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Dying with every breath

The waning heartbeat

By Véronique Racine Published 3 months ago 17 min read

The outside world was unknown to her, but she could see a glimpse of it through the window in his room.

She hated it. The outside world was full of colors and movements, a kaleidoscope that made her feel dizzy and very nervous. So much better to stay where it was quiet, and safe, away from the infernal bustle.

Yet it wasn't her choice, now was it?

She was mandated to visit him every day after work, and if she failed her duty, there would be consequences. There were always consequences to disobeying the orders emitted by the Higher Powers.

Not that he was in any way unpleasant, he would always chat with enthusiasm, look pleased with anything she would tell him about her day, as though every detail was vital.

But she had to stare at him, and behind him was the window... the last thing she wanted to see. It made her nervous, why was it even there? No other window opened to greens, to yellows, reds and blues, the whole world was gray and black, the land of shadows, so why was this different?

But she didn't want to ask questions about it. Because he only answered with questions of his own, more questions, and more, that made her a bit dizzy. She didn't like questions, she didn't want to disturb anyone, she was always more quiet than everyone else.

" What do you think about the new water restrictions measures? " he asked, looking at his notes.

As she failed to answer right away, he glanced up and noticed that she had become mesmerized by the window, or rather what lay beyond.

" What do you see right now, can you tell me? " he asked in a faint whisper. Or was his voice normal, and she could only hear a whisper?

All she heard was the ringing , the headache threatening to overcome her, the flash of light... it hurt her eyes, she needed the darkness, it hurt too much...

It's a blur, too many colors, I can't see... someone is laughing, but I don't know why, I feel like laughing too, but it's too fast, I'm not feeling too good, I want it to stop, but it's just going faster and faster... "

" Leithe, listen to me now, don't run away, face the light, see what is beyond, " he instructed, exactly what she feared he would say.

" No I need to go now, before- " she cringed at the thought of what would happen next. The lightning, the pain, she had to get away from the window.

" Look out, Leithe, please look out, don't shut your eyes, open them, please open them, "

The moment passed, the racing heartbeat waned and she glanced at the man with puzzlement. " Forgive me I don't know what happened, "

He merely smiled at her, looking calm and composed as always. Had she imagined his urgent whisperings? Was she losing her mind?

Everyone else seemed to think so...

" Of course, " he said pleasantly. " You can return to your room and finish your day now. Thank you for this progress report, "

As always, she wondered what was the point of these daily interviews, but questioning was not a good idea.

She was still bothered by the images that wouldn't leave her mind, those flashes of color that had no place in her world. Everything was black and white, with all the shades of gray unimaginable, and that was the way she liked it, the way she felt safe.

The hallways echoed tinnily as she made her way to her dwelling, a faceless door in the gray wall. She didn't have much in this world, but she loved her every possession, like tiny trophies to remember her by.

Her lodging was her safe place, her haven, so the breath was knocked out of her when she saw two men inside, picking apart her bedframe and mattress.

She wasn't an aggressive person, she preferred to avoid confrontation whenever given a chance, but this was beyond reason.

"What are you doing here?" she accused after a squeak of fear.

"Orders, miss. Sorry about that. Bedframes and mattresses are no longer allowed in this district. They have been deemed damageable to the continuation by the Higher Powers. I suggest you take it up with your representative if you think this was a mistake or you want to protest the Higher Powers' decree. "

One of the men, the talkative one, pulled out one of the formal papers, the ink still fresh upon it. Leithe tried to read it, but she had always had trouble with letters, it didn't seem to make much sense. But she recognized the Higher Powers seal, which could only mean it was official.

"Ok then, " she said in a small voice, going to sit against the wall while they finished their work.

"Lots of changes these days, " the talkative man said. " Loss of power in some regions, short-outs, there's a lot to deal with, some people have lost everything. You're actually very lucky. "

"Yes I am, " she agreed, wishing the tears weren't threatening to spill out.

Who could dare challenge the Higher Powers' judgement in these matters? They took care of the whole, only they knew what measures were needed to ensure the continuation of life.

But she loved her bed, she loved the comfort it brought her... and she was losing a part of her soul, it seemed, as they brought it out, leaving the room horribly empty and bare.

She gathered her quilt and pillow and tried to find a comfortable spot to sleep in. Could the Higher Powers hear her cry? Some thought nothing escaped them. Would they be angry she was sad at her loss?

But it seemed every week something happened to take away what little she had in this world, what tiny object she had made hers, and gave her a sense of belonging...

Her dreams were never very restful, probably because of that window overdose every day, but even if it wasn't in her mind night digressions, she would always hear someone stifling sobs, whispering a name, the words soft but echoing in her mind until they shook her to the very core.

"I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry, Marie. "

Sometimes the voice seemed so close it was as though he was whispering into her ear, other times, much farther away... but lately, the voice was always on her ear, so much so she could feel the breath on her ear and hair.

"Come back, Marie, please come back, "

She woke up with a start, her quilt wrapped around her to the point of choking, as she had tossed and turned all night.

