I hear nothing as I step from the wreckage and glass, feel nothing as I scrape spent feet across the road, taste nothing but the linger of sleep in the air, and it’s as if I’m floating through time – time that does not exist.
There is no time here.
Family fragments the road – brothers here, a father there, my mother unmoving; small.
Confusion seeps through the air. Confusion I can’t breathe in, and a ringing fills my ears now – a ringing that won’t stop. It numbs the world and I fight back, screaming in my head for the sounds to be heard, screaming for feeling to penetrate those walls of nothing clouding my mind.
People are moving and words fills the air: air I cannot breathe –air I’ve replaced with vomit as the unmoving time spills from my empty lungs and the ruined meal hits the pavement.
I try to suck in something other than death, but it seems to thicken and dampen the sky. Unpleasant and dry, my damaged soles fumble to greener sides – to the patch of grass not far from here.
And then voices stream through my mind: People are talking again, fragmented words penetrate my lungs, replacing the air I’ve procured.
“There’s fire under the car! You need to get out of here!”
“What happened? What’s going on?”
“Are you alright?”
“Someone call for help!”
I want to breathe, all I want is to breathe, but the air will not come. I do not wish to speak, but I must before nothing reigns: I must be heard.
“Can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”
I think someone hears but I shut off my mind and focus on the air around me: focus on the struggle to let it in; to allow it to break through the iron clad shell that has sprung up around my chest.
Someone is shouting: words are spoiling the air, but I stop them as they turn toward me; stop them from colliding with my already damaged body.
Then I see it – the looming giant. A shadow of a childhood dream; the nightmarish monster cloaked in dark. It’s the cause of my heaving chest and blackened soles: the cause of the pain I wish to feel, pain masked by the echo of youthful fright.
Memories and fears from a childish brain seal my leaking lungs and trap the hungry search for air inside.
I feel the dark shadow begin to extend – see it flowing from the monster like a whispered spell of night. Everything it touches turns to silence. Everything it clouds turns to death. I turn back toward the giant, unmoving and still. Indifferent, hardhearted, cold – he does not care for our fear. He does not care for our suffering.
I’m struggling for air, struggling to pull breathe from the hellish nightmare before me when the words come once more:
“B-breathe! I can’t breathe!”
It comes as a croak, the darkness filling my lungs like smoke from a cigarette, slowly eroding my life from within.
Will no one hear? Will no one stop the night from coming?
The unfeeling shadow is near me now. I see its fingers reach toward my unguarded soles, grasping my feet and the clasp of death dragging me down…down…
And then light fills the silence of fear! Light breaks the firm hold on my soles and I’m standing once more!
A man appears in my sight and lowers me to the ground. He’s strapping something around my neck and I feel the cold plastic harden my resolve. Something is placed in my mouth, then my nose, then round my arm and finally I breathe! I feel the cold life seep through every pore; through every crack in my shell and shatter the remains of death. My body is lifted on the bed of defense and we speed away from the threatening nightmare – away into the morning light.
Breathing in normal again, familiar, as if it never left. The tubes flow round me like an encompassing blanket, a comforter of hope. For a moment I’m peaceful, for a moment I’m calm.
A small voice brings me back, lost and confused.
I see my brother, Jim, on a bed like mine: his neck braced in a protective glove of plastic. Questions fill the air once more.
“Where am I?”
“Why am I here? What happened?”
“Why am I here? What happened?”
“What do you mean? What happened?”
“Don’t you remember?”
He seems to be asking the same questions over and over again. Unsure of where we are or what has occurred. I respond this time.
“We crashed Jim. We crashed. We were hit by a semi.”
No comprehension floods his face, as it so often does when a jokes been explained. He seems to be grasping for the punch-line, waiting patiently for a sensible man to answer his query with logic. Searching for reason as I searched for air.
The man begins to speak again, and this time he’s filling the questioned silence with stories and I smile, listening to the hopes of life fill the air. But then I’m gone and he’s smiling in the distance as they roll me through the welcoming doors, and an acrid smell fills my lungs – the smell of vinegar and cotton swabs and death and I’m scared for a moment that I’ve forgotten how to breathe. And even though the machine pumping air into me is still whirling with life I hear death, think death, see death, feel death…
A dreadful scream punctures the air as they wheel me into a room and I see my mother, shattering the sky with more fear than a lifetime can procure and her echoing sounds of pain reverberate off my momentary resolve and extinguish the light.
Before I find time – before I can panic I’m surrounded by faces in coats and they’re poking and prodding me, removing my layers of comfort and restraint, replacing them with thin layers of nothing and then wheeling me out to begin their tests: wheeling me into a dark closet of a room.
There’s another monster in here, filling the dark space in a huddling mass. I know it will tell me nothing good, so I squirm a little as they wheel me toward it. It whispers words in my ear as it fills my eyes with light…The words grow louder and louder, the lights faster and faster until I can no longer distinguish sounds from sights and sights from sounds. I feel my heart turn to living muscle and it’s beats synchronize those from above as I close my eyes to the noise. Colorful dots cross my lids and I hear them eat through my body like a parasitic bug.
Finally my heart slows, turning back to dust as the monster calms and I’m pulled away, back into the room with Mom. There’s silence in the air.
She’s quiet now.
No time passes once more till the coats are back, telling me I’ll have to leave, telling me I’ll have to go north for help and they’re wheeling me away before the answers come and I see a line of brothers in the hall, waving goodbye as we flock through the exiting doors and into the back of yet another car.
I feel nothing, until we move.
This ride is bumpy and shoots pain through my lungs. A woman is speaking to me and I find myself longing for the nice man and his stories, longing for someone other than this irritating coat. She keeps asking me how I feel and I can’t seem to make her understand that I don’t. These pains aren’t the problem, I think as she quiets, and I look again for something to fill the emptiness inside.
Time is still missing, and before I can find it I’m on a ground floor of another hospital – in a temporary room filled with indifference. I think momentarily of the still monster on the road as they place me on a bed now, a real bed. I see the remote placed next to my head. Eyes finding the screen, I click it on and see tennis. I watch the ball move back and forth…back and forth…back and forth…and then the nurse is back, and finally I know why I’m here.
Internal bleeding. Damage to your spleen. A tear – weeks of recovery.
The words are foreign to me. She talks more, speaking the words as if she’s rehearsed them a hundred times and I shut her out as I search again for that hole inside.
I find I’m looking for emotion, some kind of relief or dread; fear or joy…but find nothing instead, nothing slowly carving out my organs, destroying my heart – hollowing my body and eating everything inside.
I stop the search. There’s no reason to look anymore.
The hardest emotion is the feel of indifference.
I turn back toward the screen, my unfilled shell sinking into the folds of the bed and I watch as the ball moves once more.