There came an immediate feeling of sadness when I first pried open my eyelids, which seemed like the last things to dry up on my body. This feeling came from the burning rays of sun awaking me by creeping up on my face past the rocky overhang. This burst of light was identical to the rays that shone through the octagonal window above my bed frame at home, with a direct path to where my head sat upon the pillows. It was one of the many things that I used to think that I hated.
I sat up on the makeshift mattress that I had constructed with my navy blue down jacket and a few brown-orange stones. The spot where I vaguely remembered a roaring fire being the night before was now just a small pile of ash, still smoldering a bit with puffs of smoke here and there. As I stumbled to the back of the small, foul smelling cave, I noticed an uncomfortable sensation rising, not only physically, but in my mind as well. I tried hard to figure out what this strange feeling was that was growing stronger by the second, but all that came was confusion. It was clear to me that I had been stuck in this barren environment for days, proven to me by the way I looked in my reflection upon the side of my butane lighter. Regardless of my battered appearance, I couldn’t seem to muster any memory inside my mind of how it was that I arrived here. As I looked around, everything seemed out of focus and incredibly confusing. After minutes of speculation, I finally attributed these confused feelings to the dull pain radiating from the upper left side of my head. Placing my hand on my head near the site of this pain I found that there was nothing there, apart from a small lump that felt like an old scar. Trying to figure out the scars origins would have wasted too much of my time, so I set that problem aside.
After savoring a few bites of a sandwich that was close to being just the crust, I ventured out of the cavern with my dusty blue jeans torn up the sides and my white buttoned shirt wrapped around my head as I had read that this would keep my protected from the heat. Upon my first step out of the cave and into the daylight, I could feel that there was something different about this day. The air was still dry and scorching hot. The whipping wind was still tossing as much sand into the air as ever. It was the way that my head was working that struck me as peculiar.
Everything I could see, which really wasn’t much, seemed blurred and unreal. I could see that the patches of dry grass and the cacti were there in front of my eyes, but I couldn’t make out any details. I couldn’t see any of the spiny grooves on the cacti, nor the cracks and crevices that are usually seen on a rock face. No matter how close I got, nothing changed and the blur remained. The sand below seemed more like a smooth ocean of beige than its usual grainy texture. I could still see the perfect waves that were created from the sweeping winds, but details weren’t clear. The heat from the sun above combined with the hot sand was causing me to sweat excessively with whatever moisture was left in my body. I repeatedly wiped my forehead when I felt it start to drip, but when I looked down at my hands, they were completely dry, though they felt soaked with perspiration.
As I walked along the desolate, never ending strip of dunes shaking nervously, I paid no attention to navigation. Once I realized that my mind had been elsewhere, I turned quickly around in the direction from which I came. Luckily I could still make out the cave in the distance. I was the only thing that I could see with perfect vision. When I saw it, I felt relieved and at the same time an uneasy depression started to set in. The sudden realization that this cave was what I would probably be calling home for a while was what caused me to begin losing hope. Things seemed like they were never going to change.
I kept walking with nothing but hope in my heart. I was walking backwards, to keep my cave in sight so I wouldn’t get lost. I climbed over the dunes, swerving to keep home in view. I traveled for what must have been miles, taking up the earlier half of the day. Since there was nothing else around to block my vision, I could faintly see the outline of my cave through clouds of dust and heat waves. Just as the cave was leaving view, my heel caught on something firm but soft and I stumbled backwards. I fell onto my back hard, but the soft sand cushioned my body’s impact. Slightly disoriented, I looked up to see what it was that I had tripped over.
It was just as clear as was the cave in the distance as I walked. Embedded into its head were its tiny, black eyes, staring at me as if I were nothing but a threat. Beyond its glossy eyes and narrow head, I could see its long, slender body covered in scales. They came together in a pattern, creating symbols and stripes that seemed as if they were painted onto the creature. At the end of its wavy body was the tail, upon which sat a strange structure. It vibrated rapidly, making a familiar noise that forced terror into my heart.
