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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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No Wonder I Drink

"No wonder I drink." Perry White reached into the bottom drawer of his desk, pulled out a bottle of rye, good rye, and a small glass and poured himself three fingers of the golden liquid.  "Great Cesar’s ghost," he muttered into the glass, "they’re killing me".

"Lois Lane has been taken hostage (third time this year) and, as usual, Clark Kent is nowhere to be found.  Why can I never find my so called ace reporter when I need him the most?  The early edition is due on the street in an hour and I’ve got nothing for page one. The Daily Planet is going to hell in hand basket. In fact, the whole damned city of Metropolis is going with it. I guess I should have taken that job in Chicago. At least at The Tribune I would be working with Brenda Starr.”

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My best friend has fallen in love

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Life Magic

It is said that shooting stars grant wishes

In truth, these lost souls trying to make their way back to Earth carry wishes of their own. Ancient wishes of love lost but not forgotten, for these stars once walked the land very much like we do.

It began a millennia ago when magic was as simple as a breath or a look, when spirits took shape and danced among the fledgling contours of what are now called mountains. The spirits enjoyed peace for an age, singing enchanting silken webs across the expanse of stone and dust.

All were happy

As the ghosts of life and birth spun their magic and created in the greatest feats of art ever known there grew a great darkness (for light cannot exist without its silent brother) and this darkness became Man. The spirits continued to revel in creation not knowing the threat to all they knew, for how can a soul know pain until after the first pinprick?

These wisps of purity twirled and dived, meeting each other in great bursts of light. Shining parts met to become a whole and as each joining was completed a new life was created. Tiger was called one. Willow another, yet more still as life borne of love was realized in the high magic of dawns beginnings.

Man as he grew through magic of his own, watched with jealous desire. Wishing to own the secret of creation. He schemed and contrived to steal the magic off these joyous beings so he could mold life to serve his own ends but there was one - named Woman - who listened at the mouth of Man’s lair as he plotted. Woman, though a creation of the same balancing magic that created Man, could not let the evil plan go ahead at the detriment of the unwary spirits curling around on ground and in sky, she must warn them.

And so she journeyed far and long, beseeching any who would know her warning to come near and take heed. But spirits speak not the tongue of tangible things and her cries fell on ears that did not exist in our fashion. And so she wept great salty tears that filled the low lying places for a thousand years until these canyons were full and her heart tender, at this the spirits took leave from their heady dance (those that were left, as they now only numbered in the millions) and descended upon weary Woman.

Unable to explain the fate that would surely befall them Woman felt she had no option, she must show them what was to become of them should they not protect their magic.

She swallowed one.

At this the spirits suddenly understood pain and using their magic flew off and away in every direction, leaving the Earth unfinished and Woman alone. But there was one still who remained, that inside of Woman. At the sudden silence Man became enraged as he had finally devised a way to steal life energy by swallowing it (for as all spirits understood pain as one of theirs learned, so too did Man learn at the same time as Woman felt life inside her)

Leaping from his lair, Man let out an awful scream and all the world as far as could be seen in every direction became dark. But lo! as darkness spread and took root on the horizons, Man and Woman both stared skyward for there above them where all the spirits who had fled. Sparkling out of reach in the firmament, longing to rescue their abandoned Sister

Man grew to let go of his thirst for magic, though darkness still takes root in his heart

Woman grew to embrace the life-magic within and carries the secret to this day

Star spirits still fly through the darkness from time to time, longing to finish their magic and collect their fallen Sister

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Beautiful Disaster

My mind holds a prodigious amount of unsaid words.  Descriptive sentences, recited on pages stored in dusty files or cramped quarters of my subconscious.  I do little with aggression other than to run it off, or punch a bag. No one wants to hear the whines or cockamamie stories, when they themselves live in a world of garbage piled so high you’d need a ladder to climb to the top.

My eyes have been trained to listen. I listen for those whose minds have been erased, but have forgotten how to speak.  I am cursed and blessed, you see. I am blessed with the ability to read between your lines, but cursed, because no one can read me. 

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The Grind

What makes the world work? I do.

And let me tell you a little something. It isn't conventionally pretty.

I do my rounds covered in a sheen of sweat, a film of oil, and a glittering of brass dust and iron filings. They all coat my curls, bristle my beard, and line my lungs with a sort of reverberating, constant cough. I cough like pistons strike. I croak like gears grind. I rasp in whatever the pneumatics hiss out.

I live for work. If I stop, you stop. If I stop, we all stop. So I work. I work.

It's crimson-gold down here. It's blood and molten gold. It sparks in 3/4 time. It's waltz, rococo, chiaroscuro, and it looks steampunk to those who don't know any better. There is no counterculture, no counter-clockwise turns here. This is the belly of the world and it does not care if you are dapper. It just works, because I work and I suck in all the mess life levels.

I am more rag sometimes than engineer, but that makes me twice as vital.

Life is a messy machine, after all, in constant need of delicate repair.

Prompt: via writeinspiration

Rapid Prompt - The gears of the world.

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins. Seeking prompts, feedback, and your attention.

 

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Pull

(Prompt: This image by piper60, via picturewritingprompts)

Closed doors aren't all that new to me. I've been pushing all my life.

Inside, I can hear them. Sometimes, they're singing holiday songs. Sometimes, the only noises are the gnashing of something fleshy in between jaws, maybe the slosh of milk or wine. Sometimes, they're shouting. Sometimes, they hit each other, but that doesn't scare me.

We hit each other out here, too. Some of them don't know when to stop.

Inside, I catch all kinds of smells. Some good. Some bad. Some weird and rank and vile, like potpourri. Who's idea was it to dry out flowers, to ruin them in such a way, to fill the air with a sort of sun-scorched rot? Still, that doesn't scare me, either. Sometimes, it smells nice in there.

