You may have noticed (or maybe not) that I didn’t post a teaser on Tuesday, and this post is… well… it’s not Friday Tea Time. Work tried to eat my life this week. Between that and an Into the West deadline that is fast approaching, I just let the blog fall to the wayside. I was actually going to post on Tuesday, but I ended up having to go to work before I ever had time. I wasn’t actually supposed to work on Tuesday.
So, anyway. Here’s a bit from an odd story I wrote back in the day called A Dream of Flame. It’s old, not completely edited, etc. Standard warnings apply. lol. Enjoy 🙂
I crossed the bridge. It wasn’t a bridge of destiny, but it sure felt like something momentous should happen on the other side. Unfortunately nothing exciting happened and I continued walking.
My therapist said that there was no such thing as a tunnel into another world.
I disagreed. And kept searching. Endlessly. Searching for happiness at the end of a rainbow, down a tunnel of trees, in a large pasture and wide open skies. I was still searching.
Today I searched for my dream on a mountain trail. At least my obsession was good exercise.
New worlds, new creatures, new people – anything but the same old world I lived in.
Once there was a tree. I thought it moved. Trees move slowly, or so I’m told, but this one looked like it could walk. Its roots branching above the ground, seeking tenuous purchase in the sandy dirt. Its branches contained only a few leaves. The desert was a harsh mistress and this tree was truly her servant, forming its very body to suit her needs. I watched, hoping to see it move again. Apparently the once was all I was going to get.
I’ve never tried searching in the bottom of water. I hear that is a good place to find other worlds, but I’m not so keen on the likely possibility of drowning that is involved with that particular search. Maybe I’ll take up scuba diving again.
A flash in the trees. Something exciting? A centaur perhaps or a fawn. I watch closely.
Well, it was a fawn, but of the deer-like nature. Damn.
My therapist thinks I’m nuts. Maybe I am. I think I just have a good imagination.
I trudge through the forest. The trees are singing. The birds are singing with them. Didn’t know that? Birds sing counterpoint to the trees. The trees are just harder to hear.
Someday I’ll hear the trees sing.
Perhaps that is my destiny. An endless search. That’s a depressing thought.
Onward. I had to find something. A rock to throw at my therapist. A feather of unusual nature to wave under his nose. Something to prove that I wasn’t insane.
Apparently today was not my day. Nothing jumped out at me. Nothing caught my eye and the only rock I found to throw was another chunk of Precambrian granite. The ripples it caused in the pond were satisfying. A splash and tinkle of water and perfect ripples sliding across the quiet surface of the otherwise tranquil pond.
The hike was refreshing. The mountain air sweet. And when I got back down the trail the parking lot was missing.
I viewed the mess of tents that had replaced it, in the quiet mountain meadow, and wondered if I’d finally lost it.
* * *
Relentless, torturous, I scream, yet it goes on. The fire burns, melting the synthetic fibers of my clothing, fusing them to my skin in quiet, sizzling, agony. Finally I fall silent, no screams left. My throat is raw, burning. My body is being consumed. I fight, resist, struggle for life. Slowly, slowly I lose the battle. The fire consumes me. My body turns to ash. I die.
* * *
I thrashed, closterphobia threatening to overwhelm me. Panic gained a hold on my mind and I thrust my hand out, a last ditch effort to save my fragile sanity. Cool air touched my sweat drenched skin, chilling my delicate fingers. The cool air was a shocking reminder of my current version of reality, but it brought me fully awake from my nightmare.
* * *
I told my therapist about my dreams. He tried to analyze them, explain them away as a childhood trauma. Maybe from the car crash. I disagreed and privately thought that my dreams and my recent hike were related.
Those last few hesitant meters down the mountain pass had felt like I was walking through molasses. Each step pushed through a resistance that was almost visible and the already rarified air had become thinner, causing my breaths to come in shallow gasps. Finally I could go no further and I stopped, pressing my hands against a stately pine for support. The rough bark dug into my hands aiding my hold on reality. Slowly I felt my breathing steady and I was able to stand on my own again. The distant rumble of a diesel engine reassured me. The pungent, sticky sap on my hands threatened to stick my fingers together. I idly played with the sap, still hesitating to turn the final corner, unable to face what might or might not be on the other side.
I wondered, as I touched my fingers together and pulled them apart again, the sap resisting my efforts, if I were more afraid that the tents would still be there, or afraid that they would be gone. I played with the sap for a while longer before finally setting my shoulders and walking around the last bend in the trail. My nerve failed me at the last moment and I chose another tree for support, re-sapping my fingers on the bark while I poked my head around the tree. My lungs started to burn and I forced myself to take a breath. I pried my eyes open. I spotted my old dodge winking at me from the parking lot, windows reflecting the afternoon light.
