The Unwavering Current - Part One - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Unwavering Current

I waited beside the strange beacon patiently, wondering how it would connect to the outside world. Who or what would be alerted to my position and more importantly, how long it would take to respond. I meandered and wandered around its perimeter for a few minutes, looking carefully at the assembled objects on the ground and thought there was something more I needed to do. Standing there waiting for something to happen on its own wasn’t working. I needed to figure out how to activate it and accelerate the rescue process. I walked towards the circumference of arrows in the ground. As I examined the half-buried stems of its outer radius closely, its beautiful design and deceptive flaws gradually emerged. The configuration looked temporary, almost provisional. The flock’s unnatural arrangement had created an unstable device and I wasn’t entirely confident it would actually work. It resembled some of the doorways we passed through as it pulsated, but something wasn’t right. The color looked different; there was too much red, not enough brown. It was overtly dispersing inside itself, and its lack of focus was evident. Its light seemed weaker, with an unsure direction. It didn’t seem like it was actually going to work. I worried how long I’d be marooned out there. Despite its efforts, nothing seemed to change as I waited. The skies remained quiet and empty, with no sign of activity.

The strangest thing was the absence of any noise. The ground itself felt strange, and its thick surface was harder to traverse. As the grass warmed, it seemed to liquefy and its density made it more difficult to move. The mushier surface softened the reverberations from my feet, working to absorb any noise my steps would produce. It made each step feel disconnected, like I was walking with nothing underneath. I looked back across the grassy expanse, which suddenly felt deserted and abandoned, and its horizon suddenly felt like it was closing in. I closed my eyes for a moment, trying to locate some sense of where I might be, but there was no sign. Remaining calm, I decided to walk a few steps further away, to escape the heat. This also helped me gain a different perspective on my situation. It didn’t take long for me to confirm that I was alone, and looked down. As I walked further from the arrows, my profile quickly diminished, until it shrank, leaving only a faint shadow, on the flat land. I was going in the wrong direction, I wouldn’t be heading backwards. I turned back, heading back into their radius and noticed something out of the corner of my eye that I hadn’t expected.

I walked back towards arrow configuration and thought my eyes were deceiving me. The beacon seemed to have drifted. While my back was turned, it seemed like the large arrows had drifted, taking different positions aside each other. Their spines stood straight, deceptively hiding their purpose, but they seemed to be slowly cutting through the serene blue skies. Their motion stopped suddenly as I moved closer and walked closer, moving back towards them. They’d also grown taller, and now stretched around a foot longer than before. They resembled a converging circle and rose like skinny tree trunks. Unevenly dispersed, they changed and had roughly approximated a more natural array, bunched and bundled together, but didn’t look like they were in the correct position. I walked cautiously towards them, trying to regroup. I examined their concentric arrangement which seemed to have only become more muddled. Something else changed as I moved closer. I felt the accumulated heat; their energy was now streaking directly into the ground. Their energy scalded the surface until it nearly burned through my shoes. I quickly stepped back a few feet from the structure. The heat came in waves until it gradually subsided, the reaction quickly dissipating I wasn’t sure how much time had gone by, and there was no path beyond the arrows, I watched them struggle to maintain their force but it only coalesced sporadically. It wasn’t immediately clear what else needed to happen. I decided to wait awhile longer and see if there was any visible response to the structure’s signals.

I walked back towards the opposing side and returned to my original location. I ended up standing just beyond the outer circumference. It had lost some energy, the collective force began faltering. Its waves of light began flickering, moving outward and dissolving at a faster rate. I looked at my shoes; they’d been worn down from battling the ground beneath me. Their soles were singed, but they were largely undamaged. I walked a few more steps and the ground began to strengthen and solidify. I stood for a moment and examined the spiked edges and the circles they formed. On the surface, nothing was wrong, but something was off. I couldn’t easily explain it, but something wasn’t quite right. There was a hidden flaw preventing the arrows from functioning correctly. I retraced the events and tried to piece together what might have gone wrong. The flock had formed out of nowhere, converged on the spot where I was heading. They’d cut me off, creating an elaborately-built that at first seemed to have been a kind of homing device or beacon. I examined the arrows standing in the ground, deliberately arranged, pointing skyward at near perfect straight angles. They were perfectly aligned standing upwards. I walked around a few more times until I finally realized that might have been the root of the problem - they’d been arranged almost too perfectly. Their position resembled the dials I’d seen her turning and spinning on her machine but there was one important difference. The arrow stems were standing straight up, in a neutral position. They hadn’t been adjusted to point in any meaningful or specific direction.

