The Submerged Dial - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Submerged Dial

It took a few moments for me to realize that we had actually escaped the danger. My heart was still beating quickly and my fear hadn’t subsided. It was an adjustment I wasn’t anticipating. I was running one moment, and then I saw her unexpectedly. Before I knew it, we were surrounded by an eerie, pulsating yellow light. It seemed that she had rescued me from what could have ended badly, but I knew that wasn’t what had actually happened. I realized something deeper had been going on, though I didn’t know for how long and for what reason. Despite this, it was a relief to be out of trouble, the only problem was I didn’t know what she had planned next. The world seemed to have evaporated and I had no idea where she’d taken us. The noise and fear had been vanquished. The creatures were gone, but the chase was still swirling around in my head, my feet were still running even though I was standing still. I looked around and everything was calm and unexpectedly quiet. There was nothing chasing me, I should have been able to relax.

I no longer felt the ground shaking and rolling beneath my feet. It took a few minutes for my nerves to settle, but I slowly regained balance. I found my way back towards the front of the light, sensing its source. I took a few more moments to regain my equilibrium, and stepped cautiously behind her. As I moved closer, the mysterious light brightened and intensified. Its strange glow seemed artificial, but the edges filled in more as we waited. I wasn’t completely convinced that she was actually creating this, but the longer I stood there, the more it seemed real. This gave our temporal surroundings a veneer of protection and safety. I still felt my heart beating quickly and I could feel the energy still pulsating throughout me, though it slowly subsided. She walked towards me and seemed unnaturally calm, unaffected by the danger we faced down. Impatiently waving the device around she quickly scanned me for any damage, and decided that I was probably fine. She reassured me and said not to be alarmed, despite the near-miss scare. I was relieved that we weren’t going back to the forest, at least not for awhile.

I knew there was more going on than I realized, but decided to keep any questions to myself, at least for the time being. I wasn’t expecting to find myself in that position and needed time to adjust to the unexpected rescue. I looked around and scanned for signs of where exactly she had taken me, but there was nothing for me to go on. The light began to waver, and it seemed to condense, collapsing into its space. Standing alongside her, we watched it closing down, compressing and shrinking. I looked around and it looked like we were in some kind of dark corridor, machines and objects were scattered around us, piled up on tables. It took me a few moments, but I realized we were back in the laboratory. The room was smaller and narrow than I remembered. The floors didn’t extend as long, there was only a single table I could see and it seemed to have different array of objects. The doors and exits were in different positions. I didn’t understand how everything could have shifted around without that much time passing. At first this was confusing, but it seem to bother her, she knew where everything was an instinctively walked around. Perhaps, we had arrived at a different lab, in a different place. It was already confusing, so I decided that it was just my mind playing tricks on me, I hadn’t been there long enough previously to memorize its exact proportions. In any case, it didn’t seem like it would affect the mission ahead.

She walked towards me and put a strange machine on my arm then seemed to pull it down, to scan body, moving from my head towards the heart. I wasn’t sure what she was doing, but knew that she had formed a connection with me somehow. I trusted her on some unexplainable level, and allowed her to take the measurements, despite not knowing their purpose. Before I knew it, the machine began to click and make noises, signaling its task was complete. She pulled it downward and placed it on the table. I watched its levers and dials stop and the machine automatically folded up, receding into a smaller form. It resembled a small metal triangle sitting unobtrusively on the table.  Its functions and purpose obscured by its shimmering exterior, the device compressed into a flat triangle on the surface. She took her other main machine from its bag and its small beams powered-up quickly, lighting up the room. She aimed them at the wall, where they came together began to form a large rectangle on the other side of the room. Scanning across the wall, it seemed to appear from nothing but a form gradually emerged. It appeared to build itself, working upwards. It quickly scanned across the energy field until it created a doorway. It pulsed in quick waves, proceeding to build a kind of portal that we could walk through. Placing the machine at her side, she walked towards the portal and began to wave towards me. There was no time for us to dwell on the past. The opportunity wouldn’t last forever. She’d given me another chance, I wasn’t about to hesitate and walked towards her quickly, almost running. I took her hand in mine and she pushed me ahead of her as we jumped forward, leaping into the light.

