A Distant Figure - Part two - Fiction - By Michael Palisano - The-Laser.com









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



A Distant Figure

It had been a long hike through the woods and I found myself growing tired. My feet were sore and depleted, clunking over the uneven surfaces. The summer had begun to age once more, slowly slipping away from me. I was hesitant to embark on the journey at first, but decided to take advantage of the limited opportunities available to me. I had grown accustomed to the journey's length and had paced myself for the duration. It didn't bother me, and I wasn't worried. In fact, the isolation and solitude I had experienced in the trees was a welcome relief. Between the strange encounters and the everyday hassles, it marked a pleasant break from the predictability of most days. Usually, I circled at the edge of the forest and looked around. My journey beginning slowly then picking up momentum as I moved inward toward the embankments and paths. After many warm months, I grown accustomed to aimlessly exploring the forest's paths and unmarked areas, I had worked up a kind of system to get back that appeared to work. retracing my steps visually as I walked which made it easier to return after a long journey. As the summer grew shorter, I began to wander deeper inside the forest, which had led to some close calls. I'd usually be able to get out them quickly without much effort. Despite this, I knew better than to push things, I'd been lucky up to that point. Underneath this was a sense of a clock ticking on what had seemed like an almost eternal summer. Daylight was shrinking gradually with each passing week I knew the window was gradually, inevitably closing and needed to make the best of things, and explore around the surface while there was still enough time.

I wanted to make a few more excursions and see if I could find anything more hidden within its mysterious surroundings. There had been several mysterious encounters and discoveries over the previous months. I was determined not to miss out and kept pressing inward, going deeper inside without hesitation. It took some effort to get back but I had usually managed to without much trouble. I was prepared in advance, taking precautions and making sure I was completely ready before making another attempt. Despite the elaborate effort and planning, I hadn't anticipated the lengths I walked exactly, and found unexpectedly became lost. It seemed that I'd taken a wrong turn somewhat unexpectedly. I walked into completely unfamiliar territory, and found myself reverting to walking in elaborate circles, retracing my steps yet going nowhere. My sense of direction was thrown off by an unexpected problem. I'd taken too long, wasting time and energy just walking around aimlessly. I wanted to take one last slow look and stood still in order to feel the air and wind, letting it soak inside me with each breath. I didn't want to let the last few days pass unappreciated and decided to avoid rushing through. This turned out to be a poor tactic. I felt myself procrastinating and putting off my return, purposely extending the respite. I seemed to have taken too much time and noticed an unwelcome change. The afternoon shadows had snuck up behind me and grown longer and darker than I expected. I looked above and saw the sun slowly dissipating, fading behind the horizon. Rapidly slipping underneath the sky, It signaled a tranquil day. I was too far out at that point. I knew I'd gotten lost and wouldn't be able to find my way out before darkness fell. I tried to navigate back on my steps but only found myself burrowing deeper into the forest.

The trees became denser and older with each step. I tried to turn around but my attempts were self-defeating, trapping me even more as I walked. I began to panic slightly and my heart began to race, the fear building. I looked under my feet, and saw the ground becoming increasingly erratic and dangerous, filling with thick layers of brush, rock and grass. The uneven surface made it harder to keep track of where I was. Looking above, the trees seemed to be growing towards one another, their branches twisting and converging until the skies above were almost completely obscured. I stood still and waited for something to happen. The quiet was almost unbearable, a silent rebuke. I'd taken one trip too many and was paying for the mistake. Underneath, I felt the ground shifting and settling in unexpected ways. It seemed to be working to defeat me, purposely sitting still when it should moved or shifting unexpectedly as I searched for a stable, steady respite. I looked back in the direction I'd travelled and scanned for some sign of where to go next. Walking further towards the center, I knew enough to head for the center of the forest where, I remembered, there was a somewhat safe clearing on the path ahead. Providing relative safety, it seemed elusive but I had to find it before the sun lost its battle and submerging the forest in darkness.

As the minutes passed, it became increasingly obvious that I wouldn't be going back home, at least not for awhile. I had to search for a place to go before my predicament became inescapable. Nervously, I began to move inward, tentatively in the direction that seemed calmest. I was hoping to encounter at least even the smallest sign along the way. I scanned the trees for some kind of marking or symbols but it seemed no one had travelled that way. There weren't any footprints to follow. no clearings along the way, nothing that would signal someone had gone before me. I made what felt like some headway towards the center but couldn't be completely sure. I looked towards the arrays of branches and trees and they didn't reveal anything. I looked around and watched the shadows elongating alongside the waters, slowly submerging the surroundings into twilight. I knew the night would quickly surround me. It was much too late for me to run from it, the only thing I could do was hope for a safe place to hide.

