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Breathing, Talking, Dead Man Walking

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“John Doe, male, approximately thirty-seven years old,” Richard said as he started recording his autopsy report. “Subject was found by EMTs in close proximity to the site of a sizable explosion in Lebanon, Kansas.” He picked up his scalpel. “No significant external damage beyond surface scrapes on both hands and forehead.”

Richard brought the scalpel to the man’s chest, right below the clavicle, to the left of an intricate star tattoo, and began to cut. And then the corpse’s eyes snapped open. It was so unexpected that Richard froze, completely. The man—who’d been dead moments ago, grabbed him by the wrist and squeezed down on the tendons there, hard enough that Richard let the scalpel drop. It clinked loudly on the tiled floor, and the drops of red on its tip left a streak on the floor, like an accusation.

The guy was tall and strong, and dirt crumbled down from his long, dark hair as he stood. He looked at Richard without a trace of fear, reared back his fist and threw a punch.


“Sorry, could you repeat that?” Officer Perkins asked, incredulously.

“He was dead, and he woke up when I started the autopsy!” The coroner’s voice was less shaky than it had been on the phone, but he was still traumatized. Either he was a damn good faker, or he was telling the truth.

“Uh-huh.” Perkins looked at the dead man, who seemed pretty damn far from dead. He was pale, but obnoxiously fit, standing there in his birthday suit, staring at the wall without the faintest indication that he knew or cared about anybody else in the room.

“Sir? I’m going to have to ask you to come with me,” Perkins said, taking a step towards the John Doe. No reaction, still. “You gave Richard here quite the start. We’re taking you to the station to see if we can’t figure out who you are.” He took another step and reached for the man’s arm.

A second later, Perkins found himself flat on the floor, John Doe’s knee pushing against his throat. Luckily, Perkins had brought his rookie partner, Davidson, along. Davidson was useless most of the time, but he came running into the room, gun drawn, and the John Doe considered that important enough to lunge away from Perkins and at Davidson, whom he disarmed and knocked down just as quickly, giving Perkins just enough time to draw his taser and fire a perfect shot at the expanse of John Doe’s back. He dropped to his knees first, almost looked like he was gonna shrug it off, which would’ve been a real problem. But after another long second, he fell forward and collapsed, unconscious on the floor.

Perkins reached a hand down to Davidson, who’d pissed himself and looked about ready to puke. “I think I’ve got just the place for him,” Perkins said, panting from the shock and lack of air.


John Doe sat awkwardly in the metal chair. His long legs were cuffed to the ground at the ankles, wrists cuffed and attached by a chain, hooped through his ankle restraints. He couldn’t move more than a few inches. Dr. Hawley hated holding introductory sessions like his, but given what she’d been told about her new patient, it was highly inadvisable to leave him unrestrained. The police had given her all the information they had, plus what the coroner had noted. It amounted to little more than a handful of unconnected puzzle pieces.

He seemed smaller than his considerable height, hunched in on himself as he was, long, dark hair obscuring most of his face. She caught a glimpse of his eyes glinting in the light a few times, always a different color—sunflower eyes, her mother would’ve called them.

Dr. Hawley watched the man across from her a few more moments, while she wrote the date at the top of her notepad page. “What’s the last thing you remember?”

John Doe kept his eyes on the floor. “An explosion. Heat.”

“You were found near the remains of what appears to have been a large underground bunker in Lebanon. The site was completely destroyed; there were no bodies found in the wreckage. Just you.”

If any of what she’d said had surprised him, he didn’t show it. He blinked at her steadily, raised his arm as high as it would go, tugging softly on the chain. “Where am I now? Why am I—?” He tugged again.

“You’re at the Kansas State Psychiatric Hospital.”

“Ah.” He nodded to himself.

“What’s your name?”

He looked at her, clearly having understood the question, but didn’t answer.

“Do you not want to tell me, or do you not remember?”

Still, he remained silent.

“According to the coroner’s report—“


“When emergency response services found you, your heart wasn’t beating. You weren’t breathing. But, several hours later, when the coroner made his first incision, you woke up and knocked him unconscious.”

John’s eyes widened just a bit. Enough for Dr. Hawley to believe he didn’t remember that either. Amnesia? she wrote in her notes.

