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Cloud 9

Two thrill-seeking teenagers recruit a stranger to learn the art of a dangerous trick.

                         ***

                      CLOUD 9

     Boring. As far as teachers go, neither the looks, nor the delivery of the rather insipid Mr. Clover arrests my interest. But, on the other hand,one can’t expect the algebra to be interesting. Dad has always paid too much for these scholarly dinosaurs to bore me tasteless. While I tarry over my preschool childhood memories, the liberating sound of the clock ends the agonisingly prolonged chalk-talk. With the legerity of an ostrich, I speed over to the locker room to jump back into my casual outfit.

 Down the road, Chuckles’s waiting for me at our usual spot by the Piper’s Wine Bar with a glass of white on his sinewy hand. Chuckles with his Oxford shirt tucked in and his skinny jeans that looked painted on, faked the guise of a twenty while exhuming the demeanour of a forty-year-old. Periodically, he showed his adolescence when he yielded to academy’s pressure for shaving his neat stubble that had sprouted into a scruff beard. 

“Well, you didn’t lose any time, did you?” I ask.

“This is what I have been waiting all day,” Chuckles chortles with merriness of the Pinot GrigioVeneto had brought to him.I sit down, order myself a red from the waiter. He surveys me with swift but inoffensive gazes and then says “Yes mam.”“Hah, he couldn’t guess my age!” I triumph inside. 

“Sooooo, are we still going ahead with it?” Chuckles asks me with a decreased pitch of tone. 

“Yes. I’ve already told him to meet us at mine; if we don’t do it today, we’d never get to do it. Plus, he’s not taking any money from us, so we’d better be on time.” 

“Well, let’s hope he doesn’t end up taking our livers instead,” snorts Chuckles at the prospect of such a notion.

After two glasses of Zinfandel, meeting up with a stranger I found online for him to teach us the choking game doesn’t seem more eerie than eating magic mints at your friend’s backyard.

Admittedly, the game would not be our first wild experience: Chuckles, my partner in mischief, and I regularly ached for adventures. 

In the past, I had already once pulled him out of a friend’s birthday because of the unexpected effects of the nitrous oxide; where his teeth clenched, and his body contracted involuntarily, while everyone else laughed raucously, appropriate with the point of the drug. I had also once carried him out of a cinema because he passed out from marijuana. But he had been unproblematic other times such as taking Amphetamine before the exams, or doing Acid and Viagra combo at parties. For the sake of experience, no perversions were too bizarre for us.

As unnecessary as our shenanigans may be, it was the best way to escape the mundane nature of our lives. Our parents constantly expect from us to gain and maintain good grades just to look good in society and to speak of us like we are their achievements. 

 As the sun-rays shimmers behind the clouds, Chuckles and I near my home. There is a stranger in blue jeans waiting by the porch. “This has got to be our man.” I whisper to Chuckles.“Oh,” Chuckles sounds out his disappointment. I suppose it wasn’t going to be a trilby hat sporting, leather gloves wearing man with a hideously scarred cheek obscured under the lapels of the long black camel coat where the frills of it touched his western boots with a blinding silver toes just enough distraction for him to hold a cloth of diethyl ether over our mouths to drag our comatose bodies to a dungeon to carve our insides out like a turkey at the Christmas buffet.But in this case, the figure beholding us with a grain of impatience in his glimpses couldn’t have seemed more ordinary member of the public. 

The man from the internet appears to be in the spring of his middle years; his overly moisturized crow’s feet shines under his classic tapered salt and pepper hair, which complements to his minimalist sense of style. Soon after we are acquainted, we assemble in the living room. I offer a cup of tea which the cyberspace guest, who calls himself Leon, accepts.

“So Leon, do you get many interests in your talent?” I break the ice with the first question. 

“I do, but not from teenagers.” 

“How come you agreed to help us, then?” Chuckles asks.

“Because your message came across as though you’d ask anyone who did this sort of thing, which, in honesty, is a little mad. There are many people on the net, and not all of them could be right for the job.” 

“Oh, I know. The last time we met someone, he arrived with a range of equipment we didn’t even plan on using,” exclaims Chuckles.

“So is this your main job or just a hobby?” I ask Leon, whose cautious mien intrigues me as much as his occupation.

