The Stray Diagram - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Stray Diagram

We embarked on another long journey but her renewed presence, far from indicating some kind of conclusion seemed only to create additional anxiety. There were still plenty I didnít understand and it felt like I was starting another intense encounter before I could process the events of the last few days. We were racing towards the unknown and I wasnít sure I was prepared for what she had planned. I grew increasingly nervous the longer we sat there with no way of knowing how much farther we had to go. I found myself fidgeting nervously with my feet, occasionally looking outside. There was nothing to see when I looked into the small, seemingly blocked window but I kept hoping something might show up that would give me some indication of movement. There was nothing but night and darkness surrounding us. It made me unable to figure out exactly where we were going. Instead of enjoying the ride, as I was able to do a few days earlier on our boat excursion, I found myself growing increasingly nervous and impatient. Over the past few weeks, many things I had used as guides had disappeared and I found myself completely lost, without anything to aid in navigation.

On top of that, it had already been a tiring journey but it felt like I wasnít much closer to the end than I was when it had all begun. There wasnít much I could do as the machine propelled itself ever deeper into an unforgiving night. I looked around as the engines began to stir once more, growing ever louder intensity as it speeded forward. I felt the ground beneath us as we moved over it. Icy, slick and, rocky, the uneven surface plowed under its sharp wheels, grinding beneath its relentless velocity. I looked ahead and the motion seemed unstoppable. I looked directly ahead and the controllerís window was blocked. I had no idea who was controlling things. She was almost eerily serene about our situation. I placed my hand on the door and it was quite cold, there was only the thinnest barrier protecting us from the cold. I heard the engines roar and chug ahead, plowing through the darkness, not knowing exactly where it was taking us. I winced as we hit some apparent bumps. It threw me off guard and these disruptions broke the silence, their jolts unsettling my disposition. It was dim, drafty and the side-windows only revealed frigid expanses.

I looked towards her direction and she was surprisingly calm, I found it strangely reassuring, at least there was someone who knew what was going on. The engines continued to roar beneath us, rattling the seats as we continued towards our next destination. I allowed myself to relax for a moment and closed my eyes. The rumbling enginesí consistent noise began to shift into the background, this let me take stock of what was happening. I was able to see things differently, and despite a few sporadic jolts, I was finally at ease enough to think about things. I allowed myself to drift back in time, mostly towards what had happened earlier that day out on the field. I wondered what had stopped me from going inside that house, though I had my suspicions someone might have been watching me. I found myself quickly trying to piece together the mysterious events I had encountered earlier, and thought about who might have been following me as I walked out on the field. I hadnít heard a sound or seen a shadow behind me. Before I could really get into anything, there was a jarring crashing noise that woke me up from my temporary slumber.

I felt the engines slowly come to a sudden apex, the gears seeming to grind and crash, making our seats roll and shake. It felt like they were going to come out of their bearings and fall over. I opened my eyes and she was still sitting there calmly beside the dark window. None of this seemed to rattle her, and this made me think it might have all been part of a plan, or at leas the expected consequences of one. I looked around and there was no significant visible change, the windows were still dark, nothing seemed to have changed. The vehicle began to slow noticeably, and the engines slowly subsided as well, the shaking reduced enough that I no longer held onto them for balance, I reclined a little and let the gravity come back enough that I could shake it off, the unease seemed to relieve itself, I watched the windows and there was still no sign of anything outside, the machine slowed gradually, until it was barely moving. I watched her take a moment to catch her breath. The machine came to stop and there was silence. It came as a relief, and when it finally stopped moving completely, I knew that we had finally arrived at the next stage. I waited for her to take the lead but she sat down for what felt like an eternal minute or two. She stood up and walked towards the door, and then paused once more, taking a looking back at me, signaling that it was safe for me to join her before opening the door and embarking on the next steps on the journey.

I walked towards her side and stood at the edge of the doorway, unsure what I would see. I waited behind her and peeked ahead. An inky darkness dominated the skies above and there were no stars that I could see. Either they had slipped away completely or were covered by some strange clouds, I looked below and didnít see anything at first, but as my eyes focused and adjusted to the lower light, I saw the outlines of what looked like massive mountains, scrolling upwards in the distance. She stepped down off the vehicle without further hesitation and held her hand out to guide me on the way down. I felt the surface below on my feet when I landed, the icy sheets seemed slicker and less stable than they had on the other side of the cold expanse. I looked towards the mysterious vehicle, and watched its door close behind us. It windows remained opaque and I couldnít see who or what had been piloting it. She waved towards it and its engines turned on again. It began to glide away from us, moving deliberately at first the quickly accelerating, vanishing quickly in the distance, leaving as quickly as it had arrived. We found ourselves alone out there, with nothing to protect us from the cold and dark. I felt completely lost and vulnerable but she didnít seem concerned. I decided to stay close to her and wondered where she had would take us next.

