The Laser Fiction - A Portentous Retreat









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



A Portentous Retreat

Someone was playing tricks on me. I attentively, yet nervously watched as the formerly dilapidated, then almost-completely destroyed pier spontaneously rebuilt and reconstructed itself, apparently unaided, entirely within its own power, took to the task of reassembling its splintered boards and gathering its fallen, scattered portions into place, efficiently, almost effortlessly. The process was unsettling, the structure seemed like it was alive, fighting its own destruction, refusing to succumb to any attempt to break it apart. Instead, forcing itself back into existence, defiantly stronger in its resilience. Unwilling to be forgotten and immune from being pushed aside, its tangled beams, and twisted lines, emphatically straightened and strengthened. I looked towards the ground and searched for the seagull, a strange companion, tangentially at least. It didn't look to have moved off its preferred spot, remaining detached from the situation, decidedly unimpressed by the unfolding construction. Instead, it focused its energy and continued with its extended feast. If it sensed my presence, it didn't seem unsettled or worried.

I drew away from the gull's carefully-constructed nest, carefully moving backward so as not to intrude into its space. My curiosity wasn't that strong and there were more important things to do. Turning back towards the pier, I noticed the waves beneath the reconstituted structure gradually subside. The calmness overtook the structure as it began to stabilize and reclaim its prominent place on the edge of the shore. After a few minutes, it started to sink into place once more, its visible outline taking on a familiar form, and before I realized what happened, it had resumed its place in the world. Evidence of the frightening attack had been erased from view completely, replaced by a deceptively serene display. The violent assault, arriving unexpectedly from an empty vessel, witnessed by no one of any veracity or importance, hadn't left a trace, the slightest mark; not even a dent in the surface.

There was an unsettling realization that someone was out there, above, below or beside me, who was possibly creating or making things up. I thought through a small range of possibilities and outlined who or what might have been responsible. I closed my eyes to think about it for a while. Despite the apparent distance I had travelled, it seemed that someone was still right behind me, shadowing my movements, anticipating what I'd do and responding ahead of time. This was concerning, but without knowing for sure, I had only my instincts to guide me. Retracing the events from the previous days seemed to offer little guidance, only additional contradictions and intractable entrapments. There wasn't a clear path forward, but there seemed to be no choice. Without the confidence of any concrete faith, including my own eyesight, I had to move ahead facing an unknown, possibly dangerous outcome.

I walked over the sands, hesitating with each step, moving towards the structure nervously. Looking back towards the seagull, it seemed to hold no mind, and continued about its business like nothing exceptionally interesting had occurred. Watching for any movements, there was an unexpected calm that seemed designed to deceive, but I wasn't going to let the silent barrier stop me. Continuing to move forward, I could see the pier regenerating in closer range, the paint slowly de-peeling and starting to shine again, the small splinters disappearing back inside the smaller surface. Its beams straightened further until they pulled back into a solid form. It continued the process, as I drew closer until it finally came to a kind of equalization, where it looked like nothing at all had come across its path, After so much effort, it came to rest and stood at a calm remove, lurking just over the surface, a peaceful space, its wounds completely healed.

Moving cautiously towards its outer parameter, I decided that it wouldn't be wise to get too close. There might have been hidden instabilities that I couldn't see. While it appeared strong, I couldn't be completely sure of what lurk beneath it. Observing the reassembled structure, I waited for a few minutes to see if anything else would happen. It was a nervous juncture, and there was no path for me to go that didn't present risk. The indecision beneath felt strangely reassuring, at least I wasn't moving blindly ahead without thinking about the consequences. This might have slowed me down significantly, but the slower pace revealed things that I might have missed had I rushed ahead. I needed the time to piece together the scattered clues until I discovered a path that made sense. It was true that I didn't always make the right choices, and found myself lost, almost helplessly, at certain points along the way. Occasionally, things coalesced in unexpected ways, occurring at unpredictable points.

