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









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



A Distant Figure
(part two)

I took a few steps closer and moved towards the enigmatic structure cautiously. As I drew in, some of its details became visible. It seemed like it was partially buried in the ground, its windows half submerged in the dirt. The surface was painted and scratched up, revealing layers of paint and patches of concrete, used to reinforce the structure. On top there was a kind of layered turret, where glass panels covered a strange dome. When viewed from a distance, it appeared to be perfectly round, but there were angled panels covering it. As I drew closer, It wasn't a straight circle but an odd hexagon shape that seemed to point towards the left, or right, depending on the angle where I stood. I walked a little closer but proceeded carefully. I had no idea who had built it or what purpose it had. After what I'd experienced, I wasn't taking any chances. I looked and noticed strange circles painted between its windows at irregular spaces. Connecting to each one seemed an extension of cable, headed towards the upper dome, for some unknown purpose. I looked upwards towards the stars and they seemed to have changed, oddly synchronized into some unknown pattern. I glanced back down and saw odd parallels between the skies and the building. I stood back a little tried to find a connection, but it wasn't immediately obvious. Each dot seemed to correspond to a vague cluster of stars. I couldn't be sure what the whole thing meant. I decided to walk a little closer to see if any additional details emerged. I felt a strange sense of calm as I approached, there was an unmistakable stillness and quiet to the air immediately surrounding the building. Its concrete surface revealed a few flaws as I drew closer. There were cracks in its walls, some extended throughout from top to bottom. Other areas seemed patched together. Its windows seemed to have sunk inward a little, warping the walls slightly. Looking above, the panels attached to its upper dome seemed slightly ajar. It looked like they'd fallen off and been hastily reattached.

The building seemed like it hadn't been used in a long time, and its sealed, dark windows were intimidating. I tried to look for an entrance or a doorway, but it didn't seem like there was any obvious way inside. Using my instincts, I walked towards the opposing side of the structure, attempting to see if there was anything to discover that would reveal its purpose. The back of it was empty of any type of windows or doors, and its solid surface didn't give away any of its secrets. I walked closer towards the back, the lengthening shadows further obscuring any vulnerabilities. I noticed some minor superficial cracks above on its crown, but these were too far above for me to reach. I waited as the air cooled and settled even more into the night, and stood a safe distance from the building. It didn't make much sense that it would be out there in the middle of the forest.

I'd encountered it seemingly at random and I felt this serendipity occurred for a reason; I wasn't going to leave until I'd discovered why I'd been sent there. Looking back towards the forest, I felt the air begin to rustle as the night winds began to swell. The trees far above began to swat the night, slapping against the stars violently as the pressure began to rise. I felt the ground shaking beneath me again, but this time it wasn't as intense as the sharp rolling above. This was frightening and I stood still for a few moments until it gradually subsided. It didn't take long for the winds to follow suit and the resulting calm was somehow reassuring. I resumed my examination of the mysterious structure and walked back towards its front side.

On that subsequent inspection, it didn't seem that much had changed along its surface. The darkened windows hadn't changed position and they were still dark despite the imposing nocturnal skies. It didn't seem like it had given an inch in any direction. Walking closer, however there was something that I hadn't noticed before. It was a small bundle that would have been easy to miss in the darkness, but walking closer revealed something I hadn't expected to see. At first, I thought someone was playing tricks on me, that perhaps I'd been out there too long. I walked closer to examine it and as I got closer towards it, my suspicions were proven correct. At first, I couldn't believe my eyes. In some ways, it was like a premonition had become real. I walked closer and picked it up. Holding it in my hands again was a strange feeling. I hadn't thought about it much until that moment but everything suddenly came back to me. It held an inexplicable place in my mind, somewhere between myth and dream. I picked it up and examined it, nervously looking it over for any signs. It didn't seem to have been opened or changed, but something about it felt different. The large striped bag that I had to found on the beach a few weeks earlier had suddenly reappeared, seemingly from out of nowhere. I grasped its straps and held it up. It seemed to shine under the moonlight. I had a fairly good idea, knowing what it held inside made me nervous and I was reluctant to open it. I went back and forth as to whether it was a good idea. Perhaps, it was some type of trap set for me. I looked around at the desolate surroundings, and saw that no one was watching and decided to take a chance and see what was inside.

