Tom and I were both neurology students in our senior year. I think it all started when his mother died a few months ago – a drunk driver crashed into her car. I am minoring in theology but my friend was an atheist, which is why her death hit him so hard. He stopped going out with friends and stopped showing up at social occasions. He didn’t show up to class. His girlfriend was empathetic but broke up with him after three months of his abject listlessness.
As a Christian I never understood his absolute rejection of the divine. If you apply scientific logic to theology, you will arrive at the conclusion that since there is no empirical evidence of God, God does not exist. I disagreed; Great scientists like Albert Einstein believed in God. The cold logic of science cannot and should not be applied to some things, and the realm of the divine is one of them. I understand now, more clearly than ever, why some things should not be scrutinized under a keen eye, lest we discover something best left ignored.
I talked to Tom about God, the human soul and the afterlife. His mother was a good person. She gave food to the homeless and helped the less fortunate. I remember when I had this conversation with him, he laughed. There was a glint in his eyes that I had not seen before. Then he asked me:
‘What if I can prove definitively that everything you just told me is false?’
In hindsight, I should have known Tom was not the joking type of person. Instead, I laughed with him and shrugged it off.
To understand what happened next, some context is needed. There was a homeless man who appeared very oftenly in our campus, which is also very close to where Tom lived. Judging by his accent, he was probably Eastern European. He could not remember his name and was likely an amnesiac, so students in the campus called him John Doe. He was friendly and approachable, so people generally accepted his presence.
A few days after our conversation, John Doe stopped appearing around the campus. Nothing was done about it; he had no family so nobody cared enough to investigate. A week or so after John disappeared, I stopped by his apartment after class one evening to see how he was doing.
After a few beers or so, Tom told me to follow him. We stopped in front of the bathroom door.
‘Remember what you told me about the human soul?’ He asked. ‘I know you meant well. You were trying to make me feel better and all. But, bottom line, I think we would all be happier knowing the truth, rather than live on a bed of lies.’ He saw my discomfort, and added: ‘I don’t mean to hurt you or anything. I’m just trying to figure shit out. I need to know what you think about this.’
Suddenly, something heavy slammed against the wooden door.
Tom pulled the door open. Inside the room was John Doe. He was in a sitting position on a plastic fold up chair. He growled as we entered. His pupils darted to glare at us. I knew instinctively that something was very wrong with him. His hands were tied behind his back, and his legs fastened to the chair. There were burn marks on his forehead. Beside him were some used saline pads from the campus laboratory, attached to a car battery.
‘What is a soul?’ Tom asked me. ‘From what I gather from reading the Bible, the Talmud and the Koran, the soul is, in a word, human consciousness. The texts don’t agree completely on the details, but they agree that all humans have souls, and the human souls can exist without a body in the afterlife.’
John growled and snapped at us. The tendons in his neck and limbs were stretched tight as he struggled to free himself. He opened his mouth, emitting a guttural scream.
‘Look at him,’ Tom said. He held his hand in front of John Doe, who lunged forward to bite him and missed. ‘He is definitely conscious. But at the same time, you definitely cannot call him a human because he no longer remembers anything, no longer speaks, no longer feels emotions like love or sadness or empathy.’
‘What the fuck did you do?’ I remember asking.
‘I cooked his frontal lobe,’ was the reply. ‘My question is, Daniel … Where is John’s soul? If he had a soul – some kind of innate spiritual consciousness – and if it were in heaven or hell right now, how do you explain the creature we are looking at? Who is piloting that body? He is neither conscious or unconscious – the creature we are looking at is living proof that John Doe never had a soul.’
‘WHAT THE FUCK DID YOU DO?’ I yelled. ‘WHY THE FUCK DID YOU DO THIS?’
‘Because, Daniel,’ Tom said, turning his back on John to glare at me. ‘I fucking hate you, and all the people who pretend to give a shit, for telling me empty lies. I don’t want false solace. I am a scientist, I want the truth. This is the truth.’
I heard something snap. I realized John Doe had gotten free of his constraints. Days and nights of tireless and fervent pulling at the polyester ropes that held him – something no sane person could have done – had yielded him his freedom. Tom yelled, and in the chaos that ensued I remembered seeing blood spurting from Tom’s throat. Everything felt distant, like something out of a drug-fueled nightmare, but my instinct pulled me from the floor, and I scrambled into the nearby bedroom and locked the door.
There were sounds of something hard cracking coming from outside the door – what I presume is the sound of bones breaking. The stench of iron filled my nostrils. Then John Doe started scratching at the door. His burnt synapses probably meant he could not figure out the mechanism of a door handle, but after several failed attempts he started repeatedly slamming his torso against the wood. Relentlessly, tirelessly, and exactly like how he snapped the polyester rope. I suspect the damage to his brain meant his sense of pain has been dulled as well.
I have contemplated using the window as a means of escape if necessary. I might break my legs, but it is a better fate than what befell Tom. Alternatively, I have a pair of scissors from Tom’s desk. If the worst case scenario happens – that John’s body manages to break through the door before the police arrive – I will need to defend myself. He is still slamming fervently against the door as I type, but the hardwood can take a few blows.
Wherever John is, I hope it is a better place.
Credit : Thaddeus Yeung
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