HEAVE by Yulia Kravchina
A new house did not mean a new home. Settling into the floorboards and turning on the heat, I walked across the new space feeling relieved to be alone for the first time in my adult life. It was empty and cold, however, I saw potential for a cozy space that I could call my own. Nevermind that it was rented and a few strange spots and cracks oozed into your vision as your eyes scanned the room. Nevermind that. It was a place for me to finally escape from people and disappointment.
A soft creaking accompanied my footsteps as I groaned with the old house. It was firmly planted in this charming town with its own lazy history and there was a lot of work to be done. I needed furnishings and a touch of my personality to fill the bare walls. The old dust had to be replaced with new dust. I thought briefly of inviting friends and family before realizing that they too had abandoned me when I needed them most. Then, I realized, indeed, who else could? No one was left to disappoint me except for me.
Satisfied with the measurements of the space, I began my secret life as an interior decorator. I scanned stores for furniture and utensils to replace the ones I had left behind. I was starting fresh, I told myself. I was picturing clean sheets and a breeze when I felt a real breeze a little too cold than it should have been fluttering like fingertips across the nape of my neck. Compelled to turn towards the source of those cold fingers, my body twisted until I faced an open door. The front door to be exact. It stood ajar with a dark, unlit hallway stretching away in a pattern of old rugs and wallpaper. I closed this door.
I closed all the doors. I vowed myself to make sure that all the doors were always shut and locked. No one was going to get in.
Yet there was this sensation that someone had followed me into the room. I felt the grasp of a past life on my hand and strange sensation of heaving laughter in my stomach. It was like a bad high. I did not want to laugh but something was forcing my stomach to pressure in and out and forced sounds like yells out of my lungs. I was howling in laughter with tears streaming out of my eyes. I doubled over with my arm stuck in a painful angle as if jammed between cogs. In what seemed like an infinite timespan, I heaved a deep breath of air, gasped alone facing the floor and stood up rubbing my arm which was now sore.
Had I lost my mind? Was the stress from the past month still driving me into a downward spiral? What I felt could only be produced by the memories of my previous life, I decided. There was someone else who I had once believed in as they slowly drew me in and suffocated me. I had felt cornered and trapped. Surely, this was just my brain reminding me that I had been poisoned. I had been sick, and now, I was taking care of myself. The only treatment I could see was solitude.
I could not let anyone corrupt my soul like that again. I had to focus on the task on hand. I let time carry me forward. A few comfortable days singing out loud without shame and finally assembling a bed to sleep in put me in ease. I refused to check the news or watch a film, but I was able to begin a few books I had meant to read for years. I flipped through the pages, relishing the smell and the way the light caught the pages and melted into the creases. I was in love almost romantically with the print and texture. I reread my favorite passages and folded the corners and left spidery marks on the spine to show my appreciation. I always thought that a worn book was well-loved.
At dusk, I let the darkness embrace me and hummed along with a small heater whirring into the longer nights and dropping temperatures. I woke in the mornings with a strange sensation that I was imposing on someone else’s property. I had taken my belongings, however sparse, and planted them on sacred ground. It was mismatched like beach chairs in an ice cave.
The heater’s light was on. It was burning bright like an eye, watching me from its perch. Was it watching me?
Yes, I am watching you.
My eyes trailed across the ground following the chord to the outlet, uncoupled. I widened my eyes as if to take in more of the reality. A trick of the morning light through the window.
Yes, a trick. A trick.
The heater whirred continuously unaware that it should not even have the power to do so. The air it produced carried a heavy scent of salt and humidity. My room had become a swamp and the sheets damp and heavy and stale. It dragged me down with the weight of water on my chest and throat. I gurgled slightly as I tried to speak to it. I was trying to tell the heater that it should begin to heat again.
Do your job, I thought.
I am so good at my job, said the heater.
I was drowning and the sheets were wrapping me closer. All the doors were open and the air seemed magnetic with me at the pole. I was crumbling inwards, imploding into my throat. My chin tucked in and my ribcage felt as if it was about to burst. My spine cracked slightly as it curved into a single point and my the nerves in my fingers tingled and sparked with confusion. Something was smiling at me. It seemed amused at my twisted figure in tangled sheets now deeply soaked in swamp water. My vision turned foggy or green or spotted until there was nothing left to see but a smile.
