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Writing I Breathe In (m) (and, uh, hello again.)


Squall
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I don't know if anyone's still around from God-knows-how-long-ago, but, um, hello.

>.>;;

This is a surrealist/horror story with a terrible name. See, I had written the story with the notion that I could get away without titling it, that I could just put this grotesque graphic on the cover and that would be all, but apparently I am not quite that cool. In poetry, untitled works are referred to by their fist line. That's what I did here.

[SIZE=3][COLOR=DimGray][FONT=Garamond][CENTER]I Breathe In[/CENTER]

I breathe in. It hurts. I breathe out, and I don?t know where I am anymore. The darkness is all encompassing, surrounding me entirely like a blanket of depravity, a canvas on which a mural of apparitions from my past paint themselves, turning in chaos and disordered segments of impressions. Vacancies dot the mural, little holes where I can?t remember, holes that are gradually getting bigger, eating away the fabric of my memories like a consuming plague. If I try to pull something real out of the mesh of time stretching and breaking before me, all that emerges is the word, ?help.? I don?t know why, I don?t remember? help? It sounds useless to me now? the only sensations left are, [I]quiet?solitude?dark?[/I]

I remember? something jumps out at me? I was sitting in a diner late at night, musing over a cup of coffee, breathing air that was cold and refreshing. I think I felt good; I enjoyed being on the road like I was, sitting in diners just like that, and I had the impression of leaping into a cold reality out of a vague fog of dreams. Yeah, like I was coming out of a deep coma that spread across my life into the light of sensation and being. The diner was small and worthless, fluorescent lights winking on and off, grime and tobacco-yellow staining the whitewashed walls. I didn?t really care. I felt good.

The night air was cold when I left the diner. The parking lot was gravel; my car was on the far side beside the road, one wheel defiantly on the bike lane, like I had parked there to keep the road and the diner from drifting away from each other, into the vagueness of space. I opened the trunk to check--no, more to admire--my cargo. It was filled with all the junk I could fit in there, all my things I could get out of the house, and a small green suitcase I was particularly proud of, full of everything my wife had that was worth anything. Jewelry, money, pricey dresses? I remember, it was because of her that I was out on the road. That whore drove me out, I was trying to get away. It felt good to get away.

The car whined and protested bitterly when I attempted to start it. I tried to coax it into submission with a little gas, and after a few tries, the engine caught, almost failed, staggered a minute and finally came to life. I rubbed the dashboard affectionately, like a pet. ?Just a little further. You can do it.? I don?t know why I said that. I had no destination in mind, and I didn?t know where the next town was. I mean, I had this strange idea that I wouldn?t be on the road much longer, but I don?t know why I said that.

Back on the road I shifted into gear and hummed into the night, letting my mind wander in and out of the present, delving back into buried hatchets and old fights with my wife. The whore told me I couldn?t take it. Said I couldn?t handle things, that I needed sheltering. I guess I might have been proving her right. Suddenly the road and everything else vanished, and I had the peculiar feeling of being separated from myself, that somewhere, I was barreling down the road at fifty miles an hour, and that it was important to go out and find myself again. I couldn?t see: I held out my arms and touched the darkness, grabbed at nothing as I stumbled along, looking for me. Then I noticed a figure hulking in the dark, like a wall in front of me, cut out of the darkness like a hole. I reached out for it. My fingertips glided across its surface, and immediately I dropped back into reality, onto the pavement outside my car?s open door. It was parked, thank God.

I stood up feebly and tried to regain my balance, rubbing the asphalt out of my palms and off my knees. It took a moment to register what was around me: a town. I had driven to a town, and neatly parked at city hall. The lettering on the wall read, ?MICHAEL, ILLINOIS,? Lettering that forced a coldness into my gut. I was nowhere near Illinois at the diner? the car ride would have been at least ten hours? but how could that be? How could it still be dark like it was? Had I blacked out and driven all day? It didn?t seem possible. My head spun around and began to ache, and slowly the futility of trying to answer myself engulfed my thoughts, a quandary replaced by a rather more pressing one: now what?

