The first deep chill of December was always the hardest for John’s Georgian blood to bear. The trek across campus from his dorm to his courses was made longer by his aching limbs. At least he only needed to make the journey twice per day: once on the way in and again on the way out. Completing his studies as expediently as possible would ensure John could fulfill his dream of dentistry before long.
It was just after eight in the evening when John left the classroom of his final course of the day. He clutched the strap of his briefcase, laden with study materials, and took a few deep breaths of the hall’s warm air before pushing out into the cold. The trek that morning had left him gasping, each breath like a thousand tiny needles prickling in his chest.
Harsh winter wind slammed his face as soon as John left the comfort of the building. His airways burned. A cough pulsed through his body, stopping John in his tracks. He’d felt weak for the past few days and thought nothing of it. This was his last year, going into his final semester, at the Pennsylvania College of Dental Surgery so John had spent countless long days and nights pushing his limits. He yawned now, sleep deprived brain demanding a rest. But John couldn’t rest. He needed to continue researching diseases of the mouth for his dissertation.
Instead of returning straight to his dorm, John strode off campus hoping that a quick jaunt through the cold air would wake him up enough to spend the next few hours reading about gingivitis. Setting a brisk pace through the chill, John walked aimlessly through the deserted streets of Philadelphia. Several more coughs bubbled up his raw throat. John’s head swam and he wished for a canteen of water or a homegrown juicy peach. Having already eaten his lunch and with only a few coins in his pocket, John had no choice but to wait until he returned to the dorm for a refreshment. Unless he wanted to share a horse trough but that idea didn’t appeal to him.
John turned the corner and entered a patch of bare ground that served for a city park during warmer months. Seeing the area as a short cut, John left the cobble street in favor of the barren ground. Cold wind was fiercer here with no shield provided by buildings. The weight of his briefcase dragged on him with each step and John began struggling to breathe. A flurry of coughs threatened to surface with each inhale.
The packed ground ahead sloped gently downward to the bank of a small circular pond. John remembered the clear blue water from over the summer. The wind whipping by did nothing to stir its surface now. Frigid temperatures left the pond imprisoned by a sheet of ice. The fading evening sunlight glittered on its surface like a magnificent gemstone. John ambled to its shore, covering a bout of coughing that escaped through his lips. His next inhale rattled with fluid and it felt as though he were trying to breathe underwater.
A horse whinnied on a nearby street. The sound hammered against John’s skull. He realized his face was unnaturally warm despite the winter air. Another fit of coughing forced its way out. A tacky liquid filled John’s mouth.
Blood, spreading around his mother’s lips. A cough, sighing through her barely parted mouth. Tears, rimming her eyes as she blinked one final time.
John collapsed to his knees, unable to fight the sickness clawing up his throat. He spat, and a thick yellow mucus splattered on the glittering frozen pond. There was no blood. This couldn’t be the same dreadful illness that had claimed his dear mother’s life. John had hope. His life wouldn’t be over before it had even started.
Grasping at these thoughts, John struggled to stay upright. He coughed once more before dropping completely to the ground.
About the author
Hello! I am a yet-to-be published novel writer. You can find some of my rough pieces posted here as well as a series of articles on writing advice. If you want to get in touch with me, you can reach me at @B_M_Valdez on Twitter.