A False Positive - Fiction - By Michael Palisano - The-Laser.com

Voice

Reviews

Previews

Features

Classic

Archive

Contact

Gallery


In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


Fiction

A False Positive

It seemed that I had everything figured out, the mysteries and puzzles finally began to make sense, after so much effort. There was a sliver of relief, a respite when I didnít need to worry about my every step. A relentless pressure released, I had somehow managed to slip through. It seemed I was finally getting somewhere. Everything had converged into a distinct point. I convinced myself that there was little more that I needed to do, the exploration and hard work were mostly behind me. I could finally relax. I decided to reward myself and took a deep breath, letting the calm wind inundate the world for a change. Coming towards my back, its warmth a welcome relief from the constant forces that seemed intent on blowing me around in all directions. After a long journey, the opportunity for a rest was welcome. I had the feeling that the pressure had finally begun to ease at long last. I took it all in and let my doubts slip underneath my feet, swirling into the ground, retreating under its flat, impermeable surface. I allowed myself to rest inside as well, the spinning in my head had finally calmed. Any desire to run ahead and sprint into the unknown was placated, I was content to stay in that place, even though I had no idea where exactly it was.

I felt the warm wind, not wishing for anything more. I was tired and spent, the response of long nights and endless days that seemed to leave little quiet to salvage in their wake. My instincts told me that I was in a stable location, affording my ability to slip into a kind of slumber, moving slowly, if at all. I let my feet slip beneath the sand, slowing my pace first to crawl and subsequently stopping completely. Just me and the sand, there was no one else around, the distant shapes in the distance ill-formed, non-threatening, leaving me little desire to move forward. I stood there for quite some time, keeping the pleasurable isolation to myself. I wasnít sure how much time had gone, between the time I first felt the wind and when I had arrived there, but it didnít seem to matter much. I held my head back and let the sun completely over-turn, seeming for days, soaking in is energy and warmth. I stood in place carefully, not to disturb anything, and also not wanting to be noticed.

I wasnít exactly sure how long I stood there in the heat of the desert, but I slowly lost track of time, there only barrier was the power of the sun which felt endless, a connection seemed to have occurred that it would be impossible to for anything or anyone interrupt. It wasnít meant to last. Before I knew what was happening, my solid footing began to wince, slowly faltering as I stood in place, I didnít move a single toe but I was moving. I remained calm and stood as carefully as I could until I realized what had changed. The world beneath me had come to life, arising from a prolonged stillness. I felt the sand grow warmer and its surface began gradually shifting, until it felt like a stream was flowing, increasing in velocity until there was a minor sand storm, propelling the surface. It was difficult to stand the pressure, I wasnít able to stand in place without being pushed aside. Before I knew it, rivers of sand were churning beneath me, each flowing in a different, diverging direction nearly pulling my feet apart from each other. This intensified until it felt like hands were taking control of my feet. I felt an omnipresent silence, but it wasnít reassuring. The unsettling quiet seemed intent on its task, which seemed to involve destabilizing my momentum, pushing back with each step. It hadnít taken me long to become completely lost once more. I looked above and the sun offered me no guidance. I stood in place for a long time, trying to listen for some sign and indication of where to go next. I waited for a potential revelation, meandering around in small circles. The expanses of sand and distant mountains, I realized that I was far from home, adrift on the sand. I looked down and saw my sunken feet, slowly submerging beneath me. Looking east, I saw something in the sky, overwhelmed by the sun. I walked slowly in the direction, and felt a strange cold breeze.

I struggled against the sand, which seemed to want to keep me trapped there, stuck in place. Nothing stood between me and the horizon, but there was something there pushing back, a force I couldnít see or but definitely felt. An intimidatingly vast desert unfolded ahead, and behind there were no steps to retrace. I looked for a shadow but I was casting none. Closing my eyes brought no relief, the bright sun blasted through my eyes. I felt the unrelenting heat, and tried to relieve the burning sensation by turning away  but nothing worked. I took a few steps towards the south, tentatively at first but growing stronger as I pushed back against the shorn shards of sand. As my steps grew more confident, I felt my pace increasing, tempting me to move ahead with less though. I kept my excitement in check, knowing I could just as easily find myself lurching further into the unknown, with no apparent way back home.

