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In My Last Scorching Breath; Part I

PART ONE: WHERE THE BURNS BEGIN

 

“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host.

But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.”

—Maya Angelou

 

 

            He still bore scars, livid at his fingertips, from how he had fumbled while lighting his first cigarette.

 

            It had been an accident, his first burn. The chilled air of that morning had scraped his lungs until his voice was raw, and his hands had been shaking—so violently that his fingers stumbled over each other, letting flames sear his skin.

 

            It had hurt, of course, but it had been a good sort of pain. It had blocked the memories of the night before and it had burned out all remaining feeling. It was what Will had needed then, and it was what he needed now.

 

            The thought of what he’d seen just that morning made his heart slam around in his throat. His stomach lurched and twisted and writhed inside of him, an untamed, beastly thing born of his own weakness and disease.

 

            While Will’s hands struggled with the keys to his house, his mind fought to raise walls high enough to keep ragged memories from drowning him.

 

            The accident he had seen on his way to work had been far too familiar. Twisted, misshapen wreckage and contorted figures smothered in their own blood, and the blood of other victims, dragged grimy fingertips through his memory. The images his eyes had absorbed earlier that day had brought snapshots of his accident back within his grasp, and his need for the sweet sickness of the fire had overcome him, smashing him around like a ragdoll for the remainder of the day.

 

            Will wrenched his door open, his hands falling limp to his sides as his bags plummeted to the floor.

            The memories were dark, and they consumed him, killing anything and everything else he was capable of feeling. It wouldn’t be long before he sank so far into them that he would forever be lost within their despair. He had never been able to drive them away—only the fire could do that.

 

            Only the fire—and as the flames dragged over his skin and left marks of untempered anger, Will momentarily found refuge from his monster.

 

 

            He’d been drunk—but far more intoxicated than he was now. In the present moment, things were a little bit blurred and a little bit bright, amplifying and bringing into focus the self-resentment that made his insides churn and his teeth clench. Amid the depths of that night, he had been too drunk to understand any of his own thoughts, too drunk to rationalize, too drunk to know that driving was asking—begging—for a life to be stolen.

 

            When he had woken up in the hospital, he had not known what had happened—not at first. But sluggishly, as the morphine had drained from his damaged body and his consciousness had become cloudless and lucid, he had begun to remember.

 

            A nurse had come in to give him more medication, skirting around the edge of his bed like a cat, and he had asked her, “What happened?”

 

            “You were drunk,” she’d said tersely. He could still recall the unadulterated, toxic disgust in her face. “You got into a car accident.”

 

            He remembered thinking that she would not be looking at him with such an unpolluted hatred unless someone had died.

 

            “How many?” he had croaked. His voice had sounded cracked and worn, like parchment. “Was it my fault?”

 

            The nurse had stared at him, the anger in her face creating lines and frown marks and crevices in her face. She seemed to age several decades in that moment. “Three,” she said, “And yes, it was your fault.”

 

            In the present moment, he lay sprawled on his couch, lazily flicking the lighter on and off and watching the warm glow of the flames as they licked his fingertips. It was a soothing warmth that blistered at his fingers, soft and rather bearable compared to the jarring, knife-like pain that seared through him whenever he cut.

 

            Even now, lying on the couch, he could still hear the peaked sounds of his family rushing into the hospital room he had lain in. They had known it was his fault, and they had not blamed him. He still hated them for that. Uninformed, irrationally, they had leaned over his bedside and told him it’d be okay and that they’d take care of everything, and he wouldn’t have to do any jail time.

 

            These memories weren’t as harsh as the memories of the crash, but they were no less unpleasant. They still fogged his mind, and they still turned the fire inside into a raging inferno, hell-bent on tearing him to jagged little pieces.

            And he would let him.

 

            He was determined to be destroyed by his treacherous fiend.