I knew how fatal a bite from a rattlesnake could be, so I didn’t move a single muscle. Regardless of my efforts to seem invisible, my falling over the snake made it certain that I was there. His tail shook vigorously, the noise growing louder and louder. The serpent flashed its needle point fangs at me and I knew a battle was soon to ensue. I figured that I could outrun something with no legs without a doubt. I hopped up in a flash and dashed toward home with all the energy I had left. To my misfortune, however, the chase was over quickly, as the sand made running difficult for me, and the snake was built for the terrain.
After I fell flat upon my face, nearly fracturing my nose and cheek bone, the snake saw an opportunity that it had been searching for. It swayed its head back and forth a few times and then pounced with exceptional speed. I felt the fangs penetrate my skin about half an inch above my right elbow. The animal stayed clamped onto my arm for at least a minute before I tore it off. Out of pure anger and despair, I swiped the serpent off of the ground with one hand on his head and the other on his body. I violently removed his head from his body and threw him back down into the sand. As quickly as the bite had happened, the snakes life was over.
The wound burned with the intensity of an active volcano. I had read an article in a magazine about a situation similar to my current one, and remembered something that it said about sucking out the poison from a bite. With the last bit of hope I had, I tried to bring the wound to my mouth, but it wouldn’t reach. As if by fate, the snake had bitten me in the place that anatomy did not allow to reach the mouth. All I could do was sit and accept that nothing could be done.
As I lay there, I glanced frequently down at the snake’s lifeless body covered in sand. Although he met it quicker than I, our fates were soon to be identical. I could not help but to think that I should have let the creature live. After all, he was simply acting upon instinct, and it was only because of my rage that it was made certain that neither party would make it out of the mess alive. I suppose it is only in death that one’s mind thinks with true selflessness.
Death was getting heavier upon my shoulders by the second, but I realized that the pain of the wound had migrated from the spot where I was bitten. It was now the small bump on my head that burned like mad and throbbed intensely. I looked at the bite, but the wound had faded into nothing more than a couple of scabs where the fangs had entered and exited my flesh. I looked up toward the barren desert in front of me and those things that before seemed blurry were now beginning to disappear. Soon, the entire landscape was washing away to a bright, white emptiness, as if I were being sucked into nonexistence. At the very moment that the last trace of my cave dissipated into the abyss, my heart thumped a final, ferocious beat.
n n n
The darkness that comes with death is something that people are not supposed to consciously experience, however I could comprehend that I was no longer alive. I sat in this darkness for what was, to me, an eternity. It seemed strange at first, but my uncertainty was interrupted by a blinding light shining down upon my face. I couldn’t see a thing, and figured I was reaching the next step of the afterlife. Suddenly, though, there were the sounds of people shouting and the shrieks of familiar voices crying. I could hear a confused commotion of scuffling leather shoes and the squeaking of sneakers. Just as some object above my face was beginning to come into view, there was complete silence again and the lights were gone.
n n n
A noise that I couldn’t identify in my half-sleeping state, as well as a small stream of light shining in my eyes, awoke me from what seemed like the deepest sleep I’d ever experienced. As I opened my eyes, there was darkness with the only source of light coming from the direction of my feet. As I sat up and started to shake off my slumber, I noticed that what surrounded me was a large dome constructed out of enormous blocks of ice. There was a small gap in the masonry at the very top of the igloo with a piece of furry material thrown over it halfway to keep the cold out. I made sense out of the hole, noticing that there was a pile of hot, red coals lying on the floor beside me. I could hear voices coming from outside and made my way out through the small doorway.
Struggling off of my knees and looking outward, I was puzzled by the monochromatic view. My eyes soon began to focus and through the white, shapes began defining themselves with shades of gray and shadows. Eventually, I could see the outlines of distant mountains and trees, but with a bit of a blur. I thought to myself that the mountains must have been farther away than they seemed, and that the snowfall must have been heavier than I thought. With this, my mind put the blurriness to the side.
To the left of the opening through which I had just crawled hung a large jacket made of some sort of fur. It hung upon a steel ice pick that was stuck into the side of one of the ice bricks. From the colors and shades in the fur, I assumed it was that of a wolf. I couldn’t think of how the coat had gotten there, nor did I recognize it at all. With a seemingly familiar confusion, I took a few steps forward to inform myself of my surroundings, when my attention was suddenly averted.
