Authors: Kevin George
CRYO-MAN SERIES, BOOK ONE
BY: KEVIN GEORGE
Laughter fills the air, high-pitched laughter that’s equal parts mischievous glee and unadulterated joy.
“You can’t catch me,” a tiny voice calls out, followed by the pitter-patter of tiny feet slapping against hardwood flooring.
“We’ll see about that,” I say, dropping my voice several octaves, doing my best impression of a diabolical villain.
My voice causes a frightened squeal but then even more frantic laughter. I try a deep-throated laugh to match but the effort launches me into a coughing fit. This is the worst one yet and the coppery taste of blood crawls up the back of my throat. I nearly gag trying to swallow it back down. But I refuse to let it slow me, refuse to let it quiet the tiny laughter that runs around the corner of this room and rushes into the next. When the heaving calms, I turn it into the deep laugh and run faster.
Not that I catch up any sooner, especially when I stumble over an army of action figures scattered about the floor. I nearly yell about the mess but I have nobody to blame but myself. I bought every toy – of which there are many – in the entire house. I spoil the kid; he constantly reminds me how he loves me even
when I buy him presents but I don’t care. I figure it’s the least I can do for him. The thought brings a smile to my face but deep down, it cracks open the door to the sadness in my heart. As I look down at all the ignored toys on the floor, I suddenly feel an overwhelming need to provide him with something more significant.
I stop my pursuit and turn around, hearing the laughter and footsteps fade for just a moment as my little boy loops around the kitchen, through the dining room and back into our living room. When he sees me waiting for him, he screams in delight and fear; no matter how many times I’ve done this to him, he never expects it.
“Gotcha!” I cry and lift him high into the air, his head inches from the ceiling. He suddenly feels heavier than I remember but I can’t tell if he’s just getting bigger or I’m getting weaker.
“No fair,” he says. I tickle him before he protests too much.
I carry him to the couch and sit down, gently placing him next to me. I take a deep breath, my body glad for the break though we’ve only done a few laps around the house. It wasn’t that long ago when I could keep up with his pace for hours…
“You can’t get me,” the boy says, trying to jump off the couch the moment I let go of him. Luckily, I’m still quick enough to catch him before his little feet hit the floor and take off running. He tries to squirm out of my grasp but I hold him tight and tell him to calm down. He sighs but does as I say, recognizing when my tone gets serious. Still, his feet dangle off the edge of the couch and kick away, ready to start running at the first chance I give him.
I hold his soft little hand and try to make eye contact but he barely looks back at me. It annoys me that he’s not taking this moment as seriously as I hope, that he doesn’t feel how special this is to me. But I shake my head at my own foolishness; what can I really expect from a four-year-old?
“Buddy, I just want to talk to you a minute,” I say softly.
His wild eyes relax and focus on me, his feet stop kicking. He smiles wide and my chest tightens, my heart swelling. I think he’s finally ready for our first – and hopefully not last – heart-to-heart talk.
“Are you going to give me another present?” he asks excitedly.
I shake my head and he frowns.
“Hopefully something better,” I say.
His little eyebrows lower in a V and his lips curl down. He leans away from me, clearly skeptical.
“Better than a
My chest is still tight, my breathing increasingly ragged. I didn’t realize our little chase had taken so much out of me, made me sweat so much.
“I just want to tell you how much I love you, how much Daddy will always love you, no matter how old you are or where you are in life,” I say, emotions flooding out of me in a way only a parent could truly understand. I tap his chest. “I will always be with you in there, always watch over you. And I promise, that’s more important than any toy or present I could ever give you.”
The boy smiles and climbs higher onto the couch, sitting on his knees beside me. He reaches his arm out and I’m excited for the hug that must be coming, for the confirmation that he understands the importance of what I’m trying to say. A big grin crosses his face and he reaches for my face, squeezing my nose.
“Honk!” he says, erupting into a fit of giggles.
I shake my head but grab him and pull him in for a tight hug, a kiss on the head. I shouldn’t be surprised that he’s grown bored with my sentimentality; I’ve been giving him this same speech every day for months. He wiggles his way free and takes off running again, turning to me before he leaves the living room.
“You can’t catch me!” he says, though this time his voice is filled with as much hope as mine had just been.
He can tell that I’m tired, that I don’t want to run around anymore, but he hopes we can keep playing. I won’t have many more opportunities like this, a realization that hits me like a sledgehammer and leaves me angrier than I’ve felt since the doctors told me how sick I really am. But I’m not angry at the illness as much as I’m angry about the future being robbed from me. The boy is already so much like me in other ways that I pray he doesn’t grow up feeling robbed or that his childhood lacks in any way. Those thoughts spur me to get off the couch and start running again despite protests from my body.
I could listen to his laughter all day but the sound is quickly drowned out by my coughing. I only take a few steps in his direction when I feel my legs turn to wet noodles. Weakness and shortness of breath are nothing new so I push through the discomfort, ignore it the best I can. The limitations of my condition are constantly on my mind but I don’t want to live my life in fear, especially at this moment. I somehow complete two laps around the circle of rooms, never once a threat to catch my son, who continues to taunt me between laughter. But I no sooner enter the kitchen a third time when willpower loses the battle to my body.
I stop and lean against the pantry door, determined to stop myself from collapsing and passing out. Breathing is my main concern and I inhale slowly and deeply, trying to fill my lungs with oxygen in the hopes of clearing my fuzzy vision, slowing my racing heartbeat. Everything seems to slow down around me, the boy’s laughter fading into the distance though he’s nearly lapped me and gets closer again. It’s not until I blink my eyes hard and focus that I realize the boy’s face is inches in front of mine, that I’ve slumped down to the floor. The smile on his face has disappeared; he might only be four but he can still tell when there’s a problem.