 

 

           “Pass me a cigarette, would you?” Her voice was astute and had a lilting sound to it, not unlike the rolling of wind off the waves. He didn’t have to pretend to like it. Her face was sharp, her eyes seemed to be dark caverns cut into her face by knife edges. She had an interesting face—not traditionally beautiful, but one that was fascinating to look at, and to explore.

 

           Wordlessly, Will handed over the second last cigarette in his pack to her. “You run out, Keahi?” he asked, drawing in a long breath of smoke.

 

            “I had my last one this morning,” she told him, lighting the cigarette with long, tanned fingers. “I won’t be able to afford any more smokes until I get paid, so I better enjoy this one.” She blinked lazily, like a cat basking in the sun, as she breathed in the smoke, and exhaled.

 

            Will was quick to notice the red, irate marks on the insides of her forearms. Nobody at work had ever dared mention them to her, but Will understood. Her weapon of choice was different than his, but the reality was that they were the same: something had gone horribly wrong, and they were to blame. 

 

            Keahi caught him looking. “What’re you staring at?” she asked, her voice sounding incensed beneath the casual tone that only just barely masked it.

 

            Will shrugged. “Your scars,” he said bluntly, and drew in another breath of smoke. “They look a little bit like mine.”

 

            Keahi arched one eyebrow. “Yours?” she inquired, her melodic voice rising and falling rhythmically in pitch.

 

            Will shrugged. “I stopped cutting a while ago. I have different methods, now.”

 

            Keahi glanced at him, and brushed a strand of dark hair from her face. She did not look at him, and it was at this moment that Will realized he had made a mistake.

 

            She had not come to terms with her own destruction, he realized. She had not accepted that she would be the beast to tear her out her own heart. She had not realized that it was she who would be her own demise. In this, she was not like him.

 

            Will knew he was going to die, someday, and likely by his own hand.

 

            It was just a matter of being ready to walk into the fires of hell and embrace the devil’s demons with open arms.

 

 

            When he arrived home, he lit some more candles and lay on the couch for a while. As the sky grew dark the candles glowed brighter, so did the clarity of his own memory. He always remembered everything at night. It seemed that darkness brought with it a hoard of new details, new sights and smells for him to agonize over, new details to remember from that night.

 

            In the dimness of his home, Will took the last cigarette from his pocket and lit it. He breathed the smoke in and out, wondering absentmindedly if dragons would feel the same burning sensation in their lungs when they reduced their victims to ashes.

 

            Slowly, he became aware of his eyes beginning to drift shut, but not aware enough of the cigarette falling from his fingers and to the carpet. 

 

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He and You




He was the type of man that was always looking for the dewy-eyed girl.

A searcher of the skipping steps of an innocent heart.

He never heard your silent cries, because recognizing his wrong doings was something he never understood.

A lover of little hands within his pant pocket.

He was focused on pleasure, devoid of morality.

A purveyor of treachery, with a no refund policy.

–––––––––

You feared his gaze like a lepers touch.

A faint hearted girl you became.

You taught yourself that love was a lie.

A brave heart, in a torn nightgown.

You sought salvation in a broken woman's arms.

An untrained warrior.

You learned to be your own heroine.

A fighter of a war not meant for you.

You held your own for far too long.

A patron of confusion, with a shattered view.

–––––––––

He was the type you guy that was always looking for the next transition.

A searcher of a pretty face, with a healing hand.

He never heard your pleas because his ears were filled with wide-eyed dreams.

A grandstander of the highest accord.

He used your heart to make himself a taller man.

A purveyor of broken promises, with a no refund policy.

–––––––––

You licked his wounds until your tongue rubbed raw.

A glutton for punishment.

You never learned what it meant to be loved.

A seeker of heartache.

You learned to love the hand that shoved you down.

An untrained seamstress.

You stitched your wounds with rusty needles.

A wearer of battle scars, reminiscent of a warrior.

You grasped the floor for salvation.

A patron of unanswered prayers, with a hopeful heart.

––––––––––

He was the type of guy that was always looking for the misplaced comma, before your sentence ever exited your lips.

A searcher of missteps, because appreciating the dance was something he has never understood.

