The Unrelenting Square - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Unrelenting Square (Part two)

I walked forward purposefully even though there was nothing guiding me but instinct. The surface became rocky and uneven. I felt the pebbles rolling around under my feet, their muddy rocks making it difficult to keep my balance. I kept moving for a few more feet and navigated around the surroundings. I walked at a fast pace and made some progress, the trees felt less imposing and I could see breaks of sun when I looked up. I walked further back towards the open field but my progress was stopped when I tripped over something. I should have expected to encounter one of the small piles of rocks, but it seemed to have come out of nowhere. I fell to my knees and found myself on the ground. I looked at what I had stumbled across, and it seemed to have been scattered apart by my fall. Its outline was still visible, but had been disrupted by my fall. Its sticks and acorns were scattered in different directions. It was different in other ways. This nest was smaller and less organized than the others Iíd seen earlier. It seemed more recent in construction. I looked at it for a few minutes, examining its newly disrupted arrangement. I brushed myself off and stood up for a moment, trying to get my bearings. I heard something rush past me and head towards the scattered pile. The second squirrel was larger and plumper than the first. He was soon accompanied by others that were carrying clusters of large branches, rocks and objects over the ground. The squirrels seemed to be in a rush and each item they added increased its size. I saw one of them drop some of their items along the way in a rush, but quickly retrieved them. Observing them didnít reveal their motivations, but they had their reasons.  

As they neared completing an especially large cluster, I watched several of them take a very large rock, pulling together scraping it across the ground until it reached its outer edge. The squirrel rolled it towards the center of the square and plopped it on top, seeming to protect it from further disruption. They seemed strangely unfazed that their pile had been disturbed by my accidental clumsiness, instead using the opportunity to make it even larger.  The creatures looked mostly oblivious to my presence, and were largely undaunted as I watched. It worked quickly to reshape its square and form, creating an even larger footprint on the ground. Another came from the edges and sat beside it, and they began to work together, piecing their strange structure together until it coalesced into a solid, identifiable form. It seemed strangely in time with the environment, and I watched them place the pieces on top of each other, slowly making the assorted pieces into a kind of large box. They seemed to be in a kind of rush to complete the project and I wondered where the sense of urgency came from. The continued to rush around the edges of the pile and seemed to have a system where one would come with a rock or an acorn, place it on top and let the other would leave to retrieve another piece until they gradually came to form something. I looked at the box closely and looked for any of the odd symbols or markings Iíd seen in my previous journeys, but there was none to be found. I looked from different angles and crouched down, but there was no apparent sign. It puzzled me at first, but then I realized that I was probably expecting too much.

The lack of signs didnít worry me and I continued to watch them build their piles, and found myself unexpectedly drawn into their project, observing them from a distance. Iíd temporarily forgotten where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I let myself take a break and crouched down, resting my feet and allowing some of the pressure to lighten for a few minutes. They ran back and forth, collecting things from distant points, returning repeatedly without stopping until their project had grown much larger than I anticipated. I didnít know the reason why they were putting so much into it. The only explanation that seemed to make sense was that they were hoarding items for the coming winter, starting very early. That made some sense, but I couldnít be completely sure. I didnít realize how much time had passed and didnít care.  There was a distinct flow that resulted from the process of building and foraging. I wanted to see what the end result would be and didnít want to get in their way. After a few minutes passed, I noticed that the natural light inside forest had begun to darken. The afternoon had grown late before I realized it, and suddenly the shadows had started to grow longer. I returned to the reality of the situation and realized that despite my detour, and the passing distraction, I was still lost out there, without a compass. I stood up and shook my head, leaving the squirrels to their work, and began to move back towards the field. I walked as quickly as I could, but the heavy boots still dragged along the ground, slowing my steps. I saw the sun begin to dim overhead and began to panic anew, worried that she might have left by that point or forgotten about me.

I rushed back towards the outer edge of the forest when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye that stopped me in my tracks. At first, I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but as I looked closer, an unmistakable outline came into view on the other side of the forest. A large brown bear had spotted me as I walked through the forest and I knew it had its sights clearly trained on me. I stood still for a moment not knowing what to do. It watched me from a distance as well, and everything else I was worried about feel away in an instant. There was a sudden silence, and despite the distance, I knew that it was no longer safe to be out there alone. I had made a huge mistake, and my heart sank. I began to feel my heart beating quickly, my breath grow short and my fear grew. I was afraid to look back and had good reason to. In the distance, I saw the bear beginning to move towards my direction. It was walking slowly and didnít seem threatening at first, just curious about this intrusion. I wondered what I had done to alert it to my presence, but that didnít matter. I realized that I might set it off without realizing it, and if I made it angry accidentally, there would be no way I could out run it. I looked around at the trees; none of them had branches low enough that I could climb up and escape. It drew a few steps, gradually little bit closer towards me. It seemed to pause for a moment, uncertain what to do next and I watched carefully, hoping it might turn around in the other direction. It didnít seem to know what it wanted to do and circled around nervously in place for a minute.

