A short story by Jill Zero


My heart drums inside my chest with a desperate prisoner’s determination, each beat a frantic question.

Where do I go from here? Is anyone willing to assist me? What if I choose the wrong door? How do I figure this out? Hello? Are you listening? PAY ATTENTION TO ME!

Eventually, the pummeling impacts my breathing pattern; I press my right hand to the skin and bone above my heart, aiming to force it back if it bursts forth. It’s no use. My pulse rebels whenever it likes: a fact I should be well aware of by now.

Not to be overshadowed, my nerves join the action and cause my free hand to tremble. It’s a visual reminder that dances with each heartbeat, its exaggerated rhythm now reaching my throat. Or at least that’s what it convinces me. I scan the room to make sure no one else can hear it, to make sure the thrums are contained. No one notices me or my inner turmoil. Would acknowledgement make it better or worse, I wonder? Probably worse.

I want the uncertainty to stop. I want to cage it before it gets the best of me, but it’s impossible to halt the sensation if I can’t stop thinking about what’s caused it. Oh, god. Now I thought about it again. My heart reaches top speed, remaining there when I breathe deeply. If I open my mouth, will the words shake out of me and form a warning?

Make room for panic! It’s coming! It’s futile to fight! Give in!

I can’t breathe. But doing so is a requirement for living, and my brain knows it. Why isn’t it stepping in? I squeeze my eyes shut and summon rationality with every ounce of will that remains. At the last second — just when I think I can’t handle any more — I hear the voice of reason echo through my body like an intercom announcement.

That’s enough. Why are you reacting this way? There’s no need to lose control. Breathe. Relax. One step at a time…

My heart, my nerves, my pulse, and my breath return to their proper places like timid children snapping out of a sugar rush after being reprimanded. I’m normal again. The doubts disappear and the anxiety subsides. I’m safe at last.

Until next time.