The world slowly came into view; first too dark to see, then too blurred to see, and then too confusing to understand. Widening his eyes in surprise, confusion, and worry, Tom tried to sit up from the surprisingly stiff bed he seemed to be laying in. He’d only raised up a few inches when an outstretched arm pressed back firmly against his chest, pinning him in place.
“Don’t move,” a heavily-accented (French, Tom thought) voice quickly said. The woman’s face was still blurred, but Tom could see her hovering over him in case he tried to stir again.
“You’re in the hospital,” said another voice floating in from behind the woman’s silhouette—this voice deeper, a man probably, Tom thought. “Hold on, I’ll go get the doctor. He’ll be right here.”
The first woman kept talking, but a mixture of her strong accent and the last drops of the heavy sedation administered to Tom earlier kept him from comprehending the majority of her words. He caught bits and pieces, but nothing seemed to intelligently fit together.
The doctor arrived quickly, pushing her aside, and began to speak in a calm voice. “Tom, you’re in the hospital. Do you understand?”
Tom hesitated, nodded, and asked, “What happened?”
The features of the room were starting to resolve in Tom’s eyes, and for the first time, he noticed the nervous look on the doctor’s face. On the woman’s face too. The entire room was quiet and the question went unanswered.
Blood raced to Tom’s face; he was confused and he wanted answers. “What happened?” he asked again, more vehemently. “Why?” He attempted to lift a fist for emphasis, but it caught up on some cords and tubes strapped on. Within a second of his hand moving, the woman’s hand from earlier shot out to hold it in place. “Why am I in the hospital? What happened to me?”
She spoke: “You are okay; nothing happened to you. You are completely fine.” After a momentary pause and a quick glance towards the doctor (who nodded solemnly), she added, “You’re here because we need you, Tom. Turn to your right; look at the man there. His name is Jerry and he’s dying.”
With some effort, Tom turned his head and looked at the man almost completely covered in blankets in the bed next to his. The only parts of him that Tom could see—his face and one hand—were covered in what looked like bluish bruises, and veins protruded dangerously from his skin in a way that looked like an accidental bump against a door or a chair might burst them open and spill blood all over.
The blankets rose and fell very slowly in tune with the raspy breath that escaped from the man’s darkened lips. Above him, a jumble of lights and monitors performed a visual orchestra to illustrate the trying plight of the decrepit man laying beneath.
Still completely bewildered, Tom blurted, “I don’t understand.”
“You’re the only one that can save him, Tom. His organs aren’t making the things they need to and you’re the only one with a close enough genetic make-up to directly feed him the nutrients he needs to survive. So,” the voice trailed off.
The woman swallowed hard, and finished: “so we brought you here.”
Silence fell upon the room and the raspy breathing of the blue man seemed to fill the emptiness completely. Deep murmurs and occasional beeps from computers piped in every once in a while, but it was obvious everyone in the room was focused on the dying man.
“What did you say his name was?” The silence made Tom uneasy.
“Jerry,” the woman said before briefly pausing in thought. She continued, “He’s dying, but you can save him, Tom. We just need you to stay hooked up to this machine for a little while.”
She stared intently at the man lying in bed, who looked back over to Jerry and nodded, asking, “How long?”
The doctor spoke up, stepping over his words: “It’s a complicated path to recovery, as he not only needs to completely replenish the majority of his nutrients—”
“How long?” Tom interrupted.
The doctor’s shoulders fell, and he answered, “Nine months.”
Then, the woman again, “He’s a very wealthy man and will compensate you for your time. I’m sure we can even make a deal with your boss to preserve your job until you get back. I know this is all a lot to take in at once, but please think about it. For the time being, please don’t be rash and remove your wires; taking them off at any time in the next nine months will deprive Jerry of the nutrients he needs, and kill him. It’s a hard choice to make, I know, but please do ask if you have anything we can clarify or answer.”
Tom stared incredulously at the pair hovering over him.
Sensing hostility, the doctor spoke up again: “We’ll leave you here to think quietly, but they’ll be right outside if you need anything. There’s a buzzer there,” he pointed, “that alerts my pager. You can use it any time, day or night.”
The troupe of people—still not completely clear visually but slowly becoming more lucid in Tom’s eyes—filed out of the room. The last one, a tall, thin man with short, blonde hair, half-turned and looked back longingly to Jerry before closing the room door behind him.
The doctor remained in the room, quietly observing from a corner. It was several minutes before he spoke up, causing Tom to subtly jump in surprise.
“I would just like to let you know,” he said, speaking slowly and choosing his words wisely, “this is completely your choice. The nutrients and vitamins you are producing—and the ones you are currently sharing—aren’t harming you to share. I only hooked you up because, well, it’s the best for everyone right now.
“I can explain how this system works,” he continued, “or what exactly it’s doing, or why it’s doing it, or any other questions you have. You’re a brave man for still being here right now, honestly; I don’t know what I would do if I were in the same position. Do you have anything you want to ask?”
Tom merely looked back towards at the dying man who’d been forcefully injected—no, intertwined—into his life. Under the thin, wrinkled eyelids covering half of each eye, blue eyes as deep as the ocean peered back with a helpless blankness. He shifted his weight; a blanket peeled backwards to reveal more of his cyanic skin. Gross, Tom thought, is that what we all look like when we’re dying?
