Untitled by Tarleton

Something cold.

Antoine was still as the heavy silence of the night pounded against his ears. No shadow stirred.

Something deep in the pit of his stomach, welling up and threatening to drag his heart down with it.

Antoine listened. His breath was still ragged. His heartbeats thumped and shuddered against his chest. Something cold reached down and laid its pointed claws upon his intestines. The concrete floor was striped with shades of gray, their angular forms assaulting his eyes from every direction. He buried his head in his arms to escape them.

They were angry. They, who were with him or not - he couldn't remember. He didn't dare to lift his head now, although it throbbed with the excess blood. They would feel hatred, annoyance, scorn for he who cried for his own sins.

They did not see the bruises flowering on his body. They did not feel the bones of the twice-shattered ankle renewing old arguments against each other. They had lapsed into brooding, wherever they were, and their sullenness was thick in the air. They were quiet, and ignored the small boy in the corner, devoured live by shame.

He had been stupid. Hideously stupid. Antoine rubbed his face against the scratchy sleeve of his sweater. He had forgotten so quickly everything safe. Enraged, he had not stopped to consider his situation. Now he was sure he would be discharged from service. He might never fly again. It had been so easy to fail.

The sweat of the back of his neck pricked his skin as the droplets cooled. Stupid! What had possessed him to fight? He could no more "fight" than a two year old child. Antoine knew that he was weak, and knew it would lead to conflicts. Conflicts he had to avoid if he wanted to survive. But this hadn't even been a confrontation - a mere accident, a careless push. Somebody else's fight. Something vital in his mind had snapped.

He could barely breathe with his face pressed up against the fabric. It smelled unappealingly of musk and jet fuel. At least he had been thoroughly beaten, as he deserved. Thrown twice, but he'd still hurt someone. His knuckles were scraped.

Clamping his eyes tight, he tried to imagine sleep, but his thoughts were flooded with the clamorous toppling of machinery. The metal screeched as it fell around him. A gaping hole opened in the hanger roof, the sky yawing like the mouth of a taunting demon.

One pale hand protruding from the wreckage. A faint cry, then silence.

Antoine gagged as the bile rose in his throat and something cold twisted, writhed, and bit the inside of his empty stomach. His hacking tore through the still air and he heaved again and again, but to no effect. Something cold coiled itself around his chest and lay there sluggishly.

Finally, it stopped and he leaned back against the wall. He tilted his head towards the ceiling and thought about spaces beyond, above and below the atmosphere. They would not be closed to him forever.

Then the heat running through his ears and cheeks, and with it the pathetic self-pitying misery. Antoine told himself he wasn't crying and clenched his jaw until it ached. As he watched the night again, it seemed to him that he was standing alone on the edge of it, with his frail body the only barrier between himself and the soft blanket of black.

The shadows began to dance around him and he watched their dull, random flickering. Something surprisingly warm took hold of his head and he sighed as all at once the fatigue rushed back into him. With a firm grip, unseen hands pushed Antoine's skull into the wall with such force that his breath left him and his sight faded.

Thank you, he thought as his body slumped against the wall. Before he fell unconscious, he drew his knees closer to his chest and shivered.

...so cold...

[fin]