By Sara Codair
I’ve been climbing forever; higher and higher, never stopping.
My muscles scream for rest, but my feet keep pounding their funeral beat on the thin steel steps. It’s a song of revenge and repentance, of a life wasted by greed.
When I was a child, I used to chase Elsie Cole up the winding stairs at school. I’d poke her with a ruler and drop spiders in her hair. She’d scream and run and squeal, crying harder with each flight. Often, I’d chase her right up to the roof.
I didn’t stop until the day she threatened to jump.
I gasp. Chemicals slither across my tongue, down my throat and twine their serpentine bodies around my lungs, burning me inside with their vengeful venom.
As a young man, I managed a textile manufacturing facility. We engineered and fabricated military uniforms. I tried to save every penny I could; I chose to buy fancy cars and vintage wine. I lied on my taxes. I ignored EPA regulations, dumped waste, spewed gas, didn’t care what I did to the world.
The only green I cared about was the green on my dollar bills.
Coughing, I want to collapse, curl up, shake and scream.
I know that to stop is to die, but I don’t care.
I just can’t keep going.
I tell my legs to stop moving and my lungs to stop hacking, but they keep going against my will. Something more powerful moves me forward, forcing me to endure the pain, to know what it is to not control my own body.
A marionette manipulated by a cruel master, I rip my shirt off as I run. My pants come next. Even as I trip, I keep pushing forward. Thorny vines twine around me. They creep inside every opening they find and make openings where there are none. Even as my body is being cut open and strangled, I can’t stop running.
It’s a fitting end, I suppose, since I’ve never been good at stopping. I didn’t stop kissing when girls told me to. I didn’t stop polluting when the government told me too. I didn’t stop driving when my son told me too. Blinded by old age, I drove my corvette into a bus.
I can’t remember how long I’ve been climbing for, coughing for, screaming for and bleeding for. I can’t remember what time is. I can’t remember what it feels like to live and love.
Did I ever live? Did I ever love?
All I know is the burning of exhaustion, of used up adrenaline.
Has it been days? Decades? Centuries?
Does it matter?
Everything below me is on fire; and I want to stop more than ever. I want to let the fire catch me, sear my skin from my body and choke my lungs until I am no more.
I understand now. It’s hell below me. It’s the only place I belong.
The vines loosen.
Finally, I’m allowed to rest, broken and bleeding on melting steel steps.
If I could go back and do things differently, I would. Not to avoid this fate, but because I know what it is to suffer, to run, to lose control. If I could do anything to spare those I hurt from this pain, I would. I would do anything and everything to spare them.
I can’t change time. There is no forgiveness for me.
Screams, explosions and gunshots echo in the distance. My head spins. Darkness circles my vision.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper over and over as I listen to the gnashing and snarling grow louder and louder.
“I’m sorry!” I shout as the fear grows. “If I knew what it was like, I never would have done it. Forgive me, if you can. Live, if you can! Be happy and strong to spite me.”
Flames lick my toes, sending fresh waves of agony coursing through my frayed nerves.
“This is it,” I say, sitting up to face the demons. “Take me. I’m one of you.”
But as I crawl forward, the flames recede. The snarling fades until I can’t hear it at all.
The darkness explodes with searing light that burns my sins away until we are no more.
I’m floating in bliss.
Sara Codair writes because her brain is overcrowded with stories. If she doesn’t get them out, she fears her head will explode. When she isn’t making things up, she is teaching, binge reading fantasy novels or enjoying nature. She won second place in the Women on Writing Winter 2016 Flash Fiction Contest. Her other stories have appeared in or are forthcoming from After Lines, 101 Fiction, 101 Words, Foliate Oak, Centum Press, Sick Lit Magazine, Fantasy Crossing and Mash Stories. You can find her online at https://saracodair.com/