I opened the bag and my doubts vanished instantly. Everything was untouched and almost exactly as I remembered. It seemed a little bit heavier and I noticed something strange had been added to its contents. At first, I didn't notice the folded up piece of paper nearly hidden on the inside pocket, but it's unusual weight made the bag lilt to one side, somehow weighing more than the rest of the bag put together. I decided to take a peek at it and at first, there didn't seem to anything written on it, just a large piece of white paper. At first, I thought it was because it was dark, but once I held it up to the moon light, I noticed that it had been marked on the other side. I unfolded it carefully and slowly opened it up, turning the paper inside out, which allowed me to see what was written. My expectations were somewhat dashed at first. The paper didn't seem to make much sense. There were clusters of scribbled, scratched-up lines going in all directions, criss-crossing the paper with no apparent system or reason. It looked rushed and erratic, a half-constructed mess of scrawl without meaning. I stared at it for a minute, struggling to make sense of its design. It didn't seem to reveal much about its origin, who might have written it or what it meant. I decided to hold it higher up and directly under the skies. At first, this made no discernable difference but as I looked closer, I noticed some unexpected details. There were a series of small points plotted on the page, scattered and sporadic. They didn't seem to have any real coherence and looked to have been placed there almost at random. The dots were spaced far apart and I didn't really understand what they meant, how far apart they were supposed to be or what they represented. There was no clue as to what direction to hold it, so I didn't know whether I was actually looking at it forward or backwards, or even completely in the wrong direction. No letters or numbers were visible anywhere on the paper, there was nothing to measure distance or space, it was confusing.

Lacking anything to help guide me, I decided to take a different approach. Examining it closer, I held it closer to me and tried to read its lines and dots like a kind of secret code or language but that didn't make much sense despite my efforts to decipher its directions. I decided that my first though was probably correct, it was most likely a map of some kind. I held it upwards and let the moon's glow illuminate the map again. It seemed to react to the light and almost seemed to change colors. I noticed something at a slight distance. The page started to glow, and the dots on it seemed to react strangely, changing colors and even position. At first, it looked like they were shaking; they'd been activated then slowly began to change appearance. The longer I looked at it, more lines on the paper began to appear. They seemed to be crossing each other, lighting up and then zapping one another. A strange energy began to build and a strange image began to appear on the page. I held it up at another angle and then looked outside its surface. I waited a few minutes and let it fully form until I decided to point the map directly above me, holding it almost completely parallel and flat, until its front facing directly up, towards the stars.

I looked at it carefully for several minutes, attempting to discern the meaning and style of each point on the page. The dots were placed in strange, erratic positions and I couldn't quite figure out what the lines meant. They seemed to be paths, but I couldn't be sure exactly. I held it in my hands tightly, not wanting to let it go. I felt an odd energy on the paper that seemed almost like it was trying to pull away from me. I decided not to let the unsettled night get to me, its isolation didn't bother me, but I felt that I needed to stay focused if I had any chance of getting out of there. Examining its routes and indentations carefully, I tried to figure out what it was trying to convey. There weren't any numbers or letters on the page to help me, I had nothing to go on. There wasn't anything I could really understand. I held it up towards the stars, hoping to find some kind of synchronization, but it didn't really match any of the constellations above me. I was perplexed and tried several times to find some reason behind its appearance. I looked at the structure again, scanning its walls and windows for any signs of what the map might have been trying to point to. This only seemed to deepen the mystery and I couldn't decipher what it was hiding. After many frustrating attempts I finally decided that this wasn't the right time and folded the pages back, placing it back inside the bag. I spent a few minutes walking the circumference of the building. I thought there might be something else there, but the deserted surroundings yielded nothing else. I walked back towards the position where I found the bag and looked for anything else I might have missed. There were no other markings, nothing that seemed to match the map. I decided not to take any more time there and began to move from the building and headed back into the night.

