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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



The Summer Door

It had been a long and eventful summer, but after a strange period marked by waves of disorientating journeys, sunlit explorations and weird encounters, things settled down. I finally felt like my feet were back on solid ground. I sensed that a well-deserved rest was finally in order, and decided to take a brief respite from the portentous and relax for awhile. I decided that Iíd been trying too hard and would benefit without so much. It was difficult to clear my head of the confusing and conflicting events at first, but as they fell behind me into the past, it got easier to let them go. I stayed away from the beach and its shoreline, purposely avoiding its churning waters and mysteries, and explored other directions and places. On several days, I decided not to go anywhere at all. I allowed myself to do basically nothing for a change. Before that summer, this would have been an average day. I had been so busy with things that I hadnít had the time to just enjoy the sunshine. After all that happened, I felt that I deserved to be a normal kid for a change. I tried to enjoy, there was a part of me that knew it wouldnít last. I woke up each morning relieved, without the pressures and occasional fear that had driven me into the strange depths and odd paths that seemed difficult. There were days that seemed stifled under the sun, providing a drought of rewards. Many times, it seemed impossible to find anything new, while other points seemed to release secrets in overwhelming cascades. That day, I decided not to worry about all of that, and not give into the pressure. I would take the path I chose. I wouldnít worry about impressing anyone, least of all someone who seemed distant and far away.

It was a welcome change of pace and I knew it wouldnít last. I decided to keep it safe and stay inside my house for awhile, taking a respite. As the summer days accumulated and several stormy rain-filled days passed, certain things changed and some of those memories were tucked away, but I hadnít forgotten. My mysterious bag and its contents were safely stowed away behind books in my closets, nearly hidden for a time and hopefully not to be discovered. The first few days of my self-imposed vacation werenít as stressful as they had been, but I found myself slowly growing tired of the monotony. I began to get antsy and started to plan where to go next. I needed to think ahead and seek out something I hadnít tried before, but had a limited amount of time to fulfill the summer ahead. The daylight hours were beginning to run a little shorter than I was used to. I knew that there wouldnít be enough time to embark and return if I kept procrastinating. I made some fairly stupid decisions in the past and didnít want to waste my timing walking down useless paths and wandering around aimlessly. I recalled where I had been and decided not to return to the beach, even though the summer seemed to last longer there, I felt there wasnít anything much to discover, at least at the moment. I remembered the map I had found as I thought about it, the more it seemed to be pointing me in a different direction. I was a little nervous since I hadnít gone in that direction in awhile, but knew the high cliffs and mountains might contain more secrets and clues. I waited for a good day to make the trek and finally it came, hot and blistering in its heat and unrelenting Ė perfect for a hike, upwards under its shady trees. I hadnít been there for many months at that point, but still knew the way. I walked outside and felt the sunís heat on my back, just as hot as I remembered. It seemed to be on a mission to defeat me before I started, but was defiant.


I stepped under the trees for a brief moment of shade, and took a deep breath. I prepared myself and looked down towards a sea of boiling concrete, laid out before me. I saw its waves of heat bouncing off the ground, flowing upwards in waves as the energy evaporated. Watching all of this made me nervous, perhaps someone was trying to tell me this wasnít such a good idea after all. I realized that it wasnít going to be easy to get back there. It was still early and I decided not to let it get to me. I began to walk towards the other side of town, carefully measuring my steps and pacing them so I wouldnít be worn out before I got there. I quickly made progress through the thick heat, walking between the crossings and busy intersections. I followed the sun, and faced into its heat fearlessly. I began walking at a fast clip and only increased my speed, until I was almost running. I moved quickly, not wanting any shadows to sneak up from behind and catch me.  It didnít take as long as I expected but it still took me quite some time to get there. I was relieved that I remembered so much about it, and that it didnít seem to have changed much. I saw the old steps in the distance, covered by thick trees and the familiar, jagged paths. I wasnít afraid to go back there and I wanted to know how different things would look with all that happened. I saw the hidden entrance and quickly slipped through the jagged gates, moving the boards and placing them back to hide my tracks. I moved quickly under the shady trees for shelter. It was still morning and I knew the heat would continue to build, but I was relieved to be there instead of exposed on the open beach for a change. The pathways remained uneven and rocky, but I could still make out the way ahead and marked my path quickly. I saw some of the familiar markings and signs and forged ahead, going deeper into the forest, quickly walking on the ascent. I remembered how it felt on my previous journey, and wondered if I would be able to locate the mysterious building again. It had been nearly invisible and could have been easy to miss, if I hadnít been persistent in locating it. I thought it might have been on the other side of the hill, but wasnít entirely sure. I decided to continue regardless, something was pointing me back.