No one around, and the lights buzzed on weakly, showing the extent of the damage to the power system. Would things ever get better?

The food at the cafeteria was bland and tasteless as usual, but she wasn't satiated by it as she usually was. Did anyone else feel the same, different somehow?

She wanted to ask someone, anyone, but it wasn't really in her habits to be social, and everyone else was talking to a friend, looking blissfully unaware that anything out of the ordinary was going on.

So it was probably only in her head; it wasn't like it was the first time.

The last thing she wanted was to stand out and draw attention to herself.

She finished her meal and went to her job, in her small cubicle.

Connecting synaptic responses to the grid could have seemed like a routine, mundane, unimportant job but she knew how vital it was so the whole would keep on. The Higher Powers were dependent on each of them to do a thorough job, and she had never had anything other than an impeccable record.

Her job was quiet and almost solemn, following the demands and addressing every new connection to the right synaptic circuit. Routine work that didn't demand too much attention and allowed her to think... but today she didn't feel like thinking about anything.

It seemed the voice in her dreams was always with her, and one second of inattention brought it back full force. But why was it hounding her, why wouldn't it leave her mind?

The colors from the window flashed before her eyes and she put the connecting rod in a bit roughly... with unhealthy results.

The wall, all connectors and flashing black and white lights, started shuddering under her horrified gaze. She reacted as swiftly as she could, thinking she had placed the connector in the wrong outlet, and out of the connector came a sort of liquid. The whole wall seemed to be sweating, quavering, as though ready to blow. The liquid turned red, and she knew it was a big problem, but she did not even have the time to call out for help that there was a flash of light. And all turned dark.

The emergency team was immediately alerted and arrived before she could sputter in fear. They rushed her out of the room and ignored her as she hovered around, feeling horribly guilty.

"It's dead, another one, " she heard one of the team members saying.

"Fired up synapses, ain't worth a damn, giving up all over the place, " the team leader grunted.

"Excuse me, what's gonna happen now? What should I do? This was my work station, "

"Nothing you could have done, it can't last much longer now, " the team leader assured her.

" But what will I do now? "

" I am sure the Higher Powers will relocate you, but this area is off-limits. Dead, gone for good, "

She watched them seal off her cubicle, her work station, what had been her whole life, her sole purpose, it seemed, for so long. And now gone.

He was waiting for her at the end of the day; he knew, she was sure he knew. He knew everything that happened to her, every last detail of her life. She sat down, feeling uncomfortable, not knowing what to tell him, how to defend herself, how to say anything.

" How are you today, Leithe? " he asked, looking up from his notes for a moment, as she wasn't saying anything.

" I'm okay I guess, " she said uncomfortably. He had to know, he knew everything...

" I heard there was some trouble today, ' he said, glancing up again.

" Not my fault, " she countered. " A short-out, they are very common these days, "

" I never said it was your fault, why would you think that? Did you feel accused? Do you feel responsible in any way? That station was your whole life, wasn't it? "

" I did my best, I wasn't distracted, I didn't do anything wrong, " she insisted.

" Ok, of course... But let' s say you had? Made a mistake? What would you expect? "

" Expect? " she repeated with near horror. Just the thought of being responsible for some harm was enough to paralyze her.

" Would you expect to be reprimanded? And if you were, how would that make you feel? "

" There is no place for mistakes here, every thing has a place and every place needs to be tended adequately, or the whole ensemble crumbles. That's the Higher Powers' decree. "

" Guidelines, " he dismissed. " What do you fear most, about making a mistake? "

" I didn't make any mistake, I don' t see why you're saying- "

" Hypothetical, only, be calm, no one is accusing you of anything, " he said appeasingly.

" There is no coming back from mistakes, you always pay for them. That is the way of the world, nothing can change that. That's why you don't make mistakes, you are always careful, you don't want to hurt anyone and you will. You will if you are not careful. "

He looked at her with an intensity that was a little creepy to her. Or maybe it was the way she had just spoken her mind out, for once unfiltered, saying how she really felt.

No forgiving, no forgetting. Mistakes would haunt those who made them forever.

" Do you know what I do? " he asked her.

The question took her by complete surprise. She ahd never really thought about it. When had he appeared in her life, the daily visits to his office, with the one disturbing window... She couldn't even remember.

" I think you oversee workers for the Higher Powers, " she answered finally.

" Perhaps close enough, but not quite. I evaluate psychological responses, trying to determine if feelings affect responses to treatments even in comatose state. "

" Uhm, " she said, wishing she had a dictionary to understand what that meant.

" Can I tell you a story? I have a patient, she is 23 years old. Has been in a coma for three years. We are trying an experimental drug on her that has shown excellent results on other patients. "

" Congratulations, " she whispered, not knowing what else to say. What did he want from her?

" Not really, no. I think we made a mistake, because she is not reacting positively at all. Showing no sign of improvement and in fatc, her condition is degrading. She's... dying with every heartbeat. And it's my fault. "

" Why is it your fault? " she asked with some interest. So strange to admit to a fault with such calm...