It only took a moment, but the darkness was quickly overwhelmed. I looked around and was blinded, unable to make my way. At first, I couldn’t feel anything beneath my feet and felt like I was floating. I wasn’t expecting that and felt my heart bracing for the next attack. I felt alone at first, but felt her hand grasping mine. We continued to fall, but I realized I wasn’t being thrust out there alone. We seemed to be falling for a few moments and then seemed to stop. There was something under my feet, much to my relief. I took a few steps until I was able to feel the ground and quickly walked forward. I released my hand and moved until I’d left the light and was back in something resembling reality. The bright lights had subsided and we found ourselves walking under a strange moon that clashed with the night, making the darkness subside. She waited patiently for me to soak it all in, allowing me a moment to adjust. She was growing impatient and I had to pick up the pace. We walked down a narrow path on the side of a river. It looked rocky and dangerous but there seemed to be no other way. It looked like a long way on the horizon but we moved quickly. I felt a bit lost until we encountered another faint light. This one was lower, close to the edge of the horizon. It brightened as we traveled further into this strange world. I looked up and saw the outlines of thick clouds that formed, blocking our view of the skies.

She turned to me and waved her arms, which seemed to break up the clouds. I didn’t quite understand how she was able to do this, but she did. As they separated, I could see them shifting beneath the glow of the uncharacteristically bright, green-hued moon. It didn’t have the familiar glow and it seemed to be staring directly down on us, pinpointing our arrival. It seemed to have been expecting us. It had been a long night, traveling a long distance but still managing to arrive earlier than anticipated. She stood and surveyed the path before us. Each jangled angle on the path seemed to lead inexorably to the same place, a strange landing that looked small and vulnerable, yet beckoned us to walk. It looked like a long way down, and I wasn’t exactly sure what was waiting for us so far below, but she didn’t seem to be worried about what was waiting there beneath the long flight of stairs. I felt her hands on my shoulder, and I paused for a moment. I looked at her and she seemed to know exactly where we had ended up. It took me a few minutes to realize exactly where we were headed. The path took a sharp turn to the left and our goal slowly came into view as we changed direction. I recognized some familiar walkways and surroundings. I recognized some of the landmarks as we walked. I remembered going over some them, they formed a picture and I soon realized that we had apparently returned to that mysterious island. We’d gotten stranded there on our last encounter when our boat disappeared, leaving suddenly. Reaching the same part of the shore was strange. In some ways, it was like we’d never left.

The water seemed to be pushing and pulling at the edges of our feet, seemingly in recognition of our return. I looked around and searched for any sign of the boat, but there was none. I looked towards her to see if she remembered, and apparently she did. She pointed out towards the water, and waved her arms in a circle, which seemed to signify emptiness, though I couldn’t be sure. It seemed that she was signaling for some reason, but there was no response. I didn’t comprehend the purpose of her motions but knew there was something else she wanted me to see. There was much more that I hadn’t explored. She looked down towards the shore and it looked different than I remembered. It seemed to be possessed in a different character. It felt intimidating, not the way I expected. Its pathway seemed cold and dark, there was none of the summer warmth I’d felt last time. I scanned around to see if anything else had appeared, but there was nothing. I watched and she began walking towards the other side of the island, not the side I associated with most of our previous adventure. She reached the top of a hill and looked down. An array of diverging paths was visible, and while I had no idea which on to take, she seemed to know exactly where she was headed. I followed her towards the fencing, and walked along the edge of the mountain until we reached an opening that revealed a long set of steep narrow stairs leading towards other areas below. I was nervous and the height was a much more than I expected. She didn’t seem worried went ahead of me, quickly moving down towards the shoreline below.

