Joshua Graham

The descent into Hell is not always vertical.

— Bishop Frank Morgan


Chapter One

The question most people ask when they first meet me is: How does an attorney from a reputable law firm in La Jolla end up on death row?  When they hear my story, it becomes clear that the greater question is not how, but why.

I have found it difficult at times to forgive myself for what happened.  But a significant part of the answer involves forgiveness, something I never truly understood until I could see in hindsight.

Orpheus went through hell and back to rescue his wife Euridice from death in the underworld.  Through his music, he moved the hearts of Hades and Persephone and they agreed to allow Euridice to return with him to Earth on one condition:  He must walk before her and not look back until they reached the upper world.  On seeing the Sun, Orpheus turned to share his delight with Euridice, and she disappeared. He had broken his promise and she was gone forever.  This failure and guilt was a hell far worse than the original.

My own personal hell began one night almost four years ago.  Like images carved into flesh, the memories of that night would forever be etched into my mind.  The work day had been tense enough—my position at the firm was in jeopardy because of the inexplicable appearance of lewd internet images in my folder on the main file server.

Later that night, as I scrambled to get out the door on time for a critical meeting with a high profile client, my son Aaron began throwing a screaming fit.  Hell hath no fury like a boy who has lost his Thomas Train toy.  In my own frenzied state, I lost my temper with him.  Amazing how much guilt a four-year-old can pile on you with puppy-dog eyes while clinging to his mother’s legs.  His sister Bethie, in all her seventh grade sagacity, proclaimed that I had issues, then marched up to her room, slammed the door and took out her frustration with me by tearing though a Paganini Caprice on her violin.  All this apocalypse just minutes before leaving for my meeting, which was to be held over a posh dinner at George’s At The Cove, which I would consequently have no stomach for.

I couldn’t wait to get home.  The clock’s amber LED read 11:28 when I pulled my Lexus into the cul-de-sac.  Pale beams from a pregnant moon cut through the palm trees that lined our street.  The October breeze rushed into the open window and through my hair, a cool comfort after a miserable evening.

If I was lucky, Jenn would be up and at the computer, working on her latest novel.  She’d shooed me out the door lest I ran late for the meeting, before I could make any more of a domestic mess for her to clean up.

The garage door came down.  I walked over to the security system control box and found it unarmed.  On more than one occasion, I had asked Jenn to arm it whenever I was out.  She agreed, but complained that the instructions were too complicated.  It came with a pretty lame manual, I had to admit.

The system beeped as I entered the house, greeted by the sweet scent of Lilac—her favorite candles for those special occasions.  So much more than I deserved, but that was my Jenn.  Never judging, never condemning, she understood how much stress I’d been under and always prescribed the best remedy for such situations.

From the foot of the stairs I saw dimmed light leaking out of the bedroom.  It wasn’t even date night, but I had a pretty good idea what she was thinking.  So before going up, I stopped by the kitchen, filled a pair of glasses with Merlot and set out a little box of chocolates on a breakfast tray—my secret weapon.

As I climbed the stairs I smiled.  The closer I got, the more I could smell the fragrant candles.  From the crack in the door classical music flowed out:  Pie Jesu from Faure’s Requiem. Must’ve been writing a love scene.  She always used my classical CDs to set her in the right mood.

A beam of amber light reached through the crack in the doorway into the hallway.  The alarm system beeped.  She must have shut a window.  It had just started to rain and Jenn hated when the curtains got wet.

Kathleen Battle’s angelic voice soared.

Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem,
Requiem sempiternam.

Jenn didn’t know a word of Latin.  She just liked the pretty tunes.

I nudged the door open with my foot.

“Honey?”  Caught a glimpse of a silky leg on the bed.  Oh, yes.  I pushed the door open.

Shock ignited every nerve ending in my body like napalm.  The tray fell from my hands.  Crashed to the ground.  Glasses shattered and the red wine bled darkly onto the carpet.

Jenn lay partially naked, face-down, the sheets around her soaked crimson.  Stab wounds scored her entire body.  Blood.  Blood everywhere!


