Bread Crumbs

I can hear what you’re thinking,
All your doubts and fears,
And if you look in my eyes, in time you’ll find,
The reason I’m here.

And in time all things shall pass away,
In time, you may come back someday.
To live once more, or die once more,
But in time, your time will be no more.

You know your days are numbered,
Count them one by one,
Like notches in the handle of an outlaw’s gun.
You can outrun the devil, if you try,
But you’ll never outrun the hands of time.

In time there surely, come a day
In time all things shall pass away,
In time you may come back some say.
To live once more, or die once more,
But in time, your time will be no more.

I can hear what you’re thinking.

Mark Collie, In Time

Bread Crumbs

The thick layers of dust atop the dark oak cabinets stood in stark contrast to the light filtering through the open door. In fact, even the stagnant air stood in stark contrast to the persistent gale, carrying with it smells of juniper, lavender and grass, among other varying forms of life. That was what really stood out in the somber kitchen—life.
It felt like ages since the hands of anyone touched the surface of its disuse. Insects and forgotten dreams were all that remained in the empty cupboards, while the yellow linoleum floor cracked and rippled like it, too, had found a bit of life in an otherwise lurid crypt, before finally settling.
After another sharp intake of breath, he wondered, ‘was this really home?’ He held the smoke in his lungs until the burning became unbearable, and only then slowly exhaled his frustrations amidst the smell of Marlboro red, unfiltered, just the way he liked it.
With eyes shut tightly, he let the sounds from outside—birds chirping in the distance, rustling leaves of the autumn trees and the last of the bees buzzing with curiosity—lull his fright with a familiar caress. The reminiscent tones of a childhood spent in the countryside were intimate. They soothed the unknown that betrayed his eyes by reminding him that not all things changed.
“Not all things change,” he mumbled softly, so softly it rang in its deafening silence. He half-expected his father to shout from the other room, “of course things change, look at me, I’m dead. You’re alive, and I’m dead.” Although no one answered his whispered prayers at a life he could only struggle to understand; and yet, vividly remember.
No one answered.
But in struggling he’d found his way home.
His eyes opened with only the slightest hesitancy, fully prepared to see the kitchen as it is and not as it was. There would be no bacon frying on the stovetop and there would be no laughter in the air. There would be no television playing in the other room and there would be no patter of footsteps on the floors above. There would be no hate or joy or sadness or love; especially no love.
He embraced and even found comfort in the fact that some things must change, regardless of how he wished differently. But not everything, not all the scents or the sounds, the tastes and the touches, or even the feel of the sunlight on his exposed skin. The feel of that sunlight would never change.
“Not everything changes.”
Again he prepared himself for an objection from the audience beneath his eyelids. He waited for a skeletal hand from a long deceased relative to grab him, shaking him with the force of reality…death. But nothing happened, no ghostly specters or cries from the past, and he wanted to weep. The forming tears stung at his eyelids, already demanding a purchase among his stubbly cheeks, because he wanted to feel a connection. He took one last drag and flicked the cigarette butte towards the corner where they always kept the trash bin, only no bin still existed.
And his feet moved of their own accord, tracking mud and carrying him farther into the room with every creak and groan of the ancient floor. It was as if the house had taken a voice of its own, and it moaned in the onset of age. It cried with the displeasure of impending doom.
“You were once filled with life,” he said. “You were beautiful.” Almost in response, a stronger breeze whipped the brown hair from his brow in thanks. It seemed to weep ‘I was once gorgeous and full of love…I was once alive.’
In a very childlike impulse, he wrote his name in the dust on the counter using a very adult index finger. DAN. The contrast threatened to rip a chuckle from him despite the earnestness of the situation. If not for his respect of the dying then he surely would have doubled over in laughter.
And just as suddenly, a new wave of emotion flooded through Dan, as his hands clenched and unclenched, and all traces of joy abandoned his face, turning it back into weathered rubble. Despite the levity of the previous moment, he could still feel the soul, hear the sounds, and taste the breath of vitality in the outside air. It was too much for him. The open door was temptation worse than anything he’d known, and strangely, felt he would ever know again. It was the desire to live.
‘It’ll be dark soon,’ he thought. ‘I should leave. I should leave.’
