Nothing burns like the cold.
The temperature seemed to decline the longer he traversed through the familiar streets, up the steps and another high door, painted in the obscure off orange and dark brown slashed together. Amen squared his shoulders, this would be it, the moment of truth. A pair of keys in hand, the moisture of the snow on his pants leg, the quivering in the small of his back.
The key met the insert of the lock perfectly, with a turn the successful pop sounded, but, strangely echoed against the hollow insides of the two story building. At first hesitant, as if there were eyes on his back watching him from a few miles away. Amen couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched, a reminder that increased his paranoia another ten or twelve fold.
Slowly he breathed out, another cloud of mist escaping from past those lips, a reminder of the cold. The door slowly slid open, and he was met with the empty hallway without windows or doors.
For the most part, his memory was serving him well, and, this safe house was relatively untouched past the other seven he checked beforehand.
Everything he meticulously put together, to make them, home or one of his possessions was altered. The doors never matched the carpet, or the ceilings were a level higher than what he visually remembered. Standing in this hallway he went over the size of the stark white walls, the concrete floor and the stair well at the end of the long hallway to his left. Amen closed his eyes, flashing lights reminded him of the very night, the rain, the cold.
“help me” she whispered past the crack of the door and he swept her in. The thunder clap of his boots stomping up the stairs, nearly breaking the door of his room off the hinges and the bathroom. She was fuller then, in her body, he could remember her weight, her hair against his biceps, her saline tears rolling down his chest as she whispered over and over again.
“thank you.” .. “I’m so sorry.”
Amen carried Cya over the threshold of the narrow bathroom. Amen craddled his little sister, bathed her in cleanliness the only way he knew how. He saved her from her illness and rung out the virus from her body the only way he thought possible.
On his knees he could feel the trail of tears rolling over his cheeks from his eyes. Amen fell forward, bracing the sudden weight with his palms against the concrete floor as he continued to cry. His hair falling down, tears of saline and the sudden memory of her death was overwhelming, paralyzing.
At first they were only tears, then the whimpering came, again and again he wailed a deep groan as the weight in his stomach tore him closer to the floor. Tear drops here and there followed gravity in the strict discipline, marched down over his eyelids and onto the concrete floor, those stray tears that were fortunate enough to pass were clinched tight, but refused to be ignored.
Across his face, across Amens mask he continued to weep. The man’s cries echoed through a memory he could never ever forget.
“I’ll help you,” he had promised, and promised, breaching the rim of the tub, he watched her breathe in. “I’m here– i’m yours and i’m helping.” She was cold on his skin, a shiver that rolled over his body. A cheek pressed flat against the floor, the concrete pillow had lulled him to sleep, and the fierce cold was his alarm clock.
The air had become thinner than he originally imagined, and despite the sudden motion sickness he had never felt before, he was back on his feet facing the white blanket of snow that freshly dusted the city streets facing the safe house. Amen took in a deep breathe, perhaps this sickness would pass, the sweating, the uneasy quivering unbalance on his feet.
“Damn it.” he murmurred, after a few moments performing the balancing act he sat back down,mesmerized by the landscape that continued to elapse as time progressed , the dust dropped, fading with their brothers along the vast expanse of slowly expanding city. The further his eyes followed the snow deeper into the center, the higher the mounds of white collected, leaving columns of city lights and buildings in the distance.
Everything in the distance paled away in the murk of white , the soft ash blew over the sharp edges of the buildings in loose swirls over the tops. He studied what he could see, the segments of the streets were washed out of any color, any movement, a thick slowly growing blanket of white. All of his sorrow had passed away into the faded saline of his tears that dried into a thin layer of frost beneath his tired eyes. Amen watched the ashen daylight solidify over the stretch of city as far as those buildings erected tall in the center.
He stole another moment, and brushed a few frosted tears from the corners of his eyes, swallowed hard and got to his feet. Approaching the once opened door, he took one long look over the vast white of wasteland before he shut the door. Amen locked the door with the turn of the brass knob, unlocked and then locked it again, he took the knob and rattled the door.