A voice had shouted my name, which was beginning to seem like the only thing I was sure of. I turned toward the shout and set my eyes upon a crackling fire surrounded by three people sitting on stones. Propped up over the fire was a monstrous leg of meat, dripping as the blood thawed. The people there spoke in a dialect that I was unaccustomed to entirely. However, after a few seconds of hearing it, I was surprised in that I could comprehend every word. What startled my mind more was that I responded quickly in this strange language, the words coming out of my mouth completely different from the words in my thoughts.
Stepping closer, I realized that I was speaking with the larger of the three. As he continued to shout my name, I realized that his accent was rough. As he was trying to pronounce Jacob, it came out of his mouth sounding more like Yacov. Regardless, I could understand that he was referring to me. Out of sheer perplexity, I asked them about who the were and where I was, to which they responded without question.
The larger, to whom I spoke first, was named Amaguq. He was built like a bull moose and he was entirely aware of it. He had an extraordinarily egotistical air about him. As he spoke, I could see his golden-yellow teeth glimmering with the glow of the fire. As for his facial features, not much could be seen. All I saw was his eyes, nose and teeth while the rest of his faced seemed to be composed of black, burly hair. The beard reached down and curved as it met his chest, dropping well below his rib cage. His voice was strong and clear, frightening me a bit as he continued shouting at me when others would speak. As he rose to grab some stone plates, his real greatness was revealed, standing well over six feet tall.
His wife was Akna, a gorgeous woman whose looks did not match up with the harsh environment she lived in. She seemed to be a bit younger than Amaguq, but not by much. Her eyes were a soft hazel-green, matching the color of her knapsack perfectly. She always kept a look of tranquility upon her face. Her expression was not always true, however, in that I could see an annoyed feeling in her eyes as she listened to her husband speak. She, like her husband, was strong and fit, with courage in her heart. It was clear to me that Akna was the one with all the intelligence, rather than her husband.
The youngest of the three was whom I was most interested in. Her name was Tiilaqiia, a name that I found as beautiful as the woman it belonged to. She possessed a different beauty than that of her mother, who she clearly got her looks from. Tiilaqiia’s beauty was the kind that makes a person’s mind go blank for moments at a time, so that the only thoughts in mind are of her. Her dark hair looked soft and it flowed down her body, stopping at her lower back. Her eyes were a dark green, but bright as the sun. What struck me the most about her, however, was that I felt I had seen her before.
It was impossible, that I knew. I knew that there was no way I’d seen her before arriving here at their camp. What made it especially clear to me that this feeling was false was that I couldn’t even remember arriving at the camp, let alone anyone I knew beforehand. Suddenly, my mind was a mess, and my thoughts started to scramble, frantically searching for an explanation to how I had gotten there. I knew something wasn’t right, judging from the feelings I had; about my location, my body, and, what was more important, Tiilaqiia.
I focused upon the fire, and my eyes didn’t work as they should. I knew then that the blur was not from the snow or my proximity to objects, but it was completely within my head. I also realized how unclear the faces of my companions were, with the exception of the young daughter. The fear I felt was curious, but also strangely familiar. I had to clear my head somehow, so I excused myself from the fire. As I began to walk away, Amaguq approached me with a bag over his shoulder. He handed me the bag, which was filled with various odd tools, and told me to catch some fish and bring them back for the next meal. I agreed, hoping that such an activity was exactly what I needed to clear my mind and make sense of everything. Just as I passed the igloo in which I had apparently slept in the night prior, I glanced back to the fire. I couldn’t make out anything with my eyes, apart from Tiilaqiia’s face glancing back at me with concern in her eyes.
I trudged across the empty tundra for a long time, with the thick snow and strong wind at my back. The tools on my back were getting to be very heavy and soon I noticed a weakness coming over me. I had forgotten to eat with all that was on my mind since I awoke. I hoped that maybe I could catch a fish or two for myself to regain some energy.
The plain was long and bare, with nothing but the objects on the horizon to look at. It seemed that no matter how far and how long I walked, nothing was getting closer. However, I finally arrived at a small lake which was hard to distinguish from the land. I walked out to the center of the lake and dropped my knapsack to the ground. Inside I found a small drilling device. After drilling a hole about seven feet deep, I put the drill aside and reached for the fishing pole that Amaguq threw together in a matter of seconds back at camp.