And yet, resignation clawed, begged, screamed, and howled, tearing at him with reckless abandonment. Already the beads of perspiration broke out on his pale skin in spite of, or maybe because of, the chill in the air. With a flourish of rushed steps, Dan quickly shut the door, cutting off the last remnants of life, and suffusing himself in a torrid mausoleum to which there was no escape, all in the span of one panicked breath. The noticeable difference of the kitchen, when all life had been as severely cut as the cord with which he entered the world, was staggering in its veracity. No longer could he hope for comfort in outside sources. No longer could he hope for help.
He turned slowly and walked back to the cupboards. There was no plan that governed his actions. There was only the feeling that he needed something, and it was that which he had thus far been unable to find. He’d hoped in returning home to rediscover whatever it was that was lost, or maybe find something to which he could eventually lose. Either way, he was home.
Of course, home was a word that slipped from the tongue most naturally for those that had one. But for Dan, finding home again was more like unearthing his own grave, and on the eve in which the gray horsed rider in black would carry him away to days no longer risen.
Of course, he’d finally inherited the home he’d run from only thirteen years earlier. But to his aching disappointment, no problem could ever be left in the past.
Of course, as it seemed as logical as air that the home should only turn to him when all others had failed.
No sister wanted it.
No cousin needed it.
No uncle could afford it.
And that left only Dan.
“Of course,” he said. “Could there have ever been anyone else?” Silence was his only reply, except for ‘surely, it’s my imagination,’ a subtle heartbeat in the walls, irregular, slow and sickly.
He looked around the room for the breadcrumbs he desperately hoped to find. No trail home was ever complete without the breadcrumbs, so said the stories of old. They were the tales his Pa would tell late at night when the bottle raised the spirits before crushing them with unchecked fury. Those were the times in the pitch dark of the twilight hours when Dan woke in the closet, hurting and broken. “Get me my spirits, boy,” his Pa would say, slurring the words, “and I’ll tell you a story.”
As a child, he often wondered how his Pa could ingest so many spirits. Dan assumed he must’ve been very magical to have consumed all those ghosts, and surely that was why he always lost his temper. The day he learned spirits was just another word for vodka was a humbling experience, both painful and shattering.
But the stories never lost their luster, regardless if his father digressed from shaman to lush. Stories like Hansel and Gretel were always magical because of the happy ending in defiance of the wicked machinations of ghouls, witches, and abusive fathers. Certainly he was living a tale fit for fantasy, only without the trail of breadcrumbs then there could be no happy ending. ‘How will I ever find my way out?’ he wondered. His eyes returned to the closed door, sealing his fate, and he knew there could only be one ending. ‘There’s no way out of this oven.’
A solitary sigh parted his lips and hung in the air. In it he smelled coffee. ‘When did I last eat?’ He dismissed the thought even as it formed, although the rumbling in his stomach protested the decision as much as the trepidation in his heart. There was still work to do.
The door to the pantry closet was ajar. “Small comfort,” he mumbled. It would have been a lie to say he hadn’t hoped the door would be jammed shut. But there it was, half-opened like a perpetual wink.
“The only part missing is a demonic laugh.” Dan paused, waiting, before his lips curved upwards at the corners, if only slightly, when no such laugh was forthcoming.
He pulled the pantry door farther open. Rusty hinges grated a terrible whine, shattering the stillness that permeated everywhere but in his mind. “Hello to you too,” he said in a husky voice. The inside of the pantry was almost exactly as he remembered: small, windowless, and warm. Regardless of the season, the pantry was always warm and smelled of rotting sawdust. It stung the nostrils and watered his eyes. And yet, the reflection looking back at him from the mirror on the far pantry wall was not exactly as he remembered. The dark, purplish circles under his eyes were vaguely familiar, hinting at a lifetime of troubled sleep; however, the excess weight and thinning, brown hair were reminders that time takes all. Even his blue eyes, the only feature he really loved about himself, had faded to a dull gray.
“Time does take all” Dan said, “even this house, even me.” He felt the blood in his ears pounding in tandem with a rabidly beating heart; whether it was his or the houses, he wasn’t certain. His mouth was dry, ¬_‘I can hardly breathe it’s so dry,’_ and he worked a tongue against the roof in vain. Sweat collected at the nape of Dan’s neck, soaking the collar of his tee shirt.
He took one large step into the room, turned, and shut the door.
Darkness engulfed him like a wet blanket, somehow simultaneously freezing and burning, soaking through, singeing and dampening whatever remained of Dan’s sensibilities. This is what he’d come to do. It was what he was doing. And there was no stopping until it was over. That was what he told himself over and over again, repeating it like a ward against evil.
“This is what I’ve come to do, you hear me? It’s exactly what I’m doing. And I’m not stopping until it’s damn well over!”
