This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
Josh was dying. He was not floating. He was not gliding nor maintaining. He was not doing any of the things that methodically guide a runner toward victory. By this point, in this race, he was trying to survive.
Even though his coach spoke the words no louder than conversation, Josh heard Snell say “6:15” as the group passed five laps with three remaining. The infield turned in a blending blur beside him, the bend of time, the millionth of a million times. Josh’s teammate and rival Caleb ran beside him, as he usually did, Caleb’s pride preventing him from drafting and gaining an advantage. Caleb had never before been able to race with Josh long enough to even try and outkick him. Today was different. Josh was in oxygen debt as he had been the entire race, and now, as he tried to use all the strategies he had learned, nothing was working.
Halfway through lap six was the first time Josh began to see the world of a race through a long, dark tunnel as the voices from the track echoed in his head. His heart pounded inside his skull and his vision was an ever-blinding flash of persistent light. Why could he not smell the cut grass? Why could he not feel the wind in his face nor taste the sweet oxygen in the back of his mouth? He felt like he was running in mud.
As Caleb surged ahead he said, “Uh-oh, big boy.” It was the last thing Josh heard.
When he opened his eyes he saw Coach Snell. Other faces peered down from a kaleidoscope that spun and expanded like caricatures. He recognized Central’s coach but none of the other athletes. Someone’s hand smoothed a sweaty lock of Josh’s dark hair away from his eyes. His hands were trembling, and he was still so disoriented he had not considered being embarrassed. His lower body ached.
“Get his arms, Bobby. Tully and Mark, you two get his legs. We’ll pick him up and move him off the track.” It was impossible for Josh to discern who was speaking.
As Josh came fully to his senses he realized he was now on the couch in Coach Snell’s office. Josh’s parents sat nearby and the trainer and a paramedic seemed to be taking notes as they listened to his heart.
Coach Snell leaned forward and smiled. “Are you sleeping, eating?”
“You know I am, coach,” Josh said looking away.
“You need to get your iron checked,” Snell told him. “I ran with a guy once that got so tired and sleepy doing a run in cross country season he stretched out in a field and fell asleep.” Snell laughed. “His iron level was really low.”
The school trainer and the ambulance guys advised Josh to go directly to the doctor and even made his parents sign a waiver, but Josh somehow managed to convince them to wait. Instead, he ate steak and took ferrous sulfate for the next two days, and even though Snell told him it might take four weeks to begin to raise the stores of iron he simply felt worse and worse. After falling asleep in English class he went to see the nurse. No temperature. Blood pressure and heart rate normal. He had to go to the doctor. That started the odyssey.
Idiopathic. That meant the doctors had no idea what was wrong. By then Josh wished they had found mono. It wasn’t leukemia either. Nothing showed up. Maybe it was in his head. He went to Children’s Hospital in Chattanooga and doctors there referred him to Children’s Healthcare in Atlanta. For three days he was probed and scanned with magnets, and Josh was sure they had taken most of his blood. School would be out in a week, and he had missed the end of his junior track season. And now here he sat in Atlanta after another of the long jaunts, slumping in the back seat as the sky and the billboards on I-75 raced along outside the window, his life a blur of drowsiness and disorientation.
The sign on the wall read Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and featured a little blue-green cartoon girl in a red dress and a little blue-green boy wearing a red shirt beside her. The kids were holding hands and waving. He wasn’t a child, and he had no idea why he should be here.
A sign to his right reported that U.S. News and World Report ranks Children’s among the nation’s best. Josh looked out of the corner of his eye, down to his mother’s trembling, freckled hand holding a magazine. She must have noticed him because she looked up and smiled. Josh’s father sat on her left and bounced his foot up and down. At least they weren’t arguing now. For some reason that had stopped when all of this doctor business started. Josh checked his Ironman watch and realized he had been in this room for almost an hour. He closed his eyes and wondered if he might doze off.
The latest doctor walked in with another doctor in tow, not quite as old and tall and thin. He seemed to have an amused expression, but Josh realized that it might be the way he looked all the time. He wasn’t smiling, exactly, but rather almost curious and bemused. In fact, neither of them looked happy. Greetings all around. The new man was Dr. Gaston.
“Josh, we’d like to talk to your mom and dad,” the first doctor, not Gaston, said. “Would you like to go to the waiting room?”
“I’d like to stay here and find out what’s wrong with me,” Josh said evenly.
The doctors looked to Josh’s parents.
“Josh, give us a minute. We’ll see what’s up,” his father said. “I promise we won’t be long.”
Josh walked past the nurses’ station and the receptionist’s cubicle surrounded by glass beside the exterior waiting room. It seemed to Josh the cubicle resembled a cage in a zoo where a snake might be kept so it could be viewed easily. A chubby, dark haired woman wearing a nurse’s uniform speckled with balloons and stuffed animals sat as she typed on a keyboard. Josh took a seat beside an extremely skinny, pale boy who had his legs pulled up onto a couch beside him almost as if he might be avoiding a snapping creature that lived beneath the couch in the bowels of the hospital. The boy’s mother sat flipping through a magazine.
