The First Minute - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -

Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The First Minute

I never forgot that summer, but I knew it wasnít meant to last.  

I felt a little out of place throughout that fall, time seemed to slip away but I remained stuck. It was an odd feeling that came over me occasionally, and I allowed it to take over. Washing away slowly, the summer sun would inevitably recede and the fall would come again. I didnít want it to happen, but there was nothing I couldíve done to stop it. I found myself still drawn to the ocean, but it slowly released its grip. I would often find myself walking over the pavement sidewalks, aimlessly, wondering where the summer had gone. Walking past the beach, hearing the ocean waves lapping against the, it almost seemed like nothing had changed. The colder air with its stiff breezes quickly brought me back to reality, my hazy dreams had evaporated. I knew more than I had only a few months before, but I still felt lost when confronted with the outside. It didnít seem exciting to me. I tried to anticipate what possibilities awaited but each day seemed to push that other life further out of reach. I was able to get through my days by keep ing those things in the back of my mind while acting normal for outward appearances. It gave me some confidence, but it was still challenging to separate those conflicting realties. I didnít have as much time as I had during the summer, and a weaker sun gave light but radiated little warmth. I couldnít squander time wandering around aimlessly like in the summer. Despite my efforts to keep them at a distance, the memories came flooding back to me often and were occasionally overwhelming. When I closed my eyes, I could still see a shadowy form lurking in the back of my mind. It seemed unfocused, diffused by distance. The strange events that happened during the summer had become nearly nonexistent, evaporating back into the sky with the autumn winds. I wasnít able to explain this and decided not to tell anyone. Theyíd think I was crazy or daydreaming, anyway. It was a challenge; keeping my secrets and memories hidden from view. As the days progressed, it slowly became less of a burden.

I managed to maintain appearances and went on with something that resembled a normal life. Things settled back into place and I was able to concentrate on other things and distract myself enough to stay sane. Occasionally, the memories still come back and began daydreaming once again. Certain moments kept coming back, and I was disoriented, not knowing where I was. It happened several times over a few weeks. I needed to find some answers and finally figure out what, if anything, had really happened. I was nervous about where the journey would take me, but I needed to find out. The biggest problem was finding the right time to slip away without alarming anyone. I was frustrated at first but patiently waited for an opening when no one would notice if I went out for a few hours. Finally, the day arrived and I waited patiently for school to end. I walked towards home as usual. That afternoon began like many others had over the previous weeks. I walked over the familiar streets, my mind wandered, drifting into other places.  There were lots of other kids around, but I was able to slip away. I took a detour through a hidden path when no one was looking. I found a familiar short cut and found myself in back on a path Iíd been down several times. Its well-worn path was easy to follow and it took only a short time for me to get to the other side of the hill, which was where I was actually headed. As I walked, the muddy surface stuck to my shoes and this reminded me of a previous encounter. Unexpectedly, more strange memories returned. I found myself whisked backwards. Before I knew what was happening, I felt lost and unable to move forward because the past stood in my way.

I stood there alone for a moment under the trees. It was reassuring in its peacefulness and I was finally able to focus enough to map out the path ahead. There was much I still didnít know and it bothered me, I was missing something obvious but couldnít quite figure out what it was. I stood there for a moment and had a quiet moment to think about things. Looking around, I recognized familiar elements and landmarks and it seemed at first like I was in the right place. It took a few minutes but I decided that I was playing it too safe. Iíd already found everything I needed there. I decided I needed to get father away in my escape. I needed to go somewhere I hadnít been before. Maybe Iíd find something that would give me some idea what was going on, though I had my doubts. I walked down the familiar sidewalk, slowly maneuvering over its uneven surface, heading east. I looked up, gazing into the early autumn skies and saw something strange overhead. The clouds seemed further away than normal which made me feel disoriented. I was being pushed in a different direction than I would have normally gone. As the afternoon sun reached its apex in the sky, I finally felt like I was moving a clear direction. I was looking for a signal and didnít see anything for quite some time. It seemed to be taking forever, but I finally found something promising.  I walked through a cluttered section and spotted an opening in a rusted, old chain-link fence. I looked ahead and saw it was actually a short-cut back towards the beach. I stood there for a few minutes, wondering where to go next. I took a deep breath and decided that I didnít need to go back there again. Instead, I decided to walk towards a different area. That section wasnít particularly interesting at first, with not much to see along its rocky surface. As I began to get deeper into the tall trees and walked on its steeper paths and walkways I didnít recognize anything. This might have scared me on any other day, but the promise of finding something different motivated me to keep going.

