The Submerged Dial - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Submerged Dial
(part two)

It looked a little intimidating, taking control of the sky and marking its place with a sureness that extended outward. It had numerous branches, extending in complimentary directions, angled that seemed to shift from one another, creating a unified barrier against the night sky. We couldn’t get any closer to it from our position, the waters quickened and deepened rapidly; there was no way to swim. We stood there for a moment and I watched her, wondering what had brought us there. She didn’t seem afraid of the large tree, and actually seemed a little excited, though I didn’t know exactly what for. It stood there in silent repose, resembling a natural fortress, standing in the center of the ocean. It was far enough away, and seemed to stand firmly, an unmovable, impenetrable object on a hill that no one could reach. She stood there for a few moments and examined it carefully. She gazed up and down and I could almost see her eyes tracing the paths of its branches. I waited behind her and was somewhat surprised when she knelt down, placed her bag on the ground. She searched inside it for a few minutes, until she pulled out her light machine. Taking it out of its protective case, she placed it on the ground and waited for a few moments, apparently deciding how to approach the object. She knelt down and carefully began adjusting its switches and dials until it began to hum and glow. It took a few minutes for her to find the correct sequence, exploring different frequencies of light until it focused and dilated into a single, strong beam of sharp light, thin and vibrant.

I was surprised by how strong the energy was. The waves of light built in intensity and color nearly instantaneously. Illuminating the skies above, it filled the atmosphere. Everything seemed to submerge under strange shades of blue and purple. It continued to expand, until everything became one bright blur. It was completely overwhelming and I nearly lost track of where we stood. She pointed it towards the object and began tracing inside and out, following the shapes and corners of its branches, working slowly on the right side, then the left. She moved it up to the next section, focusing its energy on the branches. It wasn’t obvious to me whether it was transferring energy or absorbing its power. It didn’t seem to have any effect, the tree didn’t respond, while the waters beneath it seemed unmoved, their churning and rolling uninterrupted. None of this bothered her as she focused the machine on its most important function. The device worked consistently, and the steady energy it gave off allowed it to methodically communicate with the tree’s branches. It began forming light while scaling between the branches and trunk. She knelt down and turned the dials purposefully. This caused the machine to rumble and it brightened, its light split into several paths of different color. It began adding different layers to the scaling light until she seemed to have created a kind of model. Gradually, the machine produced what looked like a reflection of the tree, recreating it as a kind of floating, lighted object. It wasn’t the same, merely a flat shadow of its surface, smaller in scale, far less detailed.

She examined her recreation of the structure, looking it over carefully. She seemed to notice the same flaws and shortcoming that I did, and didn’t seem happy with the results. She nodded her head and looked back towards the structure. The results weren’t what she was expecting. It definitely wasn’t the same as seeing it in person. Undermining itself, the resulting object was, in the end, a hollow beveled form that didn’t look much better than a blurry, unfocused photograph. Instead of collecting the facsimile tree, she apparently decided that it hadn’t been worth the effort to try and reproduce it. This was possibly a function of being in front of it, and the comparisons that were immediate. There was no way it would have been able to capture the luminous irradiations, or complex, seemingly supernatural energy. In that respect, her machine wasn’t up to the task. She turned the dials all the way to the right and the projected image slowly faded until it vanished. Attempting to carve a small portrait of it out of light that could be constrained in some machine seemed a feat beyond any reason. I stood and looked at the tree and was struck by how still it remained, the extending branches, not swayed by the intrusive lights and beams.

The object remained still and calm, not moving an inch, despite the ferocious seas its energy field created. Its branches didn’t sway, the ground beneath resolutely firm, despite the wind swirling above and the piercing light beams shining through its interwoven branches. An intimidating dark beacon, it rose stoically, working against anything that would try and separate it from the cascading skies. Unmoved, it defied our attempts at understanding its function and purpose. We stood facing towards it, allowing ourselves a few more moments in quiet equilibrium. It was a relief not to have to catalog or save or recreate the object. The evidence of its existence would only surface in our shared memory. By not allowing itself to be copied, it had preserved its mystery. She took my hand and gazed towards the object. We remained quiet and let the wind and water wash over us. The trees branches seemed to wave slightly towards us, but there was nothing we could do to prove it existed. Somehow, we both realized that not sharing this was the right course of action. It might have seemed counterintuitive, but it made sense.

