The Patron Saint of Flatliners

by K.A. Wiggins

No one writes, “When I grow up, I want to be the patron saint of fentanyl overdoses,” in their fourth grade notebook.

I mean, I hope no kid writes they want to be the patron saint of anything, ’cause that’s fucked up. Maybe if the freaks who adopted me had chilled for like half a sec, I’d’ve had a chance to be something. For a beat, I even had a path all worked out. Wanted to be an RMT, before this whole sainthood thing jumped me. That’s the fancy kind of massage, the kind where you go to school first, get stuck paying taxes and everything. A real grown-up profesh kind of job.

Might’ve had my own place eventually, even. Not a super nice one, but decent. With a window that wasn’t broken and a bed up off the floor where it wouldn’t get all musty and gross. Cash coming in steady, without some asshole who did jack-all taking his stack off the top. Big dreams, y’know? Big, impossible dreams. Even though I knew better, knew they weren’t meant for my type.

My bed as a kid was mouldy too. My ex-dad—before he full-on filed the paperwork to un-adopt me, just to make extra good and sure I knew I could never come back, no matter how bad it got—he used to put it out in the yard, so the neighbours would see whenever I wet it. Which, now I think back, fuck them.

Maybe someone should’ve come around asking questions about why some poor kid was still wetting her bed on the regular, what’s that about, huh? But back then they were the saints for bringing dirty little orphans into their home and that was the end of it. And, I mean, if that bastard had just been popping the mattress out in the sun to dry it off, that would’ve been one thing. But this is Vancouver. If anything, it just got damper and stinkier. He just thought he could shame me into being who and what and how ever he wanted.

Never did learn to show him the good girl he wanted to see, not in time to keep from getting ditched, but I guess some of those lessons stuck. Too much of a troublemaker to make it with a “nice” family. Too much drilled-deep shame and beaten-in compliance and soul-deep terror of what happens to girls who don’t listen to their fake dads to really make good on my own. No one to turn to, no way out, and nothing inside me but his voice yelling about how shit I am, extra loud, to be sure the neighbours hear.

Fuck it. I don’t want to talk about him. I’d clawed my way free of him, of all of them, no thanks to this whole fucked up fucking world that kept trying to push me under and I was going to make it. I was finally going to be able to take care of myself. I was even going to be able to help people.

RMTs help people feel better. They heal them just by touching them. If you think about it, that’s pretty wild. Closest thing to magic this fucking shitstorm of a world has got. That was going to be me.

My acceptance letter to the program came two days after my 19th birthday.

Five days after I died.

But enough about me. Right now is about Jim. Jim is a journeyman electrician. He likes hockey, crushable IPAs, and really bad indie rock—he thinks it makes him cool, like he has taste. It doesn’t, Jim. It really doesn’t. Just admit you like Nickelback and Imagine Dragons already. Own it. Move on.

Jim has—had? Has? He’s fuzzy on their status, fuzzy on a lot at the moment—a girlfriend named Jodi with two kids. She moved out with them when he couldn’t hide his habit anymore, even though neither of them could afford rent on their own.

He’s afraid she’s crashing on someone’s couch, or in a van, or in a shelter. He’s afraid those kids are sleeping on mouldy mattresses on the floor, like I did. He’s afraid to ask around and find out just what it cost her to draw a line.

If he doesn’t ask, if he doesn’t know, then when he turns things around—soon, any day now, when he gets his shit together and figures it all out—then maybe he’ll be able to get her back. Maybe she won’t hate him too much for what he's put her and the kids through. Maybe he won’t hate himself so bad he can’t bear to look at them. Not sober, anyway. Not clean.

I remember what that felt like. Would probably opt out of doing this sober if I still had the choice, to be honest. I’d give a lot right now to dull the taste of helpless anger in the stale air. But it’s a little hard to get loaded without veins to fill or a throat to swallow with.

Jim has a border collie named either Shitface or Sammy, he can’t seem to make up his mind any more than he can about his relationship status. She’s standing over him, whining. Because Jim’s heart stopped beating two minutes ago.

He went down bad, one leg hitched on the edge of the couch and his shirt hiked up past the scars from that time he didn’t clip in and fell off the roof on a job. The WorkSafe payout was never going to be enough to survive in this city. What was he going to do, ride some desk job?

The long scratch where the needle scraped its way out weeps sluggishly.

“Fuuuck,” he says, the translucent part of him that isn’t sprawled out on his gritty floor hovering beside me. He stares down at himself, pupils blown. “Jodi’s gonna kill me.”

