When I Dream of Dreams

The sun is setting outside and the thick summer heat crowds the small room. Everything seems too close. You sit a few feet away from me, mirroring my stance, cross legged on the floor. You hand me a piece of paper and show me the words that you’ve stitched together, words hidden within other words, worlds hidden within other worlds. I struggle to understand. It’s been a long day, I’m hot and I’m tired and I’m worried. He’ll notice I’m not home any moment now and as the sun sinks behind the grey skyline, a lump forms in my throat.

You sit beside me now, out arms touching, your strong, tanned forearm prickles against my side and sends gooseflesh shivering across my back and chest. You point to the words on the piece of paper in front of me and explain what they are. Your handwriting is messier than I thought it would be but the paper is precious in my trembling hands and I hold tight, tight enough to make the tips of my fingers go white. You stand, bare footed in jeans and a white t-shirt, the way I and everyone always pictures you, in their dreams and in their minds. You ask if I want to listen to some music. How could I refuse?

I sit stoic and scared on the sofa as you place a record on the turn table and the black magic scuffs its way to life. Have we been drinking? Smoking? I feel about ready to float off of the sofa when you sit down heavily next to me and the music takes up the last of the space the heat left behind in the small, sweet smelling room. Your hair is a mess and my heart is a mess and you look at me like you’ve known me forever.

We sit, together, perfectly enclosed in each-others company and listen to the music. You close your eyes and a bead of sweat falls down one cheek. It takes everything in me not to wipe it away with the corner of my t-shirt or to run my hands through the sweaty mess of black curls mopping at your forehead. We sit for a moment longer as one song ends and another song begins, the stop and starts of the record player sending little jolts of awareness through my mind and down to my fingertips.

This will end. I know this will end. But for now it’s here and until the record skips and changes its tune, I know that this is here and it’s now. With your eyes still closed you lean into me your face graving mine as you nestle you hot, damp head in my lap and exhale deeply. Your breath reaches up my bare thighs and settles somewhere near where my shorts begin. I am useless, speechless, dumbfounded and lost. My hands suddenly seem superfluous, my breath seems ragged and painful.

You open your mouth to speak and every word hits my bare legs with a soft gust of hot, fragrant breath. You ask me not to go, you tell me to stay, here with you in this place, in this moment and though we haven’t spoke of my leaving, it appears we both knew I would have to go sometime. Your voice breaks and my fingertips find your forehead, sweeping back your sweaty hair and stroking away the hurt. I have to go I tell you. But not yet.

Not yet.

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When I Dream of Rain

I was sitting outside of the art room with my headphones in listening to Cat Stevens singing about fathers and sons. It was raining but it was the see through rain that speckles the windows before the real storm breaks. The corridor smelt of plaster and heat, the radiators were turned up almost to the point of scorching.

I hadn’t slept and I was waiting for my art teacher to unlock the classroom door so I could get on with my after school lessons. I hadn’t been doing them for long and the whole process of going to school for two hours a day was new to me. It wasn’t helping me. It was hurting me. It was allowing me more hours of unguarded time when you weren’t there to stop me breaking my own heart.

My battery was dying and I was beginning to get anxious. I could handle it when there was music or a book, but I had nothing that day. I wasn’t even wearing shoes. If he had walked by at that moment I would have been sent back to that place, even further from you. Then the door at the other end of the corridor opened and I knew without looking up that it was you. I knew it was you because I felt you before I ever saw you.

I could feel you looking at me and as I began to cry you came to me and slumped down the wall onto the floor, side by side. You called me a wayward genius once and I called you a cunt more than once, but there was something that connected us. Maybe it was because we were both such good liars. We did it so well. I would tell you that I was always fine and you would always tell me that everything was going to be alright. They were the greatest lies we ever told and we told them to each other.

I slipped my headphones out and you asked me to come with you. I would have followed you anywhere and a couple of times I did. I sat on your desk and put my head phones back in. You watched me as I mouthed the words to Fast Car by Tracy Chapman and cried the tears of a teenager who was too young to know how far gone she was.

You put your hand on my chin and lifted my face up to meet your eyes. They were the glassy and as horrifically blue as ever. You took my headphones out, so softly. They fell to my neck and I heard my heart beating in my ears where music had been moments before. I don’t know if you ever fathomed what your hands did when they were on my body. It wasn’t sexual, it was almost … chemical.