It didn't take long for me to regain my bearings, and I decided to walk back towards the forest, reluctantly returning towards the point where I entered the clearing. I turned around and took one last long look at the building, which seemed to have slipped back into the forest, its shadows seeming to sink along with it. I looked ahead and tried to retrace my path, but it seemed different somehow, the surface was steeper and harder to walk. I didn't recognize anything around me and it seemed that the forest was closing in on me again. I passed a few smaller trees but quickly found myself surrounded by the thick branches and imposing trunks. I took a minute to look around and everything felt different. I paused for a moment and after a few minutes, realized I had made a wrong turn. The ground was going up instead of down, and the surface was harder and rockier than I remembered. It was obvious to me that I had judged my path incorrectly and was headed on the path leading me away from the familiar surroundings. I had gotten too far into the mess. I knew it would take a lot of effort if I tried to go back, but there was nothing indicating where I'd been wrong. It was unsettling as I slowly realized that I'd ventured too far and had become lost with no way of going back.

Before I realized what was going on, I found myself wandering aimlessly, trying to find my way through. I walked around and up, moving quickly under the thick brush which avoiding the occasional low hanging-branches. I had gotten myself deep into strange territory and I knew that I wasn't going back. I became a little bit frightened by the intimidating forest and had a sudden realization that I'd could be lost out there forever if I didn't hurry. I had to make up my mind and determined to go ahead. Suddenly, walking faster, almost running, I moved in a panic towards the upper reaches side of the forest. I fled towards what seemed to be the opposing direction, exactly the opposite to where I'd been. I tried to plot out a path ahead, but it was dark and there was nothing to signify where I was. Navigating the path would be a confusing task, so I decided to trust my instincts. I knew that I needed to take a few chances. I wasn't going to hesitate. Increasing my pace seemed to add a stronger energy. As I ran, I felt the ground surrender, giving way as my feet hit the surface. It was a difficult way to go and I had no idea where I was going to end up. The ground became uneven and rocky as I moved up a hill and only became steeper as I walked further upwards. My path grew narrower and more unpredictable the further i moved but I was undeterred. I had a feeling that there was something up there I needed to find.

I watched for any sign that would point me forward, but there wasn't anything I could observe. I walked up the hill and felt my feet falter as I began to wear out from the relentless pace. I took a moment and paused, trying to figure out what had lead me there and where I was headed. I remembered one of my earlier endeavors and thought of a different approach. Looking upwards, I catalogued the stars and constellations and tried to use them as an emerging map, positioning my movements underneath them. I decided to continue in the same direction but decided to ease on the pace, slowing down a little so I wouldn't miss anything. After what seemed like forever, I finally reached a flat section. It took me a few minutes to look around and see nothing more extending upwards. I had arrived the top of the hill. It had taken a lot more than I realized but reaching the plateau finally allowed me a measure of success that celebrated by taking a rest. I looked down at the steep path I had just climbed and found myself relieved and surprised that I had managed to reach that point without falling down into the gap.

I looked around the flat landing at the top of the hill to see if there was anything different or perhaps indicative there, but the array of trees and brush revealed nothing. I took a measure of my position relative to the stars and guessed I had walked almost a mile. It still wasn't clear where I was heading and despite all my effort and energy, I wondered if I was going in the right direction. I looked up at the path ahead of me but I couldn't see anything heading further up, just more of a clearing ahead. It seemed that I had reached the top of the hill without realizing it. I tried to figure out where to head next, but each direction I walked only brought me to the edge of a steep cliff. I'd plunge downward onto the rocky surface below If I went further. Even though I'd managed to reach the top, It still felt like I'd gotten nowhere. I looked back up, gazing towards the skies once more. I examined the stars sitting serenely above, their distant glare providing no additional direction. I had to find the path on my own. I was a bit stymied as to what to do next there was no easy way out. I decided to take another look at the map and pulled it out from the bag. It remained oblique and mysterious, nearly impenetrable. The array of dots, lines and points seemed purposely designed to obfuscate and confuse anyone who tried to read it. I studied it once more, carefully running my fingers over it paths and points, attempting to plot out a course in my mind. It revealed little more as I attempted to decipher its meaning. I tried turning it in various directions and even held it upside down, but its position made little difference.