I snort.

He peers at me, can’t hardly focus, but sidles closer anyway. “You’re her. That chick who died. The one in the news. That crackhead with the funny name. Y’know, you’re hotter in real life?”

I don’t look up from his cooling body. “You’re not alive, asshole. And it wasn’t crack, you crackhead. Who even calls it that anymore? It was just the wrong pill at a party. Bad supply. We are not the same.”

Jim just laughs. He’s pretty chill. They sometimes are, the ones that don’t go raging. The high follows them into death. He’s literally too baked to care right now. Maybe that’s why I got left behind—to help send them back.

I drift down and pat Sammy on the head. She’s left off licking what she can reach of his face and progressed to howling.

That’s good. Too many of us use alone. I can only do so much from here. I need someone on the other side to pull when I push.

“Wanna help, girl?” I ruffle the dog’s ears, my touch a cool breeze that only just stirs their silk—and the temptation to try again, to drain myself giving her the scritches she deserves is almost too much to bear. “Wanna be a hero, Sammy? Yeah? You wanna help?”

She cocks her head and whines, dancing in place. She must hear Jim’s heart slowing, smell the decay nibbling at his edges.

“This way, girl. This way. C’mon.” I waft toward the apartment door.

Jim bobs along behind me. “Hey, whatcha up to? You takin’ my dog someplace?”

“Dude, stay put. You want to stick as close to yourself as you can, or you aren’t going back.”

He cocks his head, mirroring Sammy. I press my hand to the door, concentrating. There’s something about him being here that changes me. Not just him; all of the flatliners. Their pulses slow, and I power up.

Which sucks, when you think about it. If I got the boost before they went under, they’d have a better shot at actually making it through. As it is, the timeline is tight, and Jim isn’t looking so hot. He’s got maybe another minute or two before the lack of oxygen to his brain makes jamming him back into his grimy skin suit a questionable undertaking.

But today he might have a chance.

The deadbolt grinds and flips over. Sammy barks. I gasp, spent, already missing the juice I just poured out on that fine li’l bit of poltergeist action.

“Hey!” Jim grumbles blearily. “She’ll get out if you leave it unlocked. Don’t want Shithead getting run down in the street or nothin’.”

Sammy noses the latch. The door opens. She looks back and whines again, switching her worried doggy gaze between Jim’s body and his whatever-it-is bobbing around in midair. I frame her muzzle in both hands to hold her attention.

“Go get help, girl. Go make a fuss and save this jackass, huh? You can do it, Sam. Go on.”

She slurps in the general direction of my face and takes off down the hall, barking up a storm. I turn back to Jim.

“What’d I just say about sticking close to your body?”

The top half of his head is lost in the ceiling. “Wiring’s not up to code. Piece a shit slumlord. Gonna burn down in my sleep.”

I grab his ankle and yank.

“What’s your problem? Thought you were s’posed to be all nice and shit now. They callin’ you a saint. Don’t seem too saintly to me.”

I tow him back to his body and stuff him down until he’s sort of half-submerged. “They can call me whatever they want. Not going to change anything. You got less than a minute before you’re out of my hands and gone for good.”

“What’s that mean?”

“You’re dead, asshole.”

He side eyes me. “Hey, really? Where’s the light, then? All the angels ’n shit.”

“You don’t get angels. You get me. You want to stay dead, you just keep making my job harder.”

He blinks slowly, still flying high. “So, what, no angels?”

“Where you’re headed?”

“C’mon. This is just some bad trip, huh? You’re just, like, in my head.”

Sammy’s barking is getting closer, accompanied by hurried, shuffling footsteps.

“Oooh, there it is!” Jim’s face goes slack, reflecting something up past the ceiling, something I’m not sure I want to see just yet.

When I went, it was pills. What do they call them in the news? “Designer drugs”? Just a little celebration, one last fling before I straightened out and grew up.

There wasn’t anyone to tug me back to my body. No guy blissing out next to me, no crew to notice, no adoring fluffball to make a fuss, no one waiting on the other side to push me back into my body. I just… went.

But there wasn’t light on the other end. There wasn’t another end at all. There was just me, alone. As usual. Until I wasn’t.

Then there was the next kid, dying, with nobody but a clueless, newborn whatever-I-was by his side to hold his hand while he freaked. And then an old lady on the streets up on the Eastside. Her buddy brought her back with his kit, and then she brought him back after he dropped moments later. Then it was this soccer mom up on the North Shore, her quiet little coping mechanism coping her right into a coma. Then a couple more kids at a party. A bunch of trades guys. So, so many trades guys. Endless avalanches and oceans and galaxies of trades guys—Jim’s not my first this week. He isn’t even my first today. Then the lady on the beach.