I couldn’t identify the feeling that seeped from my core and trickled to my extremities. Finally I ignored it and headed for my truck. I was good at ignoring things, especially the discontent that filled my life.
My old dodge roared to life and I bounced my way down the dirt roads back to my home.
* * *
Something glinted, like light reflecting off of a hunting cat’s tapetum. The flash of light drew my eyes and I scanned the grass, hoping to see it again. There! I got up from the cold rock I was sitting on, wincing as my ankle protested slightly at my weight. I had twisted it last week, chasing a flock of birds. At first, when I had gone flying through the air, I had thought I was actually flying. The impact with the unforgiving stone ledge and the subsequent tumble off of a small cliff had been a rude awakening. The only thing that had saved me from more than a twisted ankle and some major bruises was my, admittedly rusty, martial arts training. I didn’t know why I had thought I was flying, but at the time it had seemed quite natural. Hitting the ground had been stranger. At the time. Now I was just confused.
I limped towards the shiny object, tuning out the screaming children that were playing on the equipment and focusing on my search. I took a few more hesitant steps forward before dropping to my knees. Moisture soaked through my knees almost instantly. It had rained a few hours ago and the ground was still wet. (Moisture soaked my pants from the rain damp ground.)
I stared at the shiny brass object for a moment before slowly reaching out my hand. I touched the cool metal, still damp from the rain. My fingers tingled and I jerked my hand away. I bent over to get a closer look. It was a flat disk, about the size of half dollar, scalloped on the edges and reminiscent of a four-leaf clover (with oddly textured edges). The edges had a strange texture though. Unable to resist any longer I darted my hand out and grabbed the metal disk. It resisted being moved more than I had thought it would. The tingling was not unpleasant, almost soothing and I quickly forgot to be afraid of it. I tugged harder and fell backwards as the disk came free. There was a lot more of it than I had initially observed. I ignored the moisture soaking into my pants as I studied the object in my hand.
A hand length shank extended from the flat disk. I pulled the clinging grass and mud off. A key. An old fashioned key. I had initially thought it was brass, but something about the weight and feel of it made me think that it was something else, though the metal was brassy in color.
I hefted it. Even with my delicate physic I could probably kill someone with this key. I snorted, momentarily amused and distracted by the thought of my willowy 5’5” self bashing someone’s brains in with my key. I wasn’t exactly short, but I was delicate. I’ve been compared to a heron on many occasions.
I brushed more of the dirt off and held it up to the light. It glinted, the light almost seeming to pour over and through the etchings on the key like liquid fire. I watched, mesmerized. The scalloped edges of the key were grooved and after studying them I realized that they were feathers. Hah! My therapist would believe this. It was solid, real and obviously not common. Of course he would find some way to explain its existence. My momentary elation subsided and suddenly I didn’t want to show him my key. I sighed.
The fiery dance of sunlight on my key faded. I glanced up. A cloud, darker than the rest of the white cotton puffs in the sky, obscured the warming sunlight. I was immediately very aware that my pants were soaked through. A shiver wracked my body and I got up. It was time to return home and I wanted to clean the rest of the dirt away from my new possession.
I didn’t notice, until I was almost out of the park, that the screaming of children had been replaced by a deep quiet that wasn’t possible to find in the city. I looked around. The children were still there, swinging, running, jumping and otherwise doing their best to expend limitless energy but I couldn’t hear them and it seemed like I was viewing them through a thick lens. They were distorted, as was the street and the bakery on the corner. The streetlights were muted, their reds and greens punching through the lens, only dimly. I turned again, panic starting to fill me. The trees were distant, more real than the children and the bakery but still not quite here.
I looked down at the key grasped in my sweating hands. It was real, solid and glowed with a soft warmth that was trying to fill me. I almost flung it from me and ran but as I raised my hand to commit the act I hesitated. Curiosity filled me. What did the key go to? If I threw it away, I would never know. It shone with internal fire, becoming almost painful to look at, the heat seeping into my pores.
It flashed, I staggered, the brightness threatening to overwhelm me. The sounds of screaming children assaulted me once again. A car honked, brakes screeched and I looked wildly around. Everything was normal, as I remembered normalcy anyway. I looked down at the key in my hands. It was dull, brassy and covered with dirt, an otherwise normal, abnormal object. I shivered and thrust it into my bag, unwilling to look at it any longer.
* * *
The next day I woke up feeling called. I crawled out of bed, drenched from another nightmare, and staggered, still mostly unconscious, across the room. I reached into my bag and withdrew the metal key. It was glowing again and the tingle that touching it created in my arm brought me to full consciousness. I blinked, momentarily wondering what I was doing out of bed, but then I remembered the persistent tug, the need to touch it and it to touch me. I shook my head and looked at the dirty key. At the very least I should clean it up.