He never heard what you said because he was set on dissembling.

A hypochondriac of emotional ties.

He was focused on the facade; vapid in character.

A purveyor of charm, with a no refund policy.

–––––––––––

You touched his body like an answered prayer.

A beating heart reborn at noon.

You still haven't learned what it means to be loved.

A faint hearted woman, with hopeful eyes.

You have become an angel, who makes love to his body like a sin.

A dewy eyed romantic, taking root in an empty man.

You have been a patron of empty lies, broken promises and heartbreak.

A lover, looking for an open hand.

You choose the man that will lash your soul.

A patron of mistreatment, with a raw heart.

–––––––––––
He will be the type of guy that is always looking for your hand.

A searcher of the treasures concealed at the bottom of your heart.

He will hear your song and his heartbeat will serve as the melody.

A lover of tenderness.

He will kiss your forehead with salvation, for he knows you have fought too long.

A purveyor of unyielding love, with no need for a refund policy.

–––––––––––

You will kiss his wounds with love an acceptance.

A healer at heart, renewed in his arms.

You will learn what it means to love and to be loved.

A fighter, who can put down her sword.

You will find in him, a hand that will never let go.

A fire of a love that will never die out.

You will know what "home" means by building your love, together.

A warm kindling will ignite at the connection of your palms.




You are the seeker of truth, there is no need to desire a lie.

A patron of reflection, with a new outlook.

 

-Melanie Hamblin

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The Indescribable Fire

My life became consumed by this indescribable fire.

This fire to search for what it is that I need

To find that which can make me whole

I find days will pass but my pen or my laptop calls me back

And it says, "Write in me" or "Type on these keys and on this blank screen".

I laugh to myself and think, is this normal?

For my journals and my laptop to speak to me in this manner?

They are inanimate objects and it can't be normal.

But then a funny thing happens, I pick up a pen and I open my journal

or I'll flip open my laptop and my fingers begin to type with absolutely nothing making them do it.

It's like I'm doing what I'm meant to do or what I should do.

At that point my life is no longer a fire that is consuming me but more a fire that keeps my blood warm, my soul aflame and my life makes sense again. My life makes sense if only for those few minutes or that hour where I write.

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Into the Light

 

                                         Into the Light

 

                                   Poets, hunkering down for solitude,

                                   gather singly before the smoldering fire

                                   to poke sticks, charred to a point,

                                   into coals to make flame.

                                   Shadows flicker, heat rises,

                                   and the poets risk getting burned

                                   by a tenacious spark,

                                   getting too warm on one side,

                                   cold on the other,

                                   smelling of smoke for days.

                                   Still, it's more than moths

                                   that fly into the light,

                                   unable to resist their nature.

 

 

                                                             Chris Brockman

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Charring

I washed the fire out my hair and the water turned black.

I could still smell smoke sitting still in the air.
Had anything changed?
No, not really. 
Just some carbon shifting silently.
So slightly, almost no one would notice. 
If you hadn’t been there,
You’d assume that’s how things always were,
Nothing was missing,
And you had the full picture.
But how some things seem,
Are rarely how they are. 
Even if it makes no noticeable mark,
Everything is changed.


We’re all just burning wood.

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fire

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Sulphur: What Happened Next (Part 2 of 2)

The beach spread around into a long peninsula and across the water I watched a bonfire flicker into life and grow. Waves ebbed softly away from us. Foster sat with me where the sand was hard and looked out across the sea. Lights from buoys or boats flickered on and disappeared. I wondered where they all went.

“Why did you bring me here?” I asked.

Foster turned. I saw the moon in his eyes.

“Don’t you like it?” he asked.

“No, that’s not it. I just wondered if there was something you wanted me to do. What you paid me was lot of money just to sit on a beach, you know?”

“No,” said Foster. “For you, on this beach, it was right.”

The bonfire was roaring now. I thought of going over and saying hello. It felt strange just to sit here when we knew there was someone sharing this lonely beach with us. Maybe it was Heiko’s sister, the one who lived near here. I hadn’t seen Heiko since he ran into the woods. I wondered if he was alright.

