My heart pounded in my chest as Doctor Gregory set up the procedure to my left. Father Henry sat in the chair to my right, reciting some scripture intended to make me feel better, but it kept touching on life after death, making my anxiety worse. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, and the room was too cold. Everything just felt wrong.
“I’m scared,” I said, gripping the sheets on the bed. “I’m not ready for this.”
“You should relax, Samuel. God has a plan for us all,” Father Henry replied, squeezing my hand. “There is a chance that this treatment could save tens of thousands of people.”
“There’s also a chance that it could kill me,” I replied. “I’m not sure I want to do this anymore.”
“Samuel, I promise, nothing will go wrong,” Doctor Gregory said with a soft smile. “We’ve had success with this in the past. The cancer isn’t going away on its own, and as the Father said, we could potentially save a lot of people if this works.”
“What happens if I die?” I asked, looking from the priest to the doctor, “What happens then?”
“Samuel, you agreed to do this because you only have two months estimated to live,” Doctor Gregory said, “You don’t have to do this at all. No one will force you, but every person that volunteers brings us closer to success.”
I took a deep breath, trying to calm myself down. He was right, after all. I was going to die anyway, but the thought of it ending sooner only compounded my anxiety over death.
“Father? I’ve never been much of a religious man, can you tell me what happens here if I die?” I asked.
“If, and I have to stress the word if, you die, you’ll pass through the gates of heaven as a sacrifice to humanity. You’re doing a wonderful thing for a lot of people, and God rewards those who sacrifice for his children,” Father Henry replied, “but that won’t happen, okay?”
“Okay,” I replied, nodding quickly, “but I’m doing this mostly for my gain. Doesn’t that come into account?”
“There will be some benefit to you in the success, but you’re willing to risk it all to help a lot more people potentially. God is smiling on you,” Father Henry replied.
“Ready?” Doctor Gregory asked.
“Not really, but there’s no time like the present,” I said, a weak smile as my body tensed.
Doctor Gregory inserted the syringe into the IV and depressed the plunger.
I watched the bright blue fluid mix with the saline and start flowing toward my arm. I had the urge to rip the needle from my arm, but instead just gripped Father Henry’s hand as hard as I could as it got closer to me. When the blue liquid reached my arm, there was only fire.
I couldn’t see from the pain. I could vaguely hear people saying something, but the fire spread from my arm up through into my chest and radiated out, seemingly every direction at once. I think I screamed, but I couldn’t hear anything anymore. My existence had become pain in an instant.
Then the pain vanished, leaving only a warm radiant feeling across my body.
“What are you doing?” a small voice asked.
I opened my eyes to see branches and leaves, filtering the sun above me. In my view, a small girl looked down at me with big, curious eyes.
“I was-” I paused, sitting up and looking around. I was in a park, but I didn’t know where it was. “Is this heaven?”
“No, silly,” the girl giggled. “This is Portland. Why are you laying on the ground? Where’d you come from?”
“I was-” I faltered. I couldn’t remember anything from before opening my eyes. “I don’t know. Portland, you say?”
“I’m Gabby. What’s your name?” she asked.
“Samuel,” I replied as I stood up.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Samuel. Will you come play with me on the playground?” she asked.
“Sure,” I shrugged. I looked around and saw a handful of children running and screaming wildly as their parents chatted on the benches surrounding the park. “How did I get here?”
“I don’t know,” Gabby shrugged, “Do you want to have a tea party with me? I brought Mr. Snuggles today. He could join us.”
“Okay,” I said, following her down the hill.
We got to the play structure, and she ducked inside. I bent to follow her and banged my head off the playground hard enough to knock me onto my back. I heard Gabby’s giggle as though it were music. I had expected pain, but instead, there wasn’t anything—just the laughter of this little girl that filled me with more warmth than the sun.
“Are you okay, Samuel?” she asked as she laughed, poking her head out. “You’re supposed to go under, not run into, the playground.”
“I’m okay,” I said as the laughter spread to me as well, and I smiled at her. I got up awkwardly and made it inside where a small stuffed pink elephant waited around a coated steel grate table. Plastic cups had been set about in front of Gabby, Mr. Snuggles, and myself.
“I don’t know that I’ve ever had a tea party,” I admitted as Gabby picked up the small tea kettle and began pouring steaming liquid from it.
“That’s okay,” she said, finishing pouring the tea. “I can teach you. Just do what I do.”
“Okay,” I said, looking down at the tiny plastic cup with steaming brown liquid in it.
“First, would you like some sugar, Samuel?” Gabby asked.
