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The Person Left Behind
“Emily, what do you think is the worst way to die?”
The two were sprawled in the dirt, eyes to the sky, with the lap of the water at their feet and the rustle of the trees in the ever so slight whispering of the breeze. Stars above them winked, almost lovingly, down at them. They had been here many times before.
“Hm? Why do ask?” the girl murmurs, crinkling her brow. Her voice was softer than intended. She felt that speaking in a normally might shatter her lovely reverie, dispel the clouds of dreams that seemed to surround her.
“No reason in particular,” he says, “Just have some things on my mind.”
She tears her gaze away from the moonless night to see him, his eyes reflecting what seemed to be hundreds of memories. Images dance to the forefront of her mind as well; the two of them in high school, laughing together, oblivious to what was really out there; the countless phone calls and funny little postcards that they used to send to eachother; walking in the park, the explosion of leaves lending a lilt to their steps as they smiled with thoughts of the future; the crash of the waves around them as they watched the sun set in the other’s eyes.
“Like what? What things?”
He shrugs, his smooth, dark features remaining taken with something from the passing years, thousands of miles beyond his reach. “Take your pick: falling, being shot, sickness, etcetera, etcetera…” the words echo mindlessly off his lips.
Her expression, once so serene, became slightly more on edge, slightly more aware of bone-crunching reality. “What do you mean the worst—the most painful?” she says. “They all sound horrible to me.”
“But if you had to choose one…” he turned to face her, something now burning in his mind. “… one that is so gruesomely overshadows all the others, what is the absolute most awful way to kick the bucket?”
She thought for a moment, twirling her sun-streaked curls. “I’m not sure. Why, what do you think?”
A smile tweaks her lips, ever so slightly. “Really?”
“Everyone says it’s so ‘calming’ and ‘easy’. I don’t think so. I think being deprived of air, one of the most basic needs of life, is just wrong. That burning in your chest, that insane need to inhale something when nothing’s there is completely hellish. I nearly drowned as a kid, once.”
She sucks in a breath, now a thousand times more aware of each little movement, how easy it is. “Then what about being inside a burning building or something? You can’t really breathe in that either, not to mention the heat, and collapsing floors and all.”
“True,” he began drumming his fingers on his chest. “Plummeting to your death, then. Being so scared of hitting the ground that you have a heart attack halfway down. Knowing that you’re going to splatter all over something must be pretty terrible.”
“Yes, very terrible…” she whispers. “But equally so if you have not the slightest clue that something is going to happen to you.”
“I mean, what if you’re coming home, a family, a lover waiting for you, and you die just like that? It’s disappointing and sudden, and your dreams are crushed, instantly.”
“At least there’s no pain,” he says. “When you’re lucky enough, I guess, when you’re hit just right, there’s life one second and nothing the next. Nice clean-cut transition.”
“But you don’t even get to say goodbye! It’s depressing for both the deceased and the relatives of the deceased.” She shrills, “Think, when it’s so abrupt, wouldn’t you be sad, knowing that you can never go back? That the last few moments of your life, you never got to truly live out with the people you love?”
She barely notices the tears budding atop her cheeks.
He chuckles, turning away from her again. “Leave it to you to get so involved in such a tiny little discussion. Chill, Emily.”
Slowly, she sighs and closes her eyes, the entirety of her body fitting back into the sand. “You’re right. Sorry. I just missed you.”
She could practically hear him smiling.
“I love you, you know that?” he whispers, his voice rumbling softly in her ear. A giggle escapes through her lips, and she feels the grains of sand sift through her fingertips as she searches for his hand to hold. For a few moments, she paws about for his soft flesh, yet she feels nothing.
Her eyes peel back open, searching for him. But he’s gone. She is alone once again, with only the rekindling sorrows in her heart to keep her company, as it had for many years.