9:30. Snowpants on, coat, rubber boots, mittens scarf hat, I was set. And slightly hungover.
It was an ice storm. Not enough snow for a blizzard, but that was the only difference. Besides the ice. There was a constant light brushing of snow, or there would have been if it wasn't for the 25 mi/hr winds. Because of the sleet, freezing rain, hail, and snow, and the perfect temperature conditions, there was a layer of ice on everything. On the houses. On the walkways, on the roads, the trees, every leaf, every pine needle, blade of grass, berry, bump in the tree bark. Everything had its own seperate case. One of those things you read about in your 7th grade text book, but never get to experience yourself. "Much tree damage due to the weight of the ice and the brittleness and the wind." It was beautiful. I'm sure if the sun had been shining, it would have glittered like diamonds.
But the sun is NOT out. It is cold. And I am going out into it. I have 2 and a half hours, an eternity for my purposes. I set out.
On the hill behind the library, the wind threatens to steal my scarf. It is too strong to face, so I let it push me forewards as I lean backwards into it. Thanks to the snowpants, this is basically the only time I got cold anywhere besides on my face, my only exposed skin. I let the wind push me a moment, then head in the woods.
No footprints yet. Probably for several hours, too. Saturday morning, after all, at college. No one else is crazy enough to be up yet, much less to be voluntarily walking around in this kind of weather! Walking by the river, the wind is strong enough that the only foreign sound I can hear is the mechanical building about a mile away, downstream, on the other bank. The path I'm walking on...it, like the ground, is frozen and there's snow blown over most of it. The snow has a secret though. Underneath the snow is a thin layer of ice that crunches like butter brickle under my feet. If I had never walked on ice-covered snow before, I would have no other way of describing it. There is nothing to compare it to. You step and sink about a quarter inch, and it sort of crinkles. At home, some winters there would be a foot or more of snow under an ice layer, and if you stepped too heavily, you would sink down quite a ways! Well, I turn my head to get smacked by the stinging snow and to see my footprints. Strangely, half of them are puddles. The snow holds two secrets then: beneath the ice is water. Weird. Never seen anything like it ever before. Up ahead I notice large slush puddles. I step in one, and realize I should avoid doing that in the future when possible. Deep, several inches. My boots are solid rubber for about 5 inches, but my snowpants and full-length peacoat could drag and that could get messy.
I look up at the river. Holy fuck, a bald eagle is perched on a tall tree. I didn't know there were any in the arb! [Carleton's nature reserve I was walking through] "Oh my God!" I say as it flies off, leading me down the path. It is huge, and graceful, and I had seen picture of eagles and had always thought they were kind of ugly things, but it was beautiful and magestic. Grey and white with the confident yellow beak. And the wingspan. I will never forget that encounter. I looked up, it was looking down at me. We, well, it sounds silly when I think of trying to explain it, but we communicated before it took off. It was a proud eagle, not at all afraid of me, more disdained perhaps that I had interrupted its enjoyment of the storm.
So I trudge foreward, in the direction of the eagle. The path splits to accomodate a non-maintained trail, only wide enough for one person. It follows the river more, so I take it, hoping to see my guide again. But I realize I'd rather visit the other part of the arb today after a little while so start cutting back to the other path. I walk through what in the summer is a small field of tall grasses, but right now is a snow-covered swamp. It is deep. At least 6 inches in parts, and I try to avoid getting wet like the plague. I feel a little guilty walking through the field, breaking twigs off the occasional bush and just destroying some of the grasses. Because of the ice, twigs snap at the lightest touch. I find that walking on the vegetation ensures at least a couple inches of clearage, and most of the time a complete avoidance of water. It's an incredible distance to the other path, maybe an eigth of a mile. I don't think I was even on the small path more than a quarter mile...
