Hello, Apneics and Hangmen!
Let’s hide in here! Shh. Hold your breath. If you even so much as exhale, it’ll hear you. Because….
This week’s Writing Group prompt is:
No Time to Breathe
RULES AND GUIDELINES BELOW!
Make sure you scroll down and read them if you haven’t! You may not be eligible if you don’t!
This prompt is one that could lend itself to very intense stories, or very realistic stories. There’s even some surprisingly cute and/or silly directions I think you could take it.
Upon first glance, the prompt seems to have a similar idea to “no time to die.” Of course you have time to breathe—if you didn’t you’d be dead—but sometimes it feels like you don’t even have time to live, to simply be. You could take the prompt in a similar direction to the Bond film by that name—someone has to work so hard at keeping their loved ones safe that they don’t have time to truly breathe themselves.
This prompt could describe someone who is so busy, rushing from obligation to obligation, they are unable to find time for themselves to just relax and breathe. You could write about how this person feels, or you could write about a friend or family member of theirs trying to encourage them to stop and breathe, even though they don’t feel like there’s time. Perhaps you could write about someone who has one big obligation coming up, and preparation is so intense they don’t have time to breathe.
You could write about someone who struggles with a mental illness. Maybe they’re not busy, but their mind is causing them such stress they feel they can’t breathe. A panic attack could certainly represent the feeling that there’s no time to breathe becoming literal.
Or perhaps someone is talking so much that they don’t seem to take a second to breathe. One of the more cute directions you could take the prompt is someone laughing so hard that they don’t have the chance to breathe.
You could also apply this prompt well to being underwater, and knowing when to come up for air. Perhaps a whale comes up for air…only to see a whaling ship and realize that this is no time to breathe.
You could take the prompt in a very literal, and potentially comical direction. You could write a character so neurotic about schedules that they have scheduled in breathing time. This could work especially well when applied to some sort of inhuman creature that doesn’t have to breathe, but can choose to.
What are you doing?! I told you not to even exhale! …What? You humans need to breathe to live? Well, that’s…inconvenient.
Remember, this is part of our weekly Writing Group stream! Submit a little piece following the rules and guidelines below, and there’s a chance your entry will be read live on stream! In addition, we’ll discuss it for a minute and give you some feedback.
Tune into the stream this Saturday at 3:00pm CST to see if you made the cut!
The whole purpose of this is to show off the creativity of the community, while also helping each other to become better writers. Lean into that spirit! Get ready not just to share what you’ve got, but to give back to the other writers here as well.
Rules and Guidelines
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“Lieutenant, please help.”
“Your Oxy-tank is now ready for use; please have a wonderful Oxycorps day.”
You wanna know the best moment of any war? It’s those three magical little words that every sane man looks forward to hearing: “The war is over.” After days, weeks, and months of fighting, you can finally go home. That, my dear friend, is the worst part of going home after war, mostly alone.
“Please unload your oxytank and have a nice day.”
The Oxytank, a byproduct of Oxycorp, is the savior of the human race. For twelve hours, one can go out and enjoy all of what Earth can offer, minus the pure, crisp, fresh air. No, instead you are welcomed by the foul disappointment of your fellow humans. The reminder that our beautiful blue marble is no longer here
With my mask on and connected to the atmospheric tube connected to the oxytank, honestly, I have no idea how this thing even works, but then again, I don’t need to; no one does as long as we can pretend that everything is okay. A fake sense of normality can help heal a wounded soul.
“After several years of intense battle, we, the United Republic of Terra, have finally come to a conclusion with the colonies and signed a peace treaty.”
“President Weldon, I hear that the Republic is forming a partnership with Oxycorp, and hopefully that means humanity will be able to go home soon.”
Finally, mankind was home—or what was left of it. We soon discovered that our home was no more; all the trails of life were gone; the wonders of nature were gone; not even a single blade of grass was here to welcome us back.
“Your breathing time is 45 minutes.” Please recharge before then.”
The oxytank is the savior of the human race, just minus the part where each inhale and exhale is now on a time limit. Man, I really miss the “good ol’ days,” back when taking a nice deep breath was something that you could take for granted.
There is no respite
Head is pounding, sight is blurring, pain is digging into his head, they’re all signs of a concussion. His body is screaming to sleep but he keeps on fighting to stay up, the fight is not over.
This is the last line of defense and he’s the last man in the trench, he’s the last barrier between them and the bunker. He shouldn’t be alive after that arty, his helmet is cracking from the blast, he couldn’t even stand up right. The process of loading a magazine into his rifle is now a struggle, it should’ve been easy, he done it for so long it became second nature, but no, the mag keeps missing the feed and slipping out of his fingers. Finally, the mag is in and cocks the gun, ready to keep going, but the body keeps disobeying him, he wants to stand yet his legs could barely move. Then it turns to the worse as his heart now decides to gives out to adrenaline overdose despite having been pumping for days of fighting non-stop.
As if the situation couldn’t get get any more dire, an OPFOR jumped into the trench. He has no choice but to swing his arm and grip into the trigger in hope to nail the target. This results in him ripping 12 rounds into the enemy soldier, splitting their head open. Now his armor comes back online after being knocked out by by the blast, the hydraulics hiss with life to push him up into a standing pose, blarring warnings of his degrading health. Ignoring the red signs on his shattered visor, he looks over the trench, a bunch of troopers were there, stunned as if they saw the dead just came back to life. He primes his rifles toward these bastards, ready to fight again
“Bring it.” As he sets to stack more bodies to the piles.
All Is Fair
The giggle fits were infectious.
My little man and I were reclining on my bed, trying to draw in enough breath for more laughter.
“You know what? You have a tater tot head!” He had struck the first blow.
“Auh!” I shrieked out in mock horror and offense, clutching my chest for dramatic effect. “Well, at least my nose isn’t orange!”
“No, but you smell like one!”
