Cold. Bone-chilling cold, penetrating and consuming him - that was all the young boy could think of as he bobbed gently up and down in the swells of that black river. He was close to shore, but, sapped of energy, saw that it may as well have been a thousand miles away.
It was night, and a shadow of deeper darkness hid him from view as he passed under the titanic bridge above, which seemed to rise away up into the clouds. The flow of vehicles blared against the night, cracking the still air and conspiring with the bridge to create an ear-piercing roar. Even so far away, that roar reached the boy’s ears, the sensation a tenuous link to his awareness of the world.
Soon, the noise was joined by a thundering downpour of freezing rain. The river drew the boy away from the sound of a slowly fading scream as all other senses faded, and even the cold began to segue into numbness. Even the crackle of thunder that split the night sky failed to rouse him from the encroaching nothing.
He had given his best shot at survival. Now, he was tired and ready for rest. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was aware that he floated over a great abyss, ready to engulf him and swallow him up. But that didn’t seem so bad a thing anymore. As a creeping, blooming warmth seeped into his limbs and burrowed its way deep into his core, he wondered if he would sink into that abyss, or if he would simply fall, like swirling fog into a yawning chasm.
For a brief moment, the tail of that scream broke the silence and reached him. The boy felt himself in the gaze of a guardian angel, looking down on him. One eye went dark and became the eye of that sentry, looking down on him from the bridge. His vision was split down the middle between his own, and that of this second party. When he closed his left eye, ice forming on its lashes, the now foreign right eye was given full clarity and control. Looking down on himself through his guardian’s eyes, the boy heard a plea in the overlap between their shared minds.
Don’t give up.
His eye still closed, the boy reached a hand out of the brine, up towards the bridge, and felt the impossible distance between them. But, in this strange altered space they had created, their hands could nearly meet and clasp each other. This hand held warmth, true warmth, warmth the boy’s body craved, warmth that could break the chill and bring his blood and bones back to life. But another voice whispered in his ear.
It’s okay. Don’t be afraid.
Briefly, it seemed a hand ruffled his sleet-plastered hair and caressed his pale face, even now being drained of its lively pallor. Strangely, the fear had been erased completely with this, as if some lifeline to the world above he craved had been severed. He dipped below the gentle waves and began to sink.
As he descended, he watched with placid fascination as the sky dimmed to the inky black, as his other vision caught only distorted glimpses of his body beneath the waves until that too faded.
Below thirty or so feet, his vision returned to normal. His mouth opened and a torrent of freezing water rushed in and flooded his lungs. He thrashed violently for just a moment, and then went limp as the cold subsided, serenity setting in. Warmth replaced the chilling cold, accompanied by a sense of bliss. The warmth and peace were now absolute. The boy did not struggle for air, for he no longer felt buried beneath oppressive liquid. Instead, he felt as though he were gently drifting through the air, a petal on a warm spring breeze.
Yes, he thought, I’ve become a fragment of something more, something bigger.
He was as a blossom in a vast field of roses, flowers existing as separate manifestations of one - part of a network entwined together as a patchwork cloth, a whole - a World. He was one small part of something greater, and something greater in every small part.
But all things are transient.
What in tender spring bloomed bright and beautiful shall wither and fall in the pitiless winter. Yes, a petal, scattered to the wind for just a moment, more vibrant and beautiful than ever before.
He watched, hypnotized by a trail of air bubbles leaving his mouth, rising upward with desperate speed. His eyes closed, a soft smile touching his face. Somehow, he felt so calm and serene. It should have been crushing him, but instead, it cradled him as he spiraled ever deeper into the murk, carried down by a great motherly force, as if he were with the mother of all things.
He should have hit the bottom long before now, he realized distantly. In slight curiosity, he observed a translucent film of silt and trash swirling above him where his body lay on its back, nestled in the mud as if enjoying a peaceful nap. Drifting away from his earthly container, he felt himself regress into unbirth, into the womb, again a waiting child.
How many times has it been now? he wondered, as light enveloped his world.