The Unrelenting Square - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Unrelenting Square

The hot mid-day sun burned directly over my head, but didnít feel opressive, as would be expected during an ordinary summer afternoon. Something about it seemed odd, but I couldn't explain exactly what it was. I looked towards it and there was an odd distance to its surface. Its warmth and light felt weaker, more diminished and strangely artificial. When I walked beyond the porch and entered the sunlight, it seemed to dissipate. I felt it grew distant, as it seemed to slip further away. The sun seemed to react to my presence by moving further in the opposite direction, retreating further into the sky. It wasnít what I was expecting, and it felt like the day, and everything that happened, was some kind of trick. It seemed to be a kind of wavy reflection repeating itself in cascading waves. I stood in place, pausing for a moment and tried in vain to isolate the phenomenon, but couldn't quite figure out what was happening. I knew she was watching me, but I still didn't understand her motivation. I wondered anew why she had brought me there and what she was trying to show me. It took me a few minutes, but I began to realize what was happening. I was standing outside, soaking in summer warmth but it felt different. It might have been my perceptions had changed after what Iíd seen, scrambling my expectations. She had sketched and outlined meticulous detail, small aspects no one else would understand and then inexplicably hidden it inside a folder in the corner of her desk. Destined to be forgotten by everyone else, she had come back to retrieve them for some reason I didn't understand. However, certain events didnít seem to go as planned. Instead of making her happy, the long-lost diagrams brought back conflicting, contradictory memories for her. It seemed the experiment hadn't achieved her desired effect and seemed to explain why her reluctance to leave. 

I walked deeper beneath the sunshine, contemplating all the mysteries I'd encountered during the past few weeks and noticed that the trees at the edge of the clearing were different than I remembered. They seemed smaller than I remembered, and some were missing, while others I didnít recognize were growing in their place. Examining them closely, I had a realization that I was encountering echoes, distinctly different reverberations from someone elseís past. It took a moment, but I felt the ground beneath me shift. Things began to fall into place, I hadnít figured it out until that point, but then realized what was happening. I was visiting the same place, but walking through it during another time. It was an odd realization and I knew than I needed to be mindful. I walked more carefully and tried to keep my distance. The last thing I wanted to do was disrupt her memories. I walked carefully over the grass after that not wanting make a false move that would accidentally disturb the surroundings. Even though the surroundings were familiar in many ways, other aspects were significantly different. The building was newer and smaller, its doors not yet sealed, its windows still open.

As I walked through the grassy field, it felt different as well, softer to the footsteps, less even and untamed. The paths werenít as easy to find, their outlines less distinct. I had to remind myself that I remained a visitor. The best approach would be keep a safe distance and stay out of her way. I worked hard at keeping myself in the background. I knew I was only there as a visitor. The distance was an understandable consequence of this strange journey she had undertaken, graciously allowing me to stand at her side. While I didnít quite understand everything that had happened the previous few minutes, I knew better than to interfere by that point. She trusted me enough by that point to let me join her, and that was more than enough. It didnít feel like the right time to intrude with unnecessary questions and I decided to let her have some breathing room. I didnít need overly elaborate explanations about what was happening. It was enough that I was there, fortunate enough to view a few narrow visions from that world.

She seemed not to need me and didnít need me standing her side. I walked a few steps further back into the field and waited from a distance. I decided to focus on other things and, not wanting to interfere began to think of ways to pass the time. I stood in the middle of the warm field and stared back towards her. I watched the surroundings after a few minutes, began to visualize her in a different light. On the surface, nothing seemed to have changed, but when I observed closely, I was able to notice subtle differences. There was an almost imperceptible shadow that seemed to fall beneath her. It made her seem detached from the ground. She looked distracted and unexpectedly calm. Her shadow lingered on the porch, making her seem a ghostly figure in some ways. She seemed lost in the memories that came from the building. It was odd to see her like that. The contradiction of her simultaneously residing underneath, yet standing apart from, the surroundings wasnít a phenomenon I had anticipated.

