Counting

Jason could feel his heart in his throat again, tight and hot and pounding. He remembered the things his therapist had told him he could do, when he got that feeling. Ground yourself, Dr. Moon had said, by counting the things in the real world around you. You can start with things you can see, or things you can touch, or things you can hear or smell. Pick five things and list them.

It worked whenever he was scared before a baseball game. It worked whenever his grandmother made something that was too slimy to eat. It worked when the noises and lights at the mall were too loud and he wanted to go home, but Aaron wasn’t ready to leave yet.

So… he counted.

He counted the things he could see from where he was: one, the trees right outside the window; two, the window itself; three, the seats and their five-point safety harnesses; four, the red vinyl duffle bags; five, his little brother’s fishing pole—

***

The warmth of the day was ebbing; after sunset, the impossible heat had bled away into impossible cold, and the wet from days and days of rain had rolled up from the coast, rolled down from the mountain, and settled heavy on the shoulders of the forest. The night’s fog had come in hours ago, crept in on little cat feet, licked into every corner, stolen the breath of every living thing, and left the world quieter than either Aaron or Jason had ever seen it.

The first night the fog came, Jason had teased his younger brother mercilessly, about how the dense rolling blanket of it could come down so fast, so thick, you might not even be able to see your own hand in front of you, and when Aaron had lifted his own hand up to check, Jason grabbed his little brother’s wrist, and made him slap himself in the face.

Aaron’s indignant howl of betrayal was easily drowned out by Jason’s roar of laughter, and they’d gone back and forth slapping at one another in sibling love and murderous intent until their father shoved them both in a canoe and said, “Come back when you’ve caught enough fish for dinner.”

That was four days ago.

Three?

***

Jason could feel his heart in his throat again, tight and hot and pounding. He remembered the things his therapist had told him he could do, when he got that feeling. Ground yourself, Dr. Moon had said, by counting the things in the real world around you. You can start with things you can see, or things you can touch, or things you can hear or smell. Pick five things and list them.

It worked whenever he was scared before a baseball game. It worked whenever his grandmother made something that was too slimy to eat. It worked when the noises and lights at the mall were too loud and he wanted to go home, but Aaron wasn’t ready to leave yet.

So… he counted.

He counted the things he could see from where he was: one, the trees right outside the window; two, the window itself; three, the seats and their five-point safety harnesses; four, the red vinyl duffle bags; five, his little brother’s fishing pole–

Wait.

No.

He was dreaming again.

Was he dreaming again?

The fishing pole was still in the canoe, and he was in the third row of the rescue helicopter. A Sikorsky S-92, by Lockheed Martin. An all-weather SAR craft. It said so right on the little metal plate riveted on the passenger-side of the cockpit wall.

Jason remembered reading it when the crew strapped he and his brother into their seats.

Don’t worry, he’d told Aaron. This kind of helicopter can get through the fog, no problem.

And Aaron had believed him.

That was four days ago.

Or was it three?

***

Jason could feel his heart in his throat again, tight and hot and pounding. He remembered the things his therapist had told him he could do, when he got that feeling. Ground yourself, Dr. Moon had said, by counting the things in the real world around you. You can start with things you can see, or things you can touch, or things you can hear or smell. Pick five things and list them.

It worked whenever he was scared before a baseball game. It worked whenever his grandmother made something that was too slimy to eat. It worked when the noises and lights at the mall were too loud and he wanted to go home, but Aaron wasn’t ready to leave yet.

So… he counted.

No tags for this post.

About Catastrophe Jones

Wretched word-goblin with enough interests that they're not particularly awesome at any of them. Terrible self-esteem and yet prone to hilarious bouts of hubris. Full of the worst flavors of self-awareness. Owns far too many craft supplies. Will sing to you at the slightest provocation.
This entry was posted in Fiction, Flash. Bookmark the permalink.

Go ahead -- say something. Anything.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.