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Figures of Smoke
I don’t remember how this all started. Where am I now? Was it my fault? Or the maintenance man who just fixed my refrigerator? Maybe it was just an accident. All that I know is that I woke up coughing and sweating, in the heat of a blazing fire that was consuming my room.
I remember staggering out of my bed; covers already grey with ash, and holding my arm up to my eyes which were filled with the sting of the heavy black smoke hovering at the ceiling of my room, and gazed to the floor and saw dozens of used matches scattered around the room. Coughing, stumbling, blindly walking, I was trying to find my way out of a burning apartment. Unfortunately, this was a new apartment, so I still couldn’t walk to my bathroom without turning a light on. I somehow managed to make it to the door of my room only to find it in ashes at my feet; the fire was right outside my room. The heat was becoming unbearable, sweat trickling down my back and face, my t-shirt stick to my body like glue. I knew it was too much for me and if I didn’t find a way out, I would soon die. I spun around my room, eyes half open, looking for some kind of escape. Then I saw the light from the street outside and the reflection on the window pane.
I bolted toward the closed window, jumped out of my second floor apartment and landed on the cold, hard ground below. The landing gave me such excrutiating pain in my left shoulder that I was unable to stand up. Slowly, and quite painfully, I turned my head to my left to look. To my great and terrible disgust, part of my clavicle was jutting out from my arm; drenched by my blood that was a bright scarlet red, it left me warm and wet. I lay there and began to hear the far off sounds of a fire truck coming to my aid. Still unable to stand, I lay my head down and fell asleep.
I am not sure what happened next.
I fluttered my eyes open and curiously found myself back in my room. My arm was wrapped and in a sling, and all I could see was the ceiling. Using my right hand, I pushed myself onto my elbow, only to find destruction: everything was black and grey and covered in ash and you couldn’t even see the floor. The ceiling had partially caved in, the door was gone, the window smashed on the floor, the walls bearing tufts of pink and black insulation. As I gazed around the room, I noticed a note taped to a used packet of matches lying on my stomach. It was a small square piece of bright blue paper with black writing on it. It said:
You have just survived a dangerous fire that
broke out in your kitchen last night.
Your clavicle is broken and you sustained severe
injuries to your head and neck as well.
You dropped these matches in your fall.
Good luck to you my fortunate friend.
The note had left me with many questions about what had transpired in the past few days. Why was I in my room again and not in the hospital? How did I get back here? Who is this note from? What should I do now?
I knew I had to find some food because my stomach had been making noises for the past hour, so I rose from the bed and with my wallet in my pocket, headed for the door. Nobody was in the building as far as I could tell and it looked as if the fire had not spread anywhere else except my room. I was not prepared for what I saw next; my neighbor gardening. Instead of her usual floral dress, she looked like she was made entirely out of smoke. Her body was grey and wispy and moved in wispy swirls around her center and her eyes were black with fiery red embers and her mouth was a gaping black hole. Was I dreaming or going insane? Noticing me, she gave me a wave, and I think she tried to speak to me, as the black hole that was her mouth was moving, but I was unable to hear anything she was saying. Confused and upset I shouted at her and she said something back. Again, everything was silent. Immediately I closed my eyes and ran from where I was standing and towards the center of town. To my surprise, everyone was back to normal, and I could hear again. I waved it off as some kind of side effect or hallucination from the painkillers I hoped I was on.
The next day, with my eyes closed, I cautiously walked out of my apartment. I slowly opened them halfway only to find that everything was once again smoke, and I was a deaf man. I ran into town and shut my eyes tight, willing these images to fade. I hit my head, rubbed my eyes, stomped the ground, then slowly reopened my eyes and could hear the sound of church bells in the distance, saw people in their Sunday best. After breathing a sigh of relief, I walked into the church and sat down with the other parishioners. Upon my return home, I found another blue note with black writing tied with twine to my doorknob. It read:
I have seen that you are surviving quite well under the circumstances.
I can see what is happening to you,
But all I can tell you that it will only get worse.
There is nothing that you can do to stop it.
I myself have gone insane too.
I felt like the weight of the whole world fell on my shoulders. To hear someone say that there was no way out of my nightmare….it was too much. Ripping the note off the door and tearing it to shreds, I stomped into my room and slammed the door shut. After a brief period of sulking, I came to a promising conclusion; I was going to fight whatever was against me, and I was going to win. I wasn’t about to let some unknown chain of events just ruin my life. I went to bed, determined and ready for war in the morning.
