Piercing pain. Agony lancing through me, merciless and unforgiving. Digging deep into my flesh, serrated daggers ripping me apart. My throat tightens, the suffocating feeling in my lungs spreading, raging through my body like a deadly disease, one with no cure, while I claw at my throat futilely, in vain. Marked. For death. I cannot breathe; I cannot think. I do not wish to leave this beautiful world behind, and with it my family and friends. Misery engulfing me, I open my mouth to scream, in terror and desperation, but nothing comes out: a soundless scream. Fear fills my gaze, clouding my eyes until all I see, the only thing I see, is red. Crimson red: the color of blood. Stark horror closes in on me, cornering me, a vulture circling overhead and waiting patiently for death. As the wings of despair envelop me in their embrace, my mind begins to shut down, plunging me into a deep sleep, one that I will never wake from. The lacerating pain ebbs away, and the tight feeling in my chest ceases as I sink into unconsciousness. A moment later, a black wave reeking of death rises to claim me, but I resist, for I still have one final thing to do. Until I have finished, I will cling on to life. I must. With that decision, my mind drifts back, through time, and into a reverie…
... “Why?” I reiterated once more as the professor stared at me in a mixture of irritation and aggravation, “Why is snow white?”
I had been sitting calmly by the window in painting class, astonished by the color of snow, the cold, powdery substance turning the whole world white. Snow. That word was new to my lips. A tornado of queries whirled in my mind as I reached out to touch the cool glass in awe. Why does it only come, carried by dark clouds on the rushing wind, in winter? Why, when brought into the warm atmosphere of a building, did it melt? And why was it white?
“What?! What type of question is that?” Anger sparked in his pale eyes, which were two oceans of nothingness, never questioning, never desiring to know more.
“Yes, why? I would like to know, professor.” My innocent eyes locked with his, which seemed to annoy the professor furthermore.
“Clarisse,” he continued after a long stretch of silence, his voice dangerously calm, “I have reason to believe that you are—” he paused to think, putting emphasis on the word he spoke next, “—different. Perhaps we should arrange a little talk with your mother and father, and maybe a visit to the psychiatrist.”
“Different?” I echoed, toying the word in my mouth, “Different, but why, professor?”I added, inquisitive. Ignoring my inquiry, he strode out of the room, leaving the rest of the class to gape at me in a mixture of fear and repulsion. Repulsion. I wasn’t repulsive. I was simply different from the others, but that was all it took for me to be shunned, eluded by society.
Once again, my thoughts swing away from my first day at school to a more recent memory, one of a friend…
… I had been watching him for some time now, for he was strangely different, as I was. He listened attentively to what others said, and he possessed the one thing I thought had been lost in time: compassion. Additionally, he met others’ eyes and acknowledged them. There was something in his gaze that told me he was unlike any other firemen out there. He was unique.
So one day I approached him, the leaves swirling around my feet as the wind blew intricate patterns in the air and my white dress billowed out behind me. I halted instantly in my tracks as I realized I was only a few steps away from him and stood sizing him up, my shining dark eyes darting over him to stop, mesmerized, on the salamander on his arm. Vaguely, I heard him say hello, but I could not take my eyes off the phoenix disc and salamander, and so did not respond.
“Of course,” he spoke once more, “you’re our new neighbor, aren’t you?”
He seemed friendly enough, so I replied, “And you must be—” I dragged my gaze from the symbols, “—the fireman.” My voice dwindled to a whisper.
As we spoke, the man introduced himself as Guy Montag. We conversed about the details I had observed and the long ago firemen. When I left, I questioned him one final time, curious, “Are you happy?” He had no answer.
And now I slip into one last memory, my very last…
… “This might hurt a bit, but it’ll help end your condition.” The man in the white coat spoke, stressing the word ‘condition.’ I didn’t ponder why he said ‘end,’ though it did sound a bit odd. Instead, nodding, I stared in fascination as he injected a milky liquid into my body. And that was when the pain began. Without thinking, I realized what it was too late: poison. Desperately, I started to thrash around, unable to bear the agony. Why? I repeated the question in my mind for the umpteenth time, until I was certain the word would be forever seared in my memory. Why?
As scenes from my life flash in my mind’s eye, I feel myself grow weaker and weaker. Soon, I will not be able to refuse the tempting wave of darkness, the serene wings of death. And when it comes, I will leave this world, forever, and slip into whatever lies ahead for me. Peace and calm flood my mind, and tranquility cocoons me. I am ready, I accept my fate. Out of the darkness, the oozing tide of black and nothingness towers above me, silent as an owl and giving off the rank scent of death. It plunges down, quick as an eagle, swift as lightning. This time, I know it will not miss its target. The wave crashes down at me, dark water swirling around me, tumbling and whirling, and the noise is deafening, the sonic ripple ravaging everything in its way. And in that single moment, I am carried off my feet and hurled into the oblivion and—
—silence. All is quiet. I am soaring through the blue sky, light as a feather and free as a bird. Such calm. Such peace. Clouds swirl around me, puffy white wisps of cotton, and the soft summer breeze brushes my face. Butterflies, reflecting the sunlight, flutter through the air, their wings a blur, and the sun, a golden disc of fire, shines high in the sky, casting out incandescent ribbons of light and illuminating the world. Pleasure and ecstasy flash through me. I feel the exhilaration of flying, gliding through the sky on silent wings, and as I dive down, I swoop into a fish, swimming in the crystal-clear, flowing waters. For a moment, I am the fish, enjoying the smooth flow of the river, and excitement courses through me. From nature I come, and to nature I return. The sun warming my face, I think: it is indeed paradise.