An Icy Reception - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



An Icy Reception (Part 2)

I walked down the strangely familiar walkway, my steps echoing through its narrow walkways. I felt a cold rush of air but it didnít seem like it was coming from outside. Instead, I paused for a moment and felt the humming buzz of its refrigeration units reverberating around me. It took my a few minutes to get accustomed to the surroundings once again, but I quickly felt at home once more. I vaguely anticipated what was going to happen, and began to feel a bit nervous, there was no telling what was coming. I walked quickly towards the other side of the long hallway and found the familiar door way, closed but not locked. I went to open it up and the lights in the stairwell below began to light up, and I saw the stair cases below quickly light up from the right to left until the was completely illuminated and visible. I walked down the metal steps carefully since they seemed a little shaky. I walked down several flights until I reached the bottom, passing through what seemed like an endless circle of stairs and things.

Finally, I reached the doorway hidden at the bottom of the well, and stood in front of it nervously. I hesitated to go inside for a moment, wondering whether I should have heeded the warnings from earlier. I thought about it do a moment and decided move ahead, I felt relatively secure where I was. Opening the door revealed the familiar long table, standing in the center of the room. It was still messy and had an array of various objects and machines strewn across it in a seemingly haphazard manner. I moved closer and looked at them. I knew not to touch them, but my eyes saw some different things mixed in with some of the objects Iíd already seen. I looked over them and tried not to be tempted by the machinesí dials, knobs and configurations. Some of them seemed like they might work easily, complete items. Some were probably works in progress, while other seemed to be pieces or parts that might be used to make other items. I had to keep my hands at my sides, since I had no idea what they actually did. I knew I was a guest down there and wasnít about to make a mess or damage anything that wasnít mine.

Despite my reluctance, I looked at them and tried to figure out exactly what each one did, and what their connections between each other might have been. I rearranged the table in my mind and wondered how they worked, how old they might have been and who could have amassed such an odd array of strange machines. For several minutes, I became lost in their mysteries and felt the rest of the world dissolve, all the worries didnít matter which came as a relief. I was momentarily distracted by them and didnít hear or see anybody else moving in the room until I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and she was standing right behind me. I looked and she seemed to be happy that I was there. I watched her eyes and she tracked beyond me towards the table, across her strange collection, probably surveying it for possible damage. She took a long moment and seemed relieved that I hadnít moved or messed up anything. Walking to the other side of the table, she stood across from me and waved her hand over the assemblage, in a proud manner. She told me that it had taken her a long time to design, test and create them and each had a special meaning to her. I looked at them carefully as they sat there on the table, they didnít really stand out from one another after awhile and they seemed somewhat mundane in appearance, cloaking their enigmatic purpose and origin in seemingly ordinary metal cases.

Sensing my doubt, she set out to prove me wrong. Seemingly at random, she picked up a long rectangular device, and turned it over. She took the object and began fiddling with the winding dials on it. Immediately, I noticed that they resembled the one I had used on the entrance. Spinning them around several times caused the object make to click and its latches parted, like a doorway. There were a few more clunks and its sides opened, revealing another layer of buttons beneath. She motioned for me to move closer, and she pressed the buttons in sequence, causing it to come to life and turn on. It began to stir and its miniature lights turned on, the lights suddenly glowing brightly. She held her machine in the air and it filled the room with a strange orange color that resembled the sunlight like a summer afternoon. I felt the air warm gradually, over-running the cold atmosphere surrounding us. It was relaxing and when I closed my eyes, I could almost feel the sand running between my toes, like I was back walking on the beach. As she held it, small round pieces on its edges began to spin in her hands and compressed the orange light into sharp, narrow paths. She pointed it towards the wall, it seemed to shake and roll and a breeze formed. The colors changed to greens and aqua blues, like I was sitting on a boat in the water. I could almost feel the waves rolling under my feet. I breathed in and felt a calming rush of salt-water infused air that filled the room. I closed my eyes and felt instantaneously transported back to another time and place.