Surprisingly, the next morning started out the same as the others, but this time I found that the vision went away once I entered my church. I settled on the church as my new found salvation and after praying there for at least three hours in the front of the church, I stepped outside and walked down to the nearest pub on the street. It was small, cramped, but it was where you wanted to be if you wanted to forget what happened that day.
“What would you like to drink sir?” the waiter asked, placing a bowl of peanuts in front of me.
“Four beers. At least as a start.”
When I was in downing the last of my third beer, this wave of exhaustion hit me and I rested my head on the table and took a breather; I think I drank a little too quickly.
“Are you alright sir?” the waiter asked with concern in his voice.
“Gimmie another round,” I gasped, ignoring his question.
The golden liquid filled my system to the brim and at that point I wasn’t sure how much I had drunk. The room was beginning to empty and soon there was only a small group of men playing pool on the other side of the room. The bar was empty, and there was a spilt drink that was dripping over on one side and on the ground were pieces of broken beer bottles and glasses. The air was filled with cigar and cigarette smoke and made my eyes water and my throat itch. By now the walls looked as though they were bending and the floor was riding a rollercoaster; tables and chairs blurred together.
“Do you want me to call a cab? Sir?” he said as he shook me out of my vision.
“Hey, man you need serious help. I am calling you a cab and it’s going to take you home. Where do you live?”
All of a sudden it sounded as if the room had been stuck by lightning. Everything went white and I collapsed and hit the floor. I was shaken awake by the barman but before I could speak, his image terrified me to no end. He was made of grey smoke, his mouth a huge black hole that seemed to go on forever and suck the life out of you. His eyes were red embers and moved with the life of fire. They pierced my soul and I could begin to feel the heat rise inside my chest. I tried to push him off but my hands went right through, and like smoke his body began to wrap itself around my arm, which was now in his shoulder. I pulled away with all my strength, bolting out the door. Without thinking, I ran for the church, and on the way, saw everyone in the same way as I saw the barman. Every single person there was made of smoke with red eyes and black mouths. I couldn’t hear the whoosh of the cars going by nor the click of shoes on the pavement. People came up to me and started talking to me, but it was no use; I couldn’t hear and what I saw were completely insane. I felt so alone. Everything was smoke. The feeling of all the ember eyes on me was too unbearable so I ran through the crowds and up to the church where I flung myself to my knees at the altar and began to pray relentlessly. No one was there and there were only a few lone candles burning on the altar.
“Please Lord, deliver me from this madness! Cast your great mercy on me so that I may be healed! Please Lord, Please! Forgive me of my sins so that I may live in the glory of your name and forsake all others who deny you! God give me strength!”
Over and over again I prayed until my voice cracked, my knees purple and bruised, my knuckles bleeding from clenching my hands together so hard. This overwhelming sense of weakness overcame me, and I collapsed in the aisle. Eyes wide open but not seeing, I lay there, praying for something to release me from this insanity that was now my world. No one was there; I was all alone, forever. I looked around me and could see oil-lit candles surrounding the altar and felt the warmth of their fire and felt comforted. I rose from the ground and stumbled over to a section of candles taking one up in my hand. I gently caressed the flame as it danced in the quiet air and slowly warmed my hands. Without reason, I slowly covered the flame with the cup of my hand and felt it burn me from underneath. I could feel the skin melting off my flesh and searing the red muscle. Tears of bliss came pouring down my cheeks as the flame died and my hand was left pink and black, scarred from the beautiful flame that had just momentarily healed my soul of the demons that possessed me. I longed for that feeling again and placed my other hand on another candle and let my arm rest on another. After both of those flames had died, I was once again longing for the touch of fire, I saw on the altar a large, thick white candle full of oil and I reached out with disfigured hands toward it, picked it up, only to see the small box of matches lying on the white table cloth. I put the candle down and plucked a single match and lit it on the back of the packet. Something happened inside of me when that flame was ignited; I felt happy and so elated. I picked up another and then another and lit them over and over again, watching as they consumed the stick and then slowly my fingers. But it wasn’t enough; I grabbed the candle and tipped it sideways and drenched my body in the slick yellow oil. I took the last match and struck it against the packet and watched it quickly devour my body in flames. My body shook with terror and my heart exploded out of my chest as I looked up to the heavens and fell to my knees.
I was finally free forever.
Do not worry dear friend.
I am still with you.
I left this world feeling happier than I have ever felt.
I am in the place where I know what is happening to me,
And I can do something about it.
I am the air that you breathe, the smoke from your fire;
The smoke from the incense burning at the altar.
Now I look at others with the eyes made of embers and the endless mouth that consume your very body and soul.
Soon you will see the madness within me,
And feel the entirety of my pain.
But do not worry my friend.
I will see you very soon