The Laser Fiction - The Recalcitrant Vestibule









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Recalcitrant Vestibule (Part two)

When I looked around, it was an unmistakable conclusion that the environment had changed dramatically and permanently beneath our feet. We stood on a robust field of grass, it was strangely reassuring to be somewhere that felt natural and familiar. I walked a little bit and found its surface to be surprisingly soft and forgiving. It seemed to extend far in the distance, initially. Upon closer examination, I quickly ascertained that this wasn't an isolated stretch. In the opposing direction, I could plainly see an array of buildings were set in their place. On the other side, there was a small cluster of trees, some of which were quite thick. I watched her standing there somewhat indecisively. She took awhile to ponder what direction to go in before finally deciding to moves towards the forest. It wasn't immediately obvious what she hoped to find there, the fauna seemed almost abandoned and desolate, there were no signs of sentient life, animal or human.
She walked quickly towards the trees, venturing a few feet inside the perimeter until she was nearly invisible, peeking out sporadically from behind one of the thicker trunks. My instincts told me to follow her, though logic said I should go towards the more populated areas. I was a bit tired at that point, and it took me a few minutes to catch up to her position and locate her hiding place. I wondered what her plan might be, and I had little idea precisely what it might have involved. I finally joined her side and waited for her nervously. I didn't sense anything had gone astray, but wondered if we'd arrived at the wrong destination, despite our strenuous exertion and consuming effort. She appeared to have greater confidence than I did and stood at the base of the tall tree with an intense resilience that I didn't expect. She turned her attention to the tree and looked above past it and gazed into the skies above. I wasn't sure what she was looking for but she finally reached at a welcoming position, and she announced that the time had finally arrived.

I wondered what she meant by that pronouncement and waited further elaboration. She didn't offer anything more at first, her steadfastly neutral expression didn't give anything away. Motioning for me to move even closer, she ordered me to follow her and not fall back any further behind her. I wasn't sure what she was up to and held back a few steps, not wanting to interfere with her pending project. This wasn't the approach she wanted, and yelled at me to go in further towards her. I took a few nervous steps forward but held myself at a remove. This was unacceptable and she made it obvious when she reached out and grabbed my arm forcefully. She drew me directly towards her side until I was standing right beside her. She released her grip somewhat but was still clenching my hand firmly. This was unnerving and I felt a sudden rush of fear and dread. I asked her if I'd done something wrong. I though I might have taken us off the path and we'd somehow found ourselves stranded within another obtuse engagement. This query seemed strange to her, and seemed to catch her off-guard. I'd completely missed the point.

She took a deep breath and told me that everything was fine. We were absolutely in the right place, the path remained open and clear. I hadn't messed up, despite my lingering fear. She maintained, that as a matter of fact, my serenity and passivity set a welcome precedent. I'd managed to successfully extricate us from our dangerous encounter unharmed without disrupting a critical balance. I hadn't cheated on the way out and had instead shown an inherent patience and unexpected forbearance she didn't realize I possessed. This was a relief, but I still wasn't entirely convinced. It didn't feel like we had arrived, when I looked around, it seemed like we'd come to a desolate spot that appeared to have been long-deserted. I expressed my doubts to her, trying to maintain some objectivity. She nodded her head and disagreed strongly, then reiterated that everything was indeed going according to plan. To put a finer point on things, she complimented me; conveying her delayed, empathetic realization that my inscrutable methodology reminded her of how she approached problems when she was younger. Except there was one glaring problem: I'd almost completely forgotten about my manifestly opaque light-distillation machine.

