The Hero was sick. His head hurt and his world spun. He awoke in his basement, lethargic and slow. The stairs to the main floor were narrow, old, and daunting. He ascended them as deftly as possible, avoiding notoriously weak steps.

His mother was awake and ready to face the day. She greeted the Hero with a warm smile.

“Good morning, love! You look like hell!”

Not exactly the first thing he wanted to hear in the early afternoon, but he said nothing to discredit her statement.  “Yeah. I was worried about that.”

He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat quietly in the corner. This raised even more alarms for his mother, who instantly started on a motherly tirade.  “Did you get enough sleep? Are you hungry? I know that’s your first cup of coffee, but did you want me to ready another? Drink some water.”

“I’m fine,” he finally mustered, sounding rather defeated.

He stared at the trees and could almost see their leaves changing to bright orange. He hated this city, but it was quite beautiful in this season. The air was brisk, but not yet intrusive. Grass still covered the lawns, and the world was coated with a light dew. The sun refracted over every angle within view. Pedestrians on the sidewalks had billows of breath hanging from their mouths. The Hero sat in awe at how incredible the world looked. The light and the leaves gave everything a yellow hue.

He did not want to worry his mother, but he had arranged an appointment with his doctor for later that day. At twenty-four, it would be his first venture as an adult into a doctor’s office.

The idea excited the Hero. He looked forward to a future where he could not only look after his own affairs, but also execute them with little interference from anyone in his immediate life.

He finished the coffee and ventured towards the vehicle he would take for this stint. The car was exactly what you would expect of an average family. Grey, four doors, cloth seating, nothing exciting. The Hero loved it. The speakers were decent and loud, which was perfect for listening to music at an inappropriate level. He was the reason volume laws existed.

He got in the car. If he left at that moment, he would still be thirty minutes early. That seemed like a good plan.

What was he listening to today? He managed a music store and had worked there for nearly a decade. His collection was huge and varied, but he often played Bibio’s Ambivalence  . It had a fantastic collection of sounds and ideas.

He felt cold, which was weird because this was his favourite weather. Sunny, with mild overcast, and a temperature of about 15C. His sweater should have been enough. He put the heater on high as he started his journey, hoping he would warm up soon. The chill would not leave his bones. He shivered behind the wheel as he merged into rather sparse traffic.

Upon arriving at the doctor’s office, the Hero found a seat in the waiting room. The chair was warm and inviting, unusual for a doctor’s waiting room. There were four rows of chairs, all the same: metal frames with nylon upholstery. Their use was not for long term. The Hero felt his feet swelling because the edge of the seat was cutting off circulation at his knees.

“Just a few more minutes, and I’ll say my bit, then go back to bed,” said the Hero under his breath. His brain felt three sizes too big for his skull. He wanted another coffee.

They called his name and the Hero jumped up with a start. That “few more minutes” had clearly been long enough for the Hero to fall into a light sleep. The Hero was a strange combination of embarrassed and surprised.

“What time was it, anyway?” He muttered aloud, not caring if anyone overheard him.

He was escorted into a room and asked to sit on a bed. It was cold, and there was paper as a kind of seal against infection. It was hard, but it was good to sit down.

Why was he feeling this way? He had woken up less than two hours ago, and had been in the waiting room for what seemed like forever! He should not be so excited for the embrace of yet another apparatus for sitting.

Finally, the Doctor entered. It was a small world: the Hero had gone to high school with his daughter. That is a fact he had never quite gotten over.

“Hey! How are you? It feels like I haven’t seen you in forever!” The Doctor was short to start the small talk. He has been the Hero’s family doctor for just shy of twenty years. Some might view him as a part of the Hero’s family.

The doctor knew the Hero was not a fan of medicine, but he took care of himself. He also knew the Hero was usually a bit peppier than he was today.

“Hey, Doc. I feel horrible. My head and throat hurt, and I’m all stuffed up,” moaned the Hero.

“Well, let’s see what’s wrong with you.” The Doctor prepared a bunch of medical equipment. He did not sound concerned, for which the Hero was thankful.

The Doctor slid a light into the Hero’s nose, ears, and down his throat.

“Well, you have the flu. You’ll get worse, but you’ll get better. I would stress a flu shot, but it’s a bit too late. Go home. Sleep. Eat something. Do you need a note? You shouldn’t go to work for a bit.”

There was much relief and a bit of disappointment felt in the Hero’s everything. He would have made the appointment earlier if he had known he would be given a clear bill of health! Yet he feared it was much worse than the doctor let on.

“That’s it?” the Hero said as calmly as he could muster. “I’m going to get worse, but I will get better?”

“Yes,” the Doctor stated bluntly.

They exchanged pleasantries, and then the Hero was on his way. It all seemed too simple, but he was not going to cause a ruckus. If the Doctor said he was fine, there was no use arguing over it.

The Hero went back to his car and made the short drive home. He could not get the idea out of his head that things were worse than they appeared.

Was it really just a flu? he asked himself.

The Hero pulled into his driveway and went back to bed. If the Doctor was right, he could sleep this off.

He had in the past, and should not fret so intensely.

Then, the Hero lay down in his bed and simply went to sleep.

Chapter One :: Rude Awakening

The Hero awakes from a deep slumber. He is not in his bed. He has no clue where he is.

All around him is the intrusive beeping of monitors and hospital equipment. The room is not black, but it is dark. Lights flash on machines and noises echo in the room. He notices a cup of water a few feet from where he lies, and thinks how his mouth feels rather dry and the cool liquid would feel fantastic. The Hero tries to lift his arms: no luck. He tries to call out for someone. Anyone. He has no voice.

Confused, alone, he cries for what feels like an eternity.

