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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



The Breeze at Sunset (part two)

I took my first step onto the dock and its boards didnít bend, swoon or creak under my feet. She was a few steps ahead of me and I watched her as she moved towards the narrow beach, walking quickly. I sped up my pacing as not to fall behind her and fell almost directly behind her, following in her path almost precisely. She noticed this and began to get a little annoyed with me, so I held back a little bit further. Taking a few looks back, I noticed that the sun was beginning to move closer towards the horizon. Long shadows had begun to emerge slowly as the afternoon slowly ebbed. I felt the ocean air washing over my head, it seemed thinner than before, which made the atmosphere feel new. I watched the waves pounding from the distance, rolling towards that other beach, and I felt the ground beneath my feet slowly shift. I looked past the boat and tried to see the other distant shoreline, but it was no longer visible. I couldnít believe how far out she had taken me in such a short time. It felt like the blink of an eye, a transient moment, though the day had was so eventful it had seemed much longer. From where I stood in that vantage point, I could only see the island itself, and the ocean waves seemed to surround us completely, buffeting the shore.

I had to walk carefully on the long path on towards the beach since the terrain was uneven. Its sands were much harder than the ones I was used to walking, uneven and hard, covered with sharp rocks that seemed to be everywhere. It was hard to keep up with her, since she seemed to know precisely where each sharp rock was located. We walked along the rocky beach for a long stretch until we had traveled almost a quarter of the islandís length. I looked down the path and the trees stood closely against one another, forming what seemed like an impassible barrier, surrounding it like a fortress, protecting it from all but the most persistent visitors. We walked further down the path and she moved inward towards the trees, and I saw that she was trying to locate something. Going a bit further down towards the right, she slowed down a looked carefully until she located a small opening that we could get through. It was quite narrow, but we could pass if we went in nearly sideways. It was difficult and the thick brush beneath the trees made it hard to keep balance. The thickness above darkened the path ahead and the air felt like it was growing heavier with each step inward. She walked further ahead of me and I decided to fall back directly behind her and found myself hiding like a ghost, following in the shadows.

We made some progress, though it wasnít as easy as it first appeared. I moved behind her, following her steps carefully she slowly lead me through the path beneath the seemingly endless rows of trees. There wasnít a marked path for us to follow but we seemed to be moving forward based on her instincts. She seemed to know exactly where we were headed. I trusted her enough and decided not to make any divergence from the journey. After what seemed like an eternity, the trees finally began to spread out a little bit as we moved closer, allowing us to move forward with more confidence, our steps quickened. I began to feel more solid ground under my feet, the thick brush replaced by a smoother straighter dirt pathway that was easier for me to walk on. I took a little look upward and the summer sun was still bright, but it didnít seem to have as much power in the island interior, and the air slowly became cooler and drier as we ventured deeper into the forest. I decided to take a quick break and soaked in the refreshing air and it gave me a renewed strength to keep going. I was falling back at this point and didnít want to lose sight of her. I sprinted a little bit ahead, my feet pounding on the ground. She must have heard me running and she turned around, she looked annoyed at me, and gave me a look, I didnít need to go that fast, I needed to have some patience; it would be worth the effort. I slowed down once more and walked parallel behind her, watching her walking with calmness. It was good that I was careful in following, since she then took several sharp turns that I wouldnít have anticipated, that took us on an upward slope, walking towards what seemed like an open area. We finally arrived at a small clearing that seemed to be in the center of the island, and the expansive area which was still tightly closed with the trees seemed to offer a protection from the outside. It seemed that she had been there before, but the place felt different from the others, it was more isolated and deserted. I looked around and felt a bit of trepidation, she had taken me to another secret place for us to meet. I had a feeling it would be a different kind of encounter but couldnít comprehend how much things would change. I was mainly concerned about those last few steps into the clearing.

I watched her take a few more steps and she reached the center of the clearing and paused for a moment. She looked around at the trees surrounding us and decided that spot was good enough for the moment. I watched closely and she took the pendant from beneath her collar and held it in her hands and began to spin the ropes around it, swinging it around in circles. I had no idea what she was doing with it, but there was definitely a purpose. I walked a little bit closer towards her and could see something that I hadnít noticed. Her eyes were deeper than I realized and I saw a strange sadness that I didnít understand. She seemed a little embarrassed and turned around, away from me for a moment without saying a word. I saw her fold up the ropes from the pendant and hid it beneath. It was a bit strange, she seemed happy that I had found it at first, but now it didnít provide the same happiness it had earlier. She seemed more tentative in that moment, unsure what to do next. We stood there for a few minutes, and I had no idea what to do next. I took a few steps back and away from her to give her some space but I still felt like I was standing in her shadow. It took her a few minutes to catch her breath and compose herself and she slowly came back, and walked towards me. This was reassuring and she took her hand from the side and extended it. Grasping mine firmly, she pulled me a little closer towards her side and looked up towards the skies above, pointing out the sun and its glow, still hot in the sky. I decided not to look directly at it, but it definitely looked different out there. It was farther away and didnít seem nearly as strong, its colors had changed seeming more orange than yellow. It was slowly sinking on the horizon, a prelude to its setting. I felt a cool breeze come through the trees and it felt strange, as a winter breeze had arrived in the middle of summer, for a split second. It was a signal, and I knew immediately that our time there was limited. We needed to use it before our chance slipped away.

