I Can't Catch My Breath (The Darkness Visible Remix)
by tahlia

Remix of "I Can't Catch My Breath" by Rebeckah

Harold Croom owned a hotel on the beach. It was a motel, actually, and a small one at that, given to him after his father stopped remembering who he was and where he lived. In the summer, rich guests flocked to his seaside resort town and occupied his rooms, and with the windows open the cool ocean breeze would bring in the scent of salt and distant memories at night. In his town, the buildings were old, but the memories were older.

But here, now, in the beginning of spring, nearly all the room keys were neatly hung on the peg board behind the counter, and the only sound Harold could hear was the small radio that only played the golden oldies station from the mainland. Still, there would be an occasional guest or two in a week, and they would be nice and Harold would smile back and slip them extra towels when the rooms were cleaned each day.

A small little motel in a quiet town, where the first excitement in over ten years was a small tragedy: an explosion on a bus, with just enough casualties to overload the morgue in the town's only funeral home.


He signs the guest book with only a moment of hesitation, like he's forgotten who he is for a split second, and Harold knows he is running from something, maybe himself. It's a skill honed after two decades of sitting behind this counter and watching thousands of hands make thousands of fluid (or not so) motions on yellowing pages.

He doesn't come with much baggage-- not physical, at least. A small duffel bag and a briefcase that looks like it should be handcuffed to someone's wrist on a secure aircraft is all he carries, and carry it he does: he tries to be light and breezy as Harold processes his room, but he can't hide the way he's gripping the handle on that briefcase.

Harold asks about visitors, and the man who calls himself Jarod Hampton with a strange flourish on his 'n' only smiles and say, "Let's hope not." And Harold asks how long he's going to stay, and darkness clouds this man's almost-innocent face.


The only paper in town called the explosion "a freak accident," as if a bus sitting idly in a deserted parking lot could be anything but. A charter bus from North Carolina carrying eager gamblers north stopped for mechanical troubles and became fire and rubble ten minutes later. Investigators stumped, proclaimed the headline.

Of all the places, it stopped here, and look what happened. He heard them mumbling when he bought his morning paper: why did it have to happen here? What right did God have to disturb their quiet town? Harold threw some change on the counter and told the clerk that God had nothing to do with it. And no one was surprised, because Harold Croom was just the old man who ran that motel at the end of Third Avenue, the one the kids fixated on every year when it came to dares and Halloween.

Still, there was little anyone could do when it came to all those body bags-- eight in all-- lined up neatly on the pavement. They told themselves, things like this don't happen here, but it had happened there and they had to deal with it one way or another.

Harold passed the lot every day, and lately he had to wade through gapers and members of media to get home, so he kept his head down and didn't make eye contact, which is exactly why he heard her before he saw her.

"He's nearby, Sydney," she said, and as her piercing eyes scanned the crowd, they locked with Harold's and he faltered for a moment. She stared at him, like a child admiring ants under a magnifying glass, and he knew in that instant that she remembered him and he remembered her. He noticed she looked as harsh as she had before. For a split second, she almost seemed to be pleading with him, begging him not to announce her secret to the mass of onlookers, and then she was on to more searching, and he was forgotten.

Harold hurried back to his motel, knocking on Mr. Jarod Hampton's door, but there was no answer and the door was already slightly ajar.


She stalks in the front door and the bell on the door slams against the glass to announce her presence a moment too late. She is all legs, sunglasses, and dark hair as she raps her nails on Harold's counter and slams the photo of Mr. Jarod Hampton in front of him.

And she doesn't bother to introduce herself before falling into: "Don't fuck with me, OK? I know he's here, so don't even try to pull whatever half-assed diversion tactic he came up with. I don't want you to pick up the phone, I don't want you to make any movement except to turn around and give me the key to whatever room you've got him in. Do you understand?"

