Waking up

I remember standing in a big, open room, view overlooking a magnificent city that I couldn't recognize. There was a well-dressed man sitting stooped at a beautiful mahogany desk. The man was reading some sort of document. It looked like a long contract or a short manuscript. He was skinny... no. Severe. All harsh lines and sharp angles. Tailored black pin-stripe suit with a deep green dress shirt and no tie. His cufflinks were polished silver. They stick out in my mind. One side was a likeness of an hourglass and the other side was a snake eating its own tail.
    I don't remember why I was there or how I got there, but I was scared. Not the kind of reasoned, directed anxiety we feel as adults. Not a fear of death or pain or loss. More like the abject terror you feel as a child, sitting in the dark listening to breathing you can't yet identify as your own. I felt like if I looked away from this man for an instant he would be replaced by something horrific. I felt like if I tried to step back I would fall forever. Sitting there, paralyzed, I waited for him to finish. Pages turning at a steady, agonizing pace. Every time his long, thin finger touched paper it sounded like a death rattle. After some time he stopped and looked up at me. Slowly, as though he was moving through syrup. His eyes locked with mine. Green, the most vibrant green I'd ever seen. He smiled, his teeth perfect, his lips thin but flush with color.
“Yes, this will do nicely.” My heart lurched, then started trying to pound out of my chest. His voice was a light baritone, it sounded like he was picking his favorite cigar, warm and comfortable, but those words were the rasp of wood on steel as the guillotine falls. I felt like they'd be the last things I'd ever hear. I couldn't help but start to cry. The fear making its best attempt to flee my body in its last seconds, a rat leaping from a sinking ship. He smiled, wide and thin. Genuine in a way that stole the last quivering vestiges of my hope, almost kind. “Shhhh,” he whispered to me, the sound clear and sharp despite the distance between us. “It's only a dream.”

    I woke slowly, agonizingly. Consciousness fought me every step of the way. First there was just a hollow, cold darkness. Then came a sound, breathing and a clicking. Distant but pervasive, as though I were surrounded by asthmatics shaking boxes of cutlery. Movement. The awareness that I was the thing moving and anxiety that I was both moving and unconscious took turns rolling around my head. The act of considering my potential situation must have jump-started something because every nerve in my body flashed alive, all of them screaming their disapproval. Finally my eyes opened. I wished they hadn't. The breathing was mine. The clinking sound was the chains suspending me by my neck and wrists. The pain wracking my body was the skin missing around my abdomen, the torn skin around my wrists, neck and bound ankles, the half scabbed cuts all over my arms, legs and genitals. The broken ribs quickly took on a noted significance and explained why the breathing I heard was so raspy. An image of a shattered rib tearing slowly into a lung flickered through my mind.
    The shock of this terrible self-awareness tried to shake a scream from me. It failed. The pain caught me as I was trying to inhale and sent shrapnel through my senses. Worse, it made me cough as the extended dehydration I was experiencing made itself part of the conversation. Nothing could have prepared me for this. I couldn't help but shake as I was grabbed and spun around.
    He was rail thin, in a well-tailored suit. Severe. Gleaming cufflinks inches from my face as he held me steady. He smiled, wide and thin. Almost apologetic, like he'd accidentally bumped me in the street. “Shhhh,” he said, like he was whispering in my ear. One long, narrow finger pressed against my cracked and bleeding lips. “It's only a dream.”

     The hospital bed is warm and slightly damp. I've been sweating. I never expected to live forever, but I always hoped I'd go from something more dignified. My family is here. Some cry, most just stand there trying to look aggrieved. I'm not surprised, this is just an unwelcome distraction for many of them. Depressing and awkward, but all in all an inconvenience at best. My life is ending and my family is consumed in thoughts of jobs and social lives. I'm not even disappointed. Just tired. I can't help but understand, I don't want to think of it, why should they?    
    The man is here. All harsh edges and stark colors. His grin is almost friendly, almost welcoming. They don't see him as he weaves through them to my bed. His cufflinks flash as he caresses me. One ax-like hand on my chest, the other on my forehead. Perfect teeth gleam as he leans in close to kiss my forehead. His lips are cold and soft. Eyes like auroras lock with mine. His smile comes back, somehow both sad and predatory. I remember my fear and wonder at it. How silly it was. So small. So myopic. There is so much more than fear now. “Shhhh”, He begs. “Its only a dream”.

I wake up.

The End

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