I was lost, but at least I felt like I was finally getting somewhere. My feet began to catch up to the sand and before I knew it, the ground had been conquered, It was firmly beneath me. As I picked up speed, the ground solidified easing the pressure and making it easier to chart a path. Inconsistent as Iíd been up to that point, the journey began to slowly emerge. I could a path ahead, the sand began to split beneath a solid surface, hard and steadfast. Before realizing it, I was walking over large slabs of concrete, segmented at the edges, some uneven. They werenít terribly difficult to navigate, and this gave me a sense of relief. I slowed down a bit and scanned the horizon, looking for something that might have emerged. Spinning in a constrained radius, I turned towards the left and saw the mountains had grown closer, seemingly near my fingertips. To the other side, I saw the desert which seemed to have shrunk behind me. I wasnít sure how much time had passed, but it seemed that I had travelled a great distance without much effort. I decided to investigate the mountains. Their shading had changed from the mid-afternoon purple into a darker brownish hue. Drawing closer, I saw small clusters of brush scattered at their base. There were also limbs and portions of trees, seeming to have been burned into the ground by the searing heat. The ground seemed like it was almost cooking them. There was an off-color snap followed by a gasp of of smoke when I lifted them with my hand. I was surprised that their undersides were hot to the touch. They felt really strange, like theyíd been set in place purposefully.

There was no easy technique for gauging how far Iíd come, but my instincts told me that there was still far to go despite my progress, I tried to discern the time of day by the position of the sun, but it didnít seem to have moved. I arranged the sticks and brushes and tried to make an approximation of a clock. There were no shadows which made it almost impossible to tell what time it was. Frustrated I looked towards the mountains, which somehow felt like theyíd drifted closer, even though I hadnít moved. Something was happening, but I couldnít understand what it was. I stood up and looked around, walked back a few steps and took a look at the oddly shaped, ovular half-completed clock and surroundings. Nothing looked out of the ordinary.

I decided to examine some of the loose branches that had scattered between the clusters of brushy funnels. I kneeled and examined their dry surfaces, looking closely at their surface, and noticed strange embedded strands within them. I held them up and looked closer. There seemed to be an  unexpected liquid or protein reaction and they began to swirl around, almost like they were swimming. I held them up towards the sky aiming them directly under the sun. They seemed to slow down under the duress, paddling between the bark and stems, drawing away from the heat. Lowering them to my eye level restored their energy. Quickly regaining life, their swirling motion resumed, unabated from the previous pace. Placing them back on the ground reheated them, seeming to glue them to the surface, connecting the strands seemed to stabilize them and their swirling slowed once more. Confused by these signals, i decided to take a few steps back and observe them from a distance.

I was conflicted about whether it was such a good idea to disturb them and wanting to understand what made them work. I took a deep breath and looked around, there was no on else present and the day seemed like it would last forever. There was no rush, it seemed that I could do what I wanted out there, which was unusual, even back then. I had made good progress and felt I was going in the right direction, but needed an extension of my break. I could keep a good pace and still have time to explore, if I allowed myself to focus and not let the strange circumstances distract me from the task. I walked towards the other side of the ground and searched for other anomalous objects.  I rubbed my hands against their surface and they felt surprisingly brittle, theyíd snap apart with the slightest pressure. I had to be careful. I twisted and turned them around, carefully placing them back into the ground, as not to disturb their serenity and balance. I stood up and looked up towards the mountains. I walked closer towards the edge of the mountain and looked up, hoping to find some path or walkway, but there was nothing visible set out for me. It wouldnít be an easy climb..

A steep climb stood directly in front of me, blocking my path. I turned around gazed back towards the expanse of sand in the distance. It seemed to have calmed down momentarily, the winds had subsided, and the quiet and calm was unsettling, I had come too far to turn back but the task in front of me was intimidating. I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to decide if this was truly the best path. I walked a few steps closer and felt a cold wind come down the mountain, blowing a cooler breeze towards my position. The heat subsided and the distant sun no longer burned the ground. Unfortunately, with its distance, a shadow grew underneath my feet once more. I began to walk ahead, carefully navigating the concrete slabs. They seemed to grow increasingly unstable as I moved forward on the path, tilting in different angles, their erratic placement making them increasingly difficult to traverse. I moved quickly and finally reached close enough to their base to see that there wasnít any simple line ahead of me. It would be a difficult expanse. I looked around for any signals but there was nothing to guide me. I was on my own.

