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Decades ago I read a short story anthology that had a story that told the tale of a woman who kept trying to commit suicide, and the police detective who was trying to figure out why the body kept disappearing. It was told from the perspective of the cop, but also from the woman’s body’s immune and injury repair systems, who quickly took command whenever she tried to hurt herself and healed her body despite her will. The final scene was after she got hit by a train and had insurmountable injuries. The cop finally figured out what was going on and raced to the crematorium. He looked in the window of the furnace to see her engulfed by flames. Then her eyes opened...

I have told my whole family about this story because it was thought provoking on so many levels. I have no context clues for when I read it (high school? college?), where I read it, why I was reading an anthology, or even what kind of anthology it was (science fiction, horror, prize winning stories?). Does anyone else remember a story like this?

marked as duplicate by user14111 short-stories Jan 15 at 18:45

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    As I recall this story, she is used as an organ donor - which is why she seems "dead" long enough to be cremated - and the donor recipients appear to gain her ability to regenerate too. (A girl who has just had an organ - liver perhaps - transplant has no trace of the surgery just hours later.) I also remember the staff at the crematorium wondering that the remains seemed to be less disintegrated than normal. – DavidW Jan 14 at 17:30
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I'm pretty sure the right story is Perchance to a Dream by Sally A. Sellers, although in the end the woman is hit by a bomb, not a train. (You may be thinking of the part halfway through where she jumps in front of a truck.) Here is the scene near the end where the woman is in the crematory and her eyes open (italics in original):

Two men lifted the casket and bore it outside in the rain toward the oven.

Cells divided, differentiated, and divided again. The reconstruction was almost complete. It had taken a long time, almost twenty-four hours. The body had never been challenged to capacity before. Removal of the major organs had caused much difficulty, but regeneration had begun almost at once, and the new tissues were now starting the first stirrings of renewed activity.

The casket slid onto the asbestos bricks with a small scraping noise. The door clanged shut, and there was a dull ring as the bolt was drawn.

There was a flicker of light behind the eyelids, and the new retinas registered it and transmitted it to the brain. The heart pulsed once, and then again. A shuddering breath.

Outside the oven, a hand reached for the switches and set the master timer. The main burner was turned on. Oil under pressure flared and exploded into the chamber.

There was a shadow of awareness for a long moment, and then it was gone.

This story is available online as part of Isaac Asimov's science fiction magazine (1977) and it was also published with commentary from the author in On Writing Science Fiction: The Editors Strike Back!

  • Yes, that’s it! Thank you SO MUCH for finding it, even with my misinformation! – Sunni Jan 15 at 18:40
  • @Sunni Please accept this answer by clicking the check mark to the left of it. – Null Jan 15 at 18:50

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