This didn't make a lot of sense; she was the one who held the enigmatic focused-light machine for the most part. I'd only borrowed it a few times. I didn't feel like I had any claim to one, and the other device I'd borrowed from the navigator wasn't mine, either. However, she disagreed with my position. Carefully, she pulled it out from her cloak and handed it to me. It wasn't the same one that I remembered, though I thought my recall was hazy by that point. I wasn't precisely sure of its origins, and surmised that it might have been something she'd assembled herself especially for me. Perhaps, she was carefully waiting for the right time; holding onto it until she was sure that I was ready to take command of my own miniature machine. This was an interesting, yet unspoken theory. I decided to go along with her approach and let her place it in my hand tenuously. There was a pronounced sense of gratitude, I knew she'd given my something unique, and I hoped I wouldn't squander the opportunity. I stared at the oblique apparatus for a long time, admiring its solid construction and unmistakable appearance. With supreme caution, I nervously held it in my hand and found that its smooth surface was uniformly metallic but lacked the smooth finish of the earlier machines and wondered if she was giving me an unexpected gift or if it was something planned all along.

I recognized the basic form immediately but there were some key differences that stood out. The most prominent element of this particular machine was immediately thicker and significantly longer. Its structure didn't seem nearly as powerful or versatile as the earlier devices. When i examined it closer and held it towards my eyes, It was inherently simplified. It looked more straightforward and easier to understand than her gadget. It only contained a single dial, though it had familiar markings, they were faded and I couldn't read precisely what measurements they indicated. I'd need to figure these out myself, using a trial-and-error approach, it appeared. I pulled my fingers gently and slid them across the machine and cautiously attempted to bring forth a beam of light, but there was no response. I tried placing it in different positions to little effect.

It seemed that they been sitting there without being touched, remaining dormant for too long, and there wasn't anything I could do to rouse it from slumber. I maneuvered it towards the skies, attempting half-heartedly to collect some residual energy, but there wasn't any indication it had received any resurgence. I pointed it across the sky and tried to outline some paths in the skies above, but it was too thick, blocking my view and getting in the way. I took it down back towards my side and looked to her for guidance. She stated that she wouldn't be of much help. She explained that I knew more about the machine than she did. This was puzzling, since the longer I held it in my hands, the less familiar it seemed to be. I asked her if she'd made a mistake, and wondered if she'd gotten confused. She nodded her head, this was no mistake; the machine was putatively mine.

I played around with the machine for awhile longer but there didn't seem to be any point to it after awhile. I held it up, down and pushed it from side to side. She looked on, seemingly more frustrated by my lack of progress. I asked her what I should do next, but she just shrugged her shoulders, and left me to figure it out myself. I waited for some signal to emanate from the machine, but its silence was cutting. After several discouraging attempts to elicit some sign of life, it became obvious that this wasn't the time or place for exploration. I'd have to wait and would hold onto it for a later time when I could further examine its workings. Conveying my appreciation to her for the machine, was complicated, since I'd grown tired and had enough playing around. I carefully put it in my pocket. Surprisingly, it seemed to fit perfectly inside, filling the indentation effortlessly, like it had always been in its holster, patiently awaiting my command. I was a little confused by its sudden emergence, and subsequent recalcitrance on its part. However, this unexpected reaction didn't catch her completely unprepared. She had another surprise awaiting me to compensate. I didn't really anticipate what it could be until she pulled it our of her bag.

I was surprised that she held onto it for so long, but it was strange to see the abandoned form of my first and only attempt at building my own machine. It was clunky and its pieces had fallen into disrepair. The low-quality glue I'd used to fasten them had seemingly evaporated and they elements were now disconnected. I attempted to put them back together, but the resulting mess was an even bigger mess of wires and buttons, nearly a jumble of a mess. She encouraged me to take my time and reassemble it, but this proved to be a frustrating waste of energy. She was desperate to find some answers, and she had some optimism until I explained that the machine never came close to functioning. It was a rough attempt at mimicking her devices at best, and without anything to hold it together, it continually collapsed and fell apart. I tried wedging it in place to demonstrate what I was attempting, but it came out backwards and disfigured. I hadn't left any instructions and would have to go by instinct. However, I'd forgotten the specifics, most of how I barely assembled the ill-fitting, now irredeemable device was lost to time. More importantly, it never functioned in the first place. Attempting to rebuild it completely from memory with no apparent benefit would be a waste of time and a lost cause.