I listened closely and I thought I was hearing things. After a few moments, I could almost make out the sound of waves crashing in the distance. I opened my eyes once more saw that she was gripping it firmly, the air now completely consumed in bright blue shades swirling in liquid motion. She pressed a few more buttons and it began to rotate and spin with increasingly faster motions. It seemed be taking on a life of its own. After several minutes, the air grew warmer and it was almost hot in the room, the heat rose rapidly. I felt hot air blowing stronger with each moment. She pushed it further upward and it began to shake nearly uncontrollably. It could no longer contain with it was trying to capture. Overwhelmed by the pressure, it gave off a loud thump until some kind of threshold was reached. There was a loud bang when it finally overheated and its edges suddenly sprung outward, springing small metal spikes that extended from its sides. Pressing them seemed to stop the spinning and she pulled the spikes down one by one. As she did, the air cooled rapidly, the swirling colors began to subside, then evaporated completely.

Its motions began to diminish, the near-impossible intensity faded quickly and the glow it created slowly subsided, the room darkened and seemed to fold back inside itself. After the machine calmed down, it seemed to go into hibernation. It was then quietly resting in her hands and she was easily able to hold it firmly in her grasp. She held it backwards, rubbed the condensed water off its sides and positioned it facing down on the table. It gave off one last minor beep before it finally folded back into place. She returned the machine back to its original place on the table. She moved some of the dials one last time and closed its small hatch. At that point, she walked away from it and watched carefully to make sure it had finally settled down. It returned to sleep, quietly taking its place amongst the others. It resumed hiding amongst the other seemingly mundane objects, each of which hid a multitude of strange abilities and secrets.

I didnít quite know what to make of it but I had reason to doubt that she was showing me a new method of preserving moments and memories, in her own strange way. It didnít understand how she able to create these things, but I knew it wasnít something sheíd let just anyone witness. I watched her as she surveyed the other objects. I had come late and she apparently decided that one demonstration was enough for the moment. She waved her hands over them and walked away from the table. She stood back for a moment and moved towards the other end of the room, where another strange metal box was standing, already set up. At first I didnít recognize it because it was dark and tilted at an angle.

As I stepped closer, I remembered during our previous excursions. She somehow got it working again and I knew that it was being set up for a reason. I quickly made the connection between the two objects, but didnít know how they had gotten there. When I examined it closely, things seemed to finally make some sense. There were enough parallels for me to at least see what was happening. I stood back and watched as she began to set it up and turn it back on. It seemed to be a refined version of the original light box she had used the first time I went down there. It was more compact than the overbearing original system she had created, more stable than the one we had previously used. She put her hands on it firmly and began to deliberately turn its dials and buttons, creating rapid concentric circles. At first, the darkness obscured her motions and I couldnít see what she was up to. She turned the dials quickly until she reached the right balance. It began to hum and gradually built up until it gained a stable power. It seemed to be working with more reliability and quickly came up to speed. Suddenly, the room was aglow once more, and the machine created a sudden beam of tightly-wound, sharply-focused light. That second time we had crossed was very different, and she seemed more confident.

The light was much more stable and didnít waver in strength or intensity, instead emitting a solid light of color. She pointed it at the wall on the other side of the room and quickly used it to outline the shape of a door. It glowed in a strange green hue, almost supernatural in appearance. I examined it and approached nervously. I wasnít frightened but was unsure about what was on the other side of it. Despite the previous encounters, I wasnít sure if I was prepared to take another journey. I remembered the strange premonitions I felt just a few hours earlier when I approached the abandoned, empty cabin, the strange flock of birds that seemed to appear out of nowhere, seeming to convey another warning. She seemed to sense my fears and grabbed my hands, helping to reassure me that this wasnít a dangerous trip. She looked at me and I knew I could trust her. I looked towards the mysterious gateway in front of us, and walked alongside her as we crossed the precipice together.

We stepped into the doorway and found ourselves nearly instantaneously transported. We found ourselves stepping into a different dimension. The night air was cold and thin. As we took our first steps, there was a gust of wintry, frigid air. It seemed to blow right through my body, chilling me to the core. I felt a bit dizzy at first and when I looked around, it seemed like we had arrived at just the right time, clandestine visitors in the darkness part of night. No one knew we were there, and we both kept silent as to not alert any unknown forces to our presence. I looked towards the sky above the thinly lit clouds. My eyes were drawn to a partially obscured glowing force. I looked higher and saw the strange outline that seemed to consist of a lunar crescent, hovering above the frozen world. It was difficult for me to figure out where it was in its phase, since it was covered by clouds. It seemed faint with its scattered, narrow reflection only providing a transient sliver of light when it was visible. Aside from the moon, the surroundings were shrouded. It was almost completely dark and I couldnít see where we stood. This made it difficult to make out the path ahead. I did see here standing in front of me, with her silhouette darting quickly beneath the night sky.

