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Throne of Ice

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I float on a throne of ice.

My vision slowly surveys the horizon, finding the sea unbroken in every direction. A bright sun sits directly overhead, casting its light down over the rolling fields of gentle waves.

Turning my attention downwards, I look over the throne itself. Its basic shape resembles any other chair, though larger and grander in style than the furniture I’ve grown accustomed to in my life. The throne must have been at least as tall as me standing upright, and twice as broad.

Its exquisitely carved icy surface presses against my bare skin, chilling my exposed body.

Beneath the throne, the ocean rests, a bottomless expanse of darkened waters. I consider how long I might be able to swim on my own and find a cold sweat running down my face. Realizing its protection, I grasp the throne tightly with lightly shaking finger.

Under the bright sunlight, a slippery film develops on the ice’s surface as its volume slowly diminishes. As the chair shrinks, the cold slips faster and faster from the ice.

What happens when the throne melts?

My stomach flips as my mind tries to calculate the possibility. My anxious thoughts conjure up an image of the water swallowing me up, and my throat suddenly feels quite dry.

Why are people scared of drowning?

I mean, why are people so profoundly upset by the possibility of drowning? Above all other common causes of death, it manages to inspire the sheerest dread, the most complete terror in those who dare consider it. When faced with the possibility of drowning, an almost indescribable primal instinct seems to take over. It overwhelms every other thought in your head, telling you the only thing worth considering is the breath you guard in your lungs.

Yet in the end, when you drown you give up that breath.

Imagine then, how unbearably painful the actual process of drowning must be. Imagine what hell it must inflict for you to overcome that basic instinctual need to keep the water out. Imagine when it happens, a slow process, building and building and building until you decide to end it.

At what point does a drowning rat realizes it hurts more to hold its breath than it does to breathe?

Currently, my breaths come labored as the melting throne stokes my panic.

Beneath me, the chair has lost its regular shape and bobs unpredictably in the water. Each wave rocks the ice in different directions, and I repeatedly shift my balance to stay on top of the block.

Its form further deforms, becoming less and less stable. I wave my arms chaotically to keep my center of mass over the narrowing platform. Keeping a grip on the object comes as more of a challenge as my freezing fingers tremble to grasp the slippery surface.

At last, the throne flips entirely, dumping me out into the sea.

I clutch the ice, the only object I can see for miles in any direction. My body grows cold where I cling to the frigid thing, but I cannot bring myself to let go. Without it I am entirely alone.

Slowly, it shrinks away, finally unable to even support a fraction of my weight.

Now fully treading water, the throne is no more than rounded chunk of ice, no larger than my hand. With a reluctant sigh I let it go, and it disappears into the ocean.

Without it, I try floating on my back to conserve energy. I hold my breath to increase my buoyancy, only letting air out in sudden exhales. The alternative breathing style disagrees with my rapid heart-rate, and I uneasily try to calm myself. At my side my arms stretch slowly out over the water’s surface, keeping my body angled correctly.

I can almost relax once I’ve reached a balance on the ocean’s surface. This equilibrium falters with the occasional odd wave, but I consistently manage to re-adjust myself, bobbing harmlessly with the swells and troughs.

As minutes drag into hours, the sun stays perfectly centered in the sky.

Beneath the perpetual high noon, my skin begins to prickle, burning slowly. I try to adjust my position, but struggle to remain afloat when not on my back. After some experimenting, I find myself treading upright, which tires me more quickly but keeps more of my body out of the harsh light.

While treading, a shiver runs through my legs as a cold current slithers around my feet. The cold seems to radiate the depths from somewhere far unseen. I glance down towards the murky seawater, wondering faintly what lies invisible to my eyes.

After an un-measureable period of time, the muscles in my arms and legs turn to jelly, and in response, I let myself float up horizontally again.

I shut my eyes, trying to get some rest, but cannot drift off while maintaining the particular breathing pattern needed to stay above the water. Each time I nod off to sleep, I quickly end up gulping down salt water and jolt awake with a struggle.

Spitting out the salty seawater, I find my mouth has grown sickeningly dry, and I can no longer swallow without pain. Even the simple manner of breathing I had been using to stay afloat brings out a series of dry coughs through my chest. From a mix between thirst and hunger, I vomit up bile into the sea and feel deeply nauseous.

My skin has swollen to a deep red, with veins of purple bruising along the surface. The salt stabs into the wounds as I lean forward to tread water. I grit my teeth from the unpleasant sensation and keep pushing myself up in the water.

I tread for what feels like forever.

Both my arms have gone numb, and I briefly try to float onto my back again. My breaths devolve into a furry of ragged coughs, and I fall back to the familiar tread.

A crippling cramp shoots up my hamstring, and I twist my body to try to swim without the leg. Face half-under water, I try to stroke the muscle calm. I end up spitting out another mouthful of water, and come face to face with the realization that I can’t go on much longer.

The water fights my movements leaves my limbs sluggish. My weight pulls me down while my fight against the tug grows weaker and weaker.

Why are people scared of drowning?

As my head goes under, I think I finally understand. It is not the inevitable event of dying that you find so upsetting; it’s so much more than that. As water swallows me whole, I never lose my agency; it never directly takes my life. It’s not like being shot or stabbed, where you watch your life dwindle away. The water never steals my life, just more and more convincingly urges me to give it up.

My lungs sting, desperate for oxygen. Feebly, I try to struggle to the surface, but find my arms and legs entirely unresponsive. Little by little, I sink into the darkness, my exhaustion not quite managing to dull the panic racing through my head, the endless lust for air.

Still, I am in control. My life is mine to relinquish or clutch to in vain. As I shut my eyes from the water, my abdomen convulses painfully. I can hear each heartbeat thundering through my eardrums.

The nerves go dark throughout my body, allowing my limbs to vanish from my perception. I exist as a solitary body, sinking down, incapable of resisting gravity’s tug. My lungs burn up carbon dioxide, gasping for sustenance. Agony wracks through my torso and the last of my strength chokes my windpipe shut, keeping the water out.

That’s all I can do now, keep the water out.

Or…

Hesitation dances through my fading consciousness as my mind scurries to come to a conclusion. My thoughts settle uncomfortably to a singular solution, pressed by the unbearable weight of the water churning above my head. At last, I exercise the final shred of control I’ll ever have in this life:

I breathe.

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