You told me that people get addicted to other people. I took it as an insult and pushed your hand away. I could see that you were hurt and I liked it. I liked hurting you. I lovedhurting you, because you never stopped hurting me. All your words, your jokes, your manipulation of the rules and your time, none of it ever stopped it hurting. And you were too distracted to realise that what you were actually doing was killing me.

I told myself that the reason you said that about people being addicted to people was because I relied on you too much and you were pointing out that you were fast becoming just another pointless thing that made me feel good that I couldn’t live without. Just as I was about to leave you held my hand and I felt my stomach melt out of my knees.

Then you kissed me. You kissed me. You kissed me.

When I pulled away your eyes were wet. I wasn’t crying anymore. I was confused and I still am all these years later. I always thought you were a figment of my imagination and if people hadn’t have spoken of you in terms of reality I would never have mentioned the way you made me feel. But the truth of the matter is you are real and your words were real and every time you smiled or cried or kissed me, all of that was real too.

But now I look back and all I see is the notion of you. The promise that one day it would get better. The promise that you would never, ever leave me to face it alone. The promise that you and I were something far greater than what the world was allowed to see. The promise that somewhere, deep, in the dark part of your mind that tells you what we were doing was wrong you saw it as right and tried to convince me it was so.

You never convinced anyone. I find it hard to think of and every time I see your face in my mind I go back to that day when you first pressed your mouth against mine. November Rain by Guns n Roses was playing through my head phones hanging listlessly around my neck when your lips first grazed mine. Maybe I have better taste in music now, but I still cannot listen to that song.

I wonder if you ever think of me. If you ever think of the teenager I was when you took to kissing me and wonder what kind of adult that mess of a girl became. I wonder if you know now that although I no longer pay rent in the darkness, I stay there occasionally and almost always when finding myself in the shadows recall the strange way the rain fell against the windows that day.

Most of all I wonder that if were we to meet now, whether or not you would allow me to protect you from yourself the way you protected me. I wonder now if you used me as a distraction from what was going on in your mind. I wonder now if I ever meant anything more to you than what we ended up as.

I wonder now if you knew at the time, that I was unattainably and irrevocably in love with you. I wonder, every day, if knowing that would have changed your mind.

When I Dream of Deserts

There was literally nothing around me but hard, red dirt and cracks of endless dust tearing through the barren rock. The sky was as blue as I have ever seen it, the sun a chrysalis of frosted glass, hanging between clouds almost soft enough to taste. It was hot. It was far too hot to be a normal day and sweat spiked on the nape of my neck and dripped into my eyes. I wiped at them tenderly, as they shrieked in their sockets.

I knew that I was not alone, but I could not see anyone. So I started to walk, ignoring the intensity of the heat beating down on my body and cooking my flesh. I walked, the dust kicking up from my shoes and settling on my wet skin. I felt as though I were caked with dirt, my throat slick and scratchy. I could hear footsteps, small, scuffling footsteps. The footsteps of something too small to make noise, or something that did not have walking down to a fine art. I would find out that the footsteps belonged to both something small, and something unable to walk.

There was a building in the distance, not so far away that I could not identify it as an indoor swimming pool, but still far enough away not to be able to make out whether or not it was in operation. I focused my exhausted eyes on it and continued, one step after another, the way I always had. The scuffling noise returned and I spun hard enough on my heels to swirl a cocoon of dust around myself, momentarily disappearing into the redness of the air.

There was a strangled sound of gargling, as though someone were trying frantically to breathe through oil laced sea water. I could feel my heart beating in my mouth, when I realised at once that the strangled sound was actually coming from me. I tried to smile, the skin on my scorched lips cracking and allowing tiny runlets of copper coloured blood to rise to their surface. I licked tentatively as them, wincing back against the enormity of pain, but savouring the taste of anything in my mouth, even if it were my own blood.

Caught in the monotony of walking I did not notice the deep crack in front of me until I was at eye level with it. My head hit the hard pan with a sickening thud and for a moment the sky lost its allure and became a speckled black greyness that seemed to swamp straight into my bones. I rolled over onto my back and closed my eyes, a dizzying sense of becoming unravelled settled over me and I allowed it to take me.