I ran to her, turned her over.

She gasped, trying to speak.  Coughed.  Red spittle dripped from the corner of her mouth.  “The kids…”

I took her into my arms.  But her eyes begged me to go check on them.

“You hang on, honey.  With all you’ve got, hang on!”  I reached for my cell phone but it fell out of my belt clip and bounced under the bed.

On my knees now, I groped wildly until I found the cell phone.  Dialed 9-1-1.  Barely remembered what I said, but they were sending someone right away.

Jenn groaned.  Her breaths grew shorter and shorter.

“Bethie… Aaron.”

Her eyes rolled back.

“I’m going.  Hang on, baby.  Please!  You gotta hang on!” I started for the door.  Felt her hand squeeze mine twice:  Love-you.


Tears streamed down my face.  As I began to pull away, she gripped my hand urgently.  For that split second, I knew.  This was the end.  I stumbled back to her.  Gathered her ragdoll body in to my arms.

“Jenn, oh God, Jenn.  Please don’t!”

“Whatever it takes,” she said.  Again, she squeezed my hand twice.  “Mercy, not…sacrifice.”  One last gasp.  She sighed and then fell limp in my arms, her eyes still open.

Holding her tight to my chest, I let out an anguished cry.

All time stopped.  Who would do this?  Why?  Her blood stained my shirt.  Her dying words resonated in my mind.  Then I remembered.  The kids.  I bolted up and ran straight to Bethie’s room.

Bethie’s door was ajar.  If my horror hadn’t been complete, it was now.  I found her exactly like Jenn—face down, blood and gashes covering her body.

Though I tried to cry out, nothing escaped the vice-grip on my throat.  When I turned her over, I felt her arm.  Still warm, but only slightly.  Her eyes were shut, her face wet with blood.

“Bethie!  Oh, sweetie, no!” I whispered, as I wrapped the blanket around her.

I kissed her head.  Held her hand.  Rocked her back and forth. “Come on, baby girl.  Help’s on its way, you hold on,” I said, voice and hands trembling.  She lay there unconscious but breathing.


Gently, I lay Bethie back down then got up and flew across the hall.  To Aaron’s door.  His night light was still on and I saw his outline in the bed.

Oh God, please.

I flipped the switch.


I dashed over to the lamp on his nightstand, nearly slipping on one of his Thomas Train toys on the carpet.  Broken glass crackled under my shoes.

I switched on the lamp on his nightstand.  When I looked down to his bed, my legs nearly gave out.  Aaron was still under his covers, but blood drenched his pillow.  His aluminum baseball bat lay on the floor, dented and bloodied.

Dropping to my knees, I called his name.  Over and over, I called, but he didn’t stir.  This can’t be happening.  It’s got to be a nightmare.  I put my face down into Aaron’s blue Thomas Train blanket and gently rested my ear on his chest.

I felt movement under the blanket.  Breathing.  But slowly—irregular and shallow.

Don’t move his body.  Dammit, where are the paramedics?

I heard something from Bethie’s room and dashed out the door.  Stopping in the middle of the hallway, I clutched the handrail over the stairs.  Thought I heard Aaron crying now.  Or maybe it was the wind.

My eyes darted from one side of the hallway to the other.  Which room?

Faure’s Requiem continued to play, now the In Paradisum movement.

Aeternam habeas requiem.

Something out in front of the house caught my attention.  The police, the paramedics!  Propelled by adrenaline, I crashed through the front door and ran out into the middle my lawn which was slick with rain.  I slipped and fell on my side.

Nobody.  Where were they!

Like a madman, I began screaming at the top of my lungs.  My words echoed emptily into the night.

“Help!  Somebody, please!”

A dog started barking.

“Please, ANYBODY!  HELP!”

Lights flickered on in the surrounding houses.

Eyes peeked through miniblinds.

No one came out.

I don’t know if I was intelligible at this point.  I was just screaming,  collapsed onto the ground,  on my hands and knees getting drenched in the oily rain.

Just as the crimson beacons of an ambulance flashed around the corner, I buried my face into the grass.  All sound, light, and consciousness imploded into my mind as if it were a black hole.

