by J. William Mitchell

The first thing I feel is soft, flexible air; wave upon wave of quiet and liberating nothingness slipping across my face, wrapping around my liquid frame like cold silk. It reminds me of roller coaster rides and summer road trips with the windows down and evenings at the top of Chimney Hill. It reminds me of the night Katie and I walked three miles to get home after one of our first dates, fighting against darkness and fatigue and an arctic, skin piercing wind. The agonizing pain of sandpaper air, soothed by anticipation and lust. I can almost feel her skin brushing over me, calming. My eyes water and the salty sting of unstoppable tears make me smile and laugh out loud.

Forgive me, Kate.

I let the sound in. Violent modulations form constantly shifting walls of white noise, protective barriers to surrounding sonic attacks. Dogs bark and engines beat in time. Children scream joyfully. The rhythms of Agemo Avenue play like pitch-perfect notes, complimenting thick, harmonic odors and bittersweet, symphonic flavors. The din of whirling molecules is quickly replaced by the warm, welcoming hum of humanity, an overwhelming and elusive happiness. I can hear the comforting buzz of alien machinery, the frenetic chants of hospital workers, the random intercom announcements and hallway conversations. I can hear Katie breathing. I can hear elation and then panic, fear and eventually chaos and sadness and agony. My heart drops through my body once again.

God, it all happens so quickly. It's easy to forget how fast we're moving, sometimes. Plummeting towards some mysterious and ethereal endpoint, some ill-promised reward for participation and good sportsmanship. But I can't do it. I can't bring myself to look. I want to open my eyes and take it all in, soak up whatever's left before it's too late, but the weight of sense and emotion and life beats down from all sides. A torrential downpour of fear and self-doubt prevents choice or momentum. My teeth grind together and my face contorts. It takes every last ounce of resolve to tear my salt-covered eyelids apart. I convince myself that the sight is worth seeing, but it's not. It's my sad confirmation. The first thing I see is the life that passed me by.

The last thing I feel is hard, unforgiving pavement.

J. William Mitchell is a short-fiction writer from Toronto, Ontario. He is currently working on his first collection of flash fiction. You can view his most recent short stories at http://www.rednow.ca/wonder. Contact Mr. Mitchell.