My name is Zachary Greenlee.
The story I’m about to tell you, while hard to believe, is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.
Before I get into what happened to me, I think you should first know that before I looked death straight in the eye and survived the ordeal; I wasn’t a very nice guy. In fact, there were some days that I did such wicked things that I didn’t even like myself much.
Did Karma have a roll in my fate, or was I stricken down by God for all the wrong I’d done? While some might say yes to one or the other, many more feel that it was a combination of both. Several who were victims of my financial crimes told me they wished I had died, none of them too shy to express to me exactly what I should have suffered. I don’t harbor ill will against any of them. I deserved every hateful word they threw at me, every demeaning email and death threat, because I had hurt them in ways financially in which they could never recover. Fair is fair, I suppose one could say.
Either way, although I’m no longer a free man able to do, or come and go, as I please, I’m still grateful to be alive.
And it’s truly a miracle that I am.
Three years ago, as we do every year, my wife and I were entertaining a small group of our closest friends on Christmas Eve. The house was decorated in a festive holiday décor, lights on the tree burning brightly, tons of presents under the tree for our children. I tried to make it appear the celebration was the same as any other we’d hosted, except that it wasn’t.
I did my best to stay focused on the laughter, conversation, and spirit of the evening, but my mind was elsewhere, and no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn’t bring myself to feel the joy that I normally do during that time of year.
Earlier that day, I’d received notification that my investment firm was being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission for fraud and operating a Ponzi scheme, and that they would begin delving into my financial and client records the Monday after Christmas Day. To prevent me, or my secretary, from returning to the office and destroying any documents, a lock was placed on the door and wouldn’t be removed until the investigators showed up to look into the scores of crimes that I’d committed.
My priorities were also in the wrong place that night. Instead of being worried or concerned about the hundreds of people that I’d screwed out of their life savings, I was pissed because one of them had the audacity to report me! As a result, I was looking at the possibility of losing everything. My home, wealth, expensive cars, maybe even my family once my wife learned what a true scoundrel I really was. To be clear, she was unaware of what I was up to or how I made the ludicrous amounts of money that I did. For all she knew, I was the owner and operator of a fine and upstanding investment firm with an untarnished reputation.
I didn’t have the heart to tell her how wrong she was about me.
Once the investigation was completed and the multitudes of crimes made public, I was facing years in prison, which only caused me more worry and panic. Who would watch after and take care of my family? Where would my wife and children live once the house, and all other personal properties were seized? The pressure of how grim our futures looked was bearing down on me, causing more stress and anxiety than I was willing to admit.
Unable to share in everyone’s holiday cheer, I quietly slipped away from our guests and retreated into my study, the one room in our large house where I could truly find solace and peace by admiring my shelves full of books, some of them first editions. The walls were adorned with expensive paintings, some by well-known artists, others by up-and-comers. I’d spent more on a single portrait than most people pay for a house, but I had no guilt and no regrets, no matter how much pain and suffering I’d caused others in order to gain the finer things in life. I figured I might as well embrace the moment and enjoy it all while I could, knowing that I was on the brink of being ruined, both financially and personally.
“You seem a little out of it tonight,” my friend, Rodney said to me as he appeared at the study door. “Is it alright if I join you?”
“I’m afraid I won’t be very good company.”
“You know what they say,” Rodney replied, taking a seat beside me on the sofa. “Misery loves company.”
After several moments of silence, Rodney asked, “What’s wrong? Did you forget to buy that diamond necklace for the missus for Christmas?”
“No,” I smiled, carefully examining the Waterford Crystal glass I held, filled with my favorite brand of expensive whiskey. “I wish that’s all it was,” I said, taking a sip, relishing the flavor, smoothness, and warmth as I swallowed, savoring the moment, knowing that the bottle I’d recently purchased may have been my last.
“Anything I can help with?”
“Thanks, but no. I appreciate the offer, though.”
“Seriously, Zach, anything you need, all you have to do is ask.”
Unless he had influence over the S.E.C., there was nothing he or anyone else could do to make things better. I had made the mess that I was in and had no one to blame but myself. The forthcoming ending I was staring down the barrel of directly resulted from being greedy for money, and hungrier for more once it started rolling in. I should have learned when to stop and be comfortable with what I had, but I became addicted to being wealthy and owning material things that most people only dream of having. Too bad I didn’t take the time to stop and see just how far in over my head I truly was. But like any other addiction, I lacked the ability to quit my habit.