We took a few more steps and then quickly moved towards the other side of the clearing, the trees didnít seem as tall there but the sun was bearing down on us from the opposite direction. Its warmer light cast no shadow over us and instead warmed the ground. I took a look at the other half of the clearing and it looked different, cold and colorless. Its grasses and plants looked grey and lifeless compared to the sunny section where we stood. The sun felt warmer and stronger which changed how the ground felt, it was summer again. I felt something else change as we stood there. It finally seemed more welcoming for us. After a long journey, I finally felt like we were in the right place. This allowed her to relax and she released my hand. I had walked behind long enough and I moved ahead to stand at her side, no longer lurking in her shadow. She carefully took out the pendant again and it seemed to take on a different glow under the sun, radiating an odd color that emanated an otherworldly energy. I looked at it glisten under the light and in it had turned a light, aqua blue, with a transparency that allowed you to see right through it. She held it up to the sun and looked at it closely. In that position, it revealed a number of intricate symbols that were immediately familiar to me. I didnít still know exactly what each of them meant but, I had a good enough sense of them at that point which allowed me to read their inscription and decipher its general message. She looked over towards me and seemed happy that I had remembered so many of them. I tried to read them slowly, though I knew my attempts were still inadequate. I made a few attempts but couldnít quite connect them into place, leaving me a little disappointed and frustrated. She decided not to take too much longer with this and motioned me to take a break from my attempts. She slowly pulled the strings back around the pendant and she grasped it firmly with both of her hands that time. She pulled it closer to herself and closed her eyes. She took a deep breath and waited, then another. She moved her hands around it and rubbed it in circular motions until it seemed like it had spun around a dozen times. She finally stopped and opened her eyes again, and turned her gaze towards me. I didnít understand what was happening at first, but I slowly realized what was happening as I watched it swinging beneath her fingers. It was finally ready to give up its secrets.

She gave it to me with some reluctance; I could see that she wasnít sure I was ready. The first thing I noticed is how much lighter it seemed now than when I had first found it hidden under the rocks in the water several hours earlier. She had warmed it up and its energy felt like it had been released, and when I held it, I could feel something I hadnít before. I decided to make a few circles with its ropes and carefully made the first few loops, mimicking the way she had tied the boat to the docks earlier. I twisted the ropes carefully until they wrapped around its sides, roughly the same as she did, but the result ended up being slightly tangled. I held it firmly in my grasp, and wouldnít let go for anything. I felt a small surge in my hands for a brief moment, and something strange happened. I looked at her and for a moment, she had the strangest expression, as if she had seen a ghost. It wasnít something I expected, but then I saw a vision of her from the past. I didnít know if it was her for a brief moment, but underneath the different exterior was the same person. I felt the memories flood into me and some of them I couldnít explain. In one of them, I saw her visiting me in a different place at some distant point in the past but she looked quite different again, taking a completely different body, though I still knew who she was. As quickly as the memory came to me, it vanished from my mind when I felt her tap my back. This was getting a bit too intense, this wasnít for me to see at that moment. I stood again and coming back so quickly was disorienting. I stood there and found myself back in the same spot. I was standing under the sun, with here beside me once more, neither one of us having moved at all. I had tried to comprehend the memory but, it had come on too strong and ended up making me feel confused and overwhelmed. I couldnít understand what it meant. I would have to try harder, I made another attempt at it. I took a deep breath beforehand and went slower. This seemed to make things easier and the ropes were finely wrapped. I pulled it upwards again and held it facing the sun. I closed my eyes for a moment and felt a second, much stronger burst of energy in my hands. I felt a sudden rush of energy and then an unexpected calmness. It was very quiet which allowed me to concentrate on what was happening. She was still standing beside me, but I felt different. I was starting to realize that things werenít what they had seemed. This possibility was both unnerving and liberating. I looked at her differently in that moment and felt a strange sensation - everything I had thought I knew wasnít quite what I thought it was. Despite the many long journeys and strange encounters, I realized I didnít know what was happening after all. She had taken the ground from under my feet and left me hanging, it wasnít the best feeling but I knew there was some reason behind it. I just needed to discover what it was. I decided that I would have to look elsewhere to uncover the answers.