At that point, however, I was barely moving, there seemed to be a strange stasis surrounding the structure and I wasn't entirely sure where to go next. I wandered a distance, back towards the gull and only stopped when I felt an unexpected rumbling under my feet. At first, I thought it might have been an echo of some kind from the sea and didn't pay much attention. Standing in place, I waited for a second one to come, but after a minute, there was nothing. It was just some kind of fluke. Continuing unabated, the seagull consumed its lunch unconcerned by the shaking, eating away merrily. A serene calm quickly resumed and I took a long, deep breath of the warm summer air. Then there was a second, much larger crash that completely shattered the peace.

Underneath me, I felt the surface become unstable. The surface gave way and the sand crested and folded around my feet. In a few seconds, the entire shoreline was shaking uncontrollably. There seemed to be no place to run as it shook violently, cascading into itself in a sudden burst of uncoordinated energy. The sand beneath my feet shifted and churned, alternating between left and right, swirling rapidly until it was difficult to keep my balance. It took a lot of effort to maintain my equilibrium as the shaking continued. Looking out of the corner of my eye, the gull quickly realized that something really bad was happening, and quickly abandoned its nest, flying from its perch almost instantaneously, gliding into the over the ocean, it took a turn towards the north, away from the direction of where the rumbling came from, before vanishing into the horizon, rushing towards an apparently safer section over the horizon.

Looking around at my surroundings, I realized that I was alone out there; completely vulnerable. There was nothing to protect me from the onslaught. There was a brief pause, with an accompanying unsettling silence. Everything stopped moving, but the unsettling situation didn't abate. Instead, the lack of movement instilled a fear. I had no idea what would happen next or where it might come from. I looked towards the pier and while it seemed to have shifted slightly, it was largely undamaged by the discord. The abrupt change in my situation was frightening, and I stood paralyzed by fear, not trusting anything surrounding me to offer even tangential protection. I looked around and there seemed to be nowhere safe within walking, or even running distance. I decided the best tactic would be to prepare for the worst and face it, whatever it might be.

I began to feel something swell in the distance and knew I had to calm down in order to get through it. Instinctively, I closed my eyes and counted while holding my breath. In that brief moment, I decided the best thing to do would be stand firm and calm, in order to withstand whatever malevolent force was heading my way. It probably wouldn't be easy, but I'd at least had some practice in surviving the seemingly impossible situations thrown at me. I waited for a few minutes and tried to let the fear I'd been feeling subside. Relaxing, even for a moment, was impossible after the next wave hit my location. The third assault came on suddenly and raged with much greater strength and velocity than the previous assaults. As it unfolded, its dangerous characterization became significantly more malicious, with vastly more energy than the previous environmental assaults I'd experienced.

The first two had felt like the ground was shaking but the third was different. It seemed to be coming from the air and almost pushed me down, knocking me off-balance until I almost hit the ground. I thought I would be able to stand up again, but the energy maintained its energy and velocity for quite some time, making it nearly impossible to stay on my feet. Before I knew it, I was crouched down into the sand, my arms and legs turned inward until I had almost crumbled from the pressure. The lower I went, the stronger the attack seemed to get. It became almost overwhelming and I looked towards the pier again, and it was swaying and buckling from the unrelenting pressure. The sand had been kicked up until it reached a frenzied burst and was blowing and swirling around me.

It quickly formed a blinding storm that saturated the air with heavy waves of dust and cutting pockets of debris. The intensifying wave of scattered dirt hit me with unexpected ferocity. This fearsome formation was frightening enough on its own but was only made worse was broken up by a loud screeching wail. It only took me a few moments to recognize what it was. There was an ear-piercing growl, and a subsequent deafening roar. Their screams shattered the piece in a manner that was terrifying, threatening and, unmistakable. The unrelenting assailants made their presence known. The malicious creatures I'd encountered were back on the prowl. They'd somehow managed to locate me, eradicating my efforts to escape their sights in one terrifying instant. It was frightening and I was completely alone and vulnerable. There wasn't any way for me to fight them off. All I could do was wait for the inevitable attack and hope Iíd manage to survive the impending assault. I knew very little about the vicious attackers and had no desire to find out more about them. Initially, it seemed that I got a break.