The connection between the two objects wasn’t immediately obvious, and I couldn’t see their convergence from where I stood. I needed to walk around and examine it from different angles. After I walked, the parallels between the two seemingly unrelated objects became obvious. I began to put the pieces and place, and could finally see what the disconcerting events had meant. Some things that occurred slowly began to make more sense. I remembered how she had carefully managed the dials on her machine, slowly turning them in towards one another, twisting a few and making adjustments, slowly building up its strength until it finally came together. It seemed to be a combination of luck, skill and persistence that eventually caused the doorways to appear. I walked back towards the circular arrows and began approaching them nervously. They seemed to have cooled down a little but were still hot, I could feel their heat as I walked closer. I took a few steps and entered their outer radius. I felt an unexplainable energy coming upwards from the ground and it seemed to blow right through my feet and straight up towards the sky.

I looked closely at the arrows and it seemed that the strategy I’d been using wouldn’t work; no matter often I’d repeat the technique. There were too many of them I decided to use another tactic. Instead of trying to control the entire group, I focused on one of the arrows that seemed a bit thicker than the others. I walked towards it to examine it. I carefully looked for any signs of markings or indicators on it, but there were nothing visible. I moved even closer towards the cluster and noticed there was some leeway at the bottom of each arrow, and I nudged it with my foot until it tilted at a slight angle. I waited a moment and held my breath but there was no apparent effect. I tried again but there was no real result, they stood in silent defiance of my efforts. I decided to try harder and kicked one harder, moving it in an opposing direction. Several of them were facing in different directions, pointing in different directions, but there was no reaction. The mysterious objects had eluded my efforts to unlock their secrets. Their hidden function remained obtuse, apparently lurking just beyond my efforts at understanding their purpose.

I was beginning to get frustrated and decided to take another, entirely different approach. I took a deep breath and stood back for a moment, trying to remember what directions her machine’s dials were pointed. I remembered that she had to use trial and error, relying on chance and some kind of strange intuition. It took awhile for the machine to create the doorways, and it wasn’t always as fast or easy as it seemed, but it had been worth her effort and patience. I decided not to rush into things and allowed myself room to experiment as well. At first, I kicked the arrows randomly, but saw that wasn’t working. I decided to think things through and worked to stand back and see the arrows in relation to each other before moving them. I seemed to be making progress after a few minutes, but the responding machinations hadn’t entirely succeeded. I had a hard time recreating and transposing her configurations and decided to take another approach. This natural machine was different, and probably wouldn’t work the same way. Its dials weren’t fused to the surface, and it might have needed more force, but probably not excessively so. I pushed another one, kicking it a little bit harder so it moved a bit farther off its pitch. It nearly sprung back, and had to force it downward a second time. I waited for a moment, hoping for the best. I waited for a minute and that time something happened. After waiting patiently, there was finally a substantial reaction. It seemed to shake for a minute, shaking and shuddering, nearly crashing towards the ground until it rebounded, falling back to where I’d angled its position.

Its response was both unexpected and promising, so I pushed it a little further, which caused even stronger shaking. I took a step back and examined their configuration; it began to resemble one of the patterns on her machine. I walked slowly back and pushed a couple more of the stems towards each other, letting their paths diverge and they began rumbling. As the arrows came to life, a strange energy started forming. An unexpected kind of pulse developed. I felt a strange electricity start to build, and it quickly began to charge the surroundings with a reactive energy. It raised the temperature and intensity, but I didn’t feel intimidated. There was no way for me to control it, and the surroundings were growing inescapably hotter. I walked a step back and knew I’d have to keep back, staying a safe distance from the cascading currents. The energy field became stronger and their collective force began to activate the other arrows, creating a strange current that intensified between them.

