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Chapter 1 : My Darkness.
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Chapter image -AzureSeas @ TDA
But oh, my heart was flawed
I knew my weakness
So hold my hand
Subscribe me not to darkness
Mumford and Sons, To Darkness.
The bricks had been built in around me; the same dark granite as grave stones. This was my tomb. I was buried alive; living – if you could call it living - in my death bed and lying there, unable to escape. This was my darkness. It had been made to fit me, like a glove it slipped over my skin and thoughts until I was blinded and consumed by its incessant burning.
Days like these I do not speak. I lie with my back against my grave and look up at the roof of my coffin. I cannot draw up energy from the well within me to speak, so I stay silent and do not protest about my tomb.
There is a gap; a tiny hole in the welding of my fate. It is in the bottom left corner of my coffin and it is just large enough for me to put one finger into it. I do so, daily, to remind myself that there is a gap, there is a hole... Not a way to escape, no, just a way to remind myself that I’m not dead yet. My coffin has not yet been sealed.
There is still hope.
Azkaban was always dark.
No matter the time of day or the season, the thick grey walls blocked out the sunlight and held back that warm glow of sun on skin, and the heat... oh how I missed heat - caresses of gold. Warmth.
The colours were duller, much more restricted, a visual reminder that our lives weren’t supposed to contain beauty anymore. I remembered the fierce whiteness in a blue sky at first, before my dreams were sucked away by the darkness. And I remembered the way the light danced across the land in its rich vibrancy. But not in Azkaban. No. There was no sunlight there, not in Azkaban, just the vice like grip of the darkness and the biting cold of the roaring wind.
“...What if we can never have a baby?”
“... A divorce, son, we’re getting a divorce.”
“...Married? You’re getting married? You can barely support yourself, let alone a family.”
“There was nothing anyone could have done...”
“Miscarried. We... we’ve miscarried.”
“...Cancer. She missed a couple of appointments, son. She didn’t want to fight anymore.”
“...you’re naive and stupid. You’re a fool. You should have known...”
“...You are under arrest...”
My mind was cloudy most days and I preferred it that way.
Slipping in and out of consciousness meant that I no longer had to focus on each particular memory and no longer had to relive all those feelings and emotions and words. The vague greyness in my head helped. My defence mechanism, I supposed the first time I experienced it. It slipped over my thoughts like fire whiskey: blearing my mind into an uncontrollable haziness until each stabbing word softened into a torrent of pain instead. It was easier that way, a constant wave of hurt and loneliness and never being happy again... rather than those glimpses of life that gave me hope and reminded me of my elevated position, reminding me daily that, through it all, I was lucky.
Eighteen months. That was the light, the hope, my peace of mind – it was only eighteen months then I could leave. I could walk under the glow of sunlight again and feel a breeze, not the harrowing sea wind, but a breeze – and I could return to my wife and my son.
My son. How I ached from being apart from him, but it was a different ache to the crippling weight of the imposed depression – it was an ache of the good being there, just out of my reach, waiting for me. His blue eyed smile and his mop of brown-blonde hair. An impossibly straight nose and chubby cheeks that used to be mine too, before Azkaban, before they collapsed in on themselves and left me sunken, hollow, a broken man. But, I would be fixed. My son would greet me with his smile, what a smile, and once more my world would be filled with light.
He was waiting for me.
Waiting for eighteen months. Not long. Not really.
Those were the thoughts that brought me back from the grey; just waiting until my thoughts inevitably reared back into the dark times and made me vulnerable once more. The intensity of my emotions a was like a feast. They loved to devour it, consume it, and eat away at my strongest emotions until I was left with less than what I had in the beginning. Then, with the hollow where my hope once was left gaping and hungry, the darkness slipped in and consumed me once more.
The greyness stopped the worst of it by stopping those brief moments of hope. It was better to reside in that state of semi gloom than to drop back into the deep end, the sickening despair of my mind... stuck in the worst part of myself. Imprisoned.
For eighteen months.
“She was a devoted mother...”
“...I never asked for this!”
“Neglect my arse. If anything you fucking spoiled him.”
“She can do better than you, son. Much better.”
“Get over it.”
“It was a girl. We lost our beautiful baby girl...”
“...Why did you do it? How could you be so thoughtless, so selfish?”
I had never been strong.
I had never resisted pressure and stood up for what I believed. I followed the crowds, the mass of people, and, and... Somehow in Azkaban I slipped into my same routine. Surrounded by madness, by desperation, I joined them. I did shameful, shameful things with the dank sea salt filling my nostrils. I used to love the smell of the sea, the smell of home – until home became a prison and my bed became the floor and the beach became the rocks – the rocks. I dream of colliding with those rocks, the jarring sensation against my face and... and...
