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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



A Deep Breath

After everything that happened during that long day, I was left with a disconcerting realization. We had gone through such a long night out there but it seemed like things were still just beginning. I remembered standing there on its dark shores and feeling stranded with no way out. It subsided almost immediately thereafter when she had rescued us. Her mysterious laser machine drew a small window that allowed us to make an unexpected exit from what felt like a seemingly intractable situation. With a flash of light from her hands, we had been rescued, and found ourselves on the missing boat once again. Without warning, I found myself in an unexpected yet familiar situation. In the course of only a few steps, I was in as place I had never been. As in previous encounters, I was left disoriented and confused.  I staggered around the boat for a few minutes, the sudden change from night to day was disorienting at first. I tried to adjust but the sun seemed to be too bright at first, making it difficult to see ahead. After a few minutes, I was able to adjust my vision but there was something else that wasnít exactly familiar about our situation. It seemed like the miles we traveled had suddenly increased. I remembered how we had found ourselves in one disorienting situation after another, only to find ourselves in another strange place. I remembered events from the past, and in some ways it was like retracing my steps. As things became clearer, I looked down at my feet which looked the same, only now my shadow was longer, and a little darker. We were surrounded by the ocean, sailing an unknown path towards some place. The waves created a distance, making the rest of the world drift farther away, its worries and demands disappearing in the haze, evaporating under the summer sun. The boat provided us a kind of shelter, allowing everything that worried us to slip beneath the surface.

I found myself standing in the middle of the ocean but I wasnít alone. I looked around and saw that we were surrounded by water. I looked over the waves and they gave no indication what would come before us. I stood there and looked around nervously, I saw the boatís sails swaying in the wind and began searching them for clues. I wondered what caused the boat to disappear, and even more mysterious was why and how it had returned suddenly. I figured it out that the machine she used summoned it back to us, somehow, but couldnít quite understand why. It felt like we were lost, only to be rescued. I looked at the sails as they swayed in the wind. They gave no indication of their secrets, and gave me no ideas what we should do next. I examined their sheer white fabrics, looking for any signs or symbols that would help me but there was nothing. I saw her standing towards the front of the boat, her hands now confidently on the steering wheel and wondered if she knew this would happen. I watched her control the ship and it seemed like there was a strange unseen connection between them. This was something I hadnít expected, but she seemed in some way, to have understood things. I watched her move the wheel confidently while she stood there undeterred from her mission. I stood silently in the shadows and wondered where the waves would take us next.

I couldnít have anticipated the circumstances we found ourselves in and decided to stand back a few steps towards the middle of the boat and not to get her the way. I watched her from afar. I stayed away from the front portion and decided to do some exploration on my own on the back of the boat. She watched me and seemed to warn me not to play around. I took a moment and decided to play it low-key for awhile I waited a few minutes until I thought she wasnít looking and examined the boat closely. It didnít seem to have changed much from the previous day and everything looked settled and serene. There was indication of where it had gone when it vanished, or even that it had disappeared in the first place. I carefully walked back towards the other side of the boat measuring my steps carefully, not wanting to disturb anything and sat down on a short bench in its galley. It was a great relief and took some of the pressure off my mind. I allowed myself to take a deep breath and enjoy the bright sunshine and fresh air for a moment. I closed my eyes and let the boatís swaying motions sooth my mind. This worked for a few minutes, but I quickly realized that this wouldnít really be acceptable. While I needed to stay out of her way, there were other things I needed to do. I wasnít a passive passenger waiting for someone else to plot the course ahead. I didnít entirely trust the boat to remain steady and this made me more alert. I decided I needed to keep watch and stay prepared for whatever might happen to us next.

