You Only Die Twice - By Christopher Smith


At first, all she was aware of was a cold wetness against her cheek and explosions of light along the periphery of her vision. She could hear someone talking to her―a man―but she couldn’t understand what he was saying.

She felt her body being jolted. Kicked. Punched.

Her head hurt.

There was blood in her mouth. And something else. Something thick and round, which made it difficult for her to breathe.

Her left leg began to twitch.

The flashes of light continued until the pain in her head became too much for her to bear.

Something was shoved into her right hand. She felt her fingers being closed around it and then, somehow, the object was attached to her hand.

She wondered what it was. She wondered where she was. Had she died again? Or was she about to die again?

She knew all about death.

She faced it before, and she fell deep into its hole.

Was she here again?

She passed out and went into a light of her own.


When she woke again, Cheryl Dunning blinked and though her head was still thick and her eyesight still cloudy, she was able to process that the darkness she now saw had nothing to do with death or being unconscious, but everything to do with the fact that it was night.

She was outside and she was alive, but where was she? How did she get here? She tried to make sense of it, tried to remember what events led her to this, but she couldn’t remember anything.

Her mind was blank.

She needed to leave, get home. But where was home?

She tried to raise her head, but the effort was excruciating and she realized that she couldn’t. She put her left hand beneath her breast and tried to push herself up, but she cried out in pain and slumped back onto the ground.

She wasn’t able to move. At least not now. Instinct kicked in. That part of her that could still reason realized that she might have broken a bone or, worse, several bones. She needed to be careful. It felt as if someone had pummeled her.

As she lay there, it came to her that she was on a moist forest floor. She could smell damp timber, the rot of whatever lay beneath her, and she was aware that it was raining. Water tapped against the side of her cheek and soaked her clothes. It wasn’t a heavy rain, but it was steady, and she was alert enough to know that her situation was dire.

She was alone and exposed to the elements in some unknown woods. Her thoughts turned to the wild animals she knew were around her. Circling her. Smelling her. Wanting to tear her apart and eat her. The fear she felt at that moment made her want to get up and run, but her body wasn’t having it. Something was wrong with her head. It wouldn’t stop throbbing. She felt as if it had been kicked.

And so she lay there, a prisoner to whatever had happened to her. She listened to the night and occasionally heard rustling sounds in the woods. What would prey on her tonight? Something would. She felt utterly without hope and knew that she’d be dead before she had the chance to help herself.

She closed her eyes. She tried to remember her life, but there was no life to remember. It was as if someone had erased it from her mind and left in its place a pain she had never before experienced. It consumed her before and it did so again.

She wavered on the precipice of that pain, and then she gave herself over to it and slipped into unconsciousness.


Morning came and with it, the end of the rain.

Cheryl Dunning opened her eyes, and this time she could see clearly. There was no fog, no haze, just clarity. Her body still ached, but the pain wasn’t excruciating. For a moment, the idea that she’d made it through the night alive gave her back the hope she lost the night before.

With one side of her face planted on the wet ground, she looked around and saw that she was in a wooded area. A forest. Above her was a canopy of sunlit trees, from the fiery blaze of maples being seduced by autumn’s crisp touch to the evergreens that would challenge the pending winter, stare it down and see it through to spring. It was late September in Maine, pine needles were the carpet on which she lay, and she was chilled to her