It was cold, and no matter how hard he pulled at the covers, there wasn’t enough to keep him warm. It wasn’t the first time he had woken at 4am, and it wouldn’t be the last. A cool chill covered his body as he stared at the ceiling; he took a deep breath as he contemplated the next two hours of lying awake, trying to ignore familiar thoughts as they attempted to penetrate his consciousness. Every morning his mind waged the same battle, and every morning he grew more weary as it took its toll.

The sun slowly started to rise and the darkness was no longer able to mask the confines of the room. Prisoners know what it feels like to be isolated by four tight walls, and on mornings like this, he knew the feeling intimately. After taking off his sweat drenched clothes, he adorned his green jumpsuit, just like every other inmate, and stepped outside into the glaring sun.

The morning was slightly different to most as he strolled past the others in the exercise yard; he felt different and something was amiss, though he couldn’t put his finger on it. He caught the eye of an amigo, who simply raised his head in acknowledgement. Some days words never needed to be said to convey a message, only the right look and nod.

The compound wasn’t big, so it was never far between cells. At least this one was shared between three during the day, but wasn’t much bigger. The walls were an off grey, there were no windows and the air was stale. Sitting at his desk he sighed as he proceeded to login, feeling the handcuffs tighten with every key pressed. This was how he was to spend his foreseeable future, confined and restricted. The days were a repetition involving two different cells, the exercise yard, the small confines of the compound and the same few faces – it was real isolation without needing to be locked up alone.

It was the afternoon and he realised he had been sitting there, staring into nothing, for half an hour; yet he couldn’t recall what he was thinking about. It occurred to him then and there, what was amiss. He no longer felt anything. He had become numb. He had boxed up his feelings for long enough that they ceased to exist. He had his reasons. He just didn’t want to feel the pain and sadness anymore – instead there was a void. He wasn’t sure what was worse, because the nothing he felt, the emptiness, was just a different kind of sadness.

Without thinking, he picked up the phone and instinctively dialed the number. His heart raced as it rang three times before the call was answered. He froze. His throat closed up, he searched for words, opening his mouth but no sound would come out. He started to panic as he felt his own heart thump against his chest. He swallowed as he searched for the courage to say hello, only to hear the sound of a closed connection. He had dialed someone who was once his best friend, someone he could have a conversation for hours with, yet was unable to even start one simply out of fear.

After regaining his posture, he stepped out into the yard for some fresh air. Everything had changed in the two months he had been here; everything he had left behind was gone. Everything he loved and held dear, everything he dreamed about, simply no longer existed. A significant part of his life was now left empty.

That night he had to go for a drive out of town to pick up some equipment. Once you get outside of the urbanised area, the roads become dangerous, especially at night. He hated driving into the mountains like this, the air became heavy, and soon it started to rain. Landslides were common in these areas, and driving was one of the most dangerous tasks.

His mind began to drift after a while, back on the days events – to the phone call. He wondered what he might have said if he had the courage to speak, but could not decide on anything worthy; he wanted to say everything, but he knew nothing would mean enough.

He focused back on the road knowing how dangerous it was to be distracted. The rain was getting heavier and it was almost impossible to see up the road. He tried to clean up the window, and in doing so, he saw a glint of a reflection. He peered out the window trying to make it out. His lights illuminated the object of reflection, a truck, traveling down the hill. It showed no signs of stopping. He honked. The truck didn’t stop. His heart sank. There barely enough room on the road for both of them. He sped up, aiming for a segment in the road that was wider than the rest, hoping to reach it at the same time as the truck.

Today just wasn’t his day. The truck was moving faster than he anticipated and shot past the wider section of road. He swerved to keep the car on the road but it was too slippery. He felt the loss of gravity as the car slid off the road, temporarily floating before meeting the slopped ground, rolling twice before resting at the base of a group of trees. He was lucky; the car could have kept rolling to the base of the hill.

He took a breath to calm his racing heart. He pulled out his phone and dialed the number. He listened as it continuously rang. He was almost ready to give up when it was answered. He kept it simply. “Hey. I miss you. I still love you”. The response was expected. “I know you do”.
“Keep Safe” he said.
“You Too”
He took a breath and hung up. He closed his eyes and tried to calm his beating heart. A tear formed in his eye, slowly rolling down his cheek. Closely followed by a second. He opened himself up to his feelings again. He looked at his hands and at the unmistakable red that now covered them. He stared into the empty distance and thought of the home that he had left behind, A home that no longer existed, and soon, neither did he.

