I used to visit death themed subreddits like watchpeopledie and morbidcuriosity very regularly. I don’t know why but I’ve always been drawn to that kind of stuff: horror movies, real life stories, it all fascinates me. I wish I had looked away because there are some things you can’t unsee.
I remember one video in particular; a man is cut in half by a train, his legs severed and viscera scattered, while he miraculously and horribly remains alive for a few minutes waiting for death. That one really got to me, not just the carnage inflicted on the poor man, but the fact that a huge group of bystanders did nothing but film him. No one offered comfort. No one held his hand.
Maybe that’s why, when I was faced with a similar situation, I acted how I did.
I was walking back to my office building near the end of my lunch break after getting a sandwich at a local deli. The weather was a perfect spring day, blue sky with a light breeze and the scent of the ocean on the air. The tranquility was shattered by the screech of tires, the sound of metal on metal, and the most horrendous screams I’ve ever heard.
I quickly saw the source. A bicyclist had been hit by a truck and was lying half crushed on the side of the street. Everyone around was in similar shock and it was like we all took a collective moment for our brains to catch up to what we were seeing. Suddenly, with the speed of an elastic band snapping back, time moved normally again and people began calling for 911, directing traffic, clearing the scene. But no one approached the man.
In that instant I remembered the video. I knew what I had to do, and before I could think I rushed to the victim’s side.
To say it was the worst thing I’ve ever seen is a gross understatement. The man’s intestines were spilling out of a gash that nearly severed him in two. One of his legs was a pulp of red, and the smell. Oh god, the smell was unfathomable.
As I approached I saw that my fear was confirmed; he was conscious. Imagine knowing you’re mortally injured, aware that you are living the last moments of your life. It’s not a fate I would wish on anyone. So I did what I could.
I knelt by his side, careful not to look at his injuries more than necessary. His eyes were huge, with pupils blown out and the whites rolling like a wild horse’s. As he saw me he stilled a little and reached for me with his working arm.
“Shhhh.” I murmured as I clasped his hand. “I’m here. I’ve got you.” I didn’t know what else to say in that moment.
He stared at me and his labored breathing slowed a little. “Am I going to die?” He rasped, blood frothing in the corner of his lip.
I couldn’t lie, and I couldn’t give him false hope. We both knew the truth. “Yes. But you have nothing to be scared of. You’re going where we all end up, eventually. I know this isn’t what you want, but you’re going on a new adventure. ” I tried to make my words even and calm, stroking the back of his hand.
After that, we were silent, him broken and prone on the pavement, me his sentinel, cradling his hand in mine. The whole while I prayed for his end to come quickly. Mercifully, he passed soon after, before the sirens of the approaching ambulance could even be heard.
The paramedics found me still sitting with him, and when they took over I quickly stumbled away and threw up the sandwich I’d eaten earlier. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, witnessing his last breath, but I knew it had been the right thing.
I called in to work shortly after and let my boss know what had happened. He was suitably appalled and told me to take as much time as I needed.
To be honest, I don’t remember my commute home, or even how I got to my car in the first place. I stumbled into my apartment and got right into a hot shower, clothes and all, thinking only of washing the man’s blood off.
When I emerged later, scrubbed pink and feeling more exhausted than I ever had, I had only thoughts of sleeping for a long while. I moved slowly, like cold syrup, and entered my bedroom, flicking on the light. There, on my bed, was a beautifully wrapped gift box.
In hindsight I should have been more worried, knowing that no one had access to my apartment, but in that moment my brain was functioning at little more than static frequency.
Puzzled, I carefully removed the shiny ebony paper. A cold chill seemed to seep from the box, and I opened it to reveal a mass of onyx fabric. Extricating it fully from the box, I held it up, revealing a long hooded cloak the color of darkest midnight.
It was then that I saw the card. In delicate calligraphy it said only five words: “For a job well done”.