Leon’s cool face goes from dry to wry expression, “Let’s just say I it’s my professional hobby. I’m also trained in first aid and other emergency actions,” he says as he sips his milk tea with his right pinkie up in the air. 

 In an interlude, Leon’s eyeballs hops from me to Chuckles. We also scan him with scrutiny until he breaks the lull.

“Are you guys are a couple?” Leon raises his eyebrows with a slight trace of dubiety in his voice.

“We’re best friends.” I answer hoping that it wouldn’t deter him from showing us his expertise.

“Okay. Now. Do you understand the concept of asphyxia?”

“Well, it’s simply depriving one’s brain of oxygen, isn’t it?” Chuckles answers him and I nod in agreement.

“Okay. Now. You can choke someone to prevent air or strangle someone to cut off blood from passing through the neck of an opponent. So, the choking game, or the informed strangulation is the pressure on the neck that compresses the internal carotid artery which also interferes with pressure sensors which dilate the blood vessels in the brain and restricts the travel of blood to the brain cutting it from oxygen that maintains consciousness. The pressure also affects the vagus nerve which commands our body procedures when unconscious; this results in the heart’s decrease rate and volume of the heartbeat. If not done carefully, it can lead to cardiac arrest and even to fatality.”

Leon pauses at that point; Chuckles and I look at each other, baffled by our impromptu biological lesson, then look back to Leon.

“So when does the high come by?” Chuckles asks Leon with a keenness of a komodo dragon.Leon resumes his discourse, “After the reduced blood flow, under the reduced delivery of oxygen to the brain, the first feeling is light-headedness, which people also call ‘high’. When the pressure on the chest or neck is removed, a powerful surge of dammed up blood gets released through the carotid arteries into the brain. This known as the ‘rush’. At this point, braincells die. And the death of each cell, releases a chemical that gives the euphoric feeling which you are seeking.”

“Wow, so it emanates from your brain dying?” I ask.

“Yes, also note that if the brain starves for oxygen, its cells die and will never regenerate again.”

“Oh god, why everything interesting kills the brain?” Chuckles laments but it’s no time to be neurotic as I’m, for once, learning about something I want to know. 

“How long after the compression unconsciousness follows?” I ask.

“Unconsciousness comes in a matter of seconds of continued strangulation. Dangers are that within three minutes without oxygen to the brain, brain damage will occur; and between four and five minutes death will occur.”

“What kind of damages we are talking about here?” Chuckles asks. 

“Short-term memory loss and dysfunction of basic motor skills.”

“But these are only if we practice it regularly, right?” I seek reassurance.

“Well, it’s how many brain cells you lose, really. Now,” Leon draws in a breath, “do you still want to go ahead with it?” he asks.

Chuckle and I glance each other in acquiescence.

“Okay,” Leon grins, “now I’ll be demonstrating it while one of you watches it. Who wants to go first?”

 I look at Chuckles who’s far too enthusiastic. 

“All right. I’ll go first, but what shall I do?” Asks Chuckles standing up.

“Okay. Now. First you need to lie down because if you pass out while standing, there’s a good chance that you’ll hit your head and injure yourself at the passing out phase,” instructs Leon. 

Chuckles complies, and he lies down. Leon kneels down next to Chuckles and after a little sheepishness, I take a knee too. Leon tells me that using too much force can damage the larynx and fracture the hyoid or other bones in the neck but you wouldn’t need any force with a consenting adult.“If you ever find yourself in an involuntary situation, tensing the neck muscles can reduce the effect of choking.” He advises me. I imagine my close combat skills against a burglar, where, it would most likely end up with him on the prosecution chamber.

Then, Leon asks Chuckles if he’s ready, Chuckles affirms. Leon goes on explaining prior to his live demonstration, “Okay. Now. The air chokes can be pressure to the windpipe. Again, a needless strong pressure to it can cause it to collapse and create irreversible damage. It is more effective to press on the lower neck, instead.”

And then Leon puts his hands around Chuckle’s throat, and compresses Chuckle’s airway, which clearly interferes with the flow of blood in the neck because Chuckles’ cheeks is flushed and he passes out within five seconds. Leon immediately releases and Chuckles comes around like an aunt who has a fainting habit at funerals. The whole thing happens in matters of ten seconds. 

