A Low Profile - Fiction - By Michael Palisano - The-Laser.com









In Memory
Sean Pettibone




A Low Profile

I stood there silently for a few minutes, trying to figure out what had just happened. The squid had vanished instantly, leaving an eerie silence and many unanswered questions in its wake. It wasnít something I was expecting, but I had somehow managed to pass its test unscathed, though not without losing a bit of my balance in the process. I looked around at the expanse of flat, cold land surrounding us and didnít know where to go next. She stood beside me and I could almost sense that there was a way out. I needed only to trust that she knew what she was doing. I was taken off-balance and wondered if she was actually creating the situation, or if she was responding to it herself. In any case, it felt like we were stranded again. The situation felt intractable, it seemed like she was contemplating the next step, but I couldnít be sure. I stood at the edge of the lake and waited impatiently for something to happen.

We were surrounded on all sides by a seemingly endless expanse. We could go anywhere, but there was no obvious way to get out. It was a strange contradiction that made things disorienting. I tried to find a symbol or pattern, but there was nothing. Calm and nonplussed, she allowed me to be the one walking ahead for a change. This gave me a chance to take the lead. She trusted me with the task, which felt like another test she was giving to me. It wasnít simple, and it seemed like the challenge would come in two ways. I needed to navigate a path forward without using the familiar techniques and tactics while simultaneously moving quickly enough to avoid getting subsumed under the frigid night. I was paralyzed by the lack of direction, and my indecision left us both frozen in place. We walked around for nearly an hour and seemed to going nowhere, wandering around the cold ground. I tried to find some shelter but there was none from the relentless wind. I tried to locate a sign or a direction but felt stymie wherever I went. We walked for what seemed like many miles but ended up getting nowhere. I could still felt the cold wind permeating the atmosphere and she quickly lost patience with me as we seemed to return to the same spots again. The night was long and it seemed like the cold would never cease.

A strong wind began mercilessly blowing through my thin clothes, and through our position. It was like we didnít exist. At first, I didnít comprehend how strong it was and tried to keep moving, our progress was slowed, but I was determined not to let her down. The wind subsided for a moment and I began walking faster into the unknown. We seemed to make good progress until I felt a stronger gust of the cold wind. This seemed to come directly above us and it seemed to blow right down, making the ground shake. Suddenly, it felt like walking on sand. I nearly lost my balance as the reverberations slapped me from above. It took me a few moments to regain my footing. At this point she decided sheíd had enough. Grabbing my arm, she pushed ahead and pulled away motioning it was time to follow her. She seemed steadfast in this decision, and I decided not to argue. The setbacks didnít seem to shake her confidence, and she started walking forward without hesitation. It felt like she knew what she was doing, and the only thing I worry about was keeping up. I was disappointed in my lack of ability, and I found my pace slowing. I fell back and each step seemed to draw us further apart. Within a few minutes, she was almost sprinting or walking. I couldnít keep up and kept slipping further back, increasing the distance. It was almost like walking backwards. I looked towards the skies and they looked darker. She had gotten so far ahead that she almost vanished on the horizon. Iíd have to increase my pace before she disappeared completely, which would leave me even more lost.

I thought about things as I watched her spring ahead of me, unfazed by the encroaching night skies. I tried to think about things in a rational way but nothing made sense, despite my long walks and our encounters, I remained perplexed. I hadnít come close to figuring out what everything meant. Each time a gush of memories came back to me, I felt overwhelmed. My mind was flooded with vanishing boats, odd symbols, strange meetings and supernatural objects. Sometimes, it felt like theyíd been placed on purpose in a particular sequence for an equally particular purpose. There were other episodes that made little sense no matter how hard I tried to figure out their meaning. The latest test with the angry squid was the most intense yet, but its reason wasnít obvious. Iíd apparently passed, but I still didnít know what was happening. Despite my searches and thoughts, most of what Iíd seen still didnít make sense. As much as I tried to unravel the layers, there was something missing I couldnít put into place. Things took a toll on my after awhile and it took some time before I felt normal again. I felt disoriented afterwards and it took some time for things to settle. As the cascading memories stopped swirling around, I finally felt myself back on solid ground. I knew the unexpected relief wouldnít last, and I decided to take advantage. I shut my eyes for a moment and held a deep breath of the nearly frigid air. I stood there for a moment, waiting for the next thing to happen. I felt myself drifting backwards in time, and things began to clarify, in particular the relationship we had inexplicably created. I thought that she might have trying to tell me something, but I wasnít able to hear the words, at least not at that time.

