CI by naughtforreal @ TDA
You shrink in your grave and you rot. You have been feeling so alone, so bitter, so consumed with hate recently that even the company of Spider was more than you could bear. Spider, with seven legs, Spider who could use those legs to run off, away and escape you.
You pulled off one of Spider’s legs, once. Then Spider had six legs, which was still six more than you had. You pulled a third off when you felt your fate pushing inwards until your grave felt so restricting, so certain and so definite that there was nothing left to do but die.
You hated the company, the dark mess of people who lived where you lived, pressing their lives and their humanity in on you when you simply wanted to forget that you had feelings and the others existed beyond this cell carved out of hell.
You crushed spider beneath your palm on the seventh day.
Then you’d burned your bridges and you regretted that.
It felt like a wave: suddenly crashing into me with much more force than I’d anticipated, washing over me until I was submerged into the salty mess for a split second. Then, for a single moment, my head broke through the water and I could breathe again – but by then the second wave was coming and this time the anticipation made it all the worse. There was nothing I could do but hold my breath and hope to make it through the next beating unscathed.
I blinked and paused, stopping to take a breather on the low brick wall. I took great deep breaths and filled my lungs with oxygen, there on the brick wall. But, really, I wasn’t on the brick wall – I was between brick walls in the very heart of Azkaban with death pushing in at all sides and hate breeding in the corners of my mind.
It didn’t help that I had taken the route which overlooked the beach and I could hear the rhythmic breathing of the sea to my right and smell the salt in the air, something which had once filled me with great calm but now reminded me so sickeningly of prison that it made me dizzy. Our seaside town, as beautiful and picturesque as it always had been, was like walking through my own graveyard. I had loved it here once.
Jessica had sent me to the supermarket down the road armed with a shopping list and a pocket full of muggle money. We’d ran out of milk and she needed me to pop to the shop before she left with work; a simple request that I was happy to fulfil, especially considering I’d been so useless to her since Azkaban.
Suddenly the stench of the sea and the rush of the waves in the background became a sinister lullaby that lulled me back into my prison. I took another deep steadying breath and set the shopping bag on the floor. I concentrated on the row of shops that stretched in front of me, all selling silly overpriced postcards and plastic buckets and spades. Some of them were closed – because how many beach toys can you sell in Spring? – but a fair few of them were open and looking impossibly dreary through the spitting rain, dredging back memories of family holidays gone wrong and beaches in the pouring rain. I always thought those shops looked depressing in the cold, although that being said I hardly found that much merit in them when it was sunny – all of them selling the same shit covered in sea shells and decorated with dolphins on. Concentrating on a body board which depicted a young boy calmly out-surfing a mean looking shark, I was able to pull my brain away from the mess of memories and darkness that was waiting for me when I let my guard down.
I sudden scream pulled me out my thoughts and I jerked upwards to see a small child screaming about being picked up by his mother. The scream pulled something back: vulnerable and desperate.
“Do you want me to call for an ambulance?”
“...Cancer. She missed a couple of appointments, son. She didn’t want to fight anymore.”
“Neglect my arse. If anything you fucking spoilt him.”
“Stop it! Oh my god! Shit stop it! Stop you’ve got to... please! Stop. You...”
“Really, I know how to look after my own son,” I muttered aloud, angrily balling up my fists and pressing them into my hands.
Azkaban was always dark. Azkaban was a black hole for love, happiness and positivity. Azkaban sucked all the good things you liked about yourself into the abyss, back where you could never retrieve them, and left you with the worse parts of yourself and the eternal knowledge that you deserved it all. The wind whipped at your skin and your tears dried out your cheeks until you bled – or maybe the blood was from scratching yourself, you could never tell... because sometimes you only knew what you’d done from the crescent shaped moons on your wrists where you’d dug your nails in so hard that you’d given yourself scars. Injuries you couldn’t explain left to rot away further: skin rubbed raw against the brick walls and sores from where you’d pulled your hair out.
I stood up suddenly, causing the crying kid to fall silence with surprise. I swallowed back the bile that was rising up within me. I was in Azkaban again: with long mattered hair filled with dirt and shit and god knows what else, with ratty clothes that I’d been wearing for eighteen months, which smelled of piss from when I’d not been allowed out for toilet breaks because I was screaming too much. Darkness, all consuming darkness, which pricked at the corners of my vision and filled up my head till I couldn’t think straight.
I needed to move. I began to walk just because I needed to move my limbs and remind myself that I was not in my prison cell anymore: that I had all the freedom in the world to do whatever the hell I pleased. I pushed forwards, past the road to our house, and along the coastline instead. I followed the little image of the man walking that pointed upwards. Footpath.