A moment of silence circled the air before I dove in for a tickle attack. Wave after wave of laughter pushed their way from our lungs, gracing the room with magic and happiness.
“Mommy…no…you’re ch-cheating!” Snorts joined in on the fun.
“Tickling counts,” I insisted, my own breath finding it difficult to make itself known.
I showed no mercy. Gums flashed, and tears rolled freely down cheeks. He wriggled and kicked, but I was unrelenting. At least, until…
“I have to pee!” His chest heaved as he rolled away from me and off the bed.
Skeptically, I relented, allowing the little squirt to use my bathroom. No doubt he was plotting to retaliate.
Wiping my tears away, I scrolled through my phone, half listening to the innocent-sounding singing from the bathroom. He belted out about raining tacos while several squeals and more laughter were heard.
I lost myself within multiple activities such as writing stories and chatting with online friends.
A child-sized fighter plane interrupted my quiet time, and I half gasped, half chortled. I was soon bombarded by raspberries.
“How do YOU like it??” More raspberries were accompanied by “tickling spiders” under my armpits.
“Stop, stop! No more!” I begged, trying to scoot out of reach.
“No! It’s what you get!”
Our intermingled laughs reached a peak.
Loud rumbling butted in, stopping us both.
“Mommy, I’m hungry.”
I nodded. “Me, too.”
“Race you to the kitchen!” He gave a raspberry to my ear, running away giggling.
I grinned with a chuckle, all ready for another tickle war.
By Taja DaLeen
We were all trapped. Slaves to a seemingly eternal war. It had been going on for as long as I was able to remember.
It was horrible. An endless nightmare. We hardly had time for anything. Only fighting. Always fighting. Never really spending time with loved ones. Only hoping they would survive another day.
Never really living.
Never really breathing.
I did not even know why. Why they did this. Why they were attacking us every day. Why they hated us this much.
Why this war had to continue.
I only know that I wanted it to end. To wake up. I prayed to Asmodis every day. Hoping for shelter. For safety. I did not want to fight anymore.
I wanted to breathe peace.
But we were locked up in war.
Even my younger siblings had to fly. All the time. So they would not get to them. It was important for someone to stay in the air. Always. To protect. Otherwise we were doomed.
And I hated it. I wanted to fly because I wanted to. Not because I needed to. Not for burning them all down.
Not for only ever breathing fire.
It is not like it helped much. They were too many. And their belief was too strong.
But then, one day… we woke up, and it was over, just like that. Just like that, someone broke us free, shattered the prison we did not even know we were in, did not remember.
But someone destroyed the mirror; and while it meant we had to mourn our king, our beloved Red Father, we were finally safe. We were finally able to fly free again, without worry.
We were finally able to breathe.
Breath in, breath out.
The Sword Master stood in front of the forest, which marked the border of the city which laid behind him, Minerva, well known for her roofs of pure gold and ruled by a benevolent Lord.
Breath in, breath out.
The Sword Master didn’t let himself get distracted for even a second. Leaves were falling from the trees, which seemed to whisper in the wind, but the sword master paid it no mind. His eyes were closed, solely focused on…
Breath in, breath out.
A deep and menacing growl escaped the forest, slowly growing in volume until it was heard humming over the entire city. But still the Sword Master did not allow himself to get distracted. His feet stood sturdy on the ground, not moving an inch, not of fear, nor of anything else.
Breath in, breath out.
The sound of something stomping through the trees, charging directly at him could be heard now. It approached steadily at a rapid speed, and the very feeling of it would have let any other man flee in fear. But the Sword Master stood his ground.
He opened his eyes and saw the terrible beast in the dim light of the forest, not far away anymore. Its teeth shined like razorblades, its eyes glowed like fire and its claws broke the undergrowth like it was nothing.
There was no time for breathing anymore. Faster than the ye could see, the Sword Masters hand was at his blade. With one swift motion he drew it from its scabbard and swung it with a powerful blow.
The air itself seemed to change its direction as a wave went out from where the Sword Master stood. Blood coloured the trunks of the nearby trees in a dark red and the beast fell to the ground. Dead.
The Sword Master retracted his sword into its scabbard and finally…
The trees in his immediate surrounding creaked and fell over, forming a clearing.
Breath in, Breath out.
It seems he overdid it…again.
Raging water presses against her skin, obliterates all her other senses, steals away any sense of her identity. It’s crushing, suffocating, oppressive. Her lungs are screaming for air in futile desperation, but the only thing that exists is the torrent. She has no chance at survival now.
Maybe there wasn’t one in the first place.
The rotten taste of sulfur still clings to her throat, lodged there by the gust of wind that tossed her uncaringly off the bridge that was supposed to have been safe. Zakke had made it-
She slams into a rock and gasps hard—pulling in a deluge of rushing liquid that washes away even the memory of the sulfur. Each cough wracking her body with pain, she claws at the rock in an attempt to pull herself above the surface– but a lack of oxygen has weakened her muscles and the rapids have beaten her body sore. She’s flung away again by the rushing water, scraping her entire body as she tumbles and her vision flickers.
In between the flickers of water and bubbles, she sees a group of soldiers smiling as she stands in the middle, scowling under a sign that reads “Happy birthday Kate!” She sees Zakke walking backwards across a thin rope bridge, grinning like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
She crashes into another rock, and everything goes black.
Kate wakes up on her side, heaving up water and gasping for air. Without having to look she knows that she’s covered in cuts and bruises; pain makes up for the blurred memories. It has her curled into a ball, clutching to her chest the tiny hope that if she’s small enough the pain will overlook her.
“Hey,” Zakke says softly. She looks up at him, hating the pain reflected on his face. “I managed to convince a passing latha to help you out.”
“Do we owe them–ow–them now too?” Zakke chuckles a bit while Kate grimaces. Finally, she pulls in a deep, shuddering breath, and smiles because it wasn’t her last. “Thanks.”
