Use of this excerpt from THE FIRST IMMORTAL by James L. Halperin may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: copyright ©1998 by James L. Halperin
June 2, 1988
Echoes tumbled through the ambulance. Squeals, rattles, and torsion-bar sways came at him in waves, magnified and ominous. The attendants standing over him seemed blurry, even extraneous. What mattered was the beeping monitor and all-too-familiar stench of emergency medicine. And every single sensation blended with the mundane smell of the rain-soaked streets beneath him.
Benjamin Franklin Smith, my great-grandfather, knew he was about to die.
The morning had delivered Ben's third heart attack in six years--worse than either of its predecessors. This time his chest felt vise-tight, more constricted than he'd imagined possible. His blood-starved muscles sagged like spent rubber, so weak he could barely feel them twitch, while a cold Novocain-like river prickled his left arm from shoulder blade to fingertips: numb but so heavy.
Oh, Christ! he thought, remembering his first seizure on that flight to Phoenix in 1982. He should have known better. If he hadn't stayed on the damn airplane, they could've given him treatment; minimized the damage.
Now he was dying. Him, of all people. Ben snorted. Absent his pain and fear, it might have been a laugh. Well, why in hell not him? He was sixty-three years old.
God, just sixty-three? Is that all I get? Please Jesus, spare me this. Not yet...
Two ambulance attendants wheeled Ben through the hospital emergency entrance, past check-in and dozens of less critical cases, sprinting straight for intensive care. All ignored them except one nurse who, recognizing the too-familiar patient, merely gaped. One of the attendants whispered to her, "Looks like myocardial infarction. Probably massive."
Still half conscious, Ben wondered if they realized he could hear them, or if they cared. He wondered whether these professionals tasted the same empathy for him that he had so often experienced with his own dying patients.
He also questioned his rationality.
His preparations over the previous half decade had included an oath to himself that he would betray no ambivalence about the unusual instructions he'd left. This despite understanding that his chances of staving off death remained slight.
And that if he succeeded, he might end up envying the dead.
Before surrendering consciousness, Dr. Benjamin Smith managed to whisper: "Call Toby Fiske." These words would set in motion all his plans--irrevocably changing the nature of his death. Then the rush of unreality gathered speed, and as his awareness faded, his subconscious mind began to play back the most important moments of life, as if by giving these experiences a new orderliness, he might somehow absolve himself of, or at least comprehend, his mistakes.
Images assaulted him of his parents, his children, and the first time he ever made love to his wife Marge. She was just a teenager then. How fiery and resilient she was. They were. Then he remembered sitting at her bedside when she was dying. For six weeks he had fed and bathed her, consoled her with stories and recollections, held her hand, and watched helplessly as the cancer consumed her body and mind.
Now would he finally rejoin her?
Ben Smith also knew the world would keep turning without him. So at the end of things, he pleaded to his God, praying that once he was dead, his only son might finally forgive him.
My great-grandfather was an only child. And despite his birth into near-poverty, his genetics and early environment favored him with certain critical advantages. But timing was not among these: He was born in 1925.
His attempt to become immortal is a tale of character, luck, and daring. Benjamin Franklin Smith's story might have befallen any person of his time--that era when death seemed inevitable to every human being on earth. Inevitable, and drawing ever closer.