James loses the line between waking and sleeping, dreaming dry and awake that he is sinking, and his body starts coughing until he is sure the water will gush over his hands, expelled from his leaking lungs.
Sometimes he coughs hard enough for the scars to ache, for his eyes to feel detached in their sockets and floating between the harsh scratching in his lungs and the top of his head which has come off drifting, attached by the thin strings of nerves like a helium balloon tethered to a child’s hand.
Then he meets Silva, somewhere between the bar and bets and scorpions that he dares because he knows they aren’t real, they aren’t real they’re made of dreamstuff and black dried blood expelled stinking from his lungs. Silva pierces the vibrating veil of reality, steps into his dream like something more real than he has ever experienced, and James supposes the angels must have come collect him home.
“I want you to hit me,” Silva tells him, his voice twisting silver as his name in the air, “as hard as you can.”
They are on the beach, in the dark, outside a rickety bar. James isn’t sure he dares this like he dared the scorpions, but he cocks his fist back and aims for the angel’s too perfect smile and he realizes in the same instant he’s punching the devil in the face and the teeth cut his knuckles and perhaps, perhaps he has been awake all this time after all.