Earthbound by C.J. Jessop
Anna rode the wind. She soared, eagle-free over the land as dawn cast its eerie light on the eastern horizon. She flew over the trees, waking the birds with a song sweeter than their own before racing north to dance with the lights in the sky, eclipsing their fire with her incandescence as she whirled across the ice wastes.
South again, and she passed through a storm giant; its lightning wrapped around her like a neon snake, and she laughed, exhilarated by the power surging through her. Sated, she flew on, out through the cloud to see the sun forge a rainbow at the storm’s edge.
Anna swooped, following the rainbow as it arced to Earth, and the morning’s first rose opened its heart, releasing its scent for her pleasure. A rabbit forgot its mad race for life to stop and stare, unafraid, while the fox overlooked its quarry to sit for her breath-soft caress. Lovers stood entwined in the meadow, bodies touching head to toe as lips met in a kiss full of promise and wonder. Anna drew close, tasting their emotions, feeding on their need as she remembered what she had lost. They did not see her, they could not, but a tear spilled from the woman’s eye as a forlorn breeze shivered between them and was gone.
Anna soared again, weightless as the power of her remembered need took her higher than ever before, towards the sun, towards the voices. They were like music, calling her, clamouring for her to join them. And she tried. She tried so hard, surging higher and higher, until—at long last—she heard one voice louder than the rest, saw one star shining like a beacon just for her.
When she found him, his essence surrounded her, comforting, reassuring. Where had she been? He had waited so long alone, watching for her. He had burned bright, night and day to guide her to his side, but she had not come. Without words, she told him how she had been lost, how they had fought to keep her back, using their machines and sharp needles to bind her to them. Now she had escaped their feeble web to be with him forever. She would never go back.
She felt so warm at last, so safe. Nothing could hurt her now, not there amongst the stars. Her essence merged with his, becoming one. It had never been like this, when their clumsy bodies imprisoned them. Now she felt his every thought, sensed every atom of his need for her, so potent without the shackles of inadequate words to sap its strength. His thoughts were kisses, his emotions caresses. Faced with the force of his consciousness, so full of love, she could only surrender.
She sensed the others then, heard their voices as they reached out in tentative welcome. She belonged here, they told her, with them forever. Now she could shine brighter than ever before, cast her light on countless worlds for all to see and wonder. Now she would know all the secrets, see all the truths denied her corporeal form. Well-being suffused her as she gazed around to see a hundred billion stars shining with love for her, for him and for each other. The answers to every why she had ever asked were within her grasp and she reached out, childlike in her eagerness to learn.
Earth was now a dim pebble, so far had she come, yet she found that if she willed it, she could look—as if through a giant telescope—on any part of it without moving from her sanctuary amongst the stars. She focused and there was the meadow where the lovers stood, still entwined. When she reached out to them they were filled with a sense of joy, so profound they wept, even as they laughed. The storm cloud, as her essence swept over it, sent out a surge of power fifty thousand miles high, as if trying to touch her one more time, but it could not. Nothing could.
Then, as the answers were within her grasp, a sense of panic overwhelmed her. Not again. He enveloped her with his presence, raging against the intrusion, but it was not enough. Even as she tried to hold on to him, she saw him fade, saw them all fade. The blackness enfolded her in its grim, cold mist. Their voices, angry at losing her, grew fainter and fainter as she spiralled back towards that dark pebble. In the frigid silence she shrieked her denial, but she knew it was futile. They had robbed her again.
Anna found herself once more trapped in the unmoving, pain-racked prison that was her body. Her eyes were open—they were always open—and she could see the infernal machines that bound her there. A sense of intense loss filled her, as she watched the rise and fall of the pump that forced air into her useless lungs. Her mind echoed with the wails she could not utter. She had been so close.
Footsteps, sharp as daggers in her ears, crossed the room towards her, and her white-coated jailer entered her rigid field of view. He checked the machines, and scribbled away at her file. Did he know she had almost escaped this time? Were the machines telling him how they had dragged her back to face the pain again?
He took a slim, silver torch from the pocket of his pristine white coat, and shone it into her unresponsive eyes. His expression was cold, indifferent. Why should he care that he had taken away her dreams with machines? She wished she could move, slap a reaction from him. But she could not move. She could not even close her eyes to rid herself of the sight of him.
White-coat pressed the stethoscope against her breast, listening to each beat of her broken heart as he counted them off against his watch. Nodding, he scribbled again in the files. He spoke then, reedy voice grating on her ears. His words were feeble, meaningless compared to the wisdom of the stars. He did not wait for a response, but kept talking without looking into her eyes, as though he knew the worthlessness of every word he uttered.