10:00am. Back to the path. I stop to look at some plants, look at the berries in their balls of glass, snap twigs and leaves with a flick of the thumb. I feel guilty for that too, a little bit. I choose my fork to let me go out to the farthest reaches of the arb, on the advice of both my desires and a little sparrow ahead of me. Still being guided. It's comforting. At the top of the hill, I head left and step on some deceptive ice. CRACK! and four inches of water underneath. I step off the path onto some grass and watch. The ice crack has spread about 10 feet down the path, and water is slowly seeping onto the surface, changing the texture and color. After a moment, I crack it again and watch the traces repeat the same game. It's pretty. A bit farther down, the wind gets really intense, and I face it to fix my scarf. I am at the one spot on the hill with neither trees nor high grasses to block the wind (coming from down the hill), and it's even stronger than behind the library. I lean way foreward and am still threatened to move backwards. It's a powerful, magical feeling, and I stay there for quite some time. I can see the blurs of trees pretty far off when the snow is light, and almost nothing when it's heavy. Finally, I move on, take a right at the fork, and head out into the grasslands. There's lots of slush puddles, huge, unavoidable ones, deep and meanacing and yellow. They almost look soiled in places. I know, after a particularly large one, that I have crossed some sort of threshold that no one else will want to cross, that even if someone else ventures into the arb this morning, they would not come this far.
Beyond the grasslands, off the path, there is a farmer's field, and the snow is like fog out there, blowing thickly, eliminating visibility, playing, blowing, swirling. The snow clumps make the wind visible, sort of like giving speech to a cello. I can see the personality of the gusts, watch them tyrranize the field, possess it, opress any hopes of peace. I backtrack a few steps and decide to experience it.
Out in the fields, the wind is much much stronger then when I was in the grass area. No three-foot break now! It pummels me, juggles me between its hands, cackles manically when I try to fix my scarf during a respite. I am more than half under its control. In the field, there are many fewer slush puddles, many more dry ice patches. Very little snow stays in any one place with winds like this! However, I find a large patch of ice with white marks *under* it. Air pockets! Water! I crack it with a step and watch the bubbles get agitated. Another crack, more power, get some water to surface. After a minute or so, I look farther down the fields. The wind is stronger there because there's more field before the high grasses start. I keep going out. Now the winds are intense. I can still control myself in them, however, and the snow isn't as bad as I thought, so I go farther still and mount a hill. There's a higher hill ahead, so I climb that. Finally, the highest hill, the most open space in front of me, not even any trees at the edge of the hill where I was before, on the path. Nothing to stop the wind. The wind. It blows, and my leaning into it is imperative, and a struggle. Can words capture those five minutes or so when I am standing out on that hill? I was impervious to any bodily cold at this point, but the walk to the hill froze the right side of my face, and I had the scarf way high over my right cheek and ear. Now my entire face is being shot with the machine gun of snow, a constant spray, and I wrap the scarf all the way up to my eyes and look out.
As with the eagle, there was communication. This time, however, is a monologue. No, not the "screeching of the wind, howling in my ears," as if I would have my ears exposed at this point! I instead feel the discourse. I feel it in the strength of the gusts, how much snow is in them, where they hit, if they make all my clothes feel like a single worn t-shirt or not, it it makes it through my mittens. I pause, turn around to pull my hat down over most of my eyes. This is the only way I am able to keep them open when I turn back around.
What does the wind tell me? No words, no formal thoughts, or contemplations or conclusions or questions. Just an emotion. Power. Twisted power, threatening power, mean, tortuous, hateful, prideful power. The wind is gloating in its power, enjoying how it can sweep over the fields like a paintbrush full to brimming with paint over a canvas. It is reveling in its ability to blow without end over the icy fields, the fields it made icy. How it can fire the snow around, sculpt it in the air and force it cruelly wherever it wants. It shares this feeling with me, and I'm sure if such a feeling allowed for kindness in the telling, it would be kind. But it is not kind, neither the emotion nor the wind, and in gloating, it pummels me, fires snow at me, ices my face, mittens, coat, everything, for I am just another part of the field.
