January 18

1896 — First exhibit/display of an X-ray generator


Ironically, Reuben was getting an X-ray at the time.  He’d had so many of those diagnostic procedures over the years — always wondered if those rays did more harm than the illnesses they hoped to identify.  The hospital staff put a heavy lead-lined apron over his waist, lay him on a cold metal table and lowered an upside down Xerox-looking machine over his chest.  The technician hid inside a protective booth, shouted for Reuben to hold his breath.

Well, how could he hold his breath with all that racket going on?  And then the lights went out.

No answer from the technician, but a charcoal-grill smell drifted from the booth.  He stumbled off the table, felt his way to the door.  An eerie quiet filled these lower hallways:  no radio sounds, no waiting-room monitors blaring medical advertisements.  And no people.

A back-up generator switched on, and a few dim emergency lights helped him find the way to a stairwell.  The ground floor was just as empty; the world outside the windows was just as dim.

Reuben needed to force the automatic door to get it to open.  He walked down the hospital’s front steps, scanned the empty cars in the parking lot, the empty city buildings in the distance.  And the smell off a charcoal grill filled the outside air.

After the end of the world, survivors would rush to a hospital in search of help.  A crowd of shapes ran toward him now.  If they held swords, it would have looked like that scene from Jason and the Argonauts: the part where an Amish-bearded guy throws Hydra’s teeth in the ground, and skeleton warriors rise up from the earth and attack.

Bones rattled as they ran.  Stick-shapes gathered about Reuben, closing him in.  Their jawbones moved; instead of speech, a desperate clacking noise came out.

Reuben pushed.  His hands touched cloth or flesh, but bones clattered away from him.  Two skeletons fell to the ground.  The others ran toward the hospital, throwing open the front doors and swarming inside.

He lifted his hands in front of his face, flexed his fingers.  He imagined the muscles and tendons, nerves and blood vessels and jointed bone beneath.