"A Day Better Spent" by Kat Heckenbach
(originally published in The Absent Willow Review)
It started as a tingling in my hand.
I looked at the clock. Nearly midnight. No wonder. I’d been working since eight a.m. I was exhausted. Four hours of meetings, followed by lunch—which of course is just another word for a meeting with food. My ear actually started ringing from being on the phone for so long in the afternoon. And the paperwork that needed to be done for this account had taken over my office.
I should have at least taken a break for dinner, instead of swigging reheated coffee and eating that granola bar I’d found in the back of my desk drawer.
But the deadline loomed, so I flexed my fingers, shook my arm, and went back to scribbling on the notepad next to my computer.
The tingling didn’t stop. Instead, it grew in intensity and began to move up my arm and into my shoulder, which was when the pain in the middle of my back hit as well.
I would have screamed if I could have breathed properly. The room swayed as a vice tightened around my chest. My right hand flew up and clawed at my shirt. Sweat poured from my face and neck.
I’m going to die. I’m having a heart attack, and I’m going to die…
The chair surged out from underneath me, and I landed on my knees, gasping. The room swayed again, and my head hit the edge of the desk. Oh, God, I’m dying. Not now…not today! Why today?
And then I felt a hand on my shoulder. I needed to shout, to cry out and let them know what was happening. Why weren’t they speaking? Why weren’t they helping? Don’t just stand there holding my shoulder! Call 911!
My forehead seared from the pain as it pressed harder into the edge of the desk. I tried to push myself up, but my strength had fled.
Please, not today…I don’t want to die today…
And then, suddenly, it stopped. The pain, the tingling, the pressure—it all disappeared. I gulped in a breath. The sweat on my face, neck and chest felt cool. I pushed myself back, and knelt on the floor in front of my chair.
The person who had touched my shoulder was cloaked in black so that I couldn’t see his face. My shoulder felt unusually warm where his hand had been. I blinked and willed myself to speak.
“Who are you?”
Without seeing his face, I knew he smiled. It sent chills down my spine.
I expected the man to speak in a haunting, gravelly voice as images of the Grim Reaper played in my head. But the voice that emanated from underneath the black hood was melodic and deep. I would even say beautiful.
“That is not important. And it’s not something you would understand anyway.”
I looked around the room, trying to absorb what was happening. Something wasn’t right. Everything was monochromatic, shades of sepia like an old photograph. I scrunched my eyes shut and then opened them again, but nothing had changed.
Maybe I did die.
That would’ve explained the sudden change. No more pain, no more tingling, and the presence of the cloaked figure.
I looked back at him and forced the words out. “Am I dead?”
His laughter was like the roar of the ocean. Frightening and calming at the same time.