Finally, I think my face is going numb, and I head back. The left side of my face is now being tortured. Ice thrown upon it, tender skin assulted by the wind. Looking at the path, I realize I am perhaps a quarter mile into the fields. When I get to where I think it is, I can't find my cracked ice. It's a big field, and I was moving around. Back where it meets the path, i can barely see my footprints in the slush. Scary. I could disappear without a trace. No one would ever know I had been here, except for where I was in the slush, and within an hour or so of me being there. Back on the path, I see my own foot print, then another one up ahead. Except I never made it that far. The rattling of the branches and the squeaking of the trees makes it sound like there's always someone nearby, but I gave up that thought long ago. I keep going, and see another little bird in the grasses. It is really near to me and doing a very private little bird dance, hopping about, trying to find where it needs to go. It would never show me or anyone else these personal activities if it weren't for the extreme conditions of the storm. The footprints are back again, up ahead. Going in the opposite direction. I am no longer the only person out in the arb. How fresh are they? They take the same forks I was planning on taking, so I decide that they are my new guide. Out in the more woodsy part, the wind is minimal and there are actually several inches of snow on the ground, slightly drifted. Then the footprints start to fade, then they are faint, then they are gone. Alone again. I measured back a bit by their distance that it was a runner, moving pretty fast. I wonder what he thought when suddenly there were footprints, mine, in the slush. All of a sudden, marks in the snow leading...but he would forget when they started, just that they appeared and that their creator up and disappeared somewhere. I doubt he saw me. I must have been on the hill at that point, and when running, even without the blinding snow and wind, it is unusual to look anywhere but the path.
So I am someone else's enigma. Judging by how quickly they faded, he was very recent. Crinkle crinkle. There is a tree, maybe 10 years old, with a protective fence along most of its trunk, that is leaning way too far into the path. I push at it, play with it, toss it into the wind a little (mostly tall grasses again). The fencing is very solid plastic, mesh, and covered in ice. I crinkle it and know it is not living, I feel no guilt. I wrinkle it and crumple it and the ice chips off, flakes away. I try to do the same to the wind-facing side, but it won't budge. Too much ice. After realigning the tree with the stick with it in the fencing, so it doesn't lean quite so much, I head on.
I hear geese overhead and watch them. Poor things. The wind isn't so bad right where I am, but it looks awful up there. They are facing the wind, but not really moving, just staying almost directly overhead. One barks a suggestion, others reply. They still face the wind but now are moving sideways, sort of moving foreward, then backwards. They try regrouping, someone offers another suggestion, little progress is made. Eventually, one decides to just face sideways, they finally form a 'V', and very quickly fade into the snowy sky. A little too quickly for comfort. I keep moving.
My backwards guide, the footprints, reappear and disappear, and I keep going. Out here is where, on a quite summer day, you can't hear any cars. Just nature. It's one of the few places I've ever been to like that, so I pause, and because of the wind, I am pretected from all foreign sounds, encased in nature. Away from it all, from last night, from tomorrow. At peace. Cold, blown, snowed, iced, happy to see all the white and the glittering and the trees and the little glassed berries and the occasional bird. I grab an oak leaf still somehow clinging to its tree, break it off. It looks like candy, so I start to nibble. I find I can crunch the ice and swallow before the strange texture of the leaf kicks in. I get in a few bites before dropping it.
