My pulse thrums in my throat while my heart pounds violently inside my chest. Vomit coils low in my stomach, creating the feeling known as nausea. I force myself to breathe, all I can do is breathe. But the feeling keeps on eating its way into my belly, grasping at the walls of my sanity. The pressure is deeply rooted on my chest. Breathe, breathe. In and out, in and out, in and, wait, yes, out. If I think too much, panic swells in my veins, the balloon too close to popping for comfort.
When did it get dark outside?
That tapping noise from my foot hasn’t stopped for the past hour or so, my incessant shaking too senseless. And the sweet copious sounds getting lost in my throat are all too real. I’m pretending that this isn’t real.
Breathe. In and out, in and out…in comes before out.
The cold clings to my sodden boots, seeping into my toes. No matter how much air I take in, I cannot seem to get enough inside my veins. Each and every breath I take comes out in a white puff.
Ten lay down on snow pillows; their lips are blue, and their faces are grey. Their breath doesn’t hold the hollowness of my own, but it also doesn’t seem to exist. One stands with me, seeming to clutch onto my arm for support, fingers grasping into my thick jacket. I cannot feel her touch. Why can’t I feel you?
Breathe. In and out, in and out, out and then in, before I have the sudden realization that I cannot breathe. Hysteria bubbles up in my throat, and I choke out the sudden need to laugh. It grips at my stomach while I heave out my alarmed cries.
My companion’s hand grips my face roughly with her gloved fingers. My gaze snaps to hers, my eyes dragging from the mountains around us. “Breathe!” she yelps out in a throaty plea.
Hoarse noises leave my lips. In and out. Come on! In and out, in and out. My throat is raw as I stare into her face, the fur of her coat framing her head. Goggled blue eyes droop to the edge of her thin skin, and her breath strangles from her lips. “Breathe,” she instructs, whispering this time.
I gulp in the air, greedy in my taking. Breathe. My companion’s hand leaves my chin, but not before pulling me into a step forward. She’s struggling worse than I, but holding onto the ropes of her life tighter than I am. The pillowed snow looks too comfortable, like a bed of broken dreams.
We shuffle into the darkness, passing the ten that lay like lifeless angels. I yearn to pat their backs, kiss their hair...die with them. But I cannot allow myself such security. All I can do is move one heavy foot after the other, and instruct myself to breathe.
I see a cave rooted into the side of the mountain, and we stumble inside. My companion holds onto her throat as her mangled gasps fall out of her wide open mouth. She’s on her knees, against the cold rock. The wind swirls around us, falls down on our shoulders. My hysterical shaking hasn’t stopped. Teeth clack against teeth, arms lay limp and useless, and my face is slack and numb. Remember to breathe. In and out, in and out. The air is so thin.
With frozen fingers, I cup her chin this time. “Breathe!” I wheeze.
She tries, but this lack of oxygen is too much for her. Color drains from her face, terror pooling into her blue eyes, before life is sucked out of her skin. Her mouth falls slack, and her body succumbs to the inevitable. She joins the ten outside.
My feet move me forward, and I grasp the edge of the cave, rock digging into my skin. Breathe! In and out, please, in and out. Wind whooshes by my ears, into the fur of my coat, against my goggles. Snow pierces my face, tingling and too harsh. Why isn’t it soft?
It’s so easy now: to fall to my knees. Those sweet sounds, the strangled cries coating my throat, pour out of my parted lips. That feeling eats away inside me, vomit still coils low, but I’m no longer shaking.
In and out…
In and out…