The thought of company lingered for a moment, then passed just like draft that had conjured it. While the fire would be warm, the company can sometimes be just as cold as a dark alley, hidden from sight. The gamble between idle company and insanity is daily risk. Pausing on the street corner, I glanced back up the road, deciding to follow the dimly light street into the distance.

One foot in front of the other, I trudged for what felt like hours. Only minutes had passed. The air had started to cool, a light crisp edge to the breeze flowing down the empty streets, finding its way through worn clothing, caressing my skin with a chill that causes old aches as a reminder of the frail existence that has become my body.

The silence is broken briefly by the sound of screeching brakes, a gunshot, a dying scream. The city claimed the life of yet another poor soul. All too often did the night consume lives, some deserving, some innocent. Their last moments filled only with fear. The sun would be rising in an hour and my stomach could feel it, tensing as it anticipated the simple idea of food. I knew I needed to eat. It had been days since the remaining juices of a half eaten burger had dripped down my throat. I started for the docks; maybe, just maybe today I would be so lucky.

As the cool breeze swirled the dust on the street, I drifted towards the docks, with the hope of food fading with each breath …

I woke up in an alleyway, alone and afraid. It wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last. I found myself slumped against the side wall, in the shadows where no one could see me. Not wanting to risk drawing attention to my state; not that anyone was around to care. It was still dark, sometime around 3 am, you could tell by the silence and weight of the air. An emptiness hung in the air that makes you feel uneasy no matter how familiar it has become.

Dragging yourself off the ground isn’t as hard as it sounds, as it takes the same effort that put you there, the only difference being once you’re up; you have to do something with yourself. In this case the only idea I could muster was to approach the light and step out from the darkness of the alley. I leaned on the corner of the building, peering out from my shadows down the street. As far as the eyes could see there was nothing; only empty streets, each roughly identical to the next, illuminated by the glow of the overhead lights. I chose to look at the ground rather than into the void, as the hunger pains grew I knew they would only last momentarily before this body would start to ignore it. My hands search my pockets, only feeling loose fabric between worn fingers, no real surprise. I couldn’t recall the last time anything resided there.

A draft flowed down the street from the north, slightly warm. If you breathe in deep enough you can smell the lingering scent of the wood fire that it belonged to. In this labyrinth of a metropolis that kind of fire only has one meaning; idle company. While it’s not ideal, under the circumstances, it is the only way to remain sane here.

I lie awake knowing it is to early. The smell of a newly created day drifts in through the ajar window. The curtains are open and I watch the rain, listening to it beat softly on the roof. The scent of the rain and the sound each drop creates holds an energy of life newly formed. I’m stretched out in my bed yet it feels empty, something is missing. A longing is felt within my heart, a desire to complete this moment. I close my eyes and let my mind wander, remembering the way your skin feels against mine, the way our hands interlock, how your hair falls over your eyes while you sleep. To be able to whisper ‘I love you’ in your ear while you dream, to feel you hold me as I hold you. I being to drift as thoughts of you keep me warm, waiting for days where it is more than mere thoughts that keep each other warm at night. As I start to dream, my last conscious thought is of your beautiful smile, we kiss; your lips on mine, and I lose myself.

I woke up, the sun glowing obliquely through the half opened window, while the room basked in an orange shade of light that brings warmth, outside the sky is a deep blue without obstruction in its path. The light breeze flowing into the room smells of a fresh day, clean and full of life. I lay there, alight smile that nothing could break, a clear mind that no doubt could penetrate, an open mind wanting to explore more. The sound of activity slowly rolls in from outside. The sheets stir, your auburn hair reveals your blue eyes that hold a depth of purity so true. Your smile fulfills a warmth and beauty that has become rare in this existence. You lean across, your soft skin against mine, your hand on my chest. We kiss; your lips on mine, and I lose myself.

I sit awake in this dark of night, no thought, no sound, just self. Consumed and just listening. Never have I been able to recognize it so aptly until now, this desolate feeling. Days go on and we watch the world argue with itself, the agony it causes, and it consumes me. There is a place at the edge of this earth where beauty and life are born. That is the place I want to be, with you by my side.

