‘Help me! Help me! For God’s sake, help me…

By Dr. Jeffrey Lant

Author’s program note. Do you remember the theme music for the 1958 Alfred Hitchcock classic Vertigo? That music was composed by master mood manipulator Bernard Herrmann, one of the best.  I selected this music, of course, because it accentuates the words of the article; also because I suffer from vertigo, and know the fear of falling, out of control, unable to stop. It is terrifying. You will easily find this tune in any search engine. Find it now… and play it loud. You are about not just to read but participate in a story of primal fear… and this music sets just the right mood of alarm, panic, and heartrending despair.

It was a late July 2011 evening in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the household of the unidentified man at the center of this story was in shock, sorrow and lamentations. Their 80-year old patriarch had died unexpectedly after complaining of chest pains and difficulty breathing. The family had been through this before; he suffered from acute asthma. They had urged him to lay down and rest, never thinking that these pains were any different from those which came before, that this time they signalled the end. However, they did and within just a couple of hours the family was dealing with the shock and horror of his unexpected death.

In due course the family called in an undertaker to help.

The morgue was owned by Ayanda Maqolo who asked his driver to visit the family, work with its members at this difficult moment, and take the body for burial. It was in every way a standard case, the  most difficult part, as always, dealing with the grieving family and the usual “What if…” questions, wondering if they couldn’t have done more… if there wasn’t something  they might have done. The driver did his best to reassure and comfort, but he was on a tight schedule… and he had things to do before taking the body away.

He therefore set about examining the body, checking the victim’s pulse, looking for a heartbeat… but, as Maqolo said, there was no sign of life, none at all. Again, it was all standard, absolutely nothing out of the ordinary. The poor old gentleman was well and truly dead, but then he was eighty and ailing.

And so the driver took the body to Maqolo’s morgue, put it into a locked, refrigerated compartment. It was now an object subject to rules and regulations, on its way to cremation. The owner locked up for the night, going home to his family, glad to be alive.

But the old gentleman wasn’t dead. He was as alive as you or me. And now he was alone, more alone than he had ever been….

Perhaps the coolness of the facility helped… but in a while the old gentleman began to stir. He thought he was dreaming… and in this dream he was on his back, confined in a small compartment, just big enough for him. He sensed he was not alone… that there was something else, many somethings near at hand. He shook himself… he didn’t like this dream… and, besides, he needed the loo, as old gentlemen do.

But in an instant, he knew that this wasn’t a dream. It was terrifying reality. He didn’t know where he was… but he knew he was trapped there. He began to scream for help; these screams didn’t sound like him; they sounded like yelps of terror and despair, sounds he had never heard himself make before. There was no answer…. nothing stirred in this facility of death, where oblivion was always the order of the day.

After a while, his strength abated; his shouts were no longer sharp and piercing but the pathetic sounds a wounded animal makes as its lifeblood runs out and it smells death. Besides now his cool compartment smelled. A supremely clean man, he now lay in his own dirt and urine, frightened… disgusted. This was not the way in which he wanted to meet his God.

And now he passed into a new, different stage. At first, like all victims of every accident, his focus was on his escape. He was certain he would escape; that getting out was simply a matter of shouting the right number of screams… kicking the door the right number of times… and persisting. But that hadn’t worked… and he knew the acute sensation that the world and he were now disconnected and that the living were already in the process of moving on, even discussing how they would spend the little windfall his death would provide.

Now he flashed angry… He thought: they always tolerated me just for the money; they never truly loved me or even wanted me around. His vulgar daughter-in-law was the worst of all… she had always had her eye on the money. And then, alone in the dark recalling the miseries, insults and humiliations of life, he considered how easily she might have doctored his food…. or his medicine. She had motive, access, and no doubt the potion required to simulate death. He felt indignation, rage, hatred…  and he beat on the unyielding bright steel compartment with renewed energy fueled by murderous wrath. If he was doomed to die here… he would go happy with her blood on his hands. This thought irradiated his withered face with a happiness formed from bile, acid and disdain.

Trapped on his back, able to wiggle fingers and toes, but little more, every sense was accentuated. It was as if he were experiencing them for the first time. He could smell the smells of old age and evacuation… and… then he remembered. When his aunt had died in a car accident when he was a boy, his father went to the morgue to identify her; he had insisted on you going too; it was a thing a boy must know. Now he knew he was in a morgue… and that the somethings around him were each a formerly sentient human, now a husk awaiting the flames… and he sobbed. For he knew that that was his fate, too.

He beat on his cage, with every ounce of his dwindling strength. For he was not ready to go… not ready to die… he had life to claim and not a moment to relinquish.

He was old, alone, buried, unheard, despairing… and yet alive.

He tried to comport himself for God, for now he knew (how had he ever doubted) that God was real and waiting… but he kept reverting to thoughts of life… and how he was being cheated of what was his, for all there was little of it left. It’s mine, he shrieked. Mine! And he thought he saw the countenance of God, smiling, beckoning… calling him home…

… and so he passed into uneasy sleep.

Then he felt, rather than saw, there was a pinprick of bright light… which motivated him to beat on his compartment and scream for assistance. His unearthly yells were heard… and frightened the workers, who always knew the devil and his helpers were real. And now they were in this very room… purveyors of mayhem and damnation. Maqolo, as owner, though frightened out of his wits, went forward and with fearful trepidation unlocked the fetid compartment where a pale, agitated but grateful old gentleman with great civility asked to be taken out… and taken home. His family was ecstatic though his daughter-in-law looked apprehensive as well she might.

The old gentleman had passed 21 hours in desperation… weighed down by doom, death a growing possibility. He had screamed for God and deliverance… losing hope, sobbing as he confronted the theft of his life. But this time, God answered the prayers of torment and dismay… and gave the man a renewed lease on life and a profound relief at the shear joy of escaping death, with a new ability to live! Live! And be grateful. Still the unloved and suspected daughter-in-law had best step lively….


About the Author

Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses.for details. Dr. Jeffrey Lant is also the author of 18 best-selling business books.

Republished with author’s permission by Graham Lee – The Income Zone

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