I decided that Iíd uncover at least a few of the mysteries, as much as I could examine and explore, I would. I looked around my position and found that there was something familiar. I decided to take a closer look. I reached back towards the back of the boat and picked up her strange light machine to see if I could turn it back on. I fiddled with it and still couldnít move its switches or dials. I struggled to no avail, but there was no response. I turned it upside down and examined its back, looked for anything on its surface, but there were no instructions or symbols to guide me. I tried a few different approaches, but the switches didnít move. I looked it over again and decided that it was hopeless. Its hardened dials thwarted my efforts and wouldnít budge no matter how hard I tried to turn them. I would have to find a path without any assistance or short-cuts. The boat slowly moved forward and I watched her at the controls, seemingly not worried at all about where we were headed. I stood up and moved towards her but she held up her hand and told me to stay back, not wanting me to interfere. I stood there and looked off the side of the boat. The waves seemed to have calmed down, slowly coming to a strange stillness that was strangely reassuring. The boat slowed down and we began to almost drift on the ocean. We had come to a place, and found ourselves in the middle of the ocean, with seemingly nowhere to go. I watched from a distance as she took her hands from the controls and locked them into place, seemingly taking a break. She walked back towards me, looked at the machine by my side and seemed to be surprised that it there. She took it in her hand and looked it over, more carefully than I had and tried to move its dials. She had no better luck than I had and it resisted her attempts at moving it as well. It looked smaller in her hands. Seeing it in the light under the sunshine made it seem less important than I thought it might have been. I still had no idea why it had transported us all the way out there or what its purpose was.

I looked past the waves and searched for some sign, a familiar place to see what might have awaited us. In the hazy horizon, I saw nothing that I recognized, there were no familiar shapes. There wasnít any land I could see emerging from that, even in the distance seemed within reach. I scanned the horizon for many minutes, but nothing appeared. Trying to get my bearings, I searched for the island we had left. I looked back and forth, side to side, but there was no trace. It seemed to have vanished, and there was nothing indicating anything nearby. I saw the sun sliding over the sky, illuminating everything, itís light seeming to stretch past the horizon. I looked down scanned the ocean currents for anything, a buoy, a life raft, another boat, but couldnít locate anything. The ocean surrounded us with a seemingly endless expanse of sea and water. There was no wind, but I could smell the salty air, overrunning our boat, but there was no sign of anyone else out there. It had become still and silent. I looked around and my heart sank, my sense of relief had become fear once more. We were far from shore, surrounded by waves with no apparent direction. There werenít any beacons or guides to be found. I looked around the boat, which had become almost silent and tried to find anything that would help us navigate the seemingly endless ocean. There was an anchor towards the back of the boat, and rolls of coiled rope at its side. I walked towards it and as I looked closer, I could see that the ropes didnít seem like they had been used in a long time. They looked like they had melted into each other, creating one big hunk of twisted ties, shredded and tangled into a huge form that wouldnít budge. I tried to move them to see if I could untangle them, but they were too heavy. I examined the anchor but it looked almost completely rusted, now permanently stuck in place, unmovable and stuck. This approach wouldnít work either, so I decided to search for a solution elsewhere.

I heard some odd noises coming from the other side of the boat and quickly walked back towards the steering wheel to see what was happing. It didnít take long until I found myself standing beside her at the front of the ship. I noticed she had picked up the strange machine again and had done the impossible. She had moved one of the dial just enough to make something happen. The machine seemed to have warmed up and gave off an odd buzzing sound that quickly subsided. We waited for more, but nothing seemed to happen. Several minutes passed but there was no more reaction. She tried to move the dials, but they remained stuck in place.  We patiently observed for more signals, but the machine had gone back into hibernation. It was frustrating and after a few minutes, there was still no sign of anything further. She decided to put it away and placed it under the bench, sliding it out of view. I didnít want to sit there doing nothing so I stood up. I walked around the sides, and walked back towards the front of the boat to see if I anything had changed. When I looked down, I could see the currents rushing underneath us. The waves had picked up just a little, but it didnít seem like enough to move it significantly. I looked around and remained perplexed as to the next course of action, the path ahead was unclear. I stood next to her and had an unsettling feeling that turned to fear. I felt stranded again, like we had nearly disappeared, our shadow nearly vanishing underneath the ocean. As I looked at our shadows, they seemed to have diminished as the waves grew larger. Somewhere along the way, my perceptions changed. It felt like we had become phantoms standing out there, moving quickly but leaving no trace behind us as we sailed over the water.

