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The Smoke

A soft shimmer echoed off a few misbehaving strands as they fell back into the scorching spotlight that emanated from overhead. He was crouched over the metallic steel counter, compressing his spine further into its aching curvature. The surface hid in the dimly lit office he had claimed nearly three decades before. It was only a few square feet larger than the janitor’s closet down the hall, but that’s what he loved about it. There were no distractions. It was just a man and his microscope, encased by four broad, concrete walls. Those walls were the only thing holding back the daily commotion of the primitive creatures he was asked to identify as colleagues. The portal between the surrounding corporate jungle and his simplistic, monochromatic alcove was sealed by a deadbolt system purchased and installed only through personal means. A man and his microscope do not recover with much dignity when disrupted.
This had been especially applicable in his most recent endeavor. One slight twitch could alter the DNA strand entirely, and his specimen could be altered to a debilitating degree. Twenty five years ago, this sacred cure was unimaginable. Through countless hours of research, though, he was able to piece together the key components that his predecessors had overlooked. The sweet flavor of success lingered only inches beyond his lips. Success was in no way a delicacy in his life, however in this situation, the success meant so much more.
Nothing can match the emotional satisfaction that falling in love brings to a person. He had always been a bit quirky, never really fitting in. Eventually, he stumbled upon a certain woman who caught his eye, and not soon after, his heart. She was the only person who never judged him, but most of all, never tried to change him. When she was taken, her soul was swept away with the wind, and with her she brought a part of him as well. His mind, spirit, and life had customized itself to her. He could manage being alone before her, but once she came into the picture, he couldn’t survive without her. The boiling fires of anger that swelled his chest lit his soul aflame and crushed his spirit to a useless pile of ash. This victory would be enhanced by the satisfaction of revenge. The sweetest revenge maintains domination through times still to come, and that’s the most he could do. His state of mourning had never really passed, but what he was able to accept was the amount of power he had over the situation. Changing the past is impossible, but the future can easily be molded by the weakest of hands, as long as they are fueled by the blood of a passionate heart.
He had sacrificed everything for this project. He had nothing else to live for. An obsession with medical experimentation and research had slowly taken over his entire being and the few friendships he had deteriorated. He had invested completely in this project, and if it were to abandon him too, his entire life would be meaningless.
Piano and string instruments serenaded him through his movements and led him steadily through his microscopic adjustments. There were only a few musical pieces that blended perfectly with the soundtrack of his environment. They had enough personality to have a distinct presence within the room, but the melodies were soft enough to be cohesive with his mind. He needed a metronome, not a distraction. Mozart provided him with nourishment that no one else could.The musical genius’ concoctions were creative, thought-provoking, and yet simultaneously undemanding, and thus, Wolfgang’s presence was the only one permitted beyond the deadbolt. Blanketed by harmonic song, his analytical mind was able to become saturated with just enough creativity that it was able to orchestrate in a fluid and patterned rhythm, while still maintaining its authentic, intellectual character.
There was an abrupt, heavy pounding against the opposite side of the office door that polluted the atmosphere and drowned the song to silence. Luckily, his tweezers had just a moment prior released the delicate protein. He was slowly easing out of his concentrated trance when the interruption snapped him back to reality. He gasped and let out a quiet shriek before demanding solitude.
He had been expecting a snide comment or rude insult, but the blundering noise he heard instead had left him speechless. Minor insanity was an unwritten requirement for survival in this facility. Most of the newer employees didn’t last very long, and those who did last were usually either already a bit insane, or had been quickly influenced by the company’s veterans. The people here were chaotic, but they certainly weren’t prone to psychotic episodes or something that would cause such a commotion.
He had seen his fair share of chaos and outrageous behavior, but his expansive mental database could not register anything from the samples of sensory stimuli penetrating the walls. A series of collisions sent a throbbing pulse of vibrations through the concrete barriers. An eruption of noise congested the air outside and expanded to engulf the adjacent walls of his office.
