For the Word Limit Competition, Round 1

Prompt: Breathe in, breath out.

Word Limit: 500 or less

"When the Breathing Stops"

A small whimper escapes her lips, but all it does is make her angry.

No, she tells herself. I am not going to start bawling. I am not. Not here, not now.

But really, all she wants to do is dissolve into a quivering mass of tears. It hurts like nothing she's ever felt before. It feels like filth is creeping through her veins, turning her into something she's not. It isn't really – changing her, that is. It's not. It's not a full moon tonight. Still, that doesn't change what it feels like.

Breathe in, she tells herself. Breathe out.

The steady rhythm of breath is the only tangible thing she has to focus on. It's the only thing keeping her sane.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

She's not stupid. Not with things like this. She knows that she's dying. She knows that no one has the time right now to stop and help her. She knows that.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

She doesn't want to die. But then, does anyone? Not at 18 years old. Not so soon. And really, she just wants to whine and cry about how it isn't fair. It's not. But life isn't fair – she knows that. She isn't stupid.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

And whining and crying would be nothing more than letting them win, and she doesn't want to do that. She doesn't want to let them win. She doesn't want the monster responsible for the pain roaring through her body right now to win. It's the only thing she has left right now.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

The steady rhythm of breath is grounding everything right now. It's holding her in this moment – this last of moments. Her senses feel unusually alive; the air tastes of dust and ashes and smells of the coppery tang of blood. The ground underneath her feels unusually solid, and she can feel every pebble, every piece of rubble poking into her side.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

This hypersensitivity, though, comes with a hypersensitivity to the pain, too. It rages through her, burning her insides and leaving her raw and tender. It washes in waves, ebbing and flowing like the tides at hyper speed.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Dark spots splash across her vision, mingling with the reds and grays already there.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Her eyelids flutter shut.

Breathe in.

She forces them open.

Breathe out.

They drop shut again of their own accord.

Breathe.

Then the breathing stops.