“Sugar sounds lovely,” I replied, feigning what I thought was an English accent.
Gabby giggled again as she pulled a small bowl of sugar cubes from a princess backpack I hadn’t seen on the ground next to her legs.
“One lump or two?” she asked, pointing her nose in the air.
“One, please,” I said, copying her expression.
“Here you go,” she said, plopping a single cube of sugar into my drink. “Mr. Snuggles, would you like some sugar this time?”
“No, thank you,” the stuffed elephant replied, bringing my gaze down in amazement. Its voice sounded like a BBC voice over for a nature channel. “I’m on a diet at the moment and really shouldn’t.”
“You can talk?” I asked.
“Of course, I can talk! How absurd to assume that an elephant can’t talk,” Mr. Snuggles replied. “You can talk, Gabby can talk. Why shouldn’t I, Gabby’s best friend, talk as well?”
“I can’t think of a single reason,” I replied, shaking my head with a smile. “This is a crazy day for sure.”
“Now, be sure to blow on your tea before you drink it,” Gabby said, lifting her cup. “It comes out very hot, remember.”
I lifted my cup and blew softly on the tea before taking a loud, slurping sip. It burned my tongue instantly, but the flavor was terrific. It had notes of fruit and flowers in it.
“This is amazing tea, Gabby,” I said.
“Thank you, Sam-“
“Gabby! Time to go,” I heard a woman call from outside.
“Okay, Mom!” Gabby yelled back. She turned to me after, “Help me clean up. If you’re nice, my mom might let you come home with us.”
I picked up the plastic set, making sure to dump out the tea as Mr. Snuggles sat perfectly still once again. I side-eyed the elephant, not sure what to make of it as Gabby finished collecting the tea set.
“Alright! Let’s go!” she said as she ducked out of the structure.
“Wait, don’t forget Mr. Snuggles!” I called after her.
“Thank you,” she said as she popped her head back in and grabbed the stuffed animal. “Come on.”
I nodded as I awkwardly squeezed myself out of the playground. Gabby sprinted up the hill toward a thin woman in joggers with tussled hair. I caught up to Gabby as she reached her.
“Mom, can Samuel come home with us?” she asked, pointing to me.
“Hello, Ma’am,” I said, extending my hand to shake hers. “Sorry if this is weird, but your daughter-”
“Who’s Samuel, dear?” the woman asked, ignoring me altogether.
“He’s my new friend,” Gabby said. “I think he should come home with us. He’s funny.”
“Okay,” the woman replied, looking around, “maybe we can find his mom and set up a play-”
“Mom, come here,” Gabby said, using a curling finger. Her mother bent, and Gabby whispered very loudly in her ear. “He’s my imaginary friend.”
“I see,” her mother said, straightening back up. Her mom extended her hand and shook it as though someone had grabbed it. “It’s very nice to meet you, Samuel.”
“Mom! He’s over here,” Gabby giggled, bringing a smile to my face despite the difficult circumstances.
“Sorry, Samuel,” Gabby’s mother said, turning to face me as she extended her hand again roughly where I stood. I took her hand, shaking it in time with her, but there was no recognition to me at all.
“How funny,” I muttered, shaking my head.
“If Samuel would like to come with us, I suppose he’ll have to ask his mom first,” Gabby’s mother said, “but make it quick. We’ve got to be home for lunch in twenty minutes.”
“Do you want to come with us, Samuel? Do you need to ask your mom?” Gabby asked, “My mom makes the best-grilled cheese and tomato soup ever!”
“I don’t need to ask my mom, and I don’t see why not,” I said with a shrug. “I can’t think of anywhere else I should be.”
Gabby squealed as she turned around to follow her mom to the car. I followed behind at a jog, still trying to process my day. When I reached the car, Gabby and her mother were already inside. Gabby waved me toward her, and I leaned down toward the glass.
“Get in, Samuel! You don’t want to get left behind!” Gabby called.
I reached for the door handle but found myself suddenly sitting in the seat next to her booster seat.
“To home!” Gabby screamed, pointing out the front window.
I watched the world outside the car dissolve away and become a star-filled universe with stars streaming past us. A smile spread across my face as I looked in front of me and saw a console. There was one in front of Gabby’s mom, and even a tiny one in front of Mr. Snuggles.
“Engage the hyperdrive!” Gabby said, pointing forward.
“Yes, Captain,” Gabby’s mother replied, smiling over her shoulder at her.
“This is going to be fun!” I said as I grabbed the joysticks before me, totally aware of what they did to our ‘spaceship.’