Phillip Akairia spent every morning in a fashion identical to the previous day; that is, routine was of the utmost importance. He was nothing if not self-disciplined. His alarm would sound precisely five o’clock in the morning every morning, or would have sounded, if not for the fact that he had grown so accustomed to his sleeping pattern that he had had no use for it for many years now. He would promptly get out of bed by swinging his legs over the right side of his bed and slipping his feet into the slippers that were arranged on his floor the night before. Then he would walk straight to his bathroom, relieve himself of the waste accumulated during his eight hours of sleep, and shave. After he finished shaving, he would get into the shower, clean himself, and then grab the clean towel that awaited him. Once he finished drying himself, he placed the used towel in the bin for the week’s wash, and replaced it with a clean towel out of his linen closet. Akairia would then return to his room and dress himself, in the same style suit that he had been wearing as long as he could remember. He would then go to his kitchen and cook a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast, which he would enjoy along with a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice as he watched the morning news. On workdays he would then drive to his office at Greenville Electric, where he worked as an accountant. The weekends he used to do work around his house, which included activities such as washing his car every Saturday, and house cleaning every Sunday afternoon. Needless to say, he would eat lunch at the same establishment during his break at work during the week, and on the weekends would prepare his lunch at home. Always at the same time, and always the same meal. It would also be wise to assume that this applied to supper as well. He was so precise in his daily activities that he never found reason to deviate at all, even if a social opportunity presented itself, and so his co-workers and acquaintances had learned that, while he was not an altogether unpleasant man, he was seemingly incapable of any sort of friendship or social interaction outside of his routine. He just wasn’t the sort. It was not out of place, then, when he arrived home from work on a day that seemed like any other. He took off his coat and placed it on the coat rack after he locked his front door, the air of his house the same temperature as always; had he not been so meticulous in his weekly cleaning, the never adjusted thermostat would have a thick layer of accumulated dust. He then sat down in his favourite chair, and turned the television on to his preferred news source to unwind. He was glad that he was so insulated from the rest of the world, as the news proved to him. Whereas the rest of the world seemed to be charging headfirst into chaos, Akairia’s immediate world remained comfortably aloof. The strife and turmoil of others had no real impact on his day to day life, and the most upsetting news he dealt with on a daily basis was an inconvenient raise in prices here and there--- certainly nothing compared to what others experienced. It felt good to be removed from such petty squalor as one of the vicarious. He soon checked his ever-faithful watch, noticing that it was time for his supper. He turned off his television and made his way from the living room to the kitchen. Preparation for his meal was simple enough; most of it was simple mechanical habit, as the ingredients never changed. It did not take long for him to complete his preparations and sit down to enjoy his food. He was mid-bite when he heard something creak, a long, slow sound that he could not quite pinpoint. He got out of his chair to find the source of the sound while pushing aside what he considered an irrational feeling of unease. Akairia was sure that it had just been the wind on his screen door or some other such noise that could be easily explained and dismissed. He checked the front and back doors of his house, but could not find any source for the sound—they were all firmly shut, and there was no breeze. After a few more minutes of investigation (for he was not the type to let go a problem once it was on his mind) he concluded that the noise must have originated from within his home, not without. But, again, he could not find a source for the noise. After a time he realised that his meal was getting cold, and he decided that whatever had been the cause of the creaking was of no great concern. He sat down once again to eat, and for a few more minutes was able to enjoy his meal. However, once again he heard the long, strained creaking echoing through his living room—through his living room! A rare smile passed over his face now that he had at least narrowed down his previous search—surely this time he would be able to discover the culprit of this bothersome noise. Before he could investigate the disturbance further, though, he suddenly felt gravity grip him and drop him down with great violence. As he had been chewing his food during the fall, he was now sprawled on the floor and forced into a fit of coughing and sputtering. A bit dazed, he slowly brought himself to his knees so that he could see what had been the cause of his collapse, and then spotted the wreckage of his dining chair. So that had been the source of the creaking! He cleared his throat a few more times to be sure he could breathe, and took a few deep breaths to reassure himself further. Aggravation filled him as soon as he felt his health was intact. The chair had been part of a matching furniture set, and now he would be faced with having a new chair that did not match any of his other pieces or else having to resort to buying a completely new set; either option inconvenienced him. Akairia picked up the splintered pieces of the broken chair and placed them into a pile for easier disposal. After he finished, he turned back to his meal, which by now was almost certainly going to be cold. Despite his increasing irritation over the entire event, he sat down to finish the food he had cooked, settling into one of the other chairs at his table. He reached for his glass of water and took a sip. As the water slid down his throat, he could feel a distinct lump rubbing against the inside, most likely a chunk of food that had stuck just past his mouth during his fall and coughing fit. He took another sip of water to flush it away, but to no avail—as he dry swallowed a few more times to check on the status of the lump, it would not go away. What was worse was that he could feel it beginning to make its way back to his mouth, as if his body realised that the object did not belong where it was lodged and was making an effort to clear itself of the obstruction. It was an unpleasant feeling, however, as the food made its way slowly to the back of his mouth. Soon he could feel it at the opening