After expending precious time trying to recreate a rough approximation of the original construction, I finally decided to give up on it. I handed the incoherent, non-functional machine's parts back to her and shrugged my shoulders. This was definitely beyond my current skill-set. It would be best to focus on more productive aspects, and explore working machines. Trying to prove that I was competent to that degree would only lead to needless frustration. Somewhat disappointed but not entirely surprised she'd turned her attention in the opposing direction, gazing fitfully across the clearing. She looked towards the arrayed structures over the distance and pointed in their direction. I couldn't understand her motivation, and couldn't figure out why she had a desire to explore the deserted buildings. There was something important within their walls that she wanted to show me.

We walked towards the disheveled arrangement of structures at a remarkably quick pace. We'd managed to locate a slender partition of additional inspiration, finding a resource that granted us what amounted to a second chance. Despite putting up with a long excursion, everything appeared rejuvenated; infused with abundant, replenished energy. This was strange, but perhaps a changed outfit could have made a difference. It certainly didn't take as long as I'd expected for me to grow accustomed to my new shoes, which became surprisingly comfortable after I broke them in. The grassy surface gave way to a concrete floor which was smoothly paved over and offered little in the way of things that would slow us down. I looked around for signs, but there was nothing visible, the village or town didn't seem to have a name, and looking above to the skies saw unfamiliar constellations with unnamed stars.

This made it impossible to know exactly where we were. She seemed to have a better understanding of where she was headed and moved ahead confidently towards the arrayed structures. After taking additional steps, the pavement restructured and we were walking down an actual avenue divided further into sidewalks and roadways. She told me to stay on the path and I followed her, carefully keeping myself away from the uneven road. This was easy, since the sidewalks were relatively clear and smooth, while the roads were rough and constrained by uneven cobblestones and rough patches. This was strange, since I didn't notice any vehicles pass us by, whether this was due to the time of day or the lack of population was unclear, but the deserted silence emanating from the long street was definitely abnormal.

As we drew closer towards the center of the village, I was surprised by the individual buildings' erratic construction. Most of the structures displayed an unexpectedly rough appearance. A majority of the dwellings looked dilapidated in significant ways, with their rough edges and peeling paint giving them a sense of being worn-down by time with major flaws. Doors were hanging loosely, windows weren't shut completely or were crooked and held into place with nails or even rope. Many of the roofs seemed sunken and bayed under and a large number of stone walls were bent into odd angles. Everything seemed to show major signs of wear, which came as a surprise. Examining the buildings in more detail as we walked closer unfurled additional mysteries This occurred when I looked into their bent and twisted windows.

While the majority of them were darkened, I noticed that several of the dwellings had lights on. Looking closer, I saw some shadowy figures moving around. I pointed this out to her and wondered if we should knock on their doors. She answered negatively and decisively; we weren't there to recklessly interfere with them. Approaching them would unleash trouble we didn't need. she strongly admonished me to avoid temptation and maintain a safe remove at all times. I decided not to pry any further and left the other inhabitants alone. Walking a safe distance from them allowed us to concentrate fully on the task at hand. Passing over what looked to be promising dwellings, we reached the opposing edge of the village. There weren't many options left, and she began moving closer towards them until she was able to narrow her options. She surveyed them carefully looking for the correct indicators. After traversing past numerous buildings, she spotted what seemed like the right spot. It was almost hidden behind another structure, requiring us to travel a narrow path before discovering the clandestine building. At long last, it appeared that we'd finally arrived at the destination,

It was a single-story structure, consisting of concrete bricks, unevenly stacked in place. It seemed to be hiding from us, there was a single covered window on its left side. What immediately struck me was a thick, heavy door. As we approached, I noticed that it lacked a key hole or a handle. It wasn't immediately obvious how she would open it. There seemed to be no real point of entry. She looked it over for a minute and tried to ascertain how to get inside. There were no visible symbols on the doorway, it seemed to have been sealed in place. She attempted to push, then pull it with her hands but it didn't budge. She hit it forcefully, trying to loosen it with a powerful punch, but it remained unmoved, not responding to her efforts. Stepping back, she tried to view it from another angle, but couldn't quite figure out how to maneuver past it. She seemed to have given up at first and withdrew back to its edge, and stood back to get a broader look.