There was no way we could reach it, and the tree remained out of reach. There were no boats of piers to cross. Swimming across the churning waters would be far too dangerous. The swirling currents were far too strong for anyone to take on, no matter their skill or experience. The narrow base beneath the tree didn’t seem to offer much protection and the tree itself looked like it would impossible to climb or explore. The more I looked at it, the more it seemed to be an impossible object, not created naturally. Its vertical trunk was too narrow while its triangular angles were far too sharp. Looking closer, I saw that its branches seemed unnatural, with leaves that led into more branches. As I stood there, I noticed things about it that didn’t make sense. Its branches seemed to be perfectly measured and exquisitely collated in a somewhat deliberate, overly taut configuration that seemed unlikely to occur in nature. I looked closer and the unnatural energy field began to strengthen, there was an eerie green glow to the clouds surrounding it, the waves began distorting the clouds above and the waves beneath increased in their velocity.

I was a bit frightened and turned to run away, but she remained calm, unafraid by the sudden increase in the intensity of the light. She watched calmly as it coalesced into a series of solid waves. The reaction was instantaneous. Its effects were impressive and seemed to consume the sky. Waves of colors worked effortlessly turning the night almost day until the entire atmosphere surrounding the tree turned bright yellow and then clear, bright white. She took a step back towards me and grabbed my hand, pushing me back further. The ocean in front of us rose quickly, large torrential waves clashed, nearly cresting at our feet. I began to worry that we’d be submerged without warning, but she seemed to stand in place. While the water pulsated, I looked above towards the skies, and the clouds began to fall apart. The seemed to dissolve, ripping into seams, the colors shredding and darkening as they split into sections, allowing the night sky to move back in. The atmosphere darkened, its colors dissipated slowly, leaving behind small remnants that vanished quickly until they weren’t visible. I looked below and the waters had calmed substantially, deflating the waves and roiling currents, the light began to subside. Everything gradually began to settle. The supernatural storm quickly collapsed into itself, the sudden burst of energy retreating back into the darkness. After a few minutes, I was able to see the giant tree-like object in the distance clearly. With all that had occurred, something about it must have changed, but there didn’t seem to be any visible difference. It remained still and mysterious, nothing about it had changed. I examined it closely, looking for some sign. Its branches were in the same position, standing resolute against the unrelenting nocturnal wind.

I looked at her and she seemed more relieved than disappointed, nothing had been damaged by her experiment. The seas began to settle and she walked back towards the water. I followed and felt the atmosphere. It seemed to be exhaling, releasing the pressure quickly, to recover from her incomprehensible test, quickly regaining its composure. She took her machine off the ground, held it in her hands. She turned and twisted its dials until they quickly folded back, receding beneath the machine's surface. They were no longer visible, but she knew exactly where they were. She crossed the machine with her fingers until it regained balance. She took it on its side until it calmed down. It took a few minutes to stop buzzing but she took control. Her hands held it firmly until it finally surrendered to her command, reclaiming a neutral position she managed to find. She slid its cover over it and it folded back into its incongruous form. It seemed to fall into a strange hibernation, gliding backwards into itself. She slipped it back in its case where it would hide. Any secrets it had discovered about during its process wouldn’t escape. I looked over the seas and walked a little closer, trying to gain a different perspective. Unreachable by any standard means, it kept itself at a safe distance. I tried to find some pattern to its arrangement and configuration, but there was nothing I could explain. I walked back towards her and asked her what was happening. She nodded her head. She knew more than I did, she wasn’t telling. I would have to figure it out myself. She motioned that it was getting time for us to leave. I took another step back and tried to memorize its patterns but they weren’t easy to catalog from that distance. All I could do was outline its larger branches and try and keep the larger picture in my mind. Despite my best efforts, its mysterious origins remained elusive, despite standing directly in my sight. It was impervious to my inquiries, standing aloft on that distant shore

I decided that it would be best not to try too hard, there were some things that probably didn’t need to be explained or explored. I decided to keep the image in my mind and process it later. There was still plenty of time to figure things out. I had to regain my energy and took a moment to catch my breath. I turned away from it and saw that she was already walking ahead of me. She was walking quickly down the pathways we had walked. It took me awhile to catch up. I was still behind her but she didn’t seem to notice me and moved ahead quickly. She began retracing our steps as we had arrived, reversing course, she effortless and headed towards the shoreline. She raced ahead but I found myself carefully maneuvering the rocky surfaces and began falling behind her, disappearing almost completely in her shadow. I felt disappointed by my progress and decided to take more chances. I began to skip over the rocks and finally caught up to her just before she returned to where we embarked. At this point, the object had slipped behind us and was no longer visible when I turned back. For a fleeting moment, I felt its energy reaching all the way back to my position. There was no way of proving it but I knew it was there, though I couldn’t quite understand its source or if it had some hidden motivation I wasn’t aware of.

