Do you smoke? I used to.
Don’t worry, I’m not about to list a million and one reasons you shouldn’t. I won’t insult your intelligence—you know exactly why you shouldn’t smoke.
You don’t need me (or anyone else) to tell you. I’ve been victim many a holier-than-thou lecture, I’m not about to subject you to the same. Smoking is one of those habits that people feel comfortable judging you for, so long as it is out of ‘concern’ for your health. We’ve heard it all before.
No … I’m going to give you one more reason to quit. Only one. It was enough to get me to stop, maybe it will be enough for you. If it’s not, I’ve done all I could. What happens after you read my story is entirely up to you, and frankly—none of my damn business. Hell, just putting this out there is going ‘above and beyond’ any sort of moral obligation. I don’t give a shit what you do, I don’t even know you.
Yet, here I am: typing this out while wondering if I’m a fucking nut. But you know what? I quit cold turkey, and though my health is probably a lot better—that perk still comes second to the fact that I’ll never see one of those things again.
A couple years ago I was reluctantly attending a wedding. My ex Lissa, the one that got away, was about to be forever out of my reach. I didn’t want to be there, but I also didn’t want to be an asshole… so there I was, hunched in a pew and pretending to be happy for her. I guess I sort of was, but I was also feeling pretty damn sorry for myself.
After the excruciatingly long ceremony, I excused myself to have a smoke outside. I had no interest in attending the reception and watching Lissa look so happy with someone else. At this point, I felt as though I’d fulfilled any obligation our continuing friendship had wrought: I’d gifted some fancy blender that makes soup off her registry, I’d watched the ceremony, shed a few happy tears and borrowed the tux.
Now I just had to wait until the earliest time I could leave without looking like a dick.
A smoke break would at least give me an excuse to step away from the bustling celebration. There was a designated smoking area outside, frustratingly far from any of the entrances. It was early spring, the sky was still winter-dark and it was cold as fuck… but it was still better than being inside, so I made the walk and fished out a smooshed pack of Camel Lights.
I’d borrowed the tux from my younger brother who’d made me swear I wouldn’t smoke while wearing it—but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I needed this! Smoking would take the edge off this miserable evening.
A woman was already standing at the oh-so classy ash tray garbage can combo. I didn’t recognize her, but that didn’t mean much– I hadn’t been paying attention to the other guests. What surprised me about her was her dress… it was white.
Even I know that’s a faux pas. Only the bride is supposed to wear white at a wedding—and I knew that the entire church had been rented out for this event, so it wasn’t like this was some errant bride from another wedding. No, her dress was an act of rebellion—a petty gesture that my bitter heart could appreciate.
Clearing my throat, I approached; making noise because I didn’t want to startle her, giving her a chance to hear me coming before closing the distance between us. The woman had her back to me, not bothering to turn to acknowledge me.
I didn’t take it personally, just drew out a cigarette and lit up with an almost frenzied desperation. The first slow drag was incredibly satisfying, dropping the tension in my shoulders like fucking magic. I exhaled, watching the smoke pollute the air in front of me with satisfaction.
Turning my attention to the pale woman, I felt up to a little small talk. Having a cigarette in hand put me at ease, even knowing it was nicotine addiction rather than any real relaxation benefit. I couldn’t help but stare at her—she was remarkably thin, her silhouette could be accurately described as a skinny rectangle. The absence of curves was… disappointing but not a deal breaker. It’s not like I was looking to pick her up anyway, though I wouldn’t say no to a good pity fuck if anyone offered. What can I say? I was heartbroken.
“The ceremony went on a little long, didn’t it?” I flicked my ash into the tray before taking another drag, still observing her back. “I’m Rick, by the way.” The woman turned her head slightly in acknowledgement, but didn’t turn around. I caught a glimpse of a soft, orange glow—the cigarette between her lips, though I couldn’t make out her face through the dense cloud of smoke that had filled the air around her.
“Your dress is beautiful.” I complimented, still admiring it— the gown was strange, long and form fitting. Hauntingly beautiful, made of an unusual fabric that has turned brown and curled at the edges—it reminded me of an old map, in color and in texture (at least, from what I could see). I don’t pretend I understand fashion, but as unusual a sight as she was, I was drawn in.