I looked towards the mountains in the distance nervously, dreading another long walk ahead of us. They seemed to be impossibly far away, their tall peaks cutting into the sky, making for an intimidating presence. She stood there silently for a few minutes and this made my anxiety grow. I wondered if she was setting me up for another tiring journey. She began to walk ahead of me, and seemed to maneuvering herself into a distinct position under the skies. I didnít understand how she was able to ascertain her location but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. There wasnít any reason for me not to at that point. I had learned to trust her, even when things hadnít been immediately clear. She knelt down and crouched on the frozen surface and seemed to move her hands above the ice, swirling some of the frozen icicles around in the process. Reaching inside her bag, she took out her small light device and placed it on the ground. She set it on its place and stood back from it for a moment, making sure it was standing in the right direction. She took her bag and folded it back up, clutching its sides together quickly. She reached down and began turning its dials, quickly turning them in rapid succession until they seemed to be in the right position. Standing back from it a bit, it began to come back to life. Its lights reached upwards towards the skies. It took awhile for the machine to warm up and their beacons were dim and weak at first, causing little noticeable effect on our surroundings.

As the device warmed, it seemed to adjust to the colder environment and started to strengthen. It began to whirl and hum and its gears seemed to increase their velocity. It began to roar like a small engine and the beams it created gradually began to strengthen and brighten. They illuminated us and began to surround us in their eerie green light. This seemed to form a kind of protective barrier around us that also warmed us to a degree, blocking the wind and bitter chill. As they lit the night, the engine began to hum and I could sense it absorbing some energy, from far above us. This seemed to strengthen it further and the beams of light it emitted seemed to grow stronger and brighter with each moment. After a few minutes our surroundings grew almost supernaturally warm. I squinted, almost closing my eyes for half a moment, and felt a sudden rush of warmth and, for a moment it felt like we were standing in the middle of a greenhouse, the waves of green and yellow resembled an indoor garden. The chill subsided, dissipating quickly as the wind evaporated. I looked around and felt a strange sense of calm and serenity. I was no longer as afraid as the pressures from the external forces seemed to evaporate. I was able to let it go for a few minutes as I walked slowly through the warm gusts of air, surrounded by a serene, quietly glowing green light.

For the moment, it was calm and quiet. I felt the pressure lift from my mind, and even the temporary release was welcome. I no longer had to keep moving forward and tried to make sense of some of the encounters we had, some of which I didnít understand. It wasnít just a single event, but the accumulation that had become confusing for me. I needed a moment to process everything and take stock. I took a deep breath and let the warmth come inside me, absorbing its fresh energy seemed to recalibrate my steps. I no longer felt like there was something blocking me. My feet lifted freely into the air, and there was a temporary renewal of clarity. As I walked further, the ground began to change character, going from icy and cold to warm and inviting. It felt like it was warming up with each step until I almost felt like I was walking on sand. Further down, the greens intensified and began mixing with yellows, creating an even more luxurious environment for us. Almost vanishing in the heat, my sense of mission began to dissolve as I felt the warmth. I saw her walking ahead of me and when I got close to her, I felt the unmistakable sensation, which resembled the feeling of a summer breeze, flowing towards us, seeming out of time, reverberating and echoing through time, from a distant ocean of unknown origin and purpose. I finally caught up and stood alongside her. I looked at her and something seemed off; she didnít seem to have experienced the same reaction I did.