I walked towards the higher elevations and found the air growing thinner and colder as I got further up. I came to a clearing and took a rest for a moment. My feet were getting a little tired and I wanted to pause and look around to make sure I was heading the right way. I looked around and looked across the path. Between two trees, there was another old fence, which stood in front of another path. It didnít seem well-marked or traveled, but there was enough there to intrigue me. I took a chance and jumped over the fence. Its dirty surface seemed to be uneven, which made my feet feel jagged and rough. That path seemed like it was hiding under layers of leaves and dirt only to reappear later on. This made it difficult to follow, but I wasnít going to be stopped that easily. I came to a long stretch where it seemed almost straight upwards and I had to extend my arms out to keep my balance, but went onwards until I reached an even section. I was about a quarter of the way up and took a moment to survey my surroundings. I looked upwards towards the hill. It was a steep climb and I wasnít sure if Iíd be able to make it all the way. I thought it might not be worth the effort, but I decided to go ahead anyway. I wasnít going to be intimidated by those barriers. Iíd done this before and took a few more steps into the unknown, wanting to see what was ahead.  Walking up the path, I had a feeling that it would all be worth it, but I didnít know why. I took a few more steps upward and decided to rest for a moment. The air had grown thinner and I was going a little too fast. I needed to pace myself. I took the moment to think about things and decided to look around, to see where I might be headed next. At that point, I had gotten deep into the forest and looked around. I was definitely alone up there, and it was slowly getting darker. The isolation didnít bother me as much as the lack of direction. I was making progress, but it was going slower than I anticipated.

Remembering what had happened previously, I scanned between the trees looking for a sign to give me direction. Through the thick trunks and brush there was little for me to go on. I looked across the clearing and noticed an unexpected opening on the east side. I made up my mind and headed in that direction. Carefully, I moved along a somewhat obscured path. It wasnít easy to follow, and I had to figure out which direction to walk. I carefully kicked the brush and dirt from under my feet as I walked. It was a little bit uneven and I had to watch myself as I gradually moved upwards, with a narrow path on my right. Walking a bit more cautiously, I felt the surface becoming looser pebbles and rocks kicked around as I walked closer towards a clearing. I made good progress, walking at a good pace but not going too fast. It became harder to keep my balance on the uneven ground but I persisted. I needed to see what was there. The path took a curve inward as I neared the clearing and the ground finally seemed to level out, becoming less cluttered as I walked further into the trees. I was relieved but I could see the treesí peaks slowing edging higher over the horizon. I noticed a few odd things scattered on the ground and stopped to examine them. They seemed to be a discarded group of old ropes, red and orange flags and other sings that had been placed there. No one had noticed that theyíd fallen down over time, and they were easy to miss underneath the layers of rocks and dirt. I didnít know what to make of them and continued onward. I saw the other side of the hill and the clearing seemed to be just a little bit farther. I walked around another bend and looked around. I was nearing the pathís apex and could see the clearing just ahead. It had taken such a long time and I was finally there. I picked up the pace and walked faster, I wondered what I would find there. I went even faster as I moved closer. This was made easier since the land was flat now. I anticipated an easier walk to the clearing. It took another long turn and I began to walk faster around the corner. I felt my heart beating heavily as my anticipation intensified.

I passed the peak and moved downward again. The ground became much less stable and was filled with fallen branches and piles of leaves. This slowed me down, making it harder to navigate but I persisted. I reduced the length of my steps until I stopped again and carefully looked around. Taking a deep breath, I paused for a moment and looked ahead towards the horizon. I felt the air growing cold but this didnít scare me. I only needed to persist and stay on the path. I was confident I would reach the objective and I felt a renewed energy at that moment. I looked ahead towards the path awaiting me. I noticed something strange and I had to blink and look twice. As I scanned the path ahead of me, I noticed something that made my heart sink. The walkway ended suddenly Ė there was no ground ahead. Instead, there was a sharp cliff with a large drop off. This ended with a giant chasm blocking my path to the clearing ahead. It was a steep drop nearly vertical, and there was no way I to cross it. There was path for me to reach the clearing. It was impossible. All that effort had been for nothing. The air suddenly got colder. After all that, my efforts had been for nothing.  