It was too dark to see very well, and the blackout made me feel uncomfortable about driving anymore, so I decided to leave the car and find a motel or something to spend the remainder of the night. I looked up in hopes of spotting the moon, to determine approximately what time it could have been, but the entire sky was covered with ominous black clouds, and I knew it was going to rain.

Michael, Illinois turned out to be a small city, a kind of revived ghost town with a residential district seperated from the town proper. As for the residents themselves, I couldn?t say much; as far as I could tell on those desolate sidewalks, there weren?t any residents. Hardly a breath drifted across the barren streets; not a sound permeated the dull monotony of my footsteps, which were magnified in the silence and almost seemed to echo. Not a sound. I began to feel stupidly forlorn in the desolation. Thunder boomed across the sky, and a bolt of lightening struck the horizon, but it wasn?t the thunder that made me cry out and turn around in wild astonishment: it was the screaming.

Hundreds of faceless shrieks rang out across the town in chaotic harmony, echoing down the streets like an explosion, and then as suddenly as it began, it stopped, giving way to a silence so heavy it made the entire happening seem unreal. Only a moment after the last echo faded out of hearing, I began to suspect that it might have all been my imagination, my neurotic mind playing tricks on me. And I would have gladly excepted that explanation as the truth, had not one of the screams distinctly resonated from in the bowels of the alley across the street from me: a woman?s shrieking that rang out and echoed across the road. Shadows absorbed the back of the alley and made a foreboding screen. Only a small trashcan existed at the edge of my sight. I approached the alley cautiously, detecting a minute scraping sound emitting from the recesses of the shrouded darkness. There was a faint, almost imperceptible crying, unnaturally haunting that creped up my spine and refused to let go. ?Hello?? I called into the abyss. Dead silence: not even the crying persisted. ?Is somebody there?? I called again. Something slumped to the floor in the darkness, and I could faintly make out a silhouette of something on the ground beside the trash can. I jumped before I realized what it was, only coming to the horrific conclusion my body had immediately responded to by quickly walking away, only after I had made it to the end of the block. It was a face, and it was staring at me.

The lightening seemed to awaken new life in the abandoned city, awakening a multitude of scraping, kicking sounds in the darkness, always as close as they were implacable. But what perturbed me greater than the noises was the heavy silence any sound I made reduced them to, and the persisting notion that their eyes were upon me from that moment on. I felt the inexplicable tension of their alarm, their fear, their hostility, almost corporeal in the air. It reduced me to a neurotic state of paranoia, and my instinctual argument that they were all happenings from inside my imagination became less and less credible as time went on. In time I found the streets themselves terrifying, reeking of the faceless presence of overwhelming hostility and devouring silence. I began jogging in a nervous quiver, constantly looking over my shoulder and dodging the alleys emanating that terrible scraping sound until my footfalls rendered them mute. When panic overcame me I began feverishly trying doors, going from lock to lock to another lock. I grew desperate, imagining the kicking, crying sounds becoming louder and more hostile with the continued annoyance of their unexpected intruder, when at last I spotted a darkened neon sign with the black scribbled words, ?CENTRAL HOTEL.? The glass double doors were locked; I cried out and shook them violently. Lightening flashed across the sky, and again the city came alive with screams. I shrieked and threw myself against the door, shattering it and tumbling inside.

I lay on the floor in the broken glass long after the screams had subsided, slowly regaining control of myself. I was shaking violently, my teeth chattering and whimpering involuntarily. I held myself and took deep, shivering breaths until my body was still. I stood up weakly, and habitually checked myself for cuts. My right hand had slid across a shard of glass when I fell inside; it bled slightly, but otherwise I had remained unscathed. I ripped off a shirtsleeve and tied it tight. It would do.