Chapter Two

It’s never been clear to me when my neighbor, Pastor Dave Pendelton scraped me off the lawn and brought me back into my house.  Outside, neighbors all gawking through the blinds in their windows, not one of them had come out.

Except Dave, of all people.  Pastor Dave of City on a Hill, Jenn’s church.  He seemed nice enough, but I never completely trusted him.  This was due in no small part to my absolute distaste for organized religion.  Ironically, Jenn had become born again soon after we got married and began attending not only Sunday services at Dave’s church, but their weekly small group Bible study as well.

I sat on my sofa in a chilled stupor, a blanket draped over my shoulders while paramedics worked feverishly around both of my children upstairs. According to Dave, they had arrived just as he came out to get me.  I was so shell-shocked that I didn’t recall their arrival.

Another team had gone to the master bedroom.

“Jenn?”  I bolted up.  “Jenn!” They carried her down in a gurney, a white sheet over her face.  The anguish within couldn’t crack through the frozen wall of shock around my mind.

Next came my kids, but they were not covered.  The paramedics worked on them as they brought them down and wheeled them to the ambulance.  “Bethie! Aaron!” I shouted and tried to run over.  Dave held me back.

“Let them, Sam.”

I was trembling, shaking my head, as they raced off.  Jenn couldn’t be gone.  It couldn’t be my kids in that ambulance.  It was like watching a movie.  Flashing lights, sirens.

“Let’s go.”  Dave grabbed my arm and rushed me into his car.  We chased the ambulances, leaving behind a pair of squad cars, their red and blues groping out into the rain like a lighthouse in a hurricane.

My home had become a crime scene.


As soon as we arrived at Children’s Hospital’s Trauma Care Center, a medical team rushed Bethie into one room and Aaron into another.  Frozen, I stood, chest rising and falling, eyes darting between the two rooms.

“Bethany’s a lot worse,” Dave said.

I nodded and went for the door to Trauma One.  He caught me and turned me around to the correct room.  Dave went into Aaron’s room just as I entered Bethie’s.

The next thirty minutes were torturous.   About a dozen doctors and nurses crowded around Bethie, two of them squeezing a plastic bag to assist with her breathing.  Instruments rattled in the crash cart as the trauma surgeons surrounded her.  IVs webbed around her, into her arms.

Speaking in rapid succession, overlapping each others’ words, yet somehow maintaining some form of intelligible communication, the team’s dialogue all meshed together.

“Epi’s in.”

“She’s bradying down.”

“Atropine in.”

“We’re losing her!”

They began CPR.  Then the whine and snap of defibrillator shocks.  Jolted me as well.  One of the nurses announced that they’d gotten a pulse back, but a very weak one.  Bethie just had to pull through.

Doctor Yang, one of the doctors not completely engrossed in the code, came over, pulled down her face mask. “She’s lost a lot of blood.  We’re doing everything we can, but you should prepare yourself.”

“For what?”

“Is there anyone you’d like to call?”

I wanted to scream that her mother had been murdered, less than half an hour ago.  I could not accept the fact that my little girl was within moments of death…”Please, you have to save her!”

Doctor Yang nodded and returned to the team.  Seconds later an alarm from the EKG blared again.  Bethie’s pulse was gone.

The lead doctor called out something about joules.  “Clear!”

Again, with the defibrillator.  Bethie’s torso arched up and fell.  The EKG blipped, but the line remained flat, the tone static.  The lead doctor was now performing chest compressions with both hands.  Gently!  I wanted to cry out.  But I knew they had to do this to help her.  This went on for a while, but it was clear that her pulse continued only because the doctor’s efforts.

“Bethie?” I managed to whisper.  It was starting to hit me.  Not even an hour after Jenn’s death, I was about to lose my daughter.

“Mr. Hudson,” Doctor Yang said as she approached.  “Do you want to be with her now?”

Tears stung my eyes like acid.  Gradually, the cacophony of voices died down.  I could now discern something that I had vaguely heard earlier through all the commotion—one of the doctors in the background announcing each elapsed minute since Bethie’s heart had stopped.

