By Shreesha S Bhat (L&T – Heavy Engineering, Vizag Production Centre)
The world had turned upside down.
Terror – a cold, suffocating terror – was wrapping its powerful tentacles around me, and I was trapped within a claustrophobic enclosure from where there appeared be no escape. My condition was worsened by my sense of disorientation – I had no idea where I was or how I had gotten there.
Trying in vain to gather my wits about me, I attempted to take stock of my surroundings. But there was nothing around me which could give me any clue about my predicament. All around me was a dark, inky black gloom, combined with a disconcerting odour. I could barely make out some abstract shapes in the distance. But apart from these faint details, there was absolutely nothing. The darkness was total. It was accompanied by a strong smell of something undesirable – not quite the smell of decay, but something which was on its way to a state of decay.
I could feel my terror rapidly turning into panic, from where it would soon lead to a total nervous breakdown. I could not let that happen. I had to get out of here.
This thought galvanised me into action, and I tried to stand up. That was when I realized that I could not make the tiniest of movements. I had been paralysed. I tried to stretch my arms around me, in an attempt to grab hold of something – but I could not feel my arms at all. Suddenly, I was not even sure I had my arms. I could not even look sideways to catch a glimpse of my arms due to the all-pervading darkness.
Wave upon wave of panic surged all around me, as I realized that somehow I had ended up as rigid as a stone. I tried to juggle my memory hard to recollect any faint details of what had happened to me, but I was up against a blank wall. That was when the thought struck me: Had I lost my memory? Was I in some sort of accident and had ended up with amnesia? Were my injuries so severe that I had been paralysed? Had I lost my sight as well as my arms and legs?
That was when the eerie silence was shattered by pandemonium: it was the sound of a police siren.
The shrill racket was music to me. I had never before in my life been so relieved to hear that sound. It indicated to me two things – that firstly, I was alive, and that in addition to my nose, my ears were functioning normally. The police would help me out of here, wherever I was. The siren grew louder and louder, and finally stopped, accompanied by the screeching sound of brakes. A couple of more vehicles drew up and came to a halt somewhere nearby.
I waited for what seemed like an eternity – I could no longer sense the passage of time. It could have been a few minutes, or a couple of hours, or longer. I finally heard footsteps and some muffled voices. Then a strong voice, loaded with authority, spoke somewhere very close to me.
“Get the medics in here right now. Get them to check if he’s still alive, though I seriously doubt it, and then tell forensics we’re ready for them.”
The words had been spoken calmly, but the waves of panic which had receded for a while returned in full force. I felt very much alive, but listening to what had just been spoken, I was not so sure anymore. Was I dead? Was ‘me’ in fact just my soul which was trapped somewhere? Or was I stuck in some form of ‘afterlife’? Did such things exist after all? I tried to shout out to the police officer that I was alive, but no voice could issue out of me. It seemed the paralysis had spread to my voice as well. This only deepened my sense of being ‘dead’.
I felt some movement around me, and more footsteps. Then a voice spoke, which added to my sense of terror.
“We’re too late, Sir. He’s dead as a dodo.”
The statement stunned me. But if I was dead as a dodo, why could I still hear the voices and sounds around me? There had been numerous reports in the media about patients who were declared dead, only to have them wake up a few hours later. Perhaps I could be one of them.
After what seemed like ages, I felt the entire world move. I was now being jostled about, and it seemed to me like I was being lifted from one place and placed in another. This was a happy feeling – at least I still had a body. Then a deep rumbling noise reverberated somewhere below me. It was the noise of an automobile engine.
I could now feel movement, which indicated that the ambulance was moving. I was relieved that finally I was on my way to a hospital. But what could I do if the doctors, too, pronounced me dead? Worse, still, if I could hear them say it, and not be able to do anything about it? What if my funeral was carried out with ‘me’ still stuck here?
After a while, the ambulance stopped. I could picturize myself being placed on a stretcher and wheeled into the hospital, as I was again being jostled about, followed by a smooth movement: the movement of the gurney on the hospital floor. I waited with bated breath for the doctors to examine me and declare their verdict.
After another long interval of time, the first rays of light suddenly flooded in all around me in a cascade. The illumination was so dazzlingly bright that I could once again not see anything around me. Then, I felt myself being bodily lifted upwards and held against a glaring source of light.
“The bullet is a 0.22 calibre, shot almost point-blank, from a semiautomatic – probably a Beretta,” the coroner said, after examining the markings on my rear end, which had been caused by the impact of the firing pin of the gun, when the weapon had fired me from its magazine. That was when I remembered being fired point-blank at the victim of the murder. I had flown at lightning speed – it was an extremely short journey from the gun to the murder victim’s body – and penetrated straight into his heart, and I had felt the organ coming to a standstill around me within seconds. Then, the coroner placed me inside a plastic envelope which had the label ‘EVIDENCE’, and turned his attention back to the dead body from whose heart he had extracted me.