The games we played

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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


Fiction

the games we played

The games we played

I woke up in a frozen world I barely recognized.

The first thing I felt was a familiar numbing cold. This had always been a signal that I had ended up far from home. Reaching here took patience and persistence, and despite my best efforts, it wasnít always present. I immediately knew where I was, but it seemed different to me. In the past, the cold and darkness was reassuring, but now the wind seemed to blow through my clothes in a hostile manner. I felt that this time would be different than past journeys. There was no escape from this time. There was the stinging sensation that a door had closed behind me permanently, which was more pronounced than usual. There was an nocturnal loneliness that permeated the entire place, a solid blanket of snow and ice covered every minute section of the ground, coating the trees above me into lifeless slumber. This section of mountains was a lonely place, no one else was around. There was a presence, but Iím not sure what it was. Gradually, I came to realize exactly where I was. There was an unsettling feeling that came over me as I wandered through the darkness. I felt the cold winds piercing through my clothes, as the miles of snow underfoot silently marked my progress. In the distance, there were lights, but they seemed meek and ineffective. I tried to use them as guides, but in this alien and familiar terrain, they were unlikely to make much difference to me. Wandering disoriented, I roamed the surface for what seemed like hours. This only increased the isolation I felt. I was alone here. There was nobody to talk to, the near silence was a cold reminder of all I had lost. There was nothing now, all I had to cling to were vague, distant memories, driven like snow into icy cylinders, then frozen into place.

Each burst of snow brought with it another memory, some of these were actually pleasant, but most were painful, chilling me to the bone with their unrelenting bitterness. Contradictory emotions seemed to arrive with each gust, slowing my steps and mocking any progress I felt I could make. The inescapable sense of guilt created over time was the worst of all, since it wasnít logical or coherent. I was tormented by horrible events I had nothing to do with, yet felt completely responsible for. This irrationality made it the hardest to battle and the most corrosive. When its attack was at its worst, I would stand there, as frozen as the trees, unable to move in any direction.  As I walked through this dark landscape, I sensed changes in the speed and strength of the air, quickening and slowing intently, each gust triggering horrid and florid mental episodes. I had an overwhelming sense that this wasnít going to be an easy journey. As I slowly descended from the hills I came to a level area. This was especially daunting this night since there were no trees or brushes to block the wind. I was alone and vulnerable with nothing to hold onto. The lights I had seen in the distance were gone. Only the meek light of a distant winter moon lit the sea of darkness. I used the faint shadow I cast underneath for navigation, but I seemed to be going nowhere without purpose or direction. I noticed something a bit different about my shadow as well, but I couldnít quite place it.

It was a strange place to find myself, I knew exactly where I was, but much seemed unfamiliar. The moonís elusive light was different now, and the desolate landscape reveled in its deception. Under its light, the false sense of security I had achieved vanished, replaced by uncertainty and doubt. Memories came flooding back, cascading on top of one another. Strangely, many of these memories werenít all mine. There were several people inside of me, battling for prominence in my mind. Some seemed more real than others. I could occasionally see their faces, blurring into one another. They tried to talk to me to varying degrees, though one or two seemed to stand out. Many of them seemed to come and go, though others were more persistent. One in particular seemed to be a constant companion, and I saw her so frequently, she seemed almost real in my mind. I had learned to cope with all of this, and coming here through the fragmented times I had seemed to help me console myself. As I walked through the isolated field, they came flooding back to me, converging simultaneously inside me. This was disconcerting since it rarely happened all at once. I felt them colliding with each other, aware of my precise position. Still, I knew they werenít threatening me. I had to take a deep breath and clear them. Focusing on my immediate position while trying to understand what to do next was difficult enough without these discordant memories and burdens slowing my steps. I had to focus on my own journey for now. I was still paralyzed by fear an d guilt. All those dreams I once had seemed to have vanished. They had become overwhelming, and when they finally shattered, I was left with nothing. This is where I found myself Ė alone and paralyzed. I walked through the emptiness and things began to come back to me. I remembered being here many times before, in this cold world of endless night. Coming to this place made me feel safe in the past, but it had become a forbidding task to even look around. I couldnít bring myself to look up and had only the shadow I cast under the moonlight to guide me.

