Inevitable 1


The twilight sky went suddenly cold.

In a split-second, between one blink of an eye and the next, the night shattered. The air grew incredibly hard to breathe, like thick-bodied, hollow linen within your lungs. The noise in the distant background turned thin and worn-dry, like the last specks of sand sliding through the cracks of your fingers. The birds of paradise sang a strange, artificial tune; the tides of the sea receded over the fiery horizon. The branches twisted inwards, shrivelling up into themselves. The stars burned impossibly bright. Those were the things that woke you up.

You seized the first solid surface you could reach. It was a rather hard wooden frame that made balancing on the sad heap of a bed beneath you just a little bit easier. Lengthwise, it barely exceeded your arm span. Its width allowed for little more room than your shoulders, and with the slightest movement, the mattress squeaked back and forth on its beams like a struggling raft. With a wince, you raised your free arm to tend to the ringing in your ears. This room was too warm; this air smelled too much like rotting textile. The blankets beneath you clung, wet and cloying, to your skin.

You could have sworn that you were having the most beautiful dream of a sun-soaked afternoon.

But there was no sand clinging to your calves, only the sting of a blooming sweat seeping into your sores. It was boiling in here.

You opened a little gap in one side of the covers, trying in vain to invite in a breeze. You could still use another second of sleep.

A loud percussion of clanging and rattling rang from downstairs. You heard the shrill voice of your mother summoning you, from the kitchen. You tried to nudge yourself out of bed, but there remained an equally strong urge to sink back into the covers – foul as they were – and never come out again. The moment your eyes fluttered half-closed, however, the screaming came again, mingled with the whistle of the kettle, bursting full with steam. You lay still, blinking slowly at the broken fixture directly overhead. The ceiling lamp was missing, replaced instead with a cracked fissure in the plaster. You didn't remember when it had broken.

It didn't matter. You had to get up.

The breakfast table was half-empty, tinged with the glare of dawn. You wandered listlessly to a random seat, legs scraping across the floor as you dragged it out of its alcove. The tablecloth today was coated in a sickly film of grease. You swiped your fingers across the grimy layer, watching them cling together, as an unpleasant sensation settled in your stomach. You'd have to do your schoolwork on the same table later. You couldn't imagine what might happen if you got it torn. The feeling crawled up your throat, stinging your larynx. It ached, it ached, but it didn't matter.

You had to get to school.

The wind today was silent. It left you to walk alone to the sound of your rasping breaths. You'd never been any good at sports — and still, recently, you'd grown sickly, constantly holed up in your room at night. The grey-tiled buildings around you morphed slowly from dreary suburbs into tall, twisting skyscrapers that flanked concrete roads, stretching up into the hazy sky. You wondered when your city got like this. But it didn't matter.

You've reached your destination.

The school was as vast as always. You never did outgrow being the new kid on the block, having to twist and turn past countless cold hallways just to find your destination, always a few minutes late. You would be a disappointment to everyone who knew you. That much was clear. So after class, you got up and walked to your next lesson early. You passed peeling drywall, shambling cardboard cutouts, and blackboards stained with residue. You arrived at your next class as expected. You were late again.

You laid your head on the glossy desk. The lights on the ceiling grew blurry. They seemed more like bubbles, the longer you looked at them. You could sleep now, to make up for the time you’d spent sweating in a frustrated daze last night. Your eyes grew so heavy, but the sudden piercing trill of the school bell shook you out of your languor.

… It didn't matter.

You could go home now.

Your schoolbag lay sprawled across the kitchen table, supplies thrown awry, with no sign of a study plan in sight. You fiddled with the sheets of paper you took home today, staring sideways across the rows of printed numbers, with no sense of comprehension dawning. It was the most unfathomable thing – that no matter how many hours you dedicated to these small, menial tasks, you never got any better at any of them. Not at this rate, anyway – you could hardly suppose you'd accomplish anything for the rest of the semester.

