The Dark Reaches This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     A dark night rolled over my house, enveloping my world with gloom. The stars were dismal specks of light in a galaxy of black. Ideas and thoughts clashed in my mind, with a ferocity not seen for ages. My very world was being questioned, all its goals, dreams and loves. I couldn't concentrate on my surroundings, leaving my mind to make room for thoughts of failure and pain. Aching under the load, it was ready to break into pieces and crush my skull; I was a centrifuge spinning off balance with only a tap needed to shatter the glass.

The need to relieve this pressure grew to a screeching torment. I stumbled around my room looking for relief, anything to take my mind away, anything to stop the spinning. Digging past magazines and video games, I threw a pack of cigarettes over my shoulder. Turning slowly, I found them laying in the middle of my room, half open with the tail of one hanging out. I picked up the small brown box, which belonged to a friend who had forgotten them one night. Slowly I drew one from the box and smelled it. Cinnamon and cloves tickled my nose. My mind could only think of the smell.

The ember glowed slowly, a small light in a dark world. I felt dirty for having the cigarette pursed between my lips, yet the feeling was good. I was rebelling, doing what I couldn't by day, doing what I felt like. If I were discovered, I would be shamed for my act of breaking the law, breaking trust, and breaking my body.

Sulfur broke through the night as I lit the match and brought it to the tip. My breaths came slowly. Half testing the smoke in my mouth and half savoring it, it was a burn to my tongue, drying my throat, which swelled at its invisible grasp, begging me to quit. The bittersweet feeling inside my chest danced with the spicy flavor in my mouth, consuming my mind, allowing my head to get a breath of calm. I blew the first puff past my face in a gag and choked. Yet I continued. The paper sticks held a sweet taste, while their fiery contents held a thick and full, bitter flavor.

I continued with this pattern of breaths, blows and gags, not knowing what compelled me to pull the smoke from the fire to my body. The glowing tip danced at the end of my shaking hand, leaving a tail of light wherever it went. At each breath my mind progressed one step deeper into my problems toward their root. I felt as though I were no longer myself, but a detective looking through a building for the shadow of a criminal.

I strayed from my childhood of loneliness to the loss of my father. My school day interrupted without reason by my aunt. Walking home in silence with no hint of the turn my life was about to take. A hidden countdown to the end of my known world; every second bringing me closer to a dark new one. The feeling of confusion as my aunt stopped at the doorway, yet continued driving me inside. The silence in my house was alien, a poison in the air was choking me.

Nothing was normal. My mother sobbed on the couch, holding my sister. An unknown substance clung to her knee, a deep shade of red. She slowly gathered herself, groping for words. Her face contorted and dripping in tears. "Last night your father went to work, got a gun, and didn't come home."

The tears emerged, stinging as they rolled by the cigarette. My father's death was the reason for my current life, the catalyst to blame for my pain.

My mind had come undone. My life progressed past the scar of my loss. I came here to Clare. The hopes I had for this new chance quickly became nothing. Here, I tried to fit in. The pain I felt each day on sports teams, pushing myself not to beat anyone, but just to have the strength to finish. My failed dating attempts haunted me until junior year. Hazy memories surfaced of my nights dwelling in the shadows - partly not to be noticed, and partly to keep from interrupting those around me.

A cold breeze brought me back to the present, slapping me for my self-pity. The cigarette burned shorter.

The cherry-red tip faded to black. With a breath it broke from its shell of ash and burned brighter, only to fade again. The cigarette was me, dangerously heated and yet never flaming, always burning somewhere deep within, and stuck in a pattern of life that only led toward death. More memories came, but not of things - of emotions.

* * *

My small feet flew me up the ladder to the diving board. My heart pounding from the adrenaline of the last fall, and the anticipation of the next. Each step pushed me closer to my destination, increasing my excitement. Nearing the top, I pushed down but my foot wouldn't bear it. The crack was all I heard, and in a split second I was hanging from the side of the high board, not knowing how I had gotten there. My small wet hands not large enough to grip the rail. I looked around, figuring my situation. My mother, pregnant, swam without noticing. My friend running along the pool's edge was clueless. My fingers burned as I looked for an escape. Mom couldn't help me because I feared her and the child's safety. A moment passed and I realized I had to let go, had to fall. The cement was cold. A light danced in front of my face, everything blurry.

* * *

My throat burned, more from emotion than from smoke. The feeling of helplessness was fresh in my chest. A crackle of the cigarette caught my attention, shooting off until it slipped into the darkness. I was breathing death. With every bit of life I sucked from the cigarette, it brought me one step closer to my end. Smoke wisped from my nostrils and curled into the darkness, fading as it floated until it was no more.

I sat on my cold step, spinning the half-charred cigarette and pondering what it was to me. No more than a day before I had been scolding my loved one for smoking. It was disgusting, a habit, nothing more. The ideas mingled in my head until her face bore resemblance to the glow of light in my hand. Thoughts came smoothly now, as gentle as the wind's caress.

There was no right or wrong. A thought seemed as much a fact to me as my surroundings. The more I looked at the cigarette, the more it dug at me. My love was the cigarette. Something I could use, a secret confidant. Shelter for my mind, but also a poison. I didn't need to look further for my problems. I'd found the shard of glass rubbing into my nerves.

My relationship with my family and friends stayed in my mind. I'd taken them for granted, even after the loss of several. My friends were always attempting to sink their roots under my skin and understand me, yet I drove them away. My life had been a lonely one, and my fault. The fire of the cigarette began to dwindle, fading as it reached the filter. Things became clearer. I've lived in a sheltered world with boundaries I set, living each day in a secluded darkness. Looking at the butt of the cigarette, it came to me that my life was not the cigarette, it was the night. Vast and limitless, with a dark cape. Yet light shone through, an unlimited amount. The further I probe the limits of my possibility, the more light I will find.

I threw down the cigarette and mutilated it with my bare foot, snuffing the life from it without mercy. The fire had subsided. The centrifuge had reached stillness. The battles were over.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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