Be more human!
Breath is an essential part of human life. Most aren’t aware of the rise and fall of their peers chests. As a synth, Tal0s doesn’t require her chest cavity to be filled with air and being emptied repeatedly the whole day. However, aware of how jarring it is for humans, she keeps up the tiring, useless movement.
Until on a busy day, she forgets, goes about ine task after another, forgetting what seems, in the moment, unimportant. Throwing her smack in the middle of the uncanny valley, where she seems to belong. Causing her human coworkers to stare at her with a variety of expressions, from concern, to bewilderment, to fear. As if her “refusal” to breathe like a normal human was the first step in an elaborate plan to overthrow humanity.
Spoiler alert: it’s not.
Tal0s’ parents tried to make her as human as possible with the tools and technology available to them.
In some areas, they failed. Tal0s’ bodily functions are different from those of humans, simply because human biology isn’t as well understood as scientists would like.
Her senses are different, too. She sees the difference in wavelength between hues as different colours. Hears sounds inaudible to humans. Registers differences in temperature so small, no human could feel it.
In other areas, her parent’s work was successful. Tal0s looks so human, she unintentionally fools others into thinking that she is human.
Telling them doesn’t help. They either don’t want to hear it, or accuse her of lying for attention. Synths can’t look this human. It’s a testament to the craft of Tal0s’ parents, that even synth experts can’t recognise her true nature. Leaving her to accept the label of a strange human. And the accusations of lies, when she slips up and her nature as a synth becomes too obvious to miss.
She eats, too. The amount of energy her body wins from the chemical processes is so small, she needs to supplement.
Like today, when her mistake was met with stares of concern and bewilderment. And even fear and fury.
Keeping Up Appearances (Chronicles of The Dragon)
Jostica rushed down to the kitchen. Her mother turned with a plate of eggs and toast, opening her mouth to shout, startled as they almost collided, and said, “Hurry! Eat!” She practically pushed the food into jostica’s mouth as she passed off the plate.
“Mm gnng!” Jostica said as she shoveled the food into her mouth and ran for the door.
“And don’t forget about tryouts today!”
Jostica made it to the bus stop just as the last student was getting on.
What were the tryouts for again, she wondered? It didn’t matter. She didn’t have time for whatever it was anyway. She needed to master magick so she could track her brother down and drag him home.
At school, after home room, her teacher called out, “Oh! Jostica. Can you help with tutoring after school?”
She paused. “Uh. Yeah. When?”
“After school three days a week, starting today.”
She was supposed to meet her mentor on the astral plane this evening, and was starting to wonder if she’d be able to make it.
At lunch she ate alone, mostly because she needed as much table space as she could get. Some of them she actually read from, but most were camouflage for the spellbook she was studying for that night.
A boy came over and sat across from her, barely earning a glance from her.
“Hey, Jostica,” He said.
“Hi.” She casually slid a notebook over the spell diagram while looking at another book.
“You busy tonight?”
“I… Uh,” she couldn’t come up with an excuse in the next three seconds, “Not really.”
“Want to go out?”
Jostica’s eyes widened and her mind raced. She was so stupid. Why didn’t she see this coming? She had to come up with an excuse or… “Not really. I’m don’t want to do anything tonight.”
“How about tomorrow then?”
Jostica’s eyes darted around the room, as if someone might be holding up a sign with the answer. “No. I…need to study.”
“Yeah. Okay.” And he walked away.
Jostica breathed a sigh of relief, then resumed reviewing for tonight’s lesson.
“Impact” (Shadows of the Stellar Age Setting)
Sirens scream as I stumble out of my cryocasket. The sound of metal tearing follows a nearby forcefield sparking to life as a tear in the ship exposes open space. The forcefield holds for now, but I must get to the escape pods.
My mind foggy from cryosleep I lurch toward the escape pods trying to steady myself. I sway, stumble, then crawl into the escape pod. I pull the hatch shut and strap myself into the pod’s seat.
“Launch sequence! Now!” I shout at the pod’s AI.
“Confirmed,” the computer says cheerily.
A roar and a rush of G-force rams me back in my seat as the pod launches. The planet’s blue atmosphere fills the viewport as a wide arch. There is a pop and fizzle of electricity.
“Warning. Pod forcefield non-functional,” the computer declares.
Without the shielding the pod will burn up on entry!
I crawl under the G-force and struggle to reach the back compartment. I tear off the cover and see the disconnected wires sparking in front of me. I glance back at the front viewport and see the blue arch growing as I begin entry. I grab the nearby pair of rubber work gloves and begin reconnecting the wires. The wires spark as I reconnect them back together one by one.
“Activate pod forcefield!” I shout as I connect the last wire.
“Confirmed,” the AI responded.
A new alarm.
“Oxygen depletion. Oxygen levels now down to 18%,” chimes the computer.
I notice the light headedness now that I’m not panicking. I crawl back to the front console and strap myself back in. The thrusters begin firing and struggle to slow the escape pod as we approach the ground. The atmosphere from the planet should fix the oxygen levels once we reach the ground, I think to myself, my mind fuzzy and disoriented. I stare at the incoming ground and brace myself for impact.
(Tw: depiction of an anxiety attack)
Dear reader, I wish not to go into details about the cause of these events. They are very real and would give you an image of a victim, when this is anything but. However, I wish for you to experience what she did in those months before she hit rock bottom and finally began to look up.
So, my dear reader, I would like to bring you on a journey of the bodily sensations she experienced.
Have you ever felt like the air around you was too heavy to wear? Where even the comfort of a blanket is just a reminder of the cold around you? Where your very breath is cold and hot at the same time and you begin to dread the act of breathing, yet nothing would make you want to stop?
Have you ever writhed in your own skin because it felt like it didn’t fit on you correctly? Like your own organs were in the wrong place, but only your dreams knew?