When I opened my eyes I could see them coming towards me, slowly staggering, as though they did not have full command of their bodies. I want to say to you now that they were mutants, out there in the middle of nowhere, the left over products of a wasteful and even more hurtful society of experiments and forgotten mistakes. However as they drew closer I saw that they were not in fact mutants but children.

They were about seven or eight in total, but grouped together amidst such nothingness there may as well have been a hundred of them versus the one wounded me. They walked with their arms drawn into their chests, their wrists locked out at awkward angles, as though they were mimicking a praying mantis. Their feet pointed inwards, their hips slanted and the closer they came to me, I realised that they had no fingers or toes. It did not look as though they had been born without them, more so than that they had been forcibly removed.

It was their faces that made me get up and away. Their heads were cocked back like an angry pistol, their twisted grimaces of what could have been pain, but could just have easily have been pleasure, saluting the silence of the topaz sky. I now realised, with a gut wrenching certainty, that the noise I had heard before my face hit the floor, the gargling sound of strangled breath, was not coming from me after all. They were all trying to speak, but their words were dead before they could be born, as though their lungs were full of sand. Every single one of them was hideously sunburnt, to the point that their skin was peeled off in great, weeping welts all over their naked bodies.

I started to walk as fast as I physically could, knowing that if I had began to run I probably would have fainted. Instead I briskly broke through the air, creating a much needed breeze against my sweltering face. They were drawing closer, in my head I was moving faster than I thought I was. I could not so much as hear them behind me, but feel them, as though the movement of their deformed feet dragging through the dust sent physical waves through the earth and up my legs.

The swimming pool was as close as it had ever been when I fell again, this time hitting my head hard enough to knock the wind out of me. I laid on the floor curled into a ball. I could feel their breath on me, hot and sour, like cabbage left in the sun to stagnate. Their eyes were the whitish blue of a blind man, and where the white should have been was blazing red. Blobs of dead black blood and hard green pus sat in the corner of those eyes. I now knew that they were not grimacing in pleasure, but in complete and irrevocable agony. A fingerless hand touched my face and I felt my heart shatter.

She could not have been older than seven, but her face was twisted and full of confusion. Her hair was blonde, hanging in dirty patches all over her head. Across her chest the skin had peeled away to bone on her ribs and in the unforgiving sun it glistened like a fish on the deck of a boat. She smelt of rotting earth and flesh – hot, decaying flesh, but something in her ethereal eyes made me want to save her. That same something inside myself told me that she, like the others, was beyond saving.

She leant in closer to me, her breath now almost too much to bare. Her eyes flickered back and forth over my face, as though she were trying desperately to see me clearer. A sticky, black tear lurched sluggishly down her cheek as I touched her face, my own vision starting to focus. As I lay there on my back, spitting distance from the swimming pool in the middle of the hard pan, a shot ran out and the girls head exploded across my face, a swatch of dirty blonde hair landing with a coy splat my face. It smelt like a memory.

I laid there on the dark, hot hard pan and laughed. I laughed until the girls blood trickled into my mouth and down my throat. I laughed until I was physically sick all over myself, but still choking on the vomit, I laughed some more. The other children were retreating from the gun shot now and I could hear someone shouting in the distance for them to disperse. Someone said that their was a girl on the hard pan covered in blood. I laughed until I I passed out, but I did not fall into the blackness of unconsciousness, but the sacred, still blue of the first and last sky I ever remember seeing.

When I Dream of Syringes

It was cold and most certainly night. I was drunk, for the most part and standing with my usual crowd outside of our local supermarket. I was wearing my blue paisly shirt and my olive green Lee Coopers. I was smoking a cigarette and laughing, a bottle of something strong and tepid in my hand. He approached, his eyes bluer than I could ever recall from photgraphs burning into me. My friend stopped and put her hand on my arm,

“He’s looking at you.” He came straight up to me and took out a pen. He smiled, his face reminiscent of what I knew but something was different. Stubble speckled his young cheeks and he laughed,

“You can’t be though, you haven’t got any hair.” He had cut his hair to half an inch all over but his face bore a similarity too uncanny not be frutiful. He shook his head and closed the distance between us. He uncapped the pen, which was laden with white ink.