Sea salt. Sweat and shit. Piss and madness. A beach scene, maybe, the public toilets which reeked and caused the masses to wrinkle nostrils and cringe their way across the titled floor. Floors covered in coarse sand and muck. Disgusting, of course, and poignant. A beach scene, public toilets... it sounded like a perfume now.
Sea salt, sweat and shit.
Then the thoughts drop away. Comparisons, pointless, degrading and... and... well...
Frozen from the inside out, mostly, but... more than that. Like you’ll never thaw out again. Like you’ll never melt. Your brain is icy and the voices roll over your thoughts like firewhiskey – blurring reality into a mess of hurting. You’re really hurting. I mean, you’re really really hurting. Knives and burns and needles and bruises and hurt. Pain. Crushing weighty pain and being a failure, and being a mess, and being mad. Being terrified of going mad.
And then you laugh at yourself because it’s much too late to be scared. You are scared. You’re scared of yourself and never getting out and dying here, alone, and no one caring – no one noticing – until you just rot away into nothing and, and you are nothing. Nothing in here. Nothing anywhere. Not anymore.
And oh how Azkaban is dark, with the dark colour of the brick forever imposing and forever pushing inwards towards you. And the wind whips through the walls, howling and wailing as it does – cold and bitter.
My cell did not have a window.
The wind there was from the guards; a trailing of lingering despair and the complete absence of happiness... it blows right through you, absorbing all the good and all the hope. It’s as cold as death.
Colder. You’re frozen to the bone, no, to the heart – to your very core you are frozen and barely able to breathe when the sharp iciness of the air catches your breath and will not let go. When you’re choking on the sheer magnitude of your experiences, the worst experiences of your life, and there’s nothing you can do to push it away anymore. Then you give up and surrender to your inevitable madness.
The air tastes of salt, which mingles with the blood from where you’ve bitten down on your lip to prevent yourself from screaming. Blood and salt. The thirst is unbearable, the only need you can remember, and consumes you like a roaring fire. You need to drink. Need your wand. Need to get out. Doesn’t anyone care? You’re dying in here; of thirst and hunger and isolation. You’re dying and you’re mad and you’re desperate.
There are no visitors.
“I am a representative from the Ministry. It’s about your son...”
“I’m just disappointed...”
“The jury’s verdict is guilty as charged.”
“Son, why are you crying? He was only your grandfather. He was my father, and I’m not crying. He always hated you anyway...”
“...breast cancer. I’m going to have chemo. I’ll be away for awhile, okay?”
“You’ll never be a good husband. You’re not cut out for it. You’re like me.”
“I am afraid that I will have to take him away pending further notice.”
“I’m fed up of trying! I want a baby. I need a baby. And if we can’t have kids then...”
“You’ll be living with your father for awhile. It will be good for you. You won’t miss me while I’m at the hospital, you won’t miss me at all.”
“Stop it! Oh my god! Shit stop it! Stop you’ve got to... please! Stop. You...”
At first I had countered: minutes, hours, days.
There were no sunrises and no sunsets – no light to give me the insight I so wanted. Instead I measured time by when the food rations were thrown into my cell by the unfortunate wizard-guard. They never stayed long. They didn’t come at all if they could help it. Sometimes we were left hungry. Starving, in fact, tears of hunger joining the tears that came from reliving your worst memories every single moment of the day. The third time I had gone hungry I had given up counting; given up with the vague hope that I could survive my sentence and seized my counting.
Time means nothing in Azkaban.
Then I measured time by my hair, now mattered brown and ugly... falling from my head in torrents of anguish and squalor. I have a beard too. We are not allowed to shave. We are rarely allowed to wash. I gave up measuring after that day and let time become an irrelevant concept – as abstract and immeasurable as the clouds.
That day I dreamt of my home: where my son was playing in the sand, armed with a plastic spade and the firm belief that he could take on the world, and my wife... watching with that soft expression of hers from the window. The sun was shining, bright and clear, and my son – my beautiful wonderful son – turned to me and said “Could things be like this forever, Daddy?” and that strange unfamiliar feeling of being wanted and being loved had burst some reservoir of deep resounding joy from within me, spilling out amongst the dankness of the flat mood I had come to inhabit.
Six guards came in the night. They sensed my joy. The memories made me mad, delirious, and I screamed and ripped clumps of hair from my face as I sobbed, sobbed, as the last of my hope was extinguished in the great expanse of the night.
My son believed in a god. He said he’d pray for me. I believe in my son.
God does not care.
I did not expect him to. I did not expect anyone to care anymore, anyone to visit; I was too isolated and alone to think about those who had pledged to love me, pledged in such heart wrenching earnest to wait for me and... and then... and then...
“Stop it! Oh my god! Shit stop it! Stop you’ve got to... please! Stop. You...”
“Excuse me Madam,”
“No, NO! Euan! Stop it! You’ve got to... you need to, you can’t... Stop for fucks sake!”
