IT DIDN'T TAKE THE DOCTORS long to pronounce their verdict. They couldn't find any breath or pulse or movement. It was an open-and-shut case as far as they were concerned.
The worst thing was knowing what was going on around me. I wished that I'd asked Mr. Crepsley to give me another potion, which could have put me to sleep. It was terrible, hearing Mom and Dad crying, Annie screaming for me to come back.
Friends of the family began arriving after a couple of hours, the cue for more sobbing and moans.
I'd have loved to avoid this. I would have rather run away with Mr. Crepsley in the middle of the night, but he'd told me that wasn't possible.
"If you run away," he'd said, "they would follow. There would be posters up everywhere, pictures in the papers and with the police. We would know no peace."
Faking my death was the only way. If they thought I was dead, I'd be free. Nobody comes searching for a dead person.
Now, as I heard the sadness, I cursed both Mr. Crepsley and myself. I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have put them through this.
Still, looking on the bright side, at least this would be the end of it. They were sad, and would be for some time, but they would get over it eventually (I hoped). If I'd run away, the misery could have lasted forever: they might have lived the rest of their lives hoping I'd come back, searching, believing I would one day return.
The undertaker arrived and cleared the room of visitors. He and a nurse undressed me and examined my body. Some of my senses were returning and I could feel his cold hands prodding and poking me.
"He's in excellent condition," he said softly to the nurse. "Firm, fresh, and unmarked. I'll have very little to do with this one. Just some rouge to make him look a little redder around the cheeks."
He rolled up my eyelids. He was a chubby, happy-looking man. I was afraid he'd spot life in my eyes but he didn't. All he did was roll my head gently from side to side, which made the broken bones in my neck creak.
"So fragile a creature is man," he sighed, then went ahead with the rest of the examination.
They took me back home that night and laid me in the living room on a long table with a large cloth spread across it, so people could come and say goodbye.
It was weird, hearing all those people discussing me as though I weren't there, talking about my life and what I'd been like as a baby and how fine a boy I was and what a good man I would have grown up to be if I'd lived.
What a shock they'd have gotten if I leaped up and shouted: "Boo!"
Time dragged. I don't think I can explain how boring it was to lie still for hours on end, unable to move or laugh or scratch my nose. I couldn't even stare at the ceiling because my eyes were shut!
I had to be careful as feelings returned to my body. Mr. Crepsley had told me this would happen, that tingles and itches would start, long before I fully recovered. I couldn't move, but if I'd made a real effort, I could have twitched a little, which might have given me away.
The itches nearly drove me crazy. I tried ignoring them but it was impossible. They were everywhere, scampering up and down my body like tiny spiders. They were worst around my head and neck, where the bones had snapped.
People finally began leaving. It must have been late, because soon the room was empty and totally silent. I lay there by myself for a time, enjoying the quiet.
And then I heard a noise.
The door to the room was opening, very slowly and very quietly.
Footsteps crossed the room and stopped by the table. My insides went cold, and it wasn't because of the potion. Who was here? For a moment I thought it might be Mr. Crepsley but he had no reason to come creeping into the house. We were set to meet at a later date.
Whoever it was, he or she was keeping very quiet. For a couple of minutes there was no sound at all.
Then I felt hands on my face.
He raised my eyelids and shined a small flashlight onto my pupils. The room was too dark for me to see who he was. He grunted, lowered the lids, then pried open my mouth and laid something on my tongue: it felt like a piece of thin paper but it had a strange, bitter taste.
After removing the object from my mouth, he picked up my hands and examined the fingertips. Next there was the sound of a camera taking photos.
Finally he stuck a sharp object it felt like a needle into me. He was careful not to prick me in places where I would bleed, and stayed away from my vital organs. My senses had partially returned, but not fully, so the needle didn't cause much pain.
After that, he left. I heard his footsteps crossing the room, as quietly as before, then the door opening and closing, and that was that. The visitor, whoever it had been, was gone, leaving me puzzled and a little bit scared.
Early the next morning, Dad came in and sat with me. He spoke for a long time, telling me all the things he'd had planned for me, the college I would have gone to, the job he'd wanted for me. He cried a lot.
Toward the end, Mom came in and sat with him. They cried on each other's shoulders and tried to comfort themselves. They said they still had Annie and could maybe have another child or adopt one. At least it had been quick and I hadn't been in pain. And they would always have their memories.
I hated being the cause of so much hurt. I would have given anything in the world to spare them this.
There was a lot of activity later that day. A coffin was brought in and I was laid inside. A priest came and sat with the family and their friends. People streamed in and out of the room.
I heard Annie crying, begging me to stop fooling and sit up. It would have been much easier if they'd taken her away, but I guess they didn't want her to grow up feeling they'd robbed her of her chance to say good-bye to her brother.
Finally, the lid was placed on the coffin and screwed into place. I was lifted off the table and led out to the hearse. We drove slowly to church, where I couldn't hear much of what was being said. Then, with Mass out of the way, they carried me to the graveyard, where I could hear every word of the priest's speech and the sobs and moans of the mourners.
And then they buried me.