Originally published in Garbled Transmissions.
“Sleep, those little slices of death. How I loathe them.” -Edgar Allen Poe
The world: all shadows and smoke. A body lies nearby, oozing life in all directions. Concentric circles of blood and color mix with the blackness of the surrounding world. He squints without eyes, trying to make out details. The corpse is far away and getting farther, a view from another existence. He does not see the vehicle responsible for the scene, nor does he notice the EMT trying to resuscitate the dead man. The body is the focus of his world, a lone piece of debris in a world painted black. He thinks that maybe the body used to be him. Or maybe it used to be a complete stranger. He imagines himself as a spectral rubbernecker.
The shadows: stretching out in every direction, constantly shifting across their background of midnight. He trains his vision on the inky, almost invisible smoke that comprises his world. It takes time to see it. His vision struggles to adjust. He should be free to travel where he likes. Every obstacle in his way is insubstantial. But the smoke curls around him on all sides, trapping him. He thinks that maybe he can reach out and push his way through, dashing the smoke like ashes on the wind. But fear holds him back. He does not have memory here, and does not know if he has tried that before. He draws his consciousness in on itself, curling into an ethereal fetal position. He does not think that he can try new things. He does not know if they are allowed.
The smoke: taking shape. It grows arms and a head. The eye sockets are empty. He notices that this is how he looks as well. His wraith-like form, once humanoid, is disintegrating. His shady form trails away into the abyss like paper streamers melting in rain. His legs have vanished. It takes all of his concentration to focus on his arm and maintain its form.
The figure: reaching out to him. Its spectral arm moves slowly, but he feels menace in it. This is another thing that he does not know about. But in this existence of emotion and sensation, he comes to realize that he fears it more than his clinging prison walls. He tries to scream. The world is silent, and has been for all of the brief moments that he can remember. He moves toward the body, his will pushing him through black strands of wall. They cut his shadowy form, and he sees pieces if himself fall away, forming into new wisps of prison-smoke. He reaches for the body, trying to bring it closer. He feels a push, then a pull. Someone is helping him.
“He’s coming around. Are you okay?”
Pain: searing throughout his being. He smiles, knowing that he is alive. The colors around him fade so quickly that he believes they were probably never there to begin with. A woman stands over him. Stands, not floats. She holds two defibrillator plates and draws him back from the invented language of death. He sighs painfully, but rejoices to see his breath take form in the cold night air. He is awake now. Or maybe he just can’t sleep.
Image: Church Ruins, by Tim Emerich