Have you ever voluntarily locked yourself in your room, not because you desired privacy, but because everything else around you suddenly made you aware of how small you are, and even the sky above you had seen your entire life threatened to drown you? The stars you once reached for in glee now mocking you for daring to try?
These are what she felt. She sought assistance as soon as she had worked up the courage to leave her self imposed prison, which did take time. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t, and some of it would take correcting later. It took many tears, many painful breaths, and many musterings of courage, but most of all, it took a step.
So, dear reader, if you know these feelings, the sensation of rock bottom, I would like to impose upon you hope. I would like to preemptively declare victory, because I know how her story has progressed, and your story can progress, as well.
I know this, because I am she.
I ran through the halls, as fast as I could. I bobbed and weaved between carts, people, workers, opening doors, anything that was in my way. I probably knocked a few people over on my way, but it didn’t matter. I had to get to that room.
The call had come at the worst possible moment. I was in a meeting with my boss, discussing a serious promotion that could in all honesty change the course of my life. But I never got to find out if I would get the promotion or not. Just as we had sat down, my phone rang with a number I didn’t know. I answered it halfhazardly, but then I heard the six words most people will hear at least once but no one is prepared for:
“Your mother is in the hospital.”
I didn’t even have time to process why she was there. I apologized to my boss–he’s a good man, and I knew he would understand–and made my way to the hopsital. It was on the other side of town, but I knew my way around the city like the back of my hand, and could get there quick.
The door numbers flashed passed me: 245, 247, 249, 251. I stopped at door 253. Behind that door lay my mother, in a condition currently unknown to me. I opened the door, and there she lay, surrounded by doctors and nurses doing everything they could for her. The heart rate monitor beeping faster, faster, faster. I could see her face through a gap between nurses. Just as I got fully in the room, I saw her turn to face me, and a sad smile cross her face before the many beeps became one and her muscles all loosened.
I didn’t even have a chance to breath.
The Bicker of the Brothers Richter
by Lee Strangely
The HMS Harker, somewhere in the Atlantic…
The clouds were dark, the waves rough, and the ship rocked with a fury. The guards kept close to the walls in an attempt to maintain balance. Neither of them looked too well. Both were pale, with distant looks in their eyes. One of them eventually gave out and ran out of the room, hand over their mouth as they sought out a container to spew into.
Will mocked them through the metal bars, “What’s the matter? Never been on the open sea before? Can’t handle a little rocking? Me and my brother here were raised in the middle of rural Illinois, yet we’re perfectly fine. Tell them Jamie!”
Only the sound of James relieving his own sea-sickness responded back.
Will cringed, “Yeah, that showed them…”
“Well,” James grumbled as he turned to Will, “there goes yet another ‘fresh start.’ This is becoming quite a beef you know.”
“It could’ve been worse,” he responded, striking a faux-heroic pose, “Yeah things didn’t go perfectly to plan, but defeat is momentary! Now, I’d say our voyage will take roughly a couple months. More than enough time to come up with a new plan!”
“That! That’s the beef! Why can’t you leave well-enough alone?”
“Because THIS isn’t ‘well-enough.’”
“Not well enough? We blew the country. We made a perfect escape and a new life, no longer having to worry about coppers, where we actually could stand still and breathe for once!”
“But we could have more!”
“More?!” James snapped, “We have more now than we ever did as kids.”
“I promised to put money under our names Jamie. I promised mom that I’d take care of the both of us, that I’d keep you safe.”
“And what a swell job you’ve done,” James quietly scolded him. As he did so, he adjusted his eyepatch while looking Will dead in the eye.
Out of, time and breath
I glance at the clock and begin to panic, crap,crap, crap I am out of time, they launch at noon and I don’t even have everything packed . I was supposed to get my O2 tanks yesterday but I ran out of time as usual, I am always running out of time. Well today that’s going to change, I found an old spell in my Nana’s hope chest , it’s supposed to give me more time.
Little do I know how wrong this is going to go.
It’s Tuesday the 10th of August tomorrow is supposed to be my first day on my new ship , we are going on an expedition to the bottom of the ocean on another planet. It’s light years from my home planet. I am nervous, I have only left the solar system once before.
I pull out the spell and study it for a bit before pulling out the ingredients for the potion I am to drink with the incantation. At 10 am I mix the ingredients and chant the spell. The time around me stops . According to the paper I must only use it for short time periods or something bad will happen.
I should have heeded that warning.
It was getting close to the end of the time where I was supposed to go, so I ran to do the things I needed to finish, but I forgot to keep an eye on my spell timer.
I had to take a deep breath just before it ran out or I would die or something worse. I , something worse was coming. I failed to get a proper breath. I had no time to breathe.
As the spell ended , so did my entire solar system. I was held in a chrysalis watching everything around me disappear.
Nathan dint summons a spirit as expected, in fact, the being he summoned to this room wasn’t an animal or phantasm.
They were this strange void-like creature, and the only thing with color was these polychromatic starlike points popping in and out of existence on their body.
This made him breathless not only out of wonder but also out of fear for what the being might do to him.
Because he felt it in his bones the being shouldn’t exist yet they did.
“Mmmmm” the thing hummed with a distinctly feminine cadence in their voice ” well you are the third person to summon me this time around, my name is Giniya …I really shouldn’t touch dimensional anomalies”
There was a solid minute of silence with Nathan not knowing what to say.
That and, maybe because he was getting out of oxygen.
“For nothing’s sake breathe!” The being yelled.
Nathan did as they said getting his lungs filled up with sweet oxygen, “ah sorry I.. well not all summoners accidentally Evoque a void elemental you know?”
“I get it, I get it, it!” Giniya said creating a hand and making a handwavy gesture with it “It was funny the first time around tho, though that being said it still makes me glad I don’t have any organs so things like that don’t happen to me”
“So wait your body is some sort of vacuum?”Nathan asked with curiosity
“Budy I am a void, in reality, itself that shouldn’t exist, of course, I am like that ” Giniya responded jocosely “what do you expect”
“To be frank I expected a spirit serpent not you,” Nathan said ” but given this was an accident, and I have no idea how to send you back? you are going to stay for a bit, sorry.”
