He had been to 37 different countries. years with the peacecorp, countless charity events, He had once chased a lion away from a small child too small to stand, let alone defend himself. Kunjawa was his name, every now and again Phil still got a letter from him, whenever he was in one place long enough to even get mail.
Phil had graduated top of his class from harvard medical, completely on scholarship. He had saved countless lives in countless countries. Many of them from precisely the parasites he knew were currently blocking his intestinal tract. funny that something as inane as a roundworm could literally kill you if you didn’t realize you had them in time. He’d been too focused on others, of that he was sure, but what man doesn’t do his best for his fellow humans? He had no regrets. obviously other than ignoring his own health up to this point, laying on Zhang Mingming’s grandmother’s old, hard bed. he’d come out here to the countryside of Xi’an with medical supplies and had treated nearly everyone in the village. He’d set broken bones, treated a variety of parasites, given vaccines, even delivered a young couple’s first child.
And now he was dying in a shack. Judging the speed of the worms he probably had picked them up from one of the pigs he had probably helped raise over the last few months. he could almost feel them squirming in his guts, blocking his intestinal tract. his intestines had probably burst within the last hour, hence the immediate shift from “I might be a bit constipated” to “I’m going to die here.” he heard grandma mixing up some chinese medicine that he new would not only taste awful, but would be ultimately ineffective. not that she would listen, she was busy mumbling something about him having too much fire.
Phil tried to resist, but soon felt the bitter soupy concoction dribble past his lips and down his throat. he tried to tell her if he didn’t see a doctor soon that he would die, to which she simply responded that she was doctor, she was doctor.
Death was a bit like a slow fade to black in a movie. He had expected more of a tunnel vision type experience, like when you pass out, but this was easier, no nausea, really not even the fear he’d figured would follow him into the black. this felt like letting go of the side of the pool and floating on your back, just a soft drift.
He wasn’t aware of anything for a long time. then he heard a skitter nearby. a cockroach in a silent kitchen. he tried to open his eyes before realizing they were already open. there were rocks beneath his feet that he couldn’t feel. he was standing. might have been a cave, but beyond his field of vision looked like a bad resolution photograph, the darkness nearly pixellated.
A voice like the flies on a carcass rose to his right
“Pretty poetic ending for you, kid. definitely wouldn’t have seen that coming, I mean, parasites, jeez, what an end. I guess that’ll teach you somethin’ about taking care of yourself, huh?”
Phil was shaking at the sound of the voice “I don’t know about that, I was in really good shape, I ate pretty well when i could, it was just a little mistake, it was-are you a grim reaper or something? are you death? where am I?”
“Great thing about dying is the questions don’t matter anymore.” the sickening hum of the voice droned on, bemused. “but I’ll humor you with a few pointers and then an offer. first, nah I ain’t death, but the nature of what I am is gonna be something I teach you over a long period of time, should my offer be accepted. Second, you’re dead. you’re Elsewhere, you’re Down Below. This is one of the low places in the world and you’re on the other side of the mirror. Now, that all said, comes the offer. I can make you live again. I can bring you back, kid. and the only catch to it is I come back with you. you let me experience the world again, you let me write with physical hands again, and you can go back to saving the poor and downtrodden again, or whatever it is you do. one time only offer, and it expires pretty quick.”
Phil could hear the skittering again, and saw a shadow pass near his feet, startling him even more. There wasn’t any form of hesitation in his decision. if this was death, he was definitely going to be putting it off as long as possible. “Done. how do we go back?”
“You turn around and walk that-a-way, my newly discovered friend. Let’s do some living.” Phil heard something sinister there, but he turned around anyway and began walking, and soon became aware of a physical presence next to him. The skittering soon became more apparent and he looked to his left to see a face looking at him, smiling. it was hairless and its eyebrows and mouth seemed to squirm beneath the skin. there were no teeth in the smile and the eyes were filled with wriggling worms. “see you on the other side, Phil” Phil screamed as the face pressed into his, wriggled into his metaphysical form like the parasites which had just pressed him from his physical body.
Phil woke up on grandma’s bed,his legs were soaked and he could feel things wiggling on his bare skin. he leaned up, feeling like he’d spent a week at a spa, up until he realizes his legs were wet with his own fecal matter, and the wriggling was the worms that had been expelled from his body. Grandma smiled at him “good medicine. very good medicine.”