He awakened before dawn, in the shuttered dark of his bedroom, the only room in the crumbling mansion not devoid of life, but only slightly less somber for that. As he opened his eyes, he breathed in deeply, deliberately, grateful that he hadn’t died that night in his sleep; thankful that he’d been granted one more day by whatever unknown fate watched over him.
You see, once upon a time he’d noticed that if he didn’t consciously fill his lungs up and empty them completely after, left to its own his respiration became so shallow as to be imperceptible, which frightened him. He imagined that if not attended to, for instance when he slept, his tiny breaths might eventually wink out, like an unprotected candle flame in the wind, taking him along to wherever that last bit of smoke must go. He imagined also that with every deep inhalation and exhalation he took, he was somehow prolonging his life, by gathering into himself more fully whatever it was his lungs craved so much; and by instilling in them the habit, so much so that they would continue to consume it and keep him alive, even as he slept.
Such were the fancies of a man who had spent too much time outside the sobering influences of society. Such were the excesses of an imagination now all too acclimated to the dark, both the inky blackness behind the hundreds of drawn curtains that surrounded him, and the comforting smoky gray he saw whenever he opened his eyes.
Out of habit he reached out and found his cane, although he could have done just as well without it, and found his way to the wash basin, where he commenced his morning ablutions.