They built a pulsating energy field and it expanded efficiently, working together to form it within only a minute or so. The device’s activation became more predictable as its dimensions stabilized. The arrows brushed away their earlier hesitance and energized quickly. Their energy built and subsequently allowed others to enter the circle, to complete their large circuit. It continued to build until the contraption had come fully into being. I watched they built towards a singular force. As this occurred, the device began to stabilize, its aura brightened and pulsating colors surrounded it. Then, it suddenly sped up, unexpectedly growing outside its barriers. It looked like the arrows had overheated and I was worried that it might have gotten too strong as it began to roar, making the ground surrounding it shake and rumble. It seemed to overheat as the arrows crossed each other’s paths. I saw their fields of energy clashing and converging simultaneously. They seemed to be fighting each other for supremacy, their fields battling against one another. The beams of light sped up quickly and created a fitful vortex that nearly subsumed the device. Its internal pressure seemed to reach the breaking point after a few moments. There was a brief burst of light followed by a sudden loud bang. I stepped back, and carefully watched. There was a brief silent interlude, the things began to stabilize. The door cycled through various shades and intensities, and finally settled into familiar and reassuring brown and beige hues. I watched a strange door forming in the middle of the circle. It quickly developed in shape and form, growing in size until it was several feet tall. It didn’t look as stable as the earlier doorways but it seemed to materialize nonetheless. I took it all in for a minute, somewhat proud that I’d accomplished the task. I’d dispatched its barriers and somehow created a working door that opened, if only intermittently. It was a bit nervous, looking at the unstable, haphazardly-constructed entrance glowing invitingly in front of me. I was surprised by my luck but relieved that I wasn’t trapped. Somehow, I’d made it happen without a special machine or anyone there to aid me. The relief I felt didn’t last long, I knew I had to make a decision quickly or I’d find myself stranded indefinitely.  
I could have been nervous about the lack of stability in the doorway but wasn’t feeling especially picky. The energy field surrounding the portal was already starting to waver, becoming sporadic and uneven. I knew that my chance to escape wouldn’t last more than another minute or two. I ran towards the center of the arrangement, twisting my body between the narrow paths, carefully navigating through their openings, I barely got myself through. I reached the center, where the heat seemed to solidify and intensify. There was an unexpected updraft of wind that began to surge upwards, nearly lifting me up as it reached the ground beneath my feet. This made it imperative to keep moving quickly. I paused for a moment and looked up towards the empty blue skies one last time. Despite not knowing where I was headed next, it was a relief to be getting out of there, Nervously, I looked ahead into the doorway, what awaited me on the side was hidden behind its obtuse light. I went a few more steps closer until I stood directly in front of the entrance, my toes lapping its edges. I looked around towards the sticks and saw their diminishing stems surrounding me. I examined them one last time and they began to fall away from one another. After a few minutes, they began to collapse completely, and could see that the rest were bending further under the heat, wilting from the combined pressure.   

Without hesitating further, I took the last step across the threshold and entered the doorway. I felt a sudden rush of air and the bright light quickly dimmed. I found myself momentarily lost and blinded as the night skies overcame my surroundings. I looked up and saw that the skies above me had gone nearly completely dark. I stood for a moment and as my eyes adjusted, I saw a few faint twinkling stars in the far reaches. As I watched, more points came into view. They formed larger constellations that gave me some direction. I looked around and realized I had entered another place, but still couldn’t quite understand what was happening. Everything had gone dark suddenly, and I felt lost for a few minutes. It wasn’t until I walked and few more steps and felt solid ground beneath me, that I felt a sense of relief, which provided me a better standing. I waited for a moment longer and felt a sharp and crisp breeze coming upwards towards my position. The ground was relatively flat, but didn’t extend out too far. I saw the edges of the field and realized I was standing on top of a hill. Carefully, I looked around to make sure I was heading in the right direction. Another strong gust of wind came upwards, and it nearly lifted me off my feet. Storm clouds were beginning to form on the opposite side of the hill, heading directly towards my position. Sensing an unsteady and somewhat precarious elevation, I looked for a way off the exposed location before the winds blew me off its side.

I nearly panicked and found myself hurriedly looking for some kind of escape. The wind seemed to have turned direction and it felt like it was blowing against me, like it was trying to block my path. I decided to maintain my direction towards the other side; ignoring the wind’s best efforts at dissuasion. Walking quickly towards the other side of the plateau, I navigated its edges carefully avoiding its dark outer edges and the subsequent precipitous falls. I looked for a bridge or railing at the sides, but there wasn’t anything visible at first. I stopped and examined the surroundings carefully, but they provided me nothing useful in my navigation. I’d have to use my instincts. I realized the solution probably wouldn’t be immediate. I walked a few uncertain steps further into the darkness, hoping I’d stumble onto something. I felt yet another surge of wind, which was strong but seemed to have shifted direction. I looked towards the skies once more, the clouds seeping over the stars, crawling ever closer. I’d have to hurry up if I didn’t want to end up caught alone, with nothing to protect me from the menacing winds, and other dangers within the rapidly intensifying vortex created by the oncoming storm.

There was no way I’d be able to run away from the approaching storm. My only strategy was to find somewhere that would allow me to hide and stay out of its path. I walked quickly around once more, making my way towards what looked like an opening, carefully navigating the unfamiliar surface. Taking a few steps closer, I noticed what looked like handles on the edge of the hill. It didn’t take long too see that it was the top of a ladder. It didn’t take too much effort, and I quickly climbed down, hitting a small path below without taking too much time. The surface was now above me, and I used the temporary respite to take a look below, and saw that what looked like a small stream leading into river a few hundred yards in the distance. It looked relatively close, and it looked like I’d be able to get there before the storm. I didn’t recognize the waterway’s shape or form, but it seemed promising. I took a few steps downward, climbing down the rungs efficiently. There was a ramp under the ladders, leading to the stream below. I took a few steps down and felt a wooden block at the bottom of the landing. It seemed be there to weigh the ladder down and keep it in place, and I stepped over it quickly, my feet almost sailing over its surface on my way down. I took a moment on the landing and looked at the paths extending from my sides in either direction. There wasn’t a ladder leading downward, and it was too high and dangerous for me to attempt jumping down. Both walkways pointed away from the stream, adding time I didn’t have to the excursion. I couldn’t find an advantage in either direction and decided to head towards the northern side.