“Meh don’t worry I was bored anyway and it going to probably going to be fun here,” they said. ” and yes some is going to be at your expense”
Nathan just gave them a deadpan face and groaned yep Giniya was going to be a handful
Alive, and Willing to be.
By Sam C.
TRIGGER WARNING: This story contains attempted suicide.
He would have gasped, but all that came out of his mouth were bubbles. He was drowning, without a doubt. Hundreds of feet from any land and already breathing in water, He was doomed.
His oxygen deprived brain somehow managed to string something coherent together. He chose this, hadn’t he? Why was he fighting the inevitable? His lungs burned with the effort, so why keep trying?
He relaxed, closing his eyes as he accepted his fate
Was he dead? He wasn’t, was he? He opened his eyes. He panicked as he realized he was still in the water, somehow. How was he breathing? It felt weird, like he was breathing air that was six times heavier…
Wait, he was still alive? Why? He had every intent in not coming ba- His thoughts were interrupted as he realized he wasn’t alone in the water. A huge, yellow eye was illuminating the water around him.
He felt it tugging at his mind, almost like a child would tug at their parent’s sleeve. “OKAY?” he felt it think. A tentacle was reaching up toward him. He flinched, and it snapped back, like it had just touched something hot.
It reached up again, more slowly this time, like it was being extra gentle. It wrapped around him, filling him with warmth the water had leached from him. Its touch was like the sun had just come out of the clouds on a chilly day. It gave him a sense of perspective, bringing out memories he never would have before. Seeing the giraffes at the zoo, eating a delicious meal at grandma’s…
He was a fool. He was a fool to try and end it like this, and now he was a fool unable to get back to land.
As if it had understood his very desire, the creature grasped him firmly, pushing him upward.
He was nearly there.
He had broken the surface!
He was back on the bridge, somehow dry and warm.
He was home, safely in bed,
And he was asleep, peacefully, for the first time in forever.
Finally, he could breathe.
Eternal Moment at the Edge
We were wrong. Thanks whatever force in the universe protects me: we were wrong.
I’m rapidly accelerating towards the edge of the event horizon. My suit should have disintegrated by now. No structural force could have held these relativistic speeds.
My being should not have held together in this dive into a black star.
So, we were wrong about that. Which is a blessing. All things concerned, a miracle of giant proportions in our understanding of the universe, yet still a small blessing for me. I survived until now, but there is no return from beyond the event horizon.
This discovery will be spaghettified along with me as soon as one molecule of my being crosses that final boundary.
Still… we were wrong once. Could we be wrong about what happens at the edge of a black hole as well?
It is not just physics as we understand that is broken. Consciousness as well. Well, not broken. Stretched. Expanded.
Do I keep falling? Is there any sense in describing an action in relation to time, now? Time does not flow as expected. There was a time, ages ago, before the horizon, when the fall acceleration made things run slower. Since crossing the boundary, though, time is wonky.
I can sense time flowing outwards and inwards. I grow old, and find myself younger. Time dances in strange patterns: it appears to be calm and cautious, moving towards the future step by step… and then it lunges forward rapidly, as if jumping out of the high grass where it has been lurking and attacking its prey in a sudden and surprising movement.
Like a cat, time is.
And the singularity, that tear in the spacetime, is its plaything.
Or is it the other way around?
No time (all the time) to muse these things. The impossible cat drops the singularity for a moment (an impossibly eternal moment) and looks at me. Its cosmic curiosity consumes me.
“You seem distressed. Just breathe.”
And just like that, I fill my lungs. I inhale the present, and exhale my self.
Half Past Four
By: The Missing Link
The alarm clock blared as it tore my eyes hopelessly awake. I blinked… I blinked again. When had I fallen asleep, no more importantly, where was I?
Cheap, pasty, hardly still yellow wallpaper was bathed in an indifferent fluorescent glow. It was almost familiar in a way, nostalgic even, a memory out of time, and out of space. Hesitantly, I left the warm, soft bed to look at the time, half past four. Was it really that late? Or was that early?
I strapped on my watch, filled with a sudden feeling that I was late for something. What happened last night? The couch… a beer… and what?
I rushed out the door, scooping my belongings haphazardly into pockets. I was in a room at the end of a hallway filled with the same stale white light and wallpaper that seemed it could stay on the edge of rot like this for another hundred years.
I started walking, footsteps on gaudy hotel carpeting echoing through the still air.
And I walked.
And I walked.
Door upon never-ending, unnumbered door.
I looked back the way I had come and saw the same unending mass of mundanity that stretched in front of me. It felt like I had walked for hours, but I had to be sure. I felt a thick sweat on my brow turn to ice as I checked the time, half past four.
I wasn’t walking anymore. I had to run, to find some way to leave this place.
And so I ran. I ran until I could no longer feel my legs, then I stumbled until they gave out.
Tumbling to the floor, the hallway in front of me lurched like looking down into a chasm.
I called out in a panting, desperate voice, “Is there anyone there? Please, anybody.”
Eventually, the silence became unbearable. I curled up and tried to steady my breathing, but it only continued to speed up.
Nothing would ever change.
J. J. Peterson
A little boy sits cross-legged in the middle of a hellish scene. Buildings are reduced to piles of rubble, streets turned into rivers of fire, and life giving oxygen replaced with deadly gas. The boy sits on the remains of a kitchen table, eyes squeezed shut, hands clenched in his lap, and cheeks filled to bursting with air he refuses to exhale.
Far in the distance figures move through the ash filled air. They move slowly, giant hazmat suits encumbering their movement and rifles and other gear weighing them down. They move slowly from heap of wreckage to piles of rubble methodically searching for bodies and survivors.