He lifted her hand, sticking her thumb with a pin to make the blood well. Anna felt nothing but searing loss, and the pain of her body as it fought against the machines, against a life it could no longer sustain alone. Why did they not let her go? Would it be so bad for them to admit defeat? What use was she to them? What use would she ever be with this body that hurt so much and could never again move? It was not life they gave her, with those needles and machines, but a tortured parody of existence.
More footsteps and a voice she knew well.
“How is she, doctor?”
How do you think? Her mind screamed the words, but her mouth remained slack, and her eyes continued to stare at the machines as her mother’s face entered her line of vision.
“Much the same,” White-coat replied, his tone as dull as his expression. “She shows no physical response to any form of stimulation.”
“Will she ever recover?” Her mother stroked Anna’s brow.
“The prognosis isn’t good.” White-coat shrugged, as if he could not really care less about anything but his precious machines, and the file he clutched to his chest like a prayer book. “She was too long without oxygen after the accident.”
As she watched her mother’s face crumple, the carefully applied make-up streaking down her cheeks along with the tears, Anna wished she could speak one more time. She wished she could tell her mother how much she loved her. Most of all, she wished she could say how much she hurt inside, and of the wonders of a universe that awaited her if they would only let her go.
“Does she even know I’m here?” Her mother’s voice was weary. “Can she feel anything at all?”
“Nothing.” White-coat shook his head emphatically. “As I said, she responds to no external stimulation. Her eyes may be open, but they see nothing.”
Liar! How could he say that? Just because she could not respond to his poking and prodding. What about the pain inside? The excruciating pain in her lungs, that came with every breath the machine forced her to take; the burning in eyes that could not blink, and the raging hunger of a stomach bypassed by feed drips. Every second of her forced existence brought more pain than anyone should ever have to bear. How could he say she felt nothing? The greatest agony was knowing that brief joy amongst the stars, seeing Richard as he was now, how she could be if only they would let her.
Let me go! She pleaded silently as her mother looked deep into her eyes. If you really love me, then let me go!
Her mother turned away, closing her eyes as if she could no longer bear to look upon what had become of her child.
“She was so full of life,” her mother told White-Coat, who nodded, mechanical in his attempt at empathy. “So vibrant. Sometimes I can’t bear to see her lying there like that, but I can’t bear the thought of never seeing her again, either.
“Anna celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday the day before the crash. She had everything. A career, a beautiful home and a husband who worshipped the ground she walked on. I am only grateful that Richard isn’t here to see what has become of her. It would have torn him apart to watch her lying there so empty. What future has she now?”
I have a wonderful future, if you would just let me go.
White-coat coughed, and from her fixed line of sight, Anna could see that he was preparing himself to say something unpleasant. He shuffled the papers in the file for a moment, gaze fixed on his shoes.
“I think the time has come to make a choice, Mrs Stevens,” he said, raising his eyes to meet her mother’s for a brief moment before glancing away. “It is my professional opinion that Anna will never recover enough to function without the aid of life-support equipment, and so I must ask you to consider terminating her treatment.”
“You mean let her die?” Her mother’s voice was a monotone, but Anna’s heart swelled with hope at White-coat’s words.
Yes! Switch it off. Let me go.
For a wonderful moment Anna thought her plea had been heard, because her mother leaned over the bed, smiling through her tears.
“I can’t tell you how many evenings I’ve sat here, by her side, wondering if I should just let her go.”
Let me go!” The voices returned, urging her back to them, filling her mind with hope that this time she would make it.
“I ask myself if my reasons for wanting her to live are not purely selfish, and if perhaps she should be allowed to die in peace. Ever since the accident, since Richard died, she doesn’t seem to have the will to fight for her life. And I wonder if I have the right to demand that she stay.”
Let me go! Anna could hear Richard now, his gentle voice soothing her anxiety, telling her that they would soon be together for always.
Then her mother gave a weary sigh, taking Anna’s limp hand in hers as she stared deep into her daughter’s eyes. Anna tried so hard to make her understand. She wanted the pain to end. Her mother sighed again, placing Anna’s hand gently back on the bed. She rose and straightened her back, taking a deep breath. Anna watched the struggle behind her mother’s eyes as she repeated her plea for release.
Let me go! Please let me go. And still the voices filled her mind, echoing her plea.
“I’m sorry,” her mother said. “I can’t give up on her. Not yet.”
NO! The denial howled inside Anna’s mind over and over as White-coat mouthed platitudes at her mother, about how he understood her need to give her daughter every chance of life. The voices stopped, their last words breathed on a sigh of sorrow. Anna could no longer see the stars within her mind, just the rhythmic movement of the pump as it filled and emptied her lungs. A tear welled in the corner of each unblinking eye and rolled down her cheeks.