They moved around the shoreline, but didnít seem aware of my presence. They circled just beyond the trees, seeming to swarm in different directions, without encountering me. They ruffled some of the branches, but it didn't seem like they were actively going after me. I took in a deep breath, closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I decided to crouch down and kneeled into the beach, placing myself almost inward towards the surface. It seemed like a good idea at the time and at first, my plan seemed to work, I heard the swarm from afar and it seemed that the monsters were moving away from my position. Exhaling the air out into the atmosphere offered me little relief. I had to wait until I was sure they were gone. They didnít seem to be looking for me, specifically at that moment. It was only when I realized that I wasnít their main target that I allowed myself to relax. Fortunately, I quickly retraced my steps and resumed my mission.

I was still very much frightened by their sudden, unexpected appearance. This made me naturally afraid. I decided not to let the distant threat and their roaring consume or delay my mission. I kept my eyes closed and waited for them to leave. Slowly, they seemed to pass me by and I was relieved that I had seemingly escaped. I took a cautious moment and looked around, there was no sight of them in the immediate area. Standing up, I carefully gauged my position and decided to walk back towards the piers, looking to see if there was any untoward damage. I walked closer and it didn't seem that it had been touched in any fashion. Relieved, I decided not to get too comfortable and walked back towards the ocean, not wanting to alert them to my presence. It felt a little too vulnerable out there and there was no chance I was going to get inside their line of sight by letting them know I was in the area. As I walked back towards the shoreline where the gull had nested itself, I remembered the machine in my pocket and decided to pull it out for a provisional examination. Digging down in my pocket, I pulled it out of its pocket and looked at it for anything that might have gotten damaged.

Despite the rough near-miss encounter, it had survived without a scratch with all of its small switches, dials, and buttons intact and working. I still wasn't sure of its function or purpose but somehow, I knew it was important. Something about it felt different, it was lighter and slimmer than I remembered, its surface somehow more fragile, less sturdy than before. I made a few cautious attempts to turn it on. I carefully pressed the buttons at different intervals and moved it around, trying to manipulate into some kind of response. There wasn't anything, not the slightest noise or even a short test beep, that could be drawn from it. Attempting different combinations and configurations had no effect. There seemed to be no power, as if it had been drained of all its energy. I tried twirling it around and twisting it, but there was nothing. I tried several different angles and locations, pulling it over my head and then holding it at my side, but nothing seemed to rejuvenate it. Deciding that it would be better to stop messing around with the machine, I carefully placed it back inside my pocket and resumed walking. I headed toward the trees, walking at a steady pace and looking nervously at the trees, hoping that nothing was lurking behind them. Reaching their edge, it felt surprisingly tranquil. I walked towards the playground on the other side of the beach, its swings and parallel bars undisturbed by all the commotion.

In their stillness, there was a strange premonition, but also a kind of calmness, unexpected given the chaotic situation surrounding them. Watching the scene unfold, it felt odd to have such an entity completely abandoned in the heart of the summer. The bright sun above was deceptive, this wasn't a normal visit. Waiting for a moment, I took it all in and wondered what forces might be at work beneath me. I decided that it would be overwhelming to try and figure out the unfolding mystery and instead walked over towards the swings. It took awhile for me to get there and by the time I got there, my feet were getting undeniably sore. Taking a brief moment to relax, I sat on one of the middle swings and took a rest, letting myself roll back as gravity took its place. I began to feel myself moving back and forth, by feet pushing against the ground and leaping upwards, until I'd built up enough momentum to keep moving. There was little resistance so I continued ahead, my pace unabated.

It was instinctual, and before I realized what was happening, I was making massive waves with my feet. It felt like I was flowing in the air, almost flying for a few minutes, my feet no longer on the ground at all. This relieved some of the pressure that I was feeling, but not enough for me to completely forget the surroundings. I knew not to yell out, as I usually did but instead allowed myself a brief moment to close my eyes. I imagined that I was flying a spaceship, piloting it through the stars, unencumbered by anything in front of me. I saw the light-trails of distant galaxies and constellations flash through my mind. Supporting my imagination, the velocity of the swings made it feel like there was nothing holding me to the ground. It gained traction and I felt the atmosphere nearly fall away in my path. I let myself roll back and forth for several minutes, my feet never touched the ground as I let it keep going, moving higher with each motion, and seemingly nothing in my path.