There were noises radiating from all sides. Keeping up with the haphazard and patternless trail between sounds required rapid neck transitions. It was less than a minute before his aching neck became still and focused. Slowly, he moved his head back towards the right. His eyeline rolled up the wall as a pair of wrinkled eyelids stuttered open. They halted enroute and skewed to the right as a minor crack in the concrete developed rapidly into a much lengthier laceration. It quickly grew to include a collection of branch-like extensions that fractured the surrounding surface. An avalanche of concrete boulders plummeted down the wall and accumulated on the metal counter. Its reinforced structure was defenseless against the immense weight. The counter collapsed in on itself just as he stumbled backwards. A premature sigh of relief was a perfectly ironic set up for the final collapse of the wall. Like a heavy layer of thick, polluted fog, the remaining concrete showered down ruthlessly.
A series of thuds shook the ground and rustled a cloud of populated branches. High pitched screams from above glided over him with the wind and roots were being torn from the soil.
Initially, everything was blurry, but it all came into focus as his mind became more alert.
One vertebrae at a time, he lifted his chest upright. The back of his neck was slightly damp from the pillow of leaves his head had been resting on. As his spine curled up, he nudged his forearms back so his arms bent at the elbow. Then, one at a time, he straightened his arms, slid his hands backwards, and leaned on his palms. He brought his right leg in towards his chest, leaned forward onto his right foot, and lifted himself off the dirt onto his calf. His left foot slid under him and straightened to propel his body upward. Upon standing, he rubbed his hands together in hopes to remove most of the dirt on them. His hands were still tinted brown, but most of the residue had been removed. He then twisted his shoulders to examine his back. A wide trail of dirt stretched along a skeletal path from the bottom hemlines to midway up his torso. He could feel the speckled water droplets on the upper part of his shirt. He twitched slightly at the sight of the stain, and immediately did his best to remove it. Cleanliness, organization, and order played a significant role in his life. Without them, he felt out of control, confused, and doomed.
His mind snapped back to the situation at hand as he caught a glimpse of a bat-like creature soaring towards the left horizon. Doubting his eyes, he immediately observed his surroundings. There weren’t any signs of the concrete rubble between him and the far off horizon. Vegetation was plentiful and the terrain didn’t appear very forgiving. There were rocky hills, towering cliffs, and vast forests. As he stepped forward a few feet, he pivoted to turn around. A steep and rigid rock formation protruded above the tree line off in the distance. One of the many dark patches that coated its surface expelled a soft funnel of smoke. The ground was littered with tree roots that jutted out randomly through the forest floor, tripping adventurers like nature’s own security system.
Intrigued by the smoke, he decided to head towards its source. However, this would require a journey through that immense forest. He took a step back, looked up at the cliff, and down at the forest, and picked an entry point straight ahead of his destination.
He cautiously maneuvered through the vegetation and worked his way deeper into the forest. The canopy above was lightly iced with early morning rain that drizzled down with the wind. He stared upwards in awe as the air whistled through the branches and brought temporary chaos to tranquility. While gazing up, a raindrop was released straight above him. It fell right into his left eye, and fought against his contact lense. The water penetrated below the lense and lifted it from the surface of his eye. He gently pressed his eye lid down and tried to manipulate the lense back to its place, but it was a struggle. He held his left eye closed and searched with his right eye for a place to sit down. About ten yards away was a thick log resting on the ground. He carefully moved towards it, monitoring his foot placement meticulously. He sat with his elbows on his knees and used the end of his plaid tie to absorb some of the water. After blinking sporadically for a little while, the lense finally went back to its proper location. As a precaution, he wiped the corner of his eye once more.
He looked up and noticed some bushes about fifteen yards ahead. They caught his eye not because they were so short in comparison with their surroundings, but because there was a slight crimson glow radiating from within them. His gut was telling him to back away, but his curiosity was undeniable and intense. His neck craned out further and his body hunched forward as he progressed. His gentle steps moved with anticipation of a shattering ground.
Fifteen yards turned into thirteen yards, and thirteen to ten. As he moved closer, his crouching body discovered new pairs of crimson crystals. They revealed themselves as the seconds passed and the twigs snapped. They were red, glass marbles softly drizzled across the plants.
