PART ONE: RECOLLECTION
He was cold when he first awoke. Cold and stiff. Confused, as when one awakes after a night of excessive drinking. Sore, as after a tough workout. He almost didn't know who he was, and sure as hell didn't know where he was. Darkness surrounded him, complete darkness, that breed of darkness that might be described as pitch. A complete absence of light.
He saw nothing. Felt nothing but the pain, stiffness, and chill. Went to flex his fingers and found resistance there, the tendons straining, creaking. More pain. He was on his back, which he knew, but couldn't tell where. He struggled for some time to hoist a numbed, dead arm. More pain, more straining in the shoulder's tendons. He went to call out, and discovered that his voice was but a croak. It seemed to come from someone else, somewhere else, some other time.
Arm raised, his fingertips grazed a smooth, frozen surface. He flinched at the cold. Metal, he assumed. An unnatural weight shifted in his raised limb. He felt frigid blood inside his arm slide, coagulated, from fingers, through the hand, down to his shoulder, and into the hollow in his chest. Something wasn't right. In fact, something was more wrong than he first thought. Something was wrong with his heart.
It's not that his heart wasn't beating fast enough to match his growing fear. Not that he was anxious, and his ticker was skipping beats, palpitating, which it ought to have been. No, there was none of the usual measured pounding. No familiar thump-thump. There was a complete absence of movement. A total and incomprehensible emptiness in his chest. Hollow. His heart wasn't beating at all.
He panicked. Found within himself a surge of strength allowing him to flail his arms in this limited space, to smash his head, to kick his feet. The pounding of meat on aluminium boomed, filling the cold steel chamber, resounding. His coffin. He panicked, kicking, battering the inside of the little box. Then, he found his voice, and screams soon exited his cracked blue lips as a guttural, animal howl.
There was give at his feet, so he focused his strength, kicking harder. Harder and harder until something shifted with a clangourous crash. An awful buzzing fluorescent light invaded the cramped quarters, forcing his pupils to contract. He squinted to protect his delicate vision.
The buzz became a ringing in his ears, and when he at last braved the light, he lifted his head to peer into the square of bright white past his bare feet. In the centre of the room he saw a row of three steel stretchers, a sheet-covered corpse on the middle one. Across the room, there was a wall of identical square stainless steel doors. He wasn't so out of his mind that he couldn't figure out where he was; he had awoken in the morgue. The tag hanging off of his big toe was a tell-tale sign.
Reclining, adrift on a makeshift raft in the pitch black of midnight, the stars were pin-pricks in an azure-painted canvas stretched across the heavens. Little more than holes, Gene thought, through which fluorescent light filtered in from the boundless infinite.
As he pondered his position, Gene admired how the fathomless green sea on which he was floating glowed with an ethereal phosphorescence, illuminated from beneath from some unknown light source. Looking down on himself, Gene discovered that his skin was awash in an eerie chartreuse hue.
Though it was tranquil, the scene wasn't silent, as he could hear the sedate splish-splashing of water against the side of his raft. He let the repetitive sound of water lap in his ears. Relaxed, not at all worried about his situation, Gene dangled an arm over the side of the raft. He was pleased to find the water tepid.
Where am I, and who put all of this here? thought Gene. I want, no, I need to remember.
Then, as if to answer, a noxious, familiar female voice interjected, slipping in from the void to pose an enigmatic question: "What will it bring?"
Gene peered through the dark, and caught a glimpse of an indeterminate image projected onto a far-off aluminium wall. His pulse quickened. "Who - who are-?" he began to ask.
"What will it bring?" she repeated.
So much hurt in that voice. So forlorn. Gene felt nauseous for a moment as a terrible thought crossed his mind. Could I have caused this kind of pain? he asked himself. Me, a first-class lover, a world-renowned Romeo, a connoisseur of the female species; is there even a chance I could have done this?
"What will it bring?" the voice sighed again.
No, Gene thought. It was not possible that he was the cause of such grief. He was Casanova, Lothario, and Don Juan rolled into one. He brought passion to the otherwise dull lives of all the women around him. He knew what women wanted. He had a heart.
Or so he thought.
His feet hit the floor, leaden, burdensome with thick purple blood. He was naked, that was clear. Naked but for the toe tag. He leant down to pull off the paper tag, and as he did, there was a peculiar feeling on his abdomen. Something thick and not quite as cold as the air in the room ran down the flesh of his exposed stomach. He knew it had to be blood.
He peered down at his chest, and noticed a classic post-mortem incision. Nice clean work, he thought. The shape reminded him of something, but he couldn't think what. A deep slice from each shoulder, down the front of the chest, meeting at the sternum, and extending down his torso, detouring to the left of his navel, to past his waist. All of this, secured with industrial stainless steel staples. He arched a brow, pursed his lips, and wiped at the coagulating blood oozing from his sternum area.
