And Here I Breathe
By Madyson Oneiya
Despite everything, time continues to tick on. Eventually, everyone’s hourglass runs out of sand, and we run out of time.
Her hands shook with the tremors of a soft earthquake.
The gates squeaked and groaned with displeasure as she pushed them open. They hit the back with a loud crash and the reverberations vibrated through the floor and lightly shook her feet.
A breeze rippled her clean white dress as she hesitantly glided down the worn cobblestone road. Her mind swirled with anxiety and fear.
Her eyes moved with purpose, flipping quickly from object to object. Staring at the swaying leaves, the vines that wrapped around the trunk of a tree, the cracked and ridged bark that seemed as dead as the rest of its home.
Small, undeveloped blades of grass peeked through the gaps in the floor and tickled the soles of her feet, but ultimately, they were crushed under the weight of her burden.
A feeling she could relate to.
Was this the repercussion? Was this what she had to pay? If she had listened, maybe she’d be wandering in a park instead of in a graveyard. In a warm home instead of in a morgue. Maybe she would still have a home to turn to. Now the only company she had were the screams that circled her mind.
That, and the rows of tombs.
She could feel the ghosts of fingers scratching at her dirt-encrusted heels. They picked at the scabs that covered her feet and mind. She felt her body leak red rivers of memories. The blood stained the terrain and left a breadcrumb trail down the worn path, from which she then strayed.
The soil dug its way in between her toes, nails, cuts, and gashes as she forged a new route down a row of small stone hedges. As she walked, her eyes tried to decipher the codes embedded in the gravestones, only to scramble the letters further.
She stopped as the smell of formaldehyde tingled in her nostrils. With her hands clenched at her sides, her head swiveled to the left and her eyes caught on a lonely headstone. She approached the stone, each letter shifting slightly until her own name appeared.
The hands grabbed at her now dirt-caked white dress. They seized her feet, dragging them into the dirt. They gripped her legs, arms, and hips and pulled her further under the earth. She screamed for help, but no noise seemed to ring into the air. She called and called for someone, anyone to help. A dirty yellow skeleton hand grabbed her neck, squeezing as she sunk further and further into the depths.
A figure wearing a black, hooded cloak materialized in front of her. She reached out, hoping they would save her. She prayed they’d grip her hand—like the one digging into her leg—and pull her from her entrapment.
“Please!” she begged just before dirt covered her mouth.
But the figure didn’t answer. Instead, they silently watched her get dragged below the surface. As she slipped beneath, she caught a glimpse of what hid under their hood.
And as the sky became unseen and dirt filled her eyes and ears and mouth, she felt each part of her body be pulled apart. Her skin tore from every angle. All she could let out was a quiet strangled cry. Her eyes were ripped from their sockets, teeth pulled one by one from her dry gums. Her fingernails were pulled from their stations, leaving sad nubs in their wake.
At the surface, the dirt was unsettled. The air was still, yet its energy was agitated and aroused. Blood pooled where her body had disappeared and immediately dried. It invigorated the earth like morning dew or light rain. Bright green stems rose from the depths, bright petals emerging from the stems.
Then, the figure vanished.
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Before long, the entire graveyard flourished with light blue cosmos flowers and forget-me-nots—bent and beautiful.
And here I stand, my mind wandering back to the ground from the clouds in which it ran. Here, I stare at the gravestones in front of me, knowing I’ll soon join the ones below. Here, I place the forget-me-not on the top of the stone hedge and stand. I feel the dismay weigh my shoulders down, yet I do not sit once more. My mind might wander again, and right now I have a funeral to attend.
I dust off the seat of my black dress and begin down the cobblestone road. When I exit the cemetery, I do not shut the gate behind me. I know I’ll be back.
And like the sand of an hourglass, I continue on.
And here I breathe, again.
I wrote this during the October horror writing workshop. It was a word vomit—just a disembodied girl walking through a graveyard pondering death. But while reviewing pieces to develop further, this stuck out a bit more than others. With the help of my mentor, we put a lot more thought into what could be the takeaway of the story—what reaction I was trying to elicit from the readers and what intention should be behind the words. I went back and developed a storyline, and changed a few moments to fit with my idea. I also added more emotion to the main character so the reader would have some type of connection to her. From here, I added a few details to make the storyline more ambiguous and simultaneously more detailed. Just enough ambiguity to ponder on after you’ve finished reading, but not so much that it’s confusing. After that, I fixed some structural issues and grammar.
Madyson Oneiya is a painter, writer, activist and dreamer who is interested in helping kids who can't get help elsewhere. Their goal is to graduate college with a degree in psychology, and go on to a masters and doctorate and become the coolest witch that you know. Their proudest achievement includes being a leader of an award winning coalition and building the world's most fun collection of mugs.