The hums and chirps retreated into the background and simplified to white noise as a hypnotic aura surrounded him like a vaporized tunnel. Solar lasers shot down like carefully calibrated missiles and punctured the heavy haze around him. As the spotlights lowered, his eyes regained clarity. The ruby spheres were encased by a twisted contortion of darkness. The shadows emerged from the bushes and extended each orb outwards on its own special limb. They floated towards him on a pillow of charcoal fog, and the darkened mist wrapped around him. Emerald splashes soaked the sky as the leaves lost their paint, the birds left red and black and yellow trails behind them as they soared, and the roots melted into puddles. It was like he had been folded up and tucked away inside of a kaleidoscope. He couldn’t figure out before exactly what those tiny luminescent beads had been, but now it would be nearly impossible. The colors had sponged into streaks while the hues swarmed the atmosphere, and the orbs were now everything but; They were lines and clouds, tiny specks and massive stains. Invisible paint tubes squirted and oozed their colors across the canvas.
First, he hesitantly stepped back a few times, but after pausing and considering, he was too intrigued to say no. The ground was buried beneath a thick cushion of moss that compressed slowly under pressure. It was a thick afghan, draped across the tree trunks meticulously.
His mind didn’t have a plan, or even a destination, but it moved anyway. For some reason, he had gotten the feeling that this path would lead him to something. He had an idea of what that something was, but not any idea of how he knew about it, but he knew he needed it.
His lips cracked from dehydration as the dry air slashed against his face. He started to sweat in his nice dress shirt, but he couldn’t be bothered with things that mattered so little now. His collar was stained with sweat and his pants were caked in dirt, but he was too mesmerized to care.
He wandered on. The moss below him led him through the woods and towards this certain thing. It was like a magnet, pulling him with immense force. One step, and then another, and eventually they were sprinting for what felt like miles. Suddenly, the green floor ended and was replaced with piles of dry leaves. He continued to sprint, ignoring the burning in his calves and the screaming pleas of his lungs. His left foot made contact with the leaves, put this time was different. They weren’t resting on the solid ground, but instead atop an intricate weaving of thick rope. He fell. His chest collapsed into itself and his heart dropped into his stomach. It was a trap. There was a hole underneath this net. The corners of the rope were tied to cables that extended out to the surrounding tree trunks. They loosely hugged the trunks as though preparing to be ripped away and into the pit. The knots that kept them secured on the trees slipped and slid across the dirt instantly. He was falling. The fiber cage around him resisted as he struggled to escape its grasp. Below him was a vast, black emptiness. It seemed like there would be no end to this decent. He was going to fall into the center of the Earth. He would burn to a crisp and no one would even notice. Because there wasn’t anyone to notice. It was just him in this place. He was alone. He was falling to his doom, and no one would be there to care. It was a familiar feeling.
Suddenly, he smashed on the hard floor at the bottom of the pit. The pain was worse torture than anything he could have imagined. His bones felt like they had shattered to rubble and his head was pounding and heavy. He opened his eyes. But he didn’t see darkness anymore, or a faraway light from miles above. He saw a grid of ceiling tiles and an air vent. The floor around him was a thin, commercial carpet. A desk chair squeaked in front of him as it slowly rotated. The vent expelled a stream of air that slowly drifted down on top of his motionless body. He was back in his office. But there was no rubble anymore; his desk was still in its original form; the walls stood sturdy as ever. There was a knock on the door, which he responded to with a series of nonsense words. He cried out quietly in pain and the door slowly creaked open. Peering eyes cautiously arrived in the doorway. It was his boss. The man gasped and threw open the door. He fell to his knees and cupped below his employee’s jawline. But the man just stayed numb on the floor, no better than dead. His eyes closed, he took in a deep breath, and silently begged to return to the abstract universe where he was free from all responsibilities. He mumbled something that his boss could hardly hear.
“The smoke...She’s with the smoke...”




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