Once again walking, I see something remarkable. People! Two men in their 30s, running through the arb. I grow nervous with anticipation, as if I am about to meet a celebrity. I keep walking, blush, look down, glance up, almost there! Look down again, why am I shy? Then I look up and say "hi" and the one smiles in greeting back, and the other, well, he looks at my boots in concerned approval. I keep walking. After I am sure they are past, I stop to look down and see my boots for myself. My whole appearance is rather irregular and striking. First is the hat. Everyone loves the hat. Off-white, realistic looking fake fur in a Russian-style oval, flat topped, thick and tall cuff. It comes down to my eyebrows. It is large and unusual but somehow it works on me. Then we have the coat. A huge, straight, dark grey peacoat with three large buttons and three large "for show" buttons down the front. It goes to my ankels. I say "grey" and not "gray" because that's what it is. It looks promising and classy. Under it, but you can't really tell because it's so long, are my black snow pants. Then we have the scarf. It is, in contrast to the sophisticated tones of the coat, bright bright blue. Playful, cheery, fun. My mittens, the visible parts, are a vibrant shade of pea-green, also a stand out. And my boots, and killer part of any outfit, are the old-school, solid rubber flourescent pink that only I would wear. And I wear them with everything. Before the hat, everyone told me they loved the boots. People notice them. People who would normally only smile at me in passing would stop me to tell me they loved them. They're wild. So I look a bit unusual, and the runner noticed my boots.
But now I see why. There is a gigantic slush puddle ahead, twenty feet wide. The runners' footprints tell a tale of woe through many other slush puddles, sometimes 5 inches deep, icy water, just running shoes! large gaping holes in ice, yellow ponds violated by their marks. But this yellow pond, this one is huge. Too huge. My original guide had gone through it, but not these guys. They had dipped into a field on the side, so I follow them. Out in the field, I loose their path. Guidless. Perhaps they started in the field? But no drifts of snow further out are disturbed. The footprints just started from nowhere. I look back at the last one I found. There it was. And no more. Well, I remember seeing their marks earlier on the path, past the pond, so I keep looking. Finally I see them ahead. There are many, in fact endless ways to cut back to the path, but I decide to be faithful, like a daughter lowingly following the wishes of her father, and step on exactly the same places they did. Often, using their footprints, even. Back on the path, I realize why he looked at my boots. Were I wearing anything else, he would have warned me. But he saw them and probably thought "now there's the right idea. Wish I had thought of that, my feet are freezing. I bet hers are dry." In fact one was a little damp from the first marsh I cut through, somehow the snowpants got some water in there, but never cold.
Finally, and coniferous forest starts. No more adventures, I think to myself, now just the coniferous trees, the point farthest out, and the path going home again. When there's no wind, you can hear the freeway over here. But I get in the woods and realize I have come upon one of the best parts of the whole arb. Even on still days, the trees creek when they rub one another, talking to each other slowly but with poise. Today, they are electric. It's a constant chatter, pierced by exclamations during the gusts. Furthermore, it is raining needles. Not needles like you find on the forest floor, but clumps still attatched to the branches, little balls of green fluff. I watch it come down all around me, like green, organic hail. There's a bench-like tree on the ground a bit off the path so I sit down and watch and listen.
The trees aren't talking, they're dancing, swaying, singing. Letting the wind pass through them, weave between them, and it excites them, like magic. They shiver at its touch like feeling the finger of a lover tracing their spine. It feeds them, it is everything they've ever wanted, and then some, and they shudder with glee! But it is too much. They think they are equal to the wind, but they are still looking up to it, still under its power, and they, like me in the field, are being injured. They are bleeding twigs and needles, slowly dying in their exstacy. A few have caught on, but the rest are so consumed with pleasure that it is impossible to warn them. And at every gust more clumps fall, tinkling their ice-coated selves through the ice-coated branches, fighting their way down to the ground.
I have walked a bit farther and paused at places where there are many clumps on the path, hoping to be graced with contact. But next to me I hear a very loud thump of a particulary heavy branch, and decide that perhaps it is a little risky.
At the final distant point, I decide for a change not to follow my guides out of the arb to the freeway, and instead take a left to start on the path back. But there the two men's marks are! Again backwards. They are fresh, so I assume they had just finished their loop and were heading out. So in fact, they became my new guide, and I was still following them. Comforting.
11:10. I should be able to make it back just by noon. Perfect. No more time for adventures. Up the hill, into the oak forest, down a hill, up a hill. The trees lean way over the path, and I try fixing some of them, but there's just no time. A chain is hanging from a branch, and I loosen it, link by link, cracking the ice. It's satisfying somehow, like picking peeling paint off a wall. Eventually I tire of this and replace it.