“Can I?” I nodded, my mind still and my heart beating in my ears. I breathed in as he pulled one side of my half open shirt aside, revealing the black of my bra. He scrawled a word, an autograph on the portion of my left breast that showed and let the shirt fall gently to rest. I reached out to touch his face and he took my hand before it could.

“Come with me.” He pleaded. I could see poison under his eyes, swimming in the blue that was never quite captured on the cameras where I had come to know him so well. I turned to my friends and realised that they had moved away. He squeezed my hand and we walked out of the car park and into daylight. We were by the side of the sea. There was an immense heat baking off of the ground but neither of us looked pained for the weather. The cool sea breeze wafted through my hair.

We came to a wall, hand in hand, and beyond it lay nothing but ocean. He let go of my hand and climbed over the wall, almost glided over the wall and hit the sand on the other side with a soft thud. He then reached his arms over and helped me, also somehow glide, over the cinder block obstacle. Our foreheads touched and my stomach knotted when he kissed me briefly on the mouth. On the wall now stood out a face, melted to the brick, its skin grafted to the very mortor.”It’s for nothing.” Its mouth was disorted, a hideous grimace marring the scarred, powedery skin but its words were clearer than the ocean that now lay before us. It shifted and came closer to us, almost sinking into the brick and oozing back through the wall now only a foot from us. His grip tightened on my hand and we ran, we ran like we were trying to beat the devil, until blood pumped in our eyes and our mouths were are dry as the sand under our now bare feet.

We skidded to a halt on the side of the ocean, a platform about three foot over the water. We sat down and caught our breath, words were exchanged but they escape me now. He took out a leather pouch. Inside the pouch was a syringe, a white ball of clinge film and other random pieces. I watched as he sharpened his arm, the muscles writhing underneath the roadmap skin and popped the needle of the syringe through his the cleft of his arm. He immediatly fell back, his muscular stomach now bare and glistening in the light of the rising sun.

I went to stand, placing my hands next to me when he shot up as it electrocuted and stabbed the same syringe, now full once more, into the soft flesh between the knuckles of my index and middle finger. As soon as he pushed the plunger down the platform broke and I was flung two hundred foot into the air, the platform rising and blood pouring from the wound on my hand. I could vaguely see him but his voice was lost in the wind.

I had to throw something. He wanted me up there, that is why he had stabbed me. I had to be that high up. I could not remember what he wanted me to throw though. The wind was heavy and the platform unstable. I shifted my weight and looked out onto the horizon. There was ocean for as far as I could see but behind me was a dense city landscape, with life and sound melting together. I reached into my pocket and pulled out a green guitar pick.

That was what he wanted me to throw. I held it against my mouth, the metal in my lip chinking against it. I pursed my lips and kissed the pick before shuffling my feet to the edge of the platform. Then I took a deep breath and thought of the man who had led me here with neck length dirty blonde hair, a green cardigan and a guitar in his hands singing about the scent of teen spirit and then I remembered who he was and what he wanted from me. I let my feet continue off the platform where they found nothing but air.

But I did not fall. I floated back down to the platform where he now stood smiling, his hair grown back to the length I remember it being. He had tears in his eyes as he took me into his arms and kissed me once more. With my arms locked around him, he dissolved into dust and was carried away by the wind. The day faded to night in seconds and I was back standing outside the supermarket with my friends, although now I was covered with sand like powder and my hand was black with dead blood.

“Are you okay?” I nodded and we walked up the high street and into one of the pubs. I ordered my drink and excused myself to the toilet. No one had said anything about my hand that was now twice the size it should have been. I stood in front of the mirror and watched as my hand returned back to normal and the dust like dirt all over my shirt washed away into the air and out of the open window.

I unbuttoned my shirt, standing in the harsh light of the pub bathroom and let it fall to my elbows. There written on the nape of my left breast, almost as while as the flesh was his word as if to assure me that he was not a dream but somehow more. Four simple letters in untidy scrawl that brought an exhausted tear to my eye – live.