I nervously walked onto the first step, carefully maintaining my balance, and looked down, making myself a little dizzy in the process. I had to take a deep breath but my fear subsided quickly. I caught up to her after a few minutes and. We began to slowly scale down the hill and moved towards another confluence of twisting pathways. We’d been there before but something had changed in the way it felt. It was autumn, of course, but there seemed to more than that going on.  We turned on a sharp corner where I felt an unexpectedly cool mid-autumn breeze, carrying the scent of freshly fallen leaves, ripened vegetation, freshly gathered nuts and curled anchors of seaweed remnants up the hill. Everything seemed to have changed. I knew where she’d taken us, but wasn’t entirely sure why she’d want to go back there after we’d nearly gotten trapped there. It didn’t seem to make much sense, but I trusted her and decided to keep any doubts to myself. I began looking for familiar landmarks from our last encounter but they were scattered and looked like they’d been rearranged into different positions. Their meanings seemed different. I looked closer and noticed subtle changes in the atmosphere and terrain. The air felt thinner and colder while the dirt on the paths felt thicker. The trees in the distance looked different, somehow weaker. Their sagging and discolored leaves weren’t as strong or sharp as they’d been during our previous visit. Somehow, the trees had become untethered from the island. I felt uneasy as the ground felt uneven as if it had been tread and stomped on. I worried that someone of something had followed us after our visit.

I looked carefully around the hill, examining the sides of the paths for signs of intruders and dangers. There seemed to be a lot more ants and insects in our path, that didn’t seem to be there before. I began looking for them and as I focused my attention, the suddenly seemed to be everywhere. They didn’t seem to be hiding. I noticed they had built large nests along the paths. They weren’t carved out neatly and the multitudes seemed to crawl over one another, sharing and fighting for the same space as they crossed direction. They seemed unsure whether they wanted to co-operate with one another or undermine them. This made it difficult for us to decide which one to travel. She seemed to become more hesitant and unsure they closer we drew in towards them, their tangled paths seeming to contradict one another. It seemed that they’d been purposely designed to create confusion and obscure the path. She wasn’t tricked by the contradictory design and moved through the thickets effortlessly, not stopping to ponder the obstruction placed in our way. 

I followed along carefully, sliding down the uneven, steep surface while trying to keep my balance on the uneven surface. I paused a few times, nervously looking behind me just in case, I was still reflexively worried about someone or something following us, despite the rationalization that we’d left the animals and bears far behind us. I was nervous and cautious but she was relentless at first, undeterred by any obstacle in her path. I remained a bit cautious and began stumbling trying to keep up. It was difficult for me to navigate over the rocks and slide between the thickets of brush. I was still a bit disoriented. Her pace seemed unceasing and she nearly caused me to fall a few times but I was able to progress and never felt that I was in danger of losing sight of her. It took a lot of effort but we were able to make good time. I knew this when I looked up and turned towards the green moon. It hadn’t moved as far to the west as I had anticipated, the night was young. Still, we had a choice to make and I watched her survey the paths beneath us, carefully weighing which to take. The paths carried different risks; some were shorter but steeper while others were longer, holding twists. Looking below and beneath, I made out a distinctive outline of a waterway and saw the edges form of an accompanying shoreline, I began to see the outlines of the shore in the distance. I saw the crests of their waves crashing towards land, invoking the battle between the tides, unrelenting in their force yet simultaneously reassuring in their enduring predictability.

We took a few more nervous steps downwards towards the cresting water, slowly working our way down the steps. She walked ahead of me and I felt the draft walking in her shadow once more. It wasn’t a good time to take unneeded risks, enough had gone wrong and I was still shaking a little from the nervous chase I had unexpectedly endured. My steps were a little shallower than normal, but this was to be expected. My confidence in her remained unshaken and felt that she knew what she was doing. She walked downward and kept going, undeterred by the strangely cool winds that had come back towards us. Finally, she reached the bottom of the stairs and walked onto the plank. I fell a little behind and looked down, unsure what was going to happen. I stood and watched for a moment to see where she was going. She turned and looked at me and waved me down, seemingly annoyed by my unnecessary caution. I quickly doubled down and stood at her side. Something seemed different. Looking around, the water seemed to crest against the shore, moving slowly yet mostly unimpeded. The surroundings seemed to open up as we walked further from the stairs.