Waiting for fish in a frozen tundra was much like watching a pot of water boil. Anxiety was setting in, for now I had nothing to think of other than my memory. However, just as I was in the middle of a small panic attack, something tugged hard at the baited line I had dropped in the water over an hour and a half ago. I yanked as hard as I could, and sure enough what looked to be a trout popped out through the hole. It flew through the air and flopped wildly. It eventually ended up smacking me on the top of my head, causing an intense stinging sensation. I brought my hand to my head and was frightened at the result.
My hand came back into view, but was a little more rouge than when I brought it upward. The blood dripped down my fingers and reached my wrist before coming to a stop. I felt again and it felt like what used to be a scab had been opened up by the frantic fish. My fear had, at this point, peaked, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I screamed as loud as I could, letting out any anger I had about my situation. When I stopped, the confusion was still there. I stomped about, enraged that I was being cursed with these problems. I entered a blind rage and started running around, throwing the tools around, not caring whether the were lost or not. Not looking where I was going, I suddenly stepped in a spot that was, because of me, lacking ice.
The hole was just the perfect size for me to slip through, and just deep enough to keep me from pulling myself out. I struggled wildly, dipping in and out of the icy cold water and losing breath. I screamed helplessly to my companions, but it was no use. I kept myself afloat as long as I could, but it wasn’t long before I was submerged with no hope of rescue.
As I sank slowly downward, I kept my eye on the hole through which I fell. My body was twisting as it fell, beginning to lose feeling in all of its limbs. As I felt my back slam on the bottom of the lake, I knew my fate. The fish swam by and I envied their possession of gills, being the only thing that could save me at that point. Regardless of my rapid approaching end, I felt peace, for all the troubles I was having could now be forgotten with the knowledge that it was all going to end. In the hole above, I could see my three friends looking down at me in shock. The only face that was clear was that of the daughter, but it was fading fast. As my lungs ran out of oxygen, I opened my mouth to breathe, knowing that they would soon be filled with frigid water. I inhaled, but to my surprise, it felt normal, as though there was no water at all. When I opened my eyes again, I found that the three Inuits had gone, along with the ice they were standing upon. The fish were starting to dissipate, and next came the water, until all was gone except for whiteness all around. My lungs then ceased to take in air, and my eyes closed slowly. I listened for my heart to stop and all that came with its last beat was darkness.
n n n
In an instant, I was certain of where I was, and I felt a strong feeling of familiarity. I had returned to the darkness that crept up after my first end, the tragic run in with the snake. I was taken back upon realizing that I could remember both my death by venom and my death by drowning. I could hear the thoughts running through my mind, but the ability to move, see, or perform any action at all was nonexistent. It was as if my mind worked, but my body was not there. Suddenly, an image appeared, coming in and out of focus in my brain, as would a flickering screen in an antique cinema. The bright light that I had known prior had reappeared, but this time there were different sounds coming from the scene. There was the squeaking of wheels, like what one would hear on an aging grocery cart. There was a reoccurring sound that sounded like a beep of some sort, but it was dull and I could barely make it out. Frantic footsteps made a commotion louder than the one prior. Though the light was blinding, I could see movement behind it, not just in figures but in everything. Suddenly, I started to feel the things I was seeing, but just as suddenly as the feeling came, it was gone. With this, the image began to fade and I strained my mind trying to hold onto the image. It was helpless and the last thing to disappear was the whiteness of the light. Black had one again overcome my mental state, and all was silent.
n n n
The sunlight reflected off the side mirror of a nearby station wagon and shot directly into my eyes, shaking me out of an incredibly deep daydream of which I could remember no details. The bus shook vigorously as its wheels bounced over manholes and storm drains. As far as I could see, the world seemed just as normal and monotonous as ever. However, to my abrupt surprise, something was not right.