The sun is hidden behind dense clouds of ash and the only light comes from the burning beams and walls lying across the road. The air is uncannily still, not an ash flutters once it hits the ground except from the stomping of booted feet. And these booted feet move ever nearer to the boy.
He sits the same as he was before, only now his eyes are so tightly shut that there seems to be no break between his eyelid and his face, only a mass of wrinkles. His hands have turned white from lack of circulation due to the incredibly tight grip he keeps on them. His cheeks, still full of air, rapidly bulge out then suck in repeatedly, as if he is trying to breathe. The boy’s face has taken on a white pallor and grey ash coats his light brown hair.
The boots stomp ever closer, each step stirring the ash as if someone had blown on it. The boy sat still, still holding his breath and, in vain, trying to breathe. One of the people in a hazmat suit notices him and four of his companions rush over with him. They come to a stop before him, then one reaches out his hand and gently taps the boy on the shoulder.
The boy’s eyes pop open and his lips relax, a stream of air pouring out of him. Then, he inhales.
Make Some Noise
by Iosef Paramonov
The five orcs strode down the hall, their mean eyes fixed dead ahead. They were clad in thick leather and rugged boots, with hideous tattoos leering from their purple skin. Four of them held their weapons for the battle – three axes and a pair of sticks between them. The fifth one – the shortest – was also armed. But his weapon could not be seen…
Ignoring the bowed heads of the puny human and gnome workers, who huddled in the dark crooks and nannies of the hall, the orcs stepped out into the open. A deafening roar went up from the filthy, savage rabble before them. Thousands of screaming voices clamoring for entertainment.
The orcs took their positions and grinned at each other, a sharp glean from each of their eyes. One raised his axe and…
…plucked its string!
An electric shriek cut the air! The crowd howled in excitement!
The orc with the sticks tapped them together. Then he threw them down onto the drums before him.
Simultaneously, the guitarists and bassist struck their strings, sending wave after shivering wave of noise blasting into the audience. They lapped up each and every note, always hungry for more.
The shortest orc stood in the center of the stage, his arms open, his eyes closed. He snatched the microphone… and unleashed his weapon…
How a voice like that could hail from such a small creature was beyond anyone’s knowledge. Above the crash of drums, above the screech of guitars, above the rumble of bass, above the thunder of ten thousand metalheads. Every word, every call, every scream defying the limits of lung capacity. It was as though he’d glared into the eyes of Respiration and simply spat ‘No.’
The orc band charged around the stage, kicking and stomping, shredding and yelling. Everyone, orc, human, elf, dwarf, gnome, goblin, troll, and ogre, banged their heads to the pounding beat.
Finally, with a smash from the drummer and a kick from the singer, the orcs rallied their song to a sky-splitting climax.
The crowd exploded with insanity…
By Spawn of Faust
“Can you give me… just one minute!” I shouted at my guide. Yet, his pace remained unchanged.
“What do you intend to do?” Was his question asked in tempo, that matched his steps.
“You know… Just need to catch a breath…” I wheezed out of myself.
My guide froze in the middle of his step. His eyes snapped at me.
I made a mistake.
“We were not designated to breathe.” My guide said softly, almost a whisper escaping his lips. “Who? No… What are you? Who made you? What is your purpose?” He was asking with a sign of interest and spark for knowledge in his voice.
I trembled. Cold sweat ran down my spine. I suddenly started to realize every breath I took. Every beat of my heart. If the command overlooked breathing, what else they didn’t know?
They may look like us, but do they function the same? If they don’t breathe, do they at least bleed?
“Those are all good questions.” I answered the other being. “But what you should be asking instead is: Are there more of them? What can they do? And why I am here?” I whipped the gun from the holster on my belt and took aim.
“So why are you here?” The question was asked with a stoic calmness. To the guide it didn’t matter that there was a gun pointed to his face. It was not in his designation to even question the strange tool that I held.
“To know.” I told him with the same calm that permeated his voice. I finally managed to fill my lungs with the air and followed with the next sentence.
“Now you have all the time in the world. So why don’t you take a breath?”
Speed is War (The Will) [CW: Violence]
All Zaila ever wanted in life was to be a hero—to be the one everyone could look to for an answer. Someone dependable, kind, and brave. Someone to look after the well-being of all life’s hopes and dreams. To be a protector of the innocent, and a symbol of righteousness so pure that it united all banners under a single goal: to promote life and happiness. It had consumed her dreams as long as she could remember.
She killed them.
The dragoness tore her claws through their throats—through their knees and arms—the warm blood splashing and cooling her scales as her legs pumped again and again, kicking off the walls and sending her flying.
Speed is war.
Zaila didn’t believe Eymir at first, but now it was clear to her. She didn’t need to crush rocks—just windpipes and bone. The flesh was soft at this pace, and how willing she was to smear it across the stones.
Eyes wide, her momentum carried her through the wooden door, shattering it and giving her cover to attack. There were three non-essentials—and HIM.
They tried to attack her, but something was wrong with her. She should have been dead hours ago from essence sickness, but now she could feel the power welling and expending within her, like breath.
She didn’t care.
When she was done with the puppets, leaving their broken forms in her wake, the dragoness approached her cowering prey, stomping and breaking the bones in his leg to prevent escape.
“Look at me,” she coldly ordered as her blood-soaked claw wrapped around her prey’s neck, lifting him up against the wall.
Zaila brought her other claw up to his chest, tips digging into the fur between his ribs. He knew what was about to happen. “Look at me,” she repeated, looking deep into his tearful eyes, “when I rip your heart from your chest—like you did mine.”
“He was just an old rat!” the prey screamed in fear.
“And you’re just another dead dog.”
Spore Laden Air
Nothing is worse to start the day, than giant mushroom covered spiders. Or at least that’s what Minia thought. She believed that with Clair out of her burrow during the day to find a mate that doesn’t exist, that they could sneak through to save a day on travel. Turns out Minia didn’t remember when mating season for giant spiders was actually at night, or Clair got home early.