Finally, his mother and father come into the frame. Their faces gleam with joy, tears running in the crevices of their skin. This made him cry harder. He tries to ask what happened, tries to offer some form of condolence. The Hero tries to do pretty much anything to gesture he is okay. Unable, defeated, he closes his eyes again.

The Hero awakes from the quick bout of overwhelming reality. He is still confused, but his parents are with him. They explain that he died, but he is now alive. They explain that he is physically unable to do anything right now. They show him the tube coming out of his throat and explain that it breathes for him. His parents try to keep their spirits up, but the Hero can see their confidence faltering.

They explain that something happened. He got sick. He was asleep for a long time. He died. Now he is back and they are happy.

The Hero still wants a drink of water.

His parents try to explain the last bit. Apparently, he contracted some sort of flu and his body reacted by inducing encephalitis.

Encephalitis occurs when the fluid surrounding the brain collects and crushes parts of the grey matter. In his particular case, it crushed the cerebellum and affected a good portion, if not all, of his major motor and health functions, primarily those dealing with limb control, nerve reaction, heart rate, and heat regulation. In a way, the Hero is lucky. If it had been the frontal cortex or any of his memory functions, it would have destroyed who he was. Who he is.

He did not die.

Legally, he is a quadriplegic. He has no ability to move his legs or arms. Even moving his neck is very difficult, if not impossible. The Hero is unable to swallow. He dreams of drinking water, but is informed that he will most likely choke.

That is when the Hero notices all the metal. He counts four long bits of medical steel jutting from each of his forearms. They puncture on the perfect angles to avoid nerves, so they do not hurt. Maybe he cannot feel them, anyway.

The Hero is not new to the idea of metal piercing skin. He has received over fifteen piercings in his life: something of which he is quite proud. It is a kind of identity for him. Everyone is the same, but he has shit in his face.

Enter the health care professionals. They come in to check the Hero’s vitals and breathing machine. They are surprised he is as responsive as he is, and start asking a million questions. The Hero is unable to move his middle finger to gesture them on their way. They leave, eventually, and the Hero immediately starts crying again.

The Hero is an hour from home, lying in Toronto Western Hospital. He remembers that he is somewhat close to people he knows. He wonders if they know where he is or what his state is. The door bursts open at that point, and Luka runs in.

Luka is the Hero’s greatest and longest friend. She had lived in Toronto for a number of years at this point, and he had attempted to make it out to visit her and her dog at least once a week before he wound up in the hospital.

He is ecstatic to see her, and tries his best to put on a smile and a brave face. She takes one look at him and immediately bursts into tears of celebration.

It turns out that she was informed the Hero had died about three months before this day. Then, she discovered that he was alive not a week later: close to death, but also just down the road. She had been there most days, talking to his unresponsive body. Wishing him back to reality. She told him over and over again how she couldn’t bear life without him. When he is informed of all of this, he cries again.

The Hero feels pathetic: crying three times in what he assumes is one day. He is just so happy to see her. He is just so happy to be able to see everyone again.

Luka hugs him. He tries as hard as he can to hug back. He tries to call her a fool for thinking he was gone. He tries many things.

* * *

Luka was nowhere near the only visitor that the Hero was happy to see. While in a coma, he had apparently shut down the main waiting room with all the people clamouring to see him for what they believed to be the last time.

Word had gotten around that he had died. Many people came to pay their respects, both to him and to his family. When it was reported that he, in fact, did not die: more people came around out of celebration. Benefit concerts that were to be held in his memory were simply forgotten due to redundancy.

A great percentage of the people the Hero had touched came out to wish him well: to remind him how much he meant to them.

It was January.

The month was even lonelier than usual. People popped in and out of existence all the time, and the Hero would live alone, for what seemed like days. In reality, it was just a few hours. Time drags on and on when you are in a hospital. Even the sweet embrace of sleep could not save the Hero from feeling truly alone. He spent a lot of time imagining fantastical worlds.

In one such daydream; he was a hunter. He ventured out of his holdings to find rare and mystical beasts to kill them, justly. He remembered, quite vividly, thanking them before he ate them. He was a decent chef, but he would cringe when biting into the meat he prepared. A cool breeze would float between the sea of green leaves and across his face.

Once, while he slept, he dreamt that he was flying through the skies. He was not killing in this dream, just observing the world. He saw valleys coated in green grass, clouds as large as he could picture, and towering red mountains. His speed never held much concern, for the air was always warm.

There was never a goal in these dreams. There was barely even narrative. He enjoyed them, all the same. He never got lost, for there was no destination. On occasion, his arms were massive wings, twice the size needed to hold one human. He rarely landed, and simply got sustenance while soaring around in the clouds.

Then he would wake, a still-jarring resurrection. It often involved tears and frustration. When the dreams ended, he would have to face a version of reality he did not want. He wanted to escape into the world he had just been in, be lost in it forever. He knew it would be an end, but that did not bother him.

The nurses would come. Check his vitals. Talk at him, never to him. Leave the room. This was a fate worse than death, he would think. At least if he were dead.

Oh; at least if he were dead.

Now bad days were because his body would not let him do what he wanted to do. Now bad days were because he felt trapped. Now he could not even escape to his old standby of driving a great distance to avoid life. He had to accept what was around him. He had to endure the oppressive hate and malice that the world contained.

People pretended to be great, and the Hero could sense this. They would put on a brave face, say things that they thought were politically correct, and carry on with their interpersonal relationships. The Hero could see through all of this. He knew that people were frightened, that they were curious how this would affect their lives. Even his parents, who were nothing but supportive, were concerned about how their lives would change. How he changed their lives.

It was, after all, his fault.