Don’t ask me, my answer might change with each reading…
Ah, sweet ambiguity.
As I have mentioned before, I don’t tend to write simple horror stories. Layers and more are what excite me in the stories I write as well as the stories I read that leave the biggest impression. “Not Breathing” epitomizes ambiguity, an uncertain thread weaving in and out of the main character’s perceptions, in which the original vibe—a person who has had their life shattered by drug addiction—might just be completely wrong!
Again, I’ll let the reader figure it out and build their own takes on it.
Here’s a sample, this one from somewhere within, where the main character has had an enlightening experience and goes back to the desolate one room apartment he and his partner live in; or is there really a partner? This is the prelude to further revelations.
I strip off my clothes and snuggle next to you on the stained and torn mattress. Pulling bundled, filthy sheets over my feeble body—cockroaches scuttle away at my intrusion--I whisper “I love you” and “I’m sorry I was gone, I had to see my kids, but…”
The words die in my throat.
You don’t stir, don’t respond. I am not one to think much of it, but then I realize two powerfully blunt truths: You are cold in ways that make my skin hurt.
And you are not breathing.
My tether, my anchor to this world and the pain and fury of being human, of aching in ways that scrape out the hollow within and leave a vacancy where the soul should reside—you are not breathing!
I shake you a little, “c’mon,” but you don’t c’mon. You chill the emptiness with your barren presence.
I hold you because there is nothing else for me to do, there is nothing else for me to say--oh, a dashed off, “I’m sorry for leaving tonight”--but that is simply the punch-line to the joke that is my existence.
What follows confirms the hallucinatory path the whole story has actually taken, a kind of drug association via the main character's disoriented worldview...
A special note here. As writers, we all sense when strides forward in our writing have been attained. There’s an odd moment here, this line, “I shake you a little, “c’mon,” but you don’t c’mon. You chill the emptiness with your barren presence,” that served as one of those moments for me. That’s the raw line; I sensed an initial need to revise it, because that was simply the tendency with much of my writing a few years ago, always whittling away, perfecting, not realizing that perhaps perfection was in the original burst of words the story was built on. Odd, but that line was there, and I remember looking at it, thinking, Why? Why change a thing? Why mess with it? Sure, it may seem like nothing to others, but it always hits me when I read it how I know it was perhaps a moment where a trust of my talent—or whatever is on hand in writing these stories—was engaged. I tend to revise as necessary, but now I also tend to trust those moments when I sense I got it right the first time, at least a little more often. A part of the learning process; the constant learning process.
Next up, perhaps the most insidious, downright cruel piece in the book…