Trudge trudge, crinkle crinkle. Suddenly there are mroe footprits, going in my direction. Fresh ones. Huh? I look down, right where they start. Two people had come out, turned around, headed back. Hm. No interesting landmark or anything at that place. Just where to turn around. The runners' marks are faded by here anyways, and these two walkers seem just as capable of leading me where I want to go. I discover I am once again next to the river. I search in vain for the eagle, but the factory is really loud here, and a dog has been barking for the past 10 minutes. It is funny how I can watch some trees up ahead, a barely-discernable brown against the dull gray of the sky, but it's not the sky, its the snow between them and more trees. Then, tehy come more into focus and the next rank of trees behind them is visible. The rest is blank. The artist was too lazy to draw it in. Just nothing. Kind of discomforting that there is *nothing* beyond the trees. No sky, really, no color, no hope for a cloud or a branch or anything. Just...nothing. I look back down at the stings along the path.
A few other details, and much less time. 11:30. I grab a milkweed pod, split open and frozen, and contemplate it as I walk. Most things I pick up I stick in my mouth to clean off the snow so I can stare into the icy depths, berries magnified under the glass casing. But this, this would terrify me without the ice. Even through my mtitens I would shudder to touch it. Cotton filling visible through the split, hairy tendrils sticking out, spiky scaly cover, cleft open by some force of will of the evil trapped inside, which will normally threaten any who came near, if not for the ice pausing it, and pausing everything.
But today I am safe, and I put it to rest farther down the path. Now I take the fork back to the path I had already been on. There's a lot of slush, and I look for my marks, but I can't find them. None. Perhaps I was in the marsh? No. I had been here. Nothing. I was a disappeared object, an unsolved mystery, while I was out there. Later I find where I think I had hopped out the other marsh, but no footprints, nothing to tell a worried mother where I had been before they lost me. Then, a beautiful yellow pond, very large and very deerp-looking. Most remarkable, a brown semi-circle in the middle of it, like a rust stain from a carriage wheel. A step around it, play with another part of the pond, keep going.
Back towards the arb entrance are more footprints. No one going in my direction ever made it through any slush puddles, however, everyone scared off by their wetness, their surprising hand that reaches around your ankle when you make the mistake of disturbing them. And then I am back on the road, heading home, 11:55. Not cold, not warm, but iced. Sung to by the wind, privy to the private lives of birds, witness to the secret addictive wind dance of the pine trees, partner, for an instant, to the eagle. They are my secrets, for no one else would imagine going out on a day like today. I can't imagine not going out.
A blur up ahead.
"Did you think about the children?
You can't remember;
You're lying in bed though,
Sometimes, listening to instrumentals
on my way to sleep
I hear the music talking.
Words in the notes
I find this happening just as I
cross the line into sleep
and suddenly come to,
focus on the sound
try to recall the words,
but just as in reading a sign
in a dream,
the exact words,
even the message
Last night it happened again.
The piano notes were talking to me
I don't remember what they were saying.
Suddenly the CD stops and
pop songs start.
I hadn't touched the computer
Somtimes my brain does that
Someone whispers as I fall asleep
and he must have also changed the music.
I sit up
start seeing things
shapes, animals, things from childrens's books
and flip out.
But part of me, or the non-fucked-up
is still lying in bed.
One of me,
I lose track of which
sees all sorts of designs,
patterns in the air,
moves towards the door.
The other one keeps singing along.
Which one is real?
The wrong music is in both scenes,
It's so confusing.
Back to the floor-me, the sane-me,
non-singing, non-supporting of the
I can barely see the floor for
the darkness and
A little man,
size of my hand
is running towards the wall.
I blink, he grows more vivid.
I am dubious, he's so small!
I reach out.
No, I can feel him.
holy fuck what is going on?!
I run next door, they're still awake.
But I'm still singing to the songs, floating
Now I think the songs are the real me
The nextdoor me is fake.
