Friday, April 5, 2013

E is for Exhale

Source: The EEEL

The room was uncomfortably warm and stuffy but she still felt cold.  She’d been unable to shake the chill for days now and the large fireplace was doing nothing to change her condition.  She fidgeted with her hands in her lap, desperate to focus on something real, something tangible.

She had tried to sort through the chaos in her head but she could make no sense of the jumbled thoughts.  It had only been a week- maybe eight days?  But it felt like an eternity.  The visions, the smells, the physical sensations, even the thoughts themselves were so unfamiliar to her.  As if they weren’t hers but were squatting in her brain like some sort of parasite.

And there was that thought again: ‘this isn’t you.’  She shook her head, trying to rid it of the troubling notion.  But it remained there, like a caution sign on a broken elevator, reminding her of the drop.

“Best not to think too much,” she remembered.  Thinking lead to madness and she was desperate to hold onto the one remaining sliver of sanity that kept her there.  Just a woman waiting in a room to see a doctor.

“Miss Holbrook?” came the voice.

She looked up to see a short man with bushy eyebrows and overly large glasses standing in the doorway.  She hadn’t heard him come in, she’d been too distracted.

“Please come in,” he said, smiling at her.

She stood and followed him into the next room.  She ignored the whispers in her ear.

“Have a seat,” he said, waving to an old chair.

The room was dark save for a single candle on a table in front of her.  It made her nervous that she couldn’t see what lay beyond the circle of light.  But she sat down as he requested, and resumed her fidgeting. 

“What can I do for you?” he said, seating himself across from her.  The candle on the table in front of him obscured his face, so she looked down again.  It was better.

“Well,” she began, then faltered.  She stared intently at her hands, pulling on her fingers, trying desperately to focus, to keep herself grounded.  She began again, “As I explained to you over the phone, I’ve been rather ill of late.  It began with this feeling of cold and then exhaustion- but our family physician could find nothing wrong.  Then came the visions, these waking nightmares… I sought out our pastor at the express wishes of my father but his counsel and the prayers he instructed me to recite have not helped.”

Her voice was increasing in both speed and pitch as she spoke, like water flowing from a hole in a dam.  She pulled hard on her fingers and felt a tiny sense of comfort in the feeling.  It helped her slow her pace.

“I feared I was going mad.  I… I still do.  There is no rest now, it is a constant turmoil.  I feel less and less like myself.  As if I… were slipping away.”  She felt a tear land on her hand and cursed herself, violently wiping at her face and trying to breathe past the burning pressure.

“And so your uncle referred you to me?” the short man asked.

She just nodded, too overcome to speak.

“It is alright,” he soothed.  “It is alright, child.  What I am going to do for you may seem strange and you may feel strange in the process.  But I need very little from you.  All I want you to do is to focus on your breathing.  Take a breath now, there are you are, good.  Now try to relax.”

She took another deep breath and allowed herself to lean against the back of the chair.  It felt firm, real.  She leaned back, allowing her whole body to sink into the shape of it.

“There, good girl,” she heard him say.  “Now, look up, look into the candle.”

She did as he asked, hesitantly raising her head.  But the candle was bright and comforting in the darkness.

“I want you to focus on that light, nothing else.  Do not move your eyes from the flame.”

There was a strange smell in the air, like an unfamiliar spice.  She wanted to turn her head to look for its source.  But his voice was strong, commanding her to keep her gaze on the flame.

“There now, just look at that flame and listen to the sound of my voice.  Watch the light.  It is all the light, the light of the whole world.  Let it fill your eyes…” his voice was softer, but deeper at the same time.  Like a lullaby soothing her into a slumber.

“You may feel yourself growing tired, do not fight it.  Just look into the light and allow yourself to rest.  Just listen to the sound of my voice, and rest…”

She felt her eyelids grow heavy and a pressure building around her, as if the air itself were too heavy.  But then she heard the voices again and the fear resurfaced.  Her eyelids shot open.  But the flame remained just as it was, and his voice was like velvet.

“Just look into the light, the light of the world, and rest…”

Her vision grew cloudy around the edges as she looked into the flame.  She felt herself fading and her eyes closed.  Her thoughts were slipping away from her and her body seemed to disappear.  She was gone.

“Now,” the man said, “Exhale…”


  1. She probably didn't need that soul anyway...

  2. Some delicious ambiguity in this piece - is she expelling herself, or whatever else was inside?

    I've felt like her sometimes, but not as intensely, and it always goes away.

  3. Whoa! Spooky! In a good, what's gonna happen next way...


  4. This was definitely suspenseful and I was surprised at the end, but not unpleasantly so!

  5. That final line plays uneasily off of the leading picture. Just a wee bit unnerving!

  6. Great read, I really enjoyed it!

  7. Oooh creepy but real. Sending shivers down my spine.

  8. There was something soothing about this...right up until that ending!


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