A High Score - Fiction - By Michael Palisano - The-Laser.com









In Memory
Sean Pettibone




A High Score

It had been an adventurous morning of swimming, diving and exploration at the beach but I was getting tired. My feet were sore and I was exhausted from all the diving and swimming I had done. All I really wanted to was to relax and take my mind off things, soak in the sunshine and basically to disappear into the crowd for a while. I didnít want to draw attention to myself. I needed some time to figure out what I would do next. After wandering around for a few hours, I began to grow a little bit tired. I looked around carefully and realized that my perceptions had changed, shifting like the sand under my feet. It was subtle at first, but it was unmistakable and I started to perceive my surroundings differently. I wasnít exactly sure what it all had meant and tried to relax but there was too much going on beneath the surface.

I scanned the beach and my surroundings. I remembered what had happened just a few hours earlier and things began to come back to me. I looked around and saw everyone else relaxing and enjoying the warm summer day. Gazing past the sand, into the sound and the islands far from shore brought back other vivid memories. I saw some other kids swimming out towards the diving platform, bobbling up and down on the ocean, but they seemed not to have a care in the world. I felt vulnerable and exposed, with no place to hide. Nothing was protecting me from the sun or shielding me from prying eyes. I had gone there so many times over the summer, but things seemed different after I returned. In some ways, it felt like being a stranger who didnít quite belong. I knew that someone or some unseen force was watching me, but I couldnít quite understand why. With all this going through my mind, I wasnít going to be able to rest completely until I found out what had actually happened during the preceding time. I sat there on the beach and felt the sun on me. I wanted to take a break from collecting rocks and diving, but didnít know what to do next. I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths which seemed to help. Those strange adventures made me see everything differently but I needed more time to figure out what exactly happened to me.
For all anyone would know from looking at me, I was just an ordinary kid at the beach on another typical mid-summer afternoon. Underneath my calm exterior, the currents churned relentlessly. I was in the throes of something I couldnít explain. Part of me wanted to melt into the sand and vanish; the last thing I wanted to do was stand out from the crowd, I might have looked normal, but I didnít feel like it at all that day. I remembered how it felt under the water, searching for rocks, only to discard them. I couldnít understand why I did that. I was tempted to back under again, since the sun was beating hot, its intensity increasing by the moment, slowly putting pressure on my shoulders, but I decided not to. It would be strange and people would notice. I should have been a relieved, to have a respite from those confusing journeys but I still wanted to explore and find out more. In a certain way there was but there were too many questions. I wanted to figure out why even time seemed to be playing tricks on me, I couldnít figure out whether the constant shifts in time and season, from day to night, during the long journeys were dreams or tricks or a combination of both. Things slowly came back to me, and I remembered walking through the trees and mountains, feeling lost and then discovering things I couldnít explain. I had made these journeys mostly on my own. I looked around and thought of how strange it was that I had returned to the beach, to that moment, like nothing had changed and no time had gone by. My secret explorations and adventures were hidden from view, seeming like they had never happened.

The summer day seemed quiet on the surface with few expectations or requirements asked of me. I started by searching for just the right rocks and swam, taking a moment to examine the world lurking under the surface. I looked around and all the decisions I made seemed to be the opposite of what I would do ordinarily. It was strange and I didnít feel like myself, despite being in familiar, safe surroundings. I remembered walking through those strange portals and how time shifted suddenly. I thought of the steep walks up the mountain, the place Iíd seen and the endless moons that covered that other world in mysterious lights. I felt myself walking through those mysterious portals of the laser device she created and the overwhelming sense that I was far from home. It was a tranquil day, only the smallest clouds in the sky but, my mind was somewhere else. I couldnít stop thinking of the strange episodes with the mysterious figure who Iíd seen there for the first a few months before and had been shadowing my steps every moment since. I had also encountered another, almost her opposite just before Iíd returned to the beach.