Locked, enforced, safe was debatable at this hour. When he got to the stairs, he could feel a sensation of ease warm over him like the first rays of sunlight peeling through a window at dawn. The steps were bare as he left them, abandoned and broken in by age. Two flights of stairs at this pace felt like an eternity as he ascended, heading towards the second floor apartment. His ascent lacked the rush, the sharp pinch of panic he had years ago,then, speed seemed to matter, even if their moments did not last forever.
The door on the two story safe house was closed. Just like he left it. To make it this far into the house did not warrant the need for another lock, he didn’t spend much time in this particular house for a reason. He swept open the door, the familiar scent nearly overwhelmed him , out of the far left corner of his eye he could spot the lined bottles of bleach beneath the sink in the bathroom, straight ahead another bedroom, and where he stood the living room.
Eriee how time fails to change things, even the abandoned newspaper lining the windows held strong by double-sided scotch tape. The discarded thin sheets of receipts were long faded, but, accounted for on the coffee table. In the carpet, telling spots of bleach seared the carpet in the off yellow chemical burn, dry at the touch and forever settled in the houses memory.
The walls were scarce of family photos, drawings from a child he forgot and doors to rooms he spent so much time in, nursing her wounds back to uncertain health.
The room became a time capsule, a living photograph in his album of dreams, everything was as before he left it. He had been in this room before, followed these steps and saw colors were familiar. The original hysteria had long been strangled out of the apartment, an overwhelming silence that he did not recall since the first time Cya came with him, craddled in his arms. The room settled a silence he hadn’t heard since the club that night. One more time, he thought to himself, he would visit her grave, at last, one more time he would pay his respects, rest and then leave.
The deep breathes felt hollow in his chest, only reaching the sternum as he gasped short for air before they came up again in tempered exhales of burning minoxide. He clinched his fingers into a fist, then released those digits slowly as he paced in front of the door. He swallowed hard and let himself in, his eyelids shut, his nostrals inhaling the deep toxic high of bleach. The stench of clean, the musk of death innertwined created a sensation that burned his nose hairs and turned his stomach.
With his feet on the tile he struggled, then hesitantly opened his eyes. Slowly the small bathroom tiles came into focus, her pale arm outreached beyond the rim of the porcelain tub, her eyes slowly gazing up and her chin arched. Cya was moist, her skin freshly bathed in the bleach and warm water solution he baptised her in that morning. She smiled there at him, happy as her eyes never left his, as she began to speak, he watched her ribcage press against her skin as she exhaled a hiss of a word. Cyanide could not keep herself from shuttering in the cold water. The soft flesh around her breast were erect, her lips flushed a faint pink as her mouth opened, uttering the word slowly with every capable muscle in her body,finally the word came as she grapsed for him, “brother..”
He concentrated on the motionless fluids in the bathtub, the long standing mildew on the carpet, the remaining empty bottle of bleach next to the tub.
Everything was in its right place. She was gone, Amen was alone.
The door shut closed behind him with a mild thud before the lock slipped into place. There wasn’t a door to his bedroom and the frame was polished to a formidable entry way, round instead of the sharp edges before. The pride in Amen’s smile became apparent, a thinning grin from ear to ear as he remembered the personal labor he spent refining the doorway.
The bed held tight the white sheet that was spread across it long ago. He approached the foot, his hand reaching out and touching it allowed him to succumb to a fitting desire to validate his existence. He continued, finger tips tracing up until he met the oak headboard, then back down to the round edge of the mattress. Convinced he finally sat down and relaxed, untying his shin high boots, kicking them off and unrolling his moistened socks that slipped off on the floor with a dampened thud from his feet.
He felt fine and continued to strip. The long coat came off, folded, then he tossed it on a matching dresser across from the bed, he slipped out of his pants, his shirt.
Some of the time he would lay there, waiting for the paralysis of his body to slowly overwhelm him. It was a drowning feeling that slowly dragged the consciousness under, then the brain began to tease the body. Checking to make sure he was actually sleeping.
Quietly he went insane, ignoring the jerks, the sensations to itch at his arm and otherwise annoying distractions the mind sent his way. Ignore it for a little while longer.
The sensation to itch crawled up his inner left thigh and over his stomach.
“God damn it.”