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Totaled

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     Think. I’ve got to think.

     If I still had a body, I’d be flashing cold right now, with nausea clawing at my throat. My mind rebels against it, but I think...

     Damn it! Why did I ever sign that research waiver?

     I think I’m dead.

***

     I remember the accident like it was yesterday—no, like it’s still happening, with the tires skidding on wet asphalt. It was the first big storm of the season. The boys had dentist appointments, so we all slept in, and I made waffles for breakfast. I can still smell the syrup.

     Lightning crackled overhead. We ducked our heads and ran for the car, spurred by the smell of fresh rain on hot pavement.

     We hydroplaned at the bottom of the on ramp. The back end fishtailed, and we skidded into the traffic lanes. A big diesel monster plowed into the driver’s-side door. The spin sucked us into the gap between the truck and trailer.

     Everything was slow motion after that. The flip. Spinning on the roof. The raging cacophony of silence when we hit the tree.

     The boys, strapped in their seats, were fine thanks to the side cushion airbags. The other driver walked away.

     But I was totaled.

***

     Damn, this is hard.

     I try to process what I’m feeling. If I’m feeling. I cycle through my senses.

     It’s dark. Dark like a cave on the night of the new moon. I try to inhale through my nose but nothing happens. It smells like sterile air in the containment room at the lab. It smells like nothing.

     My tongue remembers the warmth of my mouth and the smooth-hard shapes of my teeth, but that’s a memory, not a perception.

     My adrenaline rises. My heartbeat thumps in my ears like an off-balance wash load, but I don’t have ears—or a heart—so that’s a memory, too.

     No, not a memory. An association formed of repeated fear responses over thirty-eight years of life.

     If I had hands, they’d tremble. My mouth would go dry. An fMRI would show shifting colors lighting up my pre-frontal cortex, then racing through the midbrain and amygdala.

     I want to hug my knees to my chest and hide my face in my arms. I want to take deep breaths to calm myself, but I can’t. All of that is an illusion now.

     Wait.

     Maybe I can.

     I remember a study where subjects imagined flame and their skin warmed. If I imagine breathing, maybe I can fool my brain into sweeping the stress chemicals from my tissues.

     I focus every scintilla of will on taking a deep, cleansing breath. Like sensations in a phantom limb, I feel my chest expand. Feel cool air flowing through my nostrils and down the back of my throat. I let the breath out, and my shoulders relax even though I don’t have shoulders, either.

     I do it again. And again, until the darkness feels soft and comforting like flannel sheets on Christmas Eve.

     Now I can think.

     Where am I?

     No way to tell. Should be a lab at Allied Neuro Associates if I’ve left the hospital already. The research rider was explicit about that. A total meant immediate notification of ANA so the tissues could be stabilized for transfer.

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