We get smells out here, too. Some of them remind me of too many things. Some of them just remind me of too much. Most aren't good.

Inside? I like to think they keep futures in there. It's silly, I know. They keep futures in banks and bedrooms, not in the foyer where I might see them, scent them, hear what one sounds like. I could have been a poet.

We get poets out here, too. After. Always after. It isn't pretty, not one bit.

I've been pushing on these doors my whole little life. And yeah, I know. They've got those kinds of handles. They're not push doors, they're pull doors. Still, I can't stop my palms, the sides of my arms, my shoulders. I push and push and push, and I think I know why. I don't want in there.

We get them out here, too. Some of them need to stay in there forever.

Some of them should never be let out.

If I pull? That kind might just pull back.

It's not so bad out here, is it? Nah.

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins. Seeking writing prompts, as always.

Last: Unprompted - Come One and All

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Frankie’s whole body was shaking- her arms, her legs, the hand holding the gun. She ejected the empty magazine and dropped the handgun. It clattered on the ground.

"Holy shit, Colin- what the fuck- I… Did you SEE that guy?" She doubled over, taking a deep breath. "Damn, he came out of freakin’ nowhere!"

Colin nodded and walked over to the man’s dead body. The man was older- fifty, probably. He had a black backpack and the knife he had rushed at Frankie with.

"Pick up your gun," Colin said.

"Sorry-" Frankie knelt down and picked up the gun. She inserted a full magazine and sent the slide forward.

"We’ll take his backpack- and his knife. God willing he has some more ammo on him. That was a little excessive back there," Colin said with a frown.

"I didn’t empty the whole magazine," Frankie protested. "There were only three shots left."

"And you used all of them," Colin said, glaring at her. "You only needed one."

"And… we’re just taking his stuff?" Frankie stared at the dead man, at the sticky blood stains blooming across his shirt. He had been quick- almost too quick. Frankie only had just enough time to scramble back a few feet, grab her weapon, and shoot three rounds- two had hit his stomach, and one had hit his chest. And now he was dead.

"Look, Frankie," Colin said, exasperated. "He’s dead. He came at you with a knife, and you defended yourself. Believe me, he would have killed you if you hadn’t. You think he wouldn’t have taken your stuff?"

Frankie didn’t answer. She clicked on the safety and put her gun away.

"Things are going to get worse," Colin said. "A lot worse. People are scared, people want to survive. It’s not going to get any better. Now grab the backpack and the knife. Let’s get out of here."

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Wow, that's a big brain!

I think it’s kind of genius. I think that it’s so amazing and miraculous and that’s only cause no one knows about it yet. I don’t even know about it yet. It’s going to be gold amongst another dimension (because gold is the only thing I could think of that has monetary value amongst humans). It’s going to sell out and rock out because it exists in secret…and that’s what makes it pure and special. Like, the air is fucking it, and there are outer-worldly phenomenon touching it. Nothing is eating it up and nothing is something. But, this genius, this thing is innocent and it’s never seen a fight break out or a murder. It’s kind of violent but it doesn’t know violence. It’s crazy kind of like Carroll from the drug-drug days. (I hated everything he said but I couldn’t stop reading it.) I bet he was a beautiful man but media portrayed him ugly and otherwise. But Jim Carroll isn’t what’s hiding, it’s just this thing that’s forever and we don’t know about it yet. It’s swimming in us and all around us. It’s a great force. I just feel like once we develop the technology to catch it, we’re going to study it into extinction. It’s genius but it’s not invincible. Our frontal cortex makes us liable to fuck it up, weather it be with attention or syringes. I hope it lasts when it debuts but for now the fairies and the sprites are enjoying it cause we might kill em’ too. 

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At Last Sight

It was the last dance, on the last night, on the last car of a misbehaving subway train. With her.

It was a summer's worth of passing lights, fireflies in such a hurry past the spider-webbing windows. We didn't move; we glided. We didn't shake; we shivered. The world didn't wait for us, it just fell farther behind. The beat was too fast, so we  hummed and breathed each other in so slow, so close together. I breathed in. The fireflies hit concrete, blurring broad like nebulae.

Her eyes met mine. When all the world waited on my baited breath, only she could ever keep on going. Only she could break my grip on everything I couldn't handle yet. Only she wouldn't wait.

"I love you," she whispered, kissing the wet spot on my right cheek. It resisted the press of her lips. Hot-frozen salt held hard against my rigid skin. "But I can't follow you, not this time." Her words caught, but she pushed hard. "Some things, I just can't change. Some things..."

She turned, looking out into the bright light of the midnight city ahead. At the broken, gaping gap where destiny waited for me. "Some things are better never known. I'm sorry I told you."

She kissed my other cheek. My lungs burned. My muscles should have screamed in outrage, too, but they hung somewhere out of time. Otherwise, I would have held her close or strangled her to death for this, for all of this. My lips stuck so tight together, "I love you" and "Don't let me go" had to fight the sucked-down sobs and the swearing trapped behind my crushed-together teeth.

"But I'm glad, too," she said, with that unmistakable goodbye weight . "Not everybody gets to meet their soul mate. I'm not sorry for that." She faked a smile that cracked something inside her. Then she exhaled.

Then she was gone, back in her place, her time. Back in her town. Safe. I wanted to smile.

So I did. I finally exhaled. The car and all the weight in my throat hurtled out to kiss open air.

It was then, that moment, that very second when it all turned out to be true. Destiny happened.

And I fell. Hard.

Prompt: An restorative Anonymous asked me:

The Cure, Love Song.

(c) 2013 Lawerence Hawkins. Seeking writing prompts, affection, detection, and genuflection.