When I Dream of Beaches

I knew that it was him that they were screaming about in the streets and down the length of the halls. A body had been found on the beach where the decking met the sand and eventually gave way to the tepid southern surf. He had been strangled and exposed to the elements his neck had bruised into two small hand-prints the colour of black-currents. There was a book beside him but no one knew what it was. The police were already there and details that were gathered about the strange body on the beach, poised, almost as though it were waiting for the sun, are now fragmented and embellished, a hellish by-product of small town whispers.

My sister told me – about the hand-prints, the berry coloured bruises, the book that had been bleached in the sun – and how they weren’t sure who this mystery man was. I had been sitting in the conservatory reading when she burst through the door with the not-so-secret secret of her short, miserable life. Details tripped off of her young tongue and burst in the air, excited bubbles of misinformed joy. If my sister had seen the body, looked upon its face and likened it to someone she once knew, I was sure that the ecstatic nature of her gossip-mongering would fade into irreconcilable grief. Dead bodies were always exciting, unless you knew the sound of it’s voice.

The sun was rising high over the candy coloured houses of our little coastal town and in the streets, still the people hollered. I eventually shooed my sister away, a poisonous ball of anxious thought beginning to roll around in my stomach, shooting acid up into my mouth. When she was gone I went to the window, setting my book down on the ledge. I opened the single paned doors and stepped out onto the balcony where smoke was blooming low on the horizon. They planned to burn it; the body. And something about that didn’t sit quite right with me. I walked down the steps that led from the conservatory balcony to the pebble dashed streets below. It was warm and bright.

As I walked I wondered if he had known that he would die the day he had met his killer. At one point they had been on the beach together, throwing stones at the shore and talking, maybe even laughing if either of them cared to remember the sound of such joy. They had been reading together, talking about the book that had been found beside him as hours melted into memory and trickled down their throats like bitter lemon. And had he known, the first day that the dead man had been introduced to his killer, that that person would be the one to end his life? Had he dreamed of marriage and children, a white picket fence and dog named Dusty running and up and down the garden whilst his killer smoked on the decking and their children played along side the mottled hound? Had his dreams held water or leaked pus? I reached the beach and found the fire.

My heart was beating stoically in my chest. I had ran most of the way without even noticing, the spaces between my feet defying gravity with each slender stride and for a moment the sky swallowed the horizon. Then the hill dropped and the beach stretched out beneath me like a strip of shaven skin, bare and blistered. In the centred of this, a pestilent boil churned black smoke into the air. They had tied the body to a pyre and it had been burning for some time, the body already black and crumbling. I walked slowly down to the beach, trying to ignore the faces of those who had eyes to see what I was doing there.

I watched as the flames curled around him, licking at his hands and flitting lightly across his face. Could he feel it, somewhere, wherever his conscious mind found rest? A small part me hoped he could. His fingers began to twitch then, his head lolling to one side. I realised what was happening now, and by the sound of a thousand breaths escaping two thousand lungs, I assumed the crowd had caught on too. The dead man burning on the pyre was waking up. And when his eyes opened, they found mine in an instant. And the dead man smiled.

I went to him, stepped up onto the pyre and took his hand in mine. He was speaking but I couldn’t hear him. The flames stole his breath before it had a chance to mould itself into coherent words. But I knew what he was saying as he took me in his arms and pulled me into his bony chest, engulfing me in flames that I couldn’t feel. The crowd was now silent, the breeze and the beach, all without form or texture. Inside the fire I could feel nothing but his body and his presence, my own frantic heart drowned out the whooping beat of flame against flesh. I put my head against his chest and cried as the fire grew higher and masked our bodies. It didn’t hurt, not in the way it was supposed too.

When the flames died down they would find the ashes of two bodies, one living and one dead, by all accounts, but both very much united in their knowledge of each others demise. My sister didn’t need to tell me that morning about the details of the dead body on the beach, because I had been there when it became what it was when it was found and those tiny hand-prints the colour of summer juice trickling down a child’s chin; were mine. Fire to ashes, trust to dust.

When I Dream of Buttermilk

It’s one of those days when the air just isn’t moving and it sits in my mouth and lungs like ash. I can smell the dirt and the tobacco on my hands as I wipe the sweat out of my eyes and make my way through the crowd. You’re not looking at me because you never do and I’m looking at you because I always do. And I wonder how you’re not clawing your beard off in this heat, effortlessly cool in every possible sense of the word as you sip a warm beer and laugh like a lunatic. People are melting out at your feet. I’m just melting.