“Whatcha’ in for?” Josh asked.
The boy stared back missing the humor. He looked to be about ten.
“You know, that’s what they say in jail,” Josh continued.
“I’m sick,” the boy answered seriously.
“Me too.” Josh looked away wishing he hadn’t started the conversation.
“Whadda you have?” the boy asked. Dark circles ringed his eyes, and he looked small and frail.
“Your guess is as good as mine. Name’s Josh.” He stuck out his hand and the little boy gave him his. Josh’s hand swallowed the boy’s whole and he shook the hand lightly feeling its leathery skin and bones. “What about you?”
“I’m Zak. Cancer.”
Josh didn’t know what to say. The word hung in the air. Cancer.
“You’re in a good place,” Josh offered. The boy stared up at him. “U.S. News and World Report says this is one of the nation’s best.”
“They stopped my chemo…”
Josh, realizing why the boy’s hair was so short, nodded in agreement. He looked down at the bony knees and jutting elbows not knowing what to say.
“You like sports?” Josh asked.
“I like baseball. Mom says we can see the Braves.” The boy leaned in conspiratorially. “I don’t have to take any more radiation either.”
“So you’re better?” Josh whispered.
“No.” The boy looked to his mother who smiled back not having heard the conversation. “Mom cries a lot.”
“I’m sure it will be okay,” Josh said. He patted Zak’s tiny knee.
“This is my last time here.”
A woman appeared in the doorway to the back room. “Josh Raines?”
“Right here,” Josh said standing. “You e-mail?” he asked Zak.
“Zak the man at yahoo.”
“Talk with you soon.”
Josh followed the woman back into the waiting room, and as he entered he could see that his mother had been crying. She was wiping her red ringed eyes, and she cleared her throat. The door closed like the cocking of a gun behind him. Blood seemed to drain from his father’s face.
“Josh, have a seat,” the first doctor said. Dr. Gaston was leaned back against the counter holding a clipboard against his chest, that same look on his face. Josh’s hands had gone suddenly cold.
“Josh, we’re going to consult with some additional doctors and you guys are going to come in tomorrow for a consultation,” doc one said.
“What have I got?”
“We think we know, but we’re going to be sure. Then we’re going to set a course of treatment.”
“Is it cancer?”
“No, I can assure you it isn’t cancer. If we’re right, it’s something new.”
Josh and his family left for a motel, and that night was the last time Josh would consider what his adult life had to offer. The next day changed everything. Josh was dying.
Ben Gauger: Kudos go to Liz Aguilar, author of To Have And to Hold a fast-paced, gripping, adrenaline rush from start to finish, one of perhaps the finest pieces of writing I've ever read, in particular because of its' telenovela-like feel, May she continually find success as an author. Bravo my dear, bravo!
ianwatson: The comedy is original and genuinely funny, I have laughed out loud many times reading this book. But the story and the plot are also really engaging. The opening two or three chapters seem quite character-dense but they all soon come to life and there is no padding, filling or wasted time readin...
Sonya YuntHatton: Are you going to be posting the rest? I read this when originally posted on Fanfiction. LOVE IT!!! Was so glad when it came our as an original book!! And now the MOVIE!!! Holy Mary I am so excited.....But I'm going to HATE, HATE, HATE the wait for part 2. Please let me know if and when you're goi...
RiverSong: So, at first glance, I thought this was just going to be like any other werewolf book out there that you could find on Wattpad, but I was intrigued enough with the little bloop that I wanted to read more. Following that weird thing that I call curiosity, I found this thing called an obsession. Th...
Ben Gauger: Kudos to Bryan Laesch, author of Remnants of Chaos:Chaotic Omens for his use of the Gothic style of writing and in addition the footnotes and endnotes at the end of each chapter, a welcome accompaniment to be sure, though his use of grammar could use a little improving, but his use of punctuation...
Ashley Stryker: So I'm writing this review, keeping in mind that this is a work in progress and it's part of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), so my "deeper" critiques will be saved until it's all finished up.+ Chapter One: A stewardess would not talk to anyone quite like that, particularly a clear minor...
ernbelle: When I first started this story I was a little unsettled by all of the information that appears in the prologue, and wasn't sure if I would continue. However, I am very glad I did. The plot was very well thought out and really interesting. There were not any page breaks or markers to acknowledge ...
263Adder: Okay so I adore this story. I only knocked one star off plot for historical inaccuracies because I'm a bit of a stickler for that. The ending broke my heart though, considering you already changed history couldn't you (SPOILER) change it a bit more and have them together!!!! I want an alternative...
Tiffany Thomson: This story is not something I would normally pick up and read but I'm so glad I did, I wasn't able to put it down and my husband was yelling at me at 3am to put it down and go to bed (just waited for him to doze back off before picking it back up) I really hope Natalie brings out another book eit...
FreakyPoet: "you made me laugh, made me cry, both are hard to do. I spent most of the night reading your story, captivated. This is why you get full stars from me. Thanks for the great story!"
Sara Joy Bailey: "Full of depth and life. The plot was thrilling. The author's style flows naturally and the reader can easily slip into the pages of the story. Very well done."