After thinking about it for a moment, I felt myself being pulled upwards, back towards the sunlight, a reflection of my mind, but it seemed different in some strange way. Initially, the skies seemed the same, covered in blue with small clouds, but this changed once I closed my eyes. I felt things change when I took a deep breath and conducted another spin move with my fingers. I opened my eyes and there was a different world above me. I looked around and the skies were suddenly filling with streams of colors and lights, running far above, surrounding the island over head, moving towards us. The colors seemed strange and seemed like theyíd come from a distant place. It was overwhelming, but I took another deep breath and closed my eyes. This allowed me to focus on the sound. There was only the noise of a small breeze, rustling through the trees. As I listened, these were accompanied by words. It was her voice, she talked in a quiet whisper at first, slowly coming to me, with a few words at a time. Most of them didnít seem to make sense, but things became clearer after a few minutes. She began by explaining that some of the symbols Iíd encountered meant different things to me than they did for her. There were signs she had sent that she knew Iíd understand, while others were meant as disguises to keep her actual messages hidden. 

As she spoke, her voice got stronger and easier to comprehend. I didnít know exactly what was occurring, it overwhelmed me again, there were too many cross-currents rolling through my mind simultaneously. They contradicted and clashed with one another, marking one spot, only to erase it and shift position, which made it almost impossible to understand what she was trying to tell me. She noticed my confusion and tried another approach, telling me to concentrate on the pendant. I put it in the air once more felt its energy change. I closed my eyes again and placed it in my hand. It had warmed up significantly and it felt lighter. In a way, it almost seemed like it was breathing, like it was alive, and it started to break through and communicate with me. It seemed to be transferring thoughts to me and there was a sudden rush of memories that werenít my own. I could feel her begin to communicate her thoughts, and she had entered my mind, becoming a force within my mind. In that moment, I realized that she had known me far longer than I ever realized. She had known me many years before, but we had been separated from one another without warning.  As the memories unfolded, I realized that sheíd been waiting a long time for me to return. This was confusing at first, I hadnít left her. She was always the one leaving me, I felt. I didnít understand what those memories actually meant at first. It took me awhile to figure it out, but once I understood, it was as if she had taken the ground from beneath my feet, leaving me hanging in the air, suspended without anything to hang on to.

I wasnít expecting to discover that and it was disorienting, like the world had been turned upside down, everything was different. I looked towards her with a new understanding, but wondered what else was going on underneath the surface. When we had met, there was always a strange  connection, but I couldnít ever place it until that point. It was something I never realized, though once it came to me, time seemed to stand still, a distance evaporated almost instantaneously. I took another deep breath and plunged even deeper into those memories. I felt her sadness over what happened to me and saw the shadows she walked under during the long journeys she took. I walked alongside her through many different places and many different times. I saw her building strange machines hoping one of them would locate me to no avail. I saw how much effort she expended trying to find me. Much time had passed and a watched her walking on a long path that offered no assurance that it would bring us back together.  When she finally located me, she wasnít sure if I was really there. At first, she thought it was a mistake and didnít think I was actually the same person she once knew. I looked completely different to her. She went back and forth on this and had to watch me for quite some time. She watched me wander through the different places we had known, and had followed me around. She wondered if I remembered any of the things the happened to us. She spent a lot of time walking behind me in the shadows, echoing my steps through the places weíd been in the past, taking care not to be noticed. I didnít know what it all meant at first, but the more she told me, the more it almost made sense. As I relived our earlier encounters, I began to realize why she had been following me, and why she had been so reluctant to hand me the pendant. I knew what it represented but, even after all I had found out, I was still unsure that I was the right person to hold onto it. I gave the pendant back to her. It felt heavier now, older and sadder, and its glow seemed to dim, clouding its color, the markings once again obscured, She took it carefully and put it back into its safe place, under her shirt. I looked into her eyes, which seemed unexpectedly calm.

I felt the sun on my head, but it had already begun to accelerate its descent, nearly falling below the trees into the horizon. It was quickly surrendering to the night, diminishing to a shadow of its former strength. I felt a bit strange knowing what she had experienced. Her travels were nearly parallel to mine but she had very different reasons for her journey. She had watched me from afar for a very long time before emerging to reveal herself to me only after she was sure of who I was. I looked back at her and sensed a lingering sadness over what happened to me many years earlier. After a few minutes, all of it began to sink in to me. I though back on many of our earlier encounters and their seemed different in perspective. I looked at her and she seemed strangely serene, as though a burden had been lifted from her. I felt something growing inside me, I had gained a new perspective that created a weight on my shoulders. I looked up and saw the sun submerging even further behind the trees, slowly giving way to the night. We stood together watching the trees sway under the wind. The rest of the world seemed distant and remote. We felt separate, removed and feeling far from anywhere. It had been a long day and when I looked at her, I knew we would have to depart. I took it all in one more time, scanning our surroundings and wondering if I would ever return, I had so many conflicting thoughts, most about what I had learned. She released her hand from mine and began to walk across the clearing, slowly, but deliberately. I watched the darkness trail behind her as she began to move towards the trees. She needed to find the way back towards the boat on the other side of the island. I was still overwhelmed. I decided to take a moment and remained there standing in place. After that happened, I wasnít sure I could handle much more.