of his throat, and the discomfort made his body violently retch. He was forced to his knees by the struggle to expel the food, but after a few dripping ropes of mucus and saliva fell to the floor his throat was able to push the food back down away from his mouth. Unfortunately, this just exacerbated the problem, as the process was started anew, but this time with his added nausea. He tried coughing again in between heaving, but to no avail. He tried repeatedly swallowing to force the food back down his throat, but this also just caused more retching and nausea. Thinking that perhaps he could dislodge the lump through more rigorous action, Akairia flung himself against the floor while coughing. He felt the piece of food change positions in his throat, but to his surprise he could no longer breathe; he had forced the food out of his throat into his windpipe. He was not immediately fazed by this, however, because for the moment this would mean the end of his retching, which would allow him to cough out the food using the power of his lungs instead of trying to force the food down his esophagus. However, after several seconds of little to no air flow into his lungs, he began to realise that he would need to try another approach. There was already a burning sensation in his lungs, the feeling of oxygen deprivation, and he had to fight the onset of panic as his body screamed for air. He knew that any sort of body motion must be careful and measured now, because if he began to panic his air supply of a few precious minutes would be expended in a matter of seconds. Akairia carefully and calmly approached one of the remaining chairs and leaned against it, resting his abdomen on the back of the chair. With a quick motion he forced his body down on to the chair; he seemed to remember reading somewhere that this was the way to perform a self-heimlich maneuver. The first try was unsuccessful, and the burning (and barely suppressed primal panic in his mind) intensified. He was beginning to see spots in front of his eyes and a light-headedness. He tried the motion again, but with the same results. Now there was a distinct sound in his ears, filling his head—it was what could be called ringing in everyday conversation, but he found the experience to be much worse than it sounded. Instead of a ringing it was more like an intense buzzing noise, the sound of a television set with no reception that contained a hive of angry hornets. What was worse was the sensation that accompanied it, a loss of mental control, as if he had gotten drunk without any of the pleasant effects. Desperation setting in, he slammed himself down against the chair a third time, and immediately regretted his impatience. A sharp, stabbing pain when through his torso, accompanied by a loud crack; as the initial pain subsided it was replaced with a slow, throbbing cousin; he was quite sure that it would be painful to breathe right then, even if he could have, and assumed that he had broken some of his ribs. As he lay on the floor, dazed by the pain and aware that his limited oxygen supply was almost certainly reaching its end, his body was acting involuntarily to breathe, which was not at all helpful. Pained lungs tried to expand against the vacuum of his throat, while at the same time trying to expel the suffocating carbon dioxide that was filling them, increasing pressure within his chest against his damaged rib cage. He took a few futile punches at himself, cringing in agony even as he did it, a desperate act against the blockage that all else had failed to expel. The ringing, that infernal maddening buzzing that consumed his mind, was now at its pinnacle, a sound so convincing in its insistence that he could no longer recall having heard anything else; all other sounds had been an alien fantasy, a vivid dream that had no place in this new reality of static and noise. Out of the dimness, however, through the feeling of resignation to his fate came a thin thought, an almost ignored remembrance of something he had seen or read before. It seemed to him that he could recall doctors opening a passage to the lungs through a patient’s throat, allowing them to breathe by surpassing the mouth and upper throat. If he could only expose his windpipe to the litres and litres of cubic gas that surrounded but was cruelly unavailable to him, he might be able to survive. With his last remaining store of energy he rose to his feet, his visibility now reduced to a small window of clarity that was surrounded by a haze of black and grey, he headed for his kitchen. He stumbled around, his balance almost entirely gone as his body strained to perform even the most basic of functions, and he slammed against furniture, knocking over valuables and possessions that just a few minutes ago would have had so much value for him, now reduced only to obstacles that stood in the way of him and survival. He exploded into the kitchen, his battered body slamming against counters and cabinets in a desperate search, his now completely and unchecked panicking sending dishes and pans crashing to the floor. If he had been able to think clearly he would have been amazed that he had to search at all, that his state of suffocation had left him unable to even remember the order of the contents in his pristine kitchen. At least, his body near the verge of collapse, he finally came upon something that could aid him; he wished he could have found something a bit more surgical, but he couldn’t seem to find a any other knife, and he knew that the butcher knife that he had found would be too large. With no other choices and the world swimming around him, drawing him into an abyss of unconsciousness and death, he grabbed the tomato knife out of the drawer. The end was forked, that wouldn’t be any good to him, he would just cut on either side of his windpipe and probably bleed to death; he would have to try carefully to use the serrated edge. He could feel the stainless steel against his throat, the razor serrations lined up against his throat, his arm trying to hold the knife steadily away so that he would cut only a tiny area instead of slitting his own throat. His eyes immediately began to tear as he slashed, the pain shocking him even through the daze of asphyxiation. He looked down at his hand, which was already splotched crimson with blood, the same blood that was quickly soaking his shirt--- and realised that he still couldn’t breathe. His arm was too unsteady, he had been able to focus his efforts and had wasted the last remnants of his energy just gashing himself with the knife in a panic-induced craze. He tried again and again, each stroke weaker and even less focused, and soon he collapsed to the floor, bleeding and at the edge of consciousness. His hand fell to his side, bits of skin stuck to the bloody knife that still lay loosely in his hand, and let the dark welcome him.