Coming up for air is a lot harder when you’re the ocean.
Rain spat against the pavement. The detached, wasp-like noise of the nearby traffic perforated any hope of knowing where he was, or what he was supposed to be doing.
He didn’t really mind.
There was a feeling, inside, that he had gone backwards. Not regressed, as such, more... come about-turn upon himself. Time existed as some unrelated series of happenings, all occurring out of order. The world around him was fading into irrelevance.
There was a hollow, metal clanging sound, rhythmically pumping inside him somewhere. An industrial cadence dragging his half-affected senses through waves.
Arms pushed against muffled thickness. Breathing came in gulps of oozing black.
And with a smile, he tried to swim.
It was the way the smoke tasted that pleased him most. That was what he always felt, anyway. The cold night air and the resurrected treasure of a burning cigarette stub nestled between one pair of fingers. A certain safety found only in cold stone steps beneath and stained filter between teeth. Breathing in comfort, spewing out regret.
In some ways he was ageless, a psychological vampire for the digital age. Information was his plasma, curiosity the cells suspended within.
But not immortal.
It was all in the knowing. The persistent awareness of everything. Not least of all, his own impermanence.
Often, he would curse the fact that he knew too much. That he was privy to things that weren’t even really his concern. He wished he could just live in blissful ignorance, or at least just have the ability to simply choose to. Not have to feel like the pawn in some malevolent game he never asked to play.
The headaches served to remind him that, ultimately, it didn’t matter what he wished. Nor what he suffered. Time existed not to serve him, merely to carry him from one fixed point to its end.
Behind him, the neoclassical façade of the church stretched up like a gaping maw, giant arches enthroning the tiny person below. It was here that he had suddenly found himself, stumbling feet unconsciously delivering him to the scene of the last prayer he ever remembered articulating.
So very long ago, now.
The towering curve of one window caught his eye as he leaned back. Stained glass was never as impressive at night, just muddy colours waiting for the sun to make them feel special. Illuminated décor for the indulgent masses. He, on the other hand, relished the darkness. The acute sensitivity to light he’d apparently developed made the shadows all the more inviting.
He could think of little more distasteful than to be canonised in garish, rainbow-splattered transparency. Particularly given the nature of those such practice was often reserved for.
Martyrdom was the vehicle of saints and heroes. Brave warriors dying for what they believed in. Sacrifice of self, based on the fundamental strength of their ideology.
But then what of those heroes who believed in nothing, just as strongly?
What of those who firmly embraced… not a lack of belief in anything in particular, not a casual shrug of indifference at the absence of anything seemingly worthwhile to place one’s faith in… but a simple and total acceptance of nothing as being the only truth?
What of those who would die in knowing defence of that conviction?
Closing his eyes, he chuckled out a sad half-grin, self-awareness gripping him in its vice, then winced.
There was music at the back of his head. An ancient upright piano tapped out his funeral march; bass notes rounding off a gentle whisper of a melody. Then the caressing pounding of a synthesised drum pattern, stroking the back of his neck and tracing fingers up his scalp. Nails scratched in a horrendously beautiful way, digging in with the harshest caress.
Then just the piano again. Simple, three-note chords, up and down, four by four by four by four by…
There were lights in the sky. He couldn't see them, but he knew they were there.
Casually, almost unconsciously, he took one final drag, rolled up his sleeve, and pushed what remained of the cigarette into the underside of his bare forearm, extinguishing the gently smouldering cherry amongst long-faded little white patches of scar tissue. Somewhere in the back of his mind, there was a subtle flinch, a blind acknowledgment of some distant and barely remembered pain.
His face betrayed no such memory.
He got up, made as if to walk, then slumped down again. Balance was askew, hindered by the shortcomings of his own humanity. With concentrated effort, he rose, stumbled down the steps and fell into the open embrace of a nearby statue.
The cold, granite face of Gabriel’s brethren gazed impassively down at him. Not cherubic, but weathered. Stoic. Hard.
Angels with dirty faces, indeed…
Broken thoughts, long beyond repair, filled the ever-throbbing debris of his consciousness as he moved away. Things at one point so beautiful, now merely ugly, abstract reminders. Of black skies and blue eyes; of innocence and impudence. Of trysts and of tears.
None of it mattered now. The binary nature of the universe had come full circle, he knew. There was no place for argument – it was yes, or it was no. It was on, or it was off.
Pure. And Perfect.
Those zealots who gave up their lives were no heroes. They were just doing what needed to be done, for the sake of balance.
Everything was, after all, equilibrium.
It simply was.
There was no tune in him now. No melody. No rhythm. Everything that was had given way to a dull thumping pulse, sporadic and insular. It was the ghost clawing at the door, pleading for escape. It was the nightmare, waking up. Anger and desperation and fear and terrible, wistful, beautiful relief.
It was Heaven wearing the mask of Hell.
There was a warm wetness creeping from his nostril and into the corner of his mouth. It tasted like blood, but he knew it wasn’t. Not really.
He heard someone laughing; and with a casual surprise he barely felt able to feign, realised it was him.
…because this? This was comfort. This was acceptance.
This was a smile into the burgeoning oblivion of ambivalence.
Sleep, perhaps. Letting reality go, for a little while, at least. Lying on the cushioned tatters of a borrowed berth beneath a single blanket, the cool chill of the night air dancing through the open window and resting on him like a moth.
He liked the cold. It grounded him, emphasised the actuality of his actuality. Helped him remember that he was still there.
That he was still there.
He was still there.
He was still.
Morpheus touched his eyes and let them close.
He would dream in zeros and ones.
(Based on this Story Jam)
Fruit from this Jam:
Descent by Benjamin
pari libra by Envy
"They do not use anaesthetic." by Jan Flisek-Boyle
Morning Cereal by H.L.W.
The Unexpected by appylord57
Past Life by Vivian Peng
Out of Season by RichardLakin
The ethics of genocide by kouq
Them. by ustink
Dangerous Path by Zita Barlai
the disease by
Duck...Duck...Goose by Ameya
Ashes to Ashes by Jess Fechner
Cardinal by a-bigler