The first thing I notice is the smoke, the smell of it. An acrid, cloying stink overwhelms my senses and crawls over and into me like a billion ethereal tendrils. The fear grows inside. It is a grotesque unyielding fear. It saturates me and makes it nearly impossible to open my eyes, my eyelids are heavy with terror.
I am sick to my stomach. I hurt so badly I want to die.
With substantial effort I force my eyes open and I see a wall aflame and dripping molten sheet rock silvery and mercurial. It is the central wall of this room, a strange dark room with which I’m unfamiliar. The wall is holding for now, the ceiling it supports bends in a convex arch and I know I must get out of this room before the ceiling collapses and buries me under its weight.
But I cannot move. I’m frozen with indecision and indecision is the only decision I can make.
I look down and I realize I can’t see the carpet, yet I can feel it with my feet. It’s covered with serpentine, undulating rivers of gray and white smoke. The light and dark patterns make it appear as if the floor is covered with a nest of engorged and angry snakes; all of them slithering aimlessly in all directions, and all directions lead to me.
The flames engulf everything but the wall behind me. I’m paralyzed by the fear and I can’t turn my head to look what is behind me but I sense it is a wall. All around me rabid fingers of fire hungrily reach out for me. The flames are just inches from my face, taunting me with hot promises of pain and death.
I think I will take death but not the pain, but I won’t have a choice. There are no windows or doors in this room that I can see, no escape from the hellish glowing place.
Directly across from me I watch the central supporting wall burn and melt. It’s twisting makes it appear alive and sentient. I watch the rippling flames burn large almost perfectly round holes in it. I can almost hear it shrieking in horror as the inside of it burns. When the smoke intermittently abates I can see there are three large holes in the wall. I think I should be able to see through them perhaps into a another room or better still into the cool night outside. But I see nothing but the savage flames licking the wall, teasing wall’s boiling surface with its hot orange tongue.
Then at once the fire lies down like a huge beast grown weary; down on the floor, its huge chest heaving up and down it appears to be in the throes of a hideous death.
My eyes leave the grotesque beast of sleepy fire and I see the holes in the wall clearly. Inside each hole is a word written in smoke, each word quivering in place as if borne on a gentle but hot ephemeral wind.
In the place where innocence floats I see the face of a child, alone and longing for the touch of her mother’s hand. The child’s eyes are sad and bewildered. She does not understand how vast the world is because the world in which she lives is small and careful. Her mother entwined with her own desires and needs pays scant attention to the little girl. The mother’s world has grown large and twisted and full of conflicting needy emotions and desires with which she is both comfortable with and afraid of. Her dreams of pedestrian things are colorless. She wakes with a thrist she cannot satisfy. She wants more than she can have and she has more than she wants, and in this sad discordance she and the child are alike.
In the dark sinister hole in the middle floats betrayal. I stare at that word as it writhes and twists in its own serpetine hell. I stare at it and I begin to see eyes staring back at me. They are the eyes of lost loves, of entanglements gone awry and of true love shredded by a heart hardened by the thrill of deceptions and betrayals. The eyes glow and glower at me and I am forced to look away. The pain is too deep and too fresh to endure, I cannot look upon those sad sinister eyes another second lest they suffocate me with their evil.
The fiery beast boils in some deviant and tortured sleep it moans and turns over but does not awaken. It is now entirely covered by by a blanket of roiling clouds of smoke and in the fine owdery dust of hellish black and gray ash.
I raise my eyes up from the dying beast and look upon the place where fear resides. It’s letters are bulbous and ragged. It’s far bigger than innocence and betrayal – the hole in which it floats cannot contain it. The huge jagged letters appear more substantial than the smoke from which they were came – they seem living serpents born of fire and destruction. They push back the walls of the hole and stretch it and distort it until the hole becomes as a huge growing living cancerous cell eroding the burnt structure that holds it. Its letters now seem like separate organisms, each controlled by a single mad mind.
The place where fear lives explodes and send shards of half-molten hot plasterboard flying across the room like shrapnel from a grenade. I feel a jagged piece of it piece my chest and but I cannot move – I’m frozen in terror and amazed by the terrible scene. I cannot move anything but my eyes. I can move them enough to see the life draining from my chest – the red liquid of life spurting from my punctured heart.
I watch as fear swallows innocence and betrayal. The blood gushes from my chest and disappears in the boiling smoke. I feel light and disembodied. I feel as if I am floating above the room of smoke and the dying beast of fire. Fear is everywhere. It has sucked the life from innocence and mated with betrayal and left me to die in this room without doors or windows.
The wall collapses and the ceiling gives way; my bleeding body lies motionless in the rubble, drained of life and of feeling. Still I can see each piece of the rubble which covers me is a bit of a memory.
I see traces of laughter, a trace of smile, the sound of a song, a shiny Christmas ornament, a baby girl, a woman’s whisper, a siren in the distance, a locomotive chugging the the night, a whale on TV, sharks swimming in a black ocean, leaves budding in the spring, the smell of dying things on a blue October day, big snowflakes falling from a leaden winter sky, a smile, a tear, a mother, a child, a father. Most of all I see lives wasted, lifeless bodies lying in the smoke of desperation, dead dreams and life’s ultimate betrayal. Lives consumed by the monster of fear.
It’s 1:20AM. I see the green glow of the digital clock. I’ve been sleeping for an hour. My heart is pounding; I am warm and thirsty. I get up and to get a glass of water. My heart is racing so fast I fear it will fly out of my chest or that I will fall face down on the hard floor and die — alone and cold in the house of uncertainty.
I get a drink and I sit down in the quiet hours of the night and try to calm myself with pleasant thoughts – but not a single pleasant thought comes to visit me. I realize I am totally alone and defeated. I check my phone – surely the fire was a nightmare – so this must must still be a dream.
The phone holds no solace – no one has called. The clock on the phone’s face reads 2:17AM.
I must be dead I think. This can’t be happening. No one can feel this isolated and separated and devastated and still be alive. My heart keeps pounding as if to break free from my chest. I look down at the pale blue carpet and see no sign of the snakes of smoke. The wall, is dull and needs painting but there are no signs of fire or any discernable damage, no holes, no words, nothing unusual at all – just a wall.
There are windows and doors – ways to escape I think. But I don’t have anywhere to go and I don’t have anyone to see.
All I know is the two motivations of life, love and fear, are playing out their hands in an implausible game of poker, each one anteing up and raising the bet; all I can do is sit at the table and watch.
Innocence has forsaken me. Fear and doom have befriended me. The clock tells me it’s 4:08AM and all I can do now is wait for the sun. As if the sun will do any good.
I’m tired and defeated; I can find no peace in this sad new world. Even sleep betrays me.
The rain dances on my window sill — it’s 6:19AM and the June rain slowly washes away the dreams of the night.
Life is just a dream after all.