" Some say I administered the wrong dosage. Some say I didn't consult her medical history closely enough and my treatment is causing an allergic reaction, causing a systematic system shutdown. But I don't think so."

" Why not? "

" Because I know recovery is also based on the patient itself, and the mind affects the matter, even in comatose state, especially in comatose state. " he looked at her directly in the eyes again and she felt the impact of that stare. Almost a direct accusation, why did she feel targeted?

" She does not want to heal. She wants to stay in her mind, where she feels safe. She wants the mistake of her brother to haunt him his whole life. She wants to make others suffer as she has suffered. And that is why she stays in the darkness and does not embrace the light. "

" How- how can you know this? " she queried, her voice quavering.

" I have observed her long enough. It's not malice, but it is close enough. Sometimes resentment can take ahold of us to the point where we are willing to compromise our existence, just to poison the life of others. "

The window was showing the images she hated the most, speed and movement, and the lightning that hurt the eyes so much.

But she didn't want to see, or feel the breath on her ear. Mistakes were mistakes, and you had to pay for them, no matter what.

" So what will you do? How will you save her? " she put to him.

" I have come to the point where I understood I can't. She must decide by herself. She must want to save herself, I can't do it for her, I cannot save her against her will. "

" What will you do? "

He closed his notebook and smiled as he got up. " I will give her what she wants. I will leave her in the darkness of her own mind, with only her demons to keep her company, those that make her life hell, her Higher Powers, she can't realize it is only herself. So I will stop fighting a losing battle. "

" What will that change- " she asked, but before she could finish her phrase, the room turned dark. Not completely dark, the window was still there, the only source of light. Everything else was gone.

Her breath was cut short, no light but the hated one, no heat, everything was turning cold... she wanted to move but she couldn't, she was too scared to put one feet forward... was there a floor for her to walk on?

What was real anyway, what was true, how could they have left her alone like this?

She didn't know how long she stayed prostrated, incapable of doing anything else than closing her eyes and hoping everything would go away.

But the window stayed.

Unmoving, untouchable, the beacon, the one thing that disturbed the peace. She dragged herself towards it and forced herself to look straight into it. No more cringing, no more avoiding, she took a strengthening breath and stare right through.

Cars , buildings, people, a light snow falling, night settling down. Two young adults walking, one staggering and laughing, the other sighing in annoyance, heading for a car that was still running.

The boy was giggling almost hysterically, barely capable of staying on his feet while the girl seemed in a hurry to be somewhere else, anywhere else." " You are not driving, don't even try, you are more than drunk, you are lucky Mom told me to pick you up. "

" Sure sure sure sure but I drive better than you with my eyes closed, " he chuckled.

" You drive with a blindfold, I know, you have no brain, " she shot back.

" Over-achi-ever! Mommy's girl! Teacher's pet!" the boy started scanding, earning him a mock hit that was close to being real.

" Get in and shut up! I have things to do, "

He grumbled under his breath. " Right study and become this big smart girl, bravo bravo, " he said mockingly.

" You are such a jerk, ' she sighed.

Getting his seatbelt on was a torture and the girl was getting on edge as she started the car and started driving slowly on the icy roads.

" Grandma drives better than you do, " the boy said sullenly after a short while.

" Just shut up, will you? Let me drive! "

" Whoo whooo whooo, watch out for the cops, they gonna come get us and you won't get your PhD... bad girl bad girl whaddaya gonna do? "

" Idiot, " she seethed through her teeth. The booze talking, but... he always talked like this anyway. Other cars coming in the opposite lanes and she reduced speed a little bit, so as to follow road rules.

" Not feeling too good, pull over, " the boy said, sounding nauseous.

" No. no. not now come on! " she said in frustration.

He started heaving and struggled against the door to try to open it while they were rolling. Seeing as this wasn't working, he turned to her and tried to get to her door, sprawling all over her and making her scream and jerk the wheel...

And there was light and lightning and screeches and pain.

The voice was in her ear again, tears falling on the bedsheet and her arm. " I'm so sorry Marie, I'm so sorry. "

She could almost lift her eyelids and see the sanitized room, her brother, a nurse, and the doctor in charge... in charge of the window.

One more effort, open those eyes once and for all...

Towards the light... fight the darkness.

Her fingers twitched slightly, feeling the outline of her brother's hand... or the windowsill.

One hand was weak and powerless, barely able to feel what it touched, the other had all the power.

Leithe made a fist around the sill and ripped the window apart, destroying the access to the light, making it fade away for good.

The last sound she heard was an annoying ringtone... and then...

Blissful silence.

Short Story

About the Creator

Véronique Racine

I am a hobby writer who adores science fiction and intelligent characters and storylines!

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Comments (3)

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  • Andrei Z.2 months ago

    Somewhat sad but engaging piece 👍

  • Derek3 months ago

    I wonder if I am sleeping, would that make you a nightmare or a dream?

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