The Orpheus Experiment by Patrick McAlpine

“But Dr. Callahan, are you sure that you want to do this yourself?” Judy asks. “Shouldn’t we use a volunteer?”

“No, that wouldn’t be ethical,” I remind my lab assistant. “Besides, there is nothing to worry about. We’re surrounded by the best physicians and neuroscientists of the university. Plus, the technology has improved so greatly in the last decade that there is virtually no chance of fatality as long as I am being monitored closely. You will be monitoring me closely, won’t you Judy? “Of… of course Doctor. But still, this has never been done before.”

“That’s not true Judy,” I say as I take a seat on the cold examination table. “We brought back Pogo a dozen times and Kinga nearly as many. The procedure has a 98% success rate among our trial subjects with no signs of damage to brain function among those successfully resuscitated.”

“That’s different, Doctor. Those were chimpanzees!” Judy is visibly annoyed now. She brushes a loose strand of her wavy brown hair out of her eyes and continues. “And we weren’t testing for cognizant communication transmissions in those trials. Who knows what the results could be?”

I smile reassuringly at Judy. She is a talented scientist and a dedicated assistant. We would not be where we are today if it were not for her contributions to this project. However, Judy has always been on the cautious side and today is about taking risks.

“It’s going to be fine Judy. Now I need you to prepare the equipment. Have you already synced my neural implants to the electrocorticographic recorder?”

“Yes Doctor,” she says, checking the tablet supercomputer that she carries with her always. “Your cerebral gamma activity looks good and the ECoG signals are ready to be transmitted.”

“Very good. Let’s fire it up then, shall we?” I reply, motioning for Judy to begin the transmission and recording of my brainwaves into the thought-to-text software on her device. She presses a couple of buttons and nods, indicating that my brain activity is now being recorded and the device is ready to receive my thoughts. I clear my mind and address everyone in the room through the device’s powerful speakers.

“Ladies and gentlemen, I would once again like to thank you all for your part in the supervision of this experiment. Together, we will be making history today. In just a few moments, I will be dead.”

I look toward Judy who is shaking her head and rolling her eyes. It appears that she does not share my flair for the dramatic.

“As the subject of this experiment, I will be injected with 100 milligrams of Tubocurarine Chloride and 200 milliequivalents of potassium acetate. I will be unable to move, my respiratory system will cease activity, and my heart will stop. I will be clinically dead for as long as ninety minutes before the doctors monitoring my vital signs will resuscitate me with the ‘Lazarus Cocktail’, an injection of Epinephrine and peptides. This, accompanied by cerebral nerve stimulation and cardiac defibrillation, barring any unforeseen complications, should revive me back to life.

“During the procedure, I will attempt to communicate my experiences through intracranial EEG implants which will then be recorded via thought-to-text software. The program has been finely tuned to detect my personal gamma wave activity, so even after my body has lost consciousness, we hypothesize that the devices will be able to detect my ‘spiritual consciousness’; that is, if such a thing actually exists. The goal of this experiment is to document the experience of dying and to substantiate claims of encounters of the afterlife.

“Now, without further ado, let the Orpheus Experiment begin!” Judy watches nervously, biting her lip as the lead physician inserts the injection needle into my left arm. The needle is connected by a long surgical tube to the machine that will be used to release the lethal injection into my veins. A mask is then placed over my face to deliver oxygen into my lungs. I look over to one of the monitors and observe my heart rate increasing due to the adrenaline pumping through me. The doctors quietly consult with one another, each nodding and whispering about the procedure.

For the first time since devising the Orpheus Experiment, I begin to feel afraid. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. What if we have miscalculated and the injections are too strong? What if there are complications in the resuscitation stage and the doctors aren’t able to bring me back? What if the experiment is a success but there is nothing to report? What are the implications of total nothingness beyond this life?

I look over at Judy and offer a little smile to comfort her. She must sense me concerns because she walks over the observation table and takes me by the hand, squeezing it reassuringly.

“Mr. Callahan, we are ready to begin,” says one of the doctors behind his surgical mask. Too late to back out now.

“You may proceed,” I confirm.

The doctor nods and turns to the machine. He turns a small silver key and presses a few illuminated buttons and the machine comes to life. Two tubes of clear fluid are mechanically depressed, one immediately after the other, and the lethal injections flow through the tubing and into my body.