She makes it hard not to, and ten years ago he might have taken her to task and he wouldn't have let anyone speak to him like that, but he's old now, so he simply nods. Harold thinks she might be a bounty hunter, except she's too pristinely dressed; he thinks she should have a cigarette hanging from her mouth as she points a gun at his head, but she only stands there, menacing.

He slips the key across the Formica countertop and she snatches it from him. "You don't have to go far," Harold says. "Right next door."

She regards him like an idiot, doesn't say thank you, and leaves the way she came. He put Mr. Hampton up in the room next to the office because he worried about something happening, and all the old buildings in town have walls thinner than paper, so he can hear the first few heated exchanges. He's almost afraid of the sound he might hear-- the sound of a gunshot, because he thinks she's capable of something like that.

He calls her Parker and Harold has to listen to her moaning and screaming all night.


No one had ever died at Harold's little motel on the beach, much less committed suicide. It was another to add to the town's list of firsts for the week.

The scene was almost cliche: his body, limply propped up against the side of the bed, an empty bottle of pills and half-empty Jack Daniels on the table by the window. That same briefcase wide open next to them, small round discs littering the room's floor. One was even clutched between his fingers. It was pathetic, almost.

The paramedics and the crime scene investigators from two towns over were there in his room, combing over the scene, before the men in dark sits came, swarming like ants, waving warrants and menacing looks. He half-expected to see her bring up the rear of the group, a conquering look on her face, but she never came. Maybe, he thought, maybe they were CIA. That was the rumor these days, as isolated townsfolk were likely to do.

They stayed in that small room for forty-eight hours, no doubt looking for the same clues everyone else was, and then late in the night Harold was awakened by the sound of screeching tires. He moved to his window just in time to see the last faint outline of a black SUV peel out of the parking lot, turning right toward the north highway and wherever they had come.

Harold went to see what they had done to the place where Mr. Jarod Hampton had departed this earth, and found it cleaner than any of his maids could have left it. To untrained eyes, it might have seemed as if no evil had been committed here. Harold Croom wasn't a religious man, but the men in suits smelled of evil and so did the neatly-washed bureau and the shining table.

He didn't understand why, and he didn't want to; the last thing he wanted was this dead man's skeletons filling his own closet. And, yet, he couldn't bring himself to ever rent that room out again.


Miles away, Sydney tries to understands it, and fails. All he can find to do is push away the photos of Margaret and Emily and Charles among burned rubble and ash, and dim the lights so he can't see his own tears running down his face.

"Will it ever stop hurting?" she asks, over the phone, and he wonders if he can lie to her like that.

He knows about her visit. He wants to yell out at her, reprimand her, ask her if she thinks all the times she's slipped away to places across the country would go unnoticed. He thinks he might hate her for putting herself-- hell, putting them all at such obscene risk by becoming dangerously entangled with Jarod.

But she sounds almost hysterical on the phone and it's so unlike her that he figures she probably knows this already.

"How the hell could he does this to m- us!" There, she almost slips.

"He wasn't thinking." And now he's reassuring himself, too. "He probably didn't even remember us. After he found the bodies of his family in the bus he couldn't think past his loss." It hurts to say it.

She keeps saying she can't stop to catch her breath, and Sydney marvels how this young woman can manage to keep going through all the loss and tragedy in her life.

"I don't want to grieve anymore," she growls. "This is the last straw, Syd, I can't take anymore pain."

Sydney doesn't want to contemplate what that means, even if he already knows.

He feels like he shouldn't even attempt to console her, after the things he's done and the contributions he's made to this organization. But there's a part of him that can't stop. "Take some time, Parker, let yourself work through this."

"But it will always hurt. And I will always be angry." So what's the point in doing anything?

He tells her, calmly and serenely despite himself, that they'll make it through this, together, and he thinks she sounds better when she hangs up. Sydney sits still in his chair, holding the receiver as a dial tone echoes in his ear, and then he sees it: a small snow globe, the Empire State building covered in plastic snow.

He picks it up, remembering the small little boy who inquired innocently about his parents. Then he throws it across the room and it smashes into a hundred pieces against the wall.


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