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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

Fiction



A Watchful Gaze

Despite my best preparations, even with everything Iíd seen and read up to that moment, there was no way I could have anticipated what would happen. Once I walked through the lighted gateway, there was no turning back, at least not for awhile. I found myself in a daze in those first moments, but it wore off quickly. I emerged on the other side of the gateway disoriented. I tried to take a few steps, but I didnít feel like there was anything beneath my feet. I looked around and couldnít hear or see anything in front of me. I couldnít feel my steps, it was like I was floating, submerged inside an endless white cloud. I turned around and saw nothing but white air. I tried to find an orientation, but didnít see either up or down. I remembered holding her hand as we crossed into the other room but she seemed to have slipped from my grasp during the confusion. I called her name into the clouds but heard no response. In that moment, she seemed to have vanished. I remembered all the walks I had made, the explorations Ė it had brought me here. Suddenly, I saw a wave of color explode over my head, rapidly filling the air with many shades as it rapidly expanded outward, effortlessly reaching outward. I looked and watched as strange shapes and clusters formed within the waves of color, rapidly changing form and emerging into complex patterns. It was impossible to keep track the multitude of layers as they simultaneously built and collapsed. I was overtaken by the intensity and ferocity of this sudden burst. As they saturated my surroundings, many of the inexplicable events came flooding back to me. I remembered the secrets Iíd discovered on my journeys and how Iíd filed them away in the back of my mind. In that moment, some of those encounters finally began to make some sense. I remembered our encounters in various places and the strange things sheíd shown me in the past.  As the colors expanded, they intensified their cycles as they changed shape, seeming to breathe as if they were living beings. I watched their movements carefully, tracking their patterns as they arranged into endless inscrutable shapes and forms. The lights pulsed in seemingly endless forms that filled the night sky. As they unfolded though the skies, their chaotic nature reminded me of something. It took me a few minutes to make the connection but I noticed similarities with them to the initial beams of discordant light that filled the room when the mysterious machine she had built first powered up. These waves were different in a subtle way. They seemed more natural, untamed and unpredictable. It was like they were fighting each other, but instead clashing inside a small room, the pulsating beams of light were competing to rule the a much larger space that seemed to stretch on forever, which seemed to expand until it took up what seemed like the entire world.

The pulsating colors became overwhelming and I needed to escape them for a moment. I closed my eyes and let them vanish for a moment. There was silence and I was able to create a sense of control for a moment. As the cacophony of light subsided, I opened my eyes and felt my feet back on the ground. I took a few steps forwards and regained my bearings. I was able to block out the colors for a few moments and things began to make sense once again. I remembered what happened and quickly remembered the long journey that brought me to that point. The waves of colors drew closer to me and passed through everything, making it hard to navigate once again. The flat surface didnít help so I decided to stand in place for a moment, letting the waves wash over me, and for a moment, it almost felt like a summer day, but the warmth I felt wasnít the same as I was used to. I closed my eyes once again and let them filter though the night, allowing them the freedom to move beneath and around me. It was a strange feeling but I felt like the atmosphere above was expanding and reaching the ground. I waited through this for a while and waited until the colors subsided and took a deep breath once I could sense that they were no longer washing over my position. After a few minutes, I cautiously opened my eyes and looked around. The colors were still vibrant but seemed less chaotic, swirling in noticeable patterns that almost resembled waves. I started to walk forward again and felt something different under my feet. There was a strange buzzing sensation building under me. I had unknowingly activated something but had no idea what it was or how to contain the surfaceís movement.