I glided to and from, until I had reached enough velocity that I would just pop up and fly right off the swing-set, going directly into the sky. The fear I'd felt a few minutes earlier had almost completely gone, momentarily replaced by a sense of freedom and fun I hadn't allowed myself in a very long time. In the back of my mind, I knew it might be reckless and would set myself up for trouble, but that didn't really bother me as I swung and spun right and left, seemingly without a care in my mind. I let the moment flow through me, and I felt stronger with each spin and rotation, building my resilience with each spurt upward. I tried to keep my momentum going, with each swing of my feet, residual fear began to subside, giving way to a tentative, somewhat trepidatious release of energy.

There was a realization that I had survived the encounter. I kicked my feet farther and freer, elevating myself at increasing speed, gaining height with each wave. Before I knew it, the world surrounding me had fallen away, replaced by a gliding sensation, like I was flying through alien skies, far above a strange world, where nothing could interfere with my flight. My mind flew in a thousand directions. It might not have been the most prescient or wise thing to do, but I had given myself permission to break from the fear. I wondered and ventured carefully, whether the moaning, screeching monsters were actually there or were figments of my imagination. I thought it might have been, they had vanished just as suddenly as they appeared, it might have been an illusion, or perhaps an echoing apparition. I couldn't be entirely sure.

I spun back and forth for several minutes, allowing the doubts to evaporate, if only for a few minutes. My sense of freedom didn't last that long. I felt a sudden impact on my arm which seemed to stop me almost completely, instantly halting my momentum. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but the second hit was stronger and before I knew it, I felt something holding onto me, grabbed by an unseen force. The sudden stoppage didn't really register at first and it took the wind out of me for a moment. It was unsettling, and I had no idea what was happening. I knew there was something present but couldn't quite figure out what it could have been. I realized that it was stronger than me and had stopped me cold without warning. My initial thought was that one of the monsters had snuck up and grabbed me. My heart began to race and my head blurred with terror, but this didn't last. I saw a familiar figure standing there when I turned around.

After a few moments, I no longer felt threatened. Somehow, she'd located me, through some method I couldn't understand. She held me tightly for a moment, seeming not to want to let me go. I tried to shake her off, but she wouldn't budge. After pushing my out of her grip, I was able to get free and squirmed my way out. She let me slip away and reluctantly released my arm. I looked into her gaze, but it didn't reveal anything, as usual. Before I could say anything, she had moved a few steps away and was standing quietly, gazing back at me, with a strangely indifferent expression. I had no idea how long she had been there silently observing me, waiting for the right point to stop my fun, but her presence was still unsettling and unexpected. I hadn't seen or thought of her in a while, there was no indication that she might return. I had no idea what might have caused her to look for me, let alone at that moment, directly after the unsettling encounter with potential calamity.

I looked around, beyond her position to see if anyone was accompanying her, but she was alone once more. It didn't matter but I wondered what happened to her mysterious companion. I wondered if he was nearby but scanning nearby brought no sign of him. I looked at her and she seemed to be worried as well. I wondered if she knew the fearful creatures were close. It seemed odd that she would show up at that moment. I wondered if there was something their presence might have accidentally signaled to her. I might have been in more trouble than I thought I was, or was prepared to face. She seemed mystified and probably upset by my reckless actions. Perhaps, it wasn't the best time to go riding on the swings. By that point, I'd reached a complete stop, placing my feet downward, until they were firmly situated, firmly within the ground. Quickly standing up and straightening by back, I attempted to resume my journey with a more serious, studious position. She saw right through the act, and grabbed my arm again, with a sudden, icy grip. She shook my arm and pulled me beside her. I could tell by her demeanor that something was up; this was no time for playing games.

(Continue to part two)