I was relatively familiar with the forest, but the straight line I traversed was becoming increasingly steep, while the hill unfolded layers of deception. My path angled sharply, and I found myself walking quickly, not wanting to stay in one place for too long. This made me walk in unpredictable directions, twisting and bending rapidly. I hadn't anticipated the change in the surface and found it hard to maintain a steady speed while keeping my balance. I tried to keep myself inside a relatively safe section but this proved impossible as the forest became increasingly hostile. Stumbling over the cluttered surface, I moved carefully despite my increasing anxiety. I looked above towards the darkening skies and felt an invisible clock ticking away; there was little time left. It was unlikely that I'd be able to get out of the forest in one piece. Each step seemed to draw me further inward, the trees and brush conspired to keep me inside, dragging me deeper into its impermeable atmosphere. Looking around for some kind of sign, I became distracted by the converging trees that seemed to be growing taller an taller, their brushes extending upward. It seemed that they'd grown from out of nowhere. Before I realized what was happening, the thicket of trees completely encircled my position, cutting me off from the outside completely.

Attempting to outrun or escape the forest seemed like a hopeless task, there was nothing I could do. I had fallen into a trap of my own making, going too far in without a plan to get out. The lonely forest became increasingly quiet and desolate. I watched helplessly as the shadows began to darken and cover the forest, plunging downward until they completely darkened the atmosphere. The atmosphere began to cool and settle, creating a cold, permanent barrier that thinned my breath, making it harder for me to gain traction or settle my bearing. Each moment grew darker, adding to the difficulties navigating the uncertain terrain. I wasn't about to give in my seemingly intractable fate and decided to make one last break. I began to run, moving purposely through the oncoming trees, unyielding in my determination not to let the antagonistic surroundings defeat me. I wasn't intimidated by the encroaching trees, instead my resolution only increased. I gained confidence and moved ever faster until I was nearly running at full speed. My pace remained strong and consistent and the surface surrendered to my determination. It had taken me a long time to build up to that point, but it seemed that I was moving in a more promising direction. I managed to gain a foothold, locating a patch of solid ground where I could run ahead without impediment.

I began running quickly, then sprinting towards an unknown area. This filled me with excitement and fear. I couldn't contain my excitement and began getting a little bit reckless. I skipped and jumped over the surface, hopping up and down a little excitedly and felt like I could do anything and go anywhere. I didn't take very long for me to pay a heavy price for my excitement. Without warning, I tripped over a group of sharp rocks and suddenly felt myself propelled up over the surface for a quick moment before crashing down onto the ground. My frenetic burst of energy came to a sudden halt. I was fortunate not to have injured my feet or legs. This was especially true since there was no one else around to help me, and nothing nearby. Fortunately, I recovered from the fall rapidly. I regained my balance and stood back up again, and stabilized my balance. My head was spinning a bit so I took a moment to take stock of my situation. Things were still and quiet, almost totally silent except for the scattered pulses of my breath, now deeper and somewhat less confident. I wondered if I'd gone too far. I had gotten ahead of myself and made another mistake, costing me valuable time I didn't have. I stood alone for a second and drew a deep breath, allowing myself time to focus and concentrate. I looked around at my surroundings, scanning for anything that might lead me along the way but didn't see anything. I knew that I'd have to stay calm and focused, avoiding the excitement which could lead me into even deeper trouble.

It took a few minutes to regain momentum but I had the difficult task of finding something that I couldn't identify or know until I saw it. The dense forest didn't help matters and the closing forest's paths seemed to be vanishing into the impending night. I walked for what felt like another mile, trying not to think about the consequences, attempting to shake off another close call. I took note of where I was headed and the path I'd come, just in case I needed to turn back, knowing there would probably be no way for me to mark the position. I walked quickly again, watched the trees above for any indication, but there was nothing for me to use as a guide. Their aloofness was surprising to me, I'd spent so much of the summer there but my presence didn't elicit even a small response. The night grew ever more prominent and began to consume everything, quickly shutting out potential routes, leaving me with few options but to keep moving directly ahead. I continued on the solitary journey for awhile longer until something began to change. I felt the ground beneath me begin to slowly crumble, dissolving underneath my feet. It started slowly at first but quickly escalated until I felt the surface rolling beneath me. It pushed me forward inexorably, there was no way I would be able to fight it. The ground poured under my feet, swarming beneath me, waiting for nothing, ignoring me completely. I rolled forward into the unknown and there it only built in strength as the moments passed. I wasn't getting out, no matter how hard I pushed against the sliding rock and dirt.