I tried to analyze the groundís strange flowing energy, trying to pick up patterns amidst its noisy motions. It made no sense to me. The ground felt almost alive, and the waves seemed to be pushing me forward. I looked around again and saw something else odd. Small breaks were beginning to show in the swirling colors around me. They resembled small, scattered dots, poking through the thick clouds. I focused my eyes on them and subtle changed occurred. As I watched, discernable shapes began to form into more complex forms and symbols. I recognized some of them from the books I read but had no idea what many others were supposed to signify. It was a little confusing, but as I read the symbols, I began to figure out a few things. My doubts began to ease and my fears subsided. I didnít know what the purpose was, but I knew I belonged there.  I closed my eyes again and focused my objective and what I hoped to achieve. I blocked out the lights and focused on the path ahead of me. I took several cautious steps and slowly felt the buzzing subside. The ground under my feet began to harden, my pace quickened and I made more progress. I was once again walking on solid ground and moved forward with regained balance. I looked around and saw the outlines of another world slowly emerge as the colors slowly dissolved and their shapes and symbols dissipated into the air.

As I walked, I felt a strange feeling and saw a strange sun in the skies overhead.  It seemed brighter and cooler than the one I knew. It filled the entirety of the sky permeating every area of the horizon. I looked downward and saw that I was standing in the middle of a strange river with thick blue water that seemed more like quicksand than anything else. I slowly moved my feet and found them quickly moving over the surface towards a more stable surface. As I stepped upwards, the rocky texture gave way to sand and I found myself walking its shore, overwhelmed by a strange place I had no idea existed. . I was far from home, and didnít understand exactly how Iíd been transported there. I looked back again and saw that things had become more complete. Only a few small patches of white remained and they quickly dissolved under the strange sunís heat. I began to take a deep breath and found the air was warming up faster than I had anticipated. I felt the breeze begin to take up again and it blew tiny blades of grass over my head. As they silently blew over my head, I smelled their sweet scent and watched them gush through the skies, disappearing quickly into the distance. I didnít see any trees nearby, which was strange. This made me doubt what was happening. I wasnít sure if I belonged there, and wondered if this was all an elaborate dream.

I had explored the forests and beaches and walked around, but this felt different. It didnít feel nearly as welcoming. I felt like I didnít belong and I was too confused to think about exploring randomly. There wasnít anyone else to guide me. I looked towards the alien ocean, its waves crashing against the shore, but there were no boats sailing its unpredictable, choppy waves. There were no piers or buoys around that I could use to measure distance. I saw nothing flying around, and no fish swimming in the water. It seemed like nothing more than a mass of water, incomprehensibly washing around, swirling endlessly, aimlessly its direction driven by a strange energy. It was nothing like the gentle summer waves I was used to and I kept a safe distance, not wanting to be drawn into its unpredictable mass. I had no idea where I was and which direction to head, so I followed the shore, walking slowly until I spotted an odd-looking hill rising in the distance. There was a path and this one seemed to lead somewhere, but I couldnít exactly be sure where it would lead. I took a look to my side and noticed the water had now become completely still, with no waves to be seen. There still wasnít a sound to be heard, leaving no signals or signs for me to follow. I was alone in a strange place accompanied and didnít know where to walk. I wondered if I was in a dream, but there was too much going on. I took a moment and became nervous. I hesitated to move forward into the unfamiliar terrain, and waited for a moment. I closed my eyes again and decided to take a deep breath and think for a moment. I remembered certain things from my previous adventures. I thought of those strange birds that followed us around, our dances, the strange feelings at the beach, with would come even on a quiet simmer day. The air seemed to lighten suddenly and I felt someoneís hand on my back, pushing me forward unexpectedly. Quickly turning around, I saw a familiar face. In that moment, I knew she had been with me the entire time, watching me as I fumbled and explored in that strange place opened up by her device. She looked happy and relieved that I was there. I stood back and looked at her for a moment. I wondered if this was all a trick she was playing on me. I wondered if this was all something she was doing to keep me from the answers. She looked at me and seemed to wonder what was holding me back. She seemed to be getting impatient and took another look at me. She sensed that I was nervous and gave me a reassuring nod. Walking over towards me, she seemed concerned and took my hand. I was hesitant to go forward but her confidence gave me the courage to keep walking.