Attempting to decipher its meaning was frustrating but I decided to keep pursuing the mysterious map, somehow I knew something would happen if I kept at it. It was difficult to plot out a path that made sense and none of it matched my position. I concentrated on the map's surface and attempted to ascertain a structure or reason, but it repelled any sort of logical construction. Instead, its haphazard approach became increasingly obvious that I was probably not going to find any direction, instead finding only misplaced effort leading to unnecessary confusion. I wasn't completely ready to give up and decided to flip it over towards it blank side, hoping there might be something to find in its emptiness. Carefully examining its canvas, the blankness stared back at me with strange mocking tone. It seemed to be trying to tell me it had all been for nothing. I nearly crumpled it in frustration but noticed something odd happening out of the corner of my eye. A small yet noticeable patch of light had become visible in the distance. It appeared to be an odd reflection from the moon, bouncing off the forest and illuminating the surroundings.

It didn't seem like it the energy would last, but instead it only grew brighter as the minutes passed. I held the map up once more and it began glowing in an unexpectedly bright manner. This was confusing and made me nervous. I looked around and couldn't see anything around me that would cause such a reaction. I waited and the light only strengthened, instead of dissipating as I had expected. I was a little frightened, it seemed to be chasing overhead. The light shot past my position as I watched, and was followed my another quick reinforcing burst. After a few minutes, I realized what was happening. I glanced back and saw the distinctive horizon behind me gradually lightening. I had stupidly lost track of time, but it had turned to my advantage. I was relieved to observe the sun slowly reclaiming the atmosphere from the night. My fear diminished as the forest began shrink in the distance its fearsome shadows quickly diminished. I saw its tall trees and thick shadows inevitably shrink as the sun rose, its bright, late-summer rays overtaking the atmosphere with inevitably, with the forest's unbreachable shadows offering little resistance.

I stood in place and wondered how I'd managed to survive for so long out there, alone without any help. I hadn't realized how much time had passed but was relieved that I hadn't succumbed to the unseen dangers. I took the map out one last time and while it was still unreadable to me, I realized that I no longer needed it. I folded it back up and placed it in the bag, safely hiding it from view. I stood there watched the rapidly brightening skies return to benevolence. I looked around as early morning light began Illuminating many things that had been hidden underneath the night skies. I was no longer trapped and alone; instead there were many possibilities and multiple options. There were multiple paths visible, the biggest problem would be figuring out which of the many exits would be quickest and easiest. I was relieved and surprised that, somehow, I'd managed to get through the long night without help or getting seriously injured. I took a deep breath and looked around, the forest slowly warming in appearance and temperature. There was a reassuring breeze as a warm gust of late summer air cleansed the atmosphere.

I watched the darkness over-run, the heated summer air unfurling, its light washing over the sitting trees effortlessly. I walked back towards the path, overlooking the surroundings and surveyed the surface down below. I wasn't entirely sure what had happened and wanted to reassure myself that it hadn't all been some kind of dream. I decided to try and take one last glance towards the clearing below and try and locate the mysterious building I'd encountered down there. I stood far above and it seemed that it had sunk down beneath the forest. It had seemingly vanished beneath the rapidly intensifying summer light, evaporating under the hot air. It took me awhile to locate its position and I had to squint a little to make the outlines, its shape barely visible. The structure seemed greatly diminished, almost melting under the bright light, nearly fallen completely inward, sunken into the ground. I located the structure, its presence remained undeniable, but it was too far away for me to see its detail. It seemed to be hiding itself from the outside world and I had to concentrate on it for awhile to make sure it still actually existed. In its isolation, the building seemed as lost and alone as I had felt when I was walking below it. Watching the surroundings carefully, I memorized its location in case I wanted to return.
I took another step or two closer to get a better view and noticed thats its dome-shaped crown was reflecting the sunlight back towards the skies, repelling the heat. It seemed almost immune from the heat surrounding it, standing firm against an unwelcome encroachment. It was very quiet and still and there was no apparent threat but I decided to keep watch over it. After patiently waiting for what seemed like several minutes, there was no sign that anyone was there. I turned back towards the edge of the clearing and scanned the forest. It didnít seem as unwelcoming as it had during the night. Looking closely, I managed to locate what looked like a relatively straightforward path. It would probably take me an hour to get there, but I was relieved that the sun would accompany me. I took a deep breath. The dayís journey took more effort and time than Iíd anticipated but there was still a long way to go.

- Michael Palisano