“Thirty-seven minutes since arrest.”  The chest compressions continued.

“Mister Hudson?”  Doctor Yang said, again, her tone sympathetic, but a bit more urgent.  Less and less of the team were looking at Bethie now.  They kept eyeing the clock.

The lead doctor had been doing chest compressions for some time now.  He looked to his team.  “Shall we?”

“He just lost his wife,” one of the nurses replied.  “Can we try a little longer?”

He nodded and continued the compressions.  After a while, they tried the defibrillator again.  No response.  A solid green line slithered across the screen.  The nurses looked up at the other doctor.  He stood still for a second, glanced at the wall-clock and shook his head.  “Time of death…”

“We did all we could, Mr. Hudson,” Doctor Yang said.  “I’m so sorry.”

“NO!  Save her, dammit!”  I rushed for the table on which Bethie lay as still as silence.  “Don’t let her go!”  I reached for the defibrillator paddles.  A large orderly grabbed and pulled me away.  I shouted at the top my lungs.  He didn’t release me until I stopped thrashing.  The nurses stepped back.

When I calmed myself, the lead doctor approached me.

“We did everything possible,  but her injuries were too severe.  I’m sorry.”

I couldn’t speak.  First Jenn, now Bethie.  Anger ebbed, giving way to despair.  I walked over to my little girl.

“Sweetie…” I held her lifeless hand, brushed the hair out of her face and kissed her forehead.  “I’m sorry.  Daddy’s so sorry.”  Before I knew it, I was curled up on the floor and sobbing, still reaching up and holding her hand.  The orderly tried to help me to my feet but I couldn’t do it.  Eventually, they managed to get me up and pour me into a chair.

“Sir, do you need a moment?”

I nodded.

They drew a curtain and left me alone with my daughter.  That’s when I lost it.  I don’t think I’d ever cried so hard, or pounded my fist so many times into a wall, or screamed so loud in my entire life.

Aside from the wounds and blood, Bethie looked like she could have been sleeping.   How could she be gone?  How could Jenn?  I felt disembodied.

The activity outside the trauma room increased.  Walkie-talkies, intercom pages, hurried footsteps, gurneys rolling.

The doctor emerged from the curtain.

“I’m sorry, but there’s someone outside you need to speak to.”  Outside the room, an officer from the Sherriff’s department tipped his hat.

“My condolences on your loss, sir.  But I need to ask you a few—”

“This isn’t the best time.”

Dave Pendelton arrived.

I gripped his sleeve.  “Aaron?”

“He’s still in surgery. Trauma One.”

Behind him was one of the TCC doctors.

“Is he going to make it?” I asked.

“Too soon to say.  He’s suffered severe trauma to the head and internal organs.”

“Can I see him?”

“Not yet.”

I spent the next hour answering the deputy’s incessant questions.

What was my name, date of birth, social security number, place of employment, phone numbers?  He asked for identification.

“Do we really have to do this now!” I huffed, fumbling with my wallet.

Dave helped take it from my shaking hands and gave the deputy my driver’s license and social security card.

The officer asked for the same type of information for Jenn, Bethany and Aaron—the victims.  My mouth became bitter.  Dryness impeded my words.  The deputy was  sympathetic and seemed genuinely sorry to put me through this.  I couldn’t concentrate.

Dr. Salzedo, the trauma surgeon arrived.

“How is he?” I asked.

“We’ve stabilized him.  He’s been moved to the Pediatric ICU.”

I exhaled in relief.

“PICU’s on the third floor.”

I got up immediately and turned to Deputy Schaeffer.  “If you’ll excuse me.”  If there was anything to hold onto amidst the devastation, it was the hope that Aaron had survived.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw when I got to his room.


For some delusional reason, I had expected to find my son sitting up, with a few bandages and other dressings, but smiling at me.  He would call out, “Daddy!” and we’d embrace, holding on to each other as the last surviving remnants of our family.   When I entered, however, I found him unconscious.  Tubes of all sorts invaded his body.  A ventilator assisted his breathing and all I could hear was hissing, buzzing and beeping medical equipment.

