Rain pelted the glass wall behind me, creating slithering shadows on the dusty rug. I could only see them for a moment before they receded into the darkness created by the cracks of moonlight peeking through the storm clouds. I kept my eyes low, unable to so much as glance in the direction of the homemade picture frame sitting on the shelf nearby.
Two hundred thoughts ran through my head, and I couldn’t make them stop. My only reprieve was granted by my cold palms caressing my face, but even that didn’t last long. This place used to be a sanctuary for contemplation, but now it was a prison of my own making. I had come to escape my thoughts, my loneliness, but it seemed as if all I could do was lose myself in the black maze of my mind.
I flinched, startled by one of the ancient books falling from the shelf. I watched, confused and scared, as the wall shuddered and slid away, revealing a dim doorway. My feet, seemingly obeying another master, carried me closer to the hallway. The rain came down in sheets as the moonlight glitched, sometimes vanishing altogether.
As each step carried me further into the concrete hallway, the voices in the rain became louder. They screamed, cried, cursed, and overwhelmed my thoughts. They echoed endlessly. So much words…
I pressed my hands to my ears, trying to block them out. They were overwhelming.
And then the rain stopped, leaving silence in its wake. I opened my eyes and removed my hands from my ears. I was standing on a rooftop, my breathing in time with the pulsing wind emitting from the towering factory in the distance. Waves of green steam erupted from the vents, filling the empty streets of the abandoned city below with their pollution.
I wandered aimlessly, climbing down ladders, stepping through doorways, until I was on street level. Holograms of ghosts blinked into existence. They walked, oblivious, trapped in memories of happiness, before they were consumed by the pollution. Something wasn’t right. They looked like me.
Through schools, temples, and broken diners, I wandered, lost in the haze of vanishing ghosts. I recognized a few scenes from my youth, before my naive, childhood wonder was snatched away.
Even wandering aimlessly, my ultimate destination was the factory. In the broken hallway of a shell of a building, with concrete stained blue from moonlight and acid rain pouring through cracks in the ceiling, a warm light began to glow.
I extended my finger as the finch landed, perching gently on my skin. Its feathers were alive with hopeful light, the only life in this dead world. It stared at me with knowing eyes, and then took flight.
I stumbled after it, over piles of debris, through broken walls, until I found myself face to face with the factory door. It was tall and menacing, but gave way as soon as my cold palm pressed against its rough surface.
Inside was a single bare room. Cracked concrete and broken boards framed a lever. While it had no label, I realized it could end the pollution. All I had to do was pull it.
Without hesitation and without concern for my life, I pulled the switch. But, nothing happened. The world did not spring back to life; those taken by the pollution did not reawaken in their physical bodies. Instead, darkness descended, covering my eyes with sightless pollution.
And then I jolted awake, hitting my head against the glass wall. The moon still peeked through storm clouds, and the rain still pelted the wall, but in my solitary cabin in the woods, gentle lamplight threw yellow-tinted illumination across the floor.
I looked to the bookshelf, where we had spent countless nights reading, laughing, and playing board games, tucked away from the boisterous monotony of society. We had been happy, before she was stolen away by time. The light bounced off the picture frame she had made, allowing me to see her squinted eyes and toothy smile.
There was no bringing her back, but there was a life waiting for me. I took a breath, exhaling the last of my toxic thoughts. I wouldn’t succumb to my demons, not yet.