The Serum of Life and Death
(Warning: Contains some strong language)
October 27, 2019
When I first met James Conner, the future was bright. We shared a room, a major and money problems. Our personalities were as different as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He was charismatic and outgoing; I have always been an outsider who just wanted to go to school and do something I was good at. James was addicted to gambling. It started our freshman year. He got into a tight spot and was told that he could make all his problems disappear. All he needed was one good night. That night was his one good night. He came back to the dorm howling with pride and radiated arrogance. From that point on, he was hooked. He went back whenever he got ahold of any scrap of money. You had to be careful around him. But that never damaged our friendship. We were often mistaken as brothers. We thought we’d invent something that would save the world.
That’s why when James came to me with information about dorm room suicide, I was shamefully intrigued. Our school had a policy that if a student died in the dorm the roommate will get free tuition.
James had been talking about running away for a few weeks before bringing this up and knew that I was at risk of getting kicked out. My dad died a few years ago and my mom couldn’t make the tuition payments anymore. We often had long talks about this stuff. Who else were we going to confide in?
We made a plan to fake his death.
We thought that by making a serum that mimics the characteristics of death, and an antidote that will reverse the effects.
We spent the next few months and all our free time stealing ingredients from our teachers and sneaking into the school’s laboratory to conduct our experiments.
I won’t bother you with the details, you wouldn’t understand anyway, and this isn’t the purpose of this story. Nonetheless, a catalog of everything we did can be found in the filing cabinet in my office if you need it.
Finally, the serum was done and ready. We tested it on rats, mice and other creatures we had access to, and it worked perfectly. The serum slowed the heart and brain just enough that whoever ingested it would look dead. They could be revived if given the antidote within a certain time period from our tests, it must be administered within seven hours.
That night, October 30, 1963, we prepared the room. The beer bottles and drugs we stole from a room on our floor were scattered everywhere. I staged the room as James wrote the note. He needed a reason to kill himself, so he confessed to his gambling troubles: the names of the gamblers, the money owed, locations, secrets, all of it.
“Man, after writing it all out… I’m ready to die.” I looked over to James as he stood up from his desk,
“You’re not going to die,” I told him. He slung his arm over my shoulders he looked down at my handy work, examining all the bottles and pills splayed around the room. “This place looks like shit.”
“Good,” I replied. I left to get dinner and work in the library. Giving myself an alibi. Just in case, you know. I also made sure to take all of our notes and samples with me to hide. I was supposed to destroy them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do so. All that discovery and knowledge, I deemed it too important. Thank goodness I did too.
I stayed for two hours then went back. I thought I was going to throw up with every step I made going back, I knew what was going to greet me when I opened the door. I remembered reaching my door and having to take a few minutes to open the damn thing. When I did, the scream was real. I rushed over to James and shook him.
I ran down the hall screaming for someone to get the police, I yelled at them in short, confusing sentences.
“He, James! He’s in… room! Bottles and piles everywhere,” I yelled, “I was in the library, I didn’t know!”
One man grabbed me by the shoulder and told me to calm down. I sobbed as I explained, “James… he had a syringe in his arm!”
They were still confused so I spelled it out for them.
“James is dead!”
I fell to the ground. They looked at one another shocked. They liked him to an extent. James owed them all money. The guy who let me fall started yelling at people to go get the police over here now.
The police came and cordoned off our room. An old man in black whispered to a young guy with a notepad, writing down everything. After they removed the body the detective came up to me. I had poised myself on the floor, sitting just across the room. Looking in the room I made myself appear lost. “Hello son, I’m detective Frank Wilson and this is my trainee, Jack Harris. We have a few questions.”
I only nodded and said, “I’m Nick.”
“Where were you when this happened Nick?” he asked.
“In the library, we have a chemistry test on Friday,” I replied distantly.
“Did James show any signs of depression?”
“I guess, he always talked about needing money for his games.” James was anything but depressed. He was angry and a cheat yes, but always optimistic. He could charm his way through anything, and if that didn’t work, he’d take matters into his own hands.
“Yes, we read his note. Did you take a look at it?”
I shook my head. I didn’t need to read it. I knew everything about James, that’s why we did this. He wasn’t the kind of guy who would willingly put his life into someone else’s hands. But he trusted me to bring him back.
“He wrote some nice things about you.”
“I’ll read it later…” I’ll have him tell me later. When was this interview going to end? I’d thought.
“You two were really close, huh?” Jack Harris asked.
“Yeah.” They looked at each other and realized they wouldn’t get anything more out of me.
The rush that followed after talking to the police was like nothing I’d ever experienced. I was a weak kid, always scared of authority but this was empowering. I was getting away with helping my best friend kill himself and everyone was believing my act. Everyone believed that I had nothing to do with this. I was never seen as a suspect.
Needless to say, lying to people in power became addicting.
They left and I prepared to go get my friend.
