Charlie's place in the Break was easier to spot the longer he stayed. He sat in the corner and as he sat there the corner became lost in smoke, until in the twilight hours Charlie could not be seen through the haze. The Tender seemed unbothered by this as he would walk straight into the cloud to deliver another packet of cigarettes to Charlie, but then the Tender seemed bothered by nothing.
The cloud would slowly dissipate as Charlie left the Break, and the alley that led up to it, and follow him home. Charlie never stopped smoking. Even when a cigarette wasn't in his mouth, which was rare, plumes still emerged with every breath and word.
Charlie lived in a small apartment with a TV, a couch, and a bed. He didn't sleep, but he liked to lie down now and then. When he watched TV he never really paid attention to what program he was watching, he simply basked in the light of human faces that weren't coughing or choking on his presence.
He had few expenses, mostly cigarettes, and these were paid in full by the salary he received for not working. Charlie used to have an office job, and he was very good at it. But he got to be too good at it. It started when his reports started getting too accurate. Simple, routine bits of information on paperclip expenses were so absolutely exact, so true to reality that when they were read the reader could not help but see absolute and complete truth in them, the nature of humanity and the world itself explained by an FYI on the new office dress code. His supervisor had broken down into tears when Charlie handed in his report on the latest marketing projects, and it soon became evident that the company simply couldn't survive with Charlie Charnel working for it.
Thus he was given a stay at home job, his job being to not work. They couldn't even consider firing him, that would have meant he would be on the job market again and then he might have ended up getting hired into another office and writing another report.
So Charlie stayed at home and smoked. He had no friends. Charlie simply did not know how to make friends, in the same way that some people don't know how to roll their tongue.
So Charlie stayed at home and smoked. He had no family. His parents were still alive, but Charlie might as well have been an orphan. He and they just seemed to have forgotten each other, like high school friends who promise they'll keep in touch but never do.
So Charlie stayed at home and smoked. Sometimes he walked around and smoked. But mostly he just smoked, and his existence, looking for something to prove to itself that it was there, latched onto that.
He first noticed things were going strange when he stopped needing haircuts. He would notice his hair starting to get long, and then soon it wouldn't be that long anymore. After a certain length the hair would just go away. At first he didn't know what was happening to it, but he started to hazard an accurate guess when he'd wake up and find ash covering his pillow.
Then he stopped getting hungry. Whenever he usually would need a meal, he found a smoke would do. Sleeping faded away as well, and Charlie would spend nights wide awake, unable to figure out why he couldn't go to sleep and also why it didn't seem to change anything.
He tried going to a doctor, but he wasn't allowed in a hospital while smoking, and even when he put out his cigarette, he'd find that somehow he was still smoking. So he had to make some conclusions on his own, and none of them were particularly comforting or even rational, though they were all accurate.
It was just when Charlie Charnel was starting to realize what he was that he got a girlfriend. Her name was Melissa and he quite literally bumped into her at a convenience store. This resulted in her dropping a cheap novelty glass covered in cartoon characters, he offered to pay for it, and they fell to talking. And she, a depressed young woman with eyes like bruised flower petals, became fascinated.
Melissa had a love of broken things, of derelicts and ruins, and what she beheld in front of her was a ruin of a man. He was made out of remains, the ashes of a life that had burnt itself out, and perhaps because he was such a vacuum she found herself sucked in.
At first they just talked and rented movies, something they both found they shared an interest in. They couldn't go to movies at the theatre because Charlie couldn't smoke in them, and so they usually found themselves in Charlie's apartment with various loaned classics. With all that close proximity, things soon moved forward and they found themselves enjoying each other physically.
Charlie, for the first time in his life, made love. He had had sex before, but this was the first time that it felt like anything more than a physical obligation, like something he wanted to do rather than needed to do. Having stopped eating, stopped sleeping, stopped indulging in so many bodily needs, he found his whole form finely tuned towards this act of oneness, and the result was such wonder, such life.
His love for Melissa, however, was killing her.
He started to worry when he noticed her coughing a lot. When her voice became raspy, when she was always short of breath, he wrung his hands and his heart went sick as he realized what was happening. Slowly she was wilting, fading, being smoked out of the world.
Charlie begged her to stop seeing him, to stop being with him, but she refused. She seemed to thrive on her destruction, she would make noises of pleasure as she felt her breathing weaken, she would writhe against Charlie's body in her coughing fits, and she would wail with ecstasy when, near the end, Charlie would fill her body with dying hot embers.
Finally, Melissa died, and Charlie's life returned to normal, and he discovered anew just how horrible that was.
Charlie took to wandering the streets late at night and early in the morning, when nobody was about. A trail of smoke followed him, tracing a brimstone path that marked his wake. He had to keep moving to stop thinking, to do anything but stay where he'd loved someone, for fear of remembering her and comparing his life now to how it had been then.
One night, Charlie turned a corner, and there was the Break.
It was a room built in a building by sheer mistake of floor plans. It wasn't supposed to have been there, it wasn't meant to serve any purpose, just somehow some empty space had ended up in the building's construction and had ended up as a room, with no way to access it. Nobody but the original builders knew it was there, and they had long forgotten about it, having decided not to bother reporting it to their superiors out of laziness. During the night, when someone walked towards it while on just the right level of existence, it had a door, and it was that door that Charlie Charnel saw and, on instinct, walked through.
What he found was something that looked like it half-heartedly was attempting to be a bar but was more just an empty room with chairs and tables strewn about, various people with strange auras sitting at them. The Tender nodded at Charlie as he came in, as if he were a regular, and Charlie walked up to him, about to ask where he was. Before he could, the Tender held out a familiar object: A packet of cigarettes. With his other hand, he held up two fingers.
Charlie handed over two dollars, took the packet, looked around, and spotted a single empty seat at a small table over in a corner. There he sat, and finding that his own supply of cigarettes had dwindled, lit up one from the packet he'd just bought. A curious sense of ease came over him, not exactly comfort, but certainly a lack of discomfort. He felt like he was outside of everything, like his existence was no longer something he had to maintain, but just something he could go along with.
Charlie goes to the Break every night, and he sits in the corner and smokes. Near the end of the night, when the smoke gets so thick that Charlie is a figure in it, shapes start to form in it, like someone else is in the cloud with him. Before he leaves, a face can be seen in it, female, with tired but loving eyes, and her lips kiss Charlie's lips- who breathes her in, her face vanishing as he inhales, and never exhales before the next breath.