A Breath Black and Foul

I've been meaning to post the following piece ever since I first noticed my breath clouding around me on a chill morning last November. And although spring may be almost here with its daffodils, and tra-la-la-ing, there is still a bite in the air, and dark clouds gathering on the horizon...

The following was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft... he would have done a far better job of it I dare say...


It was a morning like any other in the quiet seaside town of Dunwich, and I had dressed for the weather, donning my overcoat and scarf against the chill wind and low hanging clouds. As I walked towards the town centre I was just one of many, all of us surrounded by a plume of white as our breath clouded warm around our faces.

It was early and everyone's feet were treading a familiar path, maintaining a speed and distance which had been ingrained in us by repetition, and the silence was broken only by the crying seagulls and the distant sound of waves crashing against the eroded sea defences.

But was that seagulls? The crying was deeper than their calls and there was a pain in it, an anguish too melancholy for a greedy gull. I glanced around but no one else seemed to have heard anything out of the ordinary, which puzzled me as the cries were growing louder.

A man broke from around the corner ahead, his shouts wordless and desperate. He was dressed in pale clothing, no coat against the elements and his feet were bare. Even at this distance I could see the cold chewing at his blue toes. He stumbled to a stop as I and my fellow commuters did the same and I watched as his red rimmed eyes flew from face to face, from person to person, flinching as he saw them and moving away in fear, drawing slowly closer to me as he gave everyone else a wide berth.

His clothes were institutional, some kind of soft fabric without fastenings and I had little time to think on this as his eyes, his wide red rimmed eyes fell upon me and he darted forward, almost falling at my feet, his hands sinking deep into my coat as he gripped the cloth like a drowning man.

"Oh thank God, thank God. You have to help me. We need to leave this God forsaken place, we need to leave before it's too late!"

With his spittle flecking my cheeks I couldn't fail to see the desperation in his eyes and the caked blood in his hair above his temple. A head wound. The poor soul had obviously stumbled free from the hospital, concussed and delirious.

"Sir, be calm, let me return you to the hospital to receive further treatment. From which institution have you come?" I asked, my voice as reassuring as I could manage considering the situation and the chill.

He gritted his teeth in frustration, his breath stale and sour as it plumed into my face.

"No! Don't you understand? It's not safe for you."

His voice dropped as he leant in as close as a kiss, ignoring my recoil and holding me close.

"You're not one of them, not yet, but if you don't leave you'll be as damned as the rest of them! Help me, for God's sake and let me help you!"

A siren was rising in the distance, emerging from the gulls cries as it drew nearer and I looked beyond him hoping to see an emergency vehicle turn the corner at that very moment. He saw my eyes move from him and cursed.

"Damn you for you have damned me!"

He looked away across the still figures surrounding us, their bodies paused in their movements, none of their eyes upon us. It sent a sudden thrum of fear through me, for surely this situation would draw most people's attentions and yet they deliberately kept their eyes from us. I remember wondering if this had been some kind of emergency protocol that I had failed to catch on the radio this morning, a warning to not look or engage with an escaped patient, possibly dangerous and loose in town. Beyond him a small Police vehicle turned the corner and drew to a stop, silencing it's siren. He stared at it and then at me, his face hardening.

"But of course, you don't know, you can't see...so I offer you the enlightenment I received and then you will know. God help you, you will see and if you are wise and lucky you may escape and at least I will have saved you, even though you failed to save me."

His words confused me and I was only dimly away of him uncurling the fingers of his right hand from my overcoat and I watched distractedly as he brought his hand back opening his palm. Before I could comprehend his actions his hand flew forward to slap me on the side of my head.

I staggered, ear ringing, eyes flickering from black to white, held upright only by the grip of his other hand on my coat. I stumbled and fell backwards as that hand was ripped away as the two policemen grabbed him and dragged him towards their car. I lay on the wet stones trying not to vomit and holding my head, only dimly aware of the tussle occurring, his voice screaming nonsense and breaking with fear.

The frozen figures around me chose this moment to rediscover their momentum and for a moment their dark bodies blocked my dazed view of the patient and the men who held him. I heard car doors slam and his screams stopped abruptly. Footsteps approached and a Policeman appeared before me and aided me in recovering my feet.

"Sir, do you believe you require medical treatment?" He asked, his voice flat and disinterested. I took him to be distracted and eager to return to his vehicle and take the poor patient back to the mental care that he so clearly required.

I shook my head and regretted doing so as the movement provoked a wave of nausea and for a moment the air around him darkened until I blinked.

