Far Too Little Air

air

I’m one of the victims of the hypodermic needle assaults over the summer. Kara Yvette Bernard. It was the first time my name was ever in the newspaper. My name was among 51 other women; 66 total victims, 51 of whom allowed the media to name them. We did it in some spontaneous show of solidarity, as if we’d formed some kind of connection because of our victimization.

It wasn’t long before the physical damage of the assaults began to manifest. The media wouldn’t go into detail, but it was easy enough to find online. Mania. Hypersexuality. Skin deterioration. Not a single doctor could identify what our injections contained. Aside from the needle marks themselves, there wasn’t any sign that we’d been injected with anything at all. But as time went by and more of the women began to succumb to the effects, my terror and dread turned into confusion. After 3 months, I was the only one still alive.

My doctor suggested I was immune to whatever the injection had contained. I didn’t have any reason to doubt his suggestion, but there was still too much uncertainty to give me any relief. And now, almost half a year after the attack, I knew it was right to deny myself that relief. I started hearing voices.

I was on the couch eating my dinner. The television was on. At first, when I heard, “can you hear this?,” I thought it was the TV. Then the voice said, “Kara, can you hear this?”

You have to realize, after what happened over the summer, I’ve been terribly skittish. I panic at the drop of a hat and I’ve been on disability since the attack. When I heard someone say my name last night and it was so loud and clear that it was like someone else was in the room, I nearly passed out. But I knew no one was around. The place was empty aside from me – just like how it’s been for the last four months.

“Kara, please reply if you can hear us.”

I whispered that I could, and I heard talking in the background. I couldn’t make out what they were saying. The next part, though, came through without any ambiguity.

“Drown yourself.”

I didn’t move. I knew it had to be the effect of the injection.

“Fill the bathtub and drown yourself.”

That was when I started to cry. The voice kept repeating the command. The tone was calm and seductive. Then, as I bawled and begged whatever it was to leave me alone, my body started to move on its own. I had no control over anything, not even my voice or my eyelids. My body stood, walked over to the bathroom, and began to fill the tub with water.

Internally, I was shrieking and sobbing and trying to plead with whoever was doing this to me to stop. All it did was repeat what it had been saying. “Fill the tub and drown yourself.”

When the tub was full, my body stepped into the warm water. Even though I tried to fight as hard as I could to break away and not be forced to do what they were telling me to do, I sank to my knees, sat cross-legged, then dropped facedown into the tub.

My body didn’t allow me to take a breath before I plunged in. While I panicked inside a body whose autonomy had been stolen, I readied myself for the moment my lungs would give out and I’d inhale, filling their entire capacity with bathwater. I imagined sucking in the water and reflexively coughing it out, only to refill my lungs again and again as I gasped until I was just a corpse to be found by the landlord.

The gasp never came. My panicked heartbeat thumped in my ears while I stared at the plastic bottom of the bathtub. There was no pressure in my chest. The only pain I felt was the cramping in my legs from being tucked underneath me.

“What does it feel like?”

I could talk again, but I still couldn’t move.

“Help me,” I gurgled, as bubbles floated by my wide eyes on their way to the surface. There was still no pain in my chest or any compulsion to inhale. It had to have been two minutes since I went under.

“What does it feel like? What does it feel like? What does it feel like?”

The question repeated over and over in my head. Eventually, I answered. “Like I can breathe underwater.”

The reply was instantaneous. “Are you actively breathing? Are you inhaling and exhaling water?”

I considered the questions and changed my answer. “It feels like I don’t have to breathe anymore.”

There was a silence inside my head that was broken only by the sounds of my heart beating and my stomach processing my dinner.

“You have eight days. We will come see you at the end of it. Please drink the bathwater periodically to stay hydrated and adjust the water temperature to avoid hypothermia.”

I noticed I could move my left hand, arm, and shoulder again. I reached out of the water and tried to pull my head up by my hair. It was as if I weighed 1000 pounds. When I tried to reach for the plug to empty the tub, my arm flopped lifelessly in the water. After a minute, I regained movement. I fumbled for the faucet and turned the water on and off.

For eight days, I remained underwater. My legs had gone numb. On the fourth or fifth day, I tried to run the water and overflow the bathtub with the hope a neighbor would notice and alert the landlord. I lost control of my hand for a while after that.

The water grew dirty as the days went on and I stopped drinking it. I lost control of my mouth and throat and was forced to consume a certain amount every day. On day eight, my chest began to burn. As soon as the feeling registered, I had control over my entire body again. I carefully extricated my stiff body from the tub.

I remained on my back, staring at the bathroom ceiling, for a while. The smell of the room prompted me to start moving and I showered the filth off myself while looking down at my severely water-damaged body. I dried myself carefully, noticing skin coming off as I did. I thought back to the online reports of the other injected women; how their skin sloughed off in bloody, sticky clumps. But mine wasn’t like that. There was no blood. Only raw, pink skin.

It took me a while to move into the kitchen where I grabbed a box of cereal and started shoveling handful after handful into my mouth. The skin on my lips split wide open with the first handful. Again, no blood.

“Kara, stop eating.”

I dropped the box of cereal. The voice was in my head again.

“You have three hours.”

And now all I can do is wait. Wait and type. My skin is starting to hurt and I’m worried I’ve gotten an infection from being in the dirty water for so long. I don’t know what’s going to happen in three hours. Part of me wants to call the police or run away. There’s another part, though, that’s overriding my desire for help. It’s grim curiosity. It’s the curiosity of someone who’s given up hope. Someone who’s lost control. I want to see why these people want to subject me to all this.

While I was face down in the tub, I sometimes heard talking in the background. The voices weren’t directed at me. It was almost as if someone had left a microphone on by accident. Words would come through every so often. “Respiration.” “Bonding.” “Slough.” There was one time, I think on the sixth day, I was able to hear part of a sentence. I’ve picked it apart in my head over and over, trying to figure out not only what it meant in general, but what it meant for me. I guess I’ll find out pretty soon.

There’s a nervous excitement in me that I feel is somehow wrong. Somehow suicidal. But still, like I said, the curiosity is overwhelming my desire for self-preservation. A little less than two hours to go. The perversity of my excitement is unsettling. This isn’t me, but I don’t think I care. All I care is that in a couple hours, I’ll learn what they meant by “…successful underwater, but it will be entirely different in the vacuum of space.”

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