I surveyed the boatís surroundings and discovered that the sea was calmer than I was. The cascading waves seemed to have come to a near complete stop, their currents almost still. In their waves, I saw the sun reflected in their greenish, glassy surface, shimmering brightly above us. The warm sea air permeated the boat and the skies seemed to brighten as we reached what seemed like a high noon. I stepped out from under the sails and could see my shadow, now darkened and longer on the boat. Looking over the sides, I could see the sunís reflection on the water, its shimmering light refracted into what resembled small jewels on the surface, slowly churning and melting into each other gliding on the surface currents. As I watched them, a welcome sense of calm overcame me. They transfixed me for a moment and I lost myself watching their patterns, the reflections looked like they were dancing, almost playing with one another. I stopped worrying and allowed myself to enjoy the odd small discoveries. I looked around, felt the warm sea air gushing in and took another deep breath, I could feel the warmth at long last, and it gave me a new energy that helped to keep me calm. I felt myself drifting back and remembered all the strange events and adventures Iíd been on over the past few days or hours or months. It was hard for me to comprehend how much time had actually passed but at that point it didnít matter. The only sound came from the waves lightly crashing onto the boat, but everything was otherwise quiet. The shipís momentum had slowed, which gave me a welcome respite that I used to take a break. I closed my eyes and turned my face towards the sun, letting it heat my tired eyes. I felt myself drifting into a kind of odd position, and I felt myself slowly nearly falling asleep standing up, my mind drifting away, any worries evaporating beneath the sun.

I felt the waves slowly rolling past, drifting under my feet, the boat lifting and swelling in an oddly soothing slow dance that helped me to relax. I could feel the wind passing over my head and through the sails, guiding us on an uncertain path. I kept my eyes closed for what seemed like a few minutes and I didnít hear much from the other side of the boat. She seemed as relaxed and tranquil as the ocean, setting a course and letting things flow through the boat. It wasnít where I had expected to end up and I had no idea where I was at first, but it didnít bother me. I was relieved to be far away from the shores and its pressures, free to relax and soak in the sunshine for a moment. I trusted that she would keep us on the right path, or at least an interesting one. I didnít need to navigate those vast waters alone and this was reassuring for me. I felt the weight lift from my shoulders and the strange conflicts I had on the island seemed to dissolve with each passing wave, washed away without much effort. My eyes blinked open for a moment and I saw her standing on the other side of the boat and she looked different. Her shadow didnít seem as long as it had earlier and I noticed she didnít seem to have as much on her mind as she had earlier. We had made some interesting discoveries over the past few weeks and it was perhaps a relief that we could take a rest after so many occurrences, and it was a relief. I took a deep breath and took more of the warm ocean air inside my body. There wasnít much else left for me to do. I watched the ocean surface coalesce around the boat, completely surrounding the boat. My perceptions seemed to have changed and instead of feeling surrounded and trapped, I gradually saw it as a barrier that shielded us effectively from the rest of the world. We didnít have to go anywhere or do anything. We found ourselves free from any expectations and could sail in the middle of the ocean, floating out there as long as we needed to.