Jerry, Tom said mentally, reaching outwards with his mind to the man he knew couldn’t hear him, why me? Why you? Why now? You look so frail, so helpless, I don’t know how I could walk out, but… nine months of my life gone? Would you hate me for it? Can you hate? Would you even know I existed?
After all, they brought me here; I didn’t consent to anything, nor even know about it, and they expect me to just throw out nine months of my life? The only reason I’m even considering it is because it’s saving a life, but hell! Surely it’s not my responsibility to save you!
With blood rushing to his face, Tom looked up at the doctor and, just to be sure, asked, “What happens to him if I leave?”
“He’ll die,” the Doc said quietly.
The two men looked at each other uncomfortably.
“I should tell you,” the doctor said, “I called the police when you were brought in, after I hooked you up to life support. I had to, and they should be here soon. They’ll want to talk to you when they get here.”
Tom nodded, but said nothing. Instead, he looked back over at the man who depended on him for life.
He really needs me, but really.. can I take out that much time from my life just to save someone I don’t even know? Someone who I was kidnapped to save? I had no choice in the matter—why should he?
“I’ll want to see them,” Tom said. “Where did the others go? The ones that brought me in?”
“They’re out in the hall.”
They kidnap me, hook me up to some old man, tell me to stay for nine months, and then leave me?! Yeah, right!
“Can you tell them to come back in?” Tom said, hiding his boiling anger. “I want to have a word with them. You know, when they’re ready.”
The doctor left, leaving Tom once again staring at the deathly man. Sorry, buddy, he thought.
Several minutes later, the door burst open and the fast-paced sound of running footsteps accompanied a little girl into the room. She was wearing a bright yellow shirt and bedazzled jeans and brown converse that matched her hair. With each step in her hurried run, her loose, brown glasses bounced up and down on her face.
“Daddy!” she shouted, approaching the unconscious man. “Daddy, daddy!”
The rest of the group from earlier slowly followed her into the room, arriving one at a time: a woman, dressed in tight, black attire that matched the black hair over her thin face; another woman, clad in a jean jacket and sweatpants that didn’t match at all; a shorter, more stocky man carrying a worn, brown briefcase in one hand and an umbrella in the other; yet another woman, walking slowly with one hand slightly outstretched as if unable to balance; and another man, large both in weight and height, wearing a grey business suit but with white sneakers.
“Isabel,” the woman in the front cried out in a hoarse voice, “come back over here and stand with us, please! I want to introduce you to someone.”
Isabel didn’t move. With one hand gripped tightly against her father’s arm, she pleaded with her eyes to be left alone.
“Isabel, come over here. Isabel!”
She has her dad’s chin, Tom thought.
“Excuse me,” the doctor said loudly as he reentered the room. “The police are here.”
Two officers clad in uniform entered the room and observed everyone standing around. The little girl perked up to glance at them for a moment, but quickly returned her gaze to her father. Everyone else, however, kept their eyes pinned on the officer about to speak.
“Doctor Shertz has filled us in on the situation, and he did the right thing in calling us. I’ve been an officer for twenty-three years and I’ve never seen anything like this. On one hand, I understand why you all would go through this, but you can’t require this young man to comply. In the end, it is his decision—both whether or not to go along with this preposterous scheme, and also whether or not to press charges against you all.
“Yes, your friend might be dying, but—as bad as it sounds—it isn’t this man’s—Tom, right?—Tom’s responsibility. And kidnapping is a felony—you better all hope he doesn’t feel too bad about it.”
Suddenly, Isabel was tugging at Tom’s sleeve. “Mister, you’re gonna help my dad, right?”
It was a simple question and what everyone was wondering, but nobody had the gusto to ask. Nobody except this little girl with the brown hair and the bright yellow shirt and a deep love for her dad rivaled by none.
Tom took a deep breath. He’d made up his mind.
“Look, guys. I understand what stress you must have been under to actually kidnap someone and hope he helps you, and I understand that this man is dying, and I understand that I am the only one who can keep him alive. You must all either be family or good friends of his, and I would hate to take him away from you.
“However, I don’t think you understand what you’re asking of me. I am a grown man with a job and friends. I’m trying to save up for a house and a family, and I can’t keep my job, remain friends with my friends, save any money, or live my life at all if I’m here every day and every night just to keep this man alive. I mean, you guys are literally robbing me of my life to save another. You can’t honestly think that’s okay, can you?
“No, I have friends and I have family just like you guys, and I can’t just disappear for someone I don’t even know. I want to persue my career; I want to get promoted; I want to work. I want to enjoy my life. This man here is dying, and if anything, he’s taught me that I need to enjoy my life while I can.
“So I’m sorry, but I just can’t stay here. If it means he’s going to die, he’s going to die. That’s just the way it has to be.”
And then Tom quickly ripped out the cords and tubes strapped into his arms. He winced at the pain as Isabel began to wail from his bedside and pound relentlessly at his waist with her tiny hands. The five that had brought him to this room in the first place stood solemnly, completely quieted by what he had said, and then began to softly weep. The doctor looked uneasy, unsure of what to do. The police looked uninterested, waiting for the rampant emotions of the room to die down before escorting people out.
Tom continued to remove cords, ignoring the flailing little girl beside him. He swung his feet out of the bed, stood up, and walked to the door.
Before leaving, he turned around and locked eyes with Jerry once more and said, “I’m sorry.”