My feet suddenly felt like rocks, I couldnít believe what had happened. I hadnít thought of that possibility. I now faced the additional problem of finding my way back. Retracing my steps would take a lot of effort and made my heart fill with dread. I wasnít happy about it. I felt like had wasted my time. I looked around for a solution, but couldnít find any. I looked down at my worn shoes and tired feet. I had no choice. I had to turn around.  Remembering where I had gone on the way up, I decided that the best thing to do was to retrace my steps carefully, trying not to get lost on the way back. It was a difficult task and it seemed to take twice as long to go back. My steps felt heavier and harder and my feet resisted each step. I tried to make the best of it, but I couldnít enjoy the journey. I walked slowly back over the rocks and brushes, over the twigs and branches. I didnít run as I had on the way, instead walked more deliberately. I tried to enjoy the atmosphere and looked up at the sky to find some redemption in my mistake. It was frustrating and I felt like I was walking backwards. Reluctantly, I slowly walked back on the path until I reached the bottom of the hill. I was back where I started with nothing to show for it. I looked around and saw where I had gone wrong. However, when I looked down the other side, there was another possibility. In the opposite direction, there was a concrete walkway that I overlooked. It seemed to go in the other direction but something told me that this might be more promising. I took my time and held my breath, wondering what would happen. I carefully surveyed my surroundings, checking where I was and marking landmarks so I could find my way back if I needed to. I felt nervous looking into the deeper walkway ahead of me and thought about heading back home. Something I couldnít describe told me to keep going and propelled me towards that mysterious path. 

The afternoon sun was beginning its descent so I decided to walk quickly, the last thing I needed was to get lost in the dark with no way back. At first, things went smoothly and I made good progress. It was a narrow but straight walk with no sharp bends, allowing me to progress quickly.  I walked upwards moving towards the other side of the hill, gradually approaching the clearing at higher elevations. As the air thinned, I felt a disoriented and dizzy. I needed to slow my breathing so I could maintain my balance. I looked down and saw the world slowly recede under my feet. As I got deeper on the path, its pine trees grew higher and darker as I walked upward,  My steps grew more uneven, and its concrete surface giving way to rocky paths then, nothing but dirt and grass. Things closed in and became denser as I walked and their tops began to converge, blocking the sunlight from reaching me. It felt like I was entering a hidden are that revealed more of its secrets with each step.  I stopped for a moment and looked around. I was far away from the familiar areas where I would feel safe. This was a little unnerving but I hadnít gone that far to turn back.

I looked at the ground and noticed that its surface was becoming slightly muddy, taking on a different texture that seemed purposely designed to dissuade less motivated people. The thick mud made me measure my steps more carefully, but I was determined to find what had summoned me there in the first place. I continued towards the clearing I had noticed on the other side of the mountain and it took some time to get there. My feet were getting sore and I felt the numbness coming on slowly. Even my shoes seemed to be giving way, tearing ever slowly. It seemed like they doubted me, but I persisted. I took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp pine air, which seemed to cleanse my doubts. This rejuvenated my steps and I closed my eyes, letting it seep in deeper for a minute or so. I opened my eyes and looked upwards towards the cloaked sky, the far away clouds nominally arcing back towards the roaring sunset. The trees seemed to grow closer together, their branches intertwined to create a kind of shelter. Iíd left behind the outside world and it seemed to recede below me on the hill. As I walked further in, the forest seemed to offer protection, almost purposely covering my tracks for me. No one was following me and I was free to explore. As this lifted my spirit, I felt stronger. I wasnít afraid and kept moving upward, I felt my steps grow increasingly confident as I walked deeper inside.

I had a renewed energy and used this to motivate myself. I had every reason to keep going, and walked at a faster clip, dodging the occasional sharp branches and sudden drops along the way. After what seemed like an eternal hike through the seemingly endless clusters of tall pine trees, I finally arrived. As their branches released their hold on the skies, I felt the world open up. Coming onto the clearing, I felt a sense of relief and surprise. Everything looked different than I expected, and it was much smaller, yet more open than I had expected. It was surrounded on all sides and felt like small open shelter. As I walked over its edges, I felt the ground soften. Covered in yellow, faded grass, the ground seemed to move like waves on the ocean, slowly cresting and sinking with the wind. There was no one else around and I felt strangely isolated, far removed from the rest of the world. I looked above me and saw a few clouds reflecting the last yellows and reds of the sunís diminishing rays. I felt the air grow colder gradually, the warmth slowly fading. It was strangely quiet up there, even the wind felt like a whisper. I saw a small group of rocks along the edge and took a seat on them resting for a moment. I closed my eyes for a moment and allowed the moment to sink in. I relaxed my legs and took the weight off my feet, allowing them a deserved rest for a few minutes. I leaned back for a moment and looked up in the skies, and they were deserted and empty. The emptiness wasnít surprising to me, I thought of it as an invitation in a strange way. Alone within the forest, I felt secure in my surroundings, but I couldnít relax completely. There was a reason for being there in the first place; I wouldnít be turning back.