I walked back a few steps and looked for a shadow on the ground, but there was nothing, despite the bright sun overhead. I took a deep breath, inhaling the hot air and letting it fill me. I felt its warmth overrunning me and the world suddenly felt larger. I worried that there would be no way out, but I took it on a chance that somehow, Iíd find the right path. I decided to walk closer towards the mountains and as I drew closer, I felt a warm gust follow from above, seeming to enter underneath my feet. I walked slowly at first and looked down at my feet. I wasnít going to trip on anything out there. I knew there would be no one around to break my fall. This slowed my progress at first, but I didnít let it dissuade me. As I moved closer towards the mountain, I remembered something from a previous encounter and looked around, trying to locate a familiar form or etching anywhere on the surroundings. I closed my eyes and quickly catalogued the symbols and signs, and examined the ground for anything that might charge a memory.

The plain sand and empty surfaces gave me nothing to use in navigation. I turned towards the left and went in that direction, walking over the rolling incline as the mountain began to unfurl its mysteries. I walked closer and it became clear that the steep walk wasnít going to moderate. I stared at its blank face and looked for an easier way up to its peak. Examining the barrier in front of me, I felt a sudden trepidation, something wasnít quite the way Iíd expected. I walked further and found myself standing directly at the base of the mountain. The sand had dissipated and the sunís heat began to fade. It was still bright but the desert heat seemed to have vaporized, replaced by a cascading motion, cooler, darker. Its unexpectedly harsh winds whipped up and down its steep cliffs. Before I knew it, the surface seemed to crack and the air was floating underneath me. It nearly pushed me off the ground and its increasing velocity nearly blew me off my feet. I felt its power increase, coming at me in different directions. I knew i should turn back, but something told me to stand firm and pushed me against the wind. I wasnít running away from its challenge.

If I had learned anything, it was to stay in place and not let any transitory barriers get in my path. I felt the winds grab my feet and try to dissuade me from the path, but I wouldnít let them stand in the way. They screamed harder and sustained their pitch but I remained unmoved. Resolute that Iíd picked the correct direction, I did my best to disallow their effect. Pushing against the wind, I focused on the steep rocks ahead and navigated their indentures and valleys visually. I trained my eyes on them and worked through them in my mind. In one harrowing moment, the ground underneath became increasingly unhinged and I felt it moving up and down quickly. Instead of letting its velocity take me from my earned position, I knelt down into myself, steadying against the force, waiting patiently for its angry moment to pass. I could still see the mountain from the lower perspective, I knew that calmer times would arrive, and Iíd be able to resume the journey. I felt the cool wind blowing just above my head, but it had lost its power, its inability to affect me gave me confidence that I was going in the right direction. It had done its best to frighten me yet had fallen short if that was its intention.

I waited and knelt down, looking at the sharp, rocky surface scanning for clues and signs, but there were none to be found. Instinctively, I remembered a technique that Iíd relied on in the past. I wasnít sure if that would work again in this different place, but I decided to give it a shot. Looking upwards, I noticed the sunís bright, blistering radiance, burning on the surface. I decided to use its brightness to my advantage and positioned myself directly underneath it, to maximize its brightness. The wind began to kick up but I didnít let it stop me. I put my hands on the ground to steady myself, achieving a balance after a few moments that allowed me to focus on the work ahead of me. Slowly, I began to move my right hand over the ground and began to outline a few shapes with the shadows, until I was able to enter a few basic shapes. At first, I didnít know what I wanted to do, but I thought of some of my older encounters and realized that there might be a possible way out of the mess. I took a minute and held my hand steady over the surface.

I began to trace some of the symbols that I had memorized. At first, I couldnít make much of an impression on the surface, but slowly, a few basic forms began to emerge. Straight lines became more complex forms, then the familiar outlines became more pronounced. The first few materialized almost by instinct, forming a short string of characters that gradually became a kind of message. I tried my best to recreate the symbols Iíd seen and written. Iíd taken enough time to recreate them in my head in the interim but wondered if there were any errors. There was no guide book for me to use and I had to go almost purely on memory. I scrawled and scratchem them into the ground as carefully as I could, trying to avoid errors along the way. It took me several minutes of trial and error until I finally achieved what felt like the right order, each symbol seemed correct in its appearance.