The more I thought about it, the less the whole adventure seemed real. I wondered if she was watching me now, and whether she approved of my actions and whether she was actually guiding me clandestinely. I recalled many of our many encounters, the small moments, the odd symbols and letters surrounding them and couldnít make sense of it. Just when I thought I was beginning to figure things out, the ground seemed like it would fall from beneath my feet. It was a challenge to keep things straight and wondered what she was trying to do. All of this washed around my feet, swirling underneath as I sat there under the sun, moving my feet up and down, and walking on the unsteady sand. On the surface, it probably seemed like I was a normal kid on the beach, playing with rocks, swimming and jumping off the diving boards like anyone else would do. However, when I closed my eyes for a moment, I could see everything whirling around me and it all became increasingly unsettling and confusing. I felt my feet begin to tingle and I had a sudden urge to run away, to leave it all behind. I was overwhelmed by everything but I didnít know who to ask, or even what to ask. I decided to keep my eyes closed and kept hoping something would come to me. I waited a few minutes, but nothing really showed itself. I tried to make sense of all those weird symbols and words, the contradictory journeys but, in that moment, it seemed like some kind of trick with a meaning I didnít understand.

After a few minutes, I opened my eyes once again only see the blistering sun staring down at me once more, unchanging in its incomprehensible heat and fury. I felt it pouring on my head, pushing my shoulders down and I had to look down at the sands and the rocks once again. I pulled my hands out of my pockets for a moment and looked at my fingers, slowly moving them around in circles in the air, not knowing what I was doing at first. I remembered what I had been trying to do before, and resumed the silent experiment. Looking around, I saw no one was watching me so I could safely take the risk. I tentatively moved my head upwards as I tried to make the symbols in the sky. I began slowly motioning towards the clouds, wondering if there was anyone receiving them. I made a few attempts and waited patiently, but heard only silence under the breeze. It felt like I was wasting my time, all that effort had been in vain.

I knew what I had seen but the hard part was trying to recreate it with my fumbling gestures and movements. It didnít work, no one showed up. There were no shadows on the sand for me to see. I felt defeated and looked down towards the water, looking back onto the diving board in the distance and saw that it was still crowded. I looked up the coast and saw the tides were moving back towards the beach again, high tide was approaching with the mid-afternoon sun. I decided I wasnít going to fight on the platform for jump time and walked in the other direction. I stood up and looked around, the beach was surprisingly empty. I noticed that most of the people had left, taking their beach towels, coolers and chairs with them. I looked up and down and the sands were mostly unpopulated. I closed my eyes and spotted something out of the corner of my eye that I hadnít noticed before.

There was a strange bag that someone had left behind accidentally. I walked towards it and it seemed to have an odd energy to it with green and purple stripes, kind of frayed around the edges. It was sitting alone on the sand and I sauntered over, moving closer towards it. I wondered how someone would overlook such a brightly colored bag. Something about it didnít seem normal. As I examined it the stranger it seemed, the more it felt like it might have been left there on purpose. I picked it up from the ground but felt nervous and didnít want to open it, like I was prying into someone elseís business. It was heavy and thick, and I knew that it was important to someone. Curiousity got the best of me and I decided to peak inside. I thought that whoever lost it might have written their names inside. Then, I could take it to the life guard station and they could put it inside the lost property locker. I reached inside and saw a few strange items sticking around. I cautiously moved them around looking for some identification. I didnít discover anything at first. I looked around inside the bag some more until I found a small piece of notebook paper inside. The writing was a little faded and I had to examine it closely. I couldnít quite see what was written on its reverse until I put it directly under the sunlight. I unfolded it carefully to avoid ripping it and was even more surprised to see some strange, yet oddly familiar symbols written on the other side. I was a bit confused at first, but then I saw a familiar name written in small, neat and unmistakable handwriting. My heart skipped a beat.

This wasnít what I was expecting and it took me a few minutes to figure it out. I realized the bag had been left there for a reason. In that moment, everything started making sense. It finally seemed that my explorations werenít going unnoticed, as I had feared. I was relieved to discover an unseen force whose origins and motivations I didnít understand, was watching. Someone was following my every step. Someone out there knew knowing everything I was doing. This made me feel greatly relieved, I was finally moving in the right direction. I looked at the symbols again and folded the paper back and put it inside the bag. There were a few other things in there that I didnít understand at first, but I closed it back up and clutched it carefully at my side, placing it at an angle that no one else would be able to look inside. I needed a place to go and hide for a few minutes but couldnít figure out where the best place would be. I looked around and didnít think of anywhere I could hide. The beach was too open, there was nowhere to effectively vanish, so Iíd have to look elsewhere.