I looked around and didnít see anything that looked out of place. Walking across the clearing, I noticed that the skies had darkened and the first stars were becoming visible. They seemed to twinkle above me and the twilight gave the forest surrounding the clearing a different feel, the trees became walls that seemed to protect it from any intrusion. I looked towards the other side of the clearing and began to walk towards it, carefully walking as not to disturb the grasses. I didnít want anyone to follow me or know where Iíd gone. I began walking faster and quickly came to the other side. I looked through the thick tree trunks and saw nothing but darkness between them. There were no signs or directions to follow and I had to use my instincts to navigate through. I turned a little sideways and looked upward toward the skies. By this time the stars had gotten brighter and were now sparkling, like sequins on black canvas. I studied them for a moment and tried to see if there were any signals, but they didnít reveal their secrets. I saw a small muddy path on one side of the trees, but it was hardy visible and I had no idea where it would lead. I walked tentatively into the forest, pushing their thick branches aside and found myself looking back towards the clearing, which was now dimly lit under the stars. I had a strange sensation that it would lead nowhere. It would be another waste of time, and something there didnít feel right. I didnít feel safe there behind the trees and decided it would be best to go back into the open. I ducked under the branches and found myself back in the clearing. I looked in towards the right side and saw something unexpected.

When I looked back to the other side of the clearing, back to the section where I had entered the clearing, there was a strange wooden gate that I hadnít noticed before. I walked towards it and it seemed to have been placed there recently. It was between two trees and blocked off a path. I looked it over for awhile and decided it wasnít going to be moved. I saw no way of opening it and decided to look around for another way through. I took another long look upward and saw that the skies had darkened almost completely. Night had fallen over the world, and the moon was rising overhead. I looked down at the ground once again and saw my shadow beginning to peek out from underneath my feet. I took a walk towards the gate and looked at it closely. As I examined it more thoroughly, I noticed a strange gap between two of its boards. There seemed just enough space between them to put my hand through and I decided to see what I could find. I slipped my fingers inside slowly and felt a small handle. I tried to turn it once or twice but it wouldnít move. This was going to be harder than I thought. I took my hand out and peaked inside, looking for some way to open it. Through the moonlight, I was able to see a small button at its side that I hadnít noticed. I put my hand back inside and pressed it which caused a small click to come from the handle. It popped out a little bit and I pulled it back all the way. I heard a longer click and stood back, I heard something moving beneath the ground. I watched it as it almost magically slid to its left and opened a small way then stopped. There wasnít a lot of space to get through, but there was just enough of an opening for me to wiggle my way through if I went sideways. I stood on the other side of the gate and saw another button on the other side. I pressed it and it closed back once again, leaving me on the other side of it. I didnít know what would happen next, but I knew I was on the right path.

I was a little bit nervous and stood there at the edge for a moment. Turning away from the gate, I noticed there was a small group of brick covered stairs heading downward. They were uneven and strangely configured, almost as if they were headed backwards, with small steps leading to larger ones below. I took a few steps down and felt the bricks jostle around under my feet. They were a bit loose along each side and I decided to walk down the center. It was very long before I found myself at the bottom of them. I looked up and saw how far I had descended. I was deeper than I thought Iíd be. I looked around and there was nothing down there. Things were eerily quiet; there was no breeze or sounds, with only a distant moon to light my way. The small plateau was surrounded on all sides by a steep mountain that was nearly impossible to traverse upwards. I looked around me and looked for another clue. Something I could latch onto when I spotted the outlines of a small metal doorway hidden behind a thick cluster of branches. I pushed them aside and looked closer and saw that it was sealed tightly. It looked like it had been there for a long time and that it hadnít been opened recently. Strangely, it seemed familiar even though I hadnít been there before. I looked for a lock or a latch or some way of opening it, but there was nothing on it, and its sides were smooth and intimidating, it definitely was something that didnít want to be discovered, let alone opened and seen by unwelcome intruders with their questioning eyes.

(Continue to part two)