This took much longer than I anticipated. I made several attempts to get everything looking just right. I stood back for a moment somewhat satisfied with my work. I stood up and faced the sharp winds once more, cutting at my position. As I stood, they seemed smaller, weaker and nearly illegible. Worst of all, nothing had change. I had wasted my time, there was no effect. The wind blew unabated, flashing through the desert unimpeded. A strong gust came, nearly kicking me off the ground, suddenly advancing through me like I wasnít there. I found myself a few back from the scratched up rocks, feeling defeated. I spun around and the empty surroundings seemed to mock me. I was stranded in the middle of the desert, standing alone. I wondered what happened. My confidence withered under the heat as reality  finally caught up to me. There was nobody to guide me, no one stood on my shoulder. It seemed that Iíd done everything wrong and ended up stranded with no clear path forward.

I waited for the wind to subside, but it was unrelenting. Pushing me back on my feet, I felt my resolve crumbling with each lost step. The mountain seemed to slip from from my grasp, unwilling to concede my attempt to chase its peaks. In defeat, I trembled before its height, knowing that I would never step foot on its peak. I began to shake under the wind, enduring its force had taken a toll, I couldnít move forward despite my best efforts. Kneeling reluctantly, I gave in to its demands unable to fight its force on my own. I crouched and waited giving myself potential relief meant admitting that I wasnít strong enough to withstand the assault. I steadied myself, carefully positioned close to the surface as the wind began raging once more, blowing stronger churning ever more violently with each passing second.

The desert began to turn on me, its floor trembling and rolling beneath me. I felt its dust and dirt flying over me, clouding the sun, strangling the brightness, subsuming the previously tranquil land under its incoherent, unpredictable anger. I wilted beneath the pressure, a lone figure unable to catch even a short respite, meandering over the surface. I was almost crawling over the surface, trying to maintain at least some semblance as I moved, at a deliberately cautious pace, attempting to find a shield from the maniacal gusts. I waited for the storm to blow over but it only seemed to be worsening, intensifying its anger as I struggled to survive its wrath. I held my hands over my head to protect myself and closed my eyes. I thought of my journeys beneath the water and the things Iíd discovered there. I remembered additional events, and wondered if any of it could help me. At this point, I was almost completely exposed, completely vulnerable to anything that would come from the storm. I tried to take a deep breath in order to relax, but the air was thick with dust and dirt, only causing me to cough and nearly choke if I inhaled too deeply.

Staying close to the surface seemed to be the best approach as the storm raged, consuming the surroundings, keeping me from moving forward. There was no safe place to retreat, I had to stay in place in order to surmount the gusts and survive its sharp winds. I took it all in and wondered how Iíd ended up there, lost amid the escalating storm. I sat there, crouched down and could barely see a foot in front of me. Peering out from behind my fingers, I hesitatingly scanned through the dust and tried to see if anything had changed. There seemed to be no end in sight, it the dust threw itself into increasingly elaborate waves, growing ever stronger and ferocious despite my hopes. Observing their forms for a few minutes, I noticed something odd had begun to occur. The waves of dust seemed to almost be playing with each other, building momentum, responding to each other and imitating, topping, echoing their forms. Intertwined, the thick vortexes of dust particles seemed to form ventilating shapes. Slowly, the waves of wind seemed to waver and turn.

Their torn, frayed and disparate strands twisted and churned relentlessly until they coalesced into distinct shapes that I could track and trace as they scurried haphazardly over they ground. Some appeared only momentarily while others seemed to last a little longer. I recognized some of them, their familiar forms shifting into one another, changing shapes unpredictably. The wind created focused barriers of sand and their shadows began marking distinct forms over the flat surface. The storm created its own vacuum. It surrounded and trapped me, there seemed to be no way out. I could only sit defensively, watching powerlessly as they rolled overhead, disrupted the atmosphere, taking over everything in their path. I watched nervously, the storm not threatened or concerned by my presence. The wind strewn towers floated overhead, spinning and circling without abatement. Surging through the air, the dust nearly became suffocating. I had to claps my hands over my mouth and wipe away the dust which seemed to almost instantly return to me face as soon as I brushed it off.  Their formations became increasingly elaborate, continuing to strengthen. I struggled to keep watch on them, but between the shifting gusts, I was able to see patterns begin to emerge. It took awhile for me to figure out what was happening, but after a few minutes, they subsided enough for me to see what they were up to. I watched closely until I was able to anticipate their rhythms. I looked closely for a few moments until the signal became strong enough for me to understand, finally revealing their true purpose.