The newly awakened from his stupor, Chuckles has a confused look on his face that I couldn’t tell whether it’s a grimace or a grin. 

“Oh, my god!” He bellows. “Tell me all what happened just now,” says Chuckles with eyes wider than his mouth.

“I was hoping that you could tell us that Chucks.” I reply. 

“Well, nothing. I don’t even remember going out. It was all dark and then I woke up, all was just so quick,” Chuckles shrugs his shoulders. 

“Well, how are you feeling?” Leon asks.

“Fine,” answers Chuckles widening his grin. Evidently, the state of euphoria brings a confused smile on the choke-game emergents as though they missed the end of a joke. 

“Well, experiences may vary,” Leon looks at me while bearing his teeth up to his molars.

 I step forward next. Chuckles kneels and I lie down this time. 

Leon repeats the same information to Chuckles, “Okay. Now. Both styles ultimately cut off oxygen to the brain, but the blood choke does it much faster, as you’ve just felt.” 

Leon presses his thumb against my trachea and within four seconds I pass out. Next, I wake up with my legs in the air and Chuckles shaking me while asking if I’m okay. I wonder why am I in such a position. 

Perplexed, I ask “What happened?”

“We lifted your feet to restore the pressure to your carotid arteries quicker,” says Leon.

“You smiling softly as you passed out, what did you see?” Chuckles asks me with pupils dilated to the size of marbles.

“Well, it was like this chromatic sunburst you see when you are on psychedelics,” I force myself to remember the details.

“Do you guys want a fresh air?” Leon asks us. 

“Good idea, I need to go to the loo.” I say.

In the bathroom, I notice a wet crotch on my black leggings. Did I just pee myself or was it the amount of epinephrine coming down? Leaving the bathroom, my legs are shaky to climb down the stairs, and my eyeballs playing tennis because of the severe saccades; so I hold on to the banisters and descend cautiously like a beginner in the figure skating. The after effects of the choke-game aren’t gripping me in any way.

I walk in the reception where Chuckles and Leon are chatting. 

Leon excuses himself to the restroom also stating upon his return we’d practice on each other under his supervision. 

Chuckles and I share a sardonic grin.

“I wonder how long it takes to blackout if a person holds their breath during the asphyxiation?” Chuckles asks with narrowed eyes. I’m hyped up, so I submit my body to the floor on that instant and say, “Let’s find out,” 

Chuckles readily kneels and holds my neck, we both croak like a pair of mischievous geckos. I take a deep breath and then Chuckles begins to squeeze my neck: And then we both convulse with laughter. Chuckles then recomposes himself and screens his face with an eagerness by resting his tongue on the side between his canines.

A coruscating light bolts in front of my eyes and then my mom wakes me up, “What have you been doing to yourself?” She asks me, her head slightly slanting to right and her eyes glimmering in empathy; appearing sorry to look at me. She strokes my hair: Her touch has always made me feel loved and secure, so I smile. Just as I expect her to reprimand me she beams and takes my hand. I feel lucky that her mood is up as she probably will buy me some ice cream if I ask. I get up and we walk together in an indefinable width of path. I observe my mother: My mom has always looked beautiful; she knew how to dress for every occasion. This time, she wears her favourite cream laced frock which snugs her shapely legs which walk with the grace of a panther. Her ensemble coupled with her silky timbre, tranquilize my heart and I become free of all worries. I look up; the sun swelters my head, but it’s a nice day, and I feel superb. There’s an inexplicable elation which surrenders me. As me and my mom advance in an unfamiliar pathway, my steps feel lighter. We turn a corner out of nowhere, and suddenly our passage becomes dreary: I look on my side, there’s a young man sprawled out unconscious with his mouth ajar. Next to him, an empty syringe. I’m not sure if he’s breathing. I scan him in horror and ask mom what happened. Her lips are knitted, she doesn’t reply but there’s a grave sadness in her dimmed eyes. I feel powerless for being unable to help him, but we continue on our way. Not long after, I slow my pace down to see a woman sedentary on the sidewalk. The glaze of her eyes faded, her cheeks sunken along with her fragile frame. Her lips are pale and cracked. She doesn’t look at us as her gazes are fixed somewhere I can’t pinpoint. It’s as though she’s become a living dead. There’s a rucksack next to her, ridden with holes. I wonder if she had deserted her home. A few short steps after, I see a mob of policemen standing over a boy crumpled on his knees, his head is down. One police seems to inspect a rope. What has happened to the world? How can one hurt themselves so deeply? A haste of epiphany grips me: The more it makes sense to me, the shallower my breath gets. The hair on my skin rises despite the warm weather.I quicken my steps to run away from this boulevard of self annihilation. My mother is in front of me, she is still wearing a grave sadness masked with a glare that accentuates her worry lines. 

