Frantic onlookers swarmed around the source of the noise: the spread-eagled form of a fallen child laying in the middle of the sidewalk. A quiet murmur passed through the crowd, each unsure whether they should be the one to call for help. After a few moments, the people at the center gasped and backed away, creating a space to see what was happening.
The child was rising to their feet.
They stretched, rolled their neck and shoulders, and the popping of bones into place sent another wave of discomfort through the already-shocked crowd. Seeming to notice them for the first time, the child spoke.
“What’s everyone staring at?”
The seconds before anyone replied stretched out for an eternity. Finally, an unsteady man broke the silence.
“F-fell,” he stuttered.
“Fell?” The child was confused.
“Y-you fell from that b-building,” he pointed toward the pinnacle of the skyscraping hotel before him, then at them “You should be d-d…dead.”
“Oh,” the child considered this for a moment. “Huh. Good to know.”
Before anyone else could find words to reply, the child stepped lightly through the crowd and walked away, oblivious to the wide eyes and dropped jaws staring after them.
– – – – – – – – – –
Mattias leaned back in his chair as the doctor prepared the syringe. Turning back to him, she gave a wide, appeasing grin.
“Now, you’re going to feel a little pinch-”
“No, I won’t,” he interrupted her, returning the smile, “but that’s okay.”
His face reddened and he glanced away. “Sorry, force of habit. I forgot I haven’t had an appointment here before.”
The doctor frowned, a faint memory of his reports stirring. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“I don’t feel pain. Never have. My old physician and I used to joke about it whenever he gave me shots. He said he would mention it in his notes.”
“I don’t recall seeing anything about-”
“Congenital insensitivity? That wouldn’t…” he hesitated. “Wouldn’t quite cover it, I don’t think.” Watching her start to cross her arms, he spoke again. “Careful. unless you need a second round of this year’s flu shot.”
“R-right,” she shook her head, reaching over to him instead. “But what do you mean by that?”
He shrugged. “All my life, I’ve been prone to… situations, I’ll say.” He looked her in the eye as she administered the vaccine, unflinching. “People who can’t feel pain still suffer for it, right?”
She nodded hesitantly. “And you…?”
“Don’t,” he confirmed. “I’ve fallen from buildings, been hit by vehicles, climbed burning trees to rescue small animals, been attacked by said small animals… and I’ve walked away from all of it.”
The doctor blinked in confusion. “How- what- pain or no, that should kill you!” She spluttered.
He gave a shrug and a sigh. “So people keep telling me. Never really noticed, honestly.”
She couldn’t even muster a response. Sitting back in her own chair, she spun around to flip through his file. Finally, she found what she was looking for.
“Wait, you mean this wasn’t a clerical error?” She turned the file to show him and pointed to a line midway down the page.
“‘Lacks death perception—take care,’” he read, then laughed under his breath. “That is what he always called it. Call me superstitious, but I think he was on to something. Like, I can’t die so long as I do not notice that whatever I’m doing should kill me. If nothing else, I’m unwilling to test the theory.” He laughed again.
“I-I see.” The doctor shook her head again, raising a hand to her forehead. “Well… unless you have more to talk about, you’re good to go, Mattias.”
“Got it. See you soon, doc!” He rose with another bright smile, stepping past her and out the door.
The doctor returned to the front of the office, watching out the window as her patient exited the building. He walked calmly through the parking lot, then gave a cursory glance back and forth as he reached the crosswalk away from the clinic. Seeming satisfied, he took a couple of steps into the road. From her vantage point several floors above, the doctor saw it coming before it happened. A car careened down the otherwise empty drive, losing control on its icy winter surface. Mattias didn’t even look in its direction before it slammed into him, sending him flying into the snow-filled ditch. The impact jarred a roadside tree, dumping more snow over the small crater he had created.
She stood rooted in place, intently watching the ditch where he had landed. The driver of the suddenly-appearing vehicle had slowed to a stop, exited, and gone to investigate. She couldn’t see the driver’s facial expression from the window, but she could tell he was unsure of how to respond. A minute or two passed, though to her it felt much longer. Finally, she saw movement in the pile of snow.
Mattias stepped out, brushing snow from his shoulders and rolling bones into their proper places. Glancing around, he waved first at the driver, then back at the clinic window, as though he knew the doctor was watching. Then, with all the ceremony of someone who had stopped to observe something mildly interesting, he crossed the empty road and continued on his way without a second glance.