“The next twenty-four hours are crucial,” Dr. Salzedo said.  “We’ll know better with time.”

Aaron was in a coma with injuries to his head, spine, and internal organs.  Internal hemorrhaging had been controlled, for now.  But things could get better or much worse, unexpectedly.  Everything was still iffy.

I stood by his bed and held his hand.  Warm.  Thank god.  He would have appeared peaceful and simply asleep, but for all the equipment he was hooked up to.   It seemed grotesquely uncomfortable.

Dave stood over Aaron, laid his hand on his bandaged head and mouthed a silent prayer.  I didn’t like him imposing his religion, even if Aaron had attended his church with Jenn and Bethie since his birth.  But I was too exhausted and beyond objecting.

“You’re welcome to stay with Aaron as long as you wish,” said Dr. Salzedo.  “But there’s nothing to be done now but wait and monitor his progress.  You’ve been through hell and really should get some rest.  We’ll call you if anything changes.”

“No, I’m staying.”

“Sam,” Dave said, his hand on my shoulder.  “Maybe you should—”

“I said, I’m staying.”

He leaned over and said something to the doctor, who nodded in turn.

“I’ll stay too, then,” Dave said.  “We can take shifts.”

“Thanks, really.  But…”  I couldn’t think of a good enough excuse besides the fact that he was starting to creep me out with all his kindness.  “If you don’t mind, I’d like to be alone with my boy.”

“I understand.” He pulled a business card from his pocket and handed it to me.  “If you need a ride home, give me a call.”

I thanked him again and he left.   The Sheriff’s office was good enough to post an officer outside the room.  “You hang tough, buddy,” I whispered into Aaron’s ear and kissed him.  “When you wake up, I’ll take you to McDonald’s for a happy meal.”  My voice broke.  I had to believe he would get better.  It was the only shred of hope left.

Chapter Three

The yellow tape had been removed.  A squad car idled on the sidewalk in front of my house as the neighborhood awoke to a new day.  At the wheel sat Chris, the young partner of Lieutenant Jim O’Brien.  Chris glanced my way then turned away.  I couldn’t tell if it was intentional, his sunglasses obscured any hint.  O’Brien was talking to one of the investigators at my door.  Good to see a familiar face.  When he saw me get out of the taxi, he came over and removed his hat.

O’Brien and I first met under tense circumstances—with his rifle pointed into my chest.  It was during a shooting and hostage crisis at Coyote Creek Middle School, where Bethie attended.  Along with all the other parents, I stood for hours in the parking lot not knowing what was happening inside.

I grew tired of waiting around not getting any answers.  So I marched right up to the police line.  My cell phone started buzzing and I reached for it. He thought I was reaching for a weapon and he drew his rifle.  Pissed and defiant, I pressed my chest right into the barrel.  He wasn’t going to shoot me.  The other parents might have, though.  On that, the longest afternoon of my life, two girls were killed.  One of the stray bullets grazed Bethie’s arm.

Afterwards, Jim and Chris came over to question Bethie. Chris, who couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old, seemed not only to enjoy Bethie’s starry-eyed attention, he almost encouraged it.  I was never completely comfortable around him since.

As I walked up the very lawn, on which I’d slipped last night, Jim removed his hat.  “My God, Sam.  I’m so sorry about Jenn.  And Bethie?  Dammit.  You dodge a bullet, only to—” he stopped himself and scowled. “How’s Aaron?”

“He’s hanging on.”

“You should get some rest.”

“I spent the night at Children’s.” From the corner of my eye, I noticed his partner looking our way.  I turned my head and again he averted his gaze.  “What’s with Chris?”

Jim drew a deep breath.  “Dunno.  He’s been in a mood since he found out.  He really liked your family.  ‘Specially the kids.” Suddenly, I felt the need for Zantac.  Jim pulled his hat from under his arm, placed it on his head and nodded. “Don’t hesitate.”


