As of this morning, The Moo racks up a full half century on the planet. The big five – oh.
As a gift to myself, I'm indulging in a little bit of gratuitous Mountie-bashing, unhampered by any whys or wherefores. How'd he get that way? What happens after? Who cares! Factual detail and realism? As if.
However, you may rest assured I don't kill him this time.
Which Ray has the bit part in this trifle? I'm feeling generous in my old age. I've cooked it so you can have whichever you choose.
Fraser couldn’t breathe.
Where he was, or why he couldn't breathe didn't matter at the moment. There was no air in his body and he was panicking. "Air!" and "Going to die!" were the only words in his mind, and they were more bodily reactions than coherent thoughts.
Had he been able to think, he would have noticed that the sensation of suffocating was different than the other times he had been in similar straits. When he had been drowning in the frigid northern waters of Prince Rupert Sound, his lungs bursting for air, there had also been the sensation of numbing cold and bright light. Once while locked in a sealed container he'd felt, along with the awful need for something to breathe, stifling heat and darkness. On those occasions his body craved air and striven to get some, but there had been no air for the taking.
This time the difference was that he was surrounded by air and his body refused to breathe it in. Somehow in his panic this fact finally dawned on him and he tried to force his mouth to open, his lungs to expand. Nothing happened. He couldn't move any part of his body, not even to bring life-saving oxygen into it.
This can't be happening! My body won't breathe! I'm going to die! With these sensations, expressed half in language and half in animal terror, now came pain. His chest ached and ached. How could an ache be so dull and flat but yet so severe? Impossible to strain and strain and yet have no feeling of movement. Must breathe. Can't breathe. Try to push out the chest muscles. Try to pull in the throat muscles. Nothing happening.
And then it came to him in a flash. I can't breathe in this body. I have to get out.
Suddenly he could sit up. It was only when he found himself sitting up that he realized that until that instant he had been lying down flat. Now he could sit up and the pain was gone. Gone, too, was the desperate need for air. He was saved!
Fraser sat and let relief wash over him, still unaware of where he was. He had no surroundings. All he was aware of were the sweet, comforting absences: the lack of pain and the release from fear.
Presently he stood up. Only then did he expand his awareness to note where he was. He had no clue how he had got there, but "there" seemed to have some definition now. He was standing in a street and wearing his full red serge uniform. He glanced about the street to see something of interest happening right in front of him. A cluster of people was focused on something on the ground, all circled around. Those closest to the point of interest, whatever it was, were kneeling; the ones further off were standing.
Then Fraser saw that a pair of legs covered in high brown boots extended a little past the group of kneelers. So, it was a person that drew all their attention. Fraser couldn't make out what was happening at first but the people nearest and kneeling were occupied with some purposeful activity. Their movements were quick but careful, hurried but not rushed. Fraser took in more visual data. Uniforms. An ambulance was parked a few meters away. These people were paramedics.
Fraser had to concentrate hard, since his mind was still a little foggy. These other people standing around – it seemed he knew some of them. He drew all his power of concentration to one face and was able to put a name to it. Ray. More identities formed around this central point of reference: Ray's lieutenant, another man that worked with Ray. Welsh, Huey. Yes, he knew these two people, too, but nobody else. Some wore the uniforms of Chicago police officers.
The boots of the prone person also looked familiar. Why, they look just like mine! Involuntarily, Fraser glanced down, expecting to see himself standing in stockinged feet. But, no, he was wearing his own boots after all.
His mind cleared and the scene now made sense. A resuscitation attempt was in progress. A female paramedic was bringing a box with wires and paddles, and everyone who had been crouched around gave back to let her have access to the person on the ground. Fraser couldn't see past the kneeling people but he could see Ray start forward and Huey put a restraining hand on Ray's arm.
"Let them work, Vecchio," Huey said.
Suddenly the booted legs jerked upward and then dropped lifelessly to the ground. There was a pause, then the legs jerked again.
Ray broke loose from Huey and joined the circle of people crouched on the ground. Nobody prevented him this time.
Fraser's concentration on the drama in front of him was broken by the touch of someone's hand on his own shoulder. He whirled around to see his father, also wearing red serge, standing beside him.
"Dad? What's going on?"
His father's expression was grim and business-like. "You're going to have to get back in, son. Quickly."
"In your body. It's not time to leave it just yet."
His father sounded perfectly serious, but to Fraser the words made no sense. "I'm in my body. Whose else body would I be in?" Fraser clutched at his own chest, as though to assure himself of his statement even as he was making it.
"No, Benton. Your body's over there. If you don't get back into it soon, you'll die."
Fraser gave his father a puzzled look, then walked over to people on the ground. He stepped past them, to his perception, although his father could see that in fact he was stepping right through them. Fraser came right beside the downed figure and saw, to his shock, that the hurt person was identical to himself.
"You have to get back in! Now! No time to lose!" Robert Fraser shouted over to him.
