“I’m not playing with death, I’m playing with life.” – Jetman Yves Rossy
It was nearly all gone; his memory…
As he was sat on the parquet floor – back against the splattered wall, slumped over and nursing a bite wound in a bloody arm – Daniel Woodman couldn’t help but stare dimly at the family portrait mounted on the wall before him.
It was four years ago – Emma’s first birthday. Dana was stressing herself out as per her usual tall order of “Best Mom Ever!”, proving both to herself and stay-at-home mothers everywhere that overzealous organisation skills serve well beyond the tertiary years.
Dan was on his back on the living room carpet, looking up.
“Who’s a cutie? You are! Yes, you are!”
He was talking to the baby Emma cradled lightly in his upheld hands, looking down at him like innocence incarnate.
Emma laughed, and Dan responded in kind. It was one of those pure and beautiful moments you almost hate to have because it makes you forget that life won’t always be this way.
Here he was, after all, sat on the parquet floor, nursing a bite wound in a bloody arm. It was a Tuesday. Maybe.
“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.
“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”
“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.
“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”
While lacking the cerebral capacity now to articulate such emotions,
Dan, or what was left of him anyway, had a deep and visceral sense in his gut that this picture on the wall, the video streams in his head like hallucinations and cigarette burns, these people, evoked distinct feelings of *something* within him. He felt the cocktail of laboratory chemicals and viscous saliva course through his veins. The light burned his eyes. He screamed torturously; his already-rotting arm convulsed violently – clenching and twisting, scraping up the floor, pulling splinters and leaving behind shreds of ripped fingernail. His head jolted side to side like a malfunctioning piece of machinery and even through the epilepsy Dan could sense his legs were entirely lame by now.
The outside chaos of machine gun fire and civilian screams grew thick and Dan found himself drowned out and lost; swirling the drain in delirium.
And yet, somehow, through the void he could hear her… calling out to him. It was faint; blurry at first. But the tone and timbre – the way she played the air like a pained violin – resonated with his soul. He knew her. And then it all came back, piercing through the haze in one brilliant display of desperation:
The blackness cracked beneath Dan like a thin sheet of glass and he fell through into the awaiting light below. He threw his head back in surrender as every joyful memory came rushing back and the most lopsided smile cracked like a fault line across his face.
Partial rigor mortis set in and caught the corner of Dan’s mouth, pulling it higher than muscle can go without snapping like sun-perished rubber bands. He felt the pain. In some sense of the word at least. Yet whatever he felt was left wayside to the tranquility he was experiencing deep within his being.
And there it stayed – his twisted, psychotic, serene smile. Dan lingered in limbo for an eternity as his eyes glazed over and his reptilian brain worked through it all:
He remembered… a beautiful baby girl… and how small her hand was, wrapped around his little finger. How sick she was for three weeks with fever and every night he had to pass out beside her because sleep eluded him.
He called out to her, but could feel the deadened sensation of his vocal cords melting and giving way like fishing line above the heat of his distress. His sounds came out garbled and raspy, filled with coughed up phlegm and blood.
It started to taste good.
The sobbing broke Emma’s breathing into pieces small enough for her to manage. Dan corkscrewed his head to the side. The sound of grinding bone and snapping twigs complemented its rickety movement well. Dan was barely able to keep his head off his shoulder as his remaining muscles relaxed with his fading consciousness. He could feel his sanity slipping; his grotesque mask still plastered across his once handsome face.
Through the flickering spots of colour, Dan managed to lock eyes with his daughter for what he knew would be the last time.
“Mommy’s asleep! What do I do?”
Dan watched the vignette encroach on his field of vision, the picture of Emma – the most beautiful girl in the world – fading with the light. He tasted metal.
Dan gathered every last scrap of sentience and muddled it together with what faint heart he had left to form one coherent word, screamed as a whisper through layers of bile and with all the love a father can muster: His daughter’s only hope.