I took the key into the bathroom and turned on the sink. There was nothing different about the water coursing down from the faucet, nor was there anything different about my sink, however it all felt wrong. I held the key towards the water and swore I heard something scream. My hand tingled and it felt like rivulets of fire ran through the veins in my arm.
I jerked my hand away from the water and the sensation subsided. Pushing the key back towards the water caused the same results, this time worse. I was hard pressed to hold onto the key. I grabbed my wrist with my other hand and staggered backwards, almost falling into the bathtub.
Apparently water wasn’t a good thing. I didn’t agree, water was a good way to clean off dirt, but after a short heated discussion with the key and another attempt with the water produced the same results I had to come to the conclusion that the key didn’t agree with me.
I put it in my jacket pocket and proceeded to forget about it.
* * *
The fog enveloped me, cushioned me, sheltered me. In this fog I felt as if I were alone in the world, alone and nothing mattered. All that mattered was being. I existed, in the moment, for a time. I walked, allowing myself to get lost, not seeing anything but the gray path beneath my feet, and that only vaguely. The fog was such that even the sounds, distant sea crash and call of the lighthouse foghorn were only audible as if from a great distance instead of the few hundred yards that it really was.
Finally I stepped off the path and down into the sand. I sank into it, the gritty matter chaffing my feet around my sandals. I ignored the discomfort and kept walking until I met the sea. It was angry today. The surf was strong and I could hear the waves crashing violently against the distant rocks. The fog muffled the sounds, but the crash of the sea was not diminished. I shivered and took a step into the water. It was cold, impossibly cold, and my feet were almost instantly numb. This ocean was not warm but right now I didn’t care. I took another step and another, sinking up to my thighs, loosing all feeling in my lower body. A warmth started in my pocket, distant at first and I barely noticed it, but as I walked further into the icy surf it started to warm my hip and my pocket started to glow.
I stopped, uncertain. I had been intending on walking out until I couldn’t anymore and then attempting to get back to shore. Whether I made it or not really hadn’t been relevant. The glow got brighter, chasing back the fog and creating a golden bubble. I reached into my pocket and took out the warm key. I had forgotten about it in my obsession with the fog and angry sea. It was glowing, moon bright, not quite painful to look at. Gripped with a sudden obstinate passion I shoved the key towards the angry ocean.
Resistance met my outthrust hand, resistance and pain. The key, or maybe just my hand, started to shake. The water almost seemed to move away from the key in it’s desire not to get wet. The roaring in my ears was not from the surf, but as if I were trapped in a furnace, burning and hot. Fire flooded through my veins and I was afraid if I looked at them I would see golden traces along my arms where my blood was burning away. I kept my eyes on the key.
The lower half of my body was numb, lifeless though it still supported me. The upper half was on fire, burning with an intensity that could only be described by someone who had survived the inside of a volcano. As I had not survived such a thing, I could not even begin to describe it.
In my distraction, not heeding the icy waves, I did not notice that they were building, becoming greater, making me wetter, soaking the fire out of my limbs. I held the key up, at eye level away from the water and it’s glow diminished. Beyond the key, the fog reflected back droplets of light. The light caught my attention and I looked away from the key, marveling at how light had become liquid.
Water reached up and soaked my chest as it rushed past, gripping at the light as it speed towards the shore. It pulled the liquid droplets down out of the fog and into it’s murky foam. Little points of light screamed as they were pulled under the waves and motes of light shuddered and raced towards the shore. The screams of the light sucked away my breath and I turned towards the shore, wanting to be out of the cold water.
I followed the motes towards shore. The water became shallow, then suddenly rushed away from my legs. I turned. A wall of water, taller than me, rushed, inevitably, towards shore. I was in its way, and I was going to get wet.
I clutched the key to my chest, mentally apologizing for bringing it to this fate and turned my back on the wall of water I couldn’t outrun, trying to offer a little protection to the key I had inadvertently endangered with my own reckless curiosity. I didn’t know why I felt sad, as I felt the water loom over me. It was only a metal object, but the cries of the light motes echoed in my head and I felt the urge to cry.
I hunched over, preparing for the onslaught and the soaking I was sure I deserved. There was a vast quiet that suddenly blocked out the crashing surf and then I was engulfed in water.
I remained dry, and unbuffeted by the waves. This confused me until I looked around. I was surrounded by a glow, a bubble that went all the way to the sand I stood on. It was translucent, barely there and I could see the water swirling around me just beyond the boundaries of the glow. Fire sang in my veins and I was sure, at that moment, that if I could just find the key, I could do anything.
The water subsided, swirling, foamy, angry, trying to batter down my barrier of protection. I quickly pushed towards the shore and dry land before it could break my bubble. I was dry now, and didn’t want to get wet again.