The theme: an overheard remark
When I awoke, it was pitch-black, like the inside of a cave where not a speck of sunlight could penetrate the darkness. I reached out to steady myself but grabbed air. In spite of feeling nothing around me, I had an undeniable sense of being tightly confined, as if in a grave. Perhaps it was only the darkness that cloaked me, clinging so tightly that I felt I could not move. With the greatest amount of effort, I pushed forward, willing myself to escape this prison.
My head was pounding now and I became aware of something stuck in my throat. It was gagging me. I could feel myself choking, yet still able to breathe. I reached out to grab whatever it was that was caught in my throat and again felt nothing but air. I wasn’t imagining it: something was there, snaking out of my mouth and down my chin. I began to panic and tried with both hands to yank the offending object from my mouth, but came up empty. It was there; I could bite down on it, feel its resistance to my teeth, though it had no taste or any other attribute to explain why I might have tried to swallow it. Checking again that I could still breathe, I made up my mind to quell panic just long enough to get out into daylight where I could see what I was up against and remove it then.
I’d been through worse, having lived in a frat house at one time. Insomnia ran rampant through the place as every man attempted to stay awake the longest and hopefully avoid becoming the object of pranks typically suffered by the sleeping. Fatigue often overtook me, and I would awaken later to find myself covered in obscene Sharpie tattoos, my eyebrows and part of my head shaved, and – not unlike now – random objects forced into openings which were never meant to accommodate said objects. I’d survived all that – with a 3.6 grade point average to boot – so I was fairly certain that I could survive this latest insult to my body.
As the fog continued to lift from my brain, I thought it might be wise to figure out where I was, so I could get the hell out. There weren’t actually any caves in this part of Kansas, so I ruled that out quickly enough. I tried thinking back to the day before: where had I been and whom had I been with? Had I taken a ride from a stranger and ended up the victim of a classic slasher-novel kidnapping? That was so unlike me. And yet I was trapped, with no idea where I might be or why I was here. Worse, I had no memory of the previous day, or even the day before that.
I listened for a while, trying to get my bearings and find anything that might help me navigate my way out. Knowing there was no way to predict a sudden drop-off in the floor, I moved forward in a kind of shuffle, willing myself not to lose my balance if the ground should disappear beneath my feet. My shoes made no sound as I moved, and my hands felt nothingness still. I became aware of a steady mechanical beeping sound. It was far away, but I was certain I could use it as a beacon to freedom. If a machine of some kind was producing that noise, it was proof enough of civilization and, at the very least, a room with a light bulb.
As I shuffled my way toward my friend The Machine, a new problem arose. This sound, which I had been certain would save me, now seemed to emanate from everywhere. In despair I realized the sound could be broadcast from anywhere around the room. I might wander in the dark for hours and find nothing more than speakers set in walls. No machine, no light bulb, no way out. Just noise. It would take a disturbed mind to conjure up such torture for a victim, but having watched my share of horror movies, I had no doubt it could be done. The beeping noise quickened for a moment, then slowed again to a languid pace as I listened. It seemed to be taunting me now, rather than acting as a friend and savior. I had no choice but to push on, though, so I did.
After what seemed hours of stumbling through the dark, unable to find a single wall to guide my way or provide a respite from my balancing act, I stopped to rest and determine if I had made the slightest progress. It dawned on me then that my legs, the legs of a forty-five year old man, had held up pretty well for the journey. They should have been cramping from the exertion of constantly compensating for my lack of balance in the dark. At the very least, all the walking, even in a normal fashion, should have tired my legs by now. It must have been the adrenaline kicking in as my body fought to survive. And that damn – thing – was still there in my throat, rubbing it raw and causing my tongue to swell. I willed myself to wake from this nightmare so that it would be over just that quickly. Why hadn’t I thought of that before? I squeezed my eyes shut, but when I opened them again, nothing had changed. I was still trapped here.
I was ready to give up and die – and then I heard voices. They seemed to be at a distance, but the voices were clear and somewhat familiar. There were two males and a female. I shuffled in their direction, unable to shout because of the object blocking my throat. In any case, I wasn’t prepared to alert them to my presence until I was certain of their intentions. For all I knew, these were my captors and they were planning to kill me, having grown tired of torturing me in their hideout.
They were talking about someone whose name was the same as mine. I strained to hear them over the sound of my breathing, which had become a loud mixture of a gasp and a whoosh. And as bad as I had it right now, it sounded like this guy had it a million times worse.
“Oh my gosh! Jim!”
“He looks peaceful, doesn’t he?”
“He’s got tubes and wires coming from everywhere. You think that looks peaceful?”
“How long has he been out?”
“About a month. It took this long to identify him after they pulled him out of the ravine.”
“He was on his motorcycle?”
“Yeah, but there wasn’t much of it left. He’s lucky to be alive.”
“You call this lucky? I’d rather be dead.”
“Shhh – don’t you know that people in a coma can hear things?”
“I don’t know if they can or can’t, but he’s going to find out anyway when he wakes up. If he wakes up.”
“I just can’t believe this. Poor Jim. His arms and legs -”
“There was too much damage. They had no choice but to amputate.”
“You know what? If I were Jim, I’d stay asleep forever. I’d rather never wake up than have to live like that. Hey Jim! If you can hear me, stay where you are, buddy. Just stay where you are.”