After a few seconds. she walked back in the direction of the forlorn structure, which was unexpected. I wondered what she was doing, and couldn't understand what she was expecting to uncover. She motioned for me to join her, and I was surprised when she walked past the door. I didn't notice at first, since it was covered by thick brush, but there was a narrow path along its eastern side. Somehow, she knew it was there, despite its lack of visibility, and moved ahead almost instinctively. She was almost defiant by this point - nothing set her way could stop her. Initially, this was a confounding approach. Everything converged in a manner that should have dissuaded us from venturing further, but she remained adamant. It wasn't immediately obvious what she'd find within the deserted, forlorn structure. It seemed unsteady and neglected, like it had been abandoned for a long time. I wondered what intrigued her, the structure didn't offer much promise. I followed her path, somewhat reluctantly and tried to searching for some signs of potential. There was nothing protruding from its surface; no doors or windows were present. Despite our strenuous effort, It appeared that we'd arrived at a dead-end.

However, she stayed resolutely focused on the path ahead; inherently undaunted by the devious obstacles frustratingly placed in our path. She maintained her focus despite layers of increasingly thick brush and intertwined branches that created a seemingly impermeable barrier that stood in our path, defiantly blocking our way and making it increasing difficult to navigate and move deeper. However, she didn't surrender and continued moving steadfastly, confidentially walking towards the rear grounds. It took more effort than expected to clear out even a short path, and it took much longer than anticipated. We reached a small clearing that wasn't entirely open, but offered just enough space that we could stand together. After another long slog, our feet finally reached the outer territory at back of the building.

However, there was another significant impediment. The back entrance was resolutely shut. It was almost completely covered by weeds and there was no visible way to get inside without pulling them away somehow. She examined it and began moving her hands, knocking aside the layered branches feverishly. I watched her surprisingly resilient fingers presiding over the thick brush almost randomly. Her movements seemed inconsistent, like she was blindly pulling and throwing the vines until she managed to create a severed point that could be traversed. She managed to pull the branches off the wall; almost instinctively uncovered a partial doorway. I joined her efforts and we worked together to quickly take down the branches. It took a couple a minutes, but we quickly discovered that the door had become loose from the overgrowth and was hanging slightly ajar.

Somewhat relieved by her dose of unexpected good fortune, she pushed it open further, just wide enough that we could enter, passing through safely. After we finally breached, I took in a deep breath and examined the surroundings. Unfortunately, we only managed to enter another kind of landing, it was quite dark. The limited visibility made it difficult to see ahead with much accuracy. This made it quite difficult to navigate beyond our apparently blocked-in position, leaving us helplessly stranded, stuck in place. After an unnerving interruption that dragged on for several unsettling minutes, her eyes finally adjusted to the darkened surroundings, and mine thankfully followed suit shortly thereafter. Coming into focus through the darkness, a subsequent revelation arrived: there was a second locked and heavy door placed directly ahead, deliberately forestalling our path. My heart sank and I froze in place. We'd somehow managed to find ourselves trapped between two doors, apparently marooned again between two opposing worlds.

I examined the impediment and found myself immediately discouraged. This doorway was equally thick and impenetrable, mirroring the front entrance. At first, it wasn't immediately obvious how we could proceed, She took a step closer towards the door and I saw her outline her basic approach, vaguely constructing her general method. At first, I couldn't understand what she was doing. It was only after I moved a step closer that the situation clarified. It wasn't completely visible. but I noticed the outlines of a lock on the upper-right corner of the secondary door. This was frustrating to discover, but she looked pleasantly surprised by this development. At first, I couldn't understand why, but there was something I didn't expect on her part.