He was staring down at the blade of the knife, showing no real expression and fearing nothing. It was a situation where any normal person would have fallen apart, but he still stood strong, staring death in the face. The sun’s glare was blocked out by his baseball cap, as it provided shade across his face; his school uniform was pressed against him by the light breeze. It was as if time itself had stopped. With the breeze traveled the slight scent of coffee, a reminder of how little time had passed since he had first awoken.

That morning, he had only been awake for five minutes before he made his way to the coffee – a single cup made as strong as always to counteract the sleep deprivation and stress. After staying up until the early hours of the mourning doing homework, all he wanted to do was just get to school and survive the day. It was just like every other day for the past few months, but as each day passed, life became harder. Within a short space of time he had lost the one he loved, his friends, his trust, his pride, and his self-respect. Each day was a fight to keep himself together, a fight he was losing.

Like every other day, he walked to school alone and in silence, thinking about past events, and how much he hated himself and his life. Time seemed to pass quickly and his thoughts were cut short as he stood at the gates to the school, a place he had began to fear. With a grim expression on his face and taking a deep breath, he took a step inside the school, as if he was walking into hell itself.

It didn’t take long to find a place to try and relax; at the back of the school where no one could find him. With the same grim expression on his face, he removed his walkman from his bag. Putting on his headphones and closing his eyes, he let his thoughts fade away as the music flowed through him. He had begun to isolate himself from the outside world, closing himself in and submerged in his own thought.

The moment of peace and solitude was broken by the sound of the school bell screaming across the school ground as if it was the dogs of hell themselves barking. He slowly opened his eyes, and started towards the amphitheater where his year level had a morning parade. The grim expression on his face disappeared, to be replaced by no expression at all. A blank mask designed to hide his feelings from the world. He had to face the demons themselves.

As the amphitheater came into view, so did his classmates. They turned to look at him, opening their mouths, but he could not hear the words that came out. With a short fake smile in response, he sat down. The teacher had already started to call the role. Barely recognizing his own name he turned to the teacher, who simply acknowledged his presence and continued.

Looking around at the people surrounding him, the isolated teenager could see they were all happy and cheerful – feelings he had forgotten long ago. His eyes stopped on a single person; the one he loved. In her hand was another, the hand of someone who had once been a friend. The boy knew he was completely invisible to her, and nothing could change that. He had cared for her for so long, only to be tossed aside like an unwanted rag doll. As the feelings of betrayal swept over him he turned away and closed his eyes. Deep in thought, he wondered if he would ever be happy again; the answer seemed obvious. Time and time again he had been hurt by the people around him, and by the person closest to him. It seemed destined to happen periodically, and each time the hurt grew more painful, and his isolation deepened.

Only five minutes had passed and every minute seemed like hours. Glancing back towards his former friends, watching them talk and laugh, he was forced to fight back the tears. Ever since he had moved away from the group, not once had anyone invited him anywhere or acknowledged his existence. It was as if he had never been there in the first place. He had become such a loner, simply because no one accepted him for who he is. Unable to take the pain any longer, and unable to fight the tears, he stood and left. Not a single head turned as he walked away. He broke into a dead sprint once he was out of sight, heading towards the back of the school; nothing was going to stop him.

It was the first time the teenager had ever left the school grounds without permission, but that didn’t concern him. He found a small clearing on the outskirts of the fence line. Withdrawing a cloth from his bag, he laid it on the grass. Removing the cloth exposed a brilliant reflection from the blade of the hunting knife he had stolen from a survival store. He had never looked upon the knife since the day he stolen it. All it would take was one quick movement and it would be ended. No more pain, no more suffering. For too long it had been hurting.

Kneeling over the sinister weapon, contemplating what he was going to do next, he reached for the knife, raising it above the ground. At that moment he noticed something he had never seen before. Carved with precision on the blade of the knife was an inscription:

Now is the time to choose
Die and be Free of Pain
Or Live and Fight Your Sorrow

Time itself had stopped, as he stared down at the words thinking about the pain and sorrow that seemed to be a part of his life. His eyes turned towards the school. He stood up, feeling taller than ever before. Raising the knife above his shoulders, he turned sharply and threw it, lodging it in the nearest tree. He turned to face the school, with the most determined expression on his face.

He walked back into the school grounds an entirely different person. One that was not going to let anything get in the way of his own happiness.