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A Credencium story
Kaolin Imago Fire
Start at the beginning of the Credencium series
Joshua focused on the wall in front of him. It was anything but interesting, but that was half of its appeal. He counted the pores in a square inch of grout; looked for insects; counted how many times the lights flickered in a minute, and used that to estimate five minutes, and then ten. He studiously avoided thinking about what would happen tomorrow, refused to believe that Simon's glamour, or whatever it was, could hold all the way through. What would they do then, arrest him for trespassing? Wrong place, wrong time? With his luck, they'd arrest him for impersonating a drug dealer, however that would work out.
His cellmate had finally passed out, at least, after gibbering senselessly for two hours. Joshua had tried to make sense of it for the first hundred light-flickers, then decided that not all crazy was tied together. Something, though, kept him from the comforting abyss of sleep. Something was gnawing at him, an irritation just under the skin—and it wasn't just "the unfairness of it all." He'd long gotten over that, even if it was just pile after pile of bullshit he kept stepping in. He should just be more careful where he stepped, right? It just seemed like every time he looked up, every time he thought he might be able to enjoy the scenery, someone went and put a huge steaming pile right where he was bound to step.
The worst part was that he kept thinking of roses, while inhaling deeply the ripe, noxious stench of shit. He was so deep in it, his lungs were probably coated. He wondered if his eyes were changing color to a deeper brown to match, then tried to remember the last time he'd seen himself in a proper mirror. There were windows up and down the Ave., but he hadn't looked into his own eyes in a very long time. He almost didn't want to know what he'd seen there. What had burrowed its way in? Belief? Fear? Insanity?
"Dream..." the old man across from him mumbled around his dreadlocks. The man's head snapped up, hit the wall, and fluttered back down, moaning lightly.
Dreamer, yeah. Like he was the butt of some Zen proverb, or stuck in a Coil song. He almost missed the long, drawn-out screaming matches with his dad; the same old, endless routines. He wanted to wake up from this nightmare, and try something else. In a multiverse, he could just walk into the quantum state he wanted, right? That didn't seem to be how all this worked...if it worked at all. What the hell was he doing in jail? And what was happening to Phoenix—Ashes?
"Rats and mazes, screaming.... Nobody looks at the sun. Here...." His cellmate was pushing himself up, if anything ever more disconnectedly than before. The old man's left arm jumped like it was being shocked.
"You okay, man? Should I, like, call for help or something?"
"Ain't nobody help you but me, boy." The man coughed, caught himself, then nearly fell over with a fit half-tempered with laughter. "Boy. You should see the look on your face." The timbre of the voice softened. "This hangover's not easy. Man needs to drink more."
Joshua got up and walked towards him, carefully. "Cerb?"
The man's eyes flared, white and milky, but bloodshot all the same. "What you think Cerb be doing here? You don't be making no deals with them, yeah?"
"Right in two, boy." Laughter ripped through the old man's throat, rough and raw, and quickly turned to more coughing.
"What the hell is going on?"
"We're getting you out of here. Time to teach you something real."
"Real? What do you mean, real?"
"Stop asking questions and listen. Listen and feel. Feel and believe. Feel and breathe. God, I want some weed. Hard to think in here.... Just have to think outside. Think. Close your eyes."
"Stop asking questions. Listen. Feel. Believe. Okay, close your eyes."
Joshua listened: the light flickered with a faint buzz; a car drove by outside; sirens wailed far away. He felt the cold of the cell in his chest, in his skin. He felt the hair of his arms and back reach up into the cold, trapping air. He felt the building shaking ever-so-slightly from the wind outside. He stared at the man across from him. Whatever else was happening, she had come for him. Again. The man's face burned into his mind, swimming between the man he saw and the girl he knew was in there.
"Close your eyes."
He closed his eyes. The colors in his mind began to glow, the old man's eyes growing larger and brighter. Ashes' soul, her connection, her belief—filled the room. He could hear people talking outside, their voices dancing in the air: bursts of compression caressing, sliding, transmitting. So much information.... A bird's wings pushed it off the top of a roof, and it soared.... He breathed in, deep into his belly, felt his body warm the air, the air warm his body.
"Hold that breath, feel it circulate. Feel it breathe into you."
The breath burned, in his lungs, in his blood. In his arms, in his fingers. His heart pumped the oxygen around and around; his blood pulled more oxygen from his lungs, circling endlessly. He could feel the poisons mingling, building into a cacophany of fire inside him.
"Now, slowly, let it out. Let it fill the room. Spread your breath thin, leaving only a cold hazy memory of yourself—"
Sirens. Vibrations shaking his very essence. Gravity, something...throwing him back and forth. He was a cloud, a cold cloud ready to rain. Sparks shoot out, inside of him. Voices.... Screaming—urgent, but measured: just to be heard over the sirens. He sees...Ashes. No, the old man, an oxygen mask over his face. An EMT hovering over the old man, checking vitals.
Joshua gasped. Was Ashes—or did she—was he...?
The EMT looked up, straight at Joshua. A moment's confusion and concern flashed on his face, and was replaced by something deeper. "Breathe out!"
Joshua exhaled, head swimming, chest burning. Fear, fear and monsters, scrabbled into his mind. The EMT glanced back down at the old man, Joshua's intrusion forgotten.
Joshua was...nowhere...everywhere: flying above, tethered to the ambulance, in the storm that was about to break on the city. Exhaling, everything slowed, skipped, faded....
He floated like a balloon above the body as it was wheeled in, trying to find that edge of consciousness between where he was and where he wasn't. Lights skipped, voices garbled; the world went bright and dark.
He imagined. Reality and dream seemed too simple, too complex, too wondrous, so he imagined, and believed. The old man would be okay, had to be okay. Ashes wouldn't use someone and discard them, so the old man would be okay. Even if...even if he was supposed to have a heart-attack, or whatever had happened, he would be okay, because Ashes was there, and Joshua was there, so he would be okay.
A weight lifted from his chest. Air rushed into Joshua's starved lungs, and he staggered against the wall. An orderly stopped for a second to ask him if he was okay, but he just nodded and waved them on. He tried to breathe in again, and coughed, hard and wet.
He could feel a dozen people glaring at him, but he just shook his head. He would remember how to breathe, dammit. He would. If the world would just stop blinking—
Joshua took a deep breath, bracing against a cough that didn't come. He let the breath out and cautiously took another. The world faded in....
John Doe was sitting next to Spike, more agitated than Joshua had ever seen him. Spike simply glared at everyone who walked by, daring them to start something, daring them to let him start something.
He was struck by the incongruity of them sitting in a hospital lobby. Joshua looked around, but didn't see anyone else he knew.
Eventually, John Doe looked up at him, past him, then did a double-take. "Dreamer? Dreamer, what happened?"
Spike spun around. "Dreamer?"
"What do you mean? Didn't Ashes send you?"
John Doe shook his head, sadly. "We followed her here."
"Where is she, then? I followed her, too, but—"
"Where were you?" Spike's voice was oddly accusing.
"Didn't she tell you?"
"How would she know?"
"She—" Joshua lowered his voice, and leaned in, flinching when Spike's body tensed. "She busted me out. So what's she doing here, if—?"
John Doe nodded slowly. "We called 911, but they wouldn't let us in the ambulance. We followed her here on foot. She coded an hour or two ago, but we..."
Spike tried to fill the space. "She...."
Joshua looked from one to the other. "We've got to get her out of here."
Story and image by Kaolin Imago Fire, Copyright 2011