Stale bread and spiders, sobs from opposite and the rapist next to me manically laughing at the ceiling. The rapist suck his head through the bars and tried to tell me some joke he’d heard, some sick joke that I didn’t want to hear and never wanted to hear. Something about the best way to drug a girl... except he never called them girls, he used to say ‘girlies’ or ‘skirt’ in a way that made me want to hide all my female friends from the world and weep. The rapist grinned, his eyes wild – and sometimes I wondered whether he’d been mad before he was a rapist, but I never got any answers because he was too crazy to answer a straight question. Sometimes when he was wailing he’d talk to his mother: beg her not to hit him again, beg her to let him have dinner... and then sometimes I felt a strange stirring of guilt before all the sympathy I had in the world was used upon myself.
The footpath was more a foot-staircase than a path, sloping upwards at a sharp incline: I pushed my body to its limit as I took the steps two at a time and forced myself to move faster. I couldn’t be stagnant and rotting somewhere, I had to be active... moving and on the move. I needed to, needed to...
A storm was crashing overhead Azkaban. The excitement of the thunder crashing above us and the strange unfamiliar flashes of lightening that illuminated cells, and faces and minds. Everyone was louder than normal: competing to drown out the sound of the thunder by performing their loudest professions of madness. Instead of banging his head against the cell wall, the repetitive theft started yelling at the rapist and calling him a monster and vile things I could barely remember.
He’s dead now. Repetitive theft jumped under a train.
The man opposite hooked his limbs through the bars and hollered at the sky, his whole body lifted off the floor like some obscure money in a zoo. There was such a total lack of dignity that it made me embrace all the good left in humanity, because dignity is so readily over valued and overpriced.
Herman Blunt. That was his name. He attacked a ministry official who tried to stop him from flying thought Birmingham on a firebolt naked. I was almost entirely sure he’d been drunk at the time... but the ministry official had ended up with a cursed turnip stuck up his nose for two months after the attack. He’d overdosed on dreamless sleep potions and had been sectioned in St Mungo’s. They let him out last month – he wrote to me and told me – but then he became delusional and started sending rotten fish to the Minister of Magic and, at one point, attempted to direct muggle traffic for no reason other than he thought he’d be able to cross the road faster. He’d been taken into a muggle institution by the police from what I could work out from the letter the nurse wrote to me, before he was taken back to St Mungo’s and heavily sedated for over 72 hours. He had two children.
It was easier to think of my fellow inmates by their crimes only than start considering lives and futures and pasts.
It was almost as though I wanted those people to only exist in the present in Azkaban, and not anywhere now that Azkaban was not my present. Yes, Azkaban haunted me and followed me around. Yes, Azkaban was chasing me up the Cliffside footpath faster than I’d ever walked it (and once upon a time Jessica and I had walked this path every weekend, holding hands and dreaming of babies and a future happy life together), but I wasn’t there. Not now. Not at this very moment in time.
The thunder crashed louder than ever and the symphony of sound reached its ear splitting crescendo: there was a woman who was almost always silent on the far end of the row who let out such a raw high pitched scream that I felt it move along my spine like electricity; there were swearwords yelled in German from my left; bars rattling and the memories pushing in as the guards swarmed around us and sucked every last morsel of excitement from the air leaving nothing but horror.
I’d reached the top of the steps and had, at some point, broken into a sprint. I was running across the path which still sloped upwards but my legs seemed to have numbed themselves against tiredness and the normal constraints of not being fit enough. Instead I was running, running upwards with no real purpose other than to feel the breeze hit me in the face and to feel myself propelling forwards. I tried to think of progress rather than stagnancy, movement rather than stillness, running up a cliff rather than sitting in a cell in Azkaban.
What hope did I have? My neighbours were dead, in hospital or still rotting away in Azkaban. I was not getting better. It didn’t matter what Alfred said, Jessica could see as clear as day that things were not changing. Some weeks I barely left Azkaban at all; only pulling myself back to attend therapy sessions or to watch as Toby animatedly told my father what he’d learnt in muggle school. It wasn’t me that received the long rambling tale about spelling, or maths, it was my father that acted in my place – oohing and ahhing and smiling at Toby with all the conviction in the world.
Somehow amongst all this mess my father had a second chance at fatherhood, and it seemed he’d taken to it much more successfully the second time.