I continued to climb towards the hillís apex and something seemed different that time. The dirt and rock-strewn paths were getting narrower and their directions werenít as straightforward as I remembered. I began to move forward at a slower pace and as I walked, the less certain I became of where I was headed. The surfaces seemed to fill with sharper rocks, unsettled branches, muddier pits, and harsher steps, making it harder to navigate. It wasnít going to stop me but I had to watch my feet to avoid tripping. The denser brush at my side and heavier branches above me made the path feel less defined and narrower. The atmosphere seemed to have gotten thicker and darker, with the air cooler, making it feel not as welcoming. I could sense that this would be a more difficult journey, and I could hear the wind begin to pick up, rustling in the branches overhead. I reached an intersection where there were two different paths forwards, neither was clearly marked. It wasnít obvious which way to go, but I could still see some distinct signs, marking their direction, marking their signsí edges. Neither of them seemed to carry more weight than the other, making it hard to decide.  My expectations were fairly modest but I didnít want to commit to a clear way forward at first. I decided to rely on my instincts and try not to make a mistake. I examined the crossing carefully and after looking closely, I was able to make some guesses. The path to the right seemed to be heading in a direction that had brought me to dead-end on my previous journey. It seemed redundant to go back. I looked towards the left side and examined it for clues. That opposite side was more promising, and it pointed me in a different direction, towards an area that I hadnít explored.

It took me a few minutes to decide but once I started moving, I could sense that I was going in the right direction. I looked at my sides and saw that the branches were spiking towards the skies, seeming to push me upwards as I walked. I began to pace my steps and didnít want to go too quickly and miss things I should have noticed. I was careful not to be noticed and kept watch for any other people out there. The trees rustled in the wind and there were times I thought I might have heard something when my footsteps stopped, but I didnít have company. I noticed my shadow had grown a little longer than it had on my previous hikes but not long enough to make a real distance. I used it to shadow my steps, counting them through the twigs and rocks beneath. I was making good progress and saw myself gradually approaching what seemed like the destination. I remembered not to go too fast but was still eager to find out what came next. A sudden gust of warm summer air breezed overhead and I felt things lighten around me. It began to feel less dense, and I noticed that the tree trunks were getting farther apart, slowly distancing themselves from one another. The path grew a little steeper as I climbed upward but it was still clear. I walked quicker and after several more minutes, I reached what appeared to be its peak. Nothing seemed to be above me and the skies above were blue once more. I reached the top of the pathway and the ground began to level out. However, a thick cluster of vines and branches was directly in front of me, blocking my view. I had gone as far as I could go. It felt like I had reached the end of the adventure, but I needed only to look closely.

As I examined the barrier, the vines and branches seemed to form a very high wall. It looked like it was at least twenty feet high, far too high for me to climb over. Iíd need to find another way through. The answer wasnít apparent. There was no obvious way through no matter what approach Iíd use. I looked at the blockade for several frustrating minutes but couldnít figure out a way to get through them, much less advance towards the destination beyond. I saw my own shadow cast on them and it seemed like it was only making it dig in its heels, a less welcoming sight. I decided to move to the side of them, and let the sunís light illuminate them, hoping it would reveal additional details. I waited for a few minutes and it didnít seem to change things very much, I waited and looked back, it was a long way down. I didnít want to retrace my steps but there didnít seem to be any choice. I couldnít quite figure out a way forward. I watched them closely for a few minutes and felt the warm sun directly on my back and it seemed to pass right through me, I saw it heating the branches and worked its way down and watched them carefully, looking for a sign or some way I could get through them. I patiently waited for something unusual and was surprised when I saw something start to change. As they heated, they seemed to grow lighter and in the twisting vines and tangled branches; I saw things I hadnít noticed emerge from the shadows. Each seemed to be placed for a reason, like brushes on canvas, and as I looked closer, previously hidden markings and symbols begin to emerge.

I noticed strangely unnatural patterns starting to form, and it almost seemed like they had been placed purposely, hidden carefully from most eyes, yet simultaneously awaiting their discovery by the right person. As the distant sun bathed them in its summer warmth, the light began revealing new details in their arrangement. Each of the vines had a number of small flowers poking out from them, and they looked tiny and almost hidden, opaque symbols only revealing themselves under the hot, bright sun. They were small and delicate and seemed to have only just bloomed, they looked like those perennials Iíd see briefly sometimes in the spring, appearing only for a few days then vanishing just as quickly. They looked surprisingly brittle, their delicate, fragile surfaces evidence of plants that might have only been in bloom a few days, It seemed that they were transient, appearing briefly each year during the hottest, brightest days of summer and only at certain times in the daylight. It was difficult for me to separate their small features from the vines, and their yellow surface leaves blended in with the normal leaves. They could have been mistaken for oddly-colored spots if you only glanced at them, but something told me to look closer. As I moved out of their way, the shadows dispersed, allowing the distant yet still strong radiant to pore through them. They seemed most radiant when the sunlight shone on them directly, irrespective of the sunlight. It seemed to work quickly, infusing them with a strange energy that made them brighten, seeming to come to life, glowing in a bright blue shade mirroring and reflecting the skies. I watched them change and moved another few steps back, allowing them to fully soak in the sun. They began to waver, almost like they were dancing. It was then that I knew the journey had been worth it, but I still had to concentrate. I knew theyíd be the key to uncovering the hidden path, a doorway that when unlocked, would reveal what was hidden behind their newly vibrant surfaces.