I walked along the slender walkway, slowly descending towards the river. As I drew closer, the land below began to reveal some of its features. I saw the vague outlines of a building hiding at the edge of its banks. It looked ragged, abandoned and dark, like no one had been there in a long time. I ventured downward quickly, closing in on the river banks. Taking a few more steps down, I began to hear the crashing waves of the rolling waters, my feet picked up the pace. I walked a bit faster, but still careful not to get ahead of myself. The gap between me and the bottom diminished quickly until the path was only a few feet above the ground-level. The dilapidated building was only a few dozen yards away. I decided to jump off the path and onto the banks, and moved quickly towards the structure. Looking above, I saw the clouds beginning to thicken and coalesce, forming an ominous force I knew I wouldn’t be able to out run. Initially, the building looked like a promising avenue for me to find safety from the impending storm. This proved deceptive upon my arrival.  As I moved towards the structure, I saw that it was a fishing cottage of some sort. Its windows were boarded up and its doors were sealed tight. I examined each doorway and window carefully, trying to locate an entrance or some kind of way inside. Walking closer, the ancient cottage seemed to groan at the prospect of my arrival. I could hear things creaking and moaning inside, its old wooden planks straining from age.

I couldn’t quite figure out what to do next but noticed a path towards one side that seemed to go around the back. I walked towards creaking cabin, staying far enough from it so as not be trapped in the event it collapsed. Turning my attention towards the path, I noticed some odd rocks alongside the path that looked interesting. I knelt down for a closer look and felt something on my shoulder. It was large a wet burst, the first massive dollop of rain, hitting me before I could get distracted. Taking this as a signal to keep going, I walked further down the path and peeked around the corner. I had to rub my eyes when I realized what I was seeing. I immediately stopped in my tracks, stunned for a moment. The cabin blocked my view of the river and once I saw what it was hiding, I understood why. There was a reason I’d been drawn to that point. I slowly maneuvered over the river and stood at the front of a short dock. Obscured by the thick walls and sheltered by the surrounding waters, a strangely familiar silhouette came into view. I couldn’t quite believe what I was seeing and had to take a few steps closer to confirm that it was there.

Its appearance startled me and I felt a strange tug at my heart, something lost had been found once again. I never expected to see what was docked alongside the pier. It stood silently against the night, shimmering like a ghost, lurking just beyond view. It seemed to have been purposely hidden, safely behind the cabin. I wouldn’t have seen it but for an accidental glance in the direction that revealed its masts. At first, I thought it might have been a coincidence, something that resembled a memory. I had to make sure, and moved closer, walking cautiously towards the mysterious ship. My heart skipped a beat for a second when I recognized the vessel’s distinct design and the unique shape of its masts. There could be no mistaking this. This ship was the same vessel we had sailed on through that night. It was also the boat that had gone missing on the mysterious island, leaving us stranded with no way to leave. These conflicting memories dampened my excitement, but I wasn’t going to allow its contradictory past to dissuade me from walking on board.

I walked closer with and felt conflicted. The storm was raging around me, but I worried it the vessel was offering protection. Part of me wondered if it was a trap or some kind of mirage brought on by fear. I had to get even closer. I walked towards the edge of the pier and saw the unmistakable details carved in its bow, the esoteric railings, and its uneven mast. With each step, it seemed to become more real.  My lingering doubts evaporated. I stepped back and looked at it, and thought of the mystery behind its disappearance. It wasn’t revealing any of its secrets. Instead, it hid behind a veil of silence. Sitting placidly at the dock’s edge, the familiar outlines of its masts sat high, undisturbed by their long absence. They were wrapped in thick, heavy sails waving over its stern. The missing boat had reappeared, and was now silently standing guard against the rushing gusts. Despite its long absence, it looked no worse for the wear, completely undamaged, like nothing had happened to it. The boat seemed like it had been waiting patiently for my arrival. I felt the fear and pressure on my shoulders dissolve almost instantly. More large raindrops started to fall with increasing regularity, the wind began to pick up and I could feel the pressure dropping. The storm was closing in fast, but none of that mattered. It had been a long journey but it had all been worthwhile. I hurried across the dock, almost running towards the mysterious vessel. There was a sense of relief mixed with anticipation. After so much effort and uncertainty, I’d finally reached the right spot. Without trepidation, I stepped on the ramp, and climbed towards the mysterious vessel, anticipating what it could be hiding beneath its elusive yet irresistible sails.

(Continue to part two)