The Carrying Digit - Part One - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Carrying Digit

I held out my hands and examined them carefully. They hadnít had time to adjust and didnít seem to want to remain attached to my body. They wanted to swim against the tide, moving away from me back towards the moon from where theyíd seemingly formed. They felt larger than I was accustomed to. I bent my fingers and they felt like they were moving a little behind, reacting to my commands in delayed fashion. I swung them around at my sides and they careened outward in large, unwieldy spirals, slapping against my stomach. They didnít respond the way I was expecting and, werenít changing back, no matter what I did. I decided to place them in my lap and waited for awhile, looking and glancing nervously and wondered what was happening. I didnít understand what had caused them to change form, but their unexpected transformation frightened me. I decided to pull them down further and slipped them into my pockets. It took a few minutes for them to settle but after several minutes, resting safely inside. I hid them hoping it was only a temporary effect from the moonlight that would disappear if I waited patiently for its influence to subside. At least, thatís what I hoped would occur.

With both of them safely covered and temporarily out of sight, I was able to focus on my mission without distraction. Taking a moment to rationalize my improbable situation, I quickly decided where to go. Navigating across its creaky boards, I walked back towards the front of the boat and wondered how I would get out of my predicament. My hands were fluttering and buzzing, just when I needed them most. I was stranded and alone, and the waves underneath remained choppy in the stormís aftermath. Looking out over the ocean, there was nothing immediately obvious that might have caused my hands to change. I scanned across both sides of the boat, and saw the exhaust of the storm subsiding in the distance. I felt the rigid sheets of rain slowly diminish, torn and perforated by the wind. Watching carefully for any signals, there were only the faltering, muted rumbles of wind, slowly diminishing then vanishing as the stormís echoes sank beneath the waves.  

I began looking upwards towards the distant moon, its radius colored by the disquieting storm, revealed nothing more, a hovering light above, narrow in the skies, unable or unwilling to aid my navigation. I felt lost and alone, stranded beneath a vast universe without anyone to help me. I looked towards the water and watched it swirling. It reminded me of a path I had traveled before. I set out once more walking underneath its indifferent watch. My fingers wandered at my sides as my eyes drifted to the far distance. The waves streamed underneath me and I looked up to see the moon narrowing its gaze, until it seemed to be pointing towards my direction. Carefully scanning the clouds and moving down towards the ocean, I searched for unexpected patterns and signs, but was unable to find any simple answers. There was nothing that looked like it could help me escape. I began to panic and wanted desperately to change my hands back, but there seemed to be way to accomplish this. I paced behind the boat and heaved out a yell in frustration. It must have been some kind of mistake. I pulled them out of my pocket a second time. Exposed to the air, they began to tingle and shrink inward. I knew my fingers looked different but was afraid of looking too closely, to see what else Iíd managed to mess up.   

I waited for them to stop, but it persisted, and each odd pulse through my hands only intensified my fear. I decided not to look and it took some effort to keep my curiosity in check. I decided to put them aside and focus on something else. I took another step back towards the center of the boat, trying not to fall or stumble off balance, simultaneously keeping my head up to avoid even glancing at my hands. I stood for a few minutes, wanting things to be different. I decided to try a different technique and began swinging my arms around. They reacted fitfully but waving them back and forth in front of me had no effect. Undeterred, my pace increased, hoping that more intense swinging motions would somehow change them back. I started ferociously, like I was swimming at a quick pace, hoping that I only needed to shake it off. I maintained the pace for a couple of minutes, marking a steady rhythm and watching carefully. I stood in place and focused as hard as I could. I held my position and kept going until I decided it was enough. I turned my arms slightly slower towards the end, and felt the efforts had been adequate. Iíd managed to tire myself out and hoped it had been worth it. I nervously held my hands up towards the moonlight one last time. I looked closely for any change didnít notice any noticeable effect. None of my efforts were successful.  