I couldnít quite place what was happening except that it made her seem nearly ethereal. In some ways, her position seemed natural, and she looked at home standing on the steps. After looking back a few minutes later, the light shifted and became darker, he resembled a phantom underneath the porch and there seemed to be something holding her there, a kind of psychic barrier that wouldnít allow her to move forward. I wanted to help but realized the best thing I could do was be patient. It wasnít like her to be so still and she no longer seemed to be in a rush to get to the next place. She seemed familiar with the surroundings, but not entirely at home. I knew it was important, but I wondered whether it was exactly she expected to find herself. I wondered why she didnít really seem inclined to follow me, in some ways, she seemed to always be propelling me forward, but was now holding back and it felt strange. Nothing felt right, I wondered what I had been supposed to learn, if there was anything I had overlooked. I tried to figure out what her purpose was, only to find myself back at the beginning with each new encounter. Every time I seemed to draw closer, it seemed that she would slip back away into the distance, growing more mysterious.
I hadnít expected to find myself battling the summer heat again, and I wasnít prepared to face the assault. My heavy winter boots held my feet down, weighing on my steps and their padding felt like rocks, unnecessarily thick.  She had put me in a strange situation, embarking from the mid-winter night to wind up in complete opposition. The sun had an unexpected complexion; its color seemed off, a darker hue that was brighter than I was used to, but also more distant. I glimpsed it in the sky for a brief moment, and its consistency seemed to emphasize the yellow over my accustomed orange. In its reflection, there seemed to be small blue dots scattered across the surface.

Everything felt different in some way. The sunlight was strong but its radiance didnít look as bright as it would on a normal summer day. As I walked, the ground beneath my feet didnít feel as hot as Iíd expected. I felt a strange cold that seemed to emanate from its core, sporadically alternating between its pulsating waves of heat. I needed to find a way out of its punishing heat, but didnít want to leave her too far behind. I felt it burning on my shoulders, and looked behind. She remained standing on the porch, and didnít seem to be in any hurry to leave. I looked behind her, the schoolís doors were closed solidly, there was no way of getting back inside, away from the heat. I felt a cooler breeze in the distance, and it felt it was coming from the cluster of trees ahead of me, where the other kids had disappeared to a few minutes earlier. I stood there for a moment, torn between loyalty and a need for relief, and began walking towards the forest. It looked more rustic than I remembered. I decided to explore it and see if anything else had changed. I ran ahead without hesitation, not thinking about what could await me.

I swerved through the paths towards the tall trees but it still took me a few minutes until I breached the forestís outer reach. It seemed that I had already gone too far and I stood there, pausing reluctantly. I turned around and there was no one behind me, though some part of me knew she wasnít following. I walked a while longer until I had gotten deep into the forest. By that point, I had gotten too far away and there was no turning back. I couldnít  see the building or her underneath the porch. I was on my own, but I had succeeded at my immediate objective. There was finally relief from the hot sun, and it could no longer intrude on my shoulders. The heat began to dissipate and my feet felt nimble once more. Walking freely, I began to quicken my pace. I looked up at the trees, their trunks beginning to thicken into wilder, stumps with untamed clusters of branches and brush that nearly covered the ground. When looking above, their tall branches extended until they overlapped, spread out over the trunks, offering protection from the relentless heat to the ground beneath them.

The atmosphere seemed less constrained beneath the branches, granting its hidden pathways an undiluted mystery and openness. It gave me more confidence to plunge forward into the woody unknown. I felt the rocky ground swirling wildly beneath my feet, its gravelly stones unevenly scattered with my movement forward. The ground itself was unpredictable, giving each step a different feel, my feet landing differently every time. I looked around for something familiar to point my way and spotted a narrow path. It was like the ones I had followed in the past, but it didnít look quite as obvious, the muddy trail was scattershot and broke apart sporadic. I had to jump over a few fallen logs, and walk around deep inclines in order to keep its pathway. I looked for any painted or hidden signs as I walked the path, but there didnít seem to be any. I walked further and finally traversed a small stream. After this, I arrived at the bottom of a hill and found myself standing at the pathís end. I searched for some kind of walkway, but the ground slowly gave way until there was no longer a road of any sort. I was lost in an ocean of trees, dodging and weaving around their trunks, which became thicker with each step. I felt a little bit lost at first, but I quickly acclimated to walking on my own with no clear direction.