Azkaban reeks of piss and pain and depression. You smell too, in your cell. They’re supposed to let you have twenty minutes in the toilet twice a day, and forty minutes to wash properly once a week. If your asleep or delirious or screaming when it’s your turn for a toilet break then you’ve had it, and if you pissed yourself they won’t let you go until it’s dried. If they’re personally offended by your crime then you can forget washing – the rapist was only let out of his cell three times during my imprisonment. Each time the human guards paraded him up the corridor and each time the other inmates managed to find something to throw at him: loose stones, some of their bread, shit. Mostly he used his drinking water to wash himself. He stripped off his overalls and washed them with his water – making a big show of him being naked.
Once or twice I passed him my own glass of water through the prison bars. Not because I felt sorry for him in any way, because it is very difficult to feel sorry for a rapist, but because the stench was terrible and because I hated the way he’d press himself against the bars with no clothes on, leer, and ask if anyone had any water please. I thought it was better to go thirsty.
Jessica knew that I was no good now. Jessica knew that I had no future: I wouldn’t be able to work, could barely walk to the fucking shops without having a break down and ending up running up a cliff. I was finally beginning to feel tired. The muscles in my legs, which had seemed extraordinarily light, were suddenly like bricks. I was at the top now, looking over the village and the sea and the beach.
It was beautiful. Much more beautiful than I deserved.
I’d done this. I’d screwed up. I’d attacked the man. I’d lost my temper. I remembered the white hot anger I’d felt and the magic surging through me... I had only meant to point my wand at him... I had never meant for it to happen. It had taken a group of healers in St Mungo’s three weeks to fix him... if Toby hadn’t screamed and snapped me out of it then... what would I have done? I could be rotting in Azkaban for murder, or man slaughter.
I’d done this. The past was a great big mess of my mistakes muddling and entwining together to lead me to this point, where I had no future to speak of and could barely grasp onto the present. Even with some sainted saviour paying for me to have therapy the only way was down. I was a nuisance to Jessica, and oddity to Toby and the failure of a son my father had always expected.
And Azkaban was waiting for me the second I let myself fall into the traps I’d laid myself. That was the worst thing about it: I’d sowed the seeds and now I had to reap my rewards. I’d cursed him. I’d lost it. I was the one weak enough to let Azkaban destroy me.
So why didn’t I jump?
Then the gravity of that single thought hit me and I stumbled backwards away from the edge. I tripped backwards over the rim of the footpath and landed hard on the uneven grass. My breathing was suddenly laboured and I couldn’t seem to fill my lungs with enough oxygen to function. Tears prickled at my eyes uncomfortably and I realised for the first time that I was drenched in my own sweat.
I bawled my hands into fists buried my head into my knees, and I wept.
“Euan?” Alfred said in surprised as I pushed open the door of his office and let myself inside, “what do I owe the..?” Then he seemed to take in my appearance. Merlin knows how I looked after running up a cliff and crying myself into a frenzy. For an indefinable amount of time I had been as delirious as I had been in Azkaban, suddenly emerging from my insanity to find that I had walked half way down the cliff without having any recollection of the moment at all.
Then I had apparated here immediately and had waited thirty minutes in the waiting area before a very thin teenage girl had immerged from behind the door holding her impossibly thin wrists and crying silently.
“Your receptionist said I could come in,” I muttered quietly, “I don’t mean to bother you, if you... if you’re busy,”
“It’s quite all right. What happened?”
“I don’t know, I... I slipped and then, then there was a moment and, well, I was standing on top of a cliff -”
“Sit down,” Alfred said softly, “and take a deep breath. Take as long as you need to explain. I’ve got no more appointments today.”
“I think you need some coffee,” Alfred said, standing up and pressing a few complicated looking buttons on a machine behind him, “and some chocolate, wait... a mocha,”
I nodded meekly and stared at the floor. My heard was thudding violently in my chest and I felt the threat of tears imposing on me again, but worse than that was the sudden desire to speak some of the thoughts that were weighing heavily in the back of my mind. There was a whirlwind of unvoiced thoughts and emotions that were brewing just below the surface. “How can I live with the fact that... for a moment I wanted to die?” I asked after a few seconds, but somehow starting to speak made me angry because it was impossible to say exactly what I wanted to say and I suddenly felt obliged to search for the right words to express myself, “I have a wife and a kid, how could I? How..?” my head was beginning to pound again, “What if I’d jumped? You’re supposed to be helping me... you’ve got to help me! What if I’d jumped! I need... I need some potions or pills or... I need something more
than a bloody coffee!”
“Euan,” Alfred said calmly, now walking back to his desk with two cups, “calm down.”
“How can I calm down?” I half yelled, “How can you expect me to calm down? I wanted to jump! I wanted to kill myself! I don’t, I don’t... you need to fix me! You’re supposed to fucking fix me! I need potions or... or...or...”