I walked uneasily on the rocky shore, but she prompted me to keep going. I couldn’t understand how she seemed to know where she was. I looked around and there was no pier or structure that would block it. I looked upwards towards the skies, and while there were a few faint stars, nothing seemed to point us in an obvious direction. I stood there for a few moments and tried to soak in the environment, which felt oddly thin and cool. I looked back up towards the stairs and nervously looked them up and down, then left to right. I began scanning the stairs carefully to be sure that nothing had followed us. I began counting them out loud, and this seemed to push her to stop and turn around. Annoyed by my illogical fixation on an illusory attack, she decided to reassure me. It probably seemed redundant to her, but she stated the obvious. She motioned back towards the stairs and told me to look. She began to make a growling, roaring sound as soon as I turned my back towards her. Then she started to laugh at my insistence, knowing full well that I was still scared. It was an elaborate test, and I had passed. Shouldn’t that have been enough, she seemed to be wondering. I took a few moments and decided that she was right. I had to refocus on what was ahead of us.

I wandered around for a moment, trying not to let it get to me, but she was growing impatient with my excessive introspection and needless fear. She took my hand and grasped it tightly, throwing me out of my thoughts, pulling me back towards the water forcefully. It was her way of showing me that the danger had passed and I had to focus on the current mission. She pointed me in the other direction, up the shore. We walked for awhile and the uneven surface seemed to even out until we were walking on sand. Only the faint light of a distant moon seemed to light our path. I couldn’t see what lied ahead, but continued to follow, moving behind her, deliberately shadowing just a foot or so, just in case. It was a long walk, though the land was flat and its path straight. I looked towards the horizon. I saw something I didn’t expect.

There was a mysterious object looming under the moon, slowly rising from behind the horizon, almost imperceptible at first. I thought it might be some kind of delusion but as we moved closer, it became more defined. I wasn’t sure what it could be. She moved to the side and let me get a better view, probably to reassure me. She paused for a moment, and let me examine it for a moment. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening in the distance, I had to look carefully, but something was there, a distant structure jetting out in the waters. It seemed to emerge slowly at first, but grew in size as we walked closer. It seemed to scale the night sky, until it nearly looked like it had touched the clouds. We began walking closer towards it and it seemed to want to remain elusive. I tried to guess what it was, but it defied my initial attempts. As we walked closer, I still couldn’t see if it was a natural object, something someone had build or it had some unexplainable, trans-mechanical origin. Perhaps, it was a little of each, though I couldn’t be sure from that distance. As we walked, my perspective changed, but it only made the structure less revealing. It seemed to shift in dimension and shape with every step. As we got closer, it began changing form that resembled one thing, then another, depending on where I was behind her, the shadow of the moon and the angle from which it was viewed.

Initially, it resembled a tall, unfinished lighthouse but there was no light coming from it. As we moved around and closer, it seemed to change form. Instead, it jutted out of the water like a large tree, with jagged branches. We began walking towards it, moving up the side of the shore, with its waves tapping our feet, the water marking the path forward while erasing our steps behind us. She held onto my hand and didn’t seem to want to let me go for some reason. We continued walking up the path and gradually drew closer. She seemed to be using it as a guide, and I followed her lead, keeping a steady gaze what had become a large tree that seemed to grow ever larger. We made quick progress through the sandy shore but the beach slowly began to narrow until we had to walk more carefully. We walked further down and I noticed the beach had become a long narrow peninsula; both sides of the path were now covered in water. It began to narrow more, but she kept walking until she reached the end, slowing only when the expanse of water formed a barrier on all three sides. I looked towards the object and finally discovered what it might have been. It seemed like a very large tree that had grown there, right in the middle of the ocean. Its massive trunk spread upward into the skies, it was easily several hundred feet high, and seemed to change shape as we drew closer. I wasn’t sure of its purpose or function. Defying our closer vantage point, the imposing tree stood intractably, unwilling to share its secrets.

(Continue to part two)