She turned to me and communicating quietly and fleetingly, conveyed a reassurance and gratitude at our good fortune that I wasn't expecting from her. She seemed more the type who preferred to work and make her own luck. I was confused by her sudden change in approach until she pointed to the sealed, impervious door. She told me she knew the second she saw it that she'd be able to pass through. The immediately familiar, significantly age-ravaged lock that we'd managed to locate lent near-certainty that we'd arrived at the correct location. I wondered what she meant but she answered by pointing directly at the lock, motioning in a precise manner. Quietly, without unnecessary fanfare, she pulled out what appeared to be an inscrutably antique key from her satchel. I was mystified that she didn't use her laser-machine to open the vestibule; but figured that it likely remained in dormancy. It likely wouldn't be of much use opening a doorway into this older, intrinsically dated venue, in any case.

The structure's advanced age and dilapidated state didn't dissuade her, at all. She forcefully inserted they key until it was fully inserted; effortlessly connecting with the riveted teeth inside to fit the lock flawlessly. Its lack of resistance was all the more surprising since the creaking lock appeared to have sat unused for a long time. It took surprisingly few twists and a pair of turns before she was able to dislodge its thin layer accumulated rust. The rivets quickly conceded and opened partially giving us a partial glimpse into its hidden sanctum. She held the door in place, and gave it a hard push with her foot, and this seemed to work. The doorway creaked open further somewhat reluctantly, but finally gave way enough that we could pass through its divide. It wasn't immediately apparent exactly what awaited us on the other side, since it was so dark. However. despite deflating, apprehensive moments with nebulous, intractable barriers continually thrown in her direction, she found herself thoroughly vindicated and had tangibly persevered; we'd imminently encounter numerous unanticipated results of her unyielding efforts.

Before we moved into the structure, she reminded me to move assiduously, since things might have fallen over or crashed onto the ground, potentially transforming themselves into deceptively dangerous obstacles. I noticed that there were no lights and the near complete darkness made it difficult to see ahead. I stood at the edge of the doorway, my feet firmly planted on its landing and waited for her to forge ahead. She took a minute but couldn't really do much, either. After a minute or so concentrating, she said that something inside the room had refreshed her memory.

She stepped inside and turned towards the left and vanished into the darkness. I heard some odd noises that resembled loud clicking, then lever grinding onto each other. It seemed that the majority spun in place for a few moments, then exhausted their residual energy, coming to a quick halt. I resigned myself to the fruitless task, observing somewhat helplessly, but she continued her examinations, attempting repeatedly to uncover some missing spark. She didn't give up until finally something took hold. At first, it only let out a small click, but it seemed to fall into place with more consistency. In a few seconds, a noticed something light-up and then begin to glow, somehow, she'd managed to illuminate the surroundings with a small bulb. It wasn't particularly bright but gave off enough energy that I could make out the surroundings, however dimly.

I quickly realized that the room was much larger than anticipated, the bulb only managed to tentatively light the nearby section, leaving the remainder shrouded. This was more than enough to reveal a long table set alongside the left wall. Stepping closer, I noticed an array of different objects set on its surface. It wasn't immediately cleat what they were or how they functioned. Examining them closely gave me some clues. Many of them consisted of somehow familiar forms, though they were much rougher than I anticipated. It looked like many of them were constructed from divergent parts, which were then hastily taped or haphazardly glued together. Many of them lacked a glowing finish but were still recognizable; retaining a signature handiwork that was unique. Each machine seemed like it was an elaborate experiment, representing a complicated mechanical puzzle that was pieced together by hand.