Almost instantly, I feel a tightness in my chest. I try to remain calm but the tightness quickly spreads throughout my body. The doctors had tried to convince me to take a dose of sodium thiopental before the procedure so that I would not experience any discomfort, but I need to be conscious for the experiment to be effective. I try to inhale deeply to calm myself as I had been practicing all week, however my lungs do not respond. The paralytics have taken full effect and my body has become completely limp. My mouth hangs open lifelessly and I can feel my tongue rolling back into my throat, but can not even move it to the side.

“Mr. Callahan,” Judy’s voice calls out from somewhere beside me. “Are you still aware of your surroundings?”

I had almost forgotten about my role in this experiment. I focus my awareness as best as possible and attempt to communicate my experiences.

“Yes… I… am… aware.” I try to clear my mind of my surroundings so that my neural implants are better able to transcribe my thoughts. “I cannot move. I feel significant discomfort, but very little pain. I can no longer turn my head or control my eyes, but I can still see and hear well.”

As I communicate this, I hear the beeping sounds of my heart rate monitor slowing down dramatically. Within seconds, the occasional “beep beep beep” noises are replaced by a singular high pitched “beeeeeeeeeeep” indicating that my heart has stopped.

“I am aware that I am now dead. I am still present in this room. The discomfort is subsiding. Wait, did somebody just adjust the lighting?”

“N-no, Doctor.” I can hear confusion in Judy’s voice. The room has suddenly become brighter. A pure white light engulfs my view and obscures everything else. I can feel myself being drawn toward it.

“It’s real! I can see the white light that has been reported! It is perfect! I am being pulled inward. Are you still there?”

Somewhere in a far distance, I can hear a woman’s muffled voice responding, but cannot make out her reply. I try to maintain focus and narrate my experiences as best as possible, though my surroundings are so difficult to describe.

“I can hear voices now. The light is a tunnel guiding me toward source of its energy. I feel warm and safe. In the distance, at the end of the tunnel, I see a figure. It is gesturing for me to join it. I-I cannot tell whether it is man or woman, but I am very close now. The figure is reaching out for me. I… oh my God…”

“Doctor Callahan! Come back, Doctor Callahan!”

I gasp for air desperately and feel the cool oxygen rush into my lungs. Pain fills my chest and my body is convulsing. I blink my eyes several times and see that I am being surrounded by a team of doctors desperately trying to revive me. The look in their eyes is one of fear. I swallow and cough before weakly sitting up. My body is still under the effects of the drugs and I find great difficulty in moving, but I want to put their minds at ease that I am alive.

“I… I’m okay,” I manage to choke out.

Judy has tears streaming down her face and she throws her arms around me. I try to return the hug, but my limbs are still trembling and I am barely able to control them.

“How long was I under?” I ask. Based on the looks of distress of everyone in the room, I assume that there must have been some complications. Perhaps they were not able to immediately revive me after the designated time limits. Perhaps I have been deceased for longer than we had anticipated.

“Ten minutes,” Judy informs me through sobs.

“Only ten? But we had planned for much longer than that. I could have been revived nearly two hours after loss of life with no long term effects. What happened? Did my transmissions cut out? Did the computer stop recording?”

Judy takes a step back and an expression of dread replaced one of concern.

“N-no Doctor. The transmission worked. We… we heard everything.”

“The experiment was a success, Judy. I saw it. I saw the white light. We have just clinically proven the existence of an afterlife!”

I can feel my strength returning to me in the excitement. “I can’t even explain it. It felt so pure. So peaceful. I could sense all of my loved ones were there waiting for me.”

Judy shoots a glance toward a couple of the doctors in the room. They all look visibly shaken.

“What’s wrong? Did the device not record the transmission? Did it continue beyond my retained memories,” I enquire.

“It did Doctor, but…” Judy swallows her thought.

“Well let me hear it.”

Judy shook her head. “Doctor, it’s not what we had hoped. You do not want to hear this.”

“Judy, I am a scientist. I can handle it. Let me hear what happens beyond the white light.”

Judy looks panicked. One of the doctors hurriedly leaves the room and the others appear extremely hesitant. With great reluctance, Judy picks up her tablet and plays the recording.

“I can hear voices now. The light is a tunnel guiding me toward source of its energy. I feel warm and safe. In the distance, at the end of the tunnel, I see a figure. It is gesturing for me to join it. I-I cannot tell whether it is man or woman, but I am very close now. The figure is reaching out for me. I… oh my God… OH GOD NO! Aaaarrgh! No, please don’t! Stop! OOooOOWWW! The pain! Please stop! A lie! The light is a lie! AAAAAAAUUUUUUGGGGGHHHH!!!

After listening to the remainder of the recording, we decide not to publish the results of the Orpheus Experiment. Nobody should know what lies beyond the white light.