One day, two years ago, Billiam Stacey had been walking through an airport scanner on his way to a holiday flight to Cairns with his parents. It was to be his first airplane trip ever. Even though Billiam was only fourteen years old then, he was still very conscientious about being helpful to strangers. If he saw someone in need of a seat on his bus, he would offer it to him or her. So too in the airport, he had taken off his shoes, belt, and emptied his pockets before walking through the metal detector to spare the inconvenience of having a staff member ask him to do so.
He had set the alarm off anyway. After acquiescing to walking through again he was met with the clarion for the second time. He remembered his cheeks burning as he looked over at his parents who had already made it through the impasse. The airport official used a hand-held metal detector to scan Billiam’s entire body. It started blipping at his chest.
‘Are you wearing a necklace?’
Motioning to Billiam’s parents. ‘Does he have a pacemaker?’
‘That is okay, it must be your kid’s shirt buttons, please go through and enjoy your flight.’
After that Billiam’s parents spent much of the three hours and fifteen minute flight from Melbourne discussing the incident. They had decided to let their local doctor examine him just in case, as it had been determined that Billiam’s shirt had plastic, not metallic buttons. Furthermore, upon their insistence, Billiam removed his shirt on the plane to prove that he was not wearing jewellery there and to put to rest the less probable, but quite hopeful, suggestion by his father of him having chest hair made of steel. Billiam’s chest, in fact, was quite hairless indeed.
The doctor, in turn had given Billiam a chest X-ray. The imaging had revealed speckles of metal, white opacities, in the otherwise muted grey of a healthy-sized heart. There had only been one way to confirm the metal fragments, or so the doctor had said, which was heart biopsy. This involved open-heart surgery to extract a piece of the metal for chemical analysis.
Their doctor, as it turned out, was wrong. Billiam’s parents, and he himself, were not accepting of open-heart surgery at the bare age of fourteen. The chest invasion could wait for when Billiam was in his sixties, like most people with heart conditions tended to do. Instead, they had sought advice from a good friend of theirs, Dr Meryl Shary, who specialised in radiology, but also had an extensive rock and metalloid collection in her backyard. For in her spare time she also happened to be a geologist. It was Dr Shary who had diagnosed Billiam with a heart of gold. There was simply no other pre-existing medical term for it.
She had used special saline injections to promote the metallic properties of whatever ore was fragmented in Billiam’s heart. By trial and error, she had used fifteen different injections with no effect on Billiam. It was on the sixteenth that he experienced profound breathlessness. The electrocardiogram screen fired rapid zigzags, showing his heart had become extremely agitated. Even without the technology, it was clear that something was wrong, as Billiam’s face had turned deeply blue.
There was no antidote to Dr Shary’s injection. Billiam would have to endure until the saline cleared from his body. His lungs were heaving as his stomach lurched up and down. He was gasping for air, but his heart would not allow him to do anything with it. Stars glinted before Billiam’s eyes and he thought he was going to die. His jaw started quivering, his teeth began chattering, and his febrile body commenced shaking uncontrollably. The star shine Billiam saw became brighter than the light of the room he was in until it overwhelmed him. He body went lax, and his mind promptly fell into a suspended state of nothingness, which Dr Shary later called a coma. Billiam’s parents were stupefied at the scene before them, their faces sickly white themselves and suddenly sticky with sweat. Dr Shary was puzzled by Billiam’s response, which she was not quite expecting.
Behind Billiams’ apparently lifeless eyelids, something quite magnificent was happening in his brain. His starry vision was washed over with the brilliant white light of his coma. The saturation then faded way to reveal that he had entered a dreamlike state.
He saw that he was now sitting at the beach with his primary school friends: Lonsdale, Janice, Rockshtahl and Babylon. He was watching the waves lap against the sand. The tide was slowly reaching his sitting place. The sky was a polluted sunset, streaked with purple and orange.
In slow motion, a nuclear bomb went off on the horizon. Fragments slowly flew through the air. They were suspended in the sky, silhouetted by the mushroom cloud. A gentle breeze picked up. Beach sand began dancing around Billiam and his young friends.
The fragments grew larger. They were coming closer. Billiam was stuck in place, just sitting there, unable to move. His mouth was mysteriously sealed shut. He could not warn the others of the incoming shrapnel. Their bodies were seemingly rendered immobile as well.
Gradually the breeze began gusting. The sand was now dancing in frenzy, landing on the childrens’ bare flesh. It was violent, but it did not worry them. It felt right. Soon fragments were floating past their heads. Billiam felt no fear. He was just watching. Observing. It took a few minutes for a shard to hit one of the children. Lonsdale lost a limb. No pain, no noise: just an arm from the shoulder down blown away by a comforting force.
A kaleidoscope of metal was passing them by. Sometimes hitting, mostly missing. It looked like the iTunes visualiser. Crumb-sized slivers breezed past Billiam’s eye line with millimetres to spare. A piece the size of an airplane wing gentle caressed his hair before slamming into the ground behind him. He didn’t see it land, but felt the spray of beach sand etch its way into his back.
Each passing fragment made Billiam feel more and more at peace as he began to feel them penetrating closer to his heart. The tide had begun to lap at his feet as the nuclear cloud enveloped he and his friends.
Billiam returned to the land of the non-comatose, his eyes still closed and his body weak. Dr Shary breathed a sigh of relief when she saw the tremors of the electrocardiogram lose their magnitude.
‘He will be okay.’
‘What? He looks dead to me.’
‘Yeah, his eyes are shut. That can’t bode well.’
‘No, look.’ And Dr Shary showed to Billiam’s parents how the earthquake-like markings on the electrocardiogram screen before them had given way to something more aesthetically pleasing- with healthy-sized peaks and troughs and a lovely amount of flat line as well. Just like how it looked on the hospital television shows. It meant his heart was back in shape.
All three looked over at Billiam resting on the bed. He was indeed resting, no longer in distress. His eyes were watching the darkness behind his eyelids, but his ears were hearing everything.
‘The saline I used suggests your boy has gold in his heart.’
‘Yes, he is a good boy.’
‘Yes he is no doubt, but I mean, I can tentatively say that your son has gold shards embedded in his heart.’
‘Oh.’ And after a pause. ‘Will he be okay?’
‘I will have to discuss it with my colleagues. Do you mind if I publish my findings? Your son is a most intriguing specimen.’
‘We will talk about it with our son when he comes to.’
‘Oh, please do.’