My consciousness filters in like grains of sand in an hourglass. I am floating (drifting) out to sea (off to sleep), a disembodied spirit travelling through cosmic space, and then all at once, I am whole.
I cannot see (I can’t open my eyes) and I can barely breathe. The air is hot, thick, cruelly insufficient. I detect a mild sensation on my face. Pressure. My head is covered by a bag (I’m asleep on my stomach oh god I’m going to suffocate).
Panic sets in, and I begin inhaling sharply, attempting to glean oxygen from the fabric. The resistance causes my lungs to burn, each breath like a two hundred pound bench press. The warm air grazes my throat and I become aware that it is exceptionally dry. I instinctively swallow, and the flexing of inflamed tissue feels like a thousand thorns poking the flesh. My heart is pounding against my screaming lungs, like an angry neighbor, banging on the front door when the noise is too loud. Only the door can’t be answered, and the noise can’t be stopped. As my lungs cry louder, the banging gets faster, more unbearable.
I make an effort to breathe slower, more calmly. My adrenaline does not subside but I push it to the back of my mind, making it a dull roar, while I check in with the rest of my nerve endings. My hands are pinned behind my back (no, I’m laying on them). I attempt to bring them up to my face and remove the sack but they won’t move. They are bound. Handcuffs? No, rope, rough and tight, digging into the skin on my wrists, leaving them raw and aching. Moving on, I determine that I am in a sitting position (no I’m prone I must be in bed). And then I feel it again. The vibration that ushered me into this (hallucination) predicament. It’s accompanied by a noise. A mix of tones, some low, some high, forming a sinister cacophony. An engine, a road, wind. I am in a car, speeding down the highway.
But who is driving? I continue investigating with my senses, crafting the scene piece by piece in my mind. I am in the back seat, and I can detect two voices up front. They are distant, distorted, like the sound is passing through water. No doubt caused by the (blankets) sack covering my ears. I hold my breath and listen closer. My throat welcomes a reprieve from the prickly air but my lungs immediately scream in protest. Now I can hear words, but I cannot understand them. They are speaking a different language (the voices sound familiar). I resume my labored breathing and ponder all the clues (They sound like my friends). Who are these men (my god they sound like my best friends)? What do they want with me (what in the world is going on?)?
I draw the only logical conclusion: They are going to kill me.
All calmness evaporates. I begin fighting for air again, wondering how long my lungs can take the punishment. My heart seems to have crept up to my throat and threatens to explode. All of a sudden my face feels cold, damp. The bag is drenched with tears, and my eyes feel swollen. Crying almost feels good, but the moisture reminds me yet again how raw my throat has become. I hear myself whine and sob, and all the while the voices up front remain dispassionate, distant, entirely unaffected by my breakdown. Don’t they care? Don’t they know that I have goals, family, potential? Don’t they know that I’m afraid? Can’t they at least comfort me? Can’t they offer me some form of relief before they snuff me out?
Relief. Will I ever feel relief again? Suddenly, relief is more desirable to me than survival. I long for a drink of water, for the bag over my head and the ropes digging into my wrists to be removed, for a long breath of cool fresh air, for my heart to stop pounding. Will they give me that dignity before they end my life? Or will the final snapshot of my existence be a portrait of human suffering? An afterimage of tears, thirst, panic? A phantom limb of try tissue and scarred wrists? I can’t stop it from coming (get ahold of yourself), but it can’t come until I get ahold of myself.
Then I hear it (yes). The other voice (hello). Has it been there all along? It is ghost-like, seemingly reaching out from another plane of existence. A parallel universe, perhaps? Without warning I receive images, brief flashes of sheets, comfortable, soft. They only exist for a moment, unanchored, unreachable. But the connection is real, firm, tangible. There is another me, and we are both suffocating.
It’s clear to me now that I am dreaming (yes). But which one is the dream (wake up) and which is the reality? Am I safe in bed (I can’t move), experiencing an existential nightmare (I can’t turn around)? Or am I really heading toward my execution (I can’t breathe), and hallucinating the bed as a coping mechanism (either way I’m going to die)? The former sounds more logical (focus on it), and yet the latter feels unequivocally real. What began as a murky, intoxicated blend of indistinct sensations becomes more sober and clear every second. All of my senses have come online. Whether or not it is real is irrelevant. This nightmare, if it can be called that, is where I am living currently, and I must follow it through to its conclusion.
As if to confirm that thought, the car comes to a screeching halt. I hear mechanical sounds. Click. Bang. Then a louder click, right next to me. Hands come down on my shoulders like vice grips, and my entire world becomes a spiral. I try to yell no!(no) as they drag me out of the vehicle but it comes out as merely grunts and whimpers. I want to resist, to get up and run, but I am seemingly paralyzed. I am overcome with vertigo as the earth continues to spin around me, and then I land hard on the ground. Sharp gravel stabs at my knees as my brain re-orients itself. My vision is still completely black. I am gazing into a black hole, and I have only seconds left before I am sucked in. I suspect that inches in front of me is a literal hole. My final resting place. Are they going to bury me alive (oh god)? Or will they do the deed before they put me under (please wake up)?
I am answered by another clicking sound, this one higher pitched and much more sinister than the car doors. A gun. This is it (this can’t be it). My panic swells to an unbearable degree. All of my worn out body parts sound off in a final roll call of terror. Lungs, heart, wrists, knees, throat, all make their presence known for the last time. I wait for my life to flash before my eyes, expecting the past but instead, I see my present and my future. My plans, my potential, loved ones I’ve been meaning to call, the home I planned to make, the relationship I’ve longed to foster, the children I hoped to raise. Maybe this is something else. Maybe this is death flashing before my eyes at the moment before my life truly begins? An attractive but useless sentiment at this particular moment. I push it from my mind and focus on the only thing that matters: Relief. I can’t die like this. I need one final moment of peace, not to pass into the afterlife (if there is an afterlife) on a current made of pain and terror. I feel something hard and circular press into the back of my head. Last chance to take a calming breath. I inhale as hard and deeply as I possibly can, and then