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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction



A Cold Morning

She called for me out of nowhere, arriving unexpectedly, salvaging the stagnation of another frustrating day. It felt like nothing was going in the right direction for me. I was greatly relieved when she called out my name. I had waited so long for that moment. When she finally came back to me she knew exactly what to say and how to say it. I was distracted and she had been the last thing on my mind, and to some degree her timing was unsettling. Her sudden appearance from out of nowhere made me nervous. Despite our previous encounters, I never really know what to expect. Part of me wondered if something had gone wrong. I didnít really know what was happening or why she picked that particular moment to show up. Many things had changed since our previous meeting. I was tad older at that point, and I felt unsettled by the changing world around me. She remained distant and mysterious and didnít act like other people did. When I thought of her, I couldnít explain why she seemed to pick me, out of so many others. This made her motivations seem strange and confusing. It affected me in ways I couldnít explain to anyone else. I hadnít been able to move beyond that mysterious book she left for and its symbols. After I heard the unmistakable sound of her voice, those perplexing pages didnít matter nearly as much.

I had waited for what seemed like eternity to see her again and didnít hesitate when I heard her calling out my name. I knew Iíd find her at our secret place. My trip up the hidden path and over the old crooked stairs seemed to take a few seconds. I nearly ran over the rocks and sticks, I could hear the ground pounding underneath. As I move upward, my head started to spin. All of the memories flooded back to me and I felt a little lump in my throat. There was a sense of anticipation that I hadnít felt building up inside me for a long time. I didnít know what she had planned. I ran up the trail quickly, almost recklessly as I didnít want to miss out.  I tried not to rush but still increased my pace since the night wasnít going to last forever. Once I reached the top, I saw her there and was greatly relieved that I wasnít hearing things. It took quite a run from me and at that point, I felt a little tired. I took a deep breath and held things inside me. I didnít want her to know what was happening, though I knew she could figure it out. This was our sanctuary, a secret place and I wasnít going to let anyone or anything interfere in our place, no matter how angry it might have made me.  I walked closer towards her and realized sheíd been watching me the entire time on me. Her eyes trained on me, guarding my journey, making sure that I made it to our meeting point safely. She seemed annoyed that I had rushed up the steps and over the walls; there was no need to for all the commotion. I needed to more careful.

I approached her and noticed that she was waiting for me. She stood there stoically, her eyes trained on me, but she also seemed a little bit distracted. She was surveying our surroundings, looking below towards the distant, nearly deserted street in one direction and out over the forest in another. She seemed focused on something else and it seemed like she wanted to show me something. I ran up the hill too fast but I was going to slow and making her wait. I took a moment to hold my breath and took in the cold air which seemed still and silent. The world felt like it had stopped for us and awaited our movements. I looked away from her and looked at the tops of the trees. They seemed so tall on the way up but then suddenly, their previously unreachable peaks swayed silently below our feet. I could see the frozen edges on their branches, which made them appear as if they were glass. They were glowing silently under the moon light, and I could feel the distant chill permeate the air as the winds blew from the north sky. I knew I had to look for something there but I wasnít quite as sure of myself as I was even a few months earlier. I moved around and sensed and uneasiness in my steps. Each jagged rock seemed like it was cutting through my sneakers, almost puncturing my feet. Going up the hill so fast seemed to have taken more out of me than I thought. I felt a little rush going to my head and I needed to take a moment. She stood there and watched me, and I sensed something coming from her eyes. I took a moment and noticed how perfectly this moment seemed to have come, as if someone had arranged for it to happen beforehand. I remembered where I was and who I was with and suddenly, things that were confusing about the circumstances began to fall into place.

She didnít have to say anything. Our unspoken connection remained unbroken and my recognition of this took a large burden of me. There was a quiet and we didnít need to exchange a word. As I drew my steps in the ground, I noticed my feet were moving along a path that seemed predetermined. It a little different our previous encounters; she seemed to have this one arranged for me to see something. I knew there were some things I needed to learn. I immediately thought of the symbols Iíd seen on the trees below and the ones that matched what Iíd been studying in that book. As I looked down at the trees my mind races as I attempted to connect them together. I looked around found myself trying to unravel the different layers that seemed to surround that mysterious place. I couldnít get beyond the basic structures and was lost in my attempts to go further. Things were going slow and I was getting frustrated, attempting to go beyond my capabilities. She seemed to want to help me on my way and had set this up for me, to learn something. While I stood there contemplating those mysteries, she had slowly moved closer. Before I knew it she was standing right beside me.  She clasped my hand and I felt her strange energy echoing inside me for a moment. It was familiar to me now and it helped to clarify what I needed to do. I was relieved to feel that presence, I thought she was angry at me, but it was settled instantly.