She creeps up behind me and asks in her own flamboyant screech if I would like a drink. I see what you’re drinking. I tell her the name of the beer and she scurries off, eager to please me for reasons beyond my own comprehension. She returns and hands me a lukewarm beer that tastes like old milk and I wince as I take the first sip. She asks me why on earth I would want to drink that stuff and I shrug it off, not content to tell her that it’s because it’s what you’re drinking and that it’s probably the closest I’m ever going to come to knowing what your mouth tastes like.

I look at my battered boots and smile, my hair falling in front of my eyes. I look as insane as I feel. Because here they are, suited and booted and dressed to the nines, in their sling backs and halters, all bare skin and radiance and here I am in a sleeveless R.E.M shirt, black jeans and the same dusty boots I’ve kicked the ground with for most of my life. I’m a shadow in a room full of stardust and it’s no wonder you’ve never noticed me lurking in your peripheral. I take another sip of the awful beer as she slinks away to go irritate some other poor bastard with her own desperate sense of companionship.

Everything’s hitting me in monotones and monochromes, a sea of nude fabrics and sterile music thumping through the air like an infected tooth. A woman pushes her ample chest against yours, standing on her tiptoes to whisper something in your ear. Your hand, the tattoo on the back of it crystal in my eyes even from this distance, presses against her lower back and she wafts back down to her normal height, looking at you with expectant eyes that beg you to laugh or nod or shake your head. Instead you look up and through the sea of faceless people in nameless gowns, your eyes find mine.

It’s your turn to whisper and as your hand leaves the woman’s back, violent ripples of gooseflesh break out all over my body. Your eyes are still on mine, those dauntingly dark eyes and as you make your way through the ebb and flow of desperate creatures in dainty gowns, all the blood rushes out of my body and hits my cheeks. My face is on fire by the time our toes touch. It’s like I’ve being queuing for a roller coaster nine hours of my day and when the time comes to get on and buckle up, I want to run. And that’s just what I do.

I run. Through the crowds and out into the blistering heat of the day. The sun hits me like an open palm and I gasp in the dusty air, doubled over with my cold fingers biting into my shaking knees. A few moments later, silence fills the air. You haven’t followed me. I wait for my heart to climb back down from the roof of my ribcage and when it is safely beating at a steady pace, I begin to make my way through the ruins of what was once a car park. Where I’ll go, I don’t know but I know one thing is for sure – I will never come back to this place again.

On the other side of the car park I hear my name, whispered in buttermilk. My heart loses it’s mind again and begins flickering about the place, a manic moth caught in its own dead lights. You say my name again and my shoulders slump, ready to swoon, but I don’t. I hold my shivering right hand out in front of me palm down and force it to still. Then, methodically, as if reciting some sacred incantation, I turn my hand palm up and slap myself across the face hard enough to draw blood. My cheek stings and the corners of my eyes begin to run with hot tears. I run my quivering tongue over the torn groove in my bottom lip and laugh.

You say my name again, and this time, I wake up.

When I Dream of Fire

It was dark and the house had no windows. Whether day light prevailed beyond the mortar that surrounded me I have no idea, but in the back of my mind I hoped it did. There was a rectangular glass case in front of my on a platform. As I approached it, the tank filled with water. I took a few steps back and inch by inch the water evaporated from the tank. I took a few steps forward and it returned, not falling from the ceiling or rising from the tank, but materialising as if from nothing.

With my nose practically touching the cool moist glass a key manifested within the water. It was larger than a normal key but no more ornate. As I watched it, it seemed to stand up, lifting itself with the help of the weightless water, until it stood on its narrow tip, the dull head now level with my eyes. The glass of the tank began to bulge and break, the water remaining shapeless and still.

As I brought my hand up to touch the glass the door behind me opened with a creak. I didn’t turn to see who it was. I couldn’t turn. The key was looking at me, begging me with all its heart to take it with me and not leave it trapped in the tank. My fingers grazed the glass,

“I wouldn’t do that. Not if you value that hand” The sound of his voice broke me and I fell to my knees. My eyes trained on the wooden floor below me, my finger tips digging into the soft, untreated oak. Tears started to speckle my view. I pulled my tired eyes from the floor and the tank was gone. The door behind me was closed. I felt as though the blood had stopped moving in my veins and the rhythm of my heart had been knocked off tempo.