I don’t know how long I’d been standing there making one-sided conversation, but it was time for a second cigarette. I sighed as I took inventory of my pack—only two cigarettes left before I’d have to buy more. Not enough to get me through this evening. The first cigarette in the pack had been inverted for luck, but I felt far from lucky.
Feeling as though I was bothering the woman, I decided I’d wrap up the respite and go back inside. She clearly wasn’t up to talking, but in a last-ditch effort to be polite I figured I could at least offer her a cigarette. I really wanted to see her face, or hear her voice. There was something about her, so mesmerizing… though she’d done nothing but stand there and smoke in silence. I felt compelled to seek her attention, I just couldn’t help myself!
“I have two cigarettes left. Want one?” I drew one out, extending my hand to present it hopefully. The woman turned to respond, and my heart caught in my throat when I finally saw her. The woman was little more than a skeleton wrapped in paper, her face perpetually obscured in a pale cloud of writhing smoke. The only thing I could make out through the haze were two glowing orange spots like two cigarettes in the dark—I realized only then, as she gazed back at me… that those were her eyes.
She was no longer beautiful, the mysterious and pale visage was replaced by a tar-stained specter of smoke, paper and bone. I was frozen by the realization, dropping the cigarette I’d been offering. I just stood there, stuck on stupid as she—it— glided towards me with ominous purpose. My mouth hung open while my brain screamed at me to do something besides stand there like a fucking moron!
But I couldn’t.
The creature placed dead, yellowing hands upon my shoulders and leaned down so her face was level with mine. I began to sputter and cough from the dense smoke, choking on the thick miasma. Skeletal fingers dug into my shoulders, tearing holes into the fabric of the jacket. As I felt its touch on my skin, it burned! Yet I couldn’t even let out a hiss of pain as I continued to hack and gasp for air.
Pressing what I could only assume was her mouth against mine, the monster began to inhale deeply—each breath rattling her bones. I stopped coughing… but only because I was suffocating. It was as though the breath was being sucked out of my lungs, leaving me cold and empty—left only with the burn of agonizing pain. I wasn’t even granted the ability to scream, as she continued to inhale… tasting my smoke-stained lungs, my vision beginning to tunnel into darkness.
All I could see were those burning eyes, yet I understood that this was a blessing. I no longer wanted to see her face. I closed my eyes, unable to do anything to fight back… so I thought about Lissa. How beautiful she’d been in the wedding dress as white as her radiant smile. At least she was happy, she didn’t need me … there was no one to regret leaving behind. I knew I was going to die, and I accepted that.
I passed out.
I was surprised to wake up. I was on my back, soaked from the morning dew under the faint light of a barely-risen sun. I just lay there for a long time, staring up at the cloudy sky in confusion and horror. My shoulders and lungs hurt. I briefly entertained the idea that my aches and pains contributed to a nightmare… but when I sat up, I saw the holes in the ruined tuxedo jacket.
I’d offered that bitch a cigarette, but she’d smoked me instead. It still hurt to breathe, but… I was alive. I got to my feet, and found the near-empty pack of Camel Lights resting on top of the ash tray. Inside, I found my last cigarette—the first of the pack, inverted for luck. Was it luck that kept me alive? I have no fucking clue, but I pocketed the pack. I still keep it in my pocket to this day, either for luck or as a reminder. I’m not sure which.
The urge to smoke didn’t disappear overnight. But every time I reached for that last cigarette, something stilled my hand. I began to see tall, pale people with smoke covered faces everywhere I went, backs turned and dressed in outfits like burnt paper. I call them Smokers. They stand there, waiting for someone to offer them a smoke—not knowing the creature would take it from their very lungs. I don’t think it’s an experience you’re meant to survive. I was lucky.
Eventually, I stopped seeing Smokers. I know they’re still there, but… I’m not their prey anymore. I’d been smoking since I was 13—I’d heard every reason not to smoke and more, but it was one of those monsters that decided it. They are the only reason I needed to quit smoking.
If I still haven’t convinced you, at least keep my story in the back of your mind: and for the love of God… don’t offer cigarettes to mysterious, mesmerizing strangers!