I began to come back to consciousness as I walked over the frozen landscape. The dreams and memories lost their hold on me and I found a sense of inner direction. I felt a distinct shadow remain with me as I walked. It was the feeling of wanting like those inside of me, to be someone else, anywhere else. I could still hear their voices, with the accompanying empty threats, but it didnít bother me as much. The cold wind seemed to buttress me against them. The isolation and cold regained its icy grip over me. I walked many more miles, alone with these conflicting, confusing thoughts. I had searched in vain, looking to find someone here in the shadows. Over many years, this gained me scant attention, only the occasional scattered visions, quickly consumed into other more pungent distractions.  This task had become a gnawing, grating companion, relentlessly pushing me on a search I had become detached from. It was not only that the searches yielded little, but that it would never bring me what I really needed. Still, I persisted Ė wandering through the night, looking for signs, perhaps, the echoes of a voice from the past in the distance. The cold wind pierced through me, leaving me open but giving almost nothing in return. It would happen again and again, I would be given a small glimpse of an indefinite moment, Iíd collect these shards of frozen memories, assemble them into an incomprehensible puzzle and try to find some kind of reason. Thereíd be nothing, then Iíd come across another seemingly microscopic sliver that would keep me going forward. Then nothing once again Ė the silence could become interminable. Then another followed by nothing once again. It was as if the moon and its snow were conspiring against me, tormenting me with their hints, all the while mocking me and my futile attempts to uncover their elaborate deception.

Walking through these desolate places, I could still hear the voices stringing themselves through my mind. Cantankerously, they shouted and screamed, naming themselves at once, shouting at me to pay attention. They all seemed to be so adverse, and theyíre screams bended into one continuous screech that became a disconcerting roar. Measuring them against the wind, I found them roughly poached, their screams and the wind organizing into a meandering frenzy, resulting in a confusing mechanization. Hearing this going on inside of me, I couldnít really understand what they wanted from me. Was this a constant threat? I didnít know what was happening. The strangest thing, the world around me seemed silent and alone. This was happening entirely inside of my mind. Interspersed were rare moments of silence when the darkness would overtake things and I would begin to find a path. I walked over a small river I had seen in a previous journey, still defiled by the broken steps and wrecked by the footprints of a vile cast. They had long vanished, but their odd presence was still felt. I remembered hiding behind a rock to escape them, though the longer I watched them that day, the more I felt like running away. I paused and saw some signs of healing. The worst gashes in the banks were gradually being washed away, smoothing out the surface a bit; the water still flowed but it wasnít as graceful as I had remembered. Tree stumps blocked the banks as well. It felt a bit sad, a reflection of something that had been much better once.

I saw a familiar set of stone steps in the distance, and I decided to retrace my journey there. To my surprise, I saw that a large snowbank blocked them around a quarter of the way up. There would be no return this time. Instead, I walked downwards toward what looked like another forest, where I encountered a large, majestic tree. The winds had picked up a little since I arrived at this familiar clearing, and it was beginning to become bitter as the endless night dragged on. The path I had sought seemed like it would never end, and I once again found myself lost and disoriented. Frightened by the unceasing wind and the cacophonous voices, I took another deep breath and to my surprise, I saw a door in the distance, partially emerging from a hill. This was also blocked by a large snowdrift, but it seemed like the snow had fallen away a little to reveal this entrance. As I walked closer, I saw that it was on the other side of a large expanse, with a steep drop on either side. There was a narrow bridge that could be navigated, though I needed to be careful. I walked carefully across the steps and stood at its landing. The ground under my feet rocky and unstable, this definitely a place that didnít wanít to be discovered, at least not easily seen. A transient bit of wind had uncovered it, probably briefly and given me notice of its presence. I examined it closely and saw bits of green light emerging from miniscule pores on its left side, barely visible.