But I am next door and they comfort me.
I tell them about the other me
no escape from myself
It's all in my head!
but I can't detatch it.
It's all so weird.
I can't control it
I lost contact with myself
Both of them
flipping back and forth
which is real?
Who do I trust?
Me? or the other me?
I sleep naked
And forgot my bathrobe.
singing singing, dancing, convulsing
seeing faces in the wall,
colors in the darkness
it's beautiful and blinding
and not me
but my natural state
no one else's
and i would die without it
but i can barely hold on with it
someone whispering in my ear
but I keep singing
the boys next door try to help
i fight through the visions to see them
touch their wall
We have a video camera set up
look in my room through the lens,
swing it around
to find me at the computer
i flip out
I am in their room
yet i am in the other room
it is digitally recorded now!
watching me convulsing, singing,
so hideous, but it's me
and i have no control
Besides, i'm standing naked in their room.
josh does an impression
of the other me
at least the guys are real
i plead with josh
"Please, help, anything, I am
The other me, the wrong me...
there are two
please, so scary
she's thrashing, watch her
but that's me, in the other room
I squeeze Josh's kness tighter
horror of all horrors, the me in their room
is not the real me!
Have i divulged any secrets to her?
when will i find the real me?
if that wasn't me...
i am back-in-my-bed me
the me in their room,
what is she doing now?
in the bed
I clench harder
lying in my bed
I am crossing my arms around me
Josh fades to nothing as I lie there
legs crossed in mockery
of what I had thought
was really real
no line between dream and reality
just a two minute, painful
of the dream-hallucination
Still clenching, I reach out
with my ears
to hear the music
but I wake up enough
to get past the voice
But my legs,
I uncross them to find they were never crossed
I straighten my arms to find them
already at my sides.
Dare I leave the bed?
Music off, I find Josh, tell him what happened
but as the sleep aids kick in
30 minutes after he leaves,
I still see owls in the shelves,
hear someone singing in my ear
whispering things to me
I cannot believe I was alone that night.
But back to the bilboard.
I certainly did not think about
With increasing frequency, you find your dreams interrupting your sleep. They contain portents of a catastrophe, a world calling out for help. Now nearly every night, sometimes more than once before morning even, you find yourself sitting upright in bed, spicy-sweet sweat on the sheets cooling the spot underneath your back when you lay back down. What does it mean? Your breath quickens when you think about it during the day, but you try not to. It's folly. Just dreams.
A peaceful hamlet in the shadow of a happy capital. Deep green trees towering over mushroom colored stone cobble roads. Children playing by the well, brightly-clothed women gossiping over the drying laundry, men creating, selling, buying, and using goods. Calloused hands, folk songs. Suddenly a deep shadow passes over. A woman runs up to you, lines of worry visible, but not from frequent use. "Help us, please, somebody, please, it's coming!" and runs off past you. Your heart quickens its rythym, your blood's dance speeds up. You start to see colors, a bright light to your right, you turn your head, sit up, it's the window. The car continues it's path past the house, and you lay back down onto the all too familiar damp spot on the bed. You decide that in the two hours that remain before the alarm clock is set to sound, you owe it to yourself to think about things.
The dream is never quite the same, sometimes it's a man who approaches, sometimes a child. Often there are dogs dancing around the spot where you stand, but not always. The same villiage, the same well, different angles. You try to recall the weather, the time of day. Is it always the same episode, or are you visiting a world in realtime? Are they even speaking in a language you understand in the waking world? You try to remember hearing the words the villagers use, but you can only remember the fear in their voices. Wait. A string of syllables comes back. "Taskeytey...!" No language you know. Yet somehow...
A village needs your help. Is it just the village? The shadow, the darkness, it came from the direction away from the city down the road. You realize that not only are these few happy people in danger, but the entire metropolitan area, so to speak, is also being threatened, perhaps the whole country. What could you do? Next time you visit, should you try to confront the danger or go to the city for help and information? Perhaps some old wives' tales are still floating among the women by the well...
