Voice Module








In Memory
Sean Pettibone




The Summer Door (part two)

I took a few nervous steps forward, looking beneath my carefully and quickly made progress. I climbed over the branches until I finally reached a point where they weren’t brushing against each other. I became more careful in avoiding the branches, which helped me go move faster but I was still relatively careful, not wanting to fall to my doom. As I got towards the other side of the forest, the tree branches started to narrow and I began to feel them bowing under my weight, which made it difficult to keep my balance I drew closer towards the edge of the trees and could see a clearing with a field straight ahead. It seemed flat and empty but also strangely familiar. I took a few more steps forward until I reached the end of the branch and jumped onto a smaller portion extending out below them, barely completing the first jump. When I landed, I noticed that there was a long space between the edge of the branch and the ground below and I looked ahead carefully. I was almost there, and I estimated it at about fifty feet across towards a clearing section. Walking carefully, I navigated the middle of the path until I reached its outskirts. Looking out, I saw a large field of grass sprung high, fully grown under the hot sun. It was about half as tall as me, much stronger and thicker than the lawn grass I was used to. I looked across towards the opposite side and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary, there was nothing on the other side that I could see.

I watched for some sign of where to go next, and walked around the edges of the field for a few minutes. I thought back to some of my previous encounters and journeys though, but this time felt different. There was no feeling that something was calling or guiding me. I moved forward carefully, and looked back towards the thicket of trees and wondered if I had made another mistake, had I reached another dead end? I looked back towards the field and watched the undiluted grasses on the field, standing quietly in front of me. I moved closer towards them and out of the shadows, and squinted under the sun’s immutable, inescapable light. Each step brought me further into its glare, and I could feel the heat from its distant reflection, almost burning through my shirt. The higher altitude seemed to intensify its heat and the thinning trees provided less protection than I anticipated. I looked down towards the ground and saw that it was drier and dustier on the surface, and the rocks seemed like they’d been under the sun for a long time, with smooth, blank surfaces that made them seem more like stones. I walked into the taller grass and tried to move towards the center, moving slowly under the heat. As I moved closer, their stalks remained at the same height, but the ground beneath them seemed to drop lower and before I knew it, they had risen to eye level. I couldn’t see where I was going but I decided to keep moving forward. It wasn’t that long before I found myself moving back up again and in a few minutes, I stood before the opposite side, back on safe ground. I looked back onto the field where I had just crossed. It seemed to shimmer under the heat, the tall grass seeming to boil under the heat, but I had made it to that point without getting into trouble.

I was fortunate enough to locate a safe spot to land, but I wondered where I was, exactly. I wondered what had drawn me all the way out there I found myself on the other side from the forest and looked around carefully. Nothing in my immediate surroundings seemed out of place or but the air seemed a little bit thinner and cooler. When I looked into the thick trees and tall brush in front of me, I felt frustrated. It felt like I had traveled all that way only to encounter another imposing, difficult barrier standing in my path. The forest was just as dense on that side, and it felt claustrophobic, closed int. I looked around and it didn’t seem especially welcoming. There weren’t any branches extending outward and the branches seemed almost menacing, crossing each other to form X’s, and things that seemed to tell me not to enter. I looked a bit towards the north side when I noticed something unexpected. Peeking out from between the trees, there was what looked like an unusual shadow. Standing in the fringes of the forest, I couldn’t quite make it out but when I walked closer, I saw the outlines of what looked like an abandoned structure there, one that seemed almost hidden beneath the thick brush and branches. I walked down across the sand to get a little closer, and I noticed its windows were covered in boards. The brick walkway in front of it was broken and half-covered. The small shack looked like it was about to fall in on itself, with its chimney half-gone and collapsed above while its doorway seemed to be sealed shut. I decided to walk around the back but held my distance. As I walked around onto the building’s side, It didn’t look particularly safe. It was in worse shape than it seemed initially. I went towards the back and had to maneuver past its dilapidated boards and the surroundings covered in shards of wood and broken glass. The windows had a smashed-in appearance with peeled paint. They were covered by thick curtains and I couldn’t look inside. As I walked further back, I had to step over sharp, broken nails scattered underneath, covering the ground in front of the doorway. The building seemed to waver, buckling under the heat. I tried to walk on the porch, but it was unstable, creaking under my feet. It seemed disheveled and uneven, and I sensed something strange about when I reached the rear of the building.