Looking at the toe tag in his hand, he found his name: Eugene A. Pleasant. That sounded about right. This, along with his age listed as 36. His length, weight, race, date of death, doctor, funeral director, and - ah ha - cause of death: Severe blunt force trauma due to automobile accident. Place of death: California State Route 1. Remarks: Skull tattoo on left forearm, heart removed for transplant.
Gene looked down, frowning at his now pale skull tattoo. He was just about to toss the toe tag aside when he did a double take.
"Wait, what-?" he shrieked, before stopping himself. He glanced around the dissection room. "Bastards. That heart was mine!" he hissed. He ran his fingertips over his blood-slicked chest, the sharp edges of the staple backs a strange juxtaposition to his flesh. What's a fellow supposed to do without a heart?
Then he was struck with an irrational awareness of his state of undress. Just because I'm dead, he thought, doesn't mean I have to give up being civilised. He spotted a sheet-covered corpse beside him. "Gimme that," he snapped, whisking the sheet from its owner, and wrapping it around his own waist. Revealed before him was a woman: beautiful and dead. Familiar.
Gene snatched up her toe-tag. Jacqueline L. Dupree. She shared his cause of death. She shared his place of death. She shared his date of death.
Worms of remembrance wriggled up from the back of Gene's mind.
Another soirée in Mulholland Estates. Some producer's almost unfurnished Romanesque redbrick and terracotta mansion. More drugs, more booze. A who's who of A-listers to D-listers, and all the hangers-on, bootlickers, and parasites frolicking in their lethal wake.
Gene Pleasant, struggling screenwriter, cut like a shark through the crowds. The biggest directors, producers, and top talent floated like islands in a vast ocean, with all those around them swimming, thrashing, desperate to reach their shores. Each had something to sell, and Gene was no different.
Amidst all of this, one more up-and-coming starlet. He caught the flash of her cerulean irises from across the room. She had long, dishevelled, red hair, and a nice white smile for all, matched with white powder crusted under the nostril of a petite, upturned nose. Chipped nail polish, and eager to please, she was looking for love, and found Gene Pleasant instead. As a rule, those girls did.
A long stumble out to his car commenced. A brand new 1971 Ford Torino Cobra. Custom powder-blue paint, the whole car custom. Quick and careless make-out session with the stick shift jutting between. A turn of the ignition, and that massive 429 engine rumbled to life.
Gene and his catch roared down the drive, cruised over to Santa Monica Boulevard, and onto California State Route 1 at 70 mph. It's not certain where he was headed, but the two of them never even made it as far as Malibu. Instead, that big beautiful car careened off a cliff, and wrapped itself around a massive sequoia, bursting into flames somewhere around Las Flores.
As if in slow motion, the couple had sailed through the air, mute, stunned. The Doors' When the Music's Over blared from the state of the art in-dash eight-track tape deck The two had a great view of the moonlit Pacific Ocean right before death.
So, Gene was dead. Or something like it. His mind jumped to Romero's film from just a while back, Night of the Living Dead. He snickered. Zombies. He knew zombies didn't exist. And he sure as hell didn't feel like one of those awful shambling creatures. Sure, his feet were a little lumbering with settled blood, but he could still walk all right. He knew his skin was a little paler and he was missing a heart, but his mind seemed to be functioning still.
He looked down at the dead actress. There was an incision from behind one cute little ear, over the crown of her shaved head, to behind the other ear. This was stitched up with thick black thread. It prompted Gene to feel his own head, and when he did, he found the exact same incision. Gone were his beautiful sideburns and locks.
Brains, he mused. Zombies were supposed to eat brains. On one hand, the idea repulsed him, but at the same time he found himself appraising Jacqueline's prepared cranium.
Snapping on a pair of green latex gloves, Gene snatched up a gleaming scalpel from a stainless steel instrument table. He paused with the blade hovering just over her scalp. "Apologies," he said, and got to work slicing open the stitches one after another.
Though the idea of his actions disturbed him a little, he felt somehow at ease and wondered if perhaps his distinct lack of being alive might interrupt or alter his otherwise normal thought processes. In his usual state, he thought, he might have been sick, but, as things were, he was able to forge ahead.
Gene, his latex gloves red with Jacqueline's blood, folded back the flaps of skin covering the skull, and hoisted the skull cap revealing the brain. All of this, and he wasn't getting hungrier. He took up some forceps and peeled back a thick white film of tissue from the organ exposing all of the brain's intricate folds. Still nothing. He imagined eating it. Chewing. He thought about its texture. Perhaps like a sponge. Its taste? Chicken, no doubt. He checked out the instrument table looking for an appropriate utensil. Across the room, he spotted a Bunsen burner amidst some lab equipment on a workbench. He never was a good cook, he thought.
Then, he heard a click from the door.