“Per the coroner’s report, after he regained consciousness, you were non-responsive, but very much alive: standing and staring at a wall. He called the police for help, but when they approached, you fought them off. To quote one of the officers, you tossed them around like rag dolls.”

“And that’s why I’m here?”

“That’s one reason.” She didn’t mention that his fingerprints had also pulled up a match in the FBI’s database. She didn’t mention it, because the FBI hadn’t bothered to tell her anything about who she was holding, just that he was extremely dangerous, and they’d be on their way to extract him in a matter of hours. She shouldn’t even be talking to him. But she couldn’t resist—professional curiosity aside, she’d never before had the chance to talk to somebody who’d come back from the dead.

“You have extensive scarring from what appear to be knives, bullets and claws.”

John looked at his hands, where his thumb was pushing against one particularly thick scar in the center of his palm. It was a practiced motion, something he likely did habitually.

“You have the physical conditioning of someone who spends a lot of their time in hand to hand combat,” she paused for a moment before continuing, “so I have to ask: Are you military? Special forces?”

He shrugged, gave a dry huff of a laugh. “I honestly have no idea.”

“Do you remember how you got any of those scars? Or that interesting tattoo on your chest?” She gestured at his shirt. The hospital garb they’d stuck him in fit poorly; they’d given him the largest size they had, to accommodate for his height. Some of the tattoo was visible at the edge of the low neckline.

He glanced down, pulled his chin in to get a better look at the tattoo, brow furrowed. When he looked back up at her, he was frowning. “No, I don’t remember getting it. But I know what it’s for.”

“What is it for?”

“To keep them out.”

“I see.” She added the word tattoo to her notes. “To keep who out?”

His frown deepened and he swallowed.

She’d studied people her whole life, and recognized the look. He knew the answer, but didn’t want to share. Superstitious. Occult? she added to her notes, recalling the pentacle-shape of the tattoo.The door behind them opened, much to her surprise. Sessions with potentially volatile patients were restricted. Nobody should be—

“I’m sorry, doctor, the agent insisted,” said the nurse. A man with short hair, a cheap suit and a badge, pushed his way in, and looked right past Dr. Hawley, at her patient. And when he saw John, a relieved smile flickered across his features—far too strong to hide. He tried to hide it nonetheless, and gave Dr. Hawley what was surely meant to be an earnest and stern look. “Agent Roth. I’m taking this man into custody.”

Dr. Hawley stood. “Hi agent. I’m Doctor Hawley.”

“Great. This man’s coming with me.”

“I appreciate that the FBI has an interest in him, but this man clearly needs to stay for further observation.”

“No, he doesn’t.”

“He appears to have retrograde amnesia, he’s prone to violence, considered extremely dangerous, and—“

“That’s why I’m taking him.” The agent stepped around her, crossing the room towards her patient. She followed him, stood so she could see them both, watch both of their expressions: the agent, when he got within spitting distance of John, crouched down, until he was eye level, and said, soft as can be: “Sam? Sammy?”

John’s face snapped up, he met the agent’s eyes, and answered, “It’s Sam.”

The agent turned back to the doctor, and, though he was clearly trying to get a hold of himself, his chin was wibbling, voice thick with emotion. “Get these cuffs off.”

Dr. Hawley knew something else was going on. She should protest. She should insist on confirming the agent’s authorization. But then there was the way her John Doe—Sam—was looking at him: the deadliness had all but vanished from his eyes, glassy now, filled with heart-wrenching recognition. Whoever these two were to each other, it was significant enough to cut through the extensive physical trauma that had made him lose his memory. Enough to make a dangerous man look like a frightened boy.

After watching them for another minute, trying to puzzle out who they really were, Dr. Hawley called in one of the nurses to unlock the cuffs. The agent signed the discharge papers, and Sam followed him out the door, without sparing her another glance. His attention was focused solely on the man in front of him, like there was nobody else in the world.

She watched them through the window as they headed to the parking lot, and stopped next to an old, black car, that didn’t look remotely standard for the feds. The “agent” threw his arms around Sam, clutching onto him with a desperation that spoke volumes, and after a few moments, Sam relaxed into his hold, returning the gesture, though far more gently, one hand cupped behind the agent’s head. From this distance, it was hard to be sure, but she thought she saw his shoulders hitch more than once, like he was sobbing—with joy or grief, she had no idea.

Dr. Hawley watched them drive away and wondered, for a long time thereafter.