As I turned towards the back of the structure, I encountered a small fence surrounding its back yard. It was an attempt at dividing it from the wild, but it wasn’t high enough to block me. I searched for another entrance and saw two additional doors. One was on the ground and led to the basement, but was covered by a thick metal casing that I knew there was no way I could open. However, when I looked to the right, there was another standard back door. Like the front, it was sealed, and nailed shut, another dead end. I looked a little thinner and shorter than the front door and it was hanging slightly off its hinges. I walked closer towards it, positioning myself unevenly onto the back steps. I could hear the boards creaking under my feet, and slowly walked towards the entrance. I walked even closer and hesitated. I wasn’t sure that I should go inside, it seemed a little bit dangerous, and despite my long journey, the unstable structure didn’t seem like it was safe to enter. I stood back and examined the door, and there weren’t any signs or markings on it. It looked like nobody had been there for a long time, it had gone untended. I walked close enough to put my hand on its small red rounded knob and started to move, but it wouldn’t budge. I tried to push the door in and out, and turned the ball a few more times, but the result didn’t change. Despite its age and worn appearance, the wooden back door wouldn’t surrender an inch either.

Standing in back of the mysteriously empty, seemingly abandoned structure, I found myself choosing between two different paths. I wanted to figure out a way to get inside the building but it looked like it might collapse at any moment. I knew if there was an accident or something happened, there wouldn’t be anyone nearby to help. I stepped back for a bit and looked over its exterior walls, scanning for some type of indication of what I should do. I watched for some kind of change, but it remained stoic and unmoving, the trees indirectly showering it with cover, blocking any sunlight from getting through. The longer I stood there, the more nervous I became. A part of me knew there was something I was missing. I remembered how the other puzzles had been unlocked, and tried to fit them in that situation. Looking at things from a different angle sometimes helped. I took another look at the house but it defied my attempts to locate an entrance, it seemed like it wanted to be left alone. I stood there for awhile longer. I examined it for a minute but it wouldn’t reveal its secrets. In one last effort, I went to the other side, and walked on the path on the other side of the house. I don’t know what I would find, but I knew I had to continue.

When I turned the corner, things looked darker and colder. The trees overhung the shack and their thicker, with their branches blocking the distant sunlight. There was a cold draft and it chilled the air, cooling it until it nearly felt like autumn. I walked nervously onto the side path and saw an old wooden ladder standing against the building’s wall. It was angled slightly, but didn’t seem sturdy. It looked like it had been sitting idly, undisturbed for what could have been years. Its weathered, cracked appearance revealed it hadn’t been used for a long time. Its rungs barely hung together, with its large splinters extending from its boards seeming to hold it together. I walked closer and tried to move it, but it didn’t seem to want to move. When I looked above there was a short, squat door with a port hatch window, almost hidden beneath a small awning. I walked looked closer and saw something I wasn’t expecting. In the glass, there was cheery, almost tranquil summer scene etched into the glass. I saw a bright summer sun overlooking a beach, white clouds and a summer umbrella. Beyond that, the picture showed a boat lazily sailing over the water in the distance. It made my heart drop to the ground. I wondered whether it was a coincidence, or some kind of message. I was immediately overcome with conflicting, feelings and had to step back and catch my breath. I found myself squinting and looking in surprise, not really believing what was in front of me. As I stood there and felt an unsettling sensation, my heart began to sink. It was the last thing I was expecting to see when I set out that morning. The moment I saw it, the memories of previous encounters came flooding back.

