but the strange tube wouldn’t let her.

Nurse Drew went from the holding room into the doctor’s office. He looked up at her expectantly.
“641 is awake since yesterday. She is responding well, vital signs are good, and the pain relief is masking the effects of the tumour. What do you want from her?”
He looked at some charts on the desk.
“Prep her for surgery in two hours. We will be able to use the heart and lungs, liver, and both kidneys. We can check the eyes too, see if we can use them for corneal transplants. Most of the skin will be good for grafts as well. After all this time, it is nice and slack. Let the recipients know, and make sure they are here ASAP”

In the tank, Astrid blinked again. But no voice answered.

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36 thoughts on “Below zero

  1. Pete, a cautionary tale for sure, and we should all be careful what we wish for… We might just be surprised with the outcome.. wonderful story, love it and wanted to read more … I can see this being a movie… you need to pitch it… wink… But, keep your head about you when you do… LOL

    Take care, Laura

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  2. My thoughts when hearing the real story was how could anyone afford to do this? Never mind what might happen in the future…

    Another good tale. You do have a knack of ‘the twist in the tale’ genre. I always liked the series’Tales of the Unexpected’ and remember the woman who murdered her husband with a frozen joint of lamb and then cooked and ate the evidence. (At least I think it was something like that).

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    1. Nobody knows what might happen in the future, Arlene. But we now have IVF, heart transplants, face transplants, pacemakers, by-pass surgery, and a cure for many diseases that killed millions less than 100 years ago. I can only imagine the advances in 200 more.
      Best wishes, Pete.

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