Moving unnerved Elijah. He couldn’t recall a time he felt more vulnerable than when he gathered every earthly possession he owned and crammed it into a vehicle, creating a single point of failure. All at once moment, he could lose everything he had to his name. It was an unthinkable thought, but Elijah thought it all the same.

Then, it happened.

What, exactly, isn’t clear. Elijah’s dangling sideways. When he looks over to his right, he sees nothing but the pavement. When he looks straight ahead, the view isn’t much different. He sees only a concrete wall.

Shaken, it takes Elijah the better part of a moment for him to realize that something’s wrong. His breathing catches on before his brain does, as does his heart, which is now pounding against his rib cage trying to escape. Then, everything clicks.

“Oh my god,” he says. “Oh my god. Oh my god!”

Breathe, he thinks. Breathe.

His body seems to be in working order. He manages to move all ten fingers, then his toes. He sees blood, but he doesn’t pinpoint where it’s coming from. Not yet.

He reaches for the ground, but it’s just far enough to be out of his reach. Breathe, he thinks again, but the thought is interrupted by another cry of “Oh my god!” His own. Breathe. Breathe.

He fumbles for his seat belt. This isn’t his first time driving a moving truck, but he struggles with the belt every time nonetheless. When he manages to loosen the clasp, his legs fall against part of the vehicle. With his grip still on the belt, he manages to orient himself and get his feet firmly on the ground.

There’s not enough room for him to stand up, so he scrapes his fingers along the door looking for the handle. Once he finds it, he slings the door open with too much force and extends his head out as though he’s ascending from water, gasping for air.

The sky’s beaming down at him. At first it’s fuzzy, but then it comes into focus. Beside him, cars are slowly passing by, single file, each driver looking over into his direction. A few had pulled over into the open lanes ahead of him. Behind him, two lines of cars had formed, not moving. He’s blocking two of the interstate’s three lanes.

As he lifts himself out of the vehicle, he sees his stuff spread out all over the pavement. There’s his computer desk chair, bent to an angle he’ll never be able to use. Cards are everywhere, some from 7 Wonders, some from Cards Against Humanity, some from Ascension, and some from seemingly every other board game he owns, though not all from one, as that would be too easy.

A few kitchen pots, though no pans, are spread out amount pieces of broken china. Some of his clothes have spilled, now frayed in more ways than he will ever be able to count. He sees two of his picture frames, the only two he owns. They’re upside down, the photos within probably ruined.

His computer’s there, ripped to reveal the insides of a machine that wasn’t designed to be opened by anyone other than the manufacturer. It’s joined by parts of a PlayStation, though he can’t make out if it’s his latest one or his first. It didn’t matter. The former had taken him months to save up for, while the latter was a gift from his grandfather for his seventh birthday. The man had passed away two years ago only in his early sixties.

Then there’s the glass. Shards are everywhere. Elijah sees his shattered desk, a few glasses broken lightly enough to still make out, and half a vase his mother had given him. Yet that isn’t enough material to produce the sheer volume of glass fragments spread out across the ground. The amount doesn’t make sense until he sees the windows around him, which have turned into spike pits more intimidating than any he had ever encountered virtually.

Breathe. He’s still alive, but at the moment, there’s no guarantees he will be going forward. If he wants that to change, he needs to move. He does so with so much adrenaline and panic coursing through his blood that he sustains more bruises from climbing than from the accident itself.

Now, standing atop the truck, he sees the gash in its side and the warped door in the back that is now partially curved upwards. Then he sees the upside down van up ahead. Compared to it, the moving van’s in ideal shape. Someone’s lying on the side of the road, bloodied and mangled. A few people have pulled over and are visibly wailing, not sure what to do with the person they obviously know.

Elijah can make out the approaching flashing sirens, though he doesn’t register their sound. His flight reflex kicks in, and he jumps down from the truck. He reaches the concrete barrier running along the side of the road and looks in both directions. This is a place he never wanted to see on foot, and there’s nowhere for him to go.

Breathe. The cops aren’t here to arrest him. The potential loss of life doesn’t mean he’s committed murder. He doesn’t even know what happened.

Soon he’s on the ground, his back against the barrier with his entire world is splayed out in front of him. He’s alive, but someone else might not be, and judging from the many eyes still locked on the van, there’s a chance others aren’t either. In there could be a young soul that would never get to experience its first move.

Elijah had spent weeks feeling anxious over his new job, the cross-state travel, and the packing that came with it. Now he’s not concerned with any of those things. All he feels is shock.

But in a few days, after Elijah’s life has been scraped off the highway and what remains is tucked away in his new home, he will walk into his new office with more confidence than he thought he would ever muster. After all, he’s still breathing.

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“Breathe” by Bertel King, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.