“Did you pay them too?” I asked. “The people who were in the car?”

Foster looked at me strangely.

“Once,” he said. “Not anymore.”

He reached into his satchel and took out some things. A black box with bright yellow string wrapped around the middle and also a little grey bag. He opened the bag and brought out a thin pair of scissors.

“There is something for you to do,” he said. “I want you to cut my hair.”

I hadn’t noticed his hair before. I thought it was black but in the silvery moonlight it was hard to tell. I could see whole sections of his scalp through some strange, matted parts.

“I shouldn’t,” I said, feeling a twinge of panic. “I’ve never cut anyone’s hair before.”

“We’re friends, aren’t we?”

I didn’t answer honestly because I didn’t know how. I told him yes, I supposed we were.

“Then you’ll do it.”

He slid himself in front of me, facing the ocean directly, and took the black box with him. I realised as he uncoiled it that the yellow string ended in a pair of audio buds. He placed them in his ears. He took a cassette from his pocket and slid it into the box. I heard a faint polyrhythmic beat which sounded like dogs barking all at once.

Feeling like I had no choice, I took up the scissors and began to cut.

It was easy once I started. The scissors seemed to guide themselves around the difficult parts, requiring me only to apply force. In parts, especially when the blades crunched through one of the matted clumps, it felt visceral and good.

When I finished I could no longer see any of Foster’s scalp. He thanked me and stood up, taking the scissors from my hand. The phones were still in his ears.

I was calmer now, no longer feeling quite so strange. I watched the bonfire on the peninsula. Tiny shapes moved around in front of the light. Maybe Heiko had found his sister and they were celebrating.

But I had a feeling this was wrong, and when I felt it something happened to my eyes. They stung like they had been splashed with saltwater and I couldn’t close them. The fire looked magnified. I made out the shapes of three slender dogs circling it and in the middle, tied to a post, was Heiko, burned and sweating, exhausted from screaming, with a bright yellow ribbon stuffed into his mouth.

Something cold touched my neck and I spun around. Foster was kneeling behind me with something in his hand. It was a razor, an electric one, the kind you’d use to shave your head. I asked Foster what he was doing.

“You promised me,” he said. “You said we were friends. It was in the terms. The contract.”

“Was it?” I asked weakly.

Foster nodded.

The razor tore hair out by the roots. It was unmerciful. Foster put a comforting hand on the side of my torso then he reached around and unbuttoned my shirt. His hand slid inside.

Across the water Heiko was no longer on the post. The dogs were gone too. Instead I saw three people, naked and emaciated and bald, with small breasts, watching the dying fire with disinterest. Yellow cords connected their ears to the bulky black boxes they held.

A song started playing in my head. It was hectic and atonal and dogs barked the rhythm. I couldn’t bear it. I screamed and couldn’t stop. Foster told me to stop but I couldn’t. I collapsed. I lay on the ground like a foetus with my head half-shaved and Foster was yelling at me, telling me to shut up, yelling about terms and the contract and our friendship, but I couldn’t stop screaming. I screamed for hours and my tears became thick and starchy. Foster was throwing himself around. He went down to the water and fell to his knees, shrieking and slapping the water with his hands. I had never seen anyone look that upset but I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t stop screaming.

I don’t know what happened next. Eventually I felt alright but it was hard to move, so I stayed on the beach. I had nowhere else to go. Foster had taken his satchel and gone. I was alone.

At some point it started to rain and I could feel droplets landing on the bald parts of my scalp. It felt new and exciting and I wanted to laugh, so I did. I laughed like that forever.

The fire on the peninsula had gone out but I could smell it, smoky and suffocating with a strong gassy note I couldn’t identify. I realised my eyes had stopped hurting and I could no longer see. I laughed harder. I lay there, blind and laughing, drawing the dead fire into my lungs, until the tide came in and water started to creep into my mouth.