We took a few more steps together and moved away from the sandy shore and onto the firmer surface, walking towards the path and the hill unfolding above us. We walked slowly towards the hill which seemed to grow larger and steeper as we drew near. I looked back towards the shore and its uncontrolled waves. The water seemed to evaporate, in the distance, returning to the mists from which it emerged, quietly cloaking its secrets from view. I looked ahead and she was pushing me forward. I saw the outlines of the hill emerge. It seemed sharper and colder, with sharper points on its surface. It reminded me of the other hill where weíd met so many times only larger. I wasnít as eager to make the journey up such a steep path, but she was persistent. I was tired wanted to take a break but she wasnít going to wait. Reluctantly, I began to walk towards it and watched as she navigated the uneven surfaces like sheíd been there many times before. I walked behind at a distance, carefully measuring my steps. We reached the bottom of the hill and I felt I could finally relax for a moment. Instead, she began to step up her pace and walked even faster towards the hillís base. I saw a walkway and looked it over. This would be steep climb that would require more effort than I was used to. Determined not to be left behind, I followed as she began to walk up the steep path. We made steady progress through the first few steps but the path quickly grew more challenging with twists and turns that I had trouble anticipating. The journey seemed effortless for her, while I found every step harder and found myself barely able to avoid tripping and almost stumbling as I tried to keep pace with her.

It was difficult to keep up while maintaining my balance and I began to fall behind, almost losing sight of her. I was getting tired but didnít want to hold her back. She was determined to reach the apex and wasnít going to let me hold her back.  She finally relented after getting a quarter of the way up the hill. It was starting to get a little dark and I noticed the light was beginning to dim on the path which made it seem even more important to reach the top. Turning back towards me, she seemed happy that I was able to keep up this far. She grabbed my hand and pulled me towards her. She seemed to know that I was confused, but her confidence in me was reassuring. I looked into her eyes and still didnít know what was happening. I took a deep breath and the air was noticeably cooler and clearer up there.  She let go of my hand and I fell a little backwards, almost losing my balance in the process. It took me a moment to regaining my balance. I took a deep breath and paused for a moment. This seemed to help in calming the unsteady ground beneath my feet. As we walked further, I felt the path becoming smoother and straighter. It made walking easier and I quickened my pace once again. There werenít as many obstacles in my way and I began to feel I was getting somewhere. I made progress and I could feel things beginning to change.  Eventually, we came to a clearing and we stood on a level path. I looked around and the air seemed calmer. Everything seemed cleaner and cooler as we neared the top of the mountain. It was calm and quiet. The path slowly dissolved under dirt and rocks, and I didnít know where to go next, She motioned towards me to keep going. I noticed that it was getting darker. I looked around and couldnít really see the source, but it was quickly diminishing. We needed to hurry up. The path began to break apart once again and I felt a loss of direction. Once again, I felt a little lost on the way, and this was frustrating. I could make out shapes but they were slowly turning into murky shadows. The night sky was starting to fill that place and it made me feel slightly disoriented. I didnít know where we were heading and signaled that I needed a rest once again. She seemed frustrated. I knew that I was holding her back, but she allowed me to rest.  My feet were starting to get sore and I After taking yet another brief respite, we resumed our journey up the hill and it began to level out as we neared the top. I began to sense that something different was up there, but I had no idea what to expect. We took a few more minutes until we finally reached the farthest edge of the path. She took her first steps ahead of me and reached the peak while I dragged behind. She stood above me on the ridge and I saw her impatiently looking downward for me to catch up. Her eyes were focused on me, but I wasnít sure why she seemed so worried, I wasnít going to suddenly turn around. I had gotten that far and wasnít about to let fear overwhelm me. I had come too far to turn back.