It wasn't immediately clear that all of them functioned, despite their longevity. I couldn't figure out how some of the devices were constructed or what purpose they might have enabled. They remained stoic and silent, giving scant elaboration to their methodology. Lying on the table in their dormant state, untouched for years, they offered little insight as to their function. I was tempted to pick one up and examine it more thoroughly, the assembled machines looked extremely fragile, and it wasn't cleat if they'd survive any movement. Using my intuition, I deduced that these might be earlier forms of the machines, and wondered if any of them might be of use in reviving our devices from stasis. I turned to her and looked for some guidance as to their clouded origin and possible assistance. She nodded her head negatively, and expressed an unexpectedly strong degree of frustration combined with a palpable disappointment with me. I was focused on the wrong area. From her perspective, I was wasting time and energy; I'd lost focus and was wasting my time worrying about old junk.

Her critique was perplexing and its firmness caught me unprepared; I wondered what I'd done incorrectly. I looked at the machines again and remained intrigued by their mysterious appearance; I wondered what they might hold, deeply hidden beneath their surface before quickly deciding to give them a second-look. I walked a step closer and kneeled downward for a closer inspection. I noticed that the markings weren't printed, instead hand drawn, their surfaces were stitched together, the seams still visible. I rolled my finger over one of them very lightly to remove the thick layer of dust, and revealed two letters resembled an illegible signature, though it might have been two remaining letters that remained after the rest had mostly faded from sight. I couldn't be entirely sure. The combination of those additional clues didn't offer any significant additional insight. I stood up, turned around, faced her and shrugged my shoulders. I'd looked at them carefully and thoroughly; limited to using my eyes but still couldn't see what aspect I might have hastily glossed over impatiently.

She appeared to have lost her residing patience; and didn't welcome my somewhat meek, defensive explanation. Deciding to move things along walked ahead of me and looked above the table, beyond it surface and pointed towards the wall behind it. Taking a few seconds before it became obvious, once I recognized its presence, I couldn't ignore its appearance. Residing just above the cluttered, uncoordinated assemblage of machines. It seemed to revel in effortlessly dominating the unresponsive, partially assembled pieces and sitting passively far above the mess, with a satisfying veneer of superiority. I was surprised to see a large panel, implanted with almost clandestine veracity. It sat nearly flush with the surface and didn't feature the usual protrusions and levers. Instead. there were two flat buttons inside one red, and one green. She pointed these out to me, and advised me to look more carefully in the future. She pushed the green button and within seconds, there was a sudden burst of light from above, hanging from the ceiling. This illuminated the entire room brightly and in sharp relief. I gazed towards the other walls and was immediately startled by what awaited us, standing patiently against the opposing side of the instantaneously enlarged room.

She walked across the freshly-lit room with rejuvenated confidence; moving briskly until she was standing in front of the disorganized array and could commence observation. To avoid distraction, she ordered this task to be performed in near-total silence on both our parts. She remarked that it was actually in the same order she remembered but found herself perplexed by its non-consecutive approach. I didn't understand what she meant until I moved closer. I realized that the objects that had drawn her attention were actually sheets of canvas. They'd been placed haphazardly and consisted of various sizes and shapes. The ones that were largest were positioned towards the back, while smaller pallets remained out front. As I drew near, she held her hand out, warning me to keep distance.

She began to examine them, there was a noticeable sense of nostalgia and remembrance coming from her direction. She couldn't deny there was an unspoken attachment, but she demurred when I pressed for detail. Beginning the process of rifling through them seemed to unravel distant, unresolved wounds and memories. I watched from a distance as pulled them out individually, taking stock of them one at a time. Some of them seemed to consist of lightly-sketched outlines, partially complete drawings. Others resembled elaborate instructions, some complete with key points. Scattered illustrations of fantastical machines showcased a versatile hand. Lacking discipline, these didn't seem entirely practical, at least from my limited perspective. There were also enlarged maps, complete and redolent with carefully drawn lines with paths, waypoints and symbols that pointed the way to innumerable unknown places.