Groggy and confused, Minia takes a breath, a deep breath filled equal parts air as well as equal parts spore. Her mind muddled further. Countless mushrooms surrounded her in the cave, inside the non-sticky and silky web. So comfortable, so… sleepy. Yet Minia knew better. There were cocoons, and limbs of deer, bears, and even people glimpsed as they swayed gently.
Wriggling until she got a grip on the web with her goat-like horns, she tore some of the silk holding her to the ceiling. Falling with a thump and a grown, the cocoon tore. With pain brought clarity, so Minia reached out to grab the cloth of some old clothes to cover her mouth. Then a grumble. She’s hungry. Based on the time… Clair could be coming back soon.
Coughing a lot, Minia stumbled up, seeing the gleam of gold from countless dead fools, much like herself. However, she kept going, stumbling to the thinner exit. Yet with her staggering, oxygen deprived steps with her hooves clopping. It takes a long time. She can’t breathe, the spores are too thick.
As she reached the thin crack, mind muddled, she turned around. As a massive spider creeped in with unnerving grace. Head half smashed in, hosting fungus. Breaks in chitin sewn with mycelium. Eyes seemingly empty as it taped onto the thin silks. And turned towards Minia. Hurriedly she huffed through the crack as it rushed. Smoothly gliding over rough ground with deceptive speed. Its leg reached through as Minai tripped, crawling just out of reach of the fungus clad limb. Dead eyes staring at her.
Sweating and huffing without breath, Minia clambered up.
“I think this shortcut isn’t worth it.”
Light fills the abyss in front of me for the first time in history. I am in awe, for the hour it took for me to descend down here has finally received validation. A titan of the ocean, what I came for, was right there: illuminated, and clear.
It was not pleased with my camera though, for not a moment passes before I hear its guttural growling, and an enormous tentacle slams onto the canopy of my submarine.
This tentacle was disaster incarnate, as I could already feel the water leaking out of the cracked windshield and onto my toes.
No time to waste.
I grab the printed photo from the computer and press the button on the controls. Right before the power to that is lost, I see the message on-screen.
“ASCENT MODULE ACTIVE”
The submarine’s engine roars to life and thrusts upwards. I can feel the force pulling my body down into the water, which was now at my knees.
No time to spare.
I get out of my seat, and climb the ladder to the hatch. I can see light from the surface come into my broken canopy as the submarine continues to climb. But as it ascends, so does the water as it reaches my torso. Then…
The engine died, and the submarine’s hope quit. But I won’t.
I turn the wheel on the hatch, and as the water is up to my nose, I push it open.
No time to breathe.
I launch myself up out of the sinking cage with all my strength. While my vision is blurry, I see the waves and light. I pull myself up with each stroke, but my lungs start to burn. I fight the urge to breathe, as I kick hard and pull up, until I pierce the surface, and relish in fresh air.
The scientists were waiting for me on a boat, and I was quickly hauled up.
“What do you have there Thaddeus?” One asks me. I look into my hand, and see it: the photograph I had taken, made clear.
“Evidence.” I smiled.
The Assassin (Frontier Universe)
By Alex Nightingale
Talia barely saw it coming. In fact, despite her quick reflexes, she hadn’t actually realized what was happening, until the garrotte had closed around her neck, biting into her flesh. She felt her breath catch, escaping in one final gasp.
Only her quick reactions allowed her to take a somewhat stable stance, holding onto a pair of gloved hands, trying to drag the piercing wire away from her throat. It cut deep, as she desperately tried to gasp for air.
Her powers activated, carving glowing lines into her arms, channelling that primordial energy other people called magic. It erupted at random, lights flaring up.
Talia almost tripped, as she tried to reach her revolver, but something held her wrist in place. Her vision began to blur, as blood began to run down her throat. She let out a rasping scream, trying to let in air, her hand balling into a fist. She felt her trapped wrist grow hot, as smoke curled from her attacker’s glove.
She heard a scream from behind her, her eyes flared azure and the garrotte loosened. With one pull, she bent forward, forcing her attacker over her shoulder and into the cobblestones before her. Just as she tried to breathe, her attacker was already on their feet.
They pounced and she noticed the flash of a knife in front of her. Talia threw up her hands, letting her body do as it would. Like a lightning rod, it drew on forces around her, summoned to protect her from the blade. Her shadow flashed in the light of a lone streetlamp, revealing an ineffable shape, before reverting back to what it was supposed to be. The attacker hung mid-pounce in front of her. Talia lowered her arms rapidly and as her shadow did the same, they briefly became claws, tearing into her opponent.
It didn’t take her attacker long to bleed out in the alley.
Talia drew breath, catching the cool night air. She supposed she shouldn’t be surprised. Attacks on law-enforcers was unfortunately not uncommon anymore. And she in particular had made many enemies.
Derrick’s arms went slack, still holding the letter addressed to him. Emotion flooded his mind as he beheld the ripest fruits of his labor. The blood of his mother by now had mostly rolled off the wall and desk that was ahead of him, her body still warm next to his boot. His father lay more comfortably with the hole in his head draining his blood into the sheets.
He needed to breathe, to calm down. His limbs grew cold and his heart labored, hammering blood through his veins. He knew he needed to steady himself, no good ever came from blind rage. He trained for this.
He trained to kill whoever he was told too.
He just needed to breathe.
“Private 052, report mission status.” The voice of Derrick’s commanding officer had a lack of empathy he hadn’t noticed before. Through his tears and grit teeth he responded.
“Sir do you know what you ma-”
“Private 052 that does not sound like a mission repo-”
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE FUCK YOU MADE ME DO!?”
Derrick couldn’t catch his breath, from the moment he picked up the letter now mangled in his fist to the silence of shock now penetrating the air he didn’t have a chance to. His tears mixed with the blood at his feet as through shaky breath he heard the transceiver kick up again.