I had grown a bit weary from the long journey, and had no real idea how much longer Iíd be able to keep going. My feet had also gotten a little sore from walking and standing. I decided to take a seat on the bench and slowly settled into place. It was a little cooler under the sails but I could still see the waves pushing across the boat, allowing me to keep watch without making too much strain on my mind. I let myself drift back to slumber for a few moments, allowing me to let the complexity of the outside world slip away, floating away on distant waves. I felt the boat rolling over the currents, carefully maneuvering through the sea, gliding over the waves effortlessly, its momentum simultaneously deliberate and scattered. There was no anchor to slow us or a propeller to move us, only the wind and currents to slowly navigate through a seemingly endless sea. It was fairly calm for quite some time as we navigated the ocean and I drifted in and out of daylight, the sun and shadow exchanging places as the winds blew the sails around, alternating hot and cool, providing energy and relief in seemingly natural patterns. There wasnít any pressure to get anywhere, time seemed to stop with an understanding that it wouldnít start again until we were ready. I fell deeper into slumber and my mind returned to the previous encounters with the island, how we had gotten there, found ourselves marooned without our boat and finally how she had unexpectedly located it, and found it waiting for us, seemingly out of place and time. It was an odd situation to find ourselves in and being back aboard was strange. I didnít know if there was anything else left to discover, or if there was anything else in store for us, but it didnít really bother me too much. I had been feeling a little overwhelmed and she seemed to sense this. There would be plenty of time for that later; a long summer was still ahead. It wasnít necessary for her to explain everything, at least not all at once.

The currents continued to push us through the ocean, gliding over its waves effortless. I could have stayed out there forever, but I knew it was destined to end sooner or later. As I sat under the sun and felt another gust of warm air, it gave me a relief. We had no sense of rushing or time to deliver us to something in some fashion, forcing us to rush through our time out there. I waited for the winds to relax and the sails slowly began to calm down as they subsided, resting at the side of the masts, wrapping around them until the sun began to shine brightly down on us, seeming to mark our time together. Drifting through the ocean for all that time had given me a different perspective on things and I decided not to squander our time together. Slowly, I saw the sun was beginning to move towards the west as it began its long journey once more. I took another look around and it seemed that things had changed before I noticed what was happening. We hadnít reached any particular place but I felt that we had finally arrived at where we supposed to be. I took a look around the boat and it seemed to have made it through the journey without much effort. Everything was in its place and there was no sign that anything had passed. I looked over the railings again and noticed the waves had become shorter and faster. They were closer together and were racing in parallel paths, like we were closing in back towards the shore or an island. She noticed this and moved back towards the steering wheel, alerted to the increased momentum and speed, and took to the controls firmly, navigating the ship confidently through the waters ahead.

We lurched forward and moved quickly over the waves for a few minutes, and I could see the waves chopping at our back when I looked behind us. The sails had quickly flowed with air and had began to wave frantically over us, flapping in the wind and spreading outward as they guided us towards our next stop. I watched the water cascade around the front of the boat, kicking up surf and waves, cutting through the sea like a sharp spear. The movement continued unabated for several minutes and I began to feel anxious, and a little nervous. She turned the wheel and it lurched leftward into a different path until we finally reached a calmer area. I felt the boat slowly decrease its momentum and stop moving forward. And just as quickly as the winds came, they seemed to leave. It came to stop and slowly began to regain it composure, tilting towards one side then the other until it had stabilized and stopped. After a few minutes of calm, I could feel it drifting sideways seemingly without direction. She overlooked the wheel and the levers as I watched for something but I saw nothing on the horizon. I scanned the surrounding waters but I couldnít find anything of note. I stood there for a long time and decided that there was nothing to see. I resigned myself that there was nothing to do, and took a seat back on the bench and closed my eyes. Nothing seemed to happen and it seemed that we had merely changed positions but were still adrift far out there in the ocean. I sat there for awhile and watched the sails fall back into place and waited for something to happen. It had become quiet once again and I felt that there was nothing more to do and I watched the surrounding boat, carefully, until I felt a thump. We had hit something, but I hadnít seen any objects nearby. I looked over the side of the boat and saw nothing there. I walked on the other side there was a strangely familiar diving platform, flowing over it half-sunk with waves washing over it. I saw its buoys struggling to stay afloat and the boards themselves were partially submerged. It looked smaller and much less safe than I remembered. It seemed like the grazing from our boat had probably destabilized it and it seemed to be reeling from the unexpected confrontation. 
 

