Voice Module

Reviews

Previews

Features

Classic

Archive

Contact

Gallery


In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction

A flight to safety illustration

A Flight to Safety

It was difficult to keep the events that occurred during the previous months quiet, but I was determined to keep our secrets safe. I remembered everything vividly, so it would stay present in my mind. She told me to keep my thoughts hidden, safely away from their untrusting, suspicious, envious eyes. I kept quiet in front of most of people I met over those following months. I knew they would never believe me and think it was just another crazy tale from a silly kid. I knew different but more importantly, so did somebody else. At that point, I knew it had been more than a dream, not some fantasy, and it meant a lot to me. No one would really understand, so I decided to keep it to myself. This had some unforeseen consequences. Having to keep this secret for so long put me on a somewhat lonely path. I felt a creeping sense of distance from the world since we first met. It wasnít the kind of thing I could really explain, but I had a difficult time living in two different worlds. I was getting good at keeping secrets after all the months that had passed. No one knew about my boat ride, the island, our secret meetings or what was inside the book we read together that night. I had moments of temptation but I was strong and none of it was even whispered to anyone else. I kept my promise to her, even though it wasnít the easiest thing to do.

The rest of the summer went by slowly; dripping forward with its blazing days and humid nights counting from one languid day to the next. I tried the usual distractions but the seemed to become less effective, and I decided to let it go for awhile. Strangely, the best technique I discovered was to avoid thinking about the things we shared, which seemed to lessen the burden I felt.  I spent the rest of the summer in a defensive posture, trying to avoid the places where weíd met and went to other sections of town. I didnít want anyone to follow me and find out where Iíd been. Sometimes, Iíd even look away from the general direction so as not to even drop the smallest clue, fearing that someone else would find out. I thought of her and everything we did constantly, it followed my thoughts all the time, and was a presence under the surface. I thought about what happened all the time and there were many things I still didnít understand. These mysteries only deepened as time went along. Some of it would come rushing back in an instant, overflowing in waves of almost sinking my attempts to keep them at bay. Other times, it would only feel like a small trickle of water, barely lapping the edges at the bottom of my shoes. It was a strange time and but I decided that staying loyal would take precedence. As time went on, I began to think of things differently and changed perspectives. Gradually, I came to see it as a gift that I could use when I needed to escape from the world.  I decided to keep as much of it quiet as possible, not letting anyone else in, not giving them the slightest idea of what was really going on. As far as anyone else was concerned, I was just a normal kid enjoying a normal summer.

As the months dragged on and the heat and humidity began to subside, I decided to take another long walk towards the hill. I was trying to reach out to her in hopes of another magical night. I had been reluctant to go back there. I didnít want to ruin what happened. It was a superstition I held onto for many months. I didnít want to disturb or change the memories we shared. It took me a few months of procrastinating until I finally decided to return there. I wanted to see if it had really happened and more importantly, hoped that I could figure out what it meant. I waited until that long late-August day was over. The sun finally set but the air was still heavy and dense from the accumulated heat, I began my journey and watched as the moon rose overhead, taking control of the night skies. I walked up the step path on the mountain and headed to the last place where Iíd seen her. I wasnít certain what would happen but somehow I knew she wasnít going to be there, That didnít bother me since I only needed to find a hint of a memory of those nights we shared. Climbing steadily upwards before finally reaching the edge of the trees, I noticed that things werenít the exactly the same as I remembered them. The trees seemed to be much thicker and the inner forest was denser than I recalled. Walking was more difficult thanks to the accumulation of fallen branches and rocks. It looked overgrown, messy and chaotic to me, not nearly as welcoming as it had seemed. It was strange to observe how very much can happen in a few months, where nothing was really as it could have been. I looked and looked, but the location of the hidden section was hidden even more now and despite searching and searching, I couldnít find the path to the other side and the bench. I wondered if I had gone to the wrong place, it was getting even darker as the moon slid behind the dense clouds.

The lack of light made further navigation even more difficult and I found myself feeling lost and disoriented. I decided not to go in deeper this time, fearing what was lurking there. I took a turn and looked around the section of forest for one last moment and I decided that while I was meant to return, this wasnít the right time. I saw my shadow on the ground and walked back towards the clearing, letting my careful footsteps carry me back through the mountain, the leaves and branches crackling under my feet. In my mind, It was a bit of a frustrating moment, but thatís the way things always seemed to be. While those moments were vivid, recapturing them seemed have been made difficult on purpose. I thought about it and decided this was fitting. She herself was nearly illusory, so it was only natural that my memories followed suit. I noticed that there was a slight mist beginning to develop on the ground and it wet my sneakers. This slowed my progress down even more as I needed to be careful since there was nobody else around. The night was beginning to get the better of the world and I knew all too well what could happen if I didnít reserve my energy and failed to think ahead. I wasnít going to fall down and wait for someone to rescue me again. Slowly, I made my back down the path and at long last hit the pavement, my first steps on the street landing with a great sense of relief. I looked around at the street and couldnít decide where to go next. I decided to walk back home. It was a disappointing end to the night and I felt quite discouraged by the lack of a signal of any kind, I doubted it really meant anything to anyone else. I figured I wasnít getting anywhere, so I decided to let it go for awhile and keep the memories to myself.
 