“Private 052, return to base now.”
For a while he stood there. Blood dried to his boot as drew in a long breath. The smell of iron was oppressive, from bullets to blood Derrick practically tasted it. He exhaled as much of his tension as he could, leaving him with a new goal in mind.
He was a good soldier, and a good soldier should protect his country. He looked to his gun as he asked himself who was really a bigger danger to his country. People like his parents, or the people who ordered them to die.
Derrick shoved the crumpled paper into his vest and headed off back to base, intent on setting things right.
`My Mother’s Keeper
By Tamela Redfin
Violet wasn’t sure about this whole deal. Then someone new threw off the balance.
She saw a man in a gas mask take it off, and he rushed over to her sister. “Engel, you’re okay!”
“Of course I am. I finally got out.” He glanced at Violet. “Aren’t you going to introduce your partner?”
“Ah yes. Violet, this is my partner, Tin Kit.” Engel bowed her head. “Mom, are you okay?”
“He’s….a…cAt…folk.” Cora panted and paled. “Augen said he killed them… personally. How did you survive, child?”
“Mrrow! I’ll tell you when you’re feeling better.” Kit hissed. “Engel, go find a doctor.”
Violet stayed with her mom, watching her struggle to breathe and muttering, “I don’t have time for this.”
It was later revealed something that made lots of sense a few weeks later. “The doctor said I have borderline personality disorder, which explains the horrible mood swings. He also mentioned I have generalized anxiety disorder. That’s why I’m so restless and such.” Mom explained.
She shook her head and fiddled with her choker’s key. “As well as C-PTSD.”
“Is it because of dad?” Engel gently rested a hand on her shoulder.
“I never wanted any of this! All I wanted was for my egg donor to accept I was pansexual! And to not be in Augen’s arms.” She sobbed.
“Mom, it’s gonna be ok. We’re here for you.” Violet began.
Cora wiped her eyes, “No it’s not. I’ve been a terrible leader.”
“You’ve been undiagnosed for years, mom. That means you were fighting a battle alone. But now, you can get help for it,” Engel added. “Also, I want you to meet Kit. They are really sweet.”
“They? I didn’t know you felt that way.” Cora looked up at her daughters.
“My flag is cyan, yellow, and magenta. Just like yours.” Engel nodded.
The Last Gasp [Koshdelia Ever After]
C. M. Weller
Death came on swift wings to anyone who opposed the rise of Whitekeep. Especially if they were with the Olikents. It came in the middle of the night and few who didn’t witness it would ever believe it was a King riding a Dire Owl into the heart of the oppositions’ forces.
Fewer still would believe that the owl was his WIFE.
In the chill of an autumn evening, three camps had suffered the loss of their commanders so far. There were six in total, and at the fourth, a giant owl gently deposited one armed Human before landing on the same roof. There, the owl became a seemingly ordinary Human with her Hellkin husband still embracing her.
“That was too quick,” panted the Hellkin, known to his friends as Kosh. “A few more minutes. Please.”
“There’s only so many hours before dawn,” whispered Spitebane. “And two more to go.”
“Remember when I told you we should attack the strongest first? This is why,” Kosh concentrated on his breathing. “I need the right breath… and I’m out.”
Cordelia leveled a glare at Spitebane. “This IS your fault. Efficiency is not strategy.” She kissed Kosh on the forehead. “Rest. This one is mine.”
He lingered on holding her hand. “Be safe.”
She changed into a snake in his hands, and he did not shy away as she slid over him and towards the chimney. Olikent leaders loved their built structures, and never slept in a tent with their men. If they only knew it was their weakest link, they would never have kept themselves above their soldiers.
Kosh glared at his brother as their breaths made small clouds in the chilly night air.
“I’m sorry,” said Spitebane. “I’ll listen in future.”
Kosh wasn’t listening to him. He was listening to the chimney, on edge for any hint of trouble. He had thought her lost, once, and it killed him in every way but the physical. To have it happen twice would be a nightmare.
He would not breathe any easier until she was back in his arms.
Breathing comes so naturally to us all.
And yet, he fights for each breath that doesn’t come.
He doesn’t acknowledge the world fading to black around him.
He doesn’t acknowledge the once rhythmic beeps as they blend into a steady tone.
He doesn’t acknowledge when even that tone has faded.
He just keeps trying to breathe.
“You don’t need to breathe anymore. But if it makes you more at ease…”
Precious oxygen floods his lungs, and he realizes that it… doesn’t help. He still feels dread. He still feels cold. He still feels… like he’s been here before.
“You have.” The disembodied voice chuckles. “You got off with a warning last time.”
He pauses as he finally takes in his surroundings. Or lack thereof. All he sees is a seemingly endless void. And as he remembers his previous visit, he chuckles as well. “Yeah… I should have turned off the power before working on that outlet…”
Death appears before him and nods. “Yes. An important lesson learned.”
He pauses with an ominous realization. “I learned a lesson this time too.”
“Yes, you did. Unfortunately, this time you can’t return with it. Take my hand.”
He backs away, shaking his head. “Wait… I’m not ready. I have so much to do. I… made so many plans…”
“As do most. One is never truly ready for me. But I come regardless.”
“But… my wife, she-”
“She’ll be fine. She has her family.”
“She won’t be alone. She has her faith. And you are not her only son.”
“He’s… going to be pissed at me, isn’t he?”
Death sighs, placing a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “It will be short-lived. Your brother has… other methods of grieving. He accepts your apology.”
“Can’t I just… get a little more time? It’s so close to Christmas. Can’t I challenge you to a game or something?”
Death chuckles again. “Firstly, it doesn’t work that way. Secondly, I’d destroy you. Even in basketball.”
“Oh? Okay, now you HAVE to play me.”
Death rolls her eyes, knowing his ego all too well. “Fine. One game.”