I rose slowly, my ankles clicking. How long had I been on the floor? When I turned the door was still closed, its silence mocking me in the dark, damp room. I placed my hand tentatively on the handle, wincing slightly as if it were to burn. It didn’t burn. It levered evenly with a squeak and opened onto more darkness. I have never been afraid of the dark, but ran my entire life from the light. I slunk into the safety of the shadows, letting the door click closed behind me.

I could sense him everywhere. I could smell his body, the sweet, stale aroma of his sweat. I could hear his laugh, the beautiful sound of utter desperation masked with the bitter honesty of his smile. I saw his eyes in every nook of the corridor, glimmers of green and gold danced along the surface of the otherwise dull walls. Footsteps echoed and they were not my own, but for what felt like miles only the dimly corridor spanned my eye line.

Then a break in the hostile nothingness. An arch, not a doorway, now stood before me and resonating from beyond that arch way, a calm orange glow. As I drew closer to the arch way a burden of warmth engulfed my chest and tears once again broke out on my cold face. If I had tried to stop them, which I didn’t, I am sure I would have felt physical pain.

With one hand placed on each side of the arch way I hung my head and breathed from knees. The tears stopped momentarily but my face was still damp with their ghost as I stepped through the arch way. This room had a window but it was covered with boards, the ancestral slices of light cutting through the hot room and casting shadows upon the shadows.

A fire crackled neatly in the centre of the back wall. He was sitting with his body facing me but his head hung down as mine had been at the arch. I could feel his heart beat radiating through the room, clawing its way from the floor boards and up into my feet, then my legs and resting in my gut. The entire room smelt of him and as I searched for his face in the waltzing silhouettes the fire cast upon his body, I now saw that the fire did not glow orange, red or yellow, as one would suspect – but the palest shade of olive green and silken gold.

His face glanced up from the floor and his eyes met mine. He smiled and the whiteness of his teeth broke the air. We both knew our search had been killing us and the look in his eyes suggested that he was rather proud of the fact that once we had finished our hunt, we were both still breathing. He uncrossed his legs and stood, his boots in the fire. He held out his hand as one lock of thick hair wafted in front of his face.

When I Dream of Snakes

His hair was thick and rough with an earthy scent that hung in my nose and smothered his presence. The smell of sweat. The smell of stress. I had emailed the video off that morning, unbeknownst to him and there was nothing he could do to undo what I had already done. It would be there waiting in the inbox the following morning, a blinking envelope of pixels and promise waiting to be unearthed by an uninterested clerk with sleepy eyes.

And it would be going to the tribunal. Any day now I would be called before a jury of my peers, people who didn’t like me a whole hell of a lot and then the discussion would commence. The decisions about my future at the institution would be divvied up between a group of human beings, in the loosest sense of the word, that would come to convince old men who had never met me, and probably never would, that I was a bad person, a person deserving of punishment of the gravest degree.

I looked down at him chewing on his bottom lip, his face washed out by the grey green colour of his computer screen. He looked more worried than I did. I kissed the top of his head and wrapped my arms around his neck. Silence befell us.  We said nothing because there was nothing left to say, nowhere left to go and nothing left to do.

I turned to leave the small book lined room that among the scent of sweat and worry, was laced with the antiquated spice of old paper and forgotten fables. It smelled like home to me. As I left he reached out for my hand and I allowed him to take it, hold it and squeeze it ever so slightly, a reassuring glimmer in an otherwise grease stained evening. I allowed him to take my hand even if  I wouldn’t allow him anything else – even the chance to save me.

He told me that he was raised was snakes and that no two were ever the same. He told me that he could teach me this, this snake like demeanor, his eyes wide and alive and blue with want. I told him I was raised by wolves and that there was nothing waiting for me in those hallowed halls that I couldn’t defeat, nothing I would come up against that I could not beat. I didn’t believe my own words. I don’t think he did either.

And as he watched me leave I could have sworn I felt his heart break in perfect time with mine.