She moved through the pictures quickly, cataloging each one from memory before placing each back into its correct order. As she moved towards the back, more complication renderings began to emerge. These appeared to be elaborate renderings and illustrations of places the artist might have visited. We took them all in breathlessly, unprepared for the volume and quality of the works. What was most striking to me was the consistency of tone and composition; I found them immediately familiar yet alien in scope despite the glaring omission of any kind of signature, or even initials. It seemed whoever designed this varied lot was humble to a fault, and steadfastly avoided taking credit. I wanted to ask if she knew who'd managed to create such an elaborate portfolio but decided it was better to allow the artist to remain unknown, letting creativity flow naturally, with their intuition leading the way.

She examined each of the canvases carefully, happy that they'd survived intact for such an extended period. Watching her go through the drawings and paintings was inspiring but I couldn't precisely infer what her connection to them might have been. She took the measure of their contents before placing them undisturbed, back on the ground. I noticed her carefully making mental notes but she didn't share any of those significant details with me beyond the visible surfaces. It was strange that she kept so much unspoken, but somehow unsurprising. Apparently, there was much more to these than she let on, but I surmised she'd made a solemn promise to keep the majority of their secrets in shadows, away from everyone. I was comparatively lucky that she trusted me enough to share their existence and composition, revealing anything further would break her unspoken contract.  I knew not to pry further and determined not to interject, allowed her the space she required.

She was pleased that I was able to humbly back away and thanked me for my understanding. She resumed cataloging the paintings and built an impressive field of vision, reinforced with extensive contemplation and memorization. After awhile she moved to the farthest edge where a small number of canvas sheets was pointed backward, their surface modestly facing to the perimeter wall. I wondered what secrets these pieces might contain when she turned them over. I asked her what they were hiding. Slowly, she complied with my inquiry but did so with an unexplained reluctance. At first, I couldn't understand why those particular compositions weren't forthcoming but was surprised to discover that the majority of them were blank. There was a large number of empty sheets and they'd managed to remain nearly unblemished, aside from scabs and stray markings at their perimeter edges. I couldn't help but wonder why so much had seemingly been left unfinished, after so much time had elapsed. She offered no answers on this front and instead redirected her attention, posing an unexpected query in my direction. She unexpectedly asked me what size I wanted to use.

I hadn't anticipated taking up the mantle myself and was initially confused as to how to proceed. I looked over the gathered canvas sheets and couldn't decide which one would be most appropriate. Obviously lacking inherent skill or resplendent talent, I protested her duplicitous maneuver at first. It seemed like an elaborate trick on her part. In order to get out of the trap, I looked away back towards the machines. I felt that I was better suited to them and pointed out my severe shortage of experience. I resisted, further noting that I'd probably waste the opportunity and leave a residue of disconnected, likely ugly scrawling. She heard me bur dismissed my concerns, allowing that I really needed was expectant permission, and she added, the freedom and flexibility to explore unencumbered. She countered that she'd already factored in a few misfires.

Repeating her question with added insistence, she indicated that refusal on my part wasn't an option. Seeing that I had little choice in the matter, I decided on the path where I would do the least damage, and pointed towards the smallest canvas I could find. She picked it up and its imperfections were reassuring. It was bent inward towards the center and had noticeable yellowing on its edges, making it an appropriately flaws venue for experimentation. She retrieved the blank canvas from the ground and told me to hold onto it, and ordered me not to attempt any alterations, until it was ready. I wondered what she had planned until she was able to dislodge an easel from behind the accumulated canvases. She quickly carried it to the center of the room where she unfolded it, then placed the canvas in its center where it sat with surprising resilience. Subsequently returning towards empty vessels, she managed to locate a nearby box that contained a number of brushes. Quickly searching through the jumbled instruments, she located one that was suited to me. It was a dark gray, relatively short and narrow with a generous tip to its head. She generously handed it to me, but told me not to rush into things; I still needed further instructions.

