|The Transformation Story Archive||The Visionary Saga|
He came to in total darkness.
Where was he?
His senses were dulled. There was no light. There was no sound save for his slowly beating heart. He could feel something on his taste buds, something familiar, a taste he hated.
He could feel pressure all around.
He lay still, not by choice, for a long time or perhaps only seconds. His mind still not fully able to piece together the fragments. Then he heard a familiar, if muted, sound. A tiny electronic chirp.
It was the hourly chime on his wristwatch.
He wanted to move it to his face, to look at the time, but found he couldn't. He needed to know if he was late for work.
But...he was already at work, wasn't he?
So why couldn't he move? Why couldn't he see? Why did he taste...blood in his mouth?
He struggled to recall the day. He had a fragmented memory of this morning, or was it this morning? Waking up, taking a shower, grabbing a warmed cinnamon raisin bagel and a coffee mug much with him.
He remembered kissing his wife goodbye.
The arrival at the office, he could remember that. Marline was already there, she usually was. She'd given him the evening faxes, the Fed Ex package that had been waiting at the door and a cup of coffee.
They'd joked about something. What was it?
She left the office. Why? Business cards. The printer had called. The new cards were ready. He was out, and was meeting some new clients at lunch...
What time was it? He didn't want to miss lunch.
Why did he have such a hard time remembering anything after that?
Ceiling tiles? Why did he think of ceiling tiles all of a sudden?
Falling. They had been falling.
The fluorescent lights had rained from the ceiling.
The heavy bookshelf by the door. It had fallen, hadn't it?
The pieces started to meld into his head. The disjointed images of his small office coming apart at the seams, the feeling of panic as the wall collapsed. The terror as the very ground under his feet moved like jelly.
Earthquake. The word summed it all up.
Trapped. That word did the same.
Now, with his mind slowly coming back, he could make sense of what he was feeling. His legs were caught. He felt the familiar, if twisted, form of his chair tangled in them. His right arm. It felt wedged under something smooth and metal. The computer, he realized, which was probably itself pinned under derbies. His left arm felt trapped under more random items, some sharp, some dull, some paper, some wood. His body, he slowly realized, was wedged under his twisted desk.
He wanted to shout, but couldn't get the air into his lungs.
A voice, gentle and calm, came into his head. ::Stay Calm, Chris. I'm here to help.::
::I can't move.::
::I know that, too. You're entitled.::
::Am I dead?::
A long pause. ::No. But you have to listen to me or I can't help you.::
::Who are you?::
::A friend. Will you listen?::
::It's going to hurt in a second. It's going to hurt a lot. But you need to stay still no matter what! Do you understand, Chris? You have to stay still::
::What are you going to do?::
::Will you stay still for me, Chris?::
Another long pause. ::Yes.::
Chris steeled himself as best he could. He waited a few moments. Then the pain hit. His mangled legs felt bashed and twisted. He felt the sharp objects helping to hold his arm down seem to tear into the flesh, tearing muscle and bone. He gritted his teeth against the pain, so hard he felt a tooth crack.
::Good, Chris!! It will be over in a minute!::, said the voice in his head.
He heard slight sounds again. Creaking of the derbies all around him. The pressure began to subside. He began to feel the pain lessen.
::Okay, I have done what I can for you. You have to help yourself now.::
::But I'm still trapped::
A long pause. ::No, you're not.::
Chris tried to move, and found the voice was right. He could move freely, at least, sort of. He still couldn't feel his arms or legs, and the room was still dark.
::Where do I go?::
::Just follow your nose. The air outside is sweet.::
He moved slowly, and then sensed what the man had been telling him. There was a smell of sweet ahead. He moved around the crushed office with ease. The pain that he had felt was gone.
The air continued to grow sweet, and other smells mixed in. The smell of...soot? What was that other scent? Moisture?
Daylight. A sight more beautiful than anything he had ever seen. He came out into the bright light of the California morning and felt the wonderful feeling of warmth.
He looked over himself, checking for injury. Then, his mind reeling, he suddenly knew how he had left the building. He saw how it was that he couldn't sense his arms or legs.
He didn't have any.
He looked at the mottled green scales of a snake.
"I see that you are all right.", came that gentle voice, aloud this time.
Chris looked in the direction of the voice, but discovered that he couldn't see all that well. All he could make out was the sense of darkness against the brilliant blue of the morning sky.
The voice again, "I know that this is a lot to absorb, but I have little time. I am here to give you a choice. You were not to die in that building, and you won't. I made you like you are in order to let you live. But you have a choice. You can go back to the man you were, but there are no guarantees. You were hurt in there. Very hurt and near death. A lot of people are like that today. As a human, you may not survive the night, but you will effect others in important ways."
"As a snake, you will live a long life. I know. But, you will not be human."
Chris felt his mind go calm. He recognized the feeling. It was what he called his "too-much-information" state. When he had been given so much at one moment that he couldn't sort it all out.
But he somehow knew that he had too. He never stopped to consider that he shouldn't believe this man. He did, after all, get out of the building alive. Chris didn't want to die. He was afraid to die.
But he didn't want to live away from all he knew.
"Then, you have made your choice?"
The snake began to grow again. Chris felt the pain begin to return as his legs grew, mangled and torn. He felt the fresh blood dribble from his injured arm. He felt the pain of his bitten tongue.
He looked around, his eyes a little misty and unfocused from the tears of pain. He saw the old man now, dressed in his heavy black overcoat. He was looking at Chris with deep concern and sadness. "I have done what I can for you. If there was only time, I would do more. If I can, I will."
Chris looked around the landscape for a moment. Thick smoke rose from all across the valley. The sounds of distant sirens rang through the crisp air. He looked back at the old man with a touch of realization.
"Go. You have work to do."
The man nodded and faded from sight.
Chris gritted his teeth from the pain, and lay against the rubble of what had been his office He heard a familiar voice nearby.
"Chris! Oh my God! Are you okay?"
It was Marline, back from the printers. Or did she get there? She helped him to his feet and into her car. She drove him to the hospital, where he was moved to the head of the triage list.
As he lay quietly on the gurney, watching an IV drip into his arm, his mind wandered back to the morning. His mind wandered back the choice he made. The chance at a long life as an animal, a snake, or the risk of losing his life in a few hours. He couldn't decide if made the right one.
The doctor came over and picked up his chart. Chris still had trouble focusing his eyes and couldn't see him, save for the white lab coat. After all that must have happened to this doctor, he though, his coat is very white.
A gentle hand touched his forehead and a familiar voice came to his ears. "You're going to be all right, Chris. I'm here to be sure of that."
Chris drifted off to sleep, knowing that to be true.
Flashes copyright 1996 by Brian Eirik Coe.
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