This discordance may have been at the root of some of the problems we encountered from time to time. It seemed especially true with the last test with the massive squid. I thought that perhaps it was the reason the creature began going crazy and smashed the pier to bits. Maybe it knew I wasnít entirely sure of who I was and wanted to scare me away from her, or perhaps it was jealous. Many possibilities crossed my mind. After thinking about it for awhile, I concluded it had no real malice and was simply protecting her from the unknown. By acting out the way it did, it was testing me to see what effect it would have on an unknown, inexperienced kid like me. Perhaps, it simply didnít want her sharing any more secrets with me. It was hard to grasp what happened, and its meaning. I decided to take a different approach in the future. Iíd be calmer and more thoughtful, not charging ahead into the distance without fear. Iíd let her lead the way more often and, most importantly, try to be more careful in the future. I wouldnít wander into unknown places without company. I resolved not to visit that mysterious cabin ever again, at least not alone.

I thought of another possibility. She might have been testing me all night without my knowledge. Perhaps, there wasnít a master plan, and she didnít have any idea what was happening either. These questions filtered through me, and I was frozen in place for a moment. However, after awhile I had to stop worrying. Before I knew it, I realized that I had stood in the same place for too long, and once more felt the cold winds overrunning me. It quickly worked and began permeating my arms. I tried to wave them around, but I felt stiff, like a robot and my fingers were beginning to numb. I needed to walk forward and move around. I opened my eyes and looked around, wondering if anything had changed. The immediate area was calm; its surroundings cold, dark and, quiet. I turned my eyes carefully, retaining a familiar position and looked upward. I tried once more to find any constellation that I was familiar with, but there was nothing. I had no way of knowing where to go next, I was lost alongside her, walking through a parallel world.

Despite all that had happened, the best and worst thing was that we were still very much alone. No matter where we walked, we still found ourselves stranded outside in the cold, wandering together beneath an endless, unforgiving night. However she didnít seem lost, and seemed to be using the transient light of thousands of distant, alien stars to guide her. I decided that I would have to trust her, even though I didnít understand what was happening, or where I was. After waiting for me to take another break, she grew impatient and quickly walked ahead. I trailed behind; there was still a part of me that was hesitant to move forward. Despite my efforts, I was unable to comprehend what had just happened and unsure of what to do next. I looked at her and she seemed more confident than me and seemed to have some idea of where she stood. She had seemingly taken a pause for my benefit. This allowed me to let everything sink in for a moment, and I finally began to walk ahead without as much fear.

I still didnít understand what was happening, at least not then. She seemed frustrated and began to get fed up and impatient with me. Finally, she looked lat towards me and finally pointing her hand and head upward, gazing towards the distant stars. This seemed to indicate that she knew what was happening, and I knew I should follow, even if I wasnít exactly clear on the reasons. Walking slowly over the ice, she turned around and looked towards me, beckoning me to follow her. It was difficult for me to anticipate what she was up to, at first. I tried to follow along, but she seemed to have a map with directions that only she could understand. She began walking faster, the pace increasing and the stars seemed to parallel her steps in speed and by apparent design. I watched closely but it wasnít clear if she was leading them or if they were following her. It seemed like they could be dancing together, trading places, moving together effortlessly. I watched her feet, seeming to glide across the icy surface and wondered what was happening. On the other hand, I plodded along awkwardly trying to keep up and without worrying about rhythm or style. She began to walk towards the edge of the lake and it seemed to make the stars pulsate in strange patterns.

I tried to ascertain our location using them but they seemed to be in different positions than I was used to. I wondered where I was, their constellations werenít what I was used to. I tried to memorize their locations, but they seemed to be shifting before my eyes. I didnít know how to catalog them, and I decided to try some other method. I ran quickly until I caught up with her. I had to maintain a fast pace, we were almost running towards the other side of the water, to what end I couldnít ascertain. As we reached the embankment on the other side, she slowed down for a moment, and there was something I didnít expect. At that angle, there was a slight glow on the ground. I looked around but couldnít quite understand where it was coming from. I looked up and saw that something had walked out from behind the shadows. A large stationary object emerged from the clouds and I saw a large moon overhanging us. It remained steady against the shifting stars, its solitary glow taking control of the night. When I looked closely, I realized it didnít look quite the same.

It was mostly blue as usual, but there were shafts of lines striking through its center, large tunnels that crossed its surface broken up by small craters and indentations, When I looked closely, it seemed like there was an oddly shaped feature on its center, like a large impact had created a massive hole on its surface. I focused on its lower surface and there seemed to be a strange purple glow emitting from it, like it was dispersing some clouds or gas. It seemed larger than I was used to. I wondered what had happened to it that would alter its appearance so greatly, in such a short time. None of it made sense at first, I thought I was dreaming or imagining something. I looked up towards the shifting array of confusing stars to see what was happening. They seemed have paused for the moment and had settled in place for the moment. I looked for familiar symbols and clusters but there were none to be found. I looked back towards the changed moon and finally put some of the pieces in place. I decided that it might not have been the moon I was familiar with.

