Inhale…

I wince as the eyes of strangers drive into my skin like shards of glass, their edges sharpened by ignorance and judgement. As the lights around me swell to a blinding size, I see their silhouettes creeping closer, staring, watching… The air around me sits silently as it waits, its impatience tying a relentless knot in my stomach, but I can’t seem to force my breath past my chest. So I join the waiting game.

Exhale…

The knot in my abdomen unwinds, leaving a looseness that doesn’t seem to pass. Not a relieving looseness, but one that brings a sort of weakness that sits in my stomach like a brick. Heavy. Painful. Callous. I feel my eyelids fall and force them open, only to find myself surrounded by water. Though the salt slashes at my eyes and blurs my vision I can just about make out the shadows of individuals. People in flowing coats and armed with strange instruments warped by the water. Afraid, I close my eyes once more. I am drowning.

Inhale…

The sharp stench of chemicals floods my lungs and corrodes my veins. I snap my eyes open to find myself no longer beneath an ocean; the only water that remains is the bitter dampness that pools beneath my eyes. The footsteps of the strangers resonate around me, through my ears and inside my head in synchrony to the sound of my heart beating inside my chest. Slow; calculated; vigilant… The closer they are the more they block the light, allowing me to focus on the room I am in. Everything around me is white: the walls, the tiles on the floor, even the garments I wear. My prison uniform. I am not sure what is more disorientating, the excessive brilliance or the chemical fumes that grow more potent with each step they take.

Exhale…

I can just about make out their faces now. They are vicious, scarred. One male, one female, both displaying expressions of inhumanity. Their vibrant green eyes glower down on me with abhorrence, for what reason I cannot recall. What harm have I brought upon these people? Behind them stand a pair of sentinels, weapons tucked beneath their arms and their sullen eyes trained directly on me. A glint of silver catches my eye, sharp and spiteful. I force my attention to divert back to the strangers closest to me to find that their concentration is elsewhere. In the man’s outstretched hand lies a syringe, its extended needle slender and sharp. Horror striking my stomach, I wince as a sheen of icy sweat singes my brow and stabs at my temples. The strangers leer down on me as they approach; the closer they come, the closer the needle comes to my skin, the sharper the stabbing of my temples becomes. I clench my fists, clamp my jaw, but nothing can suppress the agony. Nothing can cure pain that only exists in my mind.

Inhale…

Though I do not recall standing, I find myself forcing my way past the strangers with the needle. Despite my ears being rendered useless by the furious ring of adrenaline that echoes through them, I know that they are shouting. I can feel their bitter breath assault my skin, their rage pricking my spine. They are incensed. The feeling of nausea overwhelms me as a series of clicks pierce through the tolling in my ears. Guns. I snap my head up, directing my attention past the scientists surrounding me, and I wince as a garish red light burns into the corner of my eye. I find myself retreating towards the chair, my hands rising subconsciously, out of habit. Keeping my eyes trained cautiously on the sentinels, I feel my heart fall into the pit of my stomach as the cold hands of strangers grip my shoulders, their nails scratching through the material of my shirt. I make no effort to resist as they force me back into the rigid metal chair, this time keeping a firm hold on me to prevent another attempted escape. As the man grasps my arm with no apparent regard for my comfort, I hear my own voice scream inside my head. I tell myself to run, that even death would be preferable to whatever they plan to do to me, but I ignore my pleading. I have accepted defeat. The man’s grip on my arm tightens further as his accomplice approaches me with a glass spray bottle containing a transparent liquid. My heart racing inside my chest, I recoil in agony as she sprays the contents onto my forearm. Biting my tongue to stop myself from screaming out in pain, I clench my fist as my entire arm loses sensation momentarily before erupting into what feels like pins and needles jabbing at my skin. Fighting the temptation to break free from their grasp and run, I can do nothing but watch as the strangers take the syringe and fill it with a dark, viscous substance. It is only when it catches the light that I realise what colour it is: red. Not a bright red, but an ominous shade darker than crimson, more black than anything. Before I can so much as think about the identity of the substance, I find myself being secured forcefully in my seat as the man grabs hold of my stinging arm once more and buries the needle into my skin.

Exhale…

There is nothing I can do to suppress my scream this time. I feel as though a flare has been ignited inside of me, beginning at the point where the needle penetrated my skin and flowing through my veins like a bolt of electricity. My muscles thrown into panic by the fire that rages through me, I feel myself thrashing out of control. I gasp for breath, only to find myself fuelling the inferno with the contaminated oxygen. Everything around me, the strangers, the walls and the floor, all slip out of focus, hurling me into a world of nausea and agony. I blink furiously, forcing the tears out of me eyes, but the blur refuses to fade. I cry out once more as my head fills with piercing white noise, rendering me deaf, drilling into my brain with about as much force as the tranquilizer they used to bring me here. But there is no tranquillity here. Only chaos, agony. So much agony. Though I am partially aware of my surroundings I could swear that I am drowning in acid, that some kind of corrosive substance is eating away at my bones and consuming my lungs. With every harsh breath comes added desperation, an increased sense of hopelessness that slowly creeps to the front of my corroding brain. I am fading. Frantically searching for an anchor for my consciousness, I force my quaking hands before my eyes and allow my focus to shift past the film of blur. They are clammy, painted red with my own blood. A third scream rips from my chest as another stinging surge tears through me, transforming all of the veins inside me to lead. Before I know it I am surrounded by water again; every inch of my skin is inundated with sweat and the film of tears before my eyes has overflown, a pair of waterfalls cascading down my cheeks. An invisible force strikes my stomach: once, twice, three times, confiscating my ability to breathe. I am weak, but the violent protest of my muscles persists. With the wildfire still raging within me, I can barely feel my nails as they bury themselves into my thighs, desperately searching for something to latch on to. My veins are a forest of dark winter trees beneath my pallid skin; the darker they become, the more rooted the toxin becomes within me, the more I feel myself fading. I am sinking, sinking further and further out of my body, down into the burning blaze. I recoil in anguish as the flames lick my skin, harsh and invasive as the scientists themselves. My lungs clog with the dense, intangible smoke from the inferno, and as I begin to choke and splutter I can just about make out the distorted images of the scientists approaching, impartial expressions worn on their faces. It’s all over.

Inhale…

I flinch as something bitterly cold presses into my skin: the hand of a scientist. The iciness, to my surprise, brings with it a sense of relief. It extinguishes the fire, takes away the pain. But it takes something else too. I just can’t remember what.

Exhale…

I stand despite not having thought about it beforehand. I step forward though it is the last place I want to go. Like I am on strings.

Inhale…

Though my blackened veins have faded back to normal, I feel different. I am not alone.

Exhale…

He whispers. Though I want so desperately not to, I obey.

Inhale…

I am cold.

Exhale…

Inhale…

Exhale…

(September, 2015)