It gave me some freedom to explore and observe on my own, and I decided to take some advantage and see if there was something else I could discover. I walked and began to encounter some odd clusters and piles on the path. These consisted of acorns, small branches and rocks, stacked neatly in square piles on the ground. Initially, it was easy for me to dismiss them as some odd coincidence, or perhaps a prank by some of the other kids from the school. This was largely because they seemed to show up at odd intervals and were inconsistent in size and depth. However, as I moved deeper into the forest, the arrangements seemed to proliferate and their similarities became unnerving. They shared the same square shape, with little deviation. I walked onward and couldnít shake the feeling that they were becoming more numerous. I looked for them and saw them occurring more often, especially when I walked under the taller trees. I couldnít understand why they were there or what their purpose could have been. Curious as to their origin and meaning I decided to follow these stacks along their own odd path and they became even more closely nestled together, until they seemed to take over the majority of the surface beneath my feet,

I slowed my pace and carefully moved around the forest. Avoiding them as best I could, and walking in parallel, I was largely successful. Unfortunately, they  became more numerous, making them hard to avoid. They pocked the ground in clusters but slowed my progress. I was stranded in the deep forest. This could have been frightening, but I was relieved that I had a moment to myself after several long days. I took advantage of this chance and let myself breathe, soaking in the crisp deep forest air. I allowed myself to observe and soak in the surroundings, hiding beneath the branches, far outside the reach of any prying eyes. I examined the piles and they seemed to expand as I discovered more into them, I took a moment and looked again, the trees had thickened even more, and completely blocked the blue skies above. I felt a sharp, cold rush of air with was strange. I stopped for a moment and tried to listen for something, but didnít hear anything. I thought I had gotten too far from the building and decided to turn around and start moving back towards the building. I knew sheíd still be there, and didnít want to keep her waiting.

I walked for a short distance and realized that I had no idea where I was. Everything felt more chaotic, completely untamed than it had on my previous journey through the forest. Some things were familiar, but I wasnít accustomed to the unpredictable natural settings. I couldnít predict what was coming next. The unencumbered trees branches twisted, tangled together, and looked less forgiving. I encountered wild, overgrown bushes and clusters of sharp rocks that conspired to block my way forward, denying me simple navigation. I had to go on instinct which made progressing through the forest unexpectedly complicated. It was difficult to adjust my eyes to the surroundings. Even though it was the middle of the afternoon, everything looked darker with the clumps of trees hiding the sunlight. I tried to feel my way through, judging the land and forest depth, with little success. It was eerily quiet and I felt like I was headed nowhere. I looked for the small square piles but they seemed to have vanished. They'd gone missing, their shapes had vanished, nowhere to be found. I walked around a bend in the path and looked carefully. Despite my best efforts, the woods and trees revealed nothing about the location of any additional pilings.  

I heard something rustling behind me and I heard loud rustling. I stood still for a moment and out of the corner of my eye, something moved. Without warning, a small squirrel ran past me then climbed up, towards the other side of the clearing. It paused for a moment before running up the side of a tree trunk, carrying a large acorn in its mouth. I watched it scurry about, seemingly on a mission to get somewhere. I concentrated on its position and attempted to follow its path. I watched closely, but despite my efforts, it quickly scattered out of view, I saw an especially thick tree on one side of the forest and started walking towards it. I tried to look around for a direction, but there were no signs. The path I walked seemed to have vanished, leaving me stranded out there with no visible way forward. I looked around and had lost track of where I was. I began to panic, and wondered how I could have been so stupid to get that far out there. I let myself be distracted and lost sight of my objective. I walked forward, but it only seemed to lead me deeper into the unknown. I thought of her sitting underneath the porch, now impossibly far away. It seemed that I had wandered into a mess. I couldnít see the building and there was no sign of her. I doubted that sheíd be able to locate me, she wouldnít hear if I called out for help. I was alone out there. In the slim chance that something happened, Iíd have to find my own path back to the safety of the old building and its protective porch.

I walked in a kind of daze, going in a circular route and getting nowhere. The trees began to close in and I felt trapped beneath them, there shadows lengthening and darkening the ground. Another rush of wind came and chilled me with its unexpected cold. I turned and walked back, retracing my steps until I reached a break in the trees. I looked around and saw nothing at first, and I began to wonder how I had gotten so lost under those seemingly unfamiliar surroundings. I looked closely at the trees and they looked like they were coming towards me, surrounding my position. I stood still and waited nervously, and it felt like they were closing in at an even faster rate. I had to close my eyes for a moment and regain my perspective, and when I looked around again, nothing had actually changed, only my perception. I decided not to stay there too long and resumed my return trip. I was hopefully moving again, it felt like I was heading back towards the field and the warm sun. The space between the trees widened as I walked quickly under the branches, I no longer felt trapped. The invisible barriers seemed to fall away as something resembling a path emerged on the ground. This gave my steps a renewed confidence, and I used it to move forward, I had emerged from the deepest shadows with enough energy for another long hike.

(Continue to part two)