I just needed more time and effort and things would go back to normal. I resumed my experiment, swinging them faster and more aggressively. Despite this, I could still feel the strange tingling and it seemed like it wouldnít stop. I was getting frustrated and began to move them in larger circles and when this didnít work, I added a quick thrust to the side with each rotation. Despite all my efforts and increasingly sore limbs, nothing changed. After several minutes jumping and circling around, the boat began to shake and stumble. It seemed a bit rickety already and I didnít want to sink it with excessive running around. I watched above and my jumping and wringing around seemed to have made things worse.  The masts above were moving and buckled when I jumped up.  Their uneasiness made me even more nervous so I decided to stop jumping. I didnít want to lose control, sabotage myself and sink it Ė thereíd be nowhere to run if it capsized. I slowly realized there wasnít anything more I could do at that point I decided to just accept the weird reality of the situation. I held them up towards the moon for the second time. I took a long look and examined them closely beneath the moonís illumination. My fingers extended too far out, separated at the wrong points and felt like they were in the wrong position. I felt like somebody elseís hands had replaced mine. I stated at them intently, still unable to accept their new form. It had to be a mistake. 

I stood nearly still for a few minutes, feeling the boat drift seemingly aimlessly over the ocean. I walked towards the masts to see if there was anything that I had missed. Along the way, I hit my head on one of the posts, I hadnít anticipated their position, but figured it was dark but hit them again and they seemed to be in lower positions. Some of the opposing masts were now at my level. They were less threatening, not looming like swords dangling above. I wondered why they had descended. It took me a few methodical walks around to the boat to realize what else had changed without my noticing. I had also grown slightly taller, and my body changed in other unexpected ways during the storm, but I couldnít figure exactly what or for what reason. It was disconcerting and frightening. I worried what else was going to happen before I realized who or what was behind the transformation. I looked over the waves, trying to find some explanation but they gave me no answers. Splashing and swirling, they rolled between and beneath me, unconcerned by my predicament. Until then, I maintained a strange distance from the events, figuring that they were some kind of abstract test. Suddenly, everything had changed. I couldnít know what I had done and in some weird way, it began to stop bothering me. I decided to examine the rest of my body and it seemed largely unharmed. I looked down at my feet and was temporarily reassured that they hadnít grown excessively, though I had a slightly difficult time with my drenched shoes. They were heavier than expected and felt like bricks. Their weight slowed me down and I walked more cautiously than normal.  

I wandered back towards the back of the boat and looked at the engine. I saw its starter cord dangling on its side, swaying with the boat. It knocked against the engineís side, clanging its metal knob against the engine. I stood for a moment, examining its surface for any clues but it only gave a few hints reluctantly. I wondered if it would be safe to pull it. I didnít want to risk another electric shock along with more unexpected consequences. I looked at it for a moment, sitting idly yet temptingly calling for my assistance. I gazed back towards the other side of the boat, with its controls and wheel stagnant, frozen in place under the weight of age and time. Looking up towards the sails, they remained rigidly wrapped, permanently sunken into the masts. They were unmoving and deceptively dripping, just enough to seem like they might help, under different circumstances. There seemed to be nothing I could do. It seemed that something stood in between me and any possible path of escape, preventing even forward movement. I was completely dependent on the waves to push me along but I was otherwise stranded, a lone traveler drifting through an unfamiliar ocean.

After several minutes my doubt began to subside and I finally decided to take control of my fate, Remembering that I had found success in some of my previous haphazard attempts, I took the starter out of its loop and unwound its cord. It drooped a little and I pulled it back until it was straight, the line parallel to the engine. With a strong yank, I pulled it until it tensed up then released it. Slamming into the boat, it snapped back with a mighty bang that reverberated through the boat. It shook the board and there was a loud bang. A loose bearing inside fell hit and banged against the side of the vessel. This quickly subsided and there was no follow-through, only a discouraging silence. I was tired, my hands were buzzing and strange, but I had to keep going. I tried replicating the position I had previously, trying to pull the cord further back before releasing it, I gave it a stronger push and the tension quickly increased. It snapped back towards the engine, followed by a faint click then nothing more.

