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She looked up at the light breaking in crystal fragments over the tops of the waves and thought, dreamily, This isn’t such a bad way to die.
She had fantasized about it so many times now. She’d been afraid that it would hurt. She had tried to imagine what it would be like to be dead, what nothing would feel like. Would it be dark? She’d laid on the cool, damp earth, looking up at the monochromatic gray sky, and tried to envision emptiness. She had imagined that death would come all at once; one moment she’d be alive, and the next, she wouldn’t.
She had been wrong, though. She knew now, in her last moments, that death came slowly, gradually. She felt as if bits and pieces of her were slowly dissolving, leaving less and less of her to cling to the world of the living. And it didn’t hurt, and it wasn’t dark. Sure, there were still parts of her that screamed for oxygen, but the ache was lessening now, and she simply felt numb. Peaceful. In a way, she was glad that she had fallen off of the boat; it felt so good, feeling nothing. She gazed up at the stark, bright sunlight playing over the top of the water and waited for the end.
And then, as everything began to fade from around her, she saw it. The End. Death. He was not in the water, but she saw Him as if He were in front of her, and she mused, He must be inside me. He did not look like the Grim Reaper skeletons that wielded wicked, gleaming scythes as they appeared at the doors of the doomed to collect their souls. In fact, He did not look particularly gaunt or menacing at all. Instead, He looked like how she felt. Peaceful.
He looked into her eyes and she looked into his, and she realized that they were green. Like her own. And then she realized that she was gazing at an image of herself.
The phantom looked at her for a moment, head tilted to the side, before smiling softly and shaking her head, ever so slightly.
And then, she felt something. She felt something, penetrating through the emptiness. A solid touch, first on her arm, and then her waist. Her eyes flickered upwards and suddenly she felt the numbness breaking over her, shattering across her face and raining down in a thousand tiny droplets as she was dragged up through the surface of the water; and a voice was in her ear, a familiar one, whispering frantically, “Please, oh, god, please don’t be dead.”
And then everything came rushing back in an unbearable torrent of ice and cold and pain. Her eyes flashed open and she felt herself being hauled out of the water, and something, she could never say what, made her glance sideways; and she could have sworn that she saw herself mirrored in the water, a tiny little grin at the corner of her mouth, before she hit a dry, solid surface, and she rolled over and vomited.
For a while, everything hurt, and she almost missed the calm, complete nothingness of the water; but gradually, she registered the heavy, reassuring warmth of a hand on the small of her back, anxious eyes radiating a kind of fright that went beyond simply being scared for yourself; and she realized that it was because of him that she was alive. It was him that had dove in after her, him that had pulled her out, him that had pleaded for her to stay, fight, try again. He was the one who had saved her from herself. And now he was the one crouching at her side, palm running over her spine, telling her to “Breathe, breathe,” even as his voice shook and his face was almost as pale and colorless as the unending gray water and the unchanging gray sky.
“Breathe,” he told her.
She looked into the water. Her phantom had gone.
She closed her eyes and listened. She breathed.