****

Spinning and swirling, the dusty, dirty funnel clouds growled and groaned, tearing over the surface unabated. The ground shook in severe pressure, It felt like the world would shatter, and take me along with it. Despite the noise and fury surrounding me, I was able to withstand the pressure and focus enough to find the signal it was trying to send to me. I knelt and carefully observed the storm as best as i could. I knew if I waited long enough, I would come through. I looked beneath my feet at the ground, which shuttered and shifted but somehow remained intact. Gradually, I felt the pressure on my back begin to lift from my shoulders. Something was finally moving in the right direction. The storm was still intense, but it seemed that the worst of it was moving away from me. I just needed to wait a few more minutes. I moved back towards the open area, away from the cresting mountains, back towards the open desert floor. Still crouched down, the air seemed to have cleared, the dust no longer blinding. I made my way out of the central portal. I saw the tunnels of air begin to evaporate and stood up, finally able to make my way forward. Moving towards the sun, I felt a calm return to the surroundings. The clouds moved towards the distance and I stood straight up. Somehow, Iíd managed to survive and stood up straight, my confidence slowly reinvigorated,

As the storm moved away, silence returned and I felt the air calm. Finally able to calm down and take a few deep breaths, I was able to survey the desert, and walked slowly to reorient myself. Nothing had really changed, at least on the surface. I was alone again with only the endless quiet to keep me company. I searched and but didnít know what Iíd find. Not knowing what I was supposed to do gave me a strange sense of freedom. I could go wherever I wanted. It seemed that there would be no way to climb the distant mountain, it felt far away, it steep cliffs too treacherous. I decided not to continue on the same path, and went straight north, moving back towards the open plain towards the meeting point. Without realizing it, I found myself heading the opposite direction. I looked for some sign or marker but there was none to be found. There seemed to be nothing ahead of me. I turned back for a moment and watched as the distant storm slowly moved behind me, vanishing further, drifting underneath the hazy, shivering horizon. I felt more confident and resumed walking, quickly moving at a faster pace. I travelled quite a distance in a hurry, trying to make up for lost time. The faster I walked, the more it felt that I was finally getting somewhere. I had to pace myself under the searing heat, but it didnít seem to affect me for some reason. I closed in on what appeared to be a promising location, with an indented surface that looked different from the rest of the desert, covered in brush and surrounded by what looked like a group of rocks. I raced towards it, and felt my heart beating faster, anticipating what might be awaiting me. I could almost feel my feet lifting from the ground as I went full-bore on instinct and adrenaline. Racing forward, I was finally within distance of what I was sure was a rendezvous point. Without any warning, my progress came to an unexpected stop. I almost tripped over myself and fell over. Momentum ceased and when I tried to move, I felt something pushing back, preventing me from walking forward. Iíd seemingly hit an invisible barrier.  

I tried to walk forward, but I kept knocking against an invisible wall of some sort. I looked around, but there didnít seem to be anything visible. Nothing I did affected it, there was no way forward. I walked towards the east but it remained impenetrable. I waited to see if it would dissipate, but it remained, unmoving. I looked around, there was still no sign of anything. Glancing backward, I saw nothing but emptiness. Facing forward, I was startled to see a mysterious figure standing in front of me, appearing from out of nowhere. At first, I thought I was seeing things, but as I walked closer, it seemed that someone had just arrived. Standing just beyond the barrier, impervious and untouchable, hovering in front of me just beyond reach. His feet were planted firmly, burned into the ground, steadfast in his determination. An end I hadnít expected to find, he stood directly in my path. I stood and looked at the other figure, trying to understand who or what could have brought him to me. I couldnít figure out what he wanted with me. He didnít say a word or betray any emotion, standing silently, observing me silently. The quiet formed a gasping vacuum, a silence nearly as thick as the invisible fortress separating us.  I waited nervously for something to happen, but he remained unshakably calm. I was lost out there, seemingly alone. I tried to navigate the desert carefully, not leaving anything behind and wondered where Iíd messed up. I realized that Iíd been caught, and tried to figure out how the strange man would have known where to find me,

Alone In the middle of the desert, I had no idea what he wanted with me. Fear caught up to me, and I had no idea what was occuring. I thought I was prepared, for what I assumed would be some kind of solitary test. This wasnít what Iíd expected. I was no longer alone. Frightened, I decided not to turn around. This would leave me vulnerable and exposed. I focused my attention back towards the solitary mysterious figure standing astride the imposing, invisible wall. It took me a few moments to work up the courage to look at him directly. I decided that I needed to know at least who was challenging me. I looked into his eyes but they revealed nothing, giving me little to go on. He stayed mute no matter what happened, not making a sound, flinching or squirming, despite the strange situation. I looked past him and tried to see how he might have arrived, but there was nothing in back of his position that revealed any clues. Minutes passed as we played out an uneasy dance. I walked around in circles, circling  in uncoordinated movements, desperately trying different approaches. The storm seemed to have passed completely, and the residual damage was nearly imperceptible, the resilient desert floorís surface unaltered by dusty chaos, the ensuing calm covered up the traumatic storm, the sand residing calmly in place. Fearsome for its duration, the maelstromís effects were negated completely, it had never occured.