“Madam we really must -”
“Give him to me, give him, he’s mine – you’ve got to hand him over,” My voice broke through the silence of cell, and then I was yelling, yelling, screaming at the walls. “YOU’VE GOT NO RIGHT!” I yelled, my nails desperately clawing at the gaps between the bricks. I was standing up suddenly. I wanted to throw myself at the bricks until I fell, bruised and bleeding to the floor. I wanted to hurt. My voice mingled with the rest: a chorus of voices yelling to the sky, yelling to the God that did not care, and yelling as the worst memory, the very worst... “Let him go!” I yelled, hands stretched up to the sky as if I was begging.
I almost was.
“He’s my son!” I was crying too, hot salty tears warming my face for a fraction of a second before the deathly cold whipped them away. The air was so thick with the guards that I could taste their presence; the unwavering and intangible taste of the darkness, the bitter depression and the madness. The madness that settled on my brain like a ton of concrete. It was painful, the madness.
“My son.” I wept: sobbing and scratching my skin with my bitten fingernails and staring up the familiar ceiling of my cell. Then, there it was, a release... the pressure off my chest... the guards... they’d slipped away... moved on... and then... and then... what was that? Footsteps? The daily food ration maybe? Or...? Or...?
The sobbing subsided to tears. The dark cloud of my madness faded to mist. All the inhabitants of my corridor were suddenly silent; we all pressed forwards towards our bars – a snatched moment of sanity that we were not permitted to have. The guards had moved away completely, leaving nothing but the clarity of our real thoughts, our almost happy thoughts, our sanity...
There was a murmur of something, an expectance, a hum of anticipation as if something was going to happen and then, someone yelled something, a shout – not of desperation and agony or depression – but a wave of something we were not supposed to feel anymore. Joy? Excitement? Something. It spread like a wave until every prisoner: every thief; every crook; every god forsaken selfish bastard in the place was yelling – shaking the bars like the madmen we were – and I joined in, my voice joining in the many. I didn’t know what I was yelling, why I was yelling, I hardly knew what I was doing...
Then I caught a word. “Potter!” A chant. Like a Quidditch match. It had been a long time since I had thought of Quidditch.
“Shut up all of you!” Someone yelled, one of the human guards – pushing forwards and facing all of us with an expression harder than stone. He reminded me of the bricks: solid, impassive and uncaring. There was silence. He had a wand and the power to take away our food. “Shut the fuck up and stay quiet, all right? We have a visitor.”
A visitor? But nobody visited Azkaban...
Why would anyone visit? The darkness and the cold and the pressing sadness on your chest... and the weight of your memories crushing you... and the biting sea breeze on your face... and the guards... and... and... all pushing down on you as a wave of unpleasant experience and hatred until Azkaban was your worst memory – until all you remembered when the guard swept through your cell was being there, in your prison, as if you’d never had a life at all: never had a wife or a son or a mother and a father and friends; as if you’d never been anywhere but here, in hell.
“Euan. Euan! Euan!” The voice was as sharp and biting as any wind, and suddenly there was a hand on my arm – and how long had it been since anyone had touched me? – and I was being shaken, shaken, back into reality... back... or forwards, forwards into the present. Jessica was bent down beside me, her fingers gripping my shoulder as she shook-shook-shook me. “Euan.” She said.
Not in Azkaban. No, not Azkaban. Home. In my house by the sea. Sunday. Sunday dinner. Dad was over. Toby was sat at the table playing with his peas. Jessica was there, her expression sharp and irritated, and I was there too.
“Sorry,” I said quickly, standing up and feeling myself wobble. My head twisted around my thoughts. I had felt so clearly the wind, the sea breeze and the sickening taste of my depression were real... were here... and the darkness... and...“I thought, I... I just need to freshen up.”
Dad’s girlfriend was there too, Natasha, and they were all staring at me. I felt like a zoo animal. A ridiculous side show to a comic act. I was a bloody mess. “I feel a bit sick.” I said, running a hand through my hair to find it short, cut... hardly there. Of course.
I hurried to the bathroom, closing the door behind me and staring at my reflection in the mirror.
It had to stop. These slips... those moments...
My face was paler than it had ever been before Azkaban, but in the past six months it had lost its waxy quality and that sallow yellowness that had made me emerge from Azkaban looking more like a walking corpse than a real person. I had gained weight now I was back on three proper meals a day. I had gained life too: back with my son and my wife. Six months of freedom.
I scooped up a handful of cold water and splashed my face, trying to wash away the memory which I had sunk back into, and ran my hands over my skin. No beard. No stubble at all. Smoothness and warmth. I was clean. I was dressed in an overly thick winter jumper like a caricature of false festivity. I was not in Azkaban. I had not been in Azkaban for six months and never, never – not for anything – was I going to go back.
