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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



The Breeze at Sunset

It started like any other summer day but everything changed the moment she appeared. I stood on the diving board, my feet almost frozen in place. The ocean waves nearly stopped for a moment. I found myself unprepared for what happened that day. I wasnít expecting to see her and didnít understand what was happening. She had returned and appeared when I didn't expect her to, emerging without warning. She became an almost apparitional figure in my mind over the summer but had suddenly become real once more. I couldn't quite believe it was actually her standing under the sun in front of me. My eyes seemed to be playing tricks on me and I didnít know how to process her unexpected appearance at first. I thought I was alone, but she had appeared suddenly. I looked at her, and nearly looked like she was standing on the water itself for a moment. As I moved closer, I saw the hot sun beating above her head and seemed to give her a strange glow. Its brightness and light, seemed unable to draw a shadow underneath her when she moved under it. She wasn't locked down on the ground, she seemed like she could move in any direction with nothing to stop her. I looked into her eyes and knew that something had changed in the way she looked at me. I didn't know what was happening, she didnít say a word to me. I remembered where I was and realized that I must have looked so strange to her. I was sloppy, disheveled and wet, my body dripping onto the wooden planks like an uncontrolled garden hose. I didn't feel up to another adventure, but I remembered that our previous encounters seemed accidental. Perhaps it was all part of her plan.

I felt the sun burn through my shirt and as I stood there nervously, it dried my shoulders with little effort. It held a hot grip on the surface nailing everything to the ground under its shadow. However, she seemed strangely unaffected by its glowering heat, she seemed nearly invisible, appearing suddenly like a dream. The mysterious figure was completely covered in a long black dress, with miniature translucent dots scattered across its fabric. I saw their reflections glistening on its surface, creating ice crystals even the mid-summer sun couldn't melt. In her solid, dark impermeable dress, she resembled black ice from that had lasted through the winter, defiantly standing against the relentless heat. not giving in after all those months. She remained unyielding. Despite my best efforts, her eyes still gave nothing away. I looked, and despite the wind and waves, not a strand of her hair was unsettled or out of place. She stood there effortlessly, without any worries. She seemed to float above me in some way, completely untethered from the surface. It was almost like she was gliding above the world, her feet not touching the ground like a ghostly phantom. Her strange clothes seemed like a defiant statement, an unchanging appearance from another time. I stood there alone, not knowing what to do at first. I closed my eyes and through a small effort, recalled some of our previous encounters. I remembered some of the patterns and symbols Iíd seen and felt something come back to me. I knew what she was looking for. There was a heavy object Iíd recovered from deep beneath the surface, after several explorations sitting in my pocket. Her eyes seemed for follow me as I looked back through the ocean depths, remembering how much effort it had taken just to figure out what I was looking for. After I found it, I had another task, find a hiding place and then concealing it underneath the rocks when no one was looking. I planned to recover it when no one else was around. 

I knew what it was the moment I held it in my hands, and could sense its energy even in my pocket. It was a relief to hand it off to her, but I was still a little reluctant. I took the pendant from my pocket and approached her, navigating closer towards the other side. I felt the waves strengthen, their currents again rolling under my feet, the boards rocking beneath me. Nervously, I held it under the sun and it seemed to become almost transparent, I could nearly see right through it. I carefully unfolded the necklace lace and it fluttered in the wind, its strings falling through my fingers. It was heavier than I expected and I nearly dropped it. I took a few steps to steady myself and moved towards the other side, watching my feet slip between the gaps in the boards. As I neared her position, a large surge hit and the whole thing moved up and down several feet. This threw me off and I felt a gush of water washing over my feet. My arms were weakened trying to stay on balance and I tripped. I quickly came to, holding the object firmly in my grasp, and struggled to pull myself up onto the diving platform. When I stood up, I was unsteady on my feet, but she didnít seem to have experienced any problems. She was standing firm, holding still in the exact same position. It was extremely odd to experience. I figured she was able to do this because she was taller than me, and seemed to be even larger than I remembered. She stood there silently looking at me, and I looked at her again. I quickly handed her the pendant and watched as she put it around her neck, it seemed to match almost instantaneously, effortlessly blending into her outfit. She looked a little different when she was wearing it, more powerful and mysterious, like someone whoíd been transformed.