I took a moment and inhaled the crisp air. I looked down on the trees, their thick branches and leaves covering their secrets under the ground below. I let their branches brush and slip over my head, their secrets were safe, hidden down there under the moonís protective glow. I decided to look up and watched the moon, hovering far above us, distant and completely out of reach. It seemed complicit in its silence. We stood alone, protecting each other against the outside world. We created a kind of closed system, where we set the rules and no one else was allowed in. I didnít have to pretend to be somebody else. I didnít need to speak in codes when we were together. I felt a great relief, all the burdens I carried with me seemed to have slipped off my back. We walked along the edge of the ridge, looking over the secret world, surveying its magic and majesty, quietly moving under the moon. I looked down and saw our intermingling shadows on the ground, it looked like we were dancing together, echoing other nights we had shared during the previous clandestine nights we shared together. I could feel the wind blowing beneath our feet, seeming to guide us forward. She moved a few steps ahead of me without fear but I was hesitant. There were things ahead I still didnít understand, I wasnít sure I was ready to move onward. As we walked forward, I felt the wind push me and I caught up to her. We walked for a while across the edge, navigating the path until we reached the other side of the mountain. There was no one else around, it felt like we were alone, overlooking an indescribable, impenetrable world. 

I looked over the trees, closely examining their tops and saw something begin to emerge slowly as the rustled through the night. My perception seemed limited initially, but as I allowed myself to focus, their appearance seemed to evolve slowly. At first I found it confusing and I didnít understand what was happening. I wondered if she was behind it and at first thought I was being tricked by her. I thought about it and looked at her eyes, after a moment, I understood what was going on. She wasnít teasing but teaching me something but she would let me discover this part on my own. I turned my head back towards the trees and they seemed more alive as I watched them. This was odd but the closer I looked, the more their appearance seemed to change and they began to resemble something else. It seemed familiar but I couldnít quite put my head in the right place despite my efforts. It was like a giant puzzle where I could only find a few pieces that matched. She walked towards me and held onto my shoulder for a moment, I felt an icy chill that I couldnít describe, but it seemed to cool my overheated mind enough that I could concentrate for a moment. I closed my eyes for a few moments, clearing out some of the accumulated debris. I took a deep breath and opened them again; the things I was supposed to see came into focus. I had a sudden urge and clenched my arms suddenly in front of me. Instead of looking at a series of trees on the ground, I was looking at a large pattern, the branches interlocking, almost communicating between themselves in a strange language. They were slowly changing form as the wind shifted direction. I had to look hard, and see things that werenít there. When I concentrated, I could almost read what looked like letters starting to form, configuring into words that slowly built into a message that I knew could be deciphered. I was frustrated, I kept getting close to the answer but it always seemed to slip away, remaining just out of my grasp. I tried imagining the puzzle in different ways and I tried to push thing together.

The night grew late and I could feel the winds getting stronger. The air was growing colder as the remaining heat evaporated. I felt my hands becoming frozen, as If there was a touch of winter. I was embarrassed by my lack of progress, especially with her eyes looking straight at me. This unnerved me and her piercing gaze incinerated my concentration. I thought back to the arcade and remembered some of the games I played. Some of them also had patterns and codes that could be discovered if you played long enough. I decided to try and apply that to this more elaborate puzzle. She seemed to have set it up for me, but I wasnít exactly sure for what purpose she had in mind. I walked over towards her but remained slightly distant. I knew this would be something she wanted me to find out for myself, but I needed at least a little support from her in some way. I took my time and closed my eyes, trying to piece things together. I remembered how slowly things had come to me when I played some of those games, so I decided to start from the beginning. Maybe I was trying to do everything at once and needed to take a few steps.  I decided to close my eyes again and take a deep breath. The air was cold, and there was almost a touch of winter. Slowly, I took a few pieces and focused on them. Small strings of letters came into view. These turned into words which I knew then other I didnít, punctuated by numbers. I could read sentences once again, but they seemed twisted, and didnít make any sense, like they were written in another language. There wasnít much I could do, I felt stuck and alone up there, unable to move forward inside this mysterious place beyond my comprehension. I stood alone up there for a long time, wondering what this was all supposed to mean. I felt something on my shoulders and I knew it was her. This was reassuring but also humbling, I think she knew I was a little over my head. She steadied me for a moment and this allowed me to think. I felt her presence and decided to try again.