“Daddy, are you going to Heaven now?” he asks.
The simple question breaks my heart, though that’s not the only thing breaking inside me. My head is growing lighter and all my concentration is required to keep breathing and remain sitting upright. As much as I want to assure the boy that everything will be fine, now is
the time for sugarcoating things, especially when I need his help. I nearly tip over as I reach into my pocket but I find my cell phone and clumsily yank it out. His eyes light up for a second until he realizes he won’t be playing games on it this time.
“I love you, buddy, but I need you to…” I have to stop and catch my breath, if only to have enough strength to tell him what must be done. We’ve gone over it countless times but he’s still just a little kid. The corners of my vision are starting to go black but I keep my boy’s scared face directly in front of me. “I need you to make the phone call, just like we practiced.”
My hand shakes as I turn on the phone and scroll through my list of favorite contacts. When I come upon the name Katina, my heart aches for a different reason. I would love to hear her voice one last time but we’ve already discussed this moment, agreed that emotions can’t get in the way of my future. She’s wanted to stop working to spend every last second with me but that just wasn’t an option. I insisted life continue as usual for us all. Besides, we couldn’t risk losing her insurance coverage, especially since my
final expense will be so costly.
My vision goes blurry as I find the entry labeled CIFPOL. I push the green button to dial and hand the phone to the boy, the soft skin of his hand brushing against the back of my fingers. It makes me want to smile and cry at the same time.
Gravity and weakness finally defeat me. I crash to the tile floor. I don’t feel the pain of my head smashing down though an explosion of stars suddenly dots the spreading darkness in front of my eyes. The boy weakly cries out “Daddy” and I’m worried he won’t be up to the one task we’ve gone over countless times. It seems like I should be panicked about that but my head feels so light that nothing worries me anymore. The feeling is so surreal – so pleasant – that I wonder if I even
him to succeed at this point…
Even though his voice is fading, the next words he says are strong; it’s the oldest I’ve ever heard him sound. For the first time, I’m confident he’ll survive just fine without me.
“Daddy told me to call and tell you when he’s about to go to Heaven,” my son says.
My world goes black and somewhere in the distance I hear the echo of a crying baby. But it’s the last word my son says that sparks the final thought in my mind. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to remember. The rest of my body is quickly shutting down but I force a final tiny gasp of breath, just enough so I can say one more thing. My words come out barely a whisper; I wish I could see my son’s face to tell whether he hears me.
“Tell Mommy to remember the box…”
“I will, Daddy,” the boy says. “Yes, I’m still here. Come get him quick… his name is – ”
Coldness, so mind numbing that my brain is incapable of processing anything else, my body incapable of feeling or sensing anything else. What could possibly cause such coldness I don’t know. How a person could survive such coldness I don’t know. In fact, I know nothing
coldness and I don’t think that will ever end…
Hissing, high-pitched and far away. It’s the first of several sounds my brain recognizes once coldness abates enough to allow me to think. Drilling is next followed by something that sounds like scraping metal. I may be able to distinguish these sounds from one another but my mind hasn’t warmed enough to figure out what they all mean. I don’t even realize I
be questioning what’s happening until I hear grunting,
My next sense to return is sight, which comes in the form of dim light filtering through my closed eyelids. Instinctually I try to open my eyes but they don’t move – frozen shut. Everything feels frozen and I finally realize this isn’t quite right, like I’m stuck in a strange dream where things are happening that don’t make sense. A loud whirring comes next and my brain finally conjures a single word I wish it hadn’t.
Strong vibrations pulse throughout my head. My brain finally feels like it busts free from ice as it rattles around inside my skull. The whirring saw sounds distant but growing louder, coming closer. My emotions are slow and jumbled but I’m just clear-headed enough to realize that what I feel is fear. It doesn’t take long for my instincts to prove correct. I don’t think feeling pain is possible through the numbing cold but I’m
off about that. An agonizing jolt attacks my entire body. In an instant, the darkness in front of my eyes turns bright white. The next sound I hear is quieter than the rest but comes from my lips and echoes in my head.
I moan, the noise faint, barely escaping me. The cacophony of other sounds comes to an abrupt halt. The bright pain fades as I feel the shadow of a person descending toward my face. The gurgling of wet breathing is somewhere close; I can’t tell if I’m making that noise or someone else is. Another sound joins the gurgling, though I don’t need normal hearing to know it’s the oddest voice I’ve ever heard.
“You can hear me?”
The tone is raised, almost breathless. My mind struggles to comprehend the meaning of the words but the tone is one I know. I’m proud when my brain conjures another word deep from the recesses of my mind.
Excited, that’s how the voice sounds. The idea of conversing is too distant to consider but I still manage to moan in response.
“I’ve brought one back, I can’t believe it,” the voice says. “Don’t worry, I
I want to ask what has to be fixed but now that I finally think more clearly, the pain becomes too great. My consciousness is fleeting and another noise begins to pound in my ears, a deep, intermittent
. I struggle to figure it out until another word comes to me: heartbeat,
heartbeat. It’s not quite rhythmic the way it should be but I don’t have time to ponder this problem. The drilling begins again and this time I feel something against the back of my head. The pain is explosive. I want to scream but I have no breath to make a sound.
Mercifully, the pain begins to fade, as does the rest of the noise around me. I suddenly feel a spark of life in my brain and hear a voice loud and clear. But this one is smaller than the other and I don’t hear it in my ears but in my mind. It leaves me even more confused, the words echoing in my head just before my brain shuts down entirely.
“Daddy, are you going to Heaven now?”