“Oh, by the way,” he stopped and handed me my cell phone.
“Found this under your bed.  It’s already been dusted and checked, so I guess you can have it back.”  With a strong pat on the back, he said good-bye and got in the car with his partner, who for some reason hadn’t looked my way once since I arrived.

Just then, a news van pulled into the cul-de-sac.

“Oh jeez, not again.”  My rifle-in-the-chest standoff had been captured by a photographer and the picture appeared in the North County Times.  Made me look like freakin’ Tank Man of Tienanmen Square.  One thing led to another and the next thing I know, I’m doing a taping in my house for Channel Seven news.  A couple of days later, Brent Stringer, best-selling writer and op-ed writer for the Union Tribune did an interview feature.  The media, in all its wisdom, spun me up as San Diego’s Superdad.  The subsequent fame was about as welcome as a tax auditor in mid-April.  I’d just gotten out of the limelight.

O’Brien stepped out again and intercepted the reporters and paparazzi.

“Thanks, Jim,” I said silently.  A young woman stood in my open door.  I hadn’t noticed her until I padded halfway across the lawn.  She wore black slacks, a black blazer and black sunglasses.  I figured it was her black BMW parked in my driveway.  Had to wonder what her favorite color was.  Silently counting the steps to the second floor, she dabbed the air with her index finger repeatedly.

I cleared my throat, extended my hand.

“Mister Hudson?”  Her hand felt like a dead fish.  “I’m detective Pearson, County Sheriff’s Department.  Do you have any form of identification?”

“Do you?” I reached for my wallet.

“Driver’s license, social?” Pearson flashed her badge quickly then examined my driver’s license.  She looked back up at me, scrutinizing my face.  “Hmm.”  She handed it back.  “Let’s go over a few questions, shall we?”

“Would you like to come inside?”

“No.” She proceeded to ask the same questions the deputy had asked last night at Children’s.

“I’ve already answered these questions.”

She looked up from the PDA.  “It’s routine.  You’re probably thinking clearer after resting.”

“Doubt it.”

Again, Pearson tapped her PDA with a thin, black stylus.  She fired off the rest of her questions with chilling detachment.  “What time did you come home?”

“About eleven o’clock.” A thousand cockroaches skittered up my back as she studied my face.  Thankfully, she returned to her PDA.

“What room did you go into first?”

“My daughter’s”

“When did you first realize something was wrong?”

“No wait.  I first went into the master bedroom, where I found Jenn.”  My knees grew weak.  I braced myself against the door frame.

“So, you first went into your own bedroom, not your daughter’s.”

“That’s right.  I was thinking of which child’s room—”

“Once again, Mister Hudson,” she said, enunciating.   “When did you first realize something was wrong?”

“I didn’t think anything was wrong until I found Jenn, stabbed and bleeding to death.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions.  Exact cause of death has not yet been officially determined.”

“Excuse me?”

“Why don’t you leave that to the coroner and stick with the facts.”


“Are you aware that we came here to speak with you last night about the pornographic materials found on your work computer?”

Taken aback, I gasped.  “No, but that stuff wasn’t mine.  What the hell’s that got to do with anything?”

“Where were you around 7:30 PM last night?”

“On my way to a client meeting in La Jolla.  Is that when you came?”

“Can anyone vouch for your whereabouts around 11:00 last night?”

“I was on the 52 freeway, driving home.  Alone.  Oh my god, did you say anything to my wife about the porn?”

“No, sir.”

“It wasn’t mine!”

“As I said, we didn’t mention it.  That’s still under investigation.”  More tapping.  “Mister Hudson, relax.  I’m sure you’ll want to do everything to help us move this investigation along.  Right?”

“Of course.”

“Then you won’t mind going to the crime lab to provide samples.”

“Samples?” The hair on the back of my neck became thistles.

“DNA swabs, blood, fingerprints.”

“What for?  Am I a suspect?”

Her dark brown eyes glazed. “We routinely take samples to exclude you as a potential suspect.  The longer you wait, the colder the trail gets.  Refuse, and you’ll raise the question as to why, and then—”

“Of course I’ll do it.  It’s just that…it feels like you’re treating me as a suspect.”