It was a relief to shake off the chill but I hadnít anticipated how sheíd respond. The warmth felt relaxing to me, but seemed to unsettle her. She seemed perplexed for a minute. The heat quickly intensified until I almost felt hot. When I looked at the machine, it seemed like it had actually grown too hot and its gears began to grind and shake, like it was overheating. I pointed this out to her and she took quick action, running towards. Keeping a careful distance, she adjusted the dials using the edges of her shoes until its intensity lowered a few degrees. She waited for another moment for the air to settle and cool further. The heat began to level off and subside, but not enough. She returned and quickly turned its dials while pushing different sequences on its buttons.  It didnít seem to work, and I watched her take another shot at the dials. There was some response, but nothing substantial. It wasnít until she used her foot to nudge them, almost seeming to kick them that seemed to set all the dials in their correct locations. Satisfied, she looked at it and stepped back. Looking above towards the skies, she watched the light beams slowly diverge into pieces, separating from one another, expanding until they filled the skies. The lines began to glow brighter and then shifted further apart. They began to drift into place and their distance made them split into smaller beams. The sharp lines separated the skies, dividing them into visible sections that resembled squares. This made the seemingly alien, intimidating expanses that surrounded us shrink. As the world seemed smaller, that strange place became more manageable, and our surroundings didnít feel as oppressive or frightening.

This division created what looked like a field of dozens of narrow green laser lights that pointed upward, shooting into the darkness. At first, they seemed to disappear into the void, flickering against the night. Then, I saw thing begin to reflect back into them, glimpses of light and dots that cycled back onto one another. The patterns began to shift and scatter, seeming to move with the wind. I stood silently and watched the sharp lines. They looked like they were dancing, forming elaborate maneuvers that seemed to twist through one another. I watched the lines spread apart, bend and gyrate in seemingly endless combinations. They effortlessly played with each other, exchanging positions as they maneuvered in seamless motions beneath the night stars. Shimmering in an extra-sensory, wordless exuberance and unfettered by space or time, the glowing lights interspersed between the stars, their waves beaming brightly above our heads.

Their unconstrained paths invoked fireworks and exploding missles as they shot like sharp arrows into the farthest reaches, illuminating the nocturnal domicile. Saturating the environments, they seemed to soak in its energy simultaneously, building intensity and gaining strength with each pulsating wave. Narrow bands began to split off and this further diminished the light, the quick bursts of light overpowering the others. I watched her and she seemed more distant from the events, observing them in a different manner than I thought she would. She was more interested in timing and checking them, and didnít seem that surprised or impressed by the extensive supernatural light show they had created. It seemed that she had seen something like that many times before. I stood beneath them quietly, respectfully of her experimentís progress, not wanting to get in the way or interfere. It was difficult to stand still among the chaotic lights and noise, but I decided to focus on the patterns, symbols and colors, and let them move in my place. There was another strong gust of wind that seemed to disrupt their operations. They responded in an unexpected way and began to move even more randomly, splitting in different directions. They settled down as she reached down to the machine and adjusted its settings. They began to slow and came to a stop. They began to shift direction and started scanning the environments, using arrays of clustered, straight parallel lines that streaked across the skies. It was unclear what they were searching for, but when I looked closely at their patterns and timing, I began to observe a deliberate method and technique emerging.

After a few minutes seeking out just the right place, they seemed to converge on a single spot in the distance, above the mountains. Some of the beams began to coalesce, then others joined in. Once they combined, they created a single sharp line that punctured the night sky. It stated to waver and turned into several directions, spinning and cycling through various points in the distance until it began to settle on another favored point, right above us. It began to edge closer towards our position before finally setting on a small section only a few dozen feet from our location. It that point, it began to glow brightly as it stopped in place, indicating where we needed to go. She stood there for a moment, and seemed pleased by the process, which had gone smoother than she might have expected. I watched her carefully move toward the spot illuminated them. I watched carefully as she stood there for a moment, until she began to walk directly under its light. Despite our previous encounters, Iíd never seen her as confident in what she was doing or where she was going. Subsequently, her movements looked highly deliberate and she seemed unstoppable. She wasnít going to be dissuaded, nothing would stop her. It seemed that everything was going according to plan. She took control of the situation, and it seemed that her timing was perfect. The frigid winds subsided, the cold lifted it grip and the frozen world suddenly felt somehow warmer and more welcoming. I couldnít understand how she did it, and it didnít matter at that moment. I was just relieved to get some relief from the relentless chill.