It took me several months before I could bring myself to return there. At that point, winter had begin to take hold on the world. The last leaves of fall had vanished from the trees, the ground stiffened under a layer of ice and the air became thinner and colder. The shorter days gave me a new sense of urgency when walking, and so on an early December afternoon, I embarked there once again. She still filled my thoughts periodically after all those months had passed, but I didnít feel her presence the way I had before. Slowly, she began to come back into my mind and I felt her pulling me back towards her. I walked through the streets and my heart began to anticipate what would happen this time. I thought of how we danced and began to practice my steps once again as I walked through the streets, tantalizingly covered in ice. It took me a while to get to the other side of town and when I finally reached the bottom of the hill, I noticed that something had changed. Hovering above the trees, I saw large groups of birds flying around overhead. Theyíd seemingly taken refuge there for the winter and seemed to be unusually protective of it. As I stepped closer, they seemed to become excited by my presence. As I walked closer and reached the edge of the forest, they circled around in tighter formations and began flying a little lower towards me.

Their movements were becoming unsettling and nearly frightening to me. I felt like running away, but feared that might trigger a panic in them, Instead, I moved slowly and walked deliberately. I could sense that they were watching me with a mixture of wariness and nervousness. It was a fairly isolated spot and seeing an unknown figure there all of sudden was probably something they hadnít expected. I moved slowly and deliberately, giving the birds plenty of space, hoping that they would realize that I wasnít threatening their perch. I slowly walked up the hill, marking my steps carefully, moving slowly along its uneven surface. The terrain was tricky to walk through without tripping over my feet. I wondered why I was being drawn back in, and remembered how erratic sheíd been in her appearances. It was usually unexpected, though there were some moments like this one when she seemed to call me towards this place. I looked around and saw how empty the surroundings looked in this different time of year. Without their leaves, the trees didnít seem to offer nearly as much protection or secrecy as they did in the summer. The gaps between them seemed much wider and this made me vulnerable to the winds. They seemed to blow ever stronger as I climber higher, buffeting my steps and trying to dissuade me from going further. I persisted and reached the clearing once again. I stood there for a few minutes expecting something to happen.

Everything was silent except for the winds blowing through the trees. I noticed the sun was beginning to fall under the horizon once again and the shadows slowly began to deepen, I looked towards the edge of the mountain and could see the distant street lights below beginning to flicker on as dusk became night. I walked towards the edge of the cliff and stood near a group of rocks,  slowly settling my feet into place, I stood there for a few minutes and my mind began to drift into another place. My memories came flooding back and the thing that I thought of was how many times I had gone searching only to find nothing, and how much it had taken out of me. Sometimes, I wondered what was happening to me, if I was letting these small moments over-take me. My mind wandered and I felt my eyes begin to close. I was beginning to feel cold and the winds started to permeate through, blowing right through my jacket and leaving me little protection. I let the darkness settle in over me and heard something in the distance. It sounded like something was coming towards me, and I immediately though it might have been the birds Iíd seen before. I thought I had made a mistake standing there all alone, leaving myself vulnerable. I was nervous and my hands began to tighten together, and I was clasping my fingers together tightly. I quickly prepared myself in case something happened. I turned around a looked for the attackers but couldnít see anything. I heard something rustle on the branches above me and looked up. It was only the wind, there was no flock attacking me after all, the threat I felt was all in my mind. I turned back towards the cliff and saw the lights below, now more numerous and bright. The wind was picking up a little bit and it was getting even colder. I drew back a little bit and thought this would be another lonely journey. I began to get a little bit despondent, but I knew I couldnít stay up there forever, it was too cold and I was getting tired. I looked up and saw one of the birds pass by far over my head. It didnít seem really upset that I was there. Maybe it had sensed my benevolent intent or perhaps it felt sorry for me, but it seemed not to mind me as I had feared. I watched I fly upwards towards the stars and it disappeared into the night, vanishing as quickly as it appeared and I was alone again, gazing into the stars. It was quiet and I welcomed the solitude.

I was as worried as I had been because there was something there still that I knew instinctively. I waited and watched the stars slowly migrate across the sky, examining their movements and tracking their position in silence. My eyes began to close sporadically and I felt myself slowly drifting off to sleep only to awaken without. I felt myself drifting and the skies became blurry after awhile, the stars became less distinct from the street-lights below. Everything began to blend together and I was becoming a little disoriented. The skies seemed to darken for a moment and my eyes seemed to focus on them, which helped to keep me awake. I felt myself becoming transfixed by them for a moment, transported by them into a distant world. They seemed to sparkle and shine and as I looked at them, I realized why they were so reassuring. They reminded me of the pin-sized sparkling dots she had sewn into her mysteriously swirling black dress. She appeared in it every time Iíd seen her and it always made her stand out from the rest of the world immediately, emphatically placing her as coming from a different place. It made her look like seemed like she was covered in stars, This otherworldly appearance gave her a unique look no one else I knew could match making her seem almost ageless. We stood there and didnít say anything. After awhile, I didnít need to look at her and once again returned to examine the skies.

