Edwin is back on campus, on a gloriously sunny spring day, his favorite time of year, when the promise of love is in the air. He feels light on his feet and his joints don’t ache. As he brushes his hands through his hair, he is instantly joyed at finding a whole head of hair. He’s a young man again and he is at the height of his manhood.
He spots a group of young men from his fraternity and swaggers his way over towards them. There is a newcomer to the group, Patrick, who he is striking in every sense of the word. Even in his dream state, Edwin re-experiences the powerful magnetic draw, pulling at his every limb and organ, urging him to merge with Patrick. This is exactly how he had felt when he had first set eyes on Patrick.
He would do anything to live this moment forever. If he could stop time, this would be his final destination. Patrick’s smile is blinding, erasing everyone and everything else surrounding Edwin, till only he and Patrick are left.
Patrick and the bright light, which Edwin is reveling in, disappear without warning as Edwin gets sucked in and devoured by a beastly darkness clutching at him, plunging Edwin deep into emptiness. His downward chute comes to an abrupt halt. He finds himself naked, in a dimly lit room. In the center of the cold and barren room sits an antique gilded wooden bed, with four posts.
A man is tied naked and spread eagle, to two of the bedposts, oddly resembling Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man. A golden-colored silk rope is tightly twisted around the man’s neck.
Edwin moves closer to the bed, but can’t see the man’s face because the head is bent forward and to the side in an unnatural position.
Edwin inches closer to the bed, when he finds the rope in his hands, which a moment ago had been tightly strung around the hanging man’s neck. He drops the rope, which is now searing through his flesh like molten metal. The stench of his fear and burning flesh combined with that of death permeates the room
“No, no, this can’t be happening again. A few more seconds is all I needed Patrick.” Edwin hurriedly starts to untie Patrick from the bed, all the while muttering to himself. “I never wanted this to happen, Patrick, you meant the world to me.”
The weight of Patrick’s dead body is proving difficult for Edwin to handle. The corpse falls forward, violently slamming Edwin to the floor.
Panic washes over Edwin as he scuffles and twists his way out from underneath the corpse. “This is just a dream, just a dream, nothing bad can happen to me here.”
“It was supposed to be a game, this was not supposed to happen, Patrick, believe me, I loved you, I’ve never loved anyone since you.”
In the ’70s the Fraternity initiation ceremonies had steered in many directions, and new grounds were being tested after the stonewall riots took place in 1969.
Edwin had swung both ways, at first. In retrospect, he realized he’d dated women so as not to stand out from the crowd, and to not disappoint his father, who was the sort of man who believed in perfection. An example in the community. Reliable, organized, and prudent. A man who loved to compartmentalize life. These same traits had another side to them, they had made his father overly critical and demanding, conservative and judgmental. Unable to look at a person as a whole person. Edwin had often wondered what his mother had seen in his father, aside from his being highly reliable.
His father had been a doctor and young Edwin had followed in his footsteps, although at the best of times it felt more like a shadow was following him. Edwin had been driven by the uncompromising desire to be special, to experience something more than the ordinary. As a young man, Edwin considered himself an intellectual rebel, unlike his father.
“Stop your daydreaming and get moving Edwin. Can’t you see the corpse needs immediate attention?” Edwin looks up to find his father leaning over, peering at Patrick’s naked corpse. He is not comforted by this new twist, since his father has been dead for many years.
Edwin’s father moves around the young corpse. “After four to six hours, rigor mortis begins to spread throughout the body. The pooled blood stains the skin a blackish color. Give us a hand here Edwin,” he says as he deftly turns the body over onto its back.
“At six hours muscles continue to spasm sporadically. Anaerobic processes, such as the liver’s breakdown of alcohol, continue. At eight hours the body starts to rapidly cool. This is called algor mortis.” He stands and turns to Edwin who sits terror-stricken, in a corner, holding on to his twisted limbs.
“My guess, Edwin, is this young man has been dead longer than 24 hours. You know as well as I do that Rigor Mortis ends at the beginning of this stage and the body becomes pliable again, but there isn’t much time.”
“We need to move quickly if we want the body to be presentable. If we fail to do so, the undertaker will not be able to position the body for presentation at the funeral, fold his hands and such.”
“Come on help me put him on this gurney.” A gurney magically appears, as often happens in dreams.
His father, it turns out, is as efficient in death and dreams as he had been in life. “Please let this be over. I want to wake up now,” Edwin screams.
His deceased father pays no attention to Edwin’s outburst and begins to move the corpse.
“Stop, don’t you touch him, you hear me?” Edwin cries. “You can’t take him away from me!” Edwin starts a painful crawl, on all fours, slowly making his way towards Patrick.
“At 24 to 72 hours, internal microbes putrefy the intestines and the pancreas begins to digest itself. This process liquefies the insides.” Edwin, are you listening?”
“In three to five days, decay starts to produce large blisters all over the body. We must hurry, otherwise, it will most likely not be presentable for viewing at the funeral. If we wait much longer, a bloody froth will begin to trickle from the mouth and nose.”
Edwin wakes up inside his dream pod, heaving and drenched in sweat and vomit. He bursts out of the pod, like a drowning man fighting for air. At first, he is disoriented, then relief washes over him. He’s back. His right hand unknowingly brushes his hair, or what is left of it, yes he’s back. He checks the timer and sees the dream program ran for exactly 15 minutes, as it had been set to run.
These had been the longest 15 minutes of Edwin’s life. Simply thinking of his father had been enough to conjure him up in the dream. A caricature of his father at best. Although Edwin realizes he is more shaken by his father’s sudden appearance than having to relive Patrick’s deathday, which is always painful and terrifying when it does happen. His father’s appearance and his rundown on the decomposition of Patrick’s corpse, with clinical precision, have left Edwin deeply shaken.
Since that fateful day, when Patrick ceased to be, Edwin has been in pursuit of atonement. Some way to pay for his unforgivable act of love.
The dream pod is Edwin’s golden chariot. The perfect vehicle to guide him towards redemption.
At first, the dreams had been devastating, but in time, Edwin began to enjoy the suffering and longings which the dreams unleashed in him. The threshold between pain and pleasure had long ago been blurred for Edwin.
When he dreams of Patrick’s death, even with all the gut-wrenching fear, pain, loss, and guilt, afterward Edwin feels lighter and serene for a short while, before returning to his otherwise hollow, guilt-ridden existence.