Suddenly you're back there again, at the well. Try as you may to understand that you are not using English, your monolingual brain is only aware of fluent input-output streams and doesn't register much beyond that. The oldest and most feeble looking of the women approaches you, this time without the fleeting hopelessness and desperation you've seen in the past. You realize the woman is blind and seems to be addressing a crowd which has gathered around you.
"We know that our time draws to a close. Someone must go to the city to warn the rest of our people and try to use our power as best as possible to defend the rest of us. I fear this quiet village will soon be no more. If you love the land, the children, the future, do not try to cling now, but help amass the power to counter the coming doom."
You sense something special about this power the woman spoke of. Your hands tingle slightly. Does it flow in you as well? Has it always done so, or is it an aspect of the land you are visiting? In any event, you must go to the city. That much is clear. A small group of villagers is heading out and you join them. Rations have been prepared. Blankets have been packed, weapons sharpened, resolves stiffened. You ask how long the journey is expected to last. "3 days. Hopefully we will reach the city before it does."
You nod, reach for your daypack, and meet the eyes of your employer. "What did you say?! Hey, is everything alright?" He's wearing a rather uncharactaristically worried look on his face. You realize have been dreaming and must have said something to him in the other language, but any brainpower you might have spent trying to remember again what sounds you pronounced is instead used on remembering how you got to work, what time it is, what day it is, who picked out your outfit, and if it matches. You are colorblind and normally have your outfits prearranged. You look down at your pants, glance frantically at Steve, then back to your pants. You realize you can see color now, and that you have been able to in the village. A miracle! Your eyes suddenly dart all over the room, picking up every detail, comprehending now what a full spectrum of colors has to offer, how much you have been missing. It was all there in front of you, you just weren't thinking about it properly before!
"Hey, are you alright?! Calm down, look at me. Why don't you take the day off? You got the project done last night, right? How late did you stay here, anyways?"
You had gone home at 5:00pm sharm, perhaps even 4:55. How could that project have gotten done? Impossible! You were the only person working on it, the only one who could understand it. "8:30," you decide. You realize that from this point on, a few lies will be necessary to protect the sense of sanity you seem to be barely presenting. You cough weakly, Steve tells you again to go home. "Good work, by the way, on this! I always knew there was something special about you. You did a few months' project in about 5 weeks! Amazing...now go to sleep!"
A weak smile. Probably comes across as modesty. You try to make your frenetic eyes appear sleepy, wave goodbye to Steve, and head back to your colorful car. Check your watch. 7:42am. You normally get in to the office at 8:00, lately 8:05 due to your poor sleep. You doubt you'll get decent rest any time soon, however, and welcome the chance to return to your other life.
During the drive home, you start wondering about your project. You still had weeks of work left on it! You thought you could get it done a week ahead of time if you pushed things, but not 3! Yet in the same way you know you are able to understand the foreign language in the dreams, you know that the project is done, exactly how you wanted it done. Perhaps this "power" the old woman spoke of?
On the road next to you is a young man, perhaps 25 years old. Right. Back in the dreams. "Excuse me," you ask, "I'm a stranger to these lands. Could you please tell me about this power the old woman spoke of?"
"The power?" he replies. "Where are you from that you have not heard of it? It flows in nearly everyone we have ever encountered! Perhaps where you come from it is used so frequently that you think nothing of it and might not even be aware of it. I have no way to describe it other than an ability to accomplish difficult tasks in times of need. In the capital, the king has means of pooling the power, through his own. He is king for his potency."
You thank the man for his help and feel the tingling in your fingers again. Someone towards the front announces that the city will be in sight after the next hill, and that the party should reach it by midafternoon. How long had you been walking? How had you been sleeping? Likely painful details, so you make no effort to recall them.
Something scratches your arm. You look up from where you are laying. It is Garret, your cat. A glance at your watch tells you it is Friday afternoon, slightly past 3:00. You pour out some food and refill the water bowl. As you crest the hill, you see the city spread out below you.