As I looked deeper into the night, I imagined what it would be like to travel up there beyond the winter moon, far away from the world. I dreamed of what it would be like and I transported myself there in my mind, fantasizing about going to another place. I was so enamored of this daydream that I didnít really hear the rustling behind me at first, but as it grew louder, it took me out of my walking slumber and alerted me. I heard some of the birds above call and there was some sort of commotion amongst them, as if they had seen something. I turned around and walked away from the ledge and back towards the clearing. I looked across the fields and didnít see anything. There was no one else around, and I began to feel strangely cheated Ė as if it had all been a false alarm. I looked down at the ground and kicked up an accumulation of leaves and sticks in frustration. It had all been for nothing. I was angry at myself for keeping such an elaborate plan in place when I could have been doing something better with my time. I felt kind of foolish, but I decided to take one last look before I went home for the night. I found an open place on the ground and sat down. I looked up at the stars once again and saw that they seemed to be frozen in place. Their stillness made them seem lonely and static, and I felt the same way. They were cold and distant, as I had felt from the world, and I sat there feeling out of place and disoriented. This added to my vulnerability and I felt a growing sense of sadness closing in, but before it would complete its attack, I felt a familiar warm hand on my back. I knew immediately who it was.

I turned around quickly and saw those familiar eyes staring back at me once again. It wasnít something I had expected this soon. She seemed a bit taller than I remembered, but then I realized she was standing a little above me on the hill. I stood up and looked around and she looked almost exactly as I had remembered her, like no time had passed. It had only been a few months, but it felt like forever. I reached out my hand towards her and she grabbed it, throwing me a little off balance in the process. The world up there no longer seemed as forbidding and lonely, and most of what was bothering me dissipated almost immediately. We stood there together for many minutes, looking at each other but not saying a thing. At that point, we really didnít need to talk. We stood together on the mountain, but unlike the other times, we werenít alone. I could sense the birds behind us, they lurked above slowly circling over our heads, swirling above the trees.

They kept a safe distance and we didnít feel afraid. As she held my hand, I felt her grip tighten and she seemed to be happy to be with me once again. I felt my heart begin to soar once again. I often felt detached from the world, but when she was there, I didnít really mind. The more I thought about it, the more I began to realize how much we had in common. Neither of us seemed to really fit into the world, and I felt that we answered to no one except each other. I turned and looked at her, and while some other people may have found her a little odd, she looked perfect to me. I didnít understand what was going on, but that night, I decided not to let it get to me. It was getting colder as the minutes dragged on. I felt the chill come up through my feet as we stood there, and it began to blow through my entire body. She moved closer to me and wrapped her arms around my back, protecting me from the winds and cold. When she was there with me, I finally felt safe. I was no longer walking alone under the sky, with only my shadow for company. She was there for me in that moment when I needed some kind of sign. I didnít quite understand her reasons but it didnít really matter to me, her presence was all I needed.

The wind began to get stronger and we were both getting cold. We walked back towards the clearing meadows and towards the hidden path, which I could now see clearly. I looked at her and she knew that there was plenty more for us to discover over there, but that tonight would probably be a bit cold for reading on the bench. We really didnít need to anyway, that night all we wanted was to be together. It was still quite cold but the winds werenít nearly as strong in the middle. There was no moon that night and we were hidden in the dark together, keeping our presence from the outside. We had nothing to prove to anyone and didnít need to send any signals or hidden codes to each other. I could sense that she was a bit tired, that it had taken her much longer to get there than I had, so I sat with her for awhile on our group of rocks, soaking in the cold and feeling the wind blowing through us. We fell into each other and I think we both dazed off for a minute. I think she noticed it first and as I woke up again, I heard rustling above us once again and was surprised by what I saw above me.

The birds followed us there and were circling over our heads. They seemed to be watching us, taking our measure and trying to figure out how the two of us ended up there, alone together in an indifferent world. At first, their presence made me nervous but slowly they began to calm down, taking their perches on the branches above. They seemed to have stopped looking at us and began to see us as a part of their group. I looked into her eyes and she seemed surprisingly calm, as if a worry had suddenly disappeared. She smiled at me and pointed up towards the skies. The stars shimmered in the distance and seemed to have reflected the lights, twinkling far above in quiet approval. I head some rustling above and saw that the birds had come down a few more branches, closer to us. They no longer seemed threatening to me and as I looked at them, they seemed to be looking at us differently. I sensed something was going on, and noticed that they had formed a circle around us. It was if they were creating a protective barrier around us. I wondered how they figured this out, and why they thought we needed guardians, but I decided not to worry. I looked at her and she gave me a look which was warm and reassuring. In that moment I finally figured out what was happening. She led me there for a reason I didnít understand at first. Slowly, it came to me and in a moment, I knew why they were watching us. They were sharing the burden with us, we were no longer isolated. Theyíd keep the outside world at a distance, protecting our secrets from unwelcome eyes.

- Michael Palisano

Home