The Cold Drip of Dawn (S. Van Berkel)

Verity La Flash Fiction

For a while, nothing. And then it comes. Fast, like atoms in a particle collider, atoms of green smashing into your atoms and then you are green as well. Your skin is hot and prickly. You don’t have a rash but you think about raised red dots and they begin to pop, and your green atoms flow out, burning and bubbling. Don’t look down, don’t address it, or you will make it real. Your skin is like bubbling green slime, and it burns you. You are boiling away into nothing but steam. Don’t look. Think about other things and it will disappear. Things do not exist unless you look at them.
You taste the metallic tang of foil.
Time is shuddering. It does not flow. It jumps out at you in bursts and when you don’t pay attention it just stops. There is nothing keeping time going if you’re not there to watch it.
Time is shuddering. Your eyes roll back in your skull and when they flick back and you can see, time has jumped forward. A face is looming in close to yours – flick! – fire is spinning and bursting into leaves in the air. Leaves are falling around you and drift across your naked breasts, leaves stroke your back, leaves tickle your lips. Leaves tug your skirt up.
A hand slips along your thigh – flick! – the moon is swinging endlessly across the sky, centuries passing passing passing without your permission. You follow the moon with your fingers and they stream behind it like comets. The comets crash to earth and beat against your thighs like…
– flick! – you hold a cigarette. You look down at the burning end, and it looks like the innards of a star, boiling and churning. It is big enough to swallow you—your feet your legs your stomach your shoulders your head—your fingers held high are the last to go into the maw of the star. Like slipping into a hot bath. How far from Earth are you? A lump of grief in your gut. A pull in your navel – umbilical cord. Fat black. Tugging you back to Earth. Light years. Dragged through space and time. Back to Earth millions of millions of millions of years. It crushes you and millennia pass and then you are back on Earth again and time has waited for you because time does not pass when you are not looking at it.
Your cigarette has not burnt down at all.
The sickness releases its grip on your gut and your blood slows and your skin is smooth and soft and all is as it should be. The cigarette glows between your fingers and you sink back. Above you the grain-of-sand stars, and beside you a warm body. Night settles on your eyes and time sleeps…
You wake to the stale taste of your dreams – dust, mucus, ash and someone else’s tongue. Your sweat is cold, that sticky sort of cold that, instead of cooling you, only makes your crawling blood seem hotter. Your sweat stinks. Swallowing scrapes skin off the inside of your throat.
The darkness dissolves and you find that you are slumped against a log by a dying bonfire. It has collapsed in on itself and become a pulsating pile of embers. You feel heavy and light at the same time. If you stand, your outsides will sink and your insides will float away. You cannot move. You are exhilarated but exhausted. It is like the feeling you get after intense sex, when you have satisfied an unbounded desire and you are left panting and covered in skin that smells like another’s sweat, when you have given away a vital thing, and then it has been pushed back into you. Your blood has been drained, and then returned to you, drop by drop.
It is a long time before all the blood seems to be back in your body. It is a long time after that before you can bring yourself to stand.
You look around and see the cold drip of dawn.