The bear seemed calm and curious, but also a little angry, which I knew wasnít good thing. After a few minutes it, seemed to calm down, but this respite wouldnít last. My heart sank when it was joined by a second bear that was larger and was acting aggressively. It began circling around and then pushing the other bear to test it. The first bear responded angrily, jumping and stomping on the ground repeatedly, shaking the surrounding area. It was frightening to watch them and I didnít want to see them fight. They seemed to take a few minutes to size each other up before deciding to combine forces. The other bear seemed to signal that something was up and they began to take sharp turns, running back towards the trees. They were determined to locate something. Unfortunately, it was me they were seeking.

There was a small yet unwelcome intruder in their midst. At first, I thought I was too far away and I took a deep breath. Relieved, I took a deep breath and waited for a moment, thinking theyíd turn around and forget about me. That was a big mistake, and before I knew it, they were heading straight back towards my location. I hoped it they might be moving randomly, that it was a coincidence. As they ran, they focused closely on the paths I had walked.  It seemed that they had seen my footprints or had a trace of my scent. This apparently alerted them to where I was hiding.  They paused for a moment to case the forest, but then set off at an even faster pace, heading directly towards me. In that instant, I could no longer pretend. I knew it wasnít safe to be alone in the forest. They seemed to know exactly where I was located. They began to head right for my position, and began running furiously, pacing one another, moving side-by-side. I saw their large figures blasting through the forest unimpeded by anything standing in their way and was slightly terrified, knowing there was no way I could hide from them.  

In a panic, I knew I had to get out of there without delay, despite knowing the two hunters would quickly catch up to me. I decided to make a break for it and looked for the longest straight path. I took my boots in my hand, knelt down and sprinted out of there, running as fast as I ever had. I at an incredibly fast clip, the hard part would be keeping my energy up long enough to get back to safety. I felt some things, probably branches and twigs cracking under my feet which made my attempts feel a little inadequate. The heavy boots I was wearing slowed me down enough that they became annoying, but I couldnít let it distract me. I could sense the others drawing closer, I could no longer hesitate.

I decided not to give in to fear and looked straight ahead, hoping to locate and get to some exit before they caught up to me. I tried not to look back and instead focused on running as fast as I could. I found myself desperately looking for anything along the path that might throw them off my trail. There didnít seem to be anything out of the ordinary that I could use to outsmart them. At that point, I could only rely on my feet. It seemed like a long shot, I wasnít the fastest runner but I had no choice. I knelt down and dug in a little and ran even faster. I made my way out towards another area of the forest, going in the opposite direction. They were still far behind me, but I they were much stronger and faster. I knew it was only a matter of time. I ducked behind a large fallen tree trunk for a moment and took a breath, but knew I couldnít stay hidden for long. My heavy breath would quickly expose my location.

They stomped around and maliciously worked their way forward, tearing through the forest, breaking the silence while passing through the forest. They were on a mission to catch me, seemingly undeterred by anything standing in their path. I felt the ground shaking, coming closer to my position. I stood there, crouching in fear, unable to figure out where to go next. I slid down and tried walking in a low profile, keeping my head down. They were still far away but, I sensed that they were closing in on my position, and my hear began to race as they closed the distance and moved closer. It wouldnít be long before they caught me and my thoughts turned to running, as fast as I could. I was going to try one last sprint, and run as fast as I could. I knelt down for a moment, coiled in place and burst out of there, going at an incredible pace. The ground rolled under me as I nearly jumped up, nearly flying towards the edge of the forest. If I could reach the edge of the forest and get back into the open sunlight, where Iíd be safe, if I got there first.