The hotel was stale and traditional, eerie and foreboding in the dark and gloom. A receptionist?s desk and a staircase stood to the left and right of me, and across the room a darkened doorway, which I could only guess led to some sort of lounge. My breath caught in my throat, and I felt myself go rigid: I could faintly make out a silhouette through the door, a huddled thing on the ground that looked disturbingly man-like. I stared at it in horror. It didn?t move. I stepped forward, my frantic need for human contact overriding my fear. I crept slowly through the darkened doorway staring at the shadow, my hand blindly moving across the wall for a light switch. I found one and flicked it on. The room filled with light, shedding visibility onto the man on the far side of the room sitting in fetal position, a young, bald man whose eyes jerked up to meet mine in terror. I was so incredibley relieved? to see a human face, I almost broke down; but in an instant the man began screaming horrifically, kicking and contorting on the ground, his pleading, burning eyes never leaving mine. ?Hey!? I cried, drowned out entirely by his shrieks. ?Hey, stop! Please! Tell me what?s wrong!? Still the man screamed, his face contorting in terrible agony, his hands fanatically clutching his head as he wildly kicked a nearby table to the ground, screaming, screaming, screaming. ?Please!? I yelled in desperation, but he would not stop. At last I swatted down the light switch and the screaming subsided, replaced with the shuffling, scraping sound of kicks and contortions as the man feebly squirmed across the floor to the door on the far side of the room, fleeing the light like a wounded animal. I stood in the doorway, distressed and exhausted, then at last turned around and reapproached the receptionist?s desk.

Find a room key, and lock yourself away until the morning. That was my plan. Some strange part of my mind wanted to believe that the light of day would solve everything, like a terrible dream cured by the awakening. Just wait it out. Pray it gets better. Behind the desk stood an old fashioned key wall with a dozen room keys still available. My eyes immediately fell on one near me with a diamond-shaped red tag marked ?105.? I took it and began ascending the stairs.

The halls were black and difficult to navigate, causing me to stumble with my arms outstretched, feeling the raised numbers on each door I passed. ?101?, ?102?, ?103.? At last my fingers glided across the distinct shape of the number 105, when I heard a definite thump to my left. I turned sharply, breathless, and saw there a figure emanating a haunting white light at the end of the hall. It turned to face me, and even at a distance I could see the thing?s wide, black eyes like malevolent holes in its head, and an equally dark grin smeared across its face like an unholy stain. I could feel its eyes upon me, delving deep into my soul, piercing me with a clarity that filled me with horror. Quickly I fished the key out of my pocket as the creature lept forward and bound toward me at terrifying speed, grimacing horribly like a jester of despair. I jammed the key into the slot and turned: the door was stuck. I frantically jiggled the key and forced it to turn, and finally threw my weight against the door as the thing glided past, and slammed the door shut. I shook with terror and listened with my ear to the door, noticing with dread a warm gust against my face that I recognized immediately: breath.

I screamed and flung myself backwards, recognizing in the dim light afforded by the window the distorted shape of a woman. ?Oooh baby.? It cooed maliciously, dripping with perverse eroticism, coming toward me in jerking, unnatural steps like a disjointed maniquette, letting its head fall over on its shoulder and lolling around across its chest and back. ?Baby, baby, I want to make you feel gooood, baby.? I stood up and pressed myself against the wall in fear as the thing grabbed my shirt with repulsively weak fingers, covered in a putrid slime like rotten ectoplasm. ?Don?t you want to feel [I]gooood[/I]?? Lightening struck, flashing across the room, revealing its appalling, lifeless doll face in an instant, made all the more gruesome by my terrible recognition of it. It shrieked in agony and I threw it to the floor, jerking the door open and slamming it, flinging myself to the opposite wall and sliding to the floor. The white thing was gone, and the demonic mannequin didn?t try to open the door. I allowed myself to burst into tears, holding my head and sobbing heavily. That monstrous thing resembled my wife, Mary.