“You’ve had these thoughts before, in Azkaban. We can hope that it was nothing more than a bad slip.” The word hope clouded my brain irritably. Hope? Then it wasn’t certain, it wasn’t definite, I could be becoming madder than I was already.
“What if it’s not?” I asked weekly.
“There’s nothing shameful about what you thought. You were not being selfish. You were desperate. It’s quite obvious that you don’t want to want to die, which puts you in a better position than many. As for potions...” Alfred paused for a moment to sigh, “I wanted to avoid them if possible. I hoped that we wouldn’t get to this point but... I have been looking into it. The wizarding world had a tendency to look upon mental health as unimportant and... well, there is a limited array of potions available: anti-depressant and anti-anxiety. I could put you on either if I thought it would help but at this stage I don’t think either really would.”
“So that’s it then? There’s nothing you can do?”
“That’s not what I said. Muggles pay a lot more heed to mental health – although arguably not half as much as they should given all the other silly little things they try to cure like colds – but they have drugs to stop you become delirious. I’ve ordered some via St Mungo’s but dabbling in both areas of medicine tends to be complicated. They also may not work down to the fact that what you are seeing are your own
memories. I’ll put you on a trial of six weeks. If they don’t help you’ll be given the potions. That is, if you believe that potions and pills are the only way forward?”
“I wanted to kill myself,” I said quietly. “I have a wife and a son. I can’t let myself think like that. Not for my sake, for their sake – I have to get better. I have to.”
“Okay,” Alfred nodded grimly, “but that’s not all I want to do right now. You’ve had a shock today but... I really think we can use today as an example of how things can go wrong. Now, do you feel up to apparating?”
“Well, drink your mocha and then I want you to take me to where the slip started. You’re going to walk me through it and we’re going to talk about it,”
I nodded again and took one of the cups apprehensively. I took a sip and found my insides warming: I vaguely remembered someone telling me the effect chocolate had against the guards and wondered if Alfred had researched this and considered the idea that chocolate might stave away the after effects of the guards.
“I’m sorry again for wasting your time,” I began, “if my benefactor won’t pay for it then... then I’ll pay you, I...”
Alfred shook his head and downed half of his coffee in one clean swoop. “You won’t ever pay for a knut of my time, you hear me? Now, you might want to change that shirt of yours,” he continued. Alfred finished the rest of his drink and began rummaging around in a chest of draws in the corner of the room... he fished out two clean shirts triumphantly. “My wife makes me keep them here just in case I spill something down myself,” Alfred explained, “take your pick,”
“It was here,” I muttered, sat on the low brick wall for the second time that day and hating returning to the setting of my most recent downfall more than my vocabulary could express. The sea sounded the same, it always did, and the salt still hung in the air like a prominent afterthought that couldn’t be shaken away. The shop was the same as it had been this morning, the pavement lining the wall and the dreariness of seaside towns off season was obvious.
“Okay,” Alfred said simply, “now Euan, in the future when you’re beginning to slip I would like you to go through these three stages: context, acclimatise and don’t panic, okay? First I want you to concentrate on what was happening before it started, who you were with, what you were supposed to be doing – that’s the context. Then I want you to go through each of your senses and concentrate on where you are – what you can see, what you can smell, what you can hear – acclimatise, see? Then take a few deep breaths to stop yourself from panicking. Can you do that?”
“Context, acclimatise and don’t panic,” I repeated, running them over in my mind to commit them to memory. Anything that could stop it. Anything that would save me.
“Let’s try it now,” Alfred instructed.
“Context: therapy session with Mr Alfred Cattermole, walking him through my hometown to show him where I slipped. Acclimatise: I can smell the sea, taste the sea, hear the sea, see the sea,”
“What else?” Alfred prompted.
“I can hear cars, smell exhaust fumes, see the tourist shops and the cliffs,”
“I only have one fault,” Alfred said standing up and glancing over the road, “I can’t yet
taste fish and chips. My treat,” he said with a smile, waiting for me to follow suit and stand up too, “What’s your chip order?” Alfred Cattermole asked with another smile that was painfully akin to friendship.
“So this is the cliff,” Alfred said, screwing up the greasy white paper which had recently accommodated fish-and-chips-for-two but was now empty but for a few stubby brown chips that neither of us fancied very much, “well, I’m glad we didn’t have to walk up,” Alfred said peering down the footpath and uneasily stepping forward to look at the, admittedly beautiful, view of the sea. Here, the beach met the rich blue and the ocean met the sky.
I did not trust myself to step too close to the edge.
“Good view,” Alfred said, “look, Euan – I bet we can see your house.”