It took longer than rehearsed to get to the coroner at night, but I made it. The building was large and square. Nothing too fascinating about it. My watch told me it was one in the morning. I went to eat at seven and was gone for two hours. I was running out of time.
I had picked the lock a few days before practice. It was easier this time. The place smelled like cleaning supplies and death. The door opened to a small hallway lined with various offices. All of them were locked. I made it to a long room with surgical tables with white sheets.
One held the shape of a body.
I ran over and pulled the sheets over. James’ pale face looked up at me. His eyes were closed and his body cold. I didn’t hesitate and reached into my bag to get the antidote.
With it in my hand, I stabbed him right through the chest and into the heart.
I could have sworn his eyelids twitched. I pulled out the needle when it was empty and looked at his face.
I shook his shoulder, thinking that it needed a minute to work.
I climbed up on the table and slammed my fisted on his chest.
He wasn’t dead, he wasn’t dead, he wasn’t dead. We just needed to trick everyone into thinking he was.
“Get up you bastard!” I yelled as I beat on him.
His eyes didn’t flutter, his mouth didn’t smirk at a mission accomplished. He didn’t move at all.
He was dead.
I slid off the bed and crumpled to the floor. My hands pressed to my mouth as the horror turned my stomach inside out.
I killed my best friend.
I murdered James Conner.
The investigation ended after a few weeks. I was given a copy of James’s note. I could never bring myself to read it. I got my free tuition like planned and stayed at the college. I had to stay. I killed my friend over this education. Despite wanting to follow in James’ footsteps, I stayed.
After the funeral, I came back to my dorm and looked over our calculations and notes on the serum. Our rats survived, why didn’t James?
Every night when I was done with my work, I’d find a new animal around the campus experimented with the serum, I documented all of it.
I did this for a year. Every animal lived.
I needed a human subject to test the serum on. But who?
I couldn’t kill another innocent life. I couldn’t just take someone off the street and risk killing. Taking them away from their homes and loved ones. And where would I experiment?
That’s when I realized I needed to wait, to graduate, and get my own lab, in order to find out why James didn’t live.
I did just that. I worked on nothing but school and graduated top of my class. I got a good job in the sciences and worked up the ranks. My social skills had never improved but that didn’t matter. I was good at what I did.
After seven years, I was in charge of a personal lab. I started scanning the newspapers heavily and I got ahold of a police scanner. I made extensive lists of criminals, people that have done terrible things and are still walking the streets.
My first subject was a rapist who had been released on a technicality. So, I had no problem stalking him. After catching him, I had begun to experiment. The results were like all other first attempts; informative, but he ended up dying a gruesome death. I learned that I needed stronger ties and more anesthesia to keep them sedated.
I took great care in bringing him back, getting him on my operation table and strapping him in but the anesthesia was already wearing off. He came too while I was taking his vitals. I underestimated the strength of a panicked man. He got out and threw a few punches. In the end, I strapped him down and went back to work.
He didn’t make it.
Neither did the next guy, or the next or the next.
I lost 10 men in a month.
The names of these men had begun to show up in my papers. The news called the killer a vigilante. The police scanner talked a lot more about the vigilante than the real criminals out in our community.
I was doing this for James, finding out why he died and stopping the kind of people that made his life dangerous. Why where they so fascinated with me?
Jack Harris, now head detective, deduced a scientist was behind the bodies.
While I was listening to the scanner last month, they mentioned my name.
Last week I found a man named Kenneth Thompson, a two-time convicted rapist.
He was scared when I dragged him in. My technique was perfect. His hands and feet were tied, and his mouth gagged. He thrashed around, but most everyone did so it didn’t bother me. His brown eyes were burned into my mind as I injected him with the same formula that killed James.
Seven hours later I thrust the syringe into his heart. The antidote was slowly pushed into his bloodstream.
I looked down at the man. He didn’t move.
I exhaled; the glass syringe broke under my fist.
Why was nothing working!
But then the most wonderful thing happened, I heard a small intake of breath coming from the corpse behind me.
He was alive. I did it. I figured out what the antidote was missing!
These past few days I have kept Kenneth here, giving him everything he needed to recover and get better. I monitored him all along the way. I killed him and brought him back to life. Who can say they’ve done that?
Kenneth lived and James died. Kenneth, a rapist, was here in my room walking and making small talk and James, my best friend, was not.
The wrong antidote killed him.
I stood up from my chair, Kenneth looked at me. I smiled. He smiled back.
Then I killed him with a gunshot to the head.
Kenneth’s body is still crumpled on the ground as I write this.
You’ll be happy to know that I read James’s letter after all these years, Jack Harris.
The wrong antidote did kill him yes. But that was by design. He told me so himself.
“Sorry for our failed experiment. It just wasn’t meant to be. Please enjoy your life in a way I never could. Here’s to your big break, now go save the world. Goodbye.”
What do you know, he was right.
After writing everything out…I’m ready to die.