When Desmond regained consciousness and tried to stand, he felt a tug followed by a sharp pain shoot up from his crotch. He propped himself up into a sitting position against some sort of brick wall—he had no recollection of where he was—and his hands trembled as he struggled to undo his belt. He couldn’t feel his fingers and it felt like it took all of his strength to pop the buckle loose. With a strong yank, the buckle gave way with a loud snap. There was a few seconds delay before a fiery pain set into Desmond’s fingertips, and it took all he had to keep from screaming out in pain.
“What the hell?” he struggled to say through chattering teeth.
The next obstacle was the zipper on his pants. The fly was frozen solid and he couldn’t get a grip on it with his numb fingers. After some effort, he managed to pull at both open ends of his jeans hard enough to get the zipper to go down a few inches. This was enough for him to fit his hand inside.
Slowly, he peeled his underwear loose from his skin and slid a hand down inch by inch. Even though his hand was numb, it felt as if he were jamming it into a hornets nest full of hot razor blades. Worse, this hornets nest seemed to be as long as a deep cavern.
“Fuck,” he said with a grimace as he reached the source of the pain.
His fingers crawled past his shriveled penis and blanketed a fleshy blob that should have been his testicles. While they were intact, something unusual had happened to them. It was as if they had been stretched and flattened out, then glued to the skin of his thighs. This was a sensation he’d never felt before.
A wave of panic rushed through Desmond as he began to piece together what had happened. But before he could focus all of his attention on that, he had to attack this first problem. So with the careful precision of a surgeon—a difficult feat considering the condition of his hands—he dug his fingernails underneath loose flaps of scrotum skin and started to pull up. An immediate cutting pain emanated from his groin, but he didn’t stop. He kept pulling and pulling, ripping and ripping, until finally he’d freed his scrotum and it returned to its original shape.
By now he was breathing hard and shaking even harder. He wasn’t sure if he’d caused any damage or was bleeding, but something told him his blood wasn’t flowing normally through his body anyway and that he shouldn’t worry about it right now.
After some struggle, he used the protruding bricks of the wall as a makeshift ladder and got to his feet. His legs and feet were so numb he could barely stand, and so the wall had resumed its place as his support beam. And for the first time since waking up, he got a good look at his surroundings.
The icy waters of the river lapped the small dirt shore a few feet in front of him. City lights danced and twinkled on the tiny waves, and in the distance the orange glow of a bridge hovered over the water like a phantom. There was a soft, frigid wind blowing around the occasional bout of snow flurries, and the low hum of nearby cars whooshed somewhere out of sight.
It was a moonless night, and even with the lights of the city bouncing off the water, it was still too dark to see much around him. But that didn’t matter to Desmond as he stared at the faint glow of the bridge.
"Just leave me alone!"
"Come on buddy, nothing is so bad that you gotta do this."
"How the fuck would you know. You don't know anything about me."
The words echoed through Desmond’s memory and the realization of what he’d done had finally set in. He could practically feel the cold night air rush past his body right before slamming into the concrete-like water below. But that was his only memory. After that everything went black. He couldn’t even remember what the man who tried to talk him back from the ledge looked like.
Desmond’s legs gave out and he crumpled back to the dirty ground. Much to his surprise, he began feeling warm. Not just warm, hot. Really hot. All he wanted to do was strip his clothes off to get some relief, but he knew what was happening to him.
Before his dive off the bridge Desmond had been freshly fired from his EMT job. And while the job wasn’t glamorous, he learned a lot in his two years out in the field; one of those chunks of knowledge being the symptoms of the end stages of hypothermia.
There wasn’t much time left and so he started searching for a way out. Desmond thought it was kind of funny; here he’d jumped to end his life, now he was looking for a way to save it. If only he had this desire to live after his wife Keisha and their two daughters left him, he wouldn’t be in this situation.
He looked around but there was no way up the wall. He’d somehow managed to wash up on a tiny chunk of shore at the base of a dock wall that started about 100 yards up the river. There was no way he could swim to one of the boat docks or any of the ladders that might be around. And even if he could, it was far too dark to see them.
Left with no other options, Desmond curled up like an injured animal and waited. Waited to be rescued. Waited to succumb to hypothermia. It was all the same to him at this point. And as he lie there motionless, a sort of peace came over him. He was in a pure state of bliss. The kind of bliss only a person who is dying can experience.
Images of his wife and two beautiful daughters flooded his mind. Their happy faces filled him with joy as he took their hands in his and began to walk through a field of vibrant flowers the likes of which he’d never seen before. The sun hung in the air and filled him with a welcoming warmth. His kids hugged his waist and Keisha leaned in close—whispering in his ear how much they loved him and couldn’t wait to be with him again.
“Soon,” he said.
He hadn’t felt an ounce of joy since the day they’d left—since the day the furnace broke and the house filled with carbon monoxide while they all slept. All of them except him. He was working a second shift that night and didn’t know anything had happened until he’d kissed his wife’s cheek after he’d climbed into bed. She was cold. Ice cold.
The girls giggled as they danced in the field of flowers. Keisha smiled that welcoming smile. “It’s time,” she said, reaching for his hand.
He gave it to her. Her skin was soft and smooth and warm and everything he had missed. His daughters stopped dancing and ran up to him. “Come on daddy. We want you to play with us,” the girls said in unison.
“It’s time, Keisha said again.
Desmond nodded. Then he started walking with them toward the distant sun. The warmth drew him in with a loving embrace.
As the gentle river bubbled past the tiny piece of shore, a soft snow began to fall, landing on the frozen body of a man. He hadn’t been there long, but with the cold, it might as well been a lifetime. And when the police finally found him, they were amazed to see the man had a smile on his face. He had escaped this cold, cold world.
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