“Food’s on the table,” my wife called from the main dining room, which was next to my study. “Hope everyone’s hungry.”
Rodney clapped me on the thigh. “You heard her. Let’s eat.”
As I stood up from the couch, I felt lightheaded, the same feeling one gets if they get up too fast. At first I thought perhaps I’d had a bit too much whiskey, so I didn’t give it much thought. Until I tried to take a step–and couldn’t move my legs.
“Zach?” Rodney asked, a concerned look on his face.
My legs buckled beneath me. I fell forward, clipping my forehead on the corner of the coffee table before collapsing face first onto the carpeted floor.
“Zach!” Rodney shouted as he kneeled beside me, quickly rolling me over onto my back. Shaking me by the shoulders, he shouted again. “Zach!”
I could see and hear him, but I could not respond. My entire body was paralyzed, rendering me unable to speak. I couldn’t even blink.
“My God, Rita,” Rodney screamed at my wife. “Call an ambulance!”
Rodney continued to shake and call out to me, once even slapping my face, all while my wife cried hysterically into the phone, yelling at the emergency operator to get an ambulance there immediately. She slammed down the phone and within seconds was on her knees at my side, sobbing while gently stroking my cheek with her fingertips.
“Hang on, Zach,” she whispered. “Help is on the way, baby. Don’t you dare leave me.”
I don’t know how much time had elapsed between my wife making the phone call and hearing a man’s voice command everyone to “Step aside, please,” but I remember feeling relieved to learn that medical help was there and that I was going to be okay.
All of our guests had gathered into the study, fretting, and worrying about me, wondering what had caused me to collapse with no warning. “What’s his name?” I heard the paramedic ask as he squatted next to me.
“Zach,” my wife answered.
“Zach!” he shouted. “Can you hear me?” he asked, placing a stethoscope on my chest.
“Yes, I can hear you!” I answered. The only problem was that my lips weren’t moving, so he didn’t hear me.
“Can someone tell me what happened?” the paramedic asked. “Did he eat or drink something that he’s allergic to?”
“We were sitting on the couch talking,” Rodney offered. “He was having a drink when we got up to eat. Then he just passed out.”
“Did he hit his head when he fell?” the paramedic asked as he examined the right side of my forehead.
“Yes,” Rodney answered. “On the corner of the table.”
“Zach! Can you hear me, buddy?”
“Does he have any existing medical conditions that I need to know about? Is he taking any medications?”
“No,” Rita answered. “He’s perfectly healthy.”
“Any chance that he may have been experimenting with recreational drugs?”
“What the hell kind of question is that?” Rita spat. “My husband isn’t a drug addict!”
“That’s not what I was implying. I’m simply trying to rule out any and everything that might have been a contributing factor to your husband’s sudden illness.”
My eyes were locked on the ceiling, unblinking, but through my peripheral vision, I could see our guests as they all exited the study, either not wanting to hang around and watch the emergency crew as they worked to revive me, or to get out of the way. Witnessing such an event has the ability to spoil one’s Christmas spirit.
“I’m not getting a pulse,” I heard a female voice say, her fingers pressing firmly into the side of my neck.
“No heartbeat, either,” the male paramedic told her, shaking his head. Removing the stethoscope from around his neck, he asked, “Who’s the next of kin here?”
“Me,” Rita said. “I’m his wife.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs.?”
“Mrs. Greenlee, I’m afraid there isn’t anything else me or my partner can do to help your husband.”
“What are you saying?” Rita sobbed.
“I’m afraid your husband is expired.”
“Expired?” she hissed. “He’s not a slab of meat that rotted in the sun, for God’s sake!”
“Rita,” Rodney said, pulling her up from the floor and putting an arm around her shoulder. “That’s not what he meant. He’s only telling you that Zach has died.”
“No!” Rita yelled, pulling away. “You get my husband up off of that floor right now, put him in that ambulance, and get him to the hospital where somebody can do something for him. You certainly don’t seem to be much help.”