“We can,” I said taking another tentative step forward and pointing it out, “there’s our house, the one with no car on the drive... there’s the playground, you know, where it all started and...” I took another step so that I was now actually standing in the middle of the footpath, “Jessica and I got married in that church,”
“Claire and I got married in registry office,” Alfred said, and although I knew that he was digging for me to continue the conversation and to talk as if there was nothing to constrain my thought patterns, my desire to volunteer my thoughts and my ability to communicate without talking rubbish. I didn’t care though. Even if he was being paid to do so, there was something invaluable about having someone who wanted me to talk.
“We had sex on that beach once,” I added, causing Alfred to grin and myself to shake my head at the thought, “Jesus,” I muttered feeling the weight of Azkaban on my shoulders once more, “under a sodding picnic blanket, I can’t... I wish, I wish that I was still alive like that,” I blinked and found moisture building up in my eyes stupidly, “we used to walk up here every Sunday and have a picnic,”
“Euan,” Alfred began softly.
“I think I want to go home now,” I said heavily, wrapping my arms around myself and thinking vaguely of potions and pills that would fix me. Then I could take Toby up in my arms again, spin him around on my shoulder, kiss Jessica like I meant it and cook my whole beautiful family meals until they were so fat they could barely move.
“Where the bloody hell have you been!” Jessica shrieked the second I pushed open the front door, sheepishly carrying better spirits and a shopping bag containing a bottle of milk (which Alfred had had to buy after it turned out I’d lost all my money). Jessica’s face was stained with tears and Toby was sat solemnly at the kitchen table passing judgement on my plight. “I sent you out for a pint of milk over six hours ago!” She was hysterical, mad, red in the face and yelling – that was context for you.
“Jess,” I began consolingly, “I had a slip, I... I got waylaid and...”
“No, Euan, for Christ’s sake! I was supposed to work today. My shift started five hours ago. I had to cancel because you never came home!”
“You should have gotten Dad to watch Toby or...”
“You’re Dad’s on holiday with Natasha! I told you five times yesterday,” Jessica was crying again, big welling tears spilling down her face leaving reddish streams of distress, “Do you realise that because I missed that shift we’re going to miss the mortgage this month? You can’t work! What the hell am I supposed to do, Euan?” I didn’t say anything, “God, what am I supposed to do with you?” She collapsed back onto the seat.
“Jess, you don’t understand I-”
“Toby, go to bed,” Jessica ordered. Toby stood up silently and disappeared into his room.
“I had to go and see Alfred, I had to I because I -”
“The vicar turned up at my house today telling me he’d seen you crying on the big mound,” Jessica said, her voice breaking slightly as she spoke. She didn’t meet my eye. She placed her hand on the table. “I thought you’d jumped,” she half whispered.
I sat down.
“Jessica -” I began.
“Promise me that didn’t cross your mind,”
I could not lie. Silence. “Jessica, it’s okay, Alfred – he says there are these potions and pills and, and I can get better Jess.” Jessica shook her head. In the moment of silence I could hear Toby’s suppressed sobs through his bedroom door. I closed my eyes and felt my heart thudding painfully in my chest, my throat constricting – why couldn’t I come through this? Why was I doing this to my family?
“I’ll be better,”
“No,” Jessica said, “the potions won’t work and the side effects will make you worse. I can’t even ask you to get me a pint of milk, I can’t... you’re not my husband anymore,” she finished, standing up and disappearing into our bedroom with her shoulder slouched inwards at an absurd degree.
I put the milk bottle on the table, buried my head into my arms and tried very hard to wish that I’d never been born.
You count the bricks. You count each one: regular grey stone, as cold as your insides to the touch, unyielding and rigid. There is no give in those bricks – you can throw yourself against them, scratch your nails against them until they are ripped from the skin but they will remain unblemished and uninterested. There is no slack in the mortar.
Everything is regular, fixed, sophisticated except you and the tiny hole in the corner of your cell. You run your finger over the bricks, after you have counted them, and you trace the indents which give you such a small crazy hope that its momentum is lost before the thought is completed – but the hope is there for that smallest second. Glowing like a candle amidst the Azkaban wind.
The bricks never give in, never lose their resilience: they remain long after you have rotted away into your mind, strong vertical lines – man made, artificial – and they mark the walls of your grave. They are fixed.
You are worse than tangible.
A/N - Sorry that this isn't getting any happier! Special thanks to NaidatheRavenclaw who nominated this story for the Dobby's (best novella) and another thanks to anyone who helped me get to twenty four nominations overall(I'm still dying of excitement inside about that). You guys mean the world to me *ahem* as do reviews ;)