The cord swung back into its cord, rewrapping itself, giving me no indication that it would respond differently if I tried again. I stood back for a moment and looked the engine over. I wondered if I was taking the wrong approach and tried a third time from the opposing angle. I pulled back the wiry cord and paused, allowing it to build up energy before releasing it. I held it firmly and it began to shake and it felt like to would break from the tension. I released it before it could snap. It recoiled and retracted quickly into the engine. It fell back into place and the resulting bump was a disappointing reaction. All that effort had gotten me nowhere but I wasnít giving up on it. I noticed a round cover towards the back and opened it carefully, not wanting to spill any oil onto the deck. I twisted the cap carefully several times until a small gap opened. I removed it and peered into the tank and looked closely. I was disappointed to discover it was completely dry. I smelled faint gas residue but there wasnít a drop inside the tank.

I felt the boat begin to roll and for a moment, it seemed that something had begun to work. It felt like I was finally going to get somewhere. I stood back and watched carefully to see it come back to life, but the shaking wasnít coming from the engine. It was only a sharper thrust from a wave below, that quickly passed through underneath. I waited for a few minutes and decided to give it one more chance. I took the cord, held it back as far as it would go, retraining it on its narrow path, pulled and released. Snapping once more against the side, it gave no further response as it clanged back into position. It dangled the possibility of release but in the end, only offered a silent end. I looked around and was surrounded once more, but the water and night seemed to be closing in, I felt trapped and alone, with no real way to escape. I stepped away from the engine, looking back towards the front of the boat. Frustrated, I found myself in exactly the situation I was determined not to occur. I walked back towards the steering wheel and its controls, exhausted by the long journey and tired by the effort at starting the engine, I collapsed onto a small bench, not minding that it was still wet. It quickly soaked through, but my concerns werenít there. Memories came flooding back and I relived all the mistakes Iíd made. I wondered what I could have done differently.

I fixated on the steering wheel and longed to be able to move it in any form, but I knew it wouldnít budge no matter how hard I pushed. I watched it carefully, looking for any way to unlock it, but there was nothing to be seen. Iíd come to realize that I was just a passenger, with no idea where I was headed. My clumsy efforts at controlling things had only worsened my situation, and I decided that it was beyond my abilities to plot a course. I sat back in the bench, looked up towards the moon and tried to mark the time puncturing its movement in the skies, hoping that its clock was right, that there was only a matter of time and patience standing between me and a solution. Without realizing it, my eyes sank and closed, allowing me to drift into an unexpected slumber. I didnít remember much about the dream, only that I felt like I was sliding downward on a slope of some kind. I wasnít sure how much time had passed but when I opened my eyes, I felt something unexpected. It was boiling hot, I felt an arid wind blew through the boat. The puddles of water seemed to have evaporated, dried instantly and effortlessly by a hot sun.

Whatever cold and darkness I had felt seemed to evaporate almost the moment I opened my eyes. I looked above and saw that it was suddenly broad daylight. The sun was blazing hot, and quickly heated everything to a boil, I could feel the heat burning into the boards and heating its surfaces. I walked towards the side, and looked above at the skies, burning a strange red and orange. The sun seemed unstable, almost flickering on and off, like a light bulb. I walked back towards the steering wheel and placed my hands on it, trying once more to turn it, but it wouldnít budge. I looked above me, the nestled sails remained tightly wrapped against the masts, there was no way Iíd be able to release them. The mastsí narrow stems offered little protection from the sudden burst of heat. I waited for a moment, and the arid heat seemed to intensify, making the handrails and everything else metallic hot to the touch. I felt relief, as a warm breeze permeated the atmosphere.