As I looked upon the faces of the other passengers, some were sitting alone and others with friends or significant others, but they were completely silent. I soon realized that the bus was making no noise either. I could see the peoples’ lips moving throughout the various conversations that I was used to, but I couldn’t hear a single word. Everything remained quiet, without even a single sound wave being processed within my ears. Naturally, I was frightened, and without knowing it, I made a complete fool of myself by jumping up and yanking on the stop wire at least fifteen times. People stared and some laughed, but I wasn’t hurt in that I couldn’t hear what they were saying anyway.
As the bus veered to the side of the road, I ran down the steps without looking back. I had hoped that I could shake off the deafness that had fallen upon me, but nothing could change it. The city was quiet for the first time, and the sun was warm. The unusual fresh air smell was overpowered by my growing panic, as I raced down the street looking around vigorously, trying to see the things I couldn’t hear. My vision felt clearer than ever, with everything being as focused as a high quality photograph. I sprinted toward my apartment covering the seven blocks in record time. I climbed the stairwell two steps at a time and reached the third floor. I went to my door, the second to last in the hallway, and charged through, barely having turned the key the full hundred and eighty degrees. There was a woman in a baby blue sundress standing in the kitchen with her face buried behind a newspaper. She stood up from the table with a concerned look, probably due to the ghostly appearance of my face along with the expression that was on it. She was extremely familiar, as if I had known her forever, but I had never seen her before. As we stared at one another, she began to throw her hands around, forming various shapes and symbols with her fingers. After a second, I realized she was trying to tell me something with sign language, informing me that this deafness was not new. However, this definitely felt like the first time I was finding out about it. So, I stood with a blank look on my face, and I could tell she knew that something was not right.
Not wanting to deal with trying to have a conversation in my state, I darted back out of the apartment without any destination in mind. As I raced back down the corridor, I ran my hands through the thick mane of hair on my head trying to calm myself down. It was then that I realized the reason for the concerned faces I’d seen on the street and on the mysteriously well known woman in the kitchen. My hair was soaking wet, and my hands were covered in the notoriously terrifying color, red. The blood had come down my neck and halfway down my back. I was now deaf and apparently losing blood fast. The source of the river was an open gash on my scalp that seemed fresh.
Through the confusion, my brain began filling with the things that I should not have remembered, as if a balloon had burst in my head. I could remember the darkness after death and how I’d been in it multiple times. I saw the visions I saw that broke the silence of death and I could remember the things that occurred during them. Soon, I could recollect my life in the tundra with the Inuit people and their igloo. The memory of drowning silently at the bottom of a lake was one that I could have done without, as it made me stop at the doorway of my apartment building and begin to cough, bending over in pain.
The pain subsided shortly after and I now was walking quickly, turning down random streets with my focus on the thoughts in my head. As I thought hard about the tundra, I remembered the girl. I couldn’t remember her name but I saw her face. As it became more clear, I realized that she was the woman in my kitchen. They had the same gorgeous eyes and luxurious hair. She was beautiful then and now I had just left her standing, confused in my kitchen. I pushed that aside in my mind because I had my newfound deafness to worry about, along with the fact that I was now realizing that I had somehow died and come back to life.
I slowed down a few blocks from my apartment, sitting on a bench in front of a pet store. Almost every person walking by stopped and tried to talk to me, probably about my possibly fatal injury. Since I couldn’t hear a word they said, I just looked down into my lap, trying to get them to go away. As I was trying to get the facts straight in my mind, another painful memory shot thorough my head. My elbow began to burn, and all the pain from my head was forgotten. It was as if somebody was digging knives into my arm, and the pain didn’t seem to be lessening. I sat in furious pain, and could now remember everything. The desert and the tundra, the snake and the icy water, and the rough, wrinkled face of the Inuit man were all in my brain, rattling my nerves. As if all at once, I could remember my entire journey of life and death, and with no noise to distract me from my thoughts, I felt like my head was going to explode.
I looked up with my eyes squinting from the horrible pain that I was enduring, and across the street was the woman. When my eyes focused upon her, the pain was gone, and my brain calmed. She was like an antidote to the poison of thought. I shook myself, trying to recover from the battle I had just endured. Standing up, I saw a puddle of red on the bench, and I was beginning to feel dizzy. The woman stood across the street, waiting for a safe time to cross. In my almost drunken state, I decided to go to her, thinking that maybe she could make sense of everything. Upon my first step into the street, the solid steel grill of a city bus crushed the bones in my face and threw me down the road about twelve feet. With the injury on my head, and the impact of the bus, I was dead almost instantly.
