Climbing to Life or Death.
by Philippa Higgins
Staircase of hope
The stairs rose up for me; the temperature dropped with every step I took. My body felt heavy; for most people, the pain would have been unbearable. I was used to it so I carried on.
Fate was waiting for me at the top, and I knew it. I carried on up, the darkness was slowly creeping up behind me. It was freezing, so I paused to pull my jumper on. I kept on climbing but it could still feel the cold through my jumper and my fingers and toes were numbing. My whole body felt stiff but I knew I could make it to the top if I really tried.
I stopped again a few steps later. My whole body was aching. I looked around to see I was on the landing to a long corridor. Down the corridor, I could see paintings, and statues. It must be quite an old place, aged, but well kept.
I kept moving up the stairs, only managing four or five steps before I had to stop and breathe again. I stopped, but the sound of footsteps went on. Hard, heavy steps made by a strong person. A strong person I didn’t want to meet. I carried on walking, a little faster than before, not wanting to meet what was following me. I stopped reluctantly, having to catch my breath again. I looked left, right, behind, in front again. Nothing, no one.
I pressed on, up higher and higher. Anxiety gnawed at me. Was I actually being followed? Was it just my imagination? Was I going mad? Why did I even come here? Oh yes, the cure. The cure to my only trouble.
At that that moment in time, I knew cancer was spreading through me. It is still spreading through me now, and there is nothing that can stop it. I was diagnosed leukaemia when I was six year old, and now it is spread to such a level that the doctors think there is any hope anymore. They reckon I only have two weeks left, three if I’m really lucky. That was my last chance to save myself. There are no more options for me anymore, and I know it very well.
Only four steps from the top, three, two, one. As soon as I put my foot on the top step, I voice rang in my ear. It was a hushed quiet voice, barely audible.
“Who are you?” The strange voice said.
“Ummm...” I stammered, unable to get my words out. “I’m, ummm, Bailey Hunt.”
“The Doctor has been waiting for you, Miss Hunt. You may see him now.”
I had briefly spoken to Dr Mortimer, just over the phone. He called me in the small hours of the morning, and he told me that I had a chance. Naturally, I jumped at the offer. Now I am beginning to regret coming here. I was escorted through a door I hadn’t noticed. The door led into a giant science lab. The walls were gleaming white. It was dazzling; quite a contrast from the previous scenery. I wanted stay there forever. I got lost in my imagination for a short second.
The lab took me back to my favourite memory. I had always loved science, and in my house there was a room just for me and my experiments. I almost lived in that room, never quite understanding the infinite possibilities. An endless amount of test tubes and jars were on pristine surfaces. The strange man who met me led me on through two or three more labs, then down a corridor and into a dimly-lit office.
The office was small and cramped; the desk was in the centre and two large bookcases were on the back wall. My eyes wandered around the room; over all the open books and the scrawled-in notebooks. The big leather chair in the middle of the room spun round to reveal an old, gray-haired man.
“Miss Hunt, I have been expecting your arrival for quite some time. I understand that your condition is serious and I understand that it has been predicted that you don’t have long left. I will not keep you long, Miss Hunt, I understand that time is of the essence. I have invented a new machine, which is capable of saving lives, even when there appears to be no hope. I won’t bore you with all the miniature details, but it saves one life by taking another.”
My head was spinning. I didn’t want to be a murderer. Would I really have to end someone’s life just to save my own? Will I be able to live the rest of my life with the guilt hanging over me? Am I worth someone else?
“Miss Hunt, I understand that this is a very difficult decision to make. I can assure you that it works well and that the other person will feel no pain when they go. I am merely saying that, for a price, I can save your life. It will be easy; I simply connect some wires, and set the machine to regenerate. It will only take 45 minutes, and when you walk away from this building, you will be much better. The doctors will be astonished.”
“What about the other person?” I said my voice low. I dreaded hearing the consequences.
“Another person is randomly selected, any person on earth. You may know them, you may not, but you can never know who it is until after they are gone and you are well. They will feel no pain, and they will slip away in their sleep.”
I was so confused. I had no idea what to do! Did I walk away from my last chance? Did I choose to live? I was only nineteen; I had a whole life ahead of me! If the other person was young too, and I never knew, I would be taking their life for mine. I stood there, wrapped up in my thoughts. How could I decide that I am going to kill someone? Ideas, dreams and nightmares rushed through my head. I tried to muddle through it all and come to a decision. I knew Dr Mortimer didn’t have all day, so I had to think fast and go with my heart.
“I’ve come to a decision” I said, still unsure. Deep down I knew what I had to choose. “I know what is right, and I am sure of what I am going to do.”
“Of course, it is, after all, your choice Miss Hunt. Kindly tell me what you have decided to do and we can get on with the proceedings.”
“No Thank You Dr Mortimer. Although your offer is extremely generous, I could not live with the guilt of taking someone’s life for my own.”
“As you wish. I understand why you made your choice. It’s a lot to live with. Thank you for coming Miss Hunt.”
Now, I am lying in bed, drifting in and out of consciousness. I have days left, if I’m lucky. I cannot move, or speak. My mum is sitting with me, and she is talking to me. Telling me about how happy she is to have me, and how much she is going to miss me.
I know I am going die. I know everyone dies. My time has come sooner than most others and that can’t be helped. I am content with my life, although it has been shorter than I hope for. I know I can rest easy knowing I gave someone else a chance by letting myself go.