You discarded the papers on the table. After all, you reasoned, there are only so many hours in a day. You could’ve used a quick snack before bed.

The next morning saw very little improvement in the sores all over your back. You winced as you inflamed them while getting out of bed, and while you threw everything together in your schoolbag before heading downstairs. The sky outside seared your eyes, its leaking yellow more befitting of the fluorescent lights of a backroom than the early sun. You brushed your teeth again today, without paste, as the tube had run out some time ago. If you rinsed properly afterward, it shouldn't cause too much of an issue.

But would it matter if it did? You didn't think anything could irk you more than your shoulders at this present moment.

At school, you managed to doze off for a moment. You dreamt of a resort by the beach, where you were unloading fluffy, colorful towels together with a warm, warm voice. The air was so sweet that you could almost smell it when you had to force your eyes open again, just in time for the next class.

You checked your note sheet for the day, and found it, unsurprisingly, empty. You were going to get into trouble for this, you just knew, but instead of saying anything, you simply stashed it back in your bag on your way out the door.

The worksheets at home were no more comprehensible today than last night. You stomped over to the fridge again, but were greeted only with an empty repository. Your fingers trembled, that day, as an alien feeling overwhelmed you. Instead of returning to the greasy kitchen table, you turned and retreated up the stairs. Without a word, you threw yourself back under those saggy blankets and buried your face in the sheets. Your spare hand found your old brown jacket, the very one you had imagined wearing somewhere else than this empty home. You felt something hard and rectangular protruding from the pile of matted fur, and you felt — pulled, through its pocket, something crisp and cool against your fingers.

You pulled it out into the light, staring at the small, packaged granola bar with no small measure of amazement. Quickly, you snapped out of your reverie and ripped open the packet with shaking fingers, smearing the chocolate all over your lips but finally tasting something other than the tang of your own sweat. You ate slowly — and yet, in no time, the entire bar had passed over your tongue.

You swallowed, and for one night, felt just a little fuller.

The voice of your mother rang ever endless from the kitchen. You'd tried shutting her out with the sheets, but the voice got no quieter no matter how many layers of fabric you pressed against your ears. At this point, you were half-convinced she did not tire, did not exist for any other reason than to torment you after another long restless night. The kettle whistled downstairs, but if you could turn over, rest for just five more minutes–

The screeching came again, and this time, it splits open your head. Defeated, you dragged yourself out of bed, stumbling a little on the way, to grab your schoolbag. A trickle of something cold ran down your earlobe.

You stared at the mirror, your toothbrush hanging loose in your hand. Within was a wasting, awful figure you could scarcely recognize as yourself. You reached with a tentative hand to dab at your chin, and the reflection followed — as, of course, a reflection ought. Defeated, you dropped the toothbrush in the sink, supposing that you'd come back for it later. For a moment, a glint of something colorful caught your eye.

You turned back to the mirror, and caught sight of a string of beads looped around your wrist. They glittered like diamonds in the dim light, casting myriad beams across the mirror. You squinted closely at the beads. Through your poor eyesight, you could make out a row of three white letters, stamped across the beads. They were etched in a whimsically cursive font, so different from the black letters that dotted your papers. You thought they were the most delightful things you'd seen in a long while.

But you had no idea what they meant.

On your way home from school, you glimpsed a flash of green from a clover field in the distance, and thought about running away. You thought about leaving this foggy town behind and traveling towards the sun. You would walk for hours and hours, until you hit the coast. And then… you had no idea how you'd get across the sea by any means, but perhaps that didn't matter. Perhaps all you needed was a quiet moment where you could sit on the sand dunes and look upon the setting sun. It would be your dream come true.

But something wouldn’t let you run.

That night, you were beyond tired. You crawled back into the pile of blankets and laid as still as possible.

On the ceiling, a spiderweb of fissures danced just out of view. Outside, the city lights simmered low.

It wouldn’t hurt, would it, if I slept a little?

And finally, this time, no shrill call woke you from your slumber.

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