It took awhile for the realization that something wasnít quite normal to take hold, but then some of my earlier encounters and tests came flooding back. I decided I would trust her and take the leap. Even though I was no longer walking in familiar territory, I knew there was some reason behind all of it. Before I knew what was happening, I was walking quickly once more. I was still trailing behind her as she guided me through the unfamiliar world, but I had finally given myself a reason to keep up. I watched her move effortlessly over the icy terrain. She looked perfectly at home there, while I trailed tentatively, still falling behind her often. I was traveling into the unknown but I had a sense that she had a plan. After awhile, I began to relax and finally felt safe. I allowed her to take the lead, and watched ad while she navigated the paths, despite not knowing exactly where we were heading. After a few minutes, the journey felt strangely familiar, or at least she did. The barren surroundings were covered in ice and snow, solid and silent. It was a strange place, but she seemed to be at home. She seemed to have no fear and walked effortlessly, straddling the lines over the ice, moving forward without hesitation.

After a long walk, we finally reached the opposite side of the frozen lake. I could see the large gaping hole in the center. Under the moon, it looked like it had been shattered, surrounding its emptiness, a void inside the sea of ice, carved by the mysterious creature. There were large stacks of splintered woods on its shore and I stood at a distance. I began examining the splinters and shards from the rickety pier it had destroyed. I tried measuring their distinct sharp edges from afar. I hadnít felt it at first, but the longer we stood there, the more the cold permeated me and blew through me. It was growing colder; a long night wasnít going to end. I felt a strange and unexpected gust of wind, there were clouds and atmosphere grew strangely murky. The stars shifted around once more and a green fog of clouds settled overhead.

The atmosphere seemed to conspire against us, shadowing at each step. It coalesced quickly to hide the moon. Everything seemed to close in on us, and the moonís light dimmed quickly. The clouds took over and it began darkening the shadows. Before we could get further along, we were enmeshed in an eerie darkness that cloaked our position. She didnít seem particularly worried about this and she followed me towards the piles of wood. She didnít stop where I did and moved closer. I watched her walk towards one of the piles of splintered wood boards but didnít know what the purpose was. She walked over towards them and began to kick them, then walked behind them, quickly moving towards their back. I wondered why she was circling around in some kind of ritual. It seemed like she was making sure everything had been put in its place. She vanished on the other side of them and there was a loud bang. This was followed by a large snap. Before I knew it, flames began shooting up from the ground. The fire started at a low burn but quickly became intense and hot as it consumed the wooden boards.

I watched the flames burn through the piles and moved back a few steps as the fire grew more intense. It seemed to be nearly unstoppable, its flames shooting upward into the night. It light everything up and gave us some shelter. It seemed to take a few minutes for it to scale back and come under control, but once the initial burst subsided, she emerged from the other side of the inferno. She seemed worried that I was standing a bit too close and pulled me away from it quickly. There were some unexpectedly loud cracks and explosions that shook the ground. We took several additional steps back and she told me to crouch and get further back. I noticed a group of large, heavy rocks and quickly hid behind them. The boards and splinters burned faster than expected. The flames flickered brightly, burning brightly against the night. The night sky seemed to brighten it didnít last. As fast as it had come into being, it had just as quickly subsided. The fire immolated and seemed to run out of energy. There was one last gaping burst before the flames diminished almost completely. After several minutes, only smoky embers remained. A cold wind blew over the fire, snuffing it out completely. In that moment, we knew our short respite was over. We looked around and there werenít enough planks left to last more than a few minutes, let alone keep us warm through the night. Weíd have to find a more durable solution.

She began to walk briskly, circling over the surface at an increasingly fast speed, she look determined to get somewhere in a hurry. I watched her almost run ahead of me and it was surprising to observe how she moved. Moving ahead across the edges, almost like a phantom, her steps seemingly floating above the ground, she walked parallel to my position, navigating its embankment effortlessly, I paused to watch her and slowly fell behind, and had to sprint quickly to maintain my line of sight. After a few minutes she seemed finally come to rest, pausing once more at the lakeís edge. She turned and looked back towards my direction, standing impatiently for me to catch up. She ran ahead and I couldnít see where she went for a moment. Just ahead, more groupings of splintered wood pilings blocked my view and I couldnít see where she had vanished too. I was worried for a moment, but quickly located her when I saw a shadow moving, making her visible in the moonlight when she walked behind the splintered boards.

I walked around the other side and caught up, find her unexpectedly still. I looked at the path ahead with her, and it seemed strange. She seemed unsure for the first time that night. Her strangely serene sense of confidence seemed unshakable until that point. Walking ahead a few steps, I nervously stood on my toes and looked over their tall edges. The outlines were barely visible but I filled them in my mind almost immediately. I quickly realized that we had finally reached our destination. It had been a long journey but it might have been worth the effort after all. I stood there and absorbed it for a moment, overwhelmed by what was in front of us. There was a bit farther to go, but the end seemed to be in sight at last. I looked at her and wondered what secrets were waiting for us, hiding in the distance. 

(Continue to part two)