When I began to walk, my steps were unexpectedly slowed. I had trouble acclimating to the environmental changes. Instead of the thick grassy surfaces I was used to walking on, thick layers of snow and ice that covered the ground making fast progression difficult. I saw the shadows of distant islands peeking out from the shadows, their secrets hidden in the darkness. Everything seemed to have grown still and silent. Its atmosphere would have seemed impermeable and cold but I wasnít alone. Seeing her standing beside me gave me an inexplicable confidence and I decided to start going somewhere. Lacking a compass, I didnít know where to head first. She seemed to know what direction and starting walking towards the moon. I followed behind a few paces back and watched as the clouds seemed to pass through the moon, unaware of our presence. I was a little transfixed by this strange place and feel a few paces behind her. As I walked, the ground flattened and straightened. It made the steps easier but the smoothness was also dangerous. I wasnít expecting to hike in the winter, and found the surface was surprisingly slippery. She was going too fast for me and it caught me off balance, and I rushed ahead recklessly and nearly tripped. She saw what was happening before I did and grabbed my arm held me up before I could fall. After that point, she slowed down a little but maintained a fast pace. It took me some time to catch up but I adjusted and after some effort, found the cold air and darkness a refreshing change of pace. The emptiness and silence was surprisingly reassuring after such a long journey.

We walked for alongside each other for a very long time. There was nothing to guide us and the harsh frigid ground surrounding us offered no real direction. It was hard for me to figure out where we were going. The landscape looked the same after awhile. The icy expanse of white and blue beneath our feet seemed to blend together after awhile and I had sense of place. She seemed to be confident navigating this strange environment and continued to lead the way. Without hesitation, she continued deliberately moving forward at a steady clip, her confident steps leading us to onward through the long night. My feet and ankles gave way and I realized that things were catching up to me. I was finally getting a little bit tired and began to fall behind her as I slackened off the pace she set. Before I knew it, she was a bit distant from me and I had to rush a little bit to catch up. It took some more effort which began to take some pleasure from the walk, which seemed to become more a chore than it had. She didnít seem to slow down, and I wondered what the sense of urgency was. It seemed like the long, cold night had just begun, but that might have been deceptive. Time seemed to be playing tricks on me.

We had just arrived, but had no idea at what time it actually was. I looked above to the crescent moon to try and figure where I was, but its position was strangely static, it didnít seem like it had moved at all despite the distance weíd covered and the time weíd spent walking. I kept walking and followed closely until it seemed like we were finally getting somewhere. The ground began to change into a rockier, more uneven surface and it gradually began to descend in altitude. We slowly walked down a long, rolling hill until we reached the edge of what seemed like a frozen lake. It shimmered under the light, its icy waters rolling beneath the surface, its cold currents slowly moving the ice around. We stopped and took it all in for a few minutes, arriving seemingly at just the right moment. I looked above and saw that there were strange blue colored clouds beginning to form. They covered the night sky and began to fill in the space between the moon and the horizon until only its faint glow was visible in the distant sky.

I looked over the icy lake once again and saw that there was a long pier that stuck out, its narrow boards created a somewhat rickety bridge that seemed tentative, carefully extending over the edge of the icy lakeís surface. As I walked closer, I felt a strange premonition. My feet felt frozen and my heart sank, it was just like I felt when I approached the cabin. Despite our long journey to get there, something told me walking on its planks wasnít such a good idea. I saw something over our heads past the lake and watched the moon interact with the clouds. It seemed to be flashing in a strangely odd pattern. It took me a moment to figure out, but the more I looked at it, the more my feet seemed to slow. I fell behind and watched her walking towards it, undisturbed by the strange event unfolding above. I looked at the clouds and they seemed to churn even faster, intensifying the warning. Running quickly, I caught up to her and pulled her shoulder quickly. She stopped and turned around and looked a bit angry. I waved my arms in a desperate attempt to dissuade her from going any further and walking on the pier.