The sudden warmth seemed to give me a renewed energy and I looked around, wondering how far Iíd traveled. I looked over the sides of the boat and I didnít quite believe my eyes for a moment. I was back in the middle of a desert, but it felt different. The air was thinner and hotter, alternating hot and broiling, waves of heat evaporated from the surface. I walked a few steps onto its harsh terrain, giving little response. I had no idea where I was, I looked towards the endless horizon and saw only distant shapes of what appeared to be hills and mountains. Oddly colored in red and purple, they looked like they were on fire, set ablaze by the hot sun. As startling as that was, my immediate surroundings were more surprising. The boat was completely stuck in place, helplessly marooned and wouldnít budge. I set out my arms and tried to descend towards the railings, but something held me back. I looked closer and saw that there was nothing setting beneath me. I thought it was some kind of mistake, and tried to locate the current or flow but didnít feel any waves rolling beneath me. It seemed that weíd been transported to another equally inescapable point. The boat no longer swayed with my steps, but its lack of response wasn't reassuring. I looked beyond its railings and peering over its sides, I saw that sat at the bottom of a canyon, marooned inside the surface of a small dune. It seemed to be tilted, listing from the back, sloping downward towards the bottom of the canyon. The sand encased its outer boards. When I examined it closer, I could see waves of particles spilling outward, falling bet
ween the nestled cracks. It almost looked like it was melting and occurred throughout.

My eyes drew towards the warm, yet somehow unstable light. I tried to scan the skies when I looked above, but the brightness and intensity of the sun made it difficult to gauge the dimensions and contours of the desert expanse I found myself unexpectedly navigating. I walked towards the back. I returned to examine its engine and it had the same problem. It was also half-covered in sand, there was no way. It wasnít charging or pulling any water aside. I walked back towards the front and felt the winds blow towards my position. The burning sand seemed to blow right through me, arriving with what felt like a hundred little spikes. The maelstrom didnít seem to notice that I was there.

It was almost like I was invisible. Each grain seemed to be aiming directly towards me, hitting while I stood there without protection. After a few moments, I decided to take cover and knelt down. It didnít seem to matter and the sand grew more intense. I crouched downward nearly hitting the ground. I put my hands over my face to keep the sand out of my eyes. I noticed that my fingers no longer felt numb and the buzzing I felt seemed to have subsided, though they remained larger than I was accustomed to. I took a deep breath, held my hands in front of me and waited for the dust storm to pass. The wind screamed above me for a frightening moment, nearly shaking the boat out of its slumber, but it was able to maintain its balance and position, withstanding the sandsí relentless assault effortlessly.  

I didnít know precisely what was happening, but I had to find out. Reluctantly, I decided to take a chance and look around, I peered out and saw the dust slowly diminishing, working in a few additional gusts before passing overhead for a moment. I felt the surging dust collecting on my head, but. It was over before I knew it. I waited a minute or two until the storm finally blew through. I had survived another test, and had grown used to their unexpected appearances, something that had nearly become routine. With a sense of relief, I stood upward, facing the front of the boat. I shook my head and stomped my feet to get rid of most of the accumulated sand, before making another trip towards the edge. I moved towards the railing and surveyed the surroundings, carefully looking above as the storm vanished under the horizon. With a sense of relief, I then began looking for some kind of path out of there. I noticed that the sand was piled high, there was a minimal drop of maybe two feet between the boat and the surface. I looked around for some sign of where to head, but nothing pointed in a specific direction.  

It took me a few minutes to work up the courage but I finally decided to embark towards the distant range of uneven hills and mountains. I looked back and examined the vessel again, wondering about our first encounter with it. It wasnít clear why it had re-appeared, and taken me onboard so unexpectedly. After the It had landed in an unexpected location but its structure and appearance was unchanged. It seemed to have come to rest, its journey completed. I surveyed the entire vessel and its stillness felt permanent. This gave me reason to find another path. I was reluctant to leave but knew I couldnít stay onboard indefinitely. I decided to take another chance and jumped off its side, landing in the soft sand nearly faltering but somehow remaining upright. I was able to steady myself amid the dusty sand and its warmth was surprising and somehow reassuring. I took a few steps forward when an unexpectedly strong gust of wind surged from behind. I turned around to see where it was coming from. I was shocked but not surprised by what I saw. There was a large empty space where it had settled. There was no sign of the vessel. It had vanished for a second time, slipping beneath the sand without a sound.

(Continue to part two)