If only my thoughts would stay away from those brick walls. If only my thoughts could escape like I had managed to. If only my thoughts weren't still there: rotting decaying into the madness.
I dried my hand on the hand towel and stepped out into the corridor.
“I don’t know what to do,” Jessica was saying in a hushed whisper to Natasha. Toby, beautiful blonde blue-eyed Toby was at the table with my Dad. They hadn’t seen me yet. I held back. I didn’t want them to see me – I wanted to slip away and fall out of existence in the middle of the night.
“He’ll be fine one minute and the next moment he’s back there again... and he doesn’t know where he is or what he’s doing. He’ll wake up in the middle of the night screaming, crying...”
The shame of it was prickling and piercing at the same time. It was an irritant. An itch I could not scratch away. I flattened my back against the wall and tried to breath. I was trying. If only Jessica could see... if only she could understand.
“He tries to hide it from me now; he thinks I don’t know... because, well, I lost my temper with him.” She admitted, her voice wavering with emotion. I’m sorry Jessica. “It was happening every day!” She said. I remembered Jessica’s soft, easy smiles and exactly how she looked in a wedding dress – the past hurt. It reminded me of everything I’d done. Everything that I’d managed to ruin.
“Every day he slips back to there... and then he isn't my husband anymore but, but... a ghost. I’ve tried. I’m trying so hard Nat, but how can I help being annoyed? Why can’t he get better? It’s over now. The eighteen months are gone. He never has to go back.”
Her voice dropped even lower and I pressed closer. Eavesdropping; another mark against my name. Not that there weren’t enough. Not that there was anything good left to say about me.
“He has no confidence, no self belief. He’ll never be able to get a job now. Some days he’s great with Toby, some days he can barely look at him. He won’t kiss me or touch me some days, and others he holds on to me so tightly it’s like I’m the only thing stopping him from drowning. It’s draining. I thought the therapy would help. I thought... whoever this mysterious stranger is who’s paying for it... well, I... I thought it would save him.” Jessica was unhappy; it seeped out of her body and through the walls of our house. Jessica had never been more unhappy.
“He’ll be all right... he’ll be okay.”
“I thought so too.” Jessica said, “I knew everything would be difficult, I guessed... I guessed that what with everything he might not be himself, but I didn’t expect this. I didn’t know he’d be...” her voice dropped so low that I couldn’t hear the final word.
I filled in the gap myself, sentencing myself to her opinion: mad, depressed, distant, dead. Difficult.
“Oh, Jess.” Natasha said.
“But how can I love him when he’s like this?”
I sank down the wall and sat in the corridor. The bricks dug into my back. I thought that was ironic, more or less.
Jessica was crying into Natasha’s shoulder now; I could hear the dull murmur of her sobbing muffled by the wall into a soft base line. Toby’s voice added the higher notes until the whole thing almost sounded musical – a symphony of sighs that I’d composed by my sins. Or maybe that was just the twisted way my thoughts were processed. Maybe I was just mad.
"The mad, the bad, the sad... they're who go to prison, son."
I shook my head and gritted my teeth, angry at myself.
So I sat there and I listened to Jessica sob, with my Toby – my beautiful Toby – chatting aimlessly to my father about something I couldn’t quite hear. He could write now, my Toby could write, and he was going to muggle primary school. I had a wife, a son and a life. I was failing them all.
Jessica didn’t understand. My mind was infested. I had my own personal dementor now, filling my brain with those thoughts – those worst memories - whenever the prompting called for it. So I sat, back against the wall, and cried. Drowning in the magnitude of my self pity and self hatred.
“...Married? You’re getting married? You can barely support yourself, let alone a family."
And he was right.
My grave is not as dry as you might expect: the moist sea air and the tears desperately cling to the walls, so that they are slippery and damp with the salt. The salty sea and the salty tears of Azkaban.
Hell is colder that I thought it would be when I was alive and the cold burns my skin and leaves me pressed against the damp walls of my coffin, hugging my weary limbs into my chest. Each time I think it will warm my frozen heart.
Death is much worse than I imagined.
I try to shield my heart with the facade that I no longer care. I have no sword, no arrows, no wand. No way of combat. My armour is folding myself into the corner and staring at that hole – that tiny little hole – to remind myself that my coffin has not been completed. The casket it still open. My heart still beats ice around my corpse.
Yes, I am still alive. And there is still hope.
Written for WolfieAli's Underrated Character Challenge, and String's Pictorial Language Challenge and because I was struck by this idea that would not leave me alone until I'd written it.
Okay, I hope you love it because I love it. I mean, I really do. I'm really excited about this. I have big plans. Please review! :)
EDIT: Hello! This month is AZKABAN MONTH (Feb, 2012) which means I'll be editing, writing my socks off and answering all the unanswered reviews. Anyway, if you're new - it's a pleasure to have you with us! And I very much hope you like this story enough to review :)
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