UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Headless In New York
Fred thought it was funny the first time his head fell off. He carried it around under his arm for a while like a basketball and chuckled and all he could think of was the guy from that movie, The Re-animator.
He didn’t think that could happen in real life but here he was in his living room, holding his head in his hands overhead, arms outstretched, looking in the complete opposite direction his body faced. He could see his back and ass in the mirror.
He still couldn’t figure out how he was able to breathe but the opening to his trachea was patent at the top of his neck and by the swishy sounds he knew air was getting sucked into his lungs somehow. And he guessed his brain was getting oxygen by osmosis or diffusion or something.
The fact that he could see didn’t surprise him since the eyeballs connected directly to the brain via the optic nerves and chiasm. Thank God for his anatomy and physiology classes.
The arteries and veins seemed to just clamp up too. Seal off like a zip-lock bag.
He could get things back to normal if he pushed his head hard on the top of his neck and sort of gave it a back and forth motion. It seemed to stay in place but he didn’t want to take any chances by doing anything that involved any jerky motions. He found he could pop it back off too with the same kind of motion, but with a little force.
He remembered that first night. He had gotten home from work and had his usual snack of crackers and cheese and then he went down for a nap.
When he woke, there was his head - down by his feet looking up between his legs. What a sight he had. At first he thought someone else was in the bed with him and that really freaked him out but when he tried to move, the body above him obeyed. He thought about something and it just happened.
And that part he just couldn’t figure out - even still. There was no neural connection between his brain and his body, yet his brain, from a distance, could control the body like a remote-control car.
He had watched his body lose its cool as he freaked out. He watched his frantic hands rub their way around his body, grasp at the empty space above his neck, run around in circles a bit and then cautiously step over to the head, cup it in the palms of its hands as if holding a sacred gauntlet, slowly lift and clumsily put it back on his neck.
And then he laughed.
* * * *The next day Fred got up for work and his head was right where it was supposed to be. He thought maybe he had been dreaming but when he stood in front of the bathroom mirror with his palms against the sides of his head and he gave a combination twist and push there it was again, his head popped right off.
He brushed his teeth by suspending his head by a clenched fist of hair real close to the mirror and brushed with the left. He dangled his head real close to the mirror to get a good look and was able to angle just right to get the shadows away. Something he couldn’t do before. So there was an advantage.
He wondered what other advantages there were to this situation.
Just for kicks he swung his head around by the hair and was able to get a unique view of his ass – a perspective he had never seen before. He didn’t know if this was an advantage or not.
He laughed again.
* * * *His early morning walk to the subway station on 86th and Lex was uneventful. His head was back in place and he looked like everyone else.
He wore a baby-blue collar shirt with a red spotted tie, snug around his neck.
He was in the first car so that he could see the tracks barreling toward the train at the front window. Since it was Saturday, there was only one other person in the car, mid-way through, face buried in the New York Post.
At 77th Street a homeless person stumbled on. Tattered clothes and fisting a load of dirty, ripped shopping bags full of nothing. He sat down and started mumbling.
Fred decided to sit too, though a good distance away from the smelly street guy. He massaged his neck and could see his own reflection in the window across the car. He smiled.
He looked normal.
The train rocked and stuttered around a curve. There was loud screeching of metal wheels on metal track. The lights flickered.
There was an abrupt halt and start and the motion was something like whiplash and before he knew it his head was rolling down the center aisle.
Fred could see the posters and advertisements along the wall, spiraling around, alternating with the cans and bottles and crumpled paper under the seats.
His head thudded against the front door and then started back down the aisle toward his body and he could intermittently see his headless form sitting there and he told it to lean down and reach and it did and he scooped up his head like a shortstop in the infield.
He quickly popped it back on; having to loosen the tie quickly with one hand first but there it was, back in place. He pushed down hard on the top of his head and then shot a look over at the homeless guy, who had a weird grin on his face.
Fred said, “Morning.”
The guy cackled and smacked his lips.
The other guy reading the paper hadn’t moved.
* * * *Fred couldn’t concentrate at work.
He hated doing Saturdays too.
He sat in his cubicle, pretending to be on the phone, pretending to write on a blank pad.
He decided to do an internet search. See if there were any other cases like his. He searched things like, “Head falling off,” and all he got were a bunch of jokes and songs and some prank videos.
He then stumbled onto one of those medical sites with its own search. He tried more medical type terms like “cranial detachment” and “headless” but found nothing at all similar to his situation.
Seemed there were no other cases of someone’s head falling off at the shoulders and living to tell about it.
He figured it was time to see a doctor.