I ran without anything in my way, forging ahead as quickly as I could, jumping up and down, running and swerving over the terrain, trying the shake them off my trail. I turned back for a moment to look for their position to see how far behind they were, and I felt my arm catch on something. It caused a sharp pain and it felt like Iíd been slammed. The force pushed me sideways and I fell to the ground, crashing onto the surface, and twisting my arm. I was in a lot of pain in a moment. I sat there in a daze for a moment, and wondered what hit me. I wondered how I couldnít have seen anything large enough to block me and halt my progress. I looked around and didnít see anything there. I couldnít figure out what I had hit and I was confused. I looked again, turning around right and left but didnít see anything until I looked directly behind me. I saw the bears charging towards my position in the distance, but they were still closing in. I turned and looked around behind me. I nervously began scanning the forest to the left and then right when something unexpected came into view.

There was a strange glowing door, seemingly projected onto the trunk of a tree by some kind of light. It immediately looked familiar, but seemed to have taken on a different form. It was smaller, shorter and narrow. It didnít seem to glow and seemed designed to blend in with the brown forest. I might have missed it, but had to look carefully. I stood up and looked again, it seemed surprisingly narrow and would be easy to overlook from most angles. It was almost hidden from view, its hues faintly outlined even when looking directly at it. I was startled, but had a strong hunch about what was happening. I looked towards its side and noticed there was a familiar figure standing alongside it, carefully maneuvered to cover its position. She was there, holding her arm straight out, silently. Despite my head start, she had beaten me there. She stood silently almost blending into the surroundings, camouflaging herself against the stoic trees. Maintaining her typically calm disposition, she looked unfazed. It seemed she had arrived at just the right time with minimal effort. She calmly waited for me the entire time and stood waiting there to rescue me from their clutches. I didnít know how she arrived, but there was no time for me to worry how she arrived. Her unexpected presence didnít stop the bears as the approached us, their footsteps coming ever closer. It was frightening for me, but she didnít seem worried. I hesitated to go inside the doorway, but she was insistent, waving her arms at me but I was still frozen by fear. I felt the ground shaking, and heard one of them begin to grunt and growl, focusing its anger and fury directly towards our position. I knew we had to get out of there quickly and nearly jumped towards the doorway. I stood beside and found myself finally caught up to her position, arriving in a fraction of the time it would take under normal circumstances.

She quickly turned and reached towards me. I lurched forward and she grabbed my sore arm, and pulled me straight so I was standing directly beside her. I could tell she was in a hurry, but she also seemed a little bit annoyed. I knew why she might be angry with me. I hadnít reacted as calmly to the situation as she had taught me to. I had panicked and began to run away, making stupid moves that put me in danger needlessly. She looked back and saw the bears coming ever nearer, rapidly approaching, their heavy steps coming towards us. I felt the ground shake as they relentlessly began stomping on the ground. They seemed to become angrier with each step. I knew it was unwise be in their path, but that's exactly what I ended up doing to us. I felt that I had let her down, but there was no time to feel sorry for myself. She shook her head and rushed towards the doorway, waving at me not to hesitate this time. I ran towards the door, crouched down to fit underneath and slid onto the other side. She quickly joined me and pulled out her small machine and began turning the dials furiously.

At the same time, I heard a loud roar directly behind us as the agitated bears lunged towards us for one final attack. They were closing in, only feet away from us and their claws were out but she seemed calm in that moment. She effortlessly clasped the machine, pulling a lever to close into the door. It slammed shut just as the bears began their final approach. We had barely made it to safety, but there she didnít look terribly happy. She turned around, stepping deeper inside, and stepped back, just as the doorway crashed with finality to the ground. She dialed another switch on her machine, and the portal began to glow brightly, making a force field that sealed the portal. We were safe, and alone with each other. I had no idea where the next trip would take us, but it didnít matter. I felt an immediate sense of serenity, though she still seemed more annoyed than afraid. I watched her move deeper into the doorway.

I felt the floor rumble for a moment, and I had to steady myself as we were propelled forward into the unknown, without warning. I looked towards her and tried to figure out where things were headed, but she didnít offer any clues. After a few minutes, she seemed to have let go of her anger and began to concentrate on what lied ahead. I decided to stand back and resume observing from a distance. There was another rumble, and I felt something lurching forward. This subsided after a minute followed by a reassuring silence. Everything felt safer; the danger had subsided as things grew quiet. She finally seemed satisfied that weíd gotten out of danger. I sensed her relief, and she put down the machine for a minute and allowed herself to take a deep breath. I was grateful and relieved that sheíd taken control of the situation and saved us. When I looked at her it seemed odd, she didnít seem like someone whoíd been worried. I waited for her to say something but she didnít need to explain. She knew exactly what would happen before I made my first step.

- Michael Palisano