My instincts told me to follow her, but I was reluctant to begin another trek and I was tired in many ways. It had become an unexpectedly eventful adventure and I wasnít sure I could handle much more. The shadows began to grow longer and I needed to make a decision. I would be stranded there if I stayed behind. I walked back towards the clearing back towards the shore. My head was still swimming, going in a million directions at once. I reached the edge of the forest and its thicket of trees and felt their sharp branches punching my sides, but I knew I had to keep going. There were so many signals that I had missed and they only seemed to make sense when I looked back. I was almost running to catch up to her and I finally heard her footsteps falling just ahead of mine, going back through the narrow path. After much effort, nearly tripping on my feet trying to keep up, I finally saw a familiar form ahead of me. I still trailed behind, running in her shadow. It was harder to make my way with warm summer day quickly succumbing to the night. I caught my arms on a few branches but couldnít slow down, there was too much at stake. Walking quickly to beat the impending night, I noticed her feet pounding, almost like she was being pulled back towards the ground, her steps no longer as light as they once seemed. We walked deeper into the trees which only seemed to underline her determination. Undeterred, she seemed walk at a faster pace, quickly moving to a near run, like she was trying to out pace the dark memories that seemed to chasing behind her. She began to walk faster, almost sprinting ahead of me.  She looked different than the she did only a few hours before, in a weird way, it seemed like she was trying to run from the darkness pursuing her.

After much effort, I caught up and we were nearly running directly alongside one another. As we neared the edge of the forest and came to the break, we arrived on the narrow beach. It had taken a long time for us to get back there and we quickly moved towards the docks and our boat. She took the lead and walked quickly towards the other side of the beach. I felt the night-time coming on and I knew we had to move quickly. There wasnít a lot of light, but I saw the outlines of the docks beckoning in the distance. I was relieved that we would be getting away from there, it had turned out to be more complicated than I expected. She seemed to anticipate our escape and we took each others hands. As we got closer, something seemed strange. I looked for the boat, but It wasnít there. She seemed as surprised as I was, this wasnít what we expected.  We stood there and looked around. The boat was nowhere to be found. We were alone on the shore, in the early night where darkness now prevailed. There was no one else around, the waves had grown still and silent, there was no one else around. I looked at her and she was perplexed by what happened and, uncharacteristically unnerved by this unexpected circumstance. We took a few steps and split up, I looked down the beach and she went back towards the other side. I saw her wandering around, stepping over the rocks, turning rapidly in different directions, unsure what to do next. She looked around the beach, waked over more of its rocks and shallow gaps, nervously stepping onto things. After a few minutes, she went back towards the docks, now deserted. She walked up the short ladder and looked around the empty docks, searching for some sign of it, but there was nothing there. It slipped away from us without warning and didnít leave a trace, none of the ropes on its surface looked like theyíd been touched.

She walked up and down the dock several more times with increasing intensity, examining its boards and gaps but the boat seemed to have vanished into the night, disappearing as quickly as it had shown up earlier in the day. There was nobody around, but there was no sign of someone else having been there. Until that moment, I hadnít ever seen her lost like that, which made me afraid as well. I tried to help but there was nothing I could do. I had no idea what had happened, though it seemed like we had lingered too long in the clearing and had missed our way out of there. We continued to look but found nothing. I looked back towards the trees, clustered together they seemed have grown taller, becoming imposing and silent. If they knew what happened, they werenít telling us. We were surrounded by the darkness with no path to go. I decided that we needed to stick together. I took her hand and we walked around the beach, going in circles, attempting to locate the lost vessel. Despite our best efforts at locating the boat or finding some sign, it had vanished into the night. This was going to be a longer stay than either of us had planned on. I closed my eyes and tried to think of something. I took it all in and tried to listen, hoping for something to emerge from within the silence. I felt lost and afraid, even with her standing beside me. I took a few steps towards the water and heard my feet hit something. It was a small sea shell, and its cracking noise caused me to remember that we were in a similar situation in one of our previous meetings. We had found ourselves stranded like this once before. I knew she was afraid because of how that ended. I decided to try and calm her fears. I held out my arms and held her hands closely in mine. I made a promise to her. I wouldnít make the same mistake. She wasnít going to lose me again.

- Michael Palisano