I looked towards her and she finally returned to the where our shoreline adventure had begun. The mountainside stairs extended up towards the peak and didn’t seem nearly as welcoming from the bottom, I wasn’t welcoming another steep climb but there didn’t seem to be much choice for me. She looked around and finally caught a glimpse of me. She looked simultaneously relieved and frustrated by our situation. I needed to help her and realized that my trepidation was holding us back. I stood there for a moment and looked around and back, still a bit perplexed by the experiment she seemed to be conducting. She seemed less upset than I expected and motioned that me to stand beside her. We stood at the bottom of the steps, and looked above towards the twisting paths leading back up the mountain. I wondered why she was retracing the steps we’d taken. It felt like we were retreating and going backwards.

This didn’t seem to bother her in the least and she began to confidently walk up the stairs. I paused for a moment behind her. I looked below and tried to locate the tree, but it had vanished. I traced the uneven shoreline. I couldn’t find the path we’d taken seemed to have disappeared. I couldn’t see our footsteps in the sand, the wind had covered them. The waves effortlessly erased our paths. The tides gradually rose and its waves worked quickly to wash away the path. We walked further away and vanished into the night, leaving no evidence of our excursion. I knew that we’d be the only ones that would know what happened. I looked at her and she seemed strangely pleased by this outcome. This was perplexing at first, but I slowly figured it out. She had led me there for a reason, though it wasn’t immediately obvious to me.

She used the machine to align our steps with the tides and predicted what would happen and how long we had. Our clandestine mission ended at the precise time, as she intended. She measured the tides and moon, finding the exact moment for us to make our escape. This allowed tides to come in naturally, the waves quickly erasing our footsteps in the sand. Once this happened, no one would know we had been there, nobody could follow us. Its purpose was initially beyond me, and it felt like the whole adventure had been a failure as we walked away. However, as she stood there, I began to see the connections between the events, emerging gradually. It took me awhile to catch up to her motivation, but was able to slowly put some of the clues together. Some of the strange events began to coalesce into some form, though I was still unsure of all of the reasons and her actual motivations. There was a reason this was happening, and she gradually, carefully revealed it so I would understand the purpose, at least to some degree. It took a few minutes for her to set up the machine again. I decided to look down at the churning water below and ponder what had happened. It was rising quickly and I was glad we had escaped the rising tides, It had been a long walk, and I was distracted at first by other things. It took me until her experiment was almost over to figure out what was happening.

I looked at her and watched as she moved deliberately. Adjusting its dials, she wound them around a few circles and pointed it downward, back towards the ground. Nothing seemed to happen at first and she began turning its dials and switches. It shuddered and shook for a moment before resuming its tasks. It began measuring the space in front of us, building the outlines of another doorway. She felt around for its submerged dial, and began focusing the beams into solid forms once more. Walking down, she looked at the diagram carefully before deciding on its final configuration. She began adjusting the machine’s height, and it seemed to track her as she walked along the walkway. It didn’t seem to be working correctly until she moved it further down the path on a more level surface. She began lining up the machine, trying to synchronize its alignment and scan rate. My eyes drifted below us and I felt myself lost somewhere between the sand and tides.

I wondered what she was trying to discover down there. I wanted to ask her what the purpose of everything was. She was busy with the machine and kept adjusting and tweaking the machine’s controls. I looked below and watched the churning waters over-run the inlet and beach, washing everything in its path away. I heard the dials clicking and clattering in the distance, until at long last, there was a solid loud beep. After several attempts, she finally seemed to have found the right balance and hit a large switch. This seemed to lock it in place and it also made me realize our time on the island was coming to a close. I turned back towards her and saw another bright beam of light emitted. The doorway rebuilt itself quickly. The machine created a series of solid sections, scanning and turning the ground beneath it. After the door’s outer frame was complete, the machine seemed to grow weary. It signals diminished rapidly and it looked like it was running out of fuel.

She placed it on its side and extended its antenna until it faced the moon, connecting quickly under its glow. The machine quickly soaked the nocturnal light inside, gradually regaining its strength and power. We patiently waited for it to absorb the energy it needed. This took a few minutes until it released another large burst, and a satisfactory beep. Thus signaling its thirst had been quenched, it awaited our next step. The machine finished building the door as expected. She retrieved the machine, picking it off the ground and grasped it tightly. She extended her hand towards mine as it powered up. In that moment, I realized what she was doing. She looked at me and began tracing another doorway. She told me to think, and take out one last look down towards the water below. I watched the tides crest as they reached their apex. The churning waves washed away our last remaining footprints from the sand at the bottom of the stairs. We moved closer towards the door, I felt the ground give way and it felt like there was nothing underneath us as we walked. I looked around as the bright light consumed us. We had vanished as suddenly as we’d arrived. Everything had turned out exactly as she’d planned.

- Michael Palisano