Victor’s head was pounding again.
“Tonight?” he asked, not for the first time since Eli had explained his plan.
“Tonight,” confirmed Eli, plucking the pen from Victor’s grip. “I considered dissolving the epinephrine directly into saline and having you administer it intravenously, since that would give a more reliable distribution, but it’s slower than the EpiPens, and dependent on better circulation. Besides, given the nature of the setup, I thought we’d be better off with a more user-friendly option.”
Victor considered the supplies. The EpiPen would be the easy part, the compressions more difficult and more damaging. Victor had CPR training, and an intuitive understanding of the body, but it was still a risk. Neither pre-med clusters nor innate skill could truly prepare a student for what they were trying to do. Killing something was easy. Bringing it back to life took more than measurement and medicine. It was like cooking, not baking. Baking took a sense of order. Cooking took a flare, a little art, a little luck. This kind of cooking took a lot of luck.
Eli took up two more EpiPens, and arranged the three in his palm. Victor’s gaze wandered from the pens to the warmers to the ice. Such simple tools. Could it be that easy?
Eli said something. Victor dragged his attention back.
“What?” he asked.
“It’s getting late,” Eli said again, gesturing beyond the bags of ice to the window behind the sink, where light was bleeding rapidly out of the sky. “Better get set up.”
* * *
Victor ran his fingers through the ice water, and recoiled. Beside him, Eli slit the last bag open, watching it rupture and spill ice into the tub. With the first few bags, the ice had crackled and broken and half dissolved, but soon the water in the bath was cold enough to keep the cubes from melting. Victor retreated to the sink and leaned against it, the three EpiPens brushing his hand.
They’d talked through the order of operations several times by now. Victor’s fingers trembled faintly. He gripped the lip of the counter to still them as Eli tugged off his jeans, his sweater, and finally his shirt, exposing a series of faded scars that hatched his back. They were old, worn to little more than shadows, and Victor had seen them before, but never asked. Now, as he faced the very real possibility that this would be the last conversation he’d ever have with his friend, curiosity got the better of him. He tried to shape the question, but it wasn’t necessary, because Eli answered without prompting.
“My father did it, when I was a kid,” he said softly. Victor held his breath. In more than two years, Eli had never once mentioned his parents. “He was a minister.” There was a far-off quality to his voice, and Victor couldn’t help but notice the was. Past tense. “I don’t think I’ve ever told you that.”
Victor didn’t know what to say, so he said the most useless word in the world. “Sorry.”
Eli turned away, and shrugged his shoulders, the scars on his back warping with the gesture. “It all worked out.”
He stepped up to the tub, his knees resting against the porcelain front as he looked down at the shimmering surface. Victor watched him watch the bath, and felt a strange mixture of interest and concern.
“Are you scared?” he asked.
“Terrified,” said Eli. “Weren’t you?”
Victor could vaguely remember a flicker of fear, a matchstick’s worth, fluttering before being gutted by the effects of the pills and the whiskey. He shrugged.
“You want a drink?” he asked. Eli shook his head.
“Alcohol warms the blood, Vale,” he said, eyes still fixed on the icy water. “That’s not exactly what I’m going for here.”
Victor wondered if Eli would actually be able to do it, or if the cold would crack his mask of ease and charm, shatter it to reveal the normal boy beneath. The bath had handles somewhere beneath the icy surface, and they’d done a walk-through before dinner—neither had been terribly hungry—Eli climbing into the then-dry tub, curling his fingers around the handles, tucking his toes under a lip at the foot of the bath. Victor had suggested cord, something to bind Eli to the tub, but Eli had refused. Victor wasn’t sure if it had been bravado or a concern for the state of the body should this fail.
“Any day now,” said Victor, trying to diffuse the tension. When Eli didn’t move, didn’t humor him with even a hollow smile, Victor reached over to the toilet, where his laptop rested on the closed lid. He opened a music program and clicked play, flooding the small tiled room with the heavy base of a rock song.
“You better turn that shit down when you’re searching for a pulse,” said Eli.