 Suddenly, it begin to shake and groan under some kind of pressure. In the middle of the lake, the ice began to crack and shattered, falling into the water below. At first, I couldnít see what was happening, but the gaping hole quickly expanded as the ice sheets gave way and collapsed. The water began to rustle and roil and a strange object emerged from the chilly water beneath. At first, it looked like there was a single orange tentacle unfolding on the ice but, another seemed to follow and finally the giant orange squid spread its arms over the lake. It turned and saw us, I froze in place. My heart fell to the ground, skipped a beat. His giant eyes looked us over. It was quite frightening. I wondered how many seconds I had left before it decided to attack and eat us. I felt the fear building. She seemed to notice this and walked toward me, and grabbed my hand tightly. I forgotten how cold here embrace could be, and it sent a frigid chill right up my arm, numbing it immediately. I found this oddly reassuring and she whispered in my ear, telling me not to worry. Sheíd apparently known it for a long time, and theyíd encountered each other long ago, even before we met. She knew that her deep-sea friend was a vegan and had eaten several bushels of seaweed in the afternoon, eating them before we got there. The squid came up the surface and crawled on the ice, moving towards the previously unseen piers. It began to wail and its tentacles shot up into the air, coiling and pluming before attacking. It destroyed the pier and everything holding up, smashing its tentacles and arms into its pilings and railings, crushing its boards that shattered into splinters. The force of the impact shook the ground where we stood and almost knocked me over. I was terrified and frightened. At first it seemed not to notice us, and I wondered why it had grown so angry suddenly. She told me that it didnít know who I was and the destruction it caused was all part of its elaborate defense mechanism.

This was its method of discerning who he could trust and who would run away in terror. She further explained that, despite its outburst, her giant squid was actually a kind of protector. Far from being an evil spirit as I might have assumed, we actually had much in common. She explained that we were misunderstood by the outside world. She knew who we really were on the inside. She told me that he had become frightened, because it didnít expect her to have company. It was only causing such a commotion in order to frighten anybody it perceived as a threat. In order to calm my fears, she repeated that the squid was a vegetarian and had no interest in eating us. As she talked, she pulled out one of her strange machines again. She took it and waved it upward into the night, causing a weird multi-colored light show that filled the sky with signs and symbols. Upon seeing this, the giant squid seemed to become mesmerized and finally began to calm down. When it ended, the squid seemed to be remorseful for his actions, and apparently decided to make amends by gathering the splinters up. His multitude of arms allowed him to work quickly and in no time flat, he was finished. After neatly sorting them in piles around the edges of the lake, he returned to the center of the lake and looked at her regretfully, seeming to apologize for the damage heíd caused.

I looked at her and she seemed pleased, which didnít seem to make sense initially. It took me awhile to put things together. I couldnít understand why someone would be happy to see something smashed to bits in such a dramatic way. When I retraced the circumstances, things began to coalesce and make some degree of sense. In its own strange way, the squid was trying to keep us safe. While it might have looked like the opposite was occurring, it had actually destroyed the pier as a method that would create firewood that would protect us against the cold night. I watched him float on the surface, almost smiling at her. I didnít know what was going on at first, but I quickly concluded that they had been working together all night, unknown to me. She had wanted to create a kind of test to see how I would respond, and he helped the experiment, pretending to be angry and destroying an old, dilapidated fishing pier. It most likely would have collapsed the moment we set foot on it, putting us in danger of falling through the ice into the frigid water below. Fortunately, he was there to prevent that from happening. She walked over to me and held up the machine she had used earlier. It surface and dials were glowing, giving off a green hue. She waved it around and laughed, motioning back over her head to show it to the squid. He seemed to wave his tentacles around as well, in a kind of celebration, happy to have been able to help. She held it close to me so I could see is indicators, which were flashing quickly. She told me that by remaining calm and not running away in fear at the sight of it, Iíd passed the first test. This came as a relief but I couldnít completely relax. I knew that was just the beginning; there were many experiments ahead.

- Michael Palisano