I paced around the shore for awhile and headed up towards the old shaky piers, which wouldnít offer much cover but bought my some time to think. I reached the edge of their boards and decided to look around. I thought of where to go and finally thought of a location where no one would find me. I remembered the largely abandoned tennis courts that had a locker room off to the side that no one really ever seemed to use. I walked over towards them, moving past the parking lot quickly and hoped that no one was watching me. I reached the courts and found the doorway to the lockers was open. I walked inside and looked around, it was deserted. The wasn't even a lone seagull in sight. I entered a series of smaller rooms that you could go into and I decided to enter, where I could examine the bag with some privacy. I went into one and closed the half-height wooden door behind me.  I took a peek between its slats to make sure no one else was watching me. I was alone, at last and could get into things deeper. I quickly removed the contents of the bag and placed them on the bench. It didnít sense to me at first. I had to rearrange the items a few times before I made the connection between them. The first thing I noticed was a roll of quarters. There was also an old radio that didnít seem to work. I fiddled around with its buttons and switched, but got no response. I placed it back in the bag and carefully looked over the other items. I looked inside the bag some more and pulled out a few handfuls of spare change which seemed like an odd choice. I also found a small paperback book without a cover and several loose pages, barely held together. I tried to read the pages but the words seemed odd and out of order, and it took me few minutes to realize it was written in another language. I tried to make some sense of the words and pages, but I couldnít. The letters seemed scrambled and backwards, and there were different odd symbols drawn on its margins. I didnít recognize most of the words on the pages, which made it impossible for me to understand any message they contained.

It was a frustrating task and I decided to put the book back in the bag and examine the other items inside. The array of items didnít make much sense until I went inside even a little bit further and made more discoveries. Hidden deeper underneath the books and change, I found a large white beach blanket. I pulled it out and quickly discovered there were some clothes wrapped inside of it. The first thing I saw was a little red polka-dot dress. I took it out and held it against my body and it seemed to be in my size. I examined it closely and it seemed to give off a strange energy when I put it under the sunlight and it never seemed to have been worn by anyone. It resembled the one I had seen her wearing during some of our earlier mountain encounters but slightly smaller and in a different shade. The next thing I found was a small black wig and a pair of matching black shoes. Someone had been watching me all along, and knew what I needed. I was nervous and confused at first, I had no idea what to do with the clothes, and it didnít seem to make sense either. I took out the tattered book again and flipped through its pages, wondering if there was something I missed. I thought about if for a few minutes, and then an idea came to me.

I finally knew that my message had been received and it was reassuring to know that someone out there was paying attention. I didnít know what to do with the mysterious items, at first. After thinking about it for a while, things suddenly made sense. I took off my normal clothes and carefully put on the dress and wig. Ordinarily, something like that would have worried me but I knew that there was no one watching. I knew it was part of a plan but wasnít sure if I was up to it. I stood there for a moment and went through the potential drawbacks. I went back and forth. I decided there was little to lose since everyone already thought I was weird. I slowly pulled off my sandals and placed my feet into the shoes which were about the right size. I was a little nervous and hoping the whole time that no one would walk in and catch me while I was changing. I was surprised how quickly I'd put them on and was even more surprised that it all seemed to fit together effortlessly. It was like someone had designed the disguise especially for me. I folded my other normal clothes and placed into the bag and slowly opened the door to look out from behind the partition. There was a large hall with a mirror at the end. I decided to look around and saw no one was there and everything was oddly quiet. This allowed me to catch my breath for a moment. I walked closer and looked at myself in the mirror, I was surprised by what I saw, something I didnít expect. There was a completely different person staring back at me. The answer I had been looking for was right in front of me. Iíd found the perfect disguise.

Continue to part two