This time, the darkness was only there for a quick moment. I felt the same as I always did, but with many more thoughts in my mind. I could remember everything, and those details that were unclear at the time were getting clearer in some spots, and disappearing in others. Only those memories that had an impact on my thoughts the most were those that stayed.
The darkness was split in half by the familiar white light. However, it was not quite as bright this time, and there was an image coming into my eyes. There were white tiles riddled with craters and spots. They were each rectangular in shape and split up by grey aluminum strips. I sat up to reveal to myself the rest of the room. It was furnished, but not comfortably. The chairs and sofa were all a pale green color and made of fake leather and wood. As I shifted my position on the bed, my feet hit the bitter cold porcelain tiles of the floor and it gave me a slight shiver. As I turned my head to examine my surroundings, I was instantly terrified.
There were a number of different machines running next to the bed, each making a beep of a different tone. I knew what they were and where I’d seen them before. One monitored my heart rate, one body temperature, and another blood pressure. I had no idea why I was hooked to this system of wires and tubes, but there was nobody around to ask. I got up and stumbled over to the closet door upon which hung a mirror. Everything seemed fine apart from my head. There was a bandage wrapped tightly around the dome of my head. I figured that if something had happened to my head, this is why I couldn’t remember anything about how I got to this hospital room. Immediately after that, I wondered whether this was just another life that I would endure, simply to arrive in another.
The door handle slammed downward and the huge door swung open slowly. Through it came a small figured woman with a tray of food. After averting my focus from the food upward, I realized that this woman was the woman from the city and from the Tundra.
“Jacob, you’re awake!” she shrieked after noticing my eyes had opened. I didn’t respond simply because I did not know what to say. I was perplexed at why this woman kept appearing in my mind. I could vaguely remember knowing her for years, and I was almost sure of it, but I couldn’t seem to figure out who she was. Regardless of the fact that I did not want to offend this woman, I had to find out.
“Yes, I woke up just a minute ago. Listen, I know that I have known you for a long time, I can feel it. I haven’t felt anything as clear as this feeling in a long time. I hope I don’t hurt you by asking this, but, how do I know you, miss? Another thing, what are we doing here, together, in this room?” I said at a slight whisper, with various squeaks and crackles as if I was just learning to speak.
In her eyes, I saw sadness and pain, along with confusion. There was a hint of understanding shining through, but the first three were more prominent. She spoke softly and with a hidden whimper, “You must know who I am Jacob! The doctor said this might happen. I hoped more than anything that he would be wrong. Jacob, I’m your wife, Daisy. We’ve been married for seventeen years. We’ve been in love since long before then. We sit in this room because of your accident last month. We were on vacation in the mountains, and there was a high wooden bridge on the hiking trail. It wasn’t very stable, but you insisted upon crossing. Anyway, after the rope snapped at the end where I waited, I tried to grab it, but could not. You, however, grabbed hold of one of the ropes, trying to keep yourself from falling. You held on and swung with the bridge, and you smashed your head on the rock face below. You are lucky to be alive, Jacob, for if it wasn’t for the peculiar shape of that rock face, you surely wouldn’t have lived through it. The mountains were freezing, and we were up there for almost a day and a half before help arrived. I’m just so happy to see that you’re okay.” She started to cry and I held her, now starting to remember that she was indeed my wife, whom I loved very much.
The news was a shock, of course. Everything I had experienced in the past few days was completely unreal. I, apparently, was simply coming in and out of a comatose state. Either that, or my dreams were still happening. There was no way for me to tell, and it scared me more than anything. I looked about the room, trying to see the familiar fuzz of each other experience. I thought to myself that if this were indeed another experience like the desert and the tundra, why would I wake up in the hospital instead of simply dying here? Why would everything seem so clear? I was incredibly reluctant to accept that this may be the real thing, and that my terrible misfortune had ended. As we sat there, it was quiet and calm, until the heart rate monitor began beeping louder than before. As the sound grew louder and faster, I could only hope that the darkness would not come again.
Written by Dylan Dodd