Asphyxia’s back rested on the cold wooden floorboards of her room as she listened to the muffled rumble of the incoherent voice of a man and her mother’s own fluttering laughter beneath her. Asphyxia’s black-finger nailed hand rested of the soft, pale skin of the stomach her ragged silk shirt left exposed, while her bare foot groped its way toward the CD player by the wall. She pressed the play button with her big toe and bent her knees up in front of her before a piano song called “In Flight” flooded the room, drowning out any sound from the first floor.
Staring into the darkness of her room, all Asphyxia could see was the vague outline of her knees bent above her, poking out of two frayed rips in her favorite pair of dark blue jeans. Her free hand found its way to one of the loose, dangling threads and she tugged at it absentmindedly. Her face turned toward the only source of light, a thin line of gold beneath the door, casting a yellow-orange glow across the floor and landing on Asphyxia.
When the song ended, she sat up and turned off the CD player. She listened and greeted the silence that came with a sort of relief. Her mother and that man, whoever he was, were gone. Finally…
Asphyxia rose and walked to her desk. She ran a brush through her hair and then found the closet, changing into a lacey, black dress, fishnet stockings, and knee-high leather boots.
Night was the only freedom Asphyxia had. The sickening perfection of her mother’s house was almost oppressive, even in her own room. As far as she was concerned, every moment spent in that neighborhood was a moment wasted. Only in the darkness could Asphyxia move without fear or foresight. Only on the streets could she transform to fit her true nature. She was not like her mother. She needed cold, cruel reality to keep her going. She never wanted to be surprised again, the way she was on that day…
Surprise. You thought it couldn’t happen to you, didn’t you?
Asphyxia crouched in the open window, facing her room as she grasped the sill. She began slowly lowering herself, feet first, until only her fingers were still inside the house. She let go and fell on her butt, smashing her mother’s nauseatingly sweet-smelling lilacs and marigolds, though she rose relatively unharmed herself, being highly practiced at it. She could care less about the stupid flowers. The stench made her want to throw-up all over the stinking mess anyway. She picked herself up and walked over to the street, wondering where to wander this night.
Asphyxia thought once more of flowers, but this time of a flower she did like. She remembered a small field of poppies out in the country one summer at her paternal grandmother’s house. She also remembered the hills behind the Elementary school in the city, covered with the fiery flowers.
As good a place as any, I guess, thought Asphyxia, beginning her walk down the twisting asphalt roads.
She thought of that summer, her one and only visit with her Gamma. She had stayed at the big country house for a week, exploring the forest and making potions with her Gamma. The first spell they did was the love sachet, into which was put thyme, St. John’s wort, rosemary, jasmine, and poppy seeds. All of the herbs helped with love, many with sleep, and some with… other things. Poppies, for instance, were used for the promotion of prophetic dreams and invisibility, rosemary summoned elves, and thyme gave its barer the ability to see fairies.
Halfway past the elementary school building, Asphyxia stopped. She could see the silhouette of something on top of one of the hills just beyond. Asphyxia shrugged and continued. She’d never learn anything if she didn’t take risks, right? As she got closer she was able to confirm that the shape was that of a person, and even closer she saw that it was a boy. At the foot of the hill Asphyxia removed her boots and slowly ascended the slope, so as not to make a sound.
As Asphyxia reached the top of the hill she stifled a gasp. The boy was so beautiful… He looked about eighteen, two years older than she. His face was so peaceful with his eyes shut, as though he were sleeping, and his skin glowing with streetlamp light. His eyelashes were long and dark, twinkling with sparkles from the silver eye shadow he wore caught in them. His lips were thin, yet prominent, the same color as salmon, and the hair curling delicately around his porcelain features matched the scarlet blaze of the poppies carpeting the hill on which he lay.
The eyes flickered open and landed on Asphyxia. His sapphire irises were a bit haunting, and made his expression seem solemn and amused at the same time.
“You…” he muttered in a warm, soft voice, “You aren’t a lost jigsaw puzzle piece, are you? You look… out of place.” Asphyxia pictured her lacy, leathery, dark self in a field of flowers. Out of place… What nerve! Asphyxia’s short fuse began burning within her.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked threateningly.
“You’re cut-and-paste, shifted from your surroundings,” he went on, unintimidated by cumulonimbus-clad maiden’s lightning bolt glare. “However, you must realize that all I know is what has been... I often can’t think straight.”
Asphyxia’s anger subsided and was replaced with slight confusion. She raised an eyebrow. “Are you mentally defective or something?” she inquired.
“Aren’t we all?” he smirked in reply.
“What an irritating answer,” Asphyxia muttered to herself more than to the stranger. She sat down beside him, and he sat up, wiggling his eyebows in a suggestive way. Asphyxia rolled her eyes.
“Why are you here?” she asked. “It’s all mosquitoy and its’snot as if the moon is anything special.”
The boy looked up into the smog-shrouded sky at half a moon peeking through the filth.
“Ew. You’re right.” The boy looked back at her. “So why, exactly, are you here, little girl?”
“Backing up and looking at the big picture, probably because my mother’s sanity left with my--”
Asphyxia’s mouth shut abruptly as she realized what she was telling a perfect stranger. What was with her?
“None of your business, kid!” Asphyxia snapped, suddenly vicious. She stood, uncomfortable.
“Hey, I’m probably older than you, kid!” the boy shouted with false anger.
“Yeah, probably.” Asphyxia set off down the hill.
“Wait a minute--!” The boy stumbled after her, attempting to stand and move forward at the same time. In moments, he was rolling down the hill in front of Asphyxia. The corner of her mouth twitched, despite her determined scowl. She reach the bottom and crouched beside the boy.
“Sorry, Jack, but there ain’t no way I’m tumbling after you.”
“How cruel! Don’t you see it was the last attempt of a desperated man?” he said, sitting up and facing Asphyxia.
“Ha ha ha,” Asphyxia offered, not without a little sarcasm. “What’s your name, Angelo or something?”
“Naw. My mom was thinking of it, but after I was born, she thought I was more like a little nightmare than an angel.”
“And so you became Nightmareangel.”
“Jasonalex. One name, believe it or not. And yours would be?”
“My name is Asphyxia.”
For a moment there was silence. Not an awkward silence, but peaceful. The flowers rippled lightly with the wind and a faint memory stirred in Asphyxia’s thoughts.
“There are places in this world, child, that draw old souls like us to them. Places of magic.”
“The point is not to know until you’ve been. However, you can know when you’re there when you experience a deep sense of calm. Keep in mind, this is the calm before a storm.”
“Your name...” muttered Asphyxia.
“Hm?” Jasonalex looked at her.
“The name Jason means ‘the healer’ and Alex means ‘the defender of man’.”
The streets were dark. In that age there was no true night and no true darkness except on this street. All the lamps lining the road had been smashed, plunging this single area into darkness besides the feeble light of the waning moon beyond the toxic clouds,the evil glare of the city and its light reflected on the glass littering the cracked concrete road. It must have been neighborhood boys having a laugh. Vandalism is always a satisfying pastime. Or else it was symbolic of a destructive ignorance that would eventually result in suicide. A civilization collapsing on itself in its obstinacy and denial of the darkness and the glass piercing their bare feet as they stumble about with false certainty.