A strange calm restored a sense of order on the surface, which his serene disposition mirrored.  As the sun brightened and resumed its domination of the skies, the last shards of dust and dirt sunk back to the ground.  It seemed eerily bright, there would be no escape. I quickly looked down to trace my shadow but saw a much larger one overpowering mine. Building my strength, I managed to struggle out of the grip and ran a few steps forward, but only felt marginally closer. It didnít seem to affect him in the least. He remained distant and detached from the situation. Blocking me from moving forward, standing in my way from the safety behind his invisible wall. Despite the circumstances and situation, he seemed to be remarkably calm, his demeanor largely unruffled by our encounter.

His starkly-tailored suit revealed not even the smallest wrinkle, unblemished from lapel to cuff, demanding not the slightest adjustment to his tie or arms. I was frightened, but he seemed largely unfazed. I looked closer and examined him warily. I noticed his suit was cut at strange angles, seemingly layered in a severely angled folding array that seemed to come from an era I couldnít place, neither past, present, or future. I looked down his shoes and compared them to mine, mine were scuffy and worn, his bright and unblemished, there were no spots and stains. He seemed unmovable, untouched by the storm like he hadnít spent the day walking through the desert. I took a step closer and noticed the neutral expression on his face, which revealed a strange, unsettling distance. He held up his arms and crossed them tightly, warning me not to walk closer.

I managed to stand back, creating a safe distance between us. The air seemed to have evaporated, there wasnít even the trace of a gust. I couldnít breathe and moved a few steps farther back, not for his safety but mine. I waited in silence, wondering if he would say anything to me, but he maintained his silence, unwilling to budge. Nothing I did elicited even the smallest sound from him. I stared and carefully examined his suit thoroughly and carefully. I began looking for some identifying symbol or patch, but there was nothing that stood out in its smooth, strange layers. He looked back at me, and his eyes seemed to penetrate me, looking right through my position. The stand-off continued for what seemed like eternity, neither one of us moving or saying a word. The distance seemed to grow the longer we stood, seemingly in direct opposition to the other. It seemed that we were both stuck in place, neither one of us wanting to concede anything to the stranger standing in our path.

Stillness settled in, we remained at angles, sharpening our positions. Standing in place, staring into each other. The desert surrounding us offered no shelter, an expanse of flat land provided nothing for us to hide behind if we attempted to break the stalemate. Under the blazing sun, our stationary positions remained headstrong, with nothing to pull us apart in our odd symmetry. I held firm, despite his larger size, imposing as it was, wouldnít dissuade me from the meeting I had long-anticipated. I just needed to figure out a way to get past the unseen force preventing me from getting there. I measured our distance and calculated how quickly I could run, jump out of his reach and get away before they could block me.

I looked into his eyes and tried to find some hidden flaw, attempting to find a vulnerability. He coldly gazed beyond me, seemingly oblivious to my predicament. I cautiously took a step back, but this triggered no response from him, His eyes distant, for some reason he focused on some indistinct point in the endless desert, looking at something that seemed far beyond my understanding. I stood for a moment longer, somewhat distracted by his unmistakably incongruous appearance. He definitely looked out of place. In some ways, it paralleled my own sense of dislocation, though it seemed he was there for completely different reasons. I took another step back towards the mountain and this seemed to bring him back to the standoff. He took two forceful steps closer and focused his eyes. His attention returned entirely back in my direction. His glare was unrelenting, and he stared into my eyes. He appeared to be calculating and evaluating my moves, judging my current position severely.

Unsettling as it was, the realization that something had gone wrong was somehow even more disorienting. I looked from side to side and tried to find some evidence to explain his arrival. There were no tracks or footprints in the sand. There was vehicle or transportation device. He moved a step closer yet again and I found myself frozen in place, unable to respond for a moment. His shadow crept closer towards mine. I lept backwards, recoiling at the intrusion. His hands began to turn and he folded them into his pockets, holding his arms at his side. I watched him closely and took a step back, planting my feet firmly into the ground, holding my position. I didnít know who he was or what he was doing there. We found ourselves standing alone, insignificant figures standing beneath the startling light. It would be easy for either one of us to vanish under the skies, diminishing towards insignificance beneath an eternally scaling atmosphere.