I walked up the last curve upward and triumphantly moved towards her position, stomping my feet in my victory. I made it through those difficult, heavy steps and but the weight lifted as we stood there together at the peak. I didnít know it at the moment, but our night had just begun. The wind which seemed to have from above throughout was now at our side, lightly brushing over our feet. I looked at her and she seemed different, but I couldnít quite figure out how. She was looking at something overhead but I couldnít see exactly what it was. She took out her other hand and extended it towards me. I took her hand once again and I felt a different kind of energy radiating from her. I felt the wind slowly diminish and it calmed my nerves. I looked around and saw there was nothing around us. The ground was flat and plain, with no trees or plants. It felt like I was in some kind of alien planet. I looked upward and examined the stars that filled the skies but didnít see any familiar constellations. She began to walk with me slowly pushing me towards the center of the clearing. Our steps began to synchronize in a strange way and I began to feel her leading me with each step.  I closed my eyes and kept moving with her, trusting in what she was doing.  I felt her release my hand and let go. I opened my eyes and she was still close to me, but was standing in a different direction, looking upwards towards skies the opposing horizon. They seemed to have come into a different state, transformed by some unknown force I didnít comprehend. I remembered our previous encounters and suddenly realized what she was doing.

I walked and stood just behind her. The skies above seemed to come to life with each star pulsing with light. They moved rapidly and began to form clouds. At first vague and disorganized, they slowly coalesced into forms and figures. The horizon filled with shapes and figures, which seemed to have come from nowhere. I looked at her and she seemed to be somehow controlling the night. She motioned me to stand next to her and close my eyes. She held my hand and told me to focus and absorb each shape. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes once again. I was able to concentrate and I was quickly surprised by what I saw. There were many that I recognized from the books and drawings in my notebooks that I had kept. It was strange to see them go from small squiggles on paper to massive shapes burning across the entire sky. I had no idea how they formed or what they meant. I looked at her and she motioned back towards the sky, motioning me to enjoy the moment while it lasted. The shapes seemed almost alive and it was a little frightening. Despite this, I couldnít avert my eyes from them as they changed position and formed new patterns. We stood there for a long time, reading the symbols in the skies, gradually absorbing the moment until they slowly dissolved, hidden again from view. As they faded away, we were alone in the expanse of darkness. I looked at her and she seemed different in a way I didnít understand initially. She seemed more relaxed than Iíd seen, yet strangely detached from the moment. I moved towards her and saw an unexpected look in her eyes. I knew that something had inexorably changed and I wasnít sure how or why.

I looked towards the skies once again and saw a different set of shapes beginning to form. These resembled concentric rings, floating in the air and I didnít recognize their shapes or textures. The began to merge together, forming more complex shapes and symbols in seemingly endless combinations that seemed to build on each other, forming impossibly complex patterns that stretched across the skies while extending deep into the night. The familiarity Iíd felt before was replaced by a strange sense that something new was happening. I looked upward and saw strange colors filling in between them until everything became unrecognizable. Slowly, the patterns grew in size and intensity until they began to cover not just the skies, but filtered back down towards the ground and quickly surrounded us. We were once again lost a chaotic stream of colors but this time felt different. I didnít know what was happening and walked back towards her once again. I tried to find her hand but couldnít locate it. In a moment, I found myself wandering and walking inside waves of colors, unable to find direction in their chaotic patterns. I panicked and tried to walk in the direction where Iíd been, but I only felt like I was going backwards. I tried to run, but the faster I went, the lighter my steps felt, the ground slowly giving way then nearly completely falling away without warning, leaving me stranded with waves of colors washing over me, passing through my body like I wasnít there.