I felt horrible for the paramedic, being the victim of my wife’s acidic tongue. Fortunately, that wasn’t her normal behavior. Rita was one of the kindest, most caring, and loving people I’d ever known in my life. Her unusual animosity towards the paramedic was the only way she knew how to react under such tragic circumstances; bitterness born from fear, dread, and the worst news she could have possibly received.
“Blink, dammit!” I commanded. “Wiggle a finger, lift a foot, but for God’s sake, do something to show them you’re still alive!”
“He’ll be transported to the hospital,” the paramedic said calmly. “His death will be proclaimed by a doctor there, who’ll release him to the medical examiner. After that, well…” he said, his voice trailing off.
“Let me finish that sentence for you, pal,” I screamed, employing the skill of ventriloquism that I never knew I possessed. “After that, it’s the funeral home of your choice. Do you have one in mind?”
“Rodney?” my wife cried. “Please tell me he isn’t dead.”
“I wish I could,” he said, allowing her to cry into his chest.
“I’m not dead, you bunch of ignorant fools! Look at me! Check my heart again! Listen for a pulse!”
If I live to be a hundred years old, what I heard next is a sound that I will never forget and one that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It was the most disturbing and unwelcome sound that I’ve ever heard in my life, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop what was about to happen.
Zzzzip… the paramedics lifted me from the floor and laid me down on a black garbage bag. Or, that’s what I initially thought it was because of the crinkling sound it made when the weight of my body came into contact with the material.
The two paramedics worked together to tuck my legs into the bag, placing my arms firmly at my sides, and then pulling one black flap over the left side of my body, followed by another covering the right.
And that’s when it hit me!
“Holy shit! They’re putting me inside of a body bag! These clowns really believe I’m dead!”
Zzzzip… then total darkness.
“Why can’t I move?” I screamed in my head. “Why is my brain functioning but my body failing me? What in the hell had happened to me that made it appear as though I had died? Had someone poisoned my whiskey? Did I have a heart attack? A stroke, maybe? Or had I actually died and just hadn’t realized or accepted it yet, and it was actually my spirit seeing and hearing the surrounding activity instead of me, myself, and I?
The drive to the hospital took less than five minutes. I heard the paramedics get out of the ambulance and slam their doors. Within seconds, the back double doors of the ambulance opened, and the stretcher that I lay on was pulled forward and placed wheels down for easy transport into the hospital.
“What a damn shame,” I heard the female say. “He wasn’t that old, either. Wonder what happened?”
“Who knows? And it sucks that it happened at Christmas, too.”
The swooshing of the automatic doors told me we’d entered the hospital emergency area, and I hoped with all of my might that I would be taken into a treatment room and examined by a real doctor, one who would tell the ambulance personnel that they’d made a grave (pardon the pun) mistake in pronouncing my death because I was still very much alive. All I needed was a competent soul to prove it.
“Got a code here,” the paramedic said.
“Cause of death?”
“Undetermined, but myocardial infarction is suspected.”
“Ahh, medical speak for heart attack.”
“Guess we’ll know for sure once he’s opened up.”
“Opened up?” I squealed; my question heard only by me. “As in autopsied? Dear God, I’m not dead now, but if you slice and dice me, I soon will be!”
“Take him to the morgue,” the paramedic was instructed.
“The morgue? Good! Maybe they’ll leave me in there long enough to allow me to regain my bodily functions before the medical examiner carves me up like a Thanksgiving turkey! No, wait a second. What if they stick me inside one of those freezers where dead bodies are stored? I’ll freeze to death! Tell you what, you two jackasses. Why don’t you unzip this bag and put me underneath one of those nice, warm lamps I know are in here?”
“Hey, Doc,” the male paramedic said. “Sorry to have to call you out on Christmas Eve.”
“You didn’t,” the man replied. “I was already here.”
“Want me to put him in storage?”
“No, put him on the table. I’ll get him done tonight before I leave.”
“Tonight? As in, right now?”
The body bag zipper rumbled open, and oh, sweet Lord, light! Sweet, glorious light! And air! I could breathe! It was a miracle that I hadn’t suffocated in that death bag during the ride! I’d never been claustrophobic in my life, but I honestly believe that even the strongest and sanest of persons would suffer an episode of it if they ever found themselves zipped tightly inside a death shroud while still alive.
