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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 

Fiction



An Unlikely Combination

As I walked through the streets on a cold January morning when I was a boy, many thoughts passed through my mind. Most of them werenít what people would expect. I had seen some fairly odd things over the preceding months and they continued to maintain a prominence in my mind. There were interruptions and distractions over the past few weeks. It was a strange Christmas, where I received many gifts I didnít need. The one that meant the most was the one that wasnít wrapped in the usual red colored paper. This was one that I didnít display proudly Ė in fact I kept it hidden from view. I didnít want any one to know. As the weeks passed and the holiday season came to its end, the new year dawned. Things unfolded in a different way than I expected it to. Everything felt different for me at that point. I found myself searching, seeking answers and only finding more questions. I felt detached from my obligations and expectations. At many points, I wished I could be someone, anyone else. No matter what I did, I felt trapped and alone. I was under a constant cloud of fear of our secret being exposed. This probably wasnít apparent on the outside, and those around me probably didnít know what was going on. As I dug deeper inside my memories and experiences, they seemed to recede, become ever more distant as I spent so much time thinking about what had happened to me. I had the strangest feeling haunting me for months and it refused to let go. I can only describe it as a sense of confusion mixed with fear. It wasnít like the emotions I had felt before. It didnít feel natural to me, and this was quite unnerving. As weeks went by, I began to realize what the feelings were about. At first they seemed like they would overcome me, and I felt a little bit overwhelmed. Slowly, I began to be able to anticipate them and this gave me a chance to at least mitigate their effects. I developed a technique where I could simultaneously exist on two different levels. This helped me control them and I was able to keep them hidden. No one realized what was happening, except me. No one else had seen her or felt her next to them. I was the only one, and as far as the rest of the world was concerned, she didnít exist. Even after all the months had passed, I still didnít anyone about her, since it wouldnít have done anyone any good.

It was hard to understand what changed to me about the world during those months. It might not have seemed significant to anyone else, but it mattered to me. It was as if the world I knew had opened up and revealed something I had never even contemplated. The evidence was irrefutable in my mind, but the paradox occurred when I remembered that was I was the only one who experienced those moments, and was the sole witness who could back it up. I knew it was happening, but no one else did. There were many things I didnít yet understand, which undermined my desire to confess the secrets we shared. Besides, we had an unspoken agreement, these were our times, they were our shared moments that existed for no one but us. It was also a burden in some other unexpected ways. I had a hard time seeing others without seeing her, and I mostly found them lacking. I knew I couldnít tell anybody but there were numerous mysteries I couldnít begin to solve. I didnít know precisely where came from, though I had an idea. The other thing that puzzled me was why she seemed to need to look after me. I thought about some of the seemingly odd things that had happened in the years before our first encounter. I thought about several close calls I experienced, where things could have turned out quite badly. There was one instance in particular where I felt something closing in, encircling my body. My throat would close up and Iíd feel a dull pain going up my right leg. The dread and darkness came for me in an instant and it felt like there was no escape. Suddenly, without explanation the threat would lift almost miraculously and Iíd feel serenity and peacefulness rush in to take its place. I wondered where this sudden peacefulness had came from before we met. Now that I had seen her, I had an idea but wasnít completely sure if it was her work or not. I hadnít actually seen her during those moments, but thinking back on it, I thought something or someone had been watching over me, even though I hadnít realized it. I just couldnít quite understand why it was happening to me.

I reluctantly returned to school a few weeks later, still feeling a bit alone inside there. However, I still had my secrets to pull me through. I walked through the streets there in the mornings. The distance was the same, but things had changed. January was a little different than the previous months, as the frozen edges had come and taken over. In the intervening weeks between the winter had taken its traditional hold on the world. Endless layers of ice covered the ground, freezing everything below its absolute grip. Unable to let anything through, even the sun couldnít penetrate the deep freeze. The air was cold, and I could feel it inside me as each breath would come. After several weeks of this, I had become accustomed to its cold and my defenses were strong, so it didnít bother me. The layers of snow would usually arrive during the night, covering the ice with a fresh coating of crystalline white. Gradually adding layers, it created a thick surface that was simultaneously slick and sturdy. I had to be careful in the mornings, since the newly fallen ice was slippery and it would be easy to fall. Walking up the steep hills towards school wasnít the easiest task, but one that had to be endured. Using my well-worn paths, I was usually able to get there quicker than the others. Frequently, Iíd find a locked door and for a few minutes, I would stand there alone most of the time. As I looked across the fields and sidewalks, I could see thousands of small crystals in the snow each morning, reflecting the sunlight, glittering like the ocean I had dived in during the summer. In the silent moments, I watched the winter light as it absorbed to the ground coming straight through the clouds, diving into the snow-covered ground, splashing it with a distinct energy. It was a beautiful solitary moment but this calm wouldnít last. Once the others would arrive, theyíd begin converge on the door, tracking through the snow leaving their footprints behind, disrupting the pristine silence. Theyíd come closer to me as the time came near, battling it out to become the first through the door. Iíd usually hold back, and stand a little bit to the side, letting them go in before me. I felt distant from them the moment they entered my presence and I was in no hurry to join them.  I watched them walk into the building, and I felt something come over me. I thought of her as I was standing there and suddenly, I decided that day would be different.

I decided not to go inside the building that day which wasnít something Iíd normally do. I knew what was expected of me, but I couldnít gather the strength to endure it that morning. I felt things were draining away and there were more important things for me to do. As I turned in the other direction and walked away, I wondered if anyone would miss me. I approached the steel gates and as I walked back through them, I felt the burdens lift. I wouldnít have to pretend, hide myself, or put on a mask. I wouldnít have to live in fear of being found out. The decision came quickly to me and I knew it was the right one. It had only been a few weeks, but I was again feeling a little overwhelmed. I needed a break from these thoughts. My steps began to quicken, I was happy, the day was mine again. I would worry about the books and their questions tomorrow. The sun was brightening, and things began to feel a little bit warmer. As I walked further away, the things I held in my backpack began to feel important again. My stories and drawings wouldnít be carelessly disturbed; my privacy wouldnít be invaded by those who wouldnít understand. I didnít have to worry about any of those pressures. I walked through the streets, taking my usual short-cuts home and passing some of the familiar places. I walked past the hidden entrance to the mountain where I spent a lot of time the previous fall. I saw that during the previous few weeks, it had been further obscured by a large bank of snow that had been pushed in front of it during the intervening storms, making it nearly impossible to get into from that direction. I wasnít planning on going there anyway, it was much too cold. The daylight was beginning to intensify and as I looked on the ground, I could see some of the top layers of snow begin to melt and turn into water pools. I walked further down the hill and past the other entrance that was better marked but still not completely welcoming. As I walked down the hill, there were more houses and they got smaller and closer to each other. Their roofs were covered by thick layers of ice, submerging them under winterís grip. Tracing my footsteps carefully, I walked in the paths trying to stay in the clear sections. I carefully stepped over the icy spots and tried to avoid slipping and falling. I was making some fast progress and soon I knew Iíd be home. It was a very quiet walk since most of the morning hustle and bustle had subsided, leaving the world in a strangely restful condition. The silence was a great relief to me, things had become overwhelming quickly and this was exactly what I wanted.

Suddenly, I heard someone call my name.

(Continue to page 2)

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