I closed my eyes and thought of things for a moment and decided that this might be the final stage of some kind of test. I took a moment and set my feet down firmly onto the ground allowing myself a few moments to ascertain my position. I was beginning to understand what was happening and decided to take some kind of control. I opened my eyes again and the cascading lights were still swirling around me. I examined their patterns carefully and waited for just the right formation to emerge. I recognized some of the symbols forming slowly and focused my attention on their emerging patterns. It was difficult to anticipate what would occur but I decided to keep trying. I looked around and saw that a few of the more complicated patterns were beginning to collapse into simpler shapes and forms. This made it easier to see what was happening and the colors began to subside, slowly releasing their grip. I saw a few distant stars twinkling behind the waves and let them guide me. Examining them closely, I noticed that they hadnít changed position and this stability helped to mark the skies. More symbols emerged from the horizon but they were simpler and arrived at a slower pace. I took note of them in my mind and began to see what they represented. Slowly, the messages became clearer and simpler and they almost resembled words, though not ones that could naturally be spoken out loud. I sensed a changed world and slowly watched the sky. I focused my attention on them and began to feel a strange sense that perhaps I was almost controlling them, though perhaps it was the opposite. The huge waves gradually diminished into smaller rivers, then streams of light that streaked across the sky for shorter periods of time until they disappeared. Before I knew what was happening, the messages and lights were gone. I looked around and the night sky was completely still, nearly peaceful in design. Only the distant twinkling stars remained, the lights and colors left no trace of having existed, their transient messages confined to memory.

I stood there for a few moments, submerged in the nightís shadow, only the distant stars lit the sky. After everything that happened, things were surprisingly quiet. I felt my own breath growing shorter and slower, the air having cooled almost imperceptibly, like a fire had been extinguished. I slowly walked back towards the opposing edges of the clearing, carefully measuring my steps over its at once alien yet seemingly natural surface. I took my time, using these spare moments to maintain the symbols, forms and patterns that had washed over and surrounded me only minutes before. I tried to make sense of it but couldnít quite understand what had happened. Using my hands, I motioned to recreate them, scaling the shapes so that they fit the skies. I walked closer towards the walkway, reading the phantom symbols in my mind, tracing their movements and remembering their colors. I was distracted enough that I wasnít bothered by the encroaching cold. I paused for a moment and waited. I head the subtle sound of footsteps and knew that there was someone walking behind me. In the back of my mind, I knew that she had been observing me the entire time. I wondered if she had arranged the lights and shapes as a test, but wasnít entirely sure. It was still a relief to see her again and she moved closer towards me, and firmly took my hand. I turned and looked at her, and she nodded her head, signifying that she was satisfied my progress. She seemed pleased that I had come so far but there was much I didnít know. Most important were the mysteries that she represented. I looked at her but still hadnít quite discerned her motivations. I didnít understand why she was helping me. She seemed to hold many secrets and as she stood there, there was a palpable distance that I couldnít breach. I watched darkness descend from the skies, with scattered distant stars arranged purposely. It was simultaneously enchanting and mysterious, and she took advantage the night to cloak herself, maintaining a strange force field that seemed to protect her.

I was still intimidated by this, but I also trusted her without hesitation. I looked at her again and waited for her to tell me where to go next. The night was getting long and she apparently needed a break as well. I was reluctant to leave, but there was a promise that I would return, so I decided to go with her. We began a long walk back down the hill, descending quickly back towards the bottom. I was getting tired, my feet were getting sore and I was completely overwhelmed by the occurrences in the preceding hours. I knew it would take too much energy to explore further, so we walked down the uneven steps, leaving additional exploration for another time. I carefully navigated the steps and allowed her to take the lead. I felt the cold winds grow stronger and knew we couldnít stay there forever. We finally reached the bottom of the hill and I looked up at the clear, tranquil skies and the flat platform beneath. I viewed it from a new perspective and it felt distant and mysterious yet somehow familiar. I didnít know why she brought me there, and what the symbols and colors represented. I still had a lot of questions and knew it would take some time to figure everything out.  The night wouldnít last forever but we were finally standing on safe ground. I looked at her and she seemed to echo my emotions; seemingly excited, relieved and tired. We rested for a minute and stood together, hiding in the shadows, quietly soaking in the moment. It had been an eventful night but it only represented the first step. There was much left to discover on the paths ahead.

- Michael Palisano
 

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