by Eric J. Krause
Conner sat clutching her hand. The heart monitor beeped on, though he knew her strength was waning. The nurses occasionally poked their heads in, but with the status quo flowing on, they had no need to linger. For that he was grateful. They may ask uncomfortable questions as to the nature of his relationship with this woman. He had no answer for that. He didn't even know her name. He was just there to feel her die.
He learned of the phenomena when his grandfather passed. In the summer when Conner moved from elementary school to junior high, Grandpa's heart gave out. The paramedics revived him, but he never left the ICU. Mom kept Conner from the hospital at first, most likely wishing to keep his innocence intact. But he'd been close with Grandpa and begged to see him. On that fateful afternoon, she relented. He sat with his hand in Grandpa's, listening to the beeping machine. Mom had left to grab them a snack, so she hadn't been there when the beeps went erratic and turned to a solid hum. Right before the chaos of nurses and doctors invaded the room, an energy flowed from Grandpa's hand into his own. It moved up his arm and through his body before escaping. It left Conner with a glow of peace he'd never before felt.
He didn't say anything for minutes afterwards. Mom figured it was shock, but that wasn't it. He reveled in the afterglow. He now knew what a glorious drug dying was, and he wanted that feeling again.
All through junior high and most of high school, he experimented with as many drugs as he could get his hands on. Anything from sniffing glue and huffing aerosol cans to alcohol to the heavy stuff--heroine, cocaine, and everything else. Nothing gave him the same feeling as a soul leaving this world through him. He figured this out his senior year when he clutched Grandma's hand as she died. It was the catalyst he needed to clean himself up.
For the next few years he waited for another family member to get sick, to die. No luck, especially since he had only his mom's side, which was a small pool to draw from. His father, whoever that guy was, had lit out all those years ago when Mom informed him she was pregnant.
Then tragedy struck. Halfway through college, a drunk driver struck Mom as she strolled down a sidewalk on her way home from work. She held on to the fragile string of life long enough for him to get to the hospital. He grabbed her hand, and she departed, sending euphoria though his body.
The high lasted only a short time before the reality of the situation came crashing down around him. He couldn't deal with a life without his mother, so he began frequenting hospitals, finding those on the verge of death, and sitting with them. A surprising number of the dying had no friends or family visiting. He learned quickly that if he walked in with purpose and acted as if he belonged, no one would question him. And with hospitals brimming with death, he stayed high almost constantly.
Which brought him to the here and now. Her respirator gargled, and the heart monitor buzzed. Her soul, her energy, made its way through him, firing his synapses with joy. He leaned back and accepted it, sighing contently.
But like with all drugs, his tolerance kicked in. The wonderful high mellowed before the nurses even entered the room. As they fiddled with the woman--he wasn't sure if they were trying to bring her back or simply confirming her passing--he snuck out. They'd never miss him.
His drive home had been a sea of thoughts on how he could prolong the feeling. It wasn't until he arrived that the answer struck him. If other deaths brought him so much joy, what about his own? He ran a hot bath and fetched an Exacto knife from the tool kit. His final exit would be the ultimate high.
This story was inspired by the writing prompt, "Write about leaving," as well as the song, "Final Exit" by Fear Factory.