 I ask her the reason we are here in a weeping voice and if we can go back to our house? We hold hands. My gazes fall on my tired feet, how little and pathetically they move? Then I look up to see a slow revealing light shining directly in my retinas which dazes me.

“Welcome back” greets me a friendly female voice. 

I open my eyes and come across with a doctor and two nurses standing beside me. An odour of insulin reaches my nostrils and then I see that I’m laid on a hospital bed. “How are you feeling?” Asks the doctor. Just then, an ache storms into my head; I open my mouth to tell her that but my sore throat doesn’t comply and gives out a senseless noise. I look at the doctor with begging eyes for her to explain me what’s going on.

The doctor spares no details, “You died,” she states. 

“I.. died?” 

“Yes, you’ve been in a coma for two days; After cardiopulmonary resuscitation, you had a cardiac arrest because of hypoxia which resulted from oxygen deprivation, then you sank into a coma. Now don’t get agitated when you see yourself in the mirror for the first time.” 

Out of all the information dump the last sentence worries me the most. I asked to go to toilet but the nurse won’t let me alone, so she calls on the other one for help. They both hold me from my arms and ask if I am ready to get up and walk. Half way to getting up I feel disoriented with a nauseous neuralgia. The nurses count to three and on the third, I get up slowly. I am tired like I’ve run miles in an incline on the running machine. My feet act separately from my will as if I’m learning to walk. 

 In the bathroom, I want to see myself before anything else: I have haemorrhages in my eyes, the whites of my eyes have become red sea around the island of my pupils. I wonder how I came to look like a homicide victim. 

 In the afternoon, they bring me lunch. It is mainly a thick tomato soup. Although I am thirsty, my throat feels like it’s been scrubbed with a wire sponge and I also have tremors on my hand which prevents me from holding the spoon properly.

 After lunch, I have a visitor; it’s Chuckles. He has deep purple rings, and he seems scraggier than usual. As he hands me the bouquet of varicoloured tulips, “Sorry,” he says. 

“Chuckles, what happened?”

“As we were counting how many seconds it would take for you to lose your breath, I held your neck for 25 seconds; and then you gasped and your feet toppled to the side. The next thing I know, we have difficulty in waking you up.”

“Well, I died.” I said with a burning desire to reprimand him.

“Yes, I know. The police came took my statement.” Chuckles’ voice trembled with distress. “Where’s that guy? What’s his name?”

“Oh, Noel, turns out, he’s an off duty marine officer. He was the one who drove us to the hospital after the CPR on you failed. Though he left before your father and the police showed up.” 

“Noel? Oh I see, L.E.O.N., of course.” Although, it was a blessing that he didn’t desert me with the mechanically impaired Chuckles, for, given his attitude in a panic situation, I’d have stayed dead. Yet, it was silly of me to have trusted a stranger from the internet.

After Chuckles left, I reflect on my escapade. The image of my dead mother looking at me with pity replays in my head like a scene from a classical continuity. All she wanted to do was to show me how foolish her little girl had been: No matter who they were, no one who used drugs or played dangerous games had a good future ahead of them. At that point, my headache subsides. I close my eyes and I breathe in deeply. Even the scent of a disinfectant is a relief to my lungs. The open window of the hospital room lets in a delicate breeze of hydrangeas, reminiscent of my mother’s fragrance. As the leaves on the trees dance merrily, I step into a new level of maturity for beginning to appreciate life. 

 

Other story here:The Scheming Bums

The next story here: For the Best Memories

Thank you for reading, 

M. Marko

 

 

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