She was the first to call me a saint. She made a webpage and everything, got the others to tell their stories. People fucking pray to me, apparently. Calling me the Angel of Overdoses, the Fentanyl Fairy, Our Lady of Naloxone. I’m half urban legend, half cryptid, more than halfway to some weirdo new street cult figure.

But this sure isn’t heaven, and I don’t have magical psychic-messaging service or anything. I just float around until someone’s flatlining, and then do what I can for them until it’s over, one way or the other. The Almighty didn’t tell me to do this. No angels showed up with orders from on high. There wasn’t any light for me.

My ex-parents took me to Mass before they decided they were done with me. So, just based on a whole lot of years of programming, I think this might be Purgatory. Like, maybe I have to save enough people to make up for everything bad I did while I was still breathing?

Or maybe all of that stained glass shit was wrong and there’s nothing else than this. That’d be okay too. This isn’t how I would’ve chosen to spend my time, if I ever spared a thought for what came after, but it’s not so bad either. I’m helping people that need it. I’m doing something only I can do. That might just be a miracle right there.

If it weren’t for me, poor saps with shit luck and a string of bad decisions stacking the deck even further against them like Jim here wouldn’t have a chance.

Sammy bursts through the door, followed by some raging-ass old lady with fresh-tattooed purple eyebrows and a cranberry fucking perm like it’s the ’90s come back to haunt us. She’s wearing this disturbing quilted nightgown-jacket-onesie-thing, even though it’s the middle of the afternoon. Lady’s screeching about how people can’t just let their pets run wild and I’m like, fuck, this is it. Jim’s done.

I feel a little bad for him—’cause yeah, he’s kind of a fuckup, but also, he didn’t deserve to die today—but mostly bad for Sammy, ’cause I know she’s going to be crushed. I can’t stand the hurt in her brown doggy eyes. Then there’s the way my insides twist up and the despair has me eyeing Jim’s nasty-ass used needle like it’d be the answer to all my problems if I could just reach it. Failure, useless, bad-evil-wicked

But then that old lady beelines to Jim’s passed-out almost-corpse and drags him straight out on the floor, even though he’s at least twice her size. She’s got some wild mama bear adrenaline flowing for real, maybe a past life as a nurse, or a lost kid of her own, or some wild times back in the day driving her. But she starts right up with the CPR the moment she’s cleared his airway. No fear. No hesitation.

“Damn, that’s gross.” Jim tries to shove her away, but of course the arms he currently has control over just waft straight through her.

“Suck it up. She’s probably saving your life.” And mine, or at least what’s left of my sanity.


“Well, dragging it out a little, anyways.”

He needs oxygen to keep his brain from dying, but he also needs an ambulance, or at least a Naloxone kit. Assuming whatever took him out was an opioid in the first place. This is one of the worst things about the ones I find at home. On the streets, I can usually get the attention of someone nearby with a kit to bring them back. But up in some apartment building, his chances were slim from the start. I knew that, knew the odds were stacked against me from the start. Knew I was fighting a losing battle, and still want to let the voices in my head tear me to pieces for failing to win.

But that old lady whips this awesomely retro flip phone out of her ragged nightgown-thing’s pocket and, while she talks to the 911 operator, digs into her other pocket and hauls out a Naloxone kit. Don’t know if grandma packs them on the daily or what, but it’s Jim’s lucky day. Her English isn’t so good, but once she’s confirmed the situation with the operator, she straight up sticks Jim without missing a beat. Lady’s got a story, for real. Too bad there’s no way to ask—or follow her home and find out for myself.

Jim barely has time to protest before he’s sucked back down into his own skin. Sammy licks her shithead master’s face, stubble to fringe, before his rescuer pushes her off. I go to scratch behind her ears, but my hand slips through without even stirring her fur this time.

“It’s okay, girl. You did good. You’re a good girl. Yes, you are,” I coo, to make up for the pats she rightly expects.

Then I swallow, because the words hurt more than they should. That was too close. I get a little weepy after the crises are over, one way or another. ’Specially when there’s no one left to see me losing it. Or to see how close I came to losing, period.

