Forward – a short story

The smell of the room was a physical presence. Lingering. Not unpleasant or harsh, just there. His senses cataloged the room. Slowly. In no hurry. The darkened corners were known to him more intimately than the skin that lined his weathered face. The glow of a dying sun played a blood-red symphony across the wall giving a ghoulish hue to the place that had always held such familiarity. Now almost alien. Not quite real. But, in ways, more real than he had ever imagined it could be.

It had come to this. A slight tremor rocked his body, breaking the bone-straight line of his harsh stance. Imperceptible. Finger tips gently brushed aged furniture, eyes flickering, feeling more than seeing. The mustiness and familiarity mingled in stirring memories. Gently roving through the room he paused momentarily before moving on, like a tortured ghost forbidden to rest. Bracing himself, he stepped back. Ready now to accept it. All of it. As he never had. The stance of his feet widened in preparation for the assault. Calmly, resignedly, he opened his mind to the sum total of it all. The pain exploded through his body. Nauseous waves of tendon-ripping, nail-tearing, eye lid-searing agony. His stony features betrayed no sign of the torture inside save only for an infinitesimal tightening of the skin at his temples. The flat unbending features accepted the assault and held. Pinpoints of light danced before his eyes like the explosions of dying stars leaving a deeper gloom in their wake. As the tide of pain ebbed from his body, his sight remained dark before he realized that he stood in blackness. The feeble rays of the sun had long ago given up the fight and left the room in bone-chilling darkness. Even in this void, he could pick out every detail. The experience of years had etched every inch of the room into his soul. The flooding pain was now just another memory, one to be added to this place.

Turning, he pulled the door open. Not swiftly, but with a finality that spoke more than words. Freezing rain slanted down out of a dead sky finding the open neck of his shirt, cutting the skin, and running in icy fingers down his chest. Nothing stirred in his flat, blue eyes; their cold intensity matched only by the arctic night before them. The click of the lock in the latch of the closing door resonated with shocking intensity, carrying with it some deadly echo of finality. For an instant, he paused; he was alive in that moment as he never had been before. The impassive lines of his face held a touch of lingering happiness mixed with heartbreak and infinite bitterness. He stepped out into the blackness. He did not look back.

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