I closed my eyes and once again the letters returned. They seemed more jumbled than before, crossed signals it felt like a glitch, growing ever more complicated and tangled together. I felt her telling me to keep trying, the words began to fade away and I began to see something else emerge from the tangled, illogical associations. I began to see that none of it was really that important, I had spent too much time on the symbols and words, losing sight of what mattered. The letters began to disappear entirely, and after awhile, I found myself in another place. There was darkness and quiet. I finally felt at peace, but it wouldnít last. She took her hands off my shoulders and I walked away from her. Almost immediately, things began to make more sense. I walked down the steps towards the trees once again, slowly measuring my steps. It was an odd sensation; it was almost as if I was gliding over the steps, almost like I was flying. I looked down and the winds were blowing through the branches. I looked up and the moon was gone, replaced almost entirely by clouds. I couldnít see what was going on so I looked down and saw something going on down there. I walked further down the steps and finally reached the bottom once again. I felt a bit nervous, but I knew something was different. As I stepped under the trees, I noticed that the symbols I had seen before were gone. Only a few minutes had passed but everything felt different, and I wasnít certain that she had this planned. I wondered why she left me, and I was getting confused. I stood there quietly for a moment and felt that I was alone once again. I needed to explore again, but I didnít know what I was looking for. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes slowly. Taking a deep breath, I turned around and saw no one there. I was startled to see her standing patiently, looking directly at me.

She looked different, younger in her disposition; she moved quickly towards me and put her hands on me to reassure me that it was indeed her. As she felt my back and shoulders, I felt like I was transported and had traveled to another time. It felt strange, almost like we had reversed roles. Without the words and symbols, I felt lost. The forest felt darker and stranger, more intimidating. I looked around and it felt like many years had passed. I wandered around aimlessly, I felt like I was dreaming, floating above the ground. I was unable to place my feet back on the ground. My feet felt numb, a cold night was running into morning. I was running out of time. I knew sheíd be leaving soon, at the break of dawn.  I looked around and she was still close by, watching my every step.  My mind was swirling. I started to panic. The symbols came back to me. The world felt cluttered and confusing and I didnít expect to feel so disoriented. Things began to blur, time seemed to spin. She watched me without saying a word. She seemed to lurk in the shadows keeping her distance. I tried to find clues in her expression, but she kept her motivations secret. I walked back towards her and tried to look into her eyes, desperately to discover the puzzleís elusive solution.

Quickly turning her head away, she deflected my inquiry. This was something I needed to find on my own. I walked away, perplexed. I couldnít quite understand what she was doing. I didnít know what to do next and decided to move back towards the top of the stairs. I took a deep breath and looked up at the sky. This helped to clear the distractions from my mind and I began to open up to other possibilities. The moon had returned and shined through clouds, marking a hidden path on the ground for me to take. I walked towards the opening and saw a sliver of light emerge. I walked closer to it, and a strange glowing window appeared, arriving from out of nowhere. I stood in front of it for a moment, not knowing what to think. I had no idea what something like that was doing there. It seemed dangerous and I didnít dare get any closer. I was confused and frightened then everything began to spin around quickly. I felt like I was dreaming. None of this made sense for a moment, until things registered. I felt a sudden urge to walk closer to the window. I hesitated before moving forward and it vanished before I could take a step, evaporating in the blink of an eye. Things were dark and quiet once again. The forest and trees were still once again, resuming their silent witness. I noticed something, a shadow in the moonlight and she was standing there beside me silently. She smiled and put her hands on my back. She seemed happy that I had passed the test test. I felt a strange surge of energy. An unexpected recognition began to emerge as we stood there. I could feel my feet again and the ground beneath me felt real once again. I walked forward slowly and felt a strangely familiar sensation. It was like we had been here together many times before, and I was just starting to remember. I turned my head and looked at her once again. I could see ice beginning to form on the ground as the first glimmers of dawn emerged in the distance. Long-dormant memories flooded back and I had a sudden realization, I had seen what she was trying to show me. She looked relieved, released from the burden of a secret she hid from me. She had been waiting, longer than I realized, for me to understand what was happening.

In that moment, I finally remembered who I was.

- Michael Palisano

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