All at once, the morning light and a quiet room enveloped me in a strange silence as I lay heaving once again in my bed. I felt feverish and nauseated. I rolled onto the floor and began to retch and heave. At first, only mucus and saliva emerged until a single slippery fish fell unceremoniously onto the floor. I began sobbing and heaving with all my might as a panic took over me and I continued to throw up a small frog, a sputter of water and algae. My fingers shaking, I touched the items to verify their existence. In an instant, my reality broke down around me as these very real creatures and the visceral experience became as true as the flesh on my bones. I felt my skin with my fingers, clammy and cold. I felt the clothing soaked on my body and my hair stuck to my face. Tears and salt began to dry on my face as it tightened and cracked and reddened.
My circumstance was all too familiar.
I woke up. It was hours, days or weeks later, but the sun was setting and the air glowed orange. The front door was open, and the hallway was dark. Sometimes there is a darkness that comes with nighttime or simply what occurs when your eyes are adjusting to a change of lighting. Sometimes there is a darkness that is a lack of a light source in a closed space. The darkness in the hallway was a void. It was a black hole. It sucked all matter into it. Without thinking, I walked towards the pitch black while aware it attracted specks of dust and sucked in the orange glow from the rest of the room.
My breathing became shallow and uneven once again. As I came closer to the door, I found my wits and grabbed the handle, forcing the door shut.
The pulling and sucking sensation immediately dissipated and my breathing returned to normal. As I took hold of my surroundings, I started realizing that these terrifying events were either a horrible, twisted working of my mind or a cruel, supernatural occurrence. I felt dizzy switching between my rational beliefs and tallying what had actually happened.
It was time I decided to do something about it, however trifling.
When I was a child, I kept a journal. The intention was to make a daily account of my life, but I seemed to only return to it when I was in distress. This was no different. I took out a notepad and began scrawling down what I was experiencing.
Several dog eared pages later, I stood up to shake out the tingling sensation of sitting on my leg in the wrong position. I stretched out my cramped hands and walked off the feeling of white noise up and down my thigh. I began to think about who I would share those notes with, but no one came to mind.
No one cares but me!
No one cared but the smiling thing in my apartment. I did not let my friends and family touch me, but I let this creature get in so deep. All it ever did is hurt and terrorize me, and I had done nothing to address it. Should I speak to it?
I called out into the empty room. Nothing happened.
After a moment of feeling foolish, I decided to mark this down in my notepad. I returned to it to find that my writing had vanished and in its place the creature had written a note.
I love you. Please don’t leave.
Appalled, I began to heave once more, but this time it was a human panic. I felt the blood rush into my face and my temperature rise. The feeling of fight and flight rose up inside me, and the choice was clear. I packed a few belongings, stuffing them violently into a bag. Carelessly, I rushed to the front door and stepped into the hallway - a normal hallway with a slight smell of mildew and meals current and past neighbors have made. I walked out the door and finally left the apartment.
There was nowhere for me to go. I had burned all the bridges and closed myself off from everyone. What was I trying to do in the first place? I was clearly stressed and overreacting. Feeling silly, I paced up and down the block thinking about my wild imagination. I decided that I decent meal and a good night’s sleep was in order, and with that, I returned to my apartment.
It was still and ordinary, but I could not shake the fact that the space I had considered to be safe was really not. Or was it that my own thoughts were the ones that were no longer safe? I continued questioning myself as I prepared a meal and quietly ate it. As the hours dragged on, I found myself once more in my bed with my sheets around me. They were harmless, ordinary sheets.
I closed my eyes expecting to see darkness but instead the room was still there as if my eyes were open. I could not look away. I closed my eyes again, feeling my eyelids shut but the view of the room was still there. Trembling, I ran to the front door once more. It was my only exit.
Not true. There is another way.
I stopped for a moment now calm. There is another way, I smiled. There is always another option and another void to be filled. I rushed to the window in the bedroom, opening it with a crack at first and then forcing the paint to separate. I leaned out, laughing. We laughed. There was one way that nothing would ever hurt me anymore. I would never hurt myself anymore. The air rushed in around me and goosebumps rose on my skin. The pages of my notepad fluttered and the sheets on my bed twisted like storms. My hands grasped the peeling paint as my fingernails dug into the wood. The deep darkness was calling me, sucking me into its grasp. I could not see the ground below, but I widened my eyes.
Just another push.
I heaved my body through the window and plummeted.