Claimer: MINE.

A/N: I've dithered about posting this, mostly because it's...well, personal. The one story where I forego characters and actually am the narrator. And while this isn't technically a true story, I have all the means to carry it out; I've just never quite bothered. I don't know why I'm rambling. Anyhoo, this was written for my writing class (actually, it's the story that fit with the prompt, unlike "Window Shadow", which I wrote before I read the prompt, ah ha ha) last year. Do enjoy and review.

A/N the second: If you're curious, the prompt was to tell a true story (or mostly true story; yay artistic license) centering around a particular object and be under 500 words.

carcinogenic catharsis

I lean against the driver's door of my car, one leg crossing the other at the ankle, one hand fumbling in my jacket's pocket for my Zippo lighter. My other hand already holds the pack of cigarettes, black with teal accents and magenta script proclaiming Camel No. 9 Menthe. It's light, not heavy like I expected it to be, an assumption perhaps due to the dire Surgeon General's warning printed on the side.

I don't heed the warning, though—I don't plan on actually smoking them.

Finding the lighter, I grip it in my teeth while my fingers flip open the pack, unfold the crimson foil, extract a cigarette. Each one is a slim white cylinder, decorated only with a thin teal strip and a tiny pink camel, and I contemplate it for a moment before I place the pack back in my other pocket. I bought the pack on my eighteenth birthday—a declaration of my adult independence—but now, two years later, is only the third time I've bothered with it.

The lighter clicks once, twice, and a tiny flame appears, catching on the end of the slim stick and turning the paper swiftly to ash. Tendrils of ghostly smoke rise upward, and while I never bring the smoldering cigarette to my lips, I inhale all the same.

Closing my eyes, I see a house. It squats atop a hill spotted with oak trees that offer solace and shade from the sun and the years. A battered driveway meanders up the hill, and several cars sleep there (one of them is an antique someone's fixing, slowly fixing). The sidewalk curves to a concrete stoop; sunlight pierces the leaves in long shafts of golden haze.

Inside, footfalls echo sharply on the wooden steps leading upstairs and, more muffled, on the carpeted steps descending into the basement. Those feet have always been mine and my best friend's, swept up in the giddy rush of another grand childhood adventure. Strangely, he is never here when I visit his old house, as gone from my memories as he is gone from my life. The place is deserted except for the lingering echoes of my feet and the ephemeral shadows of my body that flit from room to room and pretend this house is my home.

I catch the faintest aroma of cigarette smoke. It hangs vaguely in the air and seems part of the very walls themselves, trapped within the decorative paper and coiled around the staircase's banister and reclining on the furniture—the sofa, the kitchen counter, the pool table. It approaches me, soft and caressing, and wraps me in its smoky trails, causing my chest to tighten and my breath to hitch with choking nostalgia.

I reopen my eyes and realize I'm still leaning against my car, the cigarette burnt to an ashy stub. I drop it to the asphalt; the scent persistently clings to my clothing and accompanies me on the long drive elsewhere.