There was a sudden, sharp explosive sound.
The bulky Volvo swerved violently to the left; the grey tunnel wall eclipsing Christopher's field of vision. The car skidding almost sideways, he panicked and floored the brake pedal, struggling with the steering wheel.
The rear of the car seemed to rise as he was thrown forward, flung into echoes of cracking plastic, metal screaming against metal and crunching into concrete. His face flying toward the windscreen; his hands slid from the steering wheel, the back of a wrist slamming into the dashboard, a spasm of pain shooting up his arm. He cried out as the seat belt grabbed him, thrust his body back at the seat. The Volvo’s bonnet folding up; the entire windscreen imploded, became a shower of glass shards tearing through the air, then claimed by gravity as the car crashed down around him.
He could hear hissing steam; smell the hazy fumes of petrol. Jagged gems of glass fell from the windscreen's rubber seal. A dark, unfocused dot formed directly in front of him on the silver surface of the car's buckled bonnet. A darkness expanding, rushing to devour him...
"Okay, so what we got?" a male voice asked.
Something electronic was repeatedly beeping.
"Christopher Mathews. Driver from an RTA," a female reported, her voice slightly distorted, as if he was underwater. "The only casualty. Unconscious at scene. Came to, briefly, on route..."
He tried to open his eyes, but the appropriate muscles refused to obey. Subtle, kaleidoscopic images revolved in the darkness. He strained to sit up; there was no response. His body felt numb, extremely heavy.
"...and minor lacerations," the unseen woman finished saying.
"Okay, let's lift him across on my count," the male voice instructed. "Okay. One, two, three and, over we go."
Christopher sensed the presence of someone leaning over him as each of his eyelids were raised in turn to reveal a bright light, which left an after-image scorched on his retinas of a burning circle of white.
"Okay, do you know if he's taking any medication?" the male voice said in a professionally concerned tone.
"No, I don't think so. Is he going to be alright?" Christopher heard Elizabeth nervously ask, her voice seemed to swim past in the background.
The electronic beeping skipped a beat; then sped up for a moment.
Beth, what has happened to me? Christopher tried to say.
"I'm sure he'll be okay, Mrs Mathews. Okay? Just need..." the doctor's voice receding into the distance as Christopher was dragged down, sinking deeper, drowning...
A high-pitched electronic whine cut through him, then quickly faded as the darkness behind his eyelids became absolute. He felt insubstantial, liberated from the constraints of flesh. His eyes opened easily. He looked down at the man lying on the bed beneath him. The man's eyes were closed, a few fresh cuts torn into his forehead, his short black hair matted in a couple of places with blood. His shirt was open and five small, white plastic discs had been attached to his chest.
That can't be me, Christopher thought.
"What's happened?" Elizabeth desperately wanted to know.
A nurse was leaning over the body below, her fingers probing Christopher's wrist for a pulse. She shook her head. The doctor's arm reaching out, the heel of his palm aiming for a red button mounted on the wall above the head of the bed. "Quick, get the defib' down here," the young man frantically requested.
As the nurse rushed out of the curtained cubical, it appeared to drop lower. Christopher instantly recognised the top of Elizabeth's head. She was standing by the foot of the bed, accompanied by another nurse who was saying something about: "...your husband's heart..." and "...everything we can."
"My god," Elizabeth sobbed. "Don't die."
Am I dead?!
"Okay... If you could please take Mrs Mathews outside for the moment." The doctor had his hands on Christopher's chest, fingers interlaced, palms pressing down. "And someone get Scott! Okay. One one thousand... Two one thousand..."
Elizabeth raised her hands to hide her face. A tear crept between her fingers and rolled along the gold surface of her wedding ring.
"Three one thousand..."
Beth, don't cry, Christopher said soundlessly. I'm still alive.
"Four one thousand..."
"Please, Mrs Mathews, come with me." The nurse gently guided Elizabeth out through the curtain. "We'll wait out here, out of the doctor's way."
Christopher followed his wife, eager to leave the confusion behind him. Elizabeth sat down on the nearest chair, beside an unoccupied bed, her head rocking slowly back and forth as she cried. The urgent ringing of an alarm drifted from the far end of the ward. "Where's Doctor Lamont? We got an arrest. Could certainly do with some help down here," the first nurse called out as she hurried back, pushing an equipment-laden trolley toward them. She steered the trolley into Christopher's cubical.
"Okay, okay. Charge it to two hundred," the doctor told her.
"It’s charged," the nurse quickly replied.
"Okay. Stand clear!"
The body convulsed. And for an instant Christopher was back, in the midst of an epileptic fit on the bed.
He hovered above them as they tried to bring him back to life. The electronic whine continued. Colours gradually drained away, everything shades of growing darker grey, the doctor and nurse transforming into indistinct shadows on either side of his warm corpse.
Far away, out in the deep darkness, a point of light appeared. A single star in a dense, obscure sky. He turned toward the distant brightness and let it draw him closer...
The silver Volvo sped along the narrow, unlit road; travelling through a flat landscape of fields stretched out into the night. Up ahead was the illuminated mouth of the tunnel. Christopher applied more pressure to the accelerator.
The light blinded him for a moment. The car somehow unfolding, fragmenting, falling away. He hurtled headfirst down the tunnel; its curved walls blistering, swirling around him, glistening, bubbling, then bursting: becoming a whirlpool of boiling quicksilver. A turbulent, mercury maelstrom - emitting a metallic whine, increasing in pitch as he reached an impossible velocity.
"Please..." A voice, not male, not female, a fierce wind, yet the words were softly wrapped around him, gently wove through him. "Go back," it stated.
The silver cyclone erupted; intense light engulfed him...
The electrocardiogram started to beep again.
And he was back on the bed. Flesh, skin, blood and bones once more.