For a stitch in time it seemed like the heartbeat, his own, he was fairly certain, would deafen him with its pounding; and then, when no belt struck him to his knees, the beating slowly subsided. “It’s just a closet.” The words felt false so he tried them out again. “It’s just a closet.” ‘But it’s not really just a closet,’ his thoughts whispered darkly, torturing him with the truth.
Minutes passed, but how long he wasn’t sure, five, maybe ten. And still Dan continued to stand there waiting for it to happen. What it was, he didn’t know, and furthermore, he didn’t care. It was going to be something, and that had to be good enough. ‘It’s not really just a closet,’ he thought ‘just as this isn’t really just a house.’
“Take me, I’m here! If you want me then now is the time, the only time, I’m here!” Still nothing happened. The inevitable it hadn’t occurred and Dan faced his fears. A surge of pride coursed through his cholesterol clogged veins as he contemplated a new life walking in the light. There was hope.
Eventually, when he could maintain a semi-steady heart rate and was confident the closet wasn’t going to be his doom, he reached for the door handle. If there was any light in the dark then he’d have seen the shock etched onto his face in the reflection of the mirror. He’d found it, and it was not at all what he expected.
It was warm, hot even, the handle that is. He recoiled from the touch like it was venomous. And there was a new smell that undercut the sawdust—smoke. It was even beginning to work its way under the door. Worse, he could hear flames in the kitchen, imagined them dancing along the dusty countertops, licking their way along the ceiling, and eventually sinking their malice into his flesh. ‘What do I do?’ He thought he’d been prepared to die, but now shuddered before the prospect of death. “Help!” His voice felt impotent compared to the roar of the flames. “Can anyone hear me?” It was useless yelling, no help was coming. ‘I’ve been alone all my life. Why should death be any different?’
And in that catharsis, a surprising resolve settled into Dan, clearing his mind and focusing his senses—survival. He took two steps back, knocking the mirror that’d been there since time out of mind crashing to the floor. With a heavy booted foot, he kicked the door with all of his weight. It surprisingly burst outward in a spray of splinters. He hadn’t really expected that to work. A triumphant laugh tore from his chest and he embraced it. Ever since he could remember, he’d wanted to do just that: kick his way to freedom.
But his joy was short lived as the fire kicked back, and the smoke filled his senses to the point he could neither breathe nor see. He fell flat to the floor and wormed his way into the kitchen like a bloated garden snake. A blast of flame consumed whatever thinning hair he had left on his head along with his eyebrows.
“This is what I’ve come to do, you hear me?” Cough. “It’s exactly what I’m doing.” More coughs. “And I’m not stopping until it’s damn well over!”
The largest flames came from the corner where he’d so casually tossed his cigarette butte. ‘I’m my own worst enemy,’ he mused. ‘The only horrors left in this house are the ones I brought with me.’
Smoke watered his eyes, making it painful to see, while his coughing grew steadily worse. It seemed ridiculous that the backdoor should be so near, and yet, so distant. But there he was, lost in the kitchen, nose to the cracked linoleum floor, and he’d finally found something he could lose—his own life. It had hardly seemed worth anything until he was on the brink of losing it forever.
But try as he might, Dan couldn’t lift his face from the floor for more than a moment without hacking up what little lung he had left. He was about to admit that it was damn well over, until he inhaled more than just smoke. Dirt clogged his nostrils. There was mud caked on the floor from his boots, and although it wasn’t a trail of breadcrumbs, it’d have to do. A surge of hope gave strength to his weary body.
With his face flat to the floor, using the mud trail, he sniffed and licked his way through smoke and flame until he found the back door. With a last burst of energy, he rose to his knees, opened the last obstacle, and fell face first into the world of the living. He half fell, half ran down the porch steps and landed in a large pile of wet leaves.
Fresh air never tasted so sweet. And yet, it was laced with a bitter tang as he saw his ancestral home burn to the ground. Panting and exhausted, all Dan could do was lie on the cool grass and watch the bonfire consume what remained of the only life he’d known. He dimly heard sirens in the distance and wondered if anyone would notice the bruised, bloated, and badly burned Daniel Dunnigrew. The same Daniel Dunnigrew that had finally discovered what it meant to have something worth losing, even if he’d possessed it all along.
And sadly, however ghostly his ancestral home had appeared on the surface, it was still just a home, full of wood and mortar. Dan realized that he would never find the keystone to talking with the past unless he learned to indulge in the purest form of conversation—memories.

Bread Crumbs

Dave Legere

Joined January 2008

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morbid practice

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short fiction

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