Hands beneath my shoulders, hands gripping my legs, lifting me off and out of the dark plastic… and lying me down on an ice cold, stainless steel table, my head resting on a hard rubber prop. The low hanging fluorescent ceiling bulb positioned over the table was blinding me; but I couldn’t look away because I still couldn’t blink or move my eyes. The mixture of heat and brightness caused my eyes to water, making my vision exceptionally blurry.
“Merry Christmas, Doc,” the paramedic said before exiting the morgue.
“Daniel?” I heard the doctor call out.
“Yes, Doctor Fox?”
“Can you please strip Mr. Greenlee and prepare him for examination?”
Since I’d never witnessed or been the victim of an autopsy, I’m sure you can understand my surprise when, instead of unbuttoning my shirt and pants to remove them, he used a pair of scissors to cut them free, pulling the tattered garments from beneath me, and tossing them into a garbage bag.
“What happened to you?” Daniel asked kindly, leaning over to look me in the face. “I’m so sorry that you were taken from your family at Christmas,” he said, patting my shoulder lightly. “You’re in expert hands with Doctor Fox and me. We’ll take good care of you, Mr. Greenlee.”
“But I’m not dead! Please don’t do this to me! You’re going to kill me!”
“Aww,” Daniel said in a concerned voice. “Are you crying?”
“Good! You see the tears, now listen to my heart. Check my pulse. Poke me with a damn needle if you have to! Just do something that will prove to you I don’t belong in here!”
“I apologize for what I’m about to do to you, Mr. Greenlee,” Daniel said. “But I have to give you a quick shower.”
“Do you always talk to the dead this way? Or are you mocking me? You know I’m alive, don’t you? And you’re playing with me like a cat with a mouse!”
Jet sprays of water washed over me, starting at the top of my head, and ending on the soles of my feet, and holy shit, was it ever cold! No soap for washing and no towel to absorb the excess water. In the morgue, your only choice is air drying.
“Hmm,” Daniel said, running a latex gloved hand down my arm. “I’ve never seen a dead body get goosebumps before. Strange.”
“That’s because I’m not dead, you four-eyed dimwit! You’ve seen me cry, you’re massaging my goose pimples, yet you still haven’t realized that I’m alive? If I’m able to bring myself into producing a nice, stiff boner, will you notice then?” Lying on that cold morgue table, I learned something very interesting that night. No matter how desperately I commanded my brain to make my man tool work, or what sexual images or cunnilingus positions I attempted to conjure up, the electrical connection between my brain and my genitals refused to produce the spark that was needed to make Mr. Willie get up and dance. Hell, I couldn’t even get the match lit, much less ignite a fire! Poor Mr. Willie was as paralyzed as the rest of me, lying flaccid across my thigh like a dead snake!
“Is he ready for examination, Daniel?”
“Yes, Doctor Fox.”
“No, I’m not! Look at me, dammit!”
Dr. Fox stood next to the table as he strapped on a headset and adjusted the microphone attached to it. On the opposite side of the table was Daniel, a silver tray filled with tons of interesting looking objects I knew were going to be used on me.
“Dear God, no! Please don’t let them do this to me! I’ll do whatever you want me to do, but please don’t let me die! Not like this!”
Daniel had turned the portable light over the table off and pushed it aside while he gave me my ice shower. Now, Dr. Fox pulled it forward and readjusted the lamp so that its bright light beamed directly down on my chest. Although it wasn’t shining directly in my eyes, the warmth and glare again made my eyes tear up.
“That’s strange,” Daniel said, bending over slightly to get a better look.
“His eyes were watering before I gave him a shower,” Daniel explained. “As soon as you turned on the lamp, they started watering again. Isn’t that a little unusual?”
“Daniel, in the twenty-five years that I’ve been doing this job, I’ve autopsied hundreds of bodies. During that time, I’ve seen and heard some really weird shit. I’ve had bodies groan, burp, and fart. Hell, one time I even had one sit straight up on the table just as I was getting ready to make the first incision. Scared me so damned bad, I thought I was going to end up on the table next to him.”