I was immediately torn about how to respond to that discovery. I was immediately tempted to go up the ladder and find out more, but something held me back. I glanced down at the ladder, and it looked completely unusable, its unstable back shaking and swaying at my slightest touch. There was no way it wouldn’t collapse the moment I stepped on the first rung. My thoughts began to swirl in circles, there had to be another way for me to climb up there. Even if I did, the window was too small for me to pass through, no way to figure out what was on the other side. I stood there for a moment, my head pressed upward and looked it over. I had reached the place I wanted to go, but my progress had come to a halt. There was no way inside. This was frustrating, but the prospect of going inside also made me nervous, it seemed like something was telling me not take the risk. I stepped forward and attempted to climb the ladder, but hesitated. Despite all my efforts, somehow I knew it wouldn’t work. I took another look at the window and while the outside might have seemed bright and sunny, there was no way of knowing what was underneath. It seemed like it was kind of trap, a deception designed to trick me, or some kind of reverse message. I wasn’t sure of its origins, but decided it would be better not to mess around with things.

I took a moment and surveyed the configuration of the ladder, it seemed to be just about the right height for me to reach the window, but I doubted it would be strong enough to keep me up there for long. If it collapsed, I’d be stranded in the middle of nowhere, with no one to help. I retraced my steps and move back a bit and looked at it from a different angle. I moved around, wondering if there was some way to look inside, to see what the painting was covering. No matter where I stood, its opaque surface kept its secrets hidden from view. I thought about moving the ladder, thinking that might change things, but thought better of it. As I stood there, everything started to make sense, but not in a good way. I realized that the building didn’t want me to go inside. I knew that it wasn’t where I was supposed to be.  Perhaps, there were things I shouldn’t know and wouldn’t want to find out. I began to understand what the message was. It seemed that there was some kind of invisible barrier forming in front of the ladder. Whether it was instinct, fear or maybe a bit of both, everything I saw was warning me not to go inside. I felt the cool air rushing underneath my feet, brushing against and going right through my body, like I wasn’t there. I looked up and while nothing had moved, everything looked different. It somehow became more menacing, even the tranquil beach scene had developed a look that come closer to resembling a warning with each passing moment. There was an unwelcome undercurrent that I sensed, like cascading waves churning with increasing intensity under my feet. It was almost like the ground itself was swirling and liquidizing, turning into a threatening kind of muddy quick sand. I knew I needed to get out in a hurry. My feet felt like they were sinking. It seemed like it had grown impatient with me and wanted me to end my unexpected intrusion.

It knew something was hidden behind the picture, but my curiosity had almost completely ebbed. Everything kept intensifying; the signals told me that it was time to leave. As I looked around, I quickly realized there were certain mysteries better left undiscovered. Sensing that I had reached a dead end, I decided that further exploration would only cause more problems. I looked around for an exit. I panicked when I looked up towards the direction of the clearing. I felt hemmed in and everything suddenly felt like it was closing inward. The path ahead was blocked by thick trees and offered no easy way out. I looked down and the thick forest behind seemed to offer no respite either, I didn’t panic and instead decided to retrace my steps and quickly turned around. I quickly headed back the way I came. I ran back around the shack and almost sprinted back up the path, I took a moment and looked back and saw the outlines of it nearly completely obscured behind the trees. It seemed to have dissolved back into the forest, its secrets still safe from prying eyes. As I got further away, I felt my feet grip the ground more firmly. I slowed down and walked back in at a more normal pace until I reached relative safety, arriving at edge of the clearing with a sense of relief. The sun was bright once more, and the tall grass there created a barrier that seemed to protect me from the distant, recessed shadows under the trees. It felt good to be standing on solid ground once more, where things were visible. I looked back and there was no sign of the mysterious building. I walked further into the clearing to get further away, I could feel its shadow disappearing behind me, and it seemed to shrink as continued walking briskly under the sunlight, evaporating under the heat.  By the time I reached the middle of the field, I was almost out of breath. I turned around one last time and tried to locate its outline, but I could no longer pick out where it was. It had vanished completely beneath the trees, silently reclaiming its secrets.

- Michael Palisano