The doctor quickly grabbed the young man’s shoulders and pulled him back inside, collapsing with him onto the floor. “You fool! You childish fool, Burke! What in the world did you do that for? Throw everything away for a moment of pride? To win an argument? To prove a point? That was very childish of you, my friend, very childish!” He rubbed his head as he tried to heave himself into an upright position.
“You seem upset Norton. You seem to be losing your temper. That is very unlike you.”
“Of course I am losing my temper. Such irrationality! I do not even know where to begin! What if I had decided not to catch you, Burke? Would you have simply accepted this to be your end?”
“I do not think I would have been in the position to accept or regret anything, dear friend. Now you are the one being irrational.” He stared into the doctor’s face. His breath started to calm down. “Plus: I knew you would catch me.”
“This was a very dangerous guess, dear Burke.”
“Was it really? I think I estimated just right.”
“I would not be too overconfident if I were you. You are not a trained analytic!” He pointed his index finger into the young man’s face. “It could have ended either way. People make mistakes! We are, after all, only human, all statistics aside!” He straightened his trousers, composed himself and continued: “And I, dear Burke, was very curious to see how far you would go.” He paused again for a moment. “My experience,” he cleared his throat, “may have led me into believing I would know exactly your intentions. And I do know your intentions, Burke. But I may have underestimated your ruthlessness. I admit I may have been blinded and misjudged the situation.”
“Interesting. So the doctor admits to have made a mistake.”
“Stop acting like a sulky idiotic boy! This is not about winning an argument; this is not about winning a game! You made the same mistake again, Burke, you tried to take control when really this is the one thing you cannot do. Right now you believe you were able to foresee my reaction. Maybe you did, maybe you did not. But as I said – we are human and bound to make mistakes. I could have decided otherwise, you could have erred. Or I simply could have been too slow to grab you. Even if my will and intention had been according to your estimation, your plan could have failed due to my physical limitations. I am not the youngest, as you are aware. To rely on my strength and quick reaction was more than imprudent. And despite your pride and your anger towards me, I do not believe that it was your actual will to end your life just now. You are a man of ratio, Burke, you and I know it! We are working towards overcoming the limitations of our crippled shells, not towards ridding us of them! No body, no mind, Burke, this is how it works. The body, life itself, is very valuable. We just shouldn’t ascribe too much importance to it. But the incentive is to keep it, in whichever shape or form. If you die you may have nothing to lose, but you’ll have nothing to gain either. Death is boring, Burke, do you not agree?”
The young man sat leaning against the wall. He stared at his feet for a while. “I am not sure, Norton. How would we know? Maybe it is all bliss after death?”
“And how exactly would you justify this assumption, Burke?”
“I don’t know. I am just saying we do not know what it is like after death. One thing we do know for sure though is that the pain will stop. Maybe pleasure will come. Maybe it won’t. We just do not know.”
“Now explain to me, my friend, how do we usually experience pleasure?”
“What do you mean?”
“What is it that generates pleasure or enjoyment?”
“I don’t know. Many things. Good food. Art. The sight of a beautiful woman. The anticipation of a long deserved holiday. The sun on your skin. Many things.”
“Yes, Burke, yes, exactly! Let’s keep it very simple. What is it that enables us to enjoy the taste of good food?”
“Our sense of taste?”
“Exactly, Burke, exactly! The taste buds on our palate and tongue – a very physical thing, wouldn’t you say? What about the other pleasures, Burke?”
He sighed. He kept staring at his feet and nodded with resignation.
“We do need our physical body to experience pleasure, Burke, and we need our minds to overcome the pain. Our minds only work with the help of our brain, the greatest physical component of human life. When we experience loss, sadness, disappointment, we experience a physical pain as well, usually in our chests, somewhere around the heart. We can make this pain go away, Burke, but we need a well functioning mind and a physical body to sustain it. There is a difference between pleasure and the mere absence of pain. Take patients, for example, who are pumped with medications to keep the pain at bay. They are numb, unable to feel, unable to engage. They are empty. Now sometimes this might be the first and only option for people, especially if they have not found another way to overcome their pain, or grief, or sorrow or whatever you call it. But we have to realize that one cannot exist without the other. We have to be susceptible to both, we have to allow ourselves to be conquered by the two of them equally so that we can decide which side to take. Death will come to all of us early enough. As you said, we do not know what happens after. Maybe we continue on in eternal bliss. I for my part very much doubt that. The idea of life after death was invented to quiet people down, to take away the fear of the unknown. Or even to make people more compliant. Even the most educated people still cling to the ever so slight possibility that after death there might be something else, something more, something better coming. Functioning societies need this prospect of an afterlife. Just imagine everybody and full heartedly suddenly acknowledged that once they kick it there is nothing! Who would still get up in the morning to go to work? Who would still want to contribute to society? Who would still do anything they do not actually want to do at the moment? Wouldn’t we all just go bonkers to literally have the time of our lives? We would have complete mayhem! Hence, I will not start an attempt to convince people of the black nothingness that is awaiting all of us. The same goes the other way around by the way. If people knew for sure there is heaven – whatever that may mean – waiting for them, we would have mass suicides. The human race would probably cease to exist within an hour. That is probably also why the church preaches that he who commits suicide will go straight to hell. They are too afraid of the consequences. And obviously they would lose a lot of their followers. They really are not consequent in what they preach, but that is a completely different discussion. Let people believe whatever they want to believe. I am only trying to make you understand, my friend, that in the end we will find out anyway. Once we reach that point, we will see who was right. But until then we are in doubt. So instead of rushing into uncertainty, I suggest we work with what we have, and that is an alive and more or less working body.”
He got up and closed the window. When he turned around he saw his guest crouching in the corner, his hands covering his face, sobbing silently.
“Come on, my friend, it is time to continue our work. Let us get you some water.”
He bent down to help the young man get up. When he softly touched his shoulder he abruptly looked up, eyes blood shot, fixing the doctor’s features. He put his hand around the back of his host’s neck and held on to it firmly. The doctor tried to pull him up, but the young man seemed to be too heavy to lift. The grip around his neck tightened, and the young man pulled him closer to his face. “What is it, Burke? Come on, let us go. We have work to do.”
“Yes, we do,” he whispered. “Yes we do. And curious and thirsty for knowledge as you are, dear friend, I am sure you would like to solve that last riddle of them all. Now that you have managed to rid yourself of all things unpleasant in this life, are you not dying to know what it feels like in the end?”
He pressed the old man’s forehead against his own, pulled out a large glass splinter from behind his back, and slowly slit through the doctor’s throat. He kept his eyes fixed on his host’s who gargled and went down on his knees. He watched the doctor’s life running over his hands. It felt warm and sticky. But nice. He dropped the old man on the floor.
“It was a pleasure, Dr. Norton,” he said.
That wasn’t so bad, he thought. That wasn’t bad at all. I’m sure something good will come of it. I’m looking forward to it. He sat back down, his back against the wall, and closed his eyes. “We shall continue our work tomorrow, Dr. Norton. Now, if you excuse me, I have to get some rest.”