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Short Story


A short story by F. Russell Clampitt about what happens when the hot water bottle goes cold.

Recently he had begun to feel old. Some people are young in their eighties. He was sixty-four and he felt old. He did not have asthma yet his chest was tight. He detected the beginnings of a wheeze. Annoyance, frustration, impatience – these were the feelings which began to flood over him as he lay in bed. An active mind in an ageing body is what he thought and it displeased him.

He remembered what he had said to his younger brother many years ago and wondered whether he would bother to keep his promise. He pushed his legs down the bed into the cold between the sheets. He remembered his brother’s sharp laugh of disbelief:

“It’s absolutely ridiculous!”

“But you could do it with your skills and knowledge?”

“Ye-es….” his brother admitted grudgingly “but it’s absurd.”

He glanced at the bedside clock. The green luminous dial indicated midnight. He switched the bedside light on again. He was restless. He picked the book up again and continued reading but soon his eyes became heavy. Switching the light off once more he lay still in the dark silence until sleep overcame him.

Three hours later he turned over to lie on his back. Eyes closed and drifting in that nowhere between waking and sleeping he involuntarily raised his left arm above his head. Immediately his half-asleep wits were alerted:

“That’s odd!” he thought to himself. “I can see my arm.”

It would not have been odd if his eyes had been open but they were not. He opened his eyes and the image vanished. No light could penetrate his thick bedroom curtains, specially put up for winter. He closed his eyes again and the faint silhouette of his raised arm appeared again. It seemed to be in front of a shimmering grey mist which swirled in the background. The mist glittered like frost on a window pane. His eyes were tight shut. He knew it. Experimentally he moved his arm to explore the space around it and spread his fingers. He could clearly see every one against the grey. He was not a man to be frightened by this.

“Fascinating!” he exclaimed aloud and started at the sound of his voice breaking the silence.

Being of a naturally inquisitive nature he was determined to maintain his half-awake state and attempt to look further into this phenomenon. The eye behind the closed lid probed deeper and deeper into the glittering grey mist attempting to penetrate the obscurity, as he increased his concentration the scene became much clearer. He was aware that he was not alone.

Many people surrounded him, shadowy figures yet he got the impression that they were nurses or attendants. He was aware of being trundled down a long corridor at speed on some sort of trolley. The sensation disorientated him; unnerved, he moved his legs to confirm that he was still in his bed. His feet brushed against the hot water bottle, now cold. Satisfied that only his mind was elsewhere he returned his concentration to the scene which was now unfolding before his closed eyes.

As he glided effortlessly down endless corridors, nurses were attending to delicate equipment which was attached to his head. Tubes and wires trailed away in a cascade down the sides of the trolley and behind him. Many fingers and hands were reaching out to adjust equipment in a flurry of activity. He raised his arm again and could sense the excitement surrounding him. In the faint murmur and babel of distant voices he clearly heard:

“He’s moved his arm again! Look!”

He chuckled to himself, flattered by all this attention and gave a cheery wave of his hand. From out of the gasps and cries he heard one voice far more distinctly than the rest, saying:

“After two hundred years – who would have thought it possible?”

As he lowered his arm once more to the bed, darkness began to overwhelm the picture and he became more and more aware of his body and his bed as the picture faded. He moved his feet and kicked the cold hot water bottle out of the bed and it landed with a thump on the floor. The pictures had gone, the voices were silent. He sat up in bed and drew his knees up to his chin. Opening his eyes he saw the very palest light of dawn where the bedroom curtains failed to meet, and it was his brother’s voice which filled his mind now. Memories of a conversation a few years ago drifted back:

“It’s absurd!”

“But you admit it is possible?”

“Yes, but we will never develop the technology to do what you say. It’s madness.”

“All I am asking you to do is take charge of my body when I die. Take my brain and preserve it the best way you can. I wouldn’t mind a brand new body – this one’s getting tired.”

His brother shook his head in disbelief.

“It’s pointless but I’ll do it. You know, science will never advance as far as that in my lifetime.”

He looked at his brother, their eyes meeting.

“Nevertheless you promise you will do as I ask?”

His brother nodded.

“Well, it can’t do you any harm when you’re dead” he added.

He stretched his legs once more, turned over in his bed and drew the sheets closer to his chin. He smiled to himself. The smile was still on his face later that day when his brother came for the body.

© F. Russell Clampitt 2001

F. Russell Clampitt was born a philosopher, became a teacher and has now returned to writing, having escaped the educational rat-race to a retreat on top of a Welsh mountain.

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