“Unless you’ve got something to hide—”

“What is your problem?”

She scribbled something on a business card and handed it to me. “County Sheriff Crime Lab.   That’s the case number.   You don’t need an appointment.  If I were you, I’d get to it this morning before eleven, or things might start to appear unfavorable.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“I would never do that, sir.”

“Yeah, well…”  Before I could say another word, she was halfway to her BMW.  She got in, lifted her wrist, tapped on her watch, then pointed at me.

My head spun as her Beamer roared out of the cul-de-sac, leaving me standing in the doorway.  Dread coursed through my veins like Freon.

Chapter Four

When I arrived at the San Diego County Sheriff Crime Lab I presented the case number, verified my identity and for the next half hour had various samples of my bodily essence collected.  Cotton swabs in my mouth, strands of hair from various parts of my body, some more private than others, blood, and saliva.

Took less than an hour, but it was something I wouldn’t soon forget.  I left the lab with a sense of relief, glad that I had finally done something to move the investigation forward.


Aaron was still in the Pediatric ICU when I returned to see him.  Dr. Conway was a young man, probably a new resident on rotations.  Looked like he’d done a few too many.  Dark rings under his eyes betrayed fatigue.  He held a clipboard under his arm as he spoke.  “It’s a miracle that your son survived.”

I failed to see anything miraculous about a four year old boy, comatose, with oxygen lines in his nose, IV drips and other wires and tubes enshrouding his tiny frame.  “When will he wake up?”

The Doctor rubbed his neck, failed to suppress a yawn and consulted his clipboard.


“There’s thoracic damage as well as cervical spinal damage which is causing neurological problems with breathing and circulation.”

“Spinal?  Is he going to be paralyzed?”

A cleaning lady entered with a broom and started spraying disinfectant in the back of the room. “Not now,” Doctor Conway told her and sent her off.   Industrial Lysol.  The smell made me queasy.

“I hate to put it this way,” Conway said, “but we can’t be certain he will even survive another day.  The fact that he’s alive is astounding, given the extent of his injuries.  But even if he comes out of the coma, there are quality of life concerns.”

I pulled up a chair and sat by my son.  His breathing was irregular and shallow, his hand warm but stiff.  It twitched every now and then.

The image of Aaron, lying in a casket smaller than should ever exist arrested my breath.  But the thought of him growing up as a paraplegic, sentenced to life in a wheelchair, unable to run and jump and play—that made my heart sink.  He was always such a happy boy, not a care in the world.  To rob him of life this way was almost as bad as taking it away from him completely.

“The initial hemorrhaging seems to have subsided,” Conway continued, “But there’s swelling now, putting pressure on the brain.  We can’t tell just yet the extent of the damage, or how much more might be caused if the swelling continues.”

“What are his chances?”  I would have given anything to trade places with him.

“If Aaron was an adult, I’d say close to none.  But children are amazingly resilient because their bodies are still growing and developing.”

“Please.  What are his chances?”

“If there are some unforeseen complications, such as hemorrhaging or severe cerebral edema, he could suddenly take a fatal turn.  On the other hand, I’m surprised he’s survived at all, so who knows?  We’ll just have to wait and see.”

“Basically, you don’t know.”

“I wish I could tell you more.”

Aaron’s chest rose suddenly, as if he was finally able to take in a full breath.  I waited for him to open his eyes.  Come on, kiddo, come on. I squeezed his hand twice, gently—love-you. But alas, no change.  “What’s the plan, any kind of treatment?”

“The plan for now is to keep the swelling down, keep draining fluids, prevent infection, and make it to tomorrow.”

“Can he hear me?”

“I wouldn’t talk to him much right now, don’t want to stimulate him until the pressure comes down.”

“What can I do, then?”

The doctor bent over Aaron, lifted his eyelid and shone a light into his eye.

“Be with him.”


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Copyright © 2010 Paul C. Tseng
This book is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictiously.  Any resemblance to actual locales, events or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.  Purchase only authorized editions.



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