* * * *“So, Fred,” the doctor said. “Tell me exactly what you’re feeling one more time.”
Fred was sitting on an exam table, in a gown. The doctor sat on a stool directly in front of him.
“Well,” Fred said. “The other morning I woke up and my head was off. You know, detached from my body.”
“You mean it felt like it was detached, no?”
“No. I mean it was really off. I picked it up and carried it around.”
“Well, didn’t it hurt?”
“Not at all.”
“And you found you could still breathe? And think and see?”
“That’s the crazy thing. I just can’t figure that out. I mean, I even move my body from across the room. I was quite frightened at first, but now I think it’s kind of cool. Even funny.”
“Not a drop.”
“Well, Fred. I don’t know what to say. I must admit, I’ve never come across this. You would certainly be worthy of writing up. A definite medical case report.”
“I did a web search myself. Found nothing like my case.”
“Well, I suppose I should have a look, no?”
“Should I pull it off now?”
The Doctor stood. “No no no. Not yet.” The doctor pulled a stethoscope from the pocket of his white coat. “Let me examine you first.”
* * * *Fred sauntered down Third Avenue near 34th Street looking down at the prescription in his hand. The doctor had ordered an MRI of his brain and cervical spine. Just to check, he had said.
So Fred called the Radiology Center the doctor recommended near NYU and the receptionist had told Fred, sure come on over now. We’re not that busy today and we just had a cancellation.
So off he went.
Fred couldn’t believe that the doctor didn’t want him to pull off his head right then and there. The doctor told him that he would be worried, if his head was off and something went wrong. He had no experience with that sort of thing and wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared.”
That kind of made sense, Fred thought after a while.
* * * *“Fred Tibbles?”
“I’m Steve, the MR tech. I’ll be doing your scan. I just need to take some history.”
“Do you have any metallic devices in your body? Valves, clips, pacemakers, wires, anything of that sort?”
Any past surgeries?”
“Wallet, keys, credit cards. All metallic objects in the locker?”
“Why did your doctor send you? What’s the reason for the scan?”
Fred cleared his throat. “Well, my head comes off my body and I can reattach it.”
Fred couldn’t read his face. There was a smirk blurred together with the slightest hint of anger.
Steve, the tech, didn’t say anything.
Fred finally said, “I’m serious.”
Steve said, “Just hop up on the table here.”
* * * *On Monday Fred got a call from the doctor’s office. The message was to call right away and please come over to the office. The doctor wanted to see him.
Fred called and said he’d come by at lunch, around 12:30.
The receptionist said okay.
* * * *“Well, Fred,” the doctor said. “The Radiologist faxed over the report from your MRI today and then he followed up with a phone call.”
“They don’t always do that. I mean, he thought the findings warranted a special call.”
“Yes, that’s what the Radiologist said.”
“I looked at the study too. Just because I had to see for myself. See, there’s a band of abnormal signal across your cervical spinal cord. At about the C4 to C5 level.”
“Okay. English, Doc.”
“Well the Radiologist felt that this was related to some kind of trauma. Almost as if the cord had been severed. Said he’d never seen it before.”
“I see the case report coming for sure now, Doc.” Fred smiled.
“And there was air in the disc space at that level. Really strange. And then he told me that there was this abnormal appearance to the soft tissues in a ring-like configuration at that level. All around the neck.”
“Kind of makes sense, no Doc? I mean with what I been telling you and all?”
“Well it just can’t be. I mean you must have had some kind of trauma. You must have a concussion too. Have you been in a car accident or hit your head recently?”
“Not at all. Told you. Just woke up the other morning and there was my head. At the foot of the bed.”
The doctor took a deep breath. “Very well,” he said. His voice was crackly and he had a very stern, serious expression. His hairy eyebrows furrowed.
He stared at Fred.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this. But, here it goes. Fred, please take off your head.”
Fred grinned, satisfied. He sat up straight, inhaled deeply, let it out. He methodically placed his hands on the sides of his head, exaggerating his motions slightly like a magician. His fingers fanned so that the thumbs were behind the ears and his pinky fingers crossed his eyebrows.
Fred winked at the doctor. “Ready, Doc?”
The doctor nodded slowly.
Fred gave the old push and twist motion and there was a shucking sound.
The doctor slid from the stool to the floor.
Fred’s head came off, and he stood pole-straight, holding it high in the air with both hands, the tooth-filled grin still on his face.
Glenn Gray is a physician specializing in Radiology. His stories have appeared in Word Riot, Underground Voices, Cherry Bleeds, Pequin, Zygote in my Coffee, Plots with Guns, Thuglit and many others.
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