I looked around the vast environment and there were no landmarks or markings that seemed to match. The sand seemed endless, the skies looked like they could go on forever but, despite the vast expanse, there wasnít enough space for us both. We stood and looked at one another. I couldnít understand what he was up to and he defied my efforts to figure him out. His cold eyes gave me no hints as to what to do next. I knew I wouldnít be able to run away, even if I wanted to. I wasnít sure if he realized my predicament. I tried to walk sideways, but he did the same, no matter which direction I tried. After a few steps, I realized we were only trading steps. Neither of us seemed to be going anywhere, I decided to withdraw, careful not to give my next move up. It was also an opportunity to change my approach. As the tension grew, it seemed like a good idea to shield myself against potential intrusions or assaults.. Standing in place only reinforced his resolve. I needed to try something different. He effortlessly anticipated my tactics, insistent on mirroring my every move. Nothing I could think of would break the stand-off. There seemed to be no real way out and I waited, nearly paralyzed. I had no idea how to release his hold, or break through the barrier. I was in his grip and couldnít get away from him. He had me firmly in his grasp, despite the apparent physical distance separating our position.

I watched him carefully, waiting for any break in his demeanor. There were no signs that he was breaking at any point. I took a few measured steps closer and he did likewise. Contrary to what I had thought, the barrier didnít weaken. It only got stronger as we approached it. I could almost see its surface when I squinted, a slight shimmer into the desert, hanging almost overhead as I drew nearer. I knew not to get too close, the danger was palpable. On the other side, his expression unchanged, no reaction, other than silent movement. His arms dropped from the narrow sides of his shoulders, defensively folded in crossed across his chest. I watch his fingers, impeccably placed between each other. Extending down, his stoic  expression unmoved. I tried to think of something to say to him, but doubted that heíd hear me. Any words would probably bounce off the side of the barrier, echo backwards, disappear into the expanse behind me, diminishing rapidly behind me. It wouldnít matter how loudly I talked or even if I screamed as loudly as I could, he wouldnít know what I was saying. I doubted that heíd understand the predicament Iíd created for myself.

I walked another few steps closer and felt something unexpected. The sand beneath my feet became softer and more permeable, slipping and collapsing under my feet. I felt my shoes sink beneath the dirt and the previous hard surface gave way with each step, making it difficult to stand in place with any consistency. I thought of moving backwards and returning to solid ground, but I didnít want to concede any progress to him. He didnít seem to have the same problem with the sand that I did, remaining on solid ground while the sands on mine felt unstable. I walked another few steps forward, looking carefully towards the ground, trying to avoid its deeper holes and indents. I jumped over a few larger gaps before I found a somewhat firm section to stand on.

I was much closer to the strange man than I had expected to be. I was finally able to get a better look at him and my initial impressions had proven correct for the most part. I looked closely and tried to figure out where he was from but his origin remained elusive. Despite my advance, he didnít concede any ground. He stood silently, observing me, watching my every motion, seeming to anticipate what I would be in advance, countering my movements perfectly, blocking my progress no matter what I attempted. His impeccable suit repelled the heat and dust surrounding him. He resembled a shadow under the luminous sun, clandestinely traversing the floor, calmly imposing himself on his surroundings. With each step closer, he seemed to grow taller, becoming increasingly intimidating as I drew nearer.

He cast an outsized shadow that grew larger with each step, slipping under and through the barrier until it overlapped on my portion of the divide. I didnít quite understand what he was doing or why I was somehow driven to get closer but I continued moving in his direction. I glanced down for a moment at the uneven sands below, carefully avoiding the traps laid before me, trying to maintain a sense of balance knowing that I was being watched. I looked towards the mysterious figure and tried to keep a safe distance, but I had no idea where that was.

I came to what felt like a decent spot and paused for a moment. Iíd managed to build up enough courage to keep walking in his direction, all the while trying to come up with an adequate response. A few minutes earlier, when I looked back towards the mountains, I was surprised by how far away and distant they were, their peaks nearly slipping under the horizon. I thought of something else as I looked towards their base. I focused on the spot where Iíd scrawled a few inchorent lines, trying half-heartedly to recreate the enigmatic symbols. I wondered if heíd seen me drawing in the sand back there, if he knew what they meant, or where they came from. They were impossible to see from that distance, and unless he also had been there without me knowing, there would be no way for him to see them.