“Yes, and the body releasing gases as the muscles relax. It isn’t unusual, but it can be unnerving.”
“Maybe that’s what I should do! Rip the biggest and loudest fart he’s ever heard! Make it rumble and roar across the metal slab and hope that it stinks so bad that they won’t have any other choice than to check my pulse and heartbeat!” Unfortunately, I couldn’t even do that! Never in my life had I wanted to fart as badly as I did at that moment, but like everything else, my asshole was broken as well.
“Today’s date is Sunday, December the twenty-fourth, two-thousand-seventeen,” Dr. Fox said, speaking into his microphone. “My name is Doctor Samuel Fox, Chief Medical Examiner for Winston County, Indiana. Name of the deceased is Zachary Dominic Greenlee, identified by Rita Greenlee, wife of the decedent. Mr. Greenlee expired at his place of residence and was transported via ambulance to Winston Memorial Hospital. Presumed cause of death is myocardial infarction.”
Dr. Fox laid the clipboard that he’d been holding beside my bare leg, the edge of it pressing into my thigh.
“I will now begin my external examination of Mr. Greenlee, careful to take notice of any injuries or other abnormalities.”
Daniel interrupted Dr. Fox’s opening statement. “Dr. Fox? Have you ever seen anything like this on any of the bodies you’ve autopsied?” he asked, calling attention to the thousands of goosebumps that had formed on my arms and legs.
“There you go! That’s right, Daniel, make him look! That should get his attention!”
“Odd, I’ll admit. Could be he was cold when he died, and his reaction to the cold hasn’t quite settled yet. It’s nothing to worry about.”
Daniel continued to stare down at me, a look of concern on his face. For a minute there, I was sure he was going to tell Dr. Fox to stop what he was doing because he was on the verge of opening up a man who was still alive. Except that he didn’t. Instead, he turned his attention to the medical instruments laid out on the tray at his side.
“Deceased is a thirty-five-year-old Caucasian male, measuring seventy-two inches and weighing approximately one hundred and nine kilograms. Hair color is dark brown. Eye color is brown. All teeth are natural and healthy.”
“Of course, they are, you dimwitted moron! Are yours? Or do you keep them in a glass on your bedside table at night so that when you wake up every morning, you can start your day off by smiling at yourself?”
“The body exterior is unremarkable, except for a small area of discoloration on the right side of the forehead, obtained when Mr. Greenlee fell inside his home, striking his head on a nearby coffee table, according to the notation made by the attending emergency personnel. There are no signs of outward trauma, no contusions other than the forehead, no abrasions, and no lacerations. The sclera of both eyes are white and appear to be healthy. Mr. Greenlee did not present with any type of corrective lenses in his personal belongings, nor are there any contact lenses on the eyeballs themselves.” Dr. Fox paused from his dictation, leaning in close enough that I could smell the peppermint he was sucking on. “Hmm,” he grunted, standing erect again.
“What is it, Dr. Fox?” Daniel asked.
“Probably nothing, although I find his eyes to be quite peculiar.”
“It’s about damn time you noticed something important!”
“In what way?”
“Look for yourself.”
“His eyes are wet again, even though I’ve wiped them three times now. Other than that, what am I looking at?”
“What do you see, Daniel?” Dr. Fox asked. “Better yet, what don’t you see?”
Daniel studied my face for several seconds before exclaiming, “His pupils. They’re not dilated.”
“Exactly,” Dr. Fox confirmed. “There’s also no petechial hemorrhaging, which is quite peculiar for someone who has suffered a cardiac arrest, wouldn’t you say?” Dr. Fox sighed heavily. “Guess I can chalk this one up to another strange occurrence and add it to my repertoire of bizarre encounters. Like I told you, Daniel. In this field, odd happenings are second nature.”
Dr. Fox picked up the clipboard, jotted something down, and then returned it to the table.
“Upon completion of my external examination, I have no reason to believe that Mr. Greenlee died of anything other than what is suspect in his case. An internal examination of his organs, tissues, and muscles will either confirm or repudiate death caused by cardiac arrest. Scalpel, please, Daniel.”
“No, Doc, wait! I feel something happening. I think I’m coming around. Just give me a minute and I’ll show you!”