The pendant seemed to have changed her appearance, but there was something else different about her I couldnít describe. As I moved closer towards her, I noticed that there were other things changing, the wind seemed to have picked up suddenly and I could feel something around us developing. For a moment, I thought I heard another voice, and turned my head. I looked around, there was still no one around. The other kids I had been diving with seemed to be far away, doubtlessly distracted by one of the new games or some other thing. At that moment, none of it seemed to matter to me, I was one step closer to finding another piece of the puzzle and I wasnít going to be deterred by anything. I walked even closer towards her, but she motioned me to stop for a moment. I kept my distance and felt the air changing once again, this time from the opposite direction, slowly picking up momentum and strength until I could feel a steady warm breeze. My clothes were drying out and I felt cleaner and warmer than I had. I took a deep breath to relax my shattered nerves. I still hadnít expected to see her there and I wasnít exactly prepared for another adventure. It had been a long day of unexpected discoveries and experiments but things were just beginning.

We stood together and silently watched each other. I moved back a step and took it all in, surrounded by water we found ourselves isolated between the beach and the sea, no one in sight. The shoreline was close enough that someone might have seen something strange, two shadows instead of one, but I doubted anyone was paying close attention. I had made multiple attempts to make a sign during the day, and though they had all been fruitless. I stood there and tried to figure out which worked but couldnít quite unlock the mystery. I think thatís what she wanted, to keep me guessing. My nerves were calming down when she motioned towards me to come close to her, and I wondered what I had done to call her attention. Walking towards her, I sensed something different in this approach. She extended her arm out and grabbed my hand firmly, and I felt a strange, yet familiar energy, warm and cold simultaneously. It was like a temporal electric shock and I felt it go through my body quickly. It reminded me of something I had felt earlier and I suddenly thought of something. I remembered the flickering lights from the machine, but there was nothing like that to be found all the way out there on the water. She seemed strangely calm through this latest contact. She didnít seem to notice how nervous I had suddenly become. My mind was spinning and I had to turn my head away for a moment to stabilize myself. After a few moments, I felt my feet return to their normal state and I watched the islands in the distance, they looked different as if theyíd changed location. It was a strange disorientation that made it difficult to place where I was. Finally, after stumbling around some more, she held my hand a little bit closer towards her and pulled me close to her. We stood close together and I felt another huge surge, this one seemed to come from behind and ended nearly as quickly. I turned around and saw something I didnít expect.  

She motioned for me to turn around and there was a strange sail-boat seemed to have arrived without warning. It was covered in multi-colored pin-striped sails and white ropes, with a tall mast that seemed to shimmer under the sunís bright rays. I looked closer and it seemed to be remarkably sturdy, built of heavy wood, aged but not broken. I couldnít tell how old it was but it looked like it had plenty of time in the sea. I didnít know what it represented, and how it had escaped my notice. As it moved towards us, it seemed to calm the waters in its wake. I watched it sail effortlessly and realized there was nobody on board controlling it, and moving seemingly on its own, a spirit guided, moving stalwartly over the water, seemingly unaware of our presence, guided by mechanisms of its own device. It had a stately presence and seemed heavier yet more stable than the small diving platform where we stood. I watched as it drifted on the waves, moving closer towards us, slowly maneuvering until it was nearly parallel the diving platform. Its sails unfurled quickly and they seemed to expand almost instantly. The vessel slowed until it paused, seeming to take a deep breath as it docked almost perfectly alongside our position. It seemed to be growing and its size quickly blocked out the other objects and obscured the view of the shoreline, beckoning me to get on board. I stood there and I looked at it nervously and wondered if this whole thing was such a good idea after all. I was very much surprised to see this happen and wondered what her reaction was. I turned to look for her and she wasnít beside me anymore. While I had been looking at it so intently, she had slipped away and was standing on its planks. She looked perfectly content over there, not nervous at all by this mysterious large ship that had suddenly appeared. I looked at her and she was now completely shielded from the sunlight, standing underneath its sails. I saw the pendant she was wearing and it seemed to be glowing. I stood there for a moment and decided what to do. She seemed to have grown impatient and waved her arms quickly and motioned me for me to join her.

Nervously, I stepped over the gap between the ship and set foot on its outer rails, nervously stepping over the rim until I was in its basin alongside her. I looked and saw some things I recognized, like a steering wheel, a periscope and other items. I waited for a moment as she told me to stand back a bit. I saw her move towards the wheel and pressed down on a large pedal on the ground. The steering wheel began to spin around and she grabbed it forcefully until it was firmly under her command. She seemed familiar with its functions which I found a little odd. I decided to stand back and let her take control of the ship. I stepped back a little further as the ship began to move and gained momentum. There were no special devices, we traveled quickly away, I turned around and looked at the beach shrinking in the distance, slipping from view. Before I knew it, the shallows had receded and we were out in the open water. The shore seemed to vanish quickly behind us, and it seemed more tranquil as it diminished behind us. A part of me didnít want to leave and did so reluctantly, but I was also excited. I felt that I had been going around in circles all day and wanted to what would happen next. On the other hand, I remembered the bag I had left on the shore and wondered if someone else would find it, and what they would think. It crossed my mind, but that was the least of my worries.

