The power was out again.
He sank down into his leather-and-microfiber-stain-free sofa, the normally inviting cushions serving only to insulate him, making the already hot, dry summer night all the more unbearable. Candles dotted the room, battling to keep the darkness at bay, fighting the night and the terrors that usually came with it. A hot, stale breeze blew lazily through the open windows. Flies buzzed around the screen.
Before him sat two glasses, lit by the soft glow of the candles. Both held the amber liquid, one slightly lighter than the other. One, he knew, held the promise of happiness; the bliss of memories and hope for the future. But the other…
He shuddered, thinking of what he was about to endure.
Slowly, he lifted the darker of the two to his lips and drank.
Instantly his consciousness was flooded with positive memories of his previous two weeks – swimming all day in the cool lake, the laughter of his friends reverberating around the mountains. The joy of seeing her again after spending so many sleepless nights apart. The anticipation of what could become one of those perfect days. The smooth, toasted malt flavor with a hit of caramel sweetness was the perfect compliment to these happy thoughts…
After a few moments, he opened his eyes. He felt lighter somehow, as if off in the distance a change was brewing – a hint of cooler weather, or the rain that the earth so desperately needed. A smile played across his lips, only to falter and die as his gaze fell upon the second glass. He watched it for a moment as the small beads of perspiration gathered together, running down the glass to pool with the others around the bottom, staining his wooden table with the ghost of itself.
Gathering his courage, he took a breath and drank.
No sooner had he set the glass down he was slammed back into the couch, face contorted in the grimace of one bearing excruciating pain. The burn of hops, the intensity of the pine and citrus was just too much. Images flashed before his eyes, tormenting him with the fears he needed to face. The cave. The pain. The screaming. The blood.
All at once he was back there, back inside the swarm, trying to escape. They were all around him, crawling into his ear canal, swarming and swarming and stinging over and over – his back, the underside of his arms, the inside of his lips. The only thing he could hear was the buzz of their wings and his own screams. He ran, trying desperately to outrun them, only to fall headlong into the center of the storm…
He opened his eyes with a start, the scream dying slowly on his lips. He sat forward on the couch and noticed the ring of sweat soaking the cushions around him. He tried to swallow, but his mouth was dry. He ran his hands over his face and sat, elbows on knees and head in his hands, contemplating the two draughts. The promise of one was completely negated by the dread of the other. He didn’t know what to do.
Suddenly, off in the distance, the sky flashed. He turned with a start, staring intently at the horizon. One minute. Two. Three.
There. There it was again. There was no mistaking it. Lightning. The breeze began to pick up, blowing stronger through the screens, bringing with it the scent of rain. A smile grew on his lips, starting small in the corner of his mouth and growing into a genuine grin, his first in months. Without another thought he turned back to the table, grabbed the repugnant liquid and poured the rest of it down his throat.
The pain that coursed through his body was unbearable. He tried to scream, but it was lost inside his lungs. The Resin flowed through his veins, seeking out each small corner of his being and demanding he bear witness to the worst of his life over the past weeks. The vicious words. The back-stabbing. The insults. The derision. And then, finally, the lake. He felt the hands on his shoulders, pushing him deeper into the blackness. The air in his lungs screamed for release, but the relentless pressure held him under. He felt his body grow colder, and finally he gave up his breath to the deep and to the horror… the horror…
But then he heard it. The rain. It came in spurts at first, sputtering into being in fits. With each drop, the terrible visions were beaten back and he staggered to his feet, breathing deeply the cool air now blowing into his apartment. He braced himself against the door frame, letting the air and the spray cleanse him.
He turned with a grin on his face, spying the BBC Amber Ale still waiting, half-finished, on the table. He took the precious liquid in his hands and drank it down in one smooth motion. Then, as the joy began to well up inside him, he stepped outside into the rain, the first he had seen in more than a month. He turned his face to the sky, letting the cool rain wash over his face just as the cold beer flowed through him. He raised his arms in triumph, and standing there found the peace he had searched for since the summer first began.