Fraser stared at the body on the ground. Paramedics were still working on it. No, on HIM. Fraser rested a hand against his throat – his own throat, not that of the strange being sprawled on its back in the middle of the street. He remembered the choking he had just felt. How could Dad think of asking him to go back, after he had so narrowly escaped suffocation?
"I can't breathe in there, Dad," Fraser turned and shouted back.
"Yes, you can. Get along now."
Fraser didn't understand. He was appalled at the thought of going back. "If I go back, I'll die!"
"No, son. You've got it backwards. If you stay out, you'll die. You've got to make that body breathe."
"NO!" He couldn't believe his father was trying to kill him. It was unthinkable.
Robert Fraser came up beside him, also passing right through the living bodies crowding around. "You'll die if you don't go back in," he insisted.
Fraser only stared aghast at the lifeless image of himself as it jerked again, horribly. There was Ray, crouched beside and watching. He looked so distressed that Fraser forgot his own predicament for a moment and felt sorry for his friend. I mustn't die, it occurred to him. Ray would be sad.
"Benton, listen. I know you'd like to stay with me. God knows I'd enjoy it too, but it's not time. You have to go back."
"But, I can't breathe in there," Fraser protested, still not comprehending. He hadn't been thinking of joining his father – quite the opposite. He wanted to live. It didn't make sense that his own father wanted to condemn him to a horrible, choking death in that body. He stared with loathing at the lifeless mockery of himself.
Robert grabbed his son's shoulders and spun him around so that the two were facing each other. Holding Fraser fast, he said, sternly, "Just do it. Trust me. Get back in there and MAKE that body breathe."
"But . . . "
"You can do it. Go!" With this, Robert shoved his son towards the version of himself that was on the ground.
Fraser lost his balance and toppled. The body he was aware of wearing touched the body on the ground and the two manifestations of himself blended somehow together. Dear God, no! I can't breathe again! I'm dying again!"
Again he could not feel or see any of his surroundings but this time he had an awareness of sound. He heard voices.
Ray's voice was saying, "Sweet Jesus, please make him breathe."
Dad's voice was saying, "Work your lungs, son. Concentrate."
Welsh's voice was saying, "Stay with us, Constable."
Huey's voice was saying: "Hang in there, Fraser."
What did they all want from him? He tried to sit up again to make another escape but couldn’t move. He strained and strained, but his body wouldn't bend up into a sitting position. The panic came back. Let me out of here! There was no escape this time. His only hope was to force breath into the body that entrapped him.
Fraser summoned all his strength of will and focused it on the inside of his chest. Expand, damn you, he told his lungs. Open up and let me breathe. Two points of pressure on his chest and a sudden jolt of sharp pain broke his concentration. He felt his body jump of its own volition. Stop, you're hurting me, he tried to scream at the paramedics, but he could not move his mouth any more than he could move his lungs.
Again a jolt.
And then, (oh, it felt like a miracle!) sweet, cool air rushed through his windpipe and into his lungs. The air stayed a moment inside him and then flowed out again. Fraser filled with fear as he felt the air leave, but the threat was only momentary. After only the tiniest pause more fresh air flooded back in.
And out. And in. And out. And in. He was breathing.
Wondrous and soothing were the sensations inside his middle: the gentle thump of his heart and the rise and fall of his ribcage. Fraser gave in to the enjoyment, feeling no need to move or think.
His father's voice intruded on his happy drifting. "Don't get too comfortable, son. Stay alert."
That was Dad. Never satisfied. Here I am breathing like he told me, but no, he wants more of me. Silly Dad. He should try this. It's relaxing.
"Please, son. You're almost home free. Just make a little more effort. Wake up."
Wake up? What a thing to ask me to do after I've had such an ordeal. It feels so pleasant to just rest here.
Fraser felt small taps to his face, accompanied by slapping sounds. The taps were not really painful but annoying. Ray's voice said, "Come back, Fraser. You can do it."
Dad's voice said: "Rouse yourself, son. Open your eyes. You don't want to get caught in one of those comas, they're the very devil to get out of."
Eyes? That might not take too much effort. He gave the prospect of opening his eyes dreamy consideration as he lay there.
It was only upon this reflecting on the implications of "open your eyes" that it came to Fraser that his eyes must be closed. The darkness was easy and comforting and it was pleasant to just lie still and breathe. Opening his eyes would probably spoil it. But Dad was right the last time, so I guess I should listen, Fraser decided reluctantly.
He opened his eyes and then shut them against the sudden assault of daylight. Slowly, he eased them open once more to see Ray's face hovering in front of him. His father's face was just a little to the right and behind, looking over Ray's shoulder. Welsh and Huey were out of his line of sight but he knew they were there, too.
See, I'm breathing, Fraser told them in his mind.
Ray smiled at him. Seeing Ray was nice. Breathing was nice. Being alive was nice.