Author : Catherine Preddle


I struggle to snatch a breath, wondering with each one if I’ll get the chance to have another. Life’s never felt so fleeting and basic as I fight with its raw elements, breathing and trying to keep the blood pumping round my withered body.


Another tortuous intake of vital air and another rasping death rattle from my sunken chest. So this is it, my last moments of life. My mind is foggy with the pain, I can’t remember how old I am, but I know I’m only middle-aged. I’ve had a full life, but it’s been cut short; I haven’t finished yet. There is so much more to accomplish, experience and appreciate. Like seeing my children have children, like watching the sun setting behind the pyramids in Egypt, like catching the new Bond movie due out on Friday. Panic sets in – “I haven’t finished,” I shout out inwardly, “I haven’t finished yet!”


I look up into the worried faces of the visitors clustered around my bed. All going through their own personal anguish: shame at how they treated me sometimes in life, guilt about things unsaid, anxiety about one day meeting the same fate that confronts them in this hospital bed.


Another thought pops up, something that’s been niggling for a while. A craving that never dies. I could kill for a fag right now, one last drag. The sweet relief of that first inhale; the slow release of smoke and stress on the exhale. Oh, the irony of dying for a cigarette, literally dying for the sake of cigarettes …

Time stands still as I wait for my next heaving breath, but it doesn’t come. Instead my chest tightens and my eyes flicker round the room at all the people I’m leaving behind. My hand clutches my throat as I try to splutter some last words that will never be spoken. “No,” I scream inside, “I’m not ready … wait!”


There is a brilliant white light so bright that it burns into the back of my eyes. My head is spinning and I feel as nauseous as hell, but I’m alive, I’m alive!!

“Please, Mr Benson, lie still. Disorientation will wear off in a few moments.”

Suddenly, like the flash from a plasma rifle, my memories return. I know who I am and why I am here. I’m also vaguely aware that the technician is still talking to me … “What did you think, Mr Benson? Quite an old memory that one, back when Aversion Therapy Ltd was just starting out. An English male, 52, died in late 2006.”

But I’m not listening as I flee from that little sterile room, ripping out the wires still connecting me to the treatment computer as I go. I’m too desperate to escape from the most frightening and intense experience of my life.

“Hey! There are other memories we can access. There are thousands to choose from – lung cancer is only one way to go, you know. Remember, you have to want to give up, Mr Benson …”

There’s only one thing I want to do right now – need to do to calm down. Squeezing through the automatic doors of the clinic, I fumble inside my jacket pocket and with shaking hands retrieve the crumbled packet and my trusty lighter.

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