Another time. Another place.
A forest, rushing by like the sea. Eternal. Implacable. Solid.
And creatures, weaving within the green as it grays, dissolving to dust, belying its power. Four blurs of grey, white, and black motion, leaping ahead of the destruction, fleeing the stone and ash that threatens to overtake them.
Fleeing into the consuming morning mist.
Justin awoke, sweating. Keeping his eyes closed, trying to hold sleep in his grasp, he fumbled in the darkness for the pills on the bedstead. Sleeping pills—to keep him in a calm, catatonic state for the dark hours of the day.
He missed and the bottle, its lid half open, fell to the floor and spilled. Reluctantly, Justin opened his eyes. Warm orange light from the street-lights was squeezing between his closed shades, giving the room a timeless feel.
Justin sat up, swinging his legs to the ground. He didn’t have enough will to move any further.
After a few minutes of silence, he reached down and grabbed a pair of the flat white pills. He swallowed them and lay back. Despite the winter and the fact that the heat was off, he felt warm, so the heavy covers stayed where they were, bunched up at the end of the bed.
He felt the medicine taking hold. It was no better than his conditions. It, too, took away his body from him and forced his mind into submission. But there was no other way.
He closed his eyes again, feeling the breeze from the cracked-open window wash over his face. And he slept.
When he awoke again, light, cold sunlight, was streaming into his room. He dressed, pulling on his jeans and sweatshirt. Justing muttered a word his mother would have rather him not used as he tripped on the last stair, stubbing his cold toe.
He forced himself to ignore the pain. Pain was a part of life—and his mind should be able to control it. But, as it was proven nearly every day of his life, his mind was not all-powerful, not even over his own body.
I wonder if the great sages ever had OCD? He smiled at the thought of some infinitely wise and pompous priest suddenly breaking out in a fit. It was only funny if it happened to other people.
Tiptoeing over the cold tiles of the kitchen, he poured a glass of juice, ate a cold piece of bread, and slipped on his shoes.
Justin locked the door on his way out. His mother would be sleeping.
Fire. There is fire. Pouring down the street, driving away the cold, dissolving the white snow. The fortress, the building, falls, sparks leaping from its charred wooden corpse to the grey sky to be snuffed out only moments later.
There is blackness. Smoke. But no death.
Justin jerked his head up. He was sitting on the curb, his back to the stop sign. His sweatshirt, drawn tight around him, was too hot. He must have dozed off.
He could see the yellow school bus rounding the corner to pick him up. He was the only one on this street. So he spent his mornings waiting alone.
Boarding the bus and taking a seat as the old vehicle lurched onwards, Justin pulled his hood up, inserting his earbuds, drowning out the world.
“Fire…” the artist crooned. And Justin smelled smoke.
He leaned toward the flat window, trying to see where the acrid scent was coming from. A pillar of dark, oily smoke, just over the treeline, was in view. The school bus sped up and rounded the final corner to the high school.
The high school that was burning.
Justin pulled out his earbuds to hear the roar of flames, the screams of the girls, the expletives of the boys.
He pressed his face against the window, smashing his nose like he used to do, before he grew up. When he was young.
He watched the flames with a mixture of horror and wonder. There are three things that a man can watch forever. A roaring fire, falling water…and another thing he didn’t want to think about.
The driver pulled the bud to the opposite side of the street, far from the flames. The students, rushing for the exit, piled out, tripping and pushing. But they were strangely silent.
Another bus, empty, was in danger of being a burned out hulk of metal. Gasoline gushed from its fractured side. Fire caught it, making a blazing trail through the gray slush of the parking lot.
And Justin, at the back of the group, remembered.
Fire. Pouring down the street, driving away the cold, dissolving the white snow…the building falls, sparks leaping from its charred wooden corpse…
He felt the blackout coming, felt the seizure growing in his muscles. Justin quietly slipped further back and sat on the ground, waiting for it to come.