I remained a bit hesitant but, as my feet unfroze, I weighed my options and decided to face my fears. I took a few cautious steps closer towards the bright light, navigating the slippery ice carefully. I walked swiftly, almost jogging, then after traversing several dozen feet, I slowed on approach. She maintained her lead, keeping several feet ahead. She gained momentum but slowed as she grew close to position. I stopped for a break and looked around carefully. The transformation was unexpected, the distant mountain peaks and dark expanses now seemed protective. My perception of the stars in the distance changed, their points became destinations instead of obstacles. I arrived underneath the glowing light several minutes after her. I stood there, absorbing the new perspective. I allowed myself a moment to catch my breath. Gradually, the atmosphere began to calm and reassert itself beneath the mysterious light. As it intensified further, our immediate surroundings warmed and the air thinned, but it didnít feel processed or artificial the second time. I took in a deep relaxing breath and felt the warm air gliding through me.

It seemed to give me a renewed energy and I felt my tired feet release their tense muscles. I watched the night above and it seemed to have changes, the stars and lines had shifted positions and there almost seemed something like a map forming. After much waiting, it seemed that we had found seemingly countless paths from nowhere. I had no idea which path weíd take, they all seemed so promising. I saw her looking above, I tried to keep all the paths in mind. She pulled out her machine and it began to emit a series of blue flashes, seeming to catalog each path. It scanned most of them quickly and I heard a kind of booming sound, then silence. It had apparently finished its task. I watched her move a few steps back towards the edge of the light. She waved for me to join her and I began reluctantly wandering. I began to walk back towards the machine as she began to quickly turn its dials and levers. She did this until the beams and lights converged into a single point, which began to shine brightly, illuminating the frigid darkness with its tranquil green light.

The lights began to erupt into bursts as they intensified, brightening the sky and focusing their energy into a single location. The came together and began forming a transient small port. It began glowing in bright green shades, holding together brightly, its surface spreading outward, standing against the night skies. She began walking towards the machine at the other side of the clearing. She took the machine in her hand and began working its dials, effortlessly adjusting its previously frozen dials, moving her fingers along its surface with little effort or hesitation. She seemed to know exactly what each one did and how to use it. She turned the dials towards the center, which caused the machine to shut down. She folded its side panels until their edges were flush at the side. It seemed to shrink, but not enough to carry. Working intently to shut it off, she turned the dials in the opposite direction. The machine let off a loud beep and pulled its antenna back inside. In just a few seconds, the machine had reduced itself and was only around half its original size.

She was efficient, transforming the machine effortlessly and observing carefully while it reverted to its base, taking on a slim, compact form. Taking the miniaturized object from the cold ground, she brushed off the ice from its peripheries, wrapped its dangling wires around its side and effortlessly hid it inside her satchel. The portal doorway began to destabilize, wavering as its energy buckled. She examined it for few moments and hurriedly turned towards my direction. She walked towards me and held up her arm, waving for me to join her. I ran and quickly came along, standing beside her. It took me few moments to build up the courage and prepare myself for whatever was next. It seemed that I finally caught up her, only to go back to the beginning once more. I stood there with some trepidation, unsure of what was inside the portal. I was reluctant to leave the oasis of warmth and calm for another journey into the breach, but I had no choice. The portal slowly lost its energy and its outlines began faltering. We had to keep going forward; the door wouldnít stay open forever.

We walked a few steps closer and found ourselves at the edge of the green light. It was beginning to slip away but still strong enough to consume the surroundings. She grabbed my hand and pulled me forward. I closed my eyes and held my breath for a moment, reluctantly walking the final few steps until we crossed the latest threshold. It seemed particularly difficult to get to that point. I was still uncertain why it had taken so long to get there, but she had persisted in pulling me there, and I had little reason to doubt her. She noticed that my eyes were closed and she yelled at me to open them. I quickly saw streaks of green light shifting ahead of us, at a frightening speed. I felt a strange surge of energy pulsing through our position, propelling us into what felt like another dimension. Following her lead, I took another step forward and didnít feel anything beneath my feet; it felt like ground had dropped away. I held onto her hand even tighter, feeling like I would drop into eternity if I did. She walked a few steps further and the green streaks grew ever more intense, flickering past us even faster, the surging power seeming to overwhelm us. In a moment, it felt like we were sinking, then falling and then a massive surge came, which knocked me off balance, causing us both to large tumble. She released my hand as we fell into the green light, but she remained calm. After falling for a few moments, our descent began to slow, and I felt something beneath rise quickly to catch us. We had hit some kind of ground, immediately halting our descent. I looked around and saw that she was still beside me, but nothing else looked familiar.

(continue to part two)