The boat gained momentum and started moving quicker, cutting through the heavier waves and seas, bubbling up and down through the currents. I felt the air peel away from its hull as it began to nearly glide past the tides and currents, almost as if it was flying. There was little turbulence and nothing seemed to be blocking our way. The waters seemed to move aside, their waves unsheathing, clearing the path ahead, and deferring to the boatís intransient energy, a strange sense of purpose overwhelming the waters beneath us. I looked at her, standing beneath its sails and she seemed assured of what was going to happen. I felt my feet fall into a state of strange paralysis, I stood there stone-legged unable to move forward. The ship slowly changed direction and we moved past islands that were familiar, and they slowly fell behind us. The ocean opened up and I looked around, there was nothing surrounding us but water, a vast empty place. I looked up towards the sun and saw it was finally, slowly falling towards the west, its heat no longer overpowering, diminishing slowly with each moment. The sky seemed to shrink, leaving only the waves to lend me sense of direction. We continued to move at the same pace, undiminished as we vanished, reaching further out into the horizon. She seemed to know what she was doing but I didnít know what she had planned.

Out there, the dimensions began to expand, the skies became larger as the waves increased in size and speed, the old boat seemed to be holding up well enough against the forces, galloping over the heavy surf like an old hand on familiar turf. We maneuvered forward through the endless waves, making what felt like little progress. I looked around and the ocean seemed endless, its seas only broken up by our relentless journey. It was subtle at first but I began to sense a change in the atmosphere as we turned in another direction, moving at a curve which became a bend, I felt my body standing change and I was suddenly facing directly against the wind, and it got stronger, and after what seemed like forever, I saw something begin to emerge from the air, seemingly from almost nothing, on the horizon. The objects resembled small, thin pencil lines of strutting up from the ocean at first. I couldnít see what they were exactly, but as we got closer I realized they were the peaks of trees. Growing larger, they didnít seem like the other trees at the beach. They were narrower and much taller, their branches tightly wound together, clustered together in dark green thickets. I saw the outlines of a strange island begin to emerge. I saw a larger group of trees come into focus underneath the high, straight peaks, then their heavy forests came into view, extending almost the length of its shoreline, creating what seemed to be almost a solid wall hiding the interior. We moved closer to the beach and I saw its sands, narrower and slimmer than I was expecting. It provided a narrow buffer separating the island from the ocean.

As we moved closer towards the island, the waves began to churn in a strong fashion, pushing the boat from side to side, tilting its sails and making it more difficult to keep my balance. The sun was still strong and this gust of wind was trying to tell us something. It was like the island was putting up a barrier, attempting to push us away, but she held firm on the steering wheel, never loosening her grip or resolve. She stood there unfazed, and I knew she wouldnít be deterred. The ship held steady against the sudden gale and she kept plugging ahead, unyielding as we moved towards our destination. As we came closer towards its inner waters, additional efforts were made to slow our progression. The waves seemed to break up into smaller, choppier forms, and their currents became rougher, less predictable. It made the boat move wildly for a short time and eventually overcame the boatís center, and we both nearly lost our balance. As I looked up, I could see the sails waving wildly above us, and her hands slipped from the wheel, with the boat straining against the wind. She stepped back for a moment and steadied herself against the wind. She took a moment to regain her balance, and took control again. I saw her scan the horizon left and right but there werenít that many clouds in the sky, there was nothing going on. She walked over to the edge of the boat and looked towards the shore, attempting to find a path through the choppy seas, but she had a hard time at first, there was no obviously safe direction for us to navigate. 

After looking for a moment, she located a relatively calm respite towards the other side of the island and steered us onto a safe path. We took a turn backward and moved towards the islandís left where the waters were calmer. As we approached, the waves had subsided, and we glided in carefully towards the shore. There was a small wooden dock extending over the water, and we moved closer towards it, slowly pulling alongside it. The boat stopped and I watched her move slowly from the center of the boat, and onto its rim. The sails above us slowly folded back into themselves, wrapping around the masts before she pulled them down towards the group. She took a few short ropes and attached them to the dockís posts. The waters were perfectly calm and she stepped easily over the edge, onto its thick wooden planks. It seemed shorter than it could have been, almost hiding behind the curves on the distant shore. She motioned for me to follow her and I quickly left the boat. Looking at it sitting in the ocean, effortless above the sea, it seemed surprisingly tranquil given the long, occasionally challenging journey that it had just completed. I was relieved that it had taken us that far, but I remained nervous, I had no idea what would happen during the journey ahead.

(Continue to part two)