I stood in front of him and knelt down, carefully wiping the sand until it was level and plain. I swirled my hands around in the dirt until it was clear and fine. I took a moment and look up towards him. He seemed unmoved by my efforts, I decided not to let this dissuade me and began drawing, I was slower and more deliberate, knowing I was being watched. I sketched out a few lines, angling them more precisely than I had the first time around. I took care to make sure the lines were straight and sharp. Arranging each symbol carefully, I tried to keep them in the same order as I had at the mountain base. It took me awhile to consider and outline the arrangement but I was able to recreate it faithfully. The symbols looked the way I remembered them and they looked to be the right size and in the correct order.  I wanted it to be perfect, but despite my best efforts, every clumsy motion was apparent when I stepped back to survey my finished work. The shifting sands were an unforgiving canvass, revealing even the smallest flaws. Disappointed by the inadequacy of the composition, I knew his verdict would be even less forgiving than mine.

I looked up towards him nervously, wondering what his reaction might be, if he could even bring himself to look downward at my embarrassingly childish drawings. He looked largely unmoved, he didnít seem to even notice what I had been working on, or think that it mattered.  He watched me, emotionless, staring directly at me, watching me the entire time. I stood up and took a step away from the drawing. My plan didnít work, I was defeated and, more importantly, my efforts ignored. His silent reprimand sliced through the air, a cutting dismissal underlining my squandered time. As I scrawled odd symbols, the light had slowly, almost imperceptibly changed. The shadows had grown a bit longer behind us, as the sun regained full control of the sky. Now directly above us, its harsh glare sharpened the lines of the figures Iíd drawn into the surface, causing them change appearance unexpectedly .

Their uneven lines began to falter, almost dissolve as they submerged under the sand. I moved back from them and took another long look towards their inchorent form and arrangement. They somehow looked even worse, transposed and backward, scratched up and rushed. I looked at him, humiliated. If he had any doubts, there was nowhere for me to hide, every mistake more glaring beneath the ever-brightening sun. He remained still and motionless and it took me a minute to figure out that something about him had changed. I hadnít noticed at first, but his focus had changed. He seemed to have fixed his gaze in a different direction. He was no longer looking, at some undefined distant point. He was looking directly at the figures and shapes Iíd drawn, carefully re-considering them for some reason. I had no idea why; the figures were a mess; the entire confusing, erratic jumble was a lost cause.

I watched as he scanned the surface and wondered what he was up to. Betraying no emotion, he seemed engrossed, or at least distracted by my primitive drawings. I watched carefully but couldnít understand his sudden interest in them. He seemed to linger on certain sections, while passing over other parts quickly. He seemed to be stuck on a certain section and seemed frustrated. Without following me, he took a step closer, to get a closer look. I stood in place and watched, nervously anticipated what would happen. He moved again without prompting and seemed  to see something in the arrangement that I couldnít. His blank expression suddenly came to life. He seemed to be overcome by a sudden recognition and surprise. He began to shift towards me and began walking closer, until his hands were almost touching the barrier. He tried to get a better view and crouched until his gaze was solely focused on the symbols. After a few minutes he looked like he had seen enough. He looked up and turned his gaze towards me, staring directly in my direction. His eyes began to burn with an unmistakable intensity, he looked like he could see right through me.

I was afraid and wondered what I had done wrong. He moved closer towards me without hesitation, I stood in place, not wanting to further antagonize him. He stopped just short of the barrier, standing with his feet nearly touching it. He seemed to have been taken by surprise by what he saw and took a moment to compose himself. Slowly, he returned to his previous solid form and began to settle in place. He unfolded his arms and placed one of his hands at his side. With the other he reached into his jacket pockets. He ruffled around for a few minutes until he located what he was looking for. He motioned at me to move closer and I did so, somewhat cautiously. I stood right in front of him until we stood only a few inches apart. He took the object out of his pocket and handed it to me, extending his hand right through the barrier, without any negative effect. I looked at it, closely examining its surface. It seemed to be some kind of timing function, but I couldnít quite figure out how to use it. He motioned for me to open it by circling his fingers clockwise. I followed his directions and it sprung open effortlessly. I looked inside and knew immediately what he was seeking.

- Michael Palisano