I want—need—to know what the light means, even if I’m not ready to find out for myself. Sometimes it takes the fallen before I can get them help, filling their eyes and spilling over. Just, like, erasing the not-meat bits in a slow-fast flash, until there’s nothing left but that cooling shell on the ground. Other times, they just kind of blink out, the floaty, ghosty bits drifting away. Or maybe they’re getting snatched off to some hell dimension, I don’t know.

All I know is, on good days, I get to send them back into their skins for another shot at turning things around. On the good days, I feel like maybe I’m worth something after all. On the good days, I wonder what kind of life I could’ve built for myself if there’d been someone to send me back.

Today, Jim gets to wake up and pet his dog. Maybe he’ll sort things out with Jodi and the kids. Maybe he’ll figure out another job, and a better apartment, and a life that doesn’t make him want to screw around and try his luck on the other side. Maybe he’ll go off telling stories of a ghost girl, a fairy, a saint, an angel who saved him and sent him back for a second chance. Or, could be he’ll forget all about me, or curse me, or falter under the same weight that dragged him down in the first place, and find himself right back on this side in need of rescue.

My part is done. I’m back to being powerless, voiceless, useless, alone with all my questions. Why am I different? Why didn’t someone save me? Why didn’t God or the Universe or whatever take me? Why am I still here?

Why wasn’t my family—my real family, or if family isn’t the right world, then birth parents, siblings, grandparents and aunts and cousins and ancestors because, thank whoever or whatever it is in charge of all this mess, at least the freaks who pretended to want me as a kid are still alive and not on this side to reject me again—why weren’t any of them around to give me a shout, an embrace, a pull into the light? Where are my people?

And then there’s that tug in my chest, and the blurring of my surroundings as I’m called to the next victim. I wipe my face and get ready to try to save another one like me.

They call me Sancta Faustina, the patron saint of flatliners. They say all sorts of things about me. That I was a promising young person with her life ahead of her. That I was an ungrateful troublemaker who rejected the kindness of the real saints who plucked her from the gutters and adopted her. That the streets call to their own and I was always destined to end up back in the gutter. That I was a slut and an addict and a lost cause. A real fuckup, Satan’s own, no hope of redemption. That I was just a kid, and kids can’t be held responsible for what society does to them. That I was a druggie and got what was coming to me. That I was on the brink of turning my life around and making something of myself.

The stories they tell would be funny, if they weren’t infuriating, and insulting, and offensive, and sad, and just plain wrong.

No one saved me. Not my friends. Not my once-family. Not the system. Not even God. Probably. Maybe. (Are you out there? Call me. Or don’t. Whatever. Fuckit.)

Anyway, I’m still here. I still have a choice. I can watch, or I can help.

So maybe I’m not sent by your choice of deity. Maybe I’m not one of the angels. I’m definitely no saint.

But when you flatline, I’ll be there, fighting to send you back.

K.A. Wiggins (Kaie) is an award-winning Canadian author exploring intersections of climate, identity, and social justice through dark speculative fiction. A recovering pastor’s kid, she’s spent a decade church planting in Vancouver and most of her life in a wide range of ministries. Best known for “eco-apocalypse + monsters in dystopian Vancouver” gothic YA Fantasy series Threads of Dreams, her work also appears in Fantasy Magazine, The NoSleep Podcast, The Fairytale Magazine, and Frozen Wavelets, among others. Find her at or @kaiespace on social.

Author’s Note: Sometimes there are stories you just aren’t equipped to tell. This is one. I wrote the earliest version after walking with my best friend through a loss to the drug toxicity crisis. I never met the girl who died. I know her only through second-hand accounts. A scattering of stark snapshots of her life are here. Her truth is not. I can’t tell you what it was really like to be her. What her hopes and dreams were, how she thought about the future, God, herself. I can tell you that, according to my friend, I didn’t nearly capture her rage and desperation. Nor the fervour of her religious practice. In life, she was a devout Catholic. So, while this story does not, cannot, offer full and meaningful representation to that girl or the (many) other victims of the drug toxicity crisis (please seek out first-hand accounts and art for that!), it is perhaps in the area of faith that it falls most short. If I can leave you with one thought, it’s that drug use, experimentation, dependency, addiction, poisoning, overdose can be tempting to think of as problems for “other people.” I urge you not to fall into that trap. See for an extended note on this subject.

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  1. Thank you. Well written.

  2. This was excellently written, well thought out, and deeply touching. Contrary to what the outstanding author K.A. Wiggins wrote in her note, she was indeed well equipped to write this work as she truly captured the mysteries (Mysterion, smile) in daily living which exist for us all. The story felt like a love note to a single life which could be extended to all of our lives.


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