I know when it’s happening; I notice that feeling just below my throat, hot and prickling, as though I’ve swallowed acid and it’s sitting, hissing, somewhere near my heart. The feeling makes my hair stand on end and suddenly I am very small, in a very large world. It makes the weight of the air seem heavy on my bare skin, and I notice the texture of everything, down to those loose threads of carpet unravelled on the bedroom floor.
And that’s when I know the thoughts are coming.
I can always see them. Circling, swooping, black and shapeless. Occasionally, I glimpse the blood red of their heads in the darkness, though mostly they remain only shadows. They are cunning in their concealment; hovering lower, only a little way at a time, growing larger and uglier; grotesque thoughts. In a far-off world, someone clenches my fists as though preparing me for the fight. Meanwhile, I can only breathe and watch and wait.
It’s never a long wait, in my quiet room. I pass the time quite easily. I look down at the surface of my desk and trace the furrows of the wood as though they are mountain ridges. I wish those lines of wood could talk. Hundreds of years’ worth of stories; a flickering film roll of time – a sapling, thrusting through dewy grass; a warped trunk, flecked with blue moss. Though sometimes, all I can see is the sawdust of a carpenter’s table. Like a mortuary table, it is unyielding as the wood is stripped back and cut. And then I’m glad the wood can’t speak. Some experiences are best left untold.
The thoughts are still silent, though more distinct now. The more I stare, the more they morph into beings; sleepless eyes, oily wings, remorseless.
Invisible hands seem to rest on my shoulders, straightening them so that I sit tall. I always think I should thank them. But then the acid in my chest begins to sear at my lungs. That’s when breathing becomes hard, and I search for something to focus on. Anything but them.
Books are piled high all around my room; piles which are perfectly uniform, in alphabetical order by author. The way I like them to be. Each spine shows withered cracks, from years of being pulled apart and pored over. The sight is comforting, familiar, though the longer I stare, the more their pages start to look frail, like those autumn leaves you can crush with your foot. I always end up thinking of the words. Thousands of them, cooped up in such a small space for so long until their fight to leave the page finally subsided. Once young, hot blooded, daring. Now they lie only passively, as though waiting to be picked apart by feasting eyes.
And then, slowly, a coldness envelops me; a shivering fever that seeps down my spine. With it, the thoughts move closer, too low, like a sinister cloud of muffled wings and searching eyes. The swarm is unstoppable, dizzying. Somewhere in the stifling darkness, a noise starts up, and through the confusion, I barely recognise the sound of my own beating heart.
An outcast, alone in my own head, I steal one last glance at the mirror, hanging on the opposite wall. The girl looking back at me always seems distant and I think maybe, for a moment, it is she who clenches my fists and straightens my shoulders. I try a smile as a means of thanks but I think I must always end up offending her, for the tears that soak her cheeks only seem to come faster.
If I didn’t have my own battle to fight, I would help her.
The thought is sort of a promise, but the words seem bare, dead and submissive, like the wood on the carpenter’s table and the tired words on the page.
Sometimes I think I really mean it; that promise. But then the thoughts engulf me finally, descending like vultures on lifeless carrion, and I let them feast, knowing they were led all along by the smell of easy blood. After all their vile indulgences have ended, when I am left tired and drained, that promise too, seems lifeless.
Sometimes I can see it, fragile and shaking, between those loose threads of carpet on the bedroom floor. It’s then I get the sudden furious urge to stamp down hard, so that I can feel it break under my foot.
A broken promise is one I don’t have to keep.
Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine publishing beautiful, imaginative and surreal short stories, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Our aim is to encourage creativity and to help writers reach publication! Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.