It took a few minutes for the boat to stabilize but eventually it began to level out and right itself. I watched it nervously, not knowing how we had suddenly returned, back to the nearly same point where our journey had started the previous day. As I looked around, I saw many familiar sights and places but they seemed different. Somehow, the shoreline I had spent so much time in, seemed smaller than I had remembered. Its familiar outlines ran in a different direction, seemingly more constrained and shallower from that perspective. I looked down at the water and its waves crashing together in smaller circles, crashing into one another ceaselessly, the sense of calm I felt out in the open sea gave way towards a strident determination that seemed both insatiable and unceasing. The distance between the waves seemed shorter and their jagged surface didnít feel nearly as calm or relaxing as it could have been. I walked closer towards the edge of the boat with a sudden sense of longing. I was returning to the regular world, with its seemingly endless demands, swirling around and constant demands for more. I looked above towards the sky and the still-hot sun burned on, inexorably moving towards another dusk and subsequent night, its diminishing light drawing a darker shadow that gradually grew underneath my footsteps.

I knew time was running quicker and I had to go back, even though I didnít really want to leave. Carefully walking between the boards and railings, I balanced at the edge of the boat, watching it maneuver closer towards the rapidly approaching shoreline. I took a few steps closer and saw the old platform floating there silently, yet impatiently. The events of the easy day came flooding back and I sensed its demands and expectations, it was seemingly taunting me. The relative calm inside me was slipping away. I looked back in her direction and she seemed strangely subdued. It was like she was hiding in the lengthening shadows, her face covered underneath the boatís sails. I knew what was expected, and I knew that I wouldnít be able to tell anyone else what happened. It was difficult but that was the only way, and more importantly, I doubted anyone would believe me if I told them. I nodded towards her direction, we both understood.  Reluctantly, I moved back and looked towards the unsteady platform and took a few steps towards it and the distant beach beyond. I stood there for a moment and found myself suspended momentarily between the vessels. There would be no going back once I stepped off the boat. I pressed down quickly and took a small jump. I landed with a thump and the water splashed around its sides as it buckled slightly when I landed. It wasnít as sturdy as I thought and I needed a moment to regain my balance. I turned and looked across the sound back to the shore and saw its outlines as it snapped back into view, regaining its prominence in my view. It seemed smaller than it had in the past, the small buildings and trees felt tiny compared to the skies above, with the still billowing sun dominating the horizon, saturating the atmosphere with heat and light, covering the world with a summer glow as I gazed onto the shore, observing from afar.

I scanned the surroundings closely and carefully surveyed my situation. Nothing out there in the water had changed much while everything on the beach seemed to have stayed put, nothing had changed as far as I could tell. I looked back towards her and she was standing there, and she seemed to be watching me carefully, waiting for me to get safely back to the beach. There were a few people still straggling late in the afternoon. They were far away but I could still see them walking around, leaving their footprints, indentations and, sand castles behind, echoes on the beach, as they began to pack up and leave. I wondered if anyone on the beach would see me standing out there. I wondered what they would think, would they even noticed I was missing or how long I had been gone. It would still take some effort for me to swim back and meet up with everyone. I took a deep breath and prepared for the last journey back. When I turned around one last time, I noticed something strange. The boat that was floating carefully behind my back a moment earlier had completely vanished. I turned around and the boat had disappeared. It left nothing in its wake, there was no sign that anything had even been there, not even a shadow for anyone to follow. I hadnít felt anything move on the platform, there was no sudden movement or crashing noises. I spun around on my feet and searched for any sign of her but quickly realized that she had disappeared into the ocean air. She had vanished from sight, not leaving so much as a ripple on the waves. This didnít trouble me nearly as much as it had in the past, I was confident and somehow knew intrinsically she would reappear eventually. The biggest mystery was how long I had to prepare for our next clandestine encounter.

- Michael Palisano