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A Short Story - Page 2

 
  • A Matter of Certain Gravity
  • Dalipalooza
  • Internal Uprising
  • Slow Suicide
  • Imagine the feeling you get when you know for certain you’re going to die. Maybe you're in a car, screeching to a halt from 70 miles per hour to zero on the freeway, skidding into the center barrier and turning over three or four times. Maybe you're walking down the proverbial dark, deserted street and some person pops out in front of you and pulls out a weapon, demanding all of your money. Maybe the airplane you're on suddenly dipped more than usual, just enough to cause concern to momentarily wipe the professionalism off of the face of the attendant who is handing you a bag of peanuts and a napkin. Maybe the word "cancer" has just escaped the grim face of your doctor. Maybe you woke up at 3 a.m. for no particular reason, bolting straight up in bed from a dead sleep as if some mortal threat were being rained upon you.

    This is the feeling I had been fighting for quite some hours when the sun had finally gone down enough that I had to slow to a crawl to avoid losing my way on the trail.

    When I finally resigned myself to the fact that it was dark, I stopped for a moment. The darkness, oddly enough, didn’t actually change my mental state for the worse. Which was fortunate for me, as any added sense of despair would've caused me to curl up on the trail in a fetal state and begin gnashing my teeth.

    No, oddly enough it improved my situation; the darkness wrapped around me and made the whole out-of-doors much smaller – almost pressed up against my skin, embracing me in a way. As well, the sense of disassociation had passed – my brain couldn’t process what I couldn’t see, and I could see a lot less now.

    Despite the fact that I was exhausted, I couldn't stop walking. It wasn't the fact that I would be admitting defeat, or the chance that I would start to doze off, it was the noises that began emanating from the immediate forest. Noises that I first noticed when I stopped after a couple of hours to take a breather. The simple, but repetitive task of merely placing one foot in front of the other had become simply too unpleasant to carry on anymore. It wasn't the soreness of muscles so much as it was beginning to become a mere matter of will – what my brain in its damaged state was lacking most, the one thing that would keep me alive.

    So I stopped, leaning up against the reassuring bark of an unidentifiable tree. I concentrated solely on breathing, slow steady breaths intended to calm and revitalize my spirits. But oddly enough, the opposite began to happen. The more I concentrated on breathing, the more difficult it seemed to get an adequate amount of air into my lungs.

    "You can breathe," I kept whispering to myself in between gasps. "It's the simplest of things." My fingertips began to tingle again.

    And then suddenly, I heard a small crashing in the brush threateningly close nearby. My instinct told me to look around, but it was no use in the diffused moonlight. The canopy above was just too thick.

    And then another sound. And another. Creatures, which had been there all along, and undoubtedly had flanked the trail throughout my journey, began to reveal themselves, audibly anyway, in what they perceived was my absence. My labored breathing was not enough to register with them, and they assumed that I had passed on. More sounds, this time fairly large: in the darkness, a rabbit can sound like a mountain lion. And then a call: some nocturnal animal uttering a low-pitched grunt. Unidentifiable, it took on the worst of faces. My primordial survival skills braced for attack, the long and nearly lost instincts suddenly and surprisingly at my immediate command. (Breathe.) None of these things helped my pathetic effort at respiratory normalcy.

    So I began walking again, at least somewhat refreshed by the brief stop.

    Walking, purposefully making a good deal more noise than before. Scuffing my feet, using my right hand to molest the underbrush on the side of the trail in an attempt at maximum racket. Not only to scare the probably harmless nocturnal noisemakers, but also to mask any sounds of bounding creatures fleeing in my wake. And I was breathing, slowly and deliberately. Reduced to a secondary task, it had become slightly easier.

    After a good deal of this overwrought effort to block out the noise, it became too much of a hassle, too much of a demand, physically. I had no luxury of wasted energy. So I stopped creating a racket.

    That’s when I began to see faces.

    Not actual faces attached to actual people emerging out of my physical surroundings, but rather a sort of semi-conscious visualization of faces. It wasn't something that I was focusing on, believe me – in fact I found it wasn't something that I really had control over. Nonetheless I didn’t have the energy or will to fight it, and I began to realize that maybe some answers lie in these faces. Were they people that I knew? That was my basic assumption, but then I thought about how many faces I had probably seen in my life – I could tell just by looking at the wrinkled skin on my hands that I was born onto this Earth some time ago – and wondered if any of these faces meant anything to me, or if they we just strangers I had met a week ago, a month ago, ten years ago. Twenty years ago? How many faces were stored in my mind?

    ‘Don’t I know you?’

    ‘Haven’t we met before?’

    Were they movie stars? Politicians?

    Instead I let the faces come to me. Through a random, rotating pattern, a few began to emerge as repeating more than others. It was difficult to concentrate on the path with this bombardment of images; at times I strayed into the ferns and other shrubs just off of the trail, narrowly avoiding large trees before staggering back. I noticed that if I half closed my eyes, the faces became more vivid, and occasionally I would close them altogether, walking for a few steps before stumbling on an errant rock or a set of tree roots stretching slickly across the trail. With my hands directly in front of me, I could feel oncoming trees, and narrowly adjust my path at the last moment to avoid smacking face-first into the immovable distractions.

    It was in this almost sleepwalking sort of state that I carried on, my legs working unconsciously. My conscious self sorted faces and attempted to recall a name or any sort of pertinent memory. But it was no use. The more I concentrated on them, the more difficult it became to see them, let alone draw any memories from them. Like the perfect sentence-finishing word which you just can't recall, the harder I tried, the harder it became.

    But there was a woman's face that repeated more than any other face, an eerie familiarity that comforted and frustrated me. A lover? My wife? I dropped my hands for a moment and felt my ring finger, which was empty, barely raising them up in time to avoid a branch from a small tree encroaching on the path. In the lack of any intellectual capabilities, my emotional self – for better or worse – was picking up the slack, and each time I saw her face a sort of maudlin, bittersweet feeling of love crept over me. Worse yet, not being able to remember her only confused matters worse. I loved her, but in what capacity? She could've been my mother for all I knew. A friend? A co-worker?

    Aside from the woman, a man's face kept reappearing as well. He was middle-aged, well weathered for certain. He had a mostly gray beard, with a few tenuous stripes of black youth holding on, and wore thin, steel-rimmed glasses. Instinctively I reached up to my own face, which was clear of both facial hair (aside from a short, uniform stubble) and glasses.

    There was something terribly ominous about this character, and I found that he kept repeating more often, but for some reason no other emotion could be invoked from him. It was as if there were too few emotions connected to him; other than being a bit disconcerting in appearance he gave me no other feeling nor stirred any sort of memory.

    Occasionally other random, younger faces would rotate through – these seemed to be almost endless, never repeating more than twice as far as I could recall. As well they brought no strong emotional response, but at least there was some sort of feelings associated with them -- more so than the neutral, bearded specter who insisted upon revisiting me about every fifth face or so.

    These disturbing faces are what kept me going. They placated my mind's appetite for distraction, and nearly isolated me from the outside world, which would've certainly closed in upon my spirit had I been left alone to face it. The coldness of night, the darkness, the seemingly insurmountable distance I had to travel – the utter isolation and loneliness, compounded by the lack of comforting memories.

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