You said I couldn?t handle the truth, Mary; that I needed sheltering. You were right. I can no longer discern what the truth is anymore, whether or not it continues to exist. I?m sorry, Mary? I can?t tell whether or not you drove me away, or whether it was the other way around.

I stood up, still crying, and made my way back to the staircase. Get out. Get to the car. Get away from this horrible place, no matter what. That was all I could think of. But the stairs were not like I had found them; they were twisted and deformed, and the walls came apart like vicious mouths full of black teeth, crooning seductively, ?OOOOH BABY BABY,? in gruesome mockery of my transmogrified wife. The first stair dropped out from under me and I hit the ground floor, recovering slowly, my heart punching my throat and my mind screaming, get up!, and finally running out the front door. The neon sign snaked into a different form and gleamed orange, reading, ?RUN, REPULSIVE MAGGOT.? I sprinted down the street as buildings turned pale and swallowed up their windows and doors bore teeth and crooned, ?MAKE YOU FEEL GOOOOD,? alleys spreading out, as if pushing the buildings away from them, scraping clawing residents pouring out of their alleys and homes, falling from tall buildings, jerking and twitching and kicking like demonic parodies of human life. I ran. I ran as far as I could, as long as I could, and still I did not see the City Hall. I cried out as the noises behind me grew closer and threatened to overtake me; I looked back and there was nothing there. Silence. I stopped short, doubling over and gasping for breath.

It began to rain. Out of an alley shot a cold hand and latched around my ankle. I screamed and tried frantically to kick it off, almost falling over in the effort, snatching up a piece of chipped asphalt to hit the thing off with. ?Day never comes.? I stopped. It was a man holding my ankle, a real man. He let go and looked up at me with a gaze of terror. ?The night is incessant, it never ends. Nothing ever ends. Not the hallucinations, not the screams, nothing.?
?What the hell happened here?? I cried, exasperated. He looked up at me, quizzically. ?Happened?? He repeated. ?I don?t know if something has happened or not, I can?t tell anymore? was it always like this? I can?t remember. They took my memories, they?re gone.?

?Shut up.? I whispered, despairingly realizing that my own memories were becoming vague and diaphanous. ?This isn?t natural, something?s happened to this town.?
?There?s no way out.? He continued in a lunatic rave. ?The entire city overlaps on itself, it stretches out into a wall, into a hole. There?s no way out.?
?We can find a way, just shut up!? I screamed now, frantic with the desperation caused by his hopelessness. ?No, you don?t get it yet. You can?t? face the truth.? He looked up at me, wide eyed. ?No one can.?

I brought the chunk of asphalt across his face, and he looked at me with intense interest before he collapsed in his blood. I killed him. Dear God? I don?t know why. I dropped to my knees, sobbing, noticing in the distance a ghostly white light. It was him. The thing skipped toward me with morbid joy, still grinning terribly. I didn?t move. His eyes looked into mine with a horrible clarity that made me fear for my life, but I did not move. He reached out with those terrible eyes, and touched me. I felt the light of his being surge through me with tremendous pain, breaking into my soul and destroying it piece by piece like a wildfire inside of me. There was a shrill noise in the air that I recognized as myself screaming, and I felt the light take something from me and replace it with himself.

I was alone on the sidewalk. The small light afforded by the sky caused me agony, and I kicked feebly over the corpse and into the recesses of the alley, where the darkness was surrounding and total.

I breathe in. It hurts. I breathe out, and I don?t know who I am anymore. Lightening flashes across the sky and it reminds me of him, and I scream out in suffering against the memory, as a thousand others cry out like me.[/FONT][/COLOR][/SIZE]

PS. If you've found any glaring spelling errors, please allow me to stay blissfully ignorant. This baby (in a different format) has already been submitted for publishing. Last thing I need is some glaring monstrosity to make me neurotic until I get word back from the editor.

Thanks.



(kidding. Actually I'm just miserable enough to feel discouraged if there aren't a few spelling errors, so please, by all means, bring them up.)
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