I stood impassively looking at the surface of the downscaled canvas. I was nervously anticipating the project ahead but wondered if I was up to the task. Standing directly in front of me and her voice steadied as she began offering advice and suggestions. Most importantly, there was the matter of the brush. She told me to hold it up and examine it carefully. I looked at it and was surprised that it was simple and straightforward, but I would start with that one. There was only a single neutral color, which would more than suffice, offering me plenty of freedom without needless distraction. I'd need to practice my strokes, but this brush was easy enough to master, bridging ease of use and flexibility, the thickness depended on how long I kept it submerged in the paint, and how deeply I set it. This technique might take a few strokes to master, and she suggested I make a background which would be easier to correct or paint over. She added another useful detail, it was always a good idea to keep in mind that the brush did not have an eraser. I'd need to ponder and plan what I was going to draw ahead of time, or find myself stuck with the tedium of manually fixing mistakes.

She reassured me that my designs were my own, she wouldn't interfere. The painting could be as elaborate or simple as I desired. The last request she said was to try not to make a mess, and stay within the confines of the small surface I'd allotted myself. I should remain careful not to drip any paint onto the ground. While she was lecturing me, something strange occurred. I found myself gazing into the canvas, which appeared to grow larger with each passing second. Before I realized what was happening, I began to feel overwhelmed by its scope. My fear intensified as it enlarged itself to blot out the rest of the room.

The blank slate overcame my field of vision and I began to feel frightened by its intimidating presence that increased with each passing second. By the time she gave me permission to begin my first composition, I found myself paralyzed by fear. I froze in place, as the empty space predominated, then subsequently played another trick on me. It seemed to morph in front of me, and I saw its seemingly endless expanse of unfilled white space transform into an unexpectedly threatening form that seemed to fill the entire room. Without realizing what was happening, I found myself staring into the clenched teeth and unforgiving jaws of a different kind of monster. It stood in silent opposition, daring me to make a move, striking a ferocious pose that I was unable to overcome. I stood with the brush dangling at my side, and couldn't bring myself to fight back. I needed to take a step back and survey the situation, but found myself retreating from it, until I knelt down, ensconced in a defensive crouch.

Her enthusiasm waned quickly as she observed me struggle to make even the smallest mark on the canvas. She noticed I was in a kind of ball and wondered out loud if she'd taken the wrong approach. She was puzzled, this wasn't the response she was expecting. She walked past the canvas and knelt down beside me. She told me I'd somehow managed to miss the point for which she apologized. She advised me not to perceive the canvas as another enemy that needed conquering, but instead view it as a large window that I could open. The window could lead me anywhere I wanted, the destination was up to me. She told me to close my eyes and change perceptions. It took awhile for her advice to take hold but eventually, she was able to break through my defensiveness. I blinked open carefully and noticed the canvas had returned to normal scale, having shrunk down to an approachable size.

I nervously stood, titled my head back to a level position, and worked up the courage to approach the blank sheet carefully. I was still afraid of rousing an unpleasant perspective from within. I resolutely decided not to allow a repeated burst of irrational fear stand in my way. It seemed to have changed its disposition and seemed cooperative as I looked it over warily. I wasn't entirely convinced and doubted I'd be able to create something that would emerge from the apprehensive nothing, but she retained a strong resolve. She reminded me that she'd travelled a long way and jumped over significant hurdles to arrive at that point. This reinforced my motivation, paying her back fore her efforts was the least I could do. I steeled myself for the task ahead, and raised my brush towards the canvas. I'd had more than enough time to contemplate what I would draw, now I only had to cross the threshold. Wetting then raising the brush with an improved outlook, I took a deep breath, belatedly realizing the true purpose that had brought us to that isolated point. It had taken vastly more effort than I could have anticipated, but the intractable process solidified my decision. After encountering discordant thoughts alongside accompanying consternation, the resulting serenity clarified my clouded perspective. I knew precisely what needed to be painted.

- Michael Palisano