"No, thank you, I think I will just go home and rest. If I suffer any untoward symptoms I will make an appointment to see my GP."

He nodded. "Indeed. Please be sure to go to the station tomorrow to make a statement about this incident. When you are recovered."

He walked away to the car even as he was speaking and slammed the vehicle's door, the sound echoing in my head like distant thunder. The other commuters passed by me like a dark tide around a lone rock, decreasing from a flood to a trickle as I watched the car drive away and yet I  found myself still stationary. I gathered myself and turned back towards home, retracing the steps I had taken only a few moments ago but feeling like an utterly different person.

At home, after a few hours of cautious, disconcerted wakefulness, I succumbed to a slumber full of dreams I cannot recall but awoke in the depths of the night afflicted with an overwhelming sense of unease.

I slept again and woke with my alarm feeling fresher and my headache was mild enough that I believed a normal day at work would be just the thing to set everything right and put the events of the day before behind me. I would go to work and visit the Police station during my lunch break to make the required statement.

I felt a strange sense of deja vu as I left the house, wrapping the scarf around my neck and fastening my overcoat. The weather was exactly the same as the day before, damp and grey, the clouds upon the ground creating a soft mist. My breath plumed around me and I raised my scarf to keep that heat in. As I turned the corner to join the usual tide of fellow commuters I stumbled to a stop.

All was as it had ever been, a flow of people dressed as warmly as I, their eyes ahead as their feet followed the well worn path into the town centre. But from each mouth, each face, beyond scarfs and turned up collars, emerged a plume of breath, not white like mine, but black. As black as the writhing dreams which had awoken me in the night. And as I watched these dark clouds oozing from their mouths and noses, receding back in with the in breaths, I could see in the smoke, the dark clouds of foul breath, something twisting and writhing. Something slick and black, coiled flesh and tentacles in the storm, like something from below.

Something from below.

All of his words sank into me like a weight in my gut and I understood what he had been trying to say. I understood the blow to the head. There was something about the blow, the damage which allowed us to see.

And I could see that there were eyes turning towards me as my steps faltered. I schooled my face into numb sleepiness and pushed myself forwards towards work with my eyes cast down and my footsteps robotic. Despite all my efforts to not draw attention to myself, I found my steps gaining speed as I approached the safety of my office, practically running into the building and taking the stairs two at a time until I reached the sanctity of my floor.

Bursting through the door, pausing for breath and struggling out of my coat, I glanced up at my colleagues. Hands stilled on typewriters and all eyes turned to stare at me with cold interest, voices falling silent as telephone handsets hung silent by ears.

On those who were closest I could see it most clearly. It was too warm in here for our breaths to plume, but twisting at the corner of each mouth, skimming lips and hugging tongues, black tentacles writhed glistening like oil, the air scented like trapped sea water and rotting, water-bloated corpses.

I dashed to the bathroom, leaning against the door to prevent anyone from following me. When I heard no footsteps I went to the sink to splash water on my face and take a drink from the faucet. Surely this was the blow to the head, delusions, hallucinations or some such. Surely I was dreaming, no, nightmaring and soon I would awaken and all would be well. It was one thing for strangers to appear dark and tainted, quite another for my colleagues, my friends.

And then something other than water caressed my lip.

I pulled my head back from the running water and watched the black tendril twist in the water flowing from the tap. I felt an answering flex within my water filled stomach.

It was in the water.

I looked up at the mirror and saw only my face, wet and pale as a dead fish, my eyes red rimmed from seeing. I opened my mouth and leant towards the mirror looking for movement, a twisting tentacle sliding across my teeth. There was nothing... wait.

I opened my mouth wider, straining to see the back of my throat where the shadows were the darkest. And there, something black, something wet unwound, tiny cupping suckers puckering against the air.


It is too late for me but if you are reading this then maybe you are yet to become tainted. Maybe you still have a chance to leave this abominable coastal town. Maybe you haven't drunk too much of the water. Maybe your breath still hangs white in the cold morning air, like a pure spirit trying to escape rancid cursed flesh.

This is only the third floor but the window in the bathroom is large enough to climb through and while I am still myself I plan to end this contamination of my body.

The whole town has befouled breath, has been touched by something dark from below the deep waters.

If you are reading this, flee. Take your body from this place before this place can take your body. And if it's too late, if your body is already lost... save your soul.

Save your soul.


Handwritten document found hidden behind a loose tile in the gentlemen's toilet, third floor, Lovecraft House East.


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