Written by Kate Diller
Graphic by Emma Robinson

“Suddenly, or perhaps imperceptibly slowly, my lungs are empty. I cannot find air, even as my chest heaves, trying to draw it in.”

The desk beneath me is shockingly cold, distracting me momentarily from the scene before me. My attention doesn’t stray for long though, the sharp scent of blood drawing me back; a small scuffling on the other side of the door demanding my focus return to my surroundings. I stand, backing away from the sound, out into the hallway. Suddenly, or perhaps imperceptibly slowly, my lungs are empty. I cannot find air, even as my chest heaves, trying to draw it in. My brain fails to process anything else, demanding my muscles to respond. They’re not listening, but my brain keeps fighting, making it impossible to figure out where I am. I can interpret only colors, smell only the rusty scent of blood, this time from a panic-induced nose bleed. A soft tingle spreads across my skin and even my teeth, the numbness taking hold. 

A shuffle behind me snaps my focus away from the struggle, every muscle in my body tensing, curling around one another, preparing for action. Ahead of me, there is only darkness, wind rustling through leaves in the distance, sheer uncertainty at best. The other option is no better, the probability of perishing exponentially higher if I turn back now. Still, I’m rooted to the spot, unable to grasp safety, my fear a ball and chain, anchoring me to where I stand. So begins the internal bargaining, arguing with the voice in my head that questions every decision.

I have to get out of here.

What if there’s more danger ahead?

I’ll die if I stay here.

You’ll probably die out there.

I have to go out there, it’s my only option.

Is it? What if you’ve missed something? You usually miss something.

Do I? Maybe I am missing something.

Maybe you are.

No. Stop. This isn’t the usual. I’m not reviewing homework I’ve just finished; I’m trying not to die.

But what if you’re wrong?

The slam of a door, not close but close enough, interrupts the battle. Breaks me from my anchor. My body takes off, mind lagging behind, unable to comprehend. Arms and legs pumping. Heart trying to claw its way up my throat, out of my mouth. The bickering is washed away by pure instinct. I can’t think or feel. I am only movement, barely aware of the doors that meet my hands, the grass under the soles of my shoes, or the trees that only moments ago taunted me from the darkness. Any thought that gets through is clipped, barely coherent. 

Don’t stop moving. Can’t stop. Never stop.

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