The razor-sharp, silver knife glistened beneath the light as Daniel passed it to an outstretched hand.
“Dr. Fox?” Daniel said timidly.
“What is it now, Daniel?” Dr. Fox asked with irritation, the scalpel pausing in mid-air over my left shoulder. “I’d like to get this finished in time to get home and enjoy a mug of my wife’s famous Christmas eggnog.”
“Nevermind,” Daniel said, shaking his head. “I thought I saw his hand move, but I guess not. Dead men don’t wiggle their fingers, do they?” he finished with a nervous laugh.
“Listen to me, you two squid nuts! I’m not dead! And yes, Daniel, you saw me move my finger ever so slightly, but I moved it. Keep watching. I’ll do it again, only better!”
Funny the things that crossed my mind as I stared death in the face while having my life flash before my eyes. For some odd reason, an old article that I’d read in a magazine years before came to mind. The story focused on burial practices in the eighteenth-and nineteenth centuries when the deceased were buried in safety coffins with a piece of string wrapped around a finger and then the string connected to a bell beside the burial site. It was standard practice during that time to prevent premature burials from occurring, or to keep them from being buried alive. A close watch was kept on the grave for about three days to ensure that the person buried was indeed dead; however, if the bell started ringing, then the watcher would alert the authorities, the grave would be reopened, and the buried would be saved.
Of course, that type of thing couldn’t happen in today’s world with the advancement of science and perfection of embalming techniques. Once a person was preserved by his or her mortician, there would be absolutely no doubt that the person was definitely dead.
“No, they don’t.” The scalpel cut deep into the flesh below my left shoulder, slicing in a downward motion and ending just below my sternum.
“Dr. Fox, stop!” Daniel screamed.
“Oh, sweet Jesus!” Dr. Fox gasped, dropping the scalpel. “They don’t bleed, either!”
“He’s not dead!” Daniel exclaimed.
“No, he’s not,” Dr. Fox stated alarmingly, holding my incision together with his hands. “In my medical opinion, I’d say he’s a victim of an episode of Catalepsy. The disorder has such a profound effect on the body’s nervous system that it makes it appear as though a person is dead, when in fact, they’re only temporarily paralyzed. It screws with their heartbeat, their pulse, even their breathing,” Dr. Fox said, his voice shaky. “Oh, dear sweet Jesus, I nearly killed this man. Daniel, get on the phone and get a doctor down here STAT!”
Tears flowed from the corners of my eyes, a mixture of joy and a reaction to unbearable pain. I had literally been sliced open while wide awake, conscious, and able to feel the cold and sharpness of the blade as it cut through my skin with ease and preciseness. There are no words that I can think of to describe the excruciating agony I experienced.
“Mr. Greenlee,” Dr. Fox said. “I know you’re alive and that you can hear me. Please know how terribly sorry I am that this happened. Don’t you worry. A doctor will be down here shortly for you.”
Over two hundred stitches later, my wound was closed, and I was lying comfortably in a hospital bed, dressed, warm, and snug. It was a pleasant change from the cold steel of the autopsy table I’d been on only a short time before.
About two hours after being hospitalized, bodily functions slowly began to return, and I could move my hands and feet, and also able to communicate, albeit my words were as slurred as a drunkard’s at first, but the more I talked and moved my mouth, the better my speech became.
Imagine my wife’s surprise when she got a telephone call from the hospital informing her that her dead husband had returned from the grave.
Her joy and happiness were short-lived once the investigations into my firm began and my dark secrets began spilling out. It didn’t take long afterwards for her to begin to despise me, and I can’t say that I blame her. I had been living a facade for years and all of my wrongdoings had finally caught up to me.
My wife knew when to bail from a sinking ship, and she did exactly that by filing for a divorce, walking out on me, and taking our two children with her, refusing to be caught up in the crimes that I’d committed or facing social embarrassment once the repossessions and seizures begun.
From what I’ve been told, she married Rodney, and she and the kids moved into his mansion with him and are supposedly quite happy. She hasn’t visited me since my incarceration, nor allowed the kids to come see me, so I can only believe what I’m told.
I am where I should be, where I belong, and I blame no one but myself.
And the most important thing of all is that I’m alive.