I shut my eyes for a few seconds and immediately felt something coming back to me. On the map, the dots had been arranged in a strange configuration. I remembered how odd and random their placement had seemed when they unexpectedly appeared, burned into view by the sun. Looking at the suddenly flowering plants, they seemed to glow even brighter as the minutes passed. They seemed to be getting almost too bright to look at directly. I had to close and start squinting my eyes, but I kept my attention on them. The more I looked, the more it seemed to bring something back to me and suddenly, the echoes returned. I recognized a strangely familiar pattern. I took some time to figure out what they meant, but their patterns emerged and I didnít take me long to realize the map that was burned into memory wasnít actually a map, but a diagram. Its changed meaning helped me understand what might have been happening. At first, I thought I was seeing things but at that point, it took me no longer to shake the doubt than a shifting shadow on the ground. Standing in front of the passage, I looked closer once more and noticed additional layers of even smaller, miniaturized buds scattered on their edges that resembled pink dots. I took half a step back, leaned down and examined their location and positioned myself on the opposite side. While their positions werenít exactly the same, they were close enough in their arrangement that I could recreate them from the shadows of the first group. It took some time for me to get them in just the right place, but I was able to make them parallel, so both layers complimented to each other. After everything was arranged in just the right configuration, I held my breath, wondering what I had done. Had it all been a mistake? The answer gradually came into view as the sun soaked into them. Its warmth seemed to permeate and undermine their natural barriers and the light recast their disposition. Their hostility evaporated as they warmed. It seemed like they had changed their mind and they opened up a path for me, creating a narrow doorway in the process. Their guard had come down and they were inviting me to go inside. I took a few steps forward and began to move the branches around carefully as not to disturb the fragile dots from their transitory spots.

As I looked at them, I was filled with anticipation but nothing seemed to be happening. Then, I felt a slow rumble under my feet. I watched and the plants seemed to stir to life, breathing in the warm air then causing a rustle in between themselves as their branches untangled, quickly releasing themselves from their long embrace. Suddenly, the mysterious fauna seemed to wake up. They heaved outward then exhaled, slipping backwards then turning into themselves, seeming to melt away under the sun. They gradually dispersed from their close embrace, and slipped their fingers from one another, slowly opening up. The branches seemed to fold up into themselves, leaving a narrow opening that I could walk through. I knew it wouldnít last and I hurried through, walking nearly sideways while not trying to disturb them. It wasnít as deep behind as I thought it would be, but it felt like something had been lifted from my feet which suddenly felt lighter. I carefully navigated through the passage and reached the opposing side. Looking back towards the branches, I saw them close up quickly behind me and there were no flowers on the other side. There was another group of thickets ahead of me, but they werenít impermeable, and I knew something was on the other side. I waited nervously for a few minutes and tried to decide what to do. I knew that I wasnít going to back the same way. There wasnít really any reason for me to be there and as I scanned around, there didnít seem to be anything else out of the ordinary. It would have been simple to give up and turn back towards home, dismissing the odd events as a summer mirage, nothing more than an illusion created by the hot sun. Given all that had happened, I realized that giving up at that point would be a mistake. Somehow, I knew things were just getting started.


I traveled quite a distance to get there and decided to listen to my instincts and keep going forward. I wasnít going let a few minor obstacles block my path forward. I didnít want to let my efforts go to waste. I had already passed a few barriers, and I decided that the remaining ones wouldnít stand in my way. I stood at the edge of the forest and waited for a moment, nervous to go beyond the last group of bushes. I didnít know what to expect when I reached the other side. I looked at the trees waving and rowing in the wind, they almost seemed to be tilting in the other direction, moving backwards, heading against the wind and towards the beach and shoreline in the distance. I carefully pushed some of the branches aside and moved through the breach barely stepping on the ground. I felt them lifting me upward as I moved through them, their branches rising beneath me. I maneuvered myself through carefully, watching for any hidden signs or symbols and quickly dispersed their branches that were blocking my path. It took me a few minutes to get the hang of balancing on their thick branches but I was careful to move slowly as not to fall through. There were a few missteps and one of my feet would slip through and dangle in the air briefly. However, I was able to quickly right myself and resume the hike. I seemed to be climbing upward and before I knew it, I was in another place. When I looked below, I saw the grassy and muddy surface was twenty and quickly, thirty feet beneath me. Without realizing it, I found myself walking upwards through the trees. I nervously balanced myself on their branches and began to measure my steps more carefully, looking ahead and beneath, wondering where it was leading.

(Continue to part two)