Chloe and I talked about death once. I told her I thought you just die, that’s it, and she said she thinks you transform into something, maybe not a bunny, but something. We were both wrong. Death is monotony. A walk in the woods. There is no way to know how long I’ve been doing this. Mr. Blair lags behind me and it’s always Monday morning in late November, the gray cold, the dead leaves on the ground, shimmying in the sky on their way down. I don’t know where we’re going, and though we never stop walking, we never get anywhere.
And I miss her. I miss her.
But I can’t cry. There’s no crying in these woods. There’s no food because there’s no hunger. There is no yawning, no sleep, there are no leg cramps or sunsets or Fluffernutter frappes. There’s no world in our world, it’s just me and him. He goads me when I slow down, when he knows I’m thinking about her, when I’m slipping. Come on, Jon, steady as she goes.
I can’t speak. I have no voice. He does though, muttering about leaves, life. I start to wish I would die so I wouldn’t have to miss her but I’m already dead. And this is hell because the leaves have teeth and sometimes they nick me and there is no blood, only pain.
You screwed up, Jon. You had your chance and you missed it.
I look up at the blank canvas of sky, the threat of snow, the crackling hiss that never bottoms out. I wish snow would fall in lumps, making me deaf.
You wouldn’t be here if you’d told her how you feel, Jon. You know it, you do.
I try to turn my head, I try to talk, but the leaves on the ground flare up, they glow bright green and the electricity seeps through veins in the leaves into me, my veins.
Don’t turn around, Jon. I told you there is no going back. You should know by now.
But then, everything stops. The leaves hang in the air, as if someone hit pause on the screen of our world. My legs don’t move. There is no walking, no talking. I’m choking. My ribs are crushing, cracking. I can’t breathe. My throat is full. Marshmallow Fluff. I drop to the floor of the dead forest and my windpipe is closing and the sky is hardening, turning to concrete, whitening and stiffening. I didn’t want this world but now I’m losing it, the whiteout inside of me, outside.
And then there is nothing.
And then I see red. A deep red in my mind that thwarts everything else, darker than blood, pain.
I don’t know where I am or what happened. But I must be alive because this is the worst pain I’ve ever known, the searing, pulsing red of my throat. Slowly the rest of the world comes into focus. The twisted sheets in my hand. The hospital bed beneath my body.
But I’m not in a hospital. I am in a narrow room. The ceiling and walls are concrete, windowless slabs. A halogen lightbulb sizzles near my head and there are dozens of houseplants, ferns like you see at Kmart.
I don’t know what this place is, this musty underground, but it feels like a basement. I start to think about the last day I remember, the last thing I remember. The woods. Pedro shivering. And then the sub. Roger Blair. He took me.
He took me and here I am. My body on this bed. The pain in my throat. And I realize. A breathing tube. He put a breathing tube in me.