Next Step

The man fought down the cry of pain that tried to claw its way free from his mouth. The agony was greater than anything he had yet experienced in his life. It was as if the pain was the sum of all pains he had ever felt. The old scar where he had gotten hit by a bottle rocket stung lightly. At the time it had seemed like he was going to die from the pain. Now it was just one voice among many. His foot ached where he had stepped on a nail. He remembered how much he had cried as it was disinfected. His shoulder throbbed where he had been shot during the war. That one he tried not to remember too much about.

 

The pain he experienced now was different from all the memories. It was like an ache, but all consuming. A pain of the entire body. All the old pains, plus many new. It was as if his entire body was sending him the message that it was broken. That was all pain was, right? Pain was a message that the body was broken. He stifled another cry as the agony surged in him. His body was screaming to him that it was failing, and withstanding it threatened to break his mind. But he held on, step by step forcing the pain to recede from dominating his thoughts. He drew in careful controlled breathes instead of the ragged gasps he wanted to take. He was yet the master of his own body, as he would be until the end.

 

He pictured clearly what he wanted to happen, imagining with crystal clarity what he wanted his body to do. He went through the process several times, then reached out with all his strength and focused on making it happen. Taking a small step, pain flared up his leg and blossomed into his hip. He would not cry out. He simply would not. This was just his next battle to fight. He had to reach his goal. He could see it now, just peeking out around the next corner. He focused on his breathing, stilled the pain in his body as much as he was able, and took the next step.

 

Step by painful step he fought through the pain that washed over his body. It was the most difficult battle he had ever fought, being at war with his own body. He gritted his teeth over another cry of pain and simply grunted. It was his way of acknowledging to his body that he had heard it. And then he was there. He had arrived. His mind and his pain had told him that he would never arrive. But he had spent his life doing things his mind had told him were not possible, and pain was like an old friend. The corner of his mouth quirked at that thought. If pain was an old friend, then it was a bastard in its old age.

 

He chuckled roughly at his own joke, and pain flared in his chest. He shook his head, cursing himself for a fool to laugh. And yet what else was life for but to have a good laugh every now and then? Even if it hurt. He forced down his mirth and refocused on his goal. A simple toilet sat right in front of him and he relieved himself. It seemed frightfully unfair to him that even that hurt.

 

“Cursed thing,” he muttered to himself. “I know you are falling apart. You don’t need to remind me.” When he was finished with that pain, he turned carefully and gripped his walker again with wrinkled hands. Another battle won. He cast his gaze up to see the bed he would die in. Just another battle to fight. He gritted his teeth and looked down at his feet. Just another step to take. That was all death would be to him. Just the next step in a long journey. A journey that hurt. But a journey that he had walked faithfully until near its end. He breathed carefully, shoving down the pain. Then took the next step.

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