In the Midst by Susan Wardlaw

The air is frigid and still, unable to absorb the bluish grey swirls of smoke floating outwards, and forced to let them slowly fade into nothingness at their own pace. There is no edge to the darkness, just vast blackness interrupted by the intrusive orange flames of street lights. The silence is undercut by the low, constant hum of energy flowing around the structure behind him.

The thin, black hoodie does nothing to counteract the chill, and he idly wonders if the jagged frost-covered wall he is leaning against will stitch itself to him and claimed him as part of the building. The nurse who unlocked the door had warned him not to stay outside for long, but three cigarettes later he was contemplating how long he could extend his escape before someone came to drag him back inside to the real darkness. He pushed his free hand further into his pocket and shuffled his weight from one numb foot to the other.

He chose to be here, he reminds himself. The option to sit out this particular experience had been presented to him by his father, held out before him like a gift. It was an unfathomable ritual, humans choosing to watch one another die, as though it was a spectator sport and not a depressing biological inevitability. The temptation to accept the offer and avoid the whole event had been strong enough to cause a delay in his reply. It would be simpler. He would be spared the images that would no doubt etch themselves into his hippocampus. But the rapid onset of guilt and responsibility forced him to quickly agree to be a party to the proceedings.

A voice calls out, distant and strangled by the frozen air. It is not for him, but another shadowy figure in another shadowy corner of the grounds. He wonders if they are avoiding a situation similar to his.

Time had stopped being of significance the moment he entered the Intensive Care ward. He exists somewhere between night and morning. The intrusive beeping of his alarm clock will shortly sound in an empty house. His friends will commence their mechanical shuffle to class, taking their day for granted as he usually does.

She was so proud of his achievements, puffed up and bragging to anyone who would listen. Her boy was smart. He had made it to university. But she will not be there when he walks across the stage as a graduate.

A sigh escapes and creates a visible manifestation of his despair in the form of a murky cloud of white. His stiff fingers flick the warm cigarette butt as far as he can manage. Smoking another would push his empty, churning stomach to the brink of nausea, so he admits defeat and steels himself for what is to come. One more hour? Three more? No one has any concrete answers. Before long, he supposes.

He pulls his hood tighter to his head and attempts to rub feeling back into his hands. He can do this. He will do this for her. He looks up once more into the boundless sky, nods his head, and grasps the icy door handle.

Susan Wardlaw is a writer from the West of Scotland. She enjoys trying to describe the indescribable. Her stories have been published by Tealight Press, Tipping the Scales Journal and All Female Menu. She can be found, far too often, on Twitter @suze_wardlaw