The fall off the bridge was short. My heart had pounded hard enough to kill itself. Pain, fear, death. I never even got to the water.
My vision canceled out like an old TV screen. It started at the top and bottom, falling to form a horizontal line, and then closed in to a receding circle at the center.
But I could hear myself breathing.
It took me a while to understand. Hearing my body working after dying made me breathe harder. My eyes rolled back and forth in the dark, looking for anything. Breaths became faster, and since I had just experienced death, I did not think I could die again.
But with my anxiety came pain, and with pain, came the fear of death.
I still could not feel any part of my body except for my lungs, so I reached out.
My fingers brushed against wires and cables. The feeling seemed like an unwanted hand on me. I retracted, but more wires met up with me. I retracted again, in another direction. More wires and cables. Wherever I was, it was filled with man-made snakes, and I was trapped.
I pulled at them in anger. My arms were weak; my hands could barely close around the wires. I was in a different body, I must be.
My body writhed. My face grew numb, and at this point the machine ejected me.
It opened like a pod, split at horizontal seams. The light of day pierced into it like an explosion. My eyes closed, and even the red glow behind my eyelids hurt me.
My hand went to my face, covering my eyes. I pushed myself up with my other arm. Wires were in the way, and I did not bother swatting at them.
Wind. Movement of air. It went against my hair. I could feel nothing on my lower face, and my hand went there. There was hair where I could not remember. It was, different from my hair. Not the hair I remember.
A sharp inhale, I reached up to the top of my head. It was long, and straight. Not my usual curly head of hair at all. I was no longer African American.
My voice was no longer my own. It was low and raspy, instead of the normal high and light. I covered my mouth and grew silent.
The wind swept through the pod again. I would have taken a look around but the pain in my eyes kept them shut.
A sound of a vehicle approached fast. I could hear that the tires were on dirt. The pod was outside.
The car stopped, although it sounded larger than average. Footsteps came from it, and approached the pod.
I pulled myself up a little more, and felt the most horrific pain I had felt since this new consciousness. My head snapped back. I had just pulled on something that was attached to my skull. From the feeling, it went deeper that the skin.
“Woah! Hold still, relax, sir! We’re here to get you out,” called one of the men.
I tried opening my eyes but the fire of the light of day burned the vision away from my retinas as soon as it arrived. My eyelids clenched closed.
“It’s alright. Your name is Charles Carver, you were just part of a simulation,” one of them told me.
It was difficult to tell which one was which.
“Where…” I tried to speak, but only a slight sound escaped before I began coughing.
Each cough echoed through my body with pain. I went to double over, but stopped myself, remembering the pain of pulling my head too far forward.
I resolved to simply wait. The two men worked. They talked to me with soothing reminders.
“You’re almost out.”
“This will be a little uncomfortable.”
“You’re doing great.”
Their tools disconnected wires and cables. I felt cold, and with a sort of pleasant feeling, I realized I was naked. Too bad for them, I thought.
“Okay, we’re going to remove the main wire, connected to your head,” one of them said.
“It’s going to hurt. But it’s the only way to remove it. Don’t worry, we’ll give you something for the pain in the ambulance,” the same one said.
My teeth clenched. I nodded slowly, lips tucked in.
The man didn’t hesitate to pull after my perceived consent. The coughing had hurt, and perhaps the dying, but this was beyond everything. I was surprised I didn’t pass out.
A hand went to the back of my head with a cloth. I couldn’t even imagine what was happening right now, so I didn’t.
I remained still while they carted me to the car. They strapped me down and we started moving.
“Okay,” one of them was in the back with me, “Do you have any questions?”
“Yeah,” I said, “What the fuck?”
The man burst into laughter.
“Oh man, you have no idea how often we get that one.”
“Do you remember your life before? Now that you’ve had some time?” he said.
I thought for a moment, my thoughts were churning over moments between the two lives. My first kiss, which there were two, first fight, first arrest.
They were all parallels. But one I was a white man, and the other as black.
“So, I was a black man? In the thing?” I asked.
“Yes, you signed all the forms and agreed to be part of the experiment.”
“Of being black?”
“Of being black,” he told me.
“So…” I went to open my eyes, still burned, and closed them, “Agh, I was black.”
“Yeah,” he chuckled.
“God damn, man. I threw myself off a bridge,” I said.
Saying it out loud was a blow to my psyche.
“Well…” the man started.
“I fucking killed myself.”
“Right,” his voice sounded shaky, “I’m not the psych person here, but as far as I knew you had a preexisting condition with depression. Don’t beat yourself up, there’s a lot going on in there.”
“In there,” I repeated.
“In the simulation. You’re with all the other test subjects, and all of the pre-programmed situations. All different personalities. It was designed to push you to your limit. Your breaking point,” he said.
“So you wanted me to kill myself?” I asked.
“Well, no,” he tried to sound light, “Just wanted to see what would happen with stressors. Look, uh, I don’t know much about the inner workings. You can ask them more when we get back to the facility. Just know that you’re not the only one.”
“And pace yourself. It’s a long recovery time.”