Overwhelmed by the rolling surface, it quickly became difficult for me to maintain my balance and position, but I had no choice. I knew if I fell or stopped, I'd be quickly over-run and possibly even buried out there, where no one would know where to look or find me. Entering had been an easy choice, getting out had proven far more difficult. I tried to find another way through but nothing had come of my efforts. I kept walking but it seemed that the ground was slipping beneath me, there was nothing i could do. Suddenly, there was a large shift beneath my feet and the ground gave way completely. I tried to find a stable place to stand but there was nowhere to turn. I felt the ground fall out and I stood suspended for a few seconds until gravity caught up with me. I quickly plummeted downward. I tried to grab onto something but found myself stumbling. I fell off a steep ledge, plunging into the darkness alone for what might have been twenty or thirty feet below. It seemed that I was falling and there was nothing to stop my descent. It felt like I was going to plunge downward forever.
I looked up and saw the forest rapidly falling away far above me, until only the outlines of the trees were visible. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, waiting for what seemed like a very bad fate. I braced myself for impact and felt the air compress and sink. It began dragging me downward at increasingly rapid speed until at long last I hit something beneath me. The force shook my entire body and I quickly fell into a defensive crouch, and waited for a few moments. I expected a great deal of pain or some fractured bones, but was surprised that there wasn't anything immediate. I opened my eyes and looked around, I couldn't see much at first, just a long stretch of grass. I took a few steps and felt around. Everything had stabilized, the ground felt solid and stable. I took a moment and stood up, relieved that there wasn't anything seriously wrong.
Cautiously, I took a deep breath and looked over my surroundings nervously. I was able to relax enough and scanned the altered environment quickly, searching for any changes. The lower elevation seemed calmer and colder, emptier and somehow even more deserted than the land above. It was flatter and open almost like a desert. It was easier for me to walk around. Its dirty surface was rocky and uneven but this wasn't as difficult to traverse. I moved quickly towards the Clear without the thick clusters of brush and trees that had blocked my path. I took a moment and walked a few additional steps downwards towards the center of the field and tried to regain my bearings as the night sank in. I glanced above and saw the first outlines of the night sky, the edges of stars becoming visible through the fading twilight. Their serenity and quiet accompaniment was strangely calming, a familiar sight internalized that reassured me that I wasn't truly alone. In the darkness, I used them to regain my bearings after the plunge. I knew I could use them, and they would go a long way towards helping to guide me from a distance. I looked closely at them and located a few familiar constellations that I could use to navigate the path ahead.

I decided not to look directly ahead into the flat meadow and didn't notice the outline of what was standing in front of me. In my disconcertion, the strange building, partially uncovered on the opposite side of the field didn't stand out against the spinning trees and dizzying night. Its cool, sharp surfaces were partially obscured and some that hidden inside the night sky. From that vantage its camouflaged position was nearly complete, its particular shape marking a barely perceptible point, a minor bump in the distance. Concentrating my efforts on the stars above, I didn't realize its significance for a few minutes. I scanned the stars, hoping to find a destination, but didn't see that I was already standing in front of me. I waited for the stars to shift or send me a signal, but there was no response. Entranced by their shimmering motion, I hadn't taken the time to look around at the surface. I maintained a strange focus on the surface above me, I wondered what I had done to start the chain reaction that caused the ground to fall away, collapsing under my feet. The force of the landslide was fairly strong and I counted myself lucky to have emerged largely unharmed by its massive occurrence. The trees far above were still rustling and shifting around from the landslide, their trunks and branches shaking from the reverberations. I was still recovering and winding down from that sudden change in occurrence took me awhile. Slowly, the atmosphere seemed to calm down, the ground came to a rest and I was able to finally survey the surroundings. My eyes were drawn back to the mysterious structure, whose outlines and surface were barely visible in the darkness. It would have been easy to miss, nearly hidden by the tall grass, but the moonlight was just strong enough to make form visible. I cautiously walked closer towards the structure. It seemed lost and out of place, but I felt it must have revealed itself for a reason. I approached the building, despite not knowing what might be hidden inside.

(Continue to part two)