[Note:  the erratic paragraph breaks that follow are accidental, like the beating of an arrhythmic heart.] 
For the third time this week, Richard awoke in the tight hold of a heart
attack.  His mind seemed to walk in on an obscene crime of murdered
syncopation.  Flip. Skip. Bounce.  Every god damned chest-pounding trick
unthinkable.   War of the hemispheres at 4:00 a.m.  On the left, a Greek
chorus of thoughts that spoke assurance.  On the right, witches singing
death.  A witch hissed a tune to a chorus member:  “You will die!”  “Yes,
but not today,” came a frontal cortex rebuff.  So the palpitations and
barbs continued, a miasma of P waves flooding a QRS complex.  He lay
there following a cardiac jazz session, a man brought to Jesus, swearing
off caffeine, and repeating a mantra:  “I’m just having a panic attack.” 
Two hours later, the tangled electricity exhausted, the sweet rhythms of a
normal heart restored, he closed the door on the witches yet another day.
He had once participated in an improv chorus exercise during an acting
class.  The instructor would point to a chorus member who started a
story, and then point suddenly and randomly to another member, who
was to pick up the story without losing a beat, even in mid-syllable.  One
mangled word, and the whole story collapsed.  The next chorus stepped
He decided the story of his heart was being scrambled in mid syllable. 
EKG’s, Echo Cardiograms, Stress treadmill tests, pills and psychotherapy
couldn’t neuter the chorale engrafted Woody Allen.  He began dreaming
of dead relatives.  He had heard that when people die, a deceased family
arrives to ease the transition.   His uncle Elmer, good hearted, and saintly
simple, arrived in a dream after being dead and unremembered for 42
years.  The perfect escort.  Then, a darker pair of arrivals:  his mother
and father in tandem.  Forty years dead and 60 years separated, now
rejoined to take him out as they brought him in.
“Unknown etiology” — catch phrase for “crazy.”  Insurance coding means
everything.  A heart man doesn’t get paid for tagging the patient as a nut
case.  So, what’s a doctor to do but order a battery of tests when it’s a
witch’s spell he’s after?
He belonged to the Church of Last Resort, with a one-word liturgy:
“Help!” When it came to fear of death, God was the nuclear option.  He
prayed, sometimes stopping mid-syllable, interrupted by a naked
woman, or an unfinished tax return.  Blessed are the pure of heart, for
their minds will be at peace, even in their final hour.
During one such prayer, an inkling amid the rubble, he saw himself
walking into his mother’s hospital room.  She lay there alone in recovery
four decades earlier, weak of heart, a high-risk surgery for gall bladder. 
Deep, too deep in anesthesia, she slept covered like a ghost covered by a
perfectly white sheet. He touched her shoulder to awaken her.  She
opened her eyes, gasped, and went into cardiac arrest.  For a moment he
stood there confused.  “Mother!” he repeated, as if to require an
explanation.  Finally, he ran down the hall to the nurse’s station.  A nurse
called a code blue.  He watched as the nurse cracked several of his
mother’s ribs doing CPR.  A crash cart arrived.  While paddles shocked his
mother into a short reprieve, a middle-aged man walked down the
lifeless wax-coated hallway just outside her door.  “Barber here!  Haircuts
here!” he chanted.   For several nights, other patients complained his
mother kept them awake with her agonized cries.  Then she died. 
In that instant of prayer, with Edvard Munch clarity, he knew he had killed
his mother.  His ill timed rousing had tripped the delicate rhythm of her
heart.  He had aimed a shot of adrenaline that hit her mid-syllable. Now,
the benign tumor of his suppressed guilt had burst to spread its
poison.  An eye for an eye, a heart for a heart.  If we live long
enough, he thought, every vile act will eventually metastasize. 
He decided only a faith healing would get to the heart of the
issue.  The problem was that he had no faith.  He had seen the
T.V. preachers on cable, with a broom of hair hanging on their
shoulders, power pin-stripped suits, and a flair for fancy cuff
links and stylish handkerchiefs. 
The late night T.V. “Man of God,” as he called himself, offered
prayer charged rainbow colored cloths, anointing oil, and “No-
Evil” water.  All this for free if the listener called the number on
the screen.  The items came with instructions.  The Man of God
interviewed users who reported large sums of money dropping
into their beleaguered lives. “Bullshit,” Richard groaned, but
instantly regretted the word.  The “Man of God” was more
pernicious than that.
One morning he found someone’s homemade single typed page
attached by rubber band to his apartment door, announcing:  “A
Warm Heart Leads to Happiness.”  He read that we can be saved
from the sufferings of this world by Reihanohikari, Light of Divine
Power, by offering sincere prayers to Goshugojin-sama, the
Guardian God of Humanity.  The page provided a telephone
number for Reihanohikari. He wrapped his fingers like insect legs
one at a time around the sheet, letting the feel of it crumbling in
his palm release some of his disdain.  Then he tossed it.
He decided he needed to face his fears. For months he avoided
his usual exercise routine, careful of his erratic heart.  The
cardiologist assured him his heart appeared healthy, then looked
at Richard intently for that millisecond needed to convey, “We
both know your nuts.” 
Still, living alone, with no family, and few friends, Richard
thought it wise to put his driver’s license in the pocket of his
running pants, and to take his mobile phone.  About 1 mile into
the run, short of breath, he felt a steel band suddenly tighten
around his chest.  He felt faint, dizzy, and nauseated.  He
stumbled to a stoplight, and leaned on it while hitting the preset
emergency button on his mobile. 
“We’ll keep you for overnight observation, just in case,” the
emergency room physician told him, after explaining that all the
tests were negative for heart attack. 
“That can’t be.  I know what I felt.” 
The ER doctor titled her head slightly with that same “we both
know” look. 
“The cardiac enzyme tests are very accurate, especially the
troponin results,” she told him calmly.  “Just rest now, and we’ll
do a stress treadmill in the morning just to be sure.” 
It felt like a “pat on the head.”  He had a private room.  The nurse
assured him the EKG readings were being continuously
monitored at the nurse’s station.  Later, she came in to ask if he
was OK.  
“Oh, nothing serious.  Just saw a few skipped beats on the
monitor.  Normal actually.”  She offered him a sedative.  He
Later that night, a hand pressing repeatedly on his shoulder
jolted him awake.  A woman’s voice growing louder, more clear:
  “Richard.  It’s mother, Richard.  I’m here.” 
(c) FXP 2013

Footnote:  As taken from my first week in a UCLA Intermediate Short Story Online Extension Course: ASSIGNED WRITING CHALLENGE #1:   

“Write the beginning of a story with a self-conscious narrator who is confronted by a mystery of some sort, some event from the past or the present that the narrator feels an urgentneed to understand. (1-5 pp.)”