It was always sudden.
All of the air seemed to be pulled from his lungs. He was falling,
the horizon spinning,
and then there was pain and light and a brilliant explosion as his body and limbs hit the surface, frozen solid but not too thick, and the last of his breath was knocked away. The crackling sound wasn’t his skull, as it had felt like, though the impact drove red and green stars through the backs of his eyes, nor his legs, though they had shattered like green saplings in an unfortunate late frost. It was the ice. He’d hit the ice, and it was breaking, and he was slipping in. Even after the shock of the fall, the cold was too much to take, and he began to scream, a high whistling thing that turned ragged and red as blood wet the floes he’d broken free.
Drowning was one of the worst — isn’t that what he’d told Hoyt?
He had no strength to scrabble for purchase, and his fingers trembled weakly as the last of his scream left him, and he took one last breath, and then his head went under the water, into the dark embrace. He was carried under the surface of the ice for some time, rushing in the arms of the tumbling river, body battered from above and below, but all Kieron could think of was the look on Hoyt Redwell’s face.
The body fights.
He struggled, but he couldn’t really move, couldn’t do anything but try to hold his breath, wait to come up, to break the surface.
He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his teeth against the darkness, against the water that tried desperately to peel him open.
His heart fluttered, and his lungs spasmed.
It burns, when you breathe underwater.
Kieron could feel it burn as his panicked body gave in and took that first breath.
You try to cough, and your whole body is on fire, getting that breath of water out, and then you breathe in another, and then your brain lights up like fireworks–
He tried to cough, and his eyes were wide, and he could see the dim winter light above the surface, and he reached out but the ice would not give way, and his hand pressed as if to glass.
–and you shake like a puppeteer thrashing a marionette, and everything is cold and dark and–
Underwater, he screamed silently as his heart gave out in a trembling seizure of agony, his limbs contorting, twisted and broken.
–it’s like a night full of shrieking stars that all start to go out–
Everything went dark, painful star by painful star.