And then he closed his eyes. His lips were moving faintly, and even though his hands hung at his sides, Victor knew he was praying. It perplexed him, how someone about to play God could pray to Him, but it clearly didn’t bother his friend.
When Eli’s eyes floated open, Victor asked, “What did you say to Him?”
Eli lifted one bare foot to the rim of the bath, gazing down at the contents. “I put my life into His hands.”
“Well,” said Victor, earnestly, “let’s hope He gives it back.”
Eli nodded, and took a short breath—Victor imagined he could hear the faintest waver in it—before he climbed into the tub.
* * *
Victor perched on the tub, clutching a drink as he stared down at Eliot Cardale’s corpse.
Eli hadn’t screamed. Pain had been written across every one of the forty-three muscles Victor’s anatomy class taught him twined together in the human face, but the worst Eli had done was let a small groan escape between clenched teeth when his body first broke the surface of the icy water. Victor had only brushed his fingers through, and the cold had been enough to elicit a spark of pain up his entire arm. He wanted to hate Eli for his composure, had almost hoped—almost hoped—that it would be too much for him to bear. That he would break, give up, and Victor would help him out of the tub, and offer him a drink, and the two would sit and talk about their failed trials, and later, when it was a safe distance behind them, they would laugh about how they’d suffered for the sake of science.
Victor took another sip of his drink. Eli was a very unhealthy shade of whitish-blue.
It hadn’t taken as long as he’d expected. Eli had gone quiet several minutes ago. Victor had shut the music off, the heavy beat echoing in his head until he realized it was his heart. When he’d ventured a hand down into the ice bath to search for Eli’s own pulse—fighting back a gasp at the biting cold—there had been none. He’d chosen to wait a few more minutes, though, which is why he’d poured the drink. If Eli did manage to come back from this, he wouldn’t be able to accuse Victor of rushing.
When it became evident that the body in the bath wouldn’t somehow revive on its own, Victor set the drink aside, and got to work. Dragging Eli from the tub was the hardest part, since he was several inches taller than Victor, stiff, and submerged in a basin of ice water. After several attempts and a good deal of quiet cursing (Victor was naturally quiet, but even more so under pressure, which gave his peers the distinct impression he knew what he was doing, even when he didn’t), he tumbled back to the tiles, Eli’s body hitting the floor beside him with the sickening thud of dead weight. Victor shivered. He bypassed the EpiPens for the stack of blankets and warmers, remembering Eli’s instructions, and quickly toweled the body off. He then activated the warmers and placed them at the vital points: head, back of the neck, wrists, groin. This was the part of the plan that required luck and art. Victor had to decide at what point the body was warm enough to begin compressions. Too soon meant too cold and too cold meant the epinephrine would put too much stress on the heart and organs. Too late meant too long and too long meant a much greater chance of Eli being too dead to fix.
Victor snapped the bathroom’s heat lamp on, despite the fact that he was sweating, and grabbed the three pens from the counter—three was the limit, and he knew that if there was no cardiac response by the third pen, it was too late—and set them on the tiles beside him. He rearranged them, returned them to their straight lines, the small behavior giving him a sense of control while he waited. Every few moments, he checked Eli’s temperature, not with a thermometer, but against his own skin. They had realized during their walk-through that they didn’t own a thermometer, and Eli, in a rare display of impatience, had insisted on Victor using his judgment. It could have been a death knell, but Eli’s faith in Victor revolved around the fact that everyone at Lockland believed him to have an affinity for medicine, an effortless, nearly preternatural understanding of the human body (in truth, it was far from effortless, but Victor did have a knack for guessing). The body was a machine, only necessary pieces, every component at every level, from muscle and bone down to chemical and cell, operating on action and reaction. To Victor it just made sense.
When Eli felt warm enough, he began compressions. The flesh beneath his hands was coming up to temperature, making the body feel less like a Popsicle and more like a cadaver. He cringed as the ribs cracked beneath his tangled hands, but didn’t stop. He knew that if the ribs didn’t separate from the sternum, he wasn’t pushing hard or far enough to hit the heart. After several sets, he paused to grab the first pen, and jabbed it down into Eli’s leg.