It is magnificent. Curved roofs and buildings layered like desserts. Rich colors and throngs of people. The sounds drift up to you, shouts of vendors, cackles of animals, screeches of children, maybe even part of a melody. The capital.
The rest of the party is waiting behind you, about a hundred yards back. "Well?!" one of them shouts up. "Are we too late?" "No, we have time yet!" you say and they storm up to you enthousiastically. You all head down the hill together, ready to give the city all you have.
As can be expected, the people in the city are much less trusting, less open, less pure than those who accompany you. You sense a tainting that comes from overcrowded living conditions and a separation from the land. The king, however, when you finally reach him, seems more akin to the villagers.
Your party meets him in the palace at the city's center, where he seems to have been alerted to your presence and waiting for your arrival. His eyes scan your group, resting lastly on you, longer than on everyone else.
"Well," he says, quickly glancing away from you and addressing the group as a whole, "rumor has it there is trouble coming from the east. That the shadows are thickening." Nods from the group encourage him. "Your village has always seemed to have the strongest power of any of them, and your help would be a blessing. I feel that this group has an especially high concentration! You know what you need to do. Are you prepared?"
You glance around wildly. What does this involve, anyways, this power? How does one use it, how does one add one's forces to the collective? Is it draining? It seemed like these people used it instinctively, and you wonder if you, too, will be able to respond naturally in the appropriate way. At a time when your help is needed most, surely it will be no issue!
The group heads over to a special door you hadn't noticed before. It seems to glow, and the tingling in your hands grows stronger. The king motions you aside, to enter last. One by one, the people of the villiage appoach the door. However, before the first one can reach the handle, the room darkens. A glance out the window shows that the sky has blackened. Wind whips through the hall, small twigs start flying. Or are they bats? You shiver. A great evil has come to stand beside everyone in the room. Not much time remains.
"Hurry!" shouts the king. The group once again crawls in a spaced line towards the door. The first person enters, the man who explained this power. He opens the door, steps through, shuts it behind him. A thin band of light appears under the crack. The next person approaches, enters, closes the door. The crack of light grows faintly brighter. After the third person, the glow, now beginning to show on the sides and top of the door as well, is the only light in the room, in the city perhaps. The wind whips louder and the line marches slowly through the door.
Soon there are two people, the king, and you left. The light is nearly white. Now one villager left. As she steps through, the king turns to you, grabs your hands warmly, looks you firmly in the eyes, thanks you for joining the journey. He approaches, steps through, the door shuts. You heart threatens to break your ribs. Now you will sacrifice everything to help these people, to save them from this evil that is fouling your mouth, nostrils, and heart. You turn towards the door. Suddenly, the light under the door becomes absolutely blinding. You can think of nothing else but how bright it is. You cannot see at all. Brilliant, white light. So light that it is nothing, it just is. You hand funbles for the handle. Just as you reach it, the door swings open on its own, the light pours out in a beautiful stream into the hall, drips up the walls, cascades out the windows, shoots out into the city, the land, the world.
And then it is over. The blackness is gone, the party is exiting the room, cheering and grinning like middle schoolers. They smile at each other, notice you, smile at you as well, at the room, at the freshly-brightened sky, at the land out the window. You did nothing to help. You don't think you even made contact with the doorknob. What about the tingling in your hands? You look down at them, touch your watch, loosen it a notch. There's a red mark on your wrist from where it was was on too tight. Suddenly you hate the brightness. Too bright, too happy. You had nothing to do with it at any point in time, you realize. You have none of this "power", no purpose in this land beisdes perhaps as a casual observer. Some god has been mocking you, setting you up for this fall.
You find your cat, grab a glass of luke-warm water, pick at the varnish on your colorless coffee table, and realize you are lonely.
Wow, it was good to get that out. Even better to think I may actually reach someone with these thoughts, maybe even discuss some of them.
Why do we want intelligent terminals when there are so many stupid users?