Copyright © 1999 Robert G. Ferrell
Cold air rushed past my head, as if trying to get around me on the way to some fearfully important meeting to which I had not been invited. I struggled for breath, trying desperately to pull in some of the fugitive atmosphere. I knew I was fighting a losing battle as I twisted and spun in free fall, but something inside me would not simply bow to what seemed the inevitable. When at last the welcome oblivion of unconsciousness enveloped me, my final sensation was once of profound peace, and just a touch of gas.
Sunlight played warmly over cold toes. Something made me stir: perhaps the light, perhaps some uncomfortable fragment of a dream lodged between two of the more sensitive layers of my brain. I pulled my legs up to my chest in a fetal reflex and in doing so withdrew those toes from the narrow band of heat. The temperature of my metatarsal digits suddenly became a thing of sufficient importance to my brain that it started me down the path to the waking world, stopping only for a brief moment along the way to check the map.
Sleep ended suddenly, like a book being shut on a wasp. I opened my eyes and blinked without comprehension at the bare stone wall that confronted me with its mute and frozen visage. In the indeterminate distance I thought I heard the call of a bird, or perhaps it was a piece of rusted industrial machinery, wailing in a muted sforzando.
A whirl of inchoate thoughts clouded my reason as receding tendrils of neural fantasia made this waking world seem less real than the one from which I had so recently and precipitately sprung forth like a Venus. After a few long moments of confusion, the distant sensation which had called me back coalesced and I remembered that I had cold toes. The toes themselves seemed indignant at my slow response.
I looked along my legs to my feet, and they struck me as grotesquely unfamiliar things -- bare, mud-splattered, and somehow alien. I could not deny their connection with me; the fact that they were chilled and its consequences were blunt reminders. I seemed to recall that I usually wore things -- I couldn't remember what they were called -- on my feet to protect those toes. I wondered supinely, through the last stubborn cobwebs of slumber, where those nameless things were now. I felt along my legs and discovered to my horror that my touch elicited no sensation. Was I paralyzed, I wondered? A little more exploration led to the realization that the legs I was feeling were not my own; mine were underneath these and a little to the right. Relief washed over me in a warm, wet torrent.
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