What happened? Why can’t I think straight?
I force out a mumble through my yielding lips.
Why do they feel so limp?
My eyelids are lead, glued shut. I focus on the rest of my face, but nothing responds. I can’t feel anything.
My closed mouth leaves me breathless. I hyperventilate. Breathing solely through my nose is like sucking air with a straw. I have sleep apnea, I should have my machine! Why don’t I have my machine? My breath quickens, short and stiff through my nostrils, my lungs ache like from a gunshot. With each exhale, my collapsing chest presses against the searing pain.
A prickle starts to radiate from my left arm, down one side, onto my fingertips. A soothing wave of bliss and heat follows. The sensation comforts me. I catch my breath and let it take over.
The prickle reaches my nose, stabbing it with a thousand needles. My eyes hurt something awful. The strain of their movement makes me wish I could tear them from their socket. The burning sensation of protruding tears, the coolness of them sliding on each side of my face.
Wait… I can feel my face!
My eyelids flutter with such weight I prefer they stay closed for now. I regain some semblance of control over my lower lip, flapping my mouth open. I shut it at once, with more vigor this time, only to bite my lip bloody, the taste of iron filling my mouth. I swallow the nausea, content to be breathing fully again.
My thoughts are cluttered still, unable to take shape or to form memories. I stretch my brain to recover any indication that I am still sane. Panic quickly returns. I push down my impulse and tackle a smaller task. Who am I? What is my name?
I run through the alphabet, revising each phonetic in my head, hoping one will turn up.
T..t..ta… Tee… Tom–, Thomas!
Thomas… Bh… Ch… Thomas… Thomas Edison, no. Thomas…
The exercise is draining what little energy I have, forcing up a yawn from the depth. Muscles clenching across my face, with strength beyond what I could muster alone, arching my neck backwards, tightening my open jaw to its breaking point. My whole face shudders, convulsing at the effort.
Tom Chapman! Son of Harry and Diane Chapman. Ok, good, it’s coming back.
I make another feeble attempt to open my eyes, if only one. All I see is pitch black. Have I gone blind?
Panic again. The numbness crippling my mind doesn’t help. Fear escalates faster than I can think it. I swing open my jaw to fight my panting breath, but the air is close. Another deep intake summons another yawn. No use in fighting it, I haven’t the strength.
As I quaver, my back acknowledges the rigid surface I lay on. I twist from side to side only to reveal the soreness along my spine, writhing from the pain. At least I can move.
The prickle reaches my toes, fugitive. There’s no way I can lift either leg, but the sensation reassures me.
C’mon! Think, dammit, think! Where am I? The blurred visions in my head wrestle with each other, hazy and faint. A list of people starts to pile up, as I randomly collect memories. A brother and two sisters, colleagues, a few dear friends. One dearest, Cola, who knows me since kindergarten. As her face springs to mind, a swelling warmth triggers tears. Maybe Cola is more than a friend.
Her rosy cheeks perked up as she hides mischief in her smile, a smile she grants only to me. The picture of her crystalizes, wearing her red dotted dress on the pier, running away… No, racing me to the shore end. I’m reminded of her scent, lavender bloom, in the salted ocean breeze. She pulls me by the hand, I notice silvering gold.
Cola is my wife.
The thought ignites my heart, a flood of memories rush in, our first kiss, first dance, the day we met, our wedding…
In the span of a minute, I relive each emotion as if for the first time, filled with instant joy, gratitude. I begin to laugh, overwhelmed, tears streaming from my eyes.
The bellowing laugh that breaches my throat catches me off guard. Is this my voice? I utter a few words for practice. “My name is Thomas Chapman.” The hoarse mutter sounds foreign to me. How long have I been unconscious?
I’m becoming more and more lucid. Questions form in my head at too quick a pace, I fear I may faint. What happened? Where am I? Why can’t I move?
My heart lunges through my chest, hammering its deafening rhythm up my throat. Sweat pearls across my face, chilling my skin. The air bites my cheeks, my nose, my lips. Why is it so cold?
Strength returns to my neck, my shoulders, my limbs. I struggle to fold my left arm up, something is holding it down, like a shroud. Dread triggers panic, maddening panic, as I notice the shroud also covers my face. I lift both arms, pushing outwards, trying to rip the wrapping from around me.
A tear! I thrust my arms through, elbow deep, then pull them apart. I gasp at the promise of newfound breath, to no avail. My breath is shallow.
Both elbows hit a close wall…
With eyes wide open staring into blackness, my hands grope ahead, hesitantly, until they reach what I suspected, feeling their way along another solid surface mere inches from my face.
The realization hits me, like a cold plunge through a frozen lake. I have been buried alive.
I yelp, I howl, I scream. My mind coils towards insanity. Pounding feeble fists at the ceiling, I call out for aid. But the thumps are rigid, not hollow. My mind already pictures the dirt pilled on top, tons of pressure wedging the cover shut, immovable.
The prickles come back, flushing over my face. I’m running out of air, exhausted, drowsy… Death begins to sink its teeth in me, and I haven’t the strength to fight it off.
Her picture comes back to me. Cola, in her dotted dress, wrapping me in her warm embrace under the afternoon Sun. Cola, my love, my everything.
I whimper, sobbing shamelessly in the dark, as loud as my lungs will let me. Louder than ever in life, I cry loudest in the face of death. And the feeling comforts me.
With tears glossing over my eyes, I let go, allowing sleep to nestle in. For the first time, I see it. The light. A frosty haze shimmering at my feet, of daylight at a tunnel’s end. And as I accept it, the light swallows me whole in one swift escape as I feel the ground under me carry me towards it. The air shifts, filling me fully, like a newborn breaching its mother’s womb. As my eyes adjust to the light, the picture of Cola fades, morphing into that of a man in scrubs, towering over me, an air of shock about him.
I call out for Cola, one last time, confused by my new vision. The man runs off, screaming nonsense I can barely catch before I slumber.
“Chris, call a doctor! The body in chamber 12 is still alive!”