As I walked closer, I could feel a strange warmth coming from the door. It was odd, given how cold and dark the rest of the area felt. I tried to open the door, but it wouldnít move. I pushed a little harder and it began to sway open a little bit. I kept pushing and then there was finally enough space for me to wedge through. Once I stepped inside, there was a strange sight. I found myself at the edge of a seemingly endless array of plants and vegetables, planted in neat rows that seemed to extend for acres. These were all arranged in sections, as if there was an organized garden growing. The air inside here was warm and humid, inviting me inside as a respite from the seemingly endless cold outside. Instead of the black and grey, I saw almost a sea of greens, yellows and oranges Ė all of these vibrant colors were almost blinding compared to the sea of darkness on the other side of the door. The light was brighter, and numerous mirrors seemed to have been placed around the ceilings and walls to reflect the light, creating a brilliant display of color. It was like a springtime rebellion against the endless winter outdoors. Here, life had replaced the lifeless, heat defeated the cold. The ground was warm as well, and I could sense feeling returning to my numbed feet. It was still quiet, only the sounds of the water pumps and dripping water, but it felt much more alive. I could sense that this was something that had been created and cultivated over a series of many years, I guessed at least five, maybe a little longer. I walked down the rows and saw an abundance of fresh, vibrant fruits and vegetables, growing effortless. This was the last thing I was expecting, and it didnít make much sense initially. I stood there alone for many minutes, soaking in the warmth, wondering what had led me to this place. Was this another trick being played on me? 

I walked down one of the many rows of plants, and found myself surrounded by strawberries, hundreds of these plants growing effortlessly. I looked at them closely and examined them. They were ripe and I could smell their pungent freshness, as if they had been waiting for exactly that moment to greet my arrival. This was both reassuring and disconcerting. I wondered if someone had a plan in mind, something that would catch me unprepared. Suddenly, I heard a large boom. It shook the entire garden. Then a quick moment if silence. Then another boom. This quickly turned into a series of noises, which began to coalesce into a kind of very fast rhythm, almost like a thick bass line. I heard something crash, I thought one of the plants had fallen over, but I began to realize there was a source behind all of this. Someone was playing very loud music. It was familiar to me in many ways. I recognized the structures and layouts. I walked down the row of strawberries and the song only grew louder. It was a massive, overpowering sensation Ė It almost blew me off my feet. I could feel the ground under me vibrating. At first it seemed like a low register growl, that seemed to shake. As the song grew more intense, I began to hear someone screaming. It wasnít a scream in agony, more like anger. Then this emotion turned into defiance, then the voice was one of pure emotional release. It was as if someone was releasing all of their anger in one fast purifying jolt of adrenaline. I walked past the cucumbers and carrots, and found myself at the center of the greenhouse. There was a large open section. I saw someone familiar there. At first, I didnít recognize him. Suddently, the realization overcame me. It was my old friend.

We hadnít seen each other in a long time, but he seemed largely unchanged. He was dressed in black, with black pants and a black t-shirt. He had buttons all over his black jacket. I saw his pierced eyebrows and I knew. This wasnít something I had prepared for. He was dancing with the music, slamming his feet on the ground, violently slamming and jumping into the air, like a mosh pit. The music was shaking the ground and its intensity seemed to invigorate him further. I watched him in this moment and it was like no time had passed. He seemed a little bit reckless but remained in the center. I didnít think he would recognize me and if he did. He was so intent on the music and its driving force, I donít think he was aware of my presence, so I watched him dancing alone. The plants surrounded him which created an odd backdrop. They shook with the music as well, and there was a sense of chaos that was at once controlled and reckless. After several minutes I think he began to slow down a bit and there was a moment when he caught a glimpse of me. I seemed to have caught him off guard and he seemed genuinely surprised, if not a little bit shocked by seeing me. He turned down the music and ran over to me, giving me a giant hug. It was a strange moment. After so many years, we were together again. There was much we could say, but so much we didnít need to. We smiled, I think there was something that neither one of us expected. Here we were, united. How I found this place and him was strange. I was looking for someone else here, and I had nearly given up trying to find her, collapsing into despair. But there was another here, who was much more important. We began to talk and there was an odd feeling that no time had passed.

We seemed to pick up almost at the same place where we left off. We talked for what seemed like hours, there was so much to catch up on. He showed me around the greenhouse, explaining all the elaborate systems for irrigation and growth heíd set up. He told me how the plants grew unexpectedly faster and stronger when he played his music loud. We talked about the times we shared, the people we used to know, the games we played, our lives, the dreams lost and nightmares lived, how little things seemed to change. As we talked, the voices that had clouded my head seemed to melt away under the heat. We remembered the times we shared and most of all we made amends to each other, relieving our collective guilt. As we talked, I thought of how he used to be, and how he had changed. It was nice to see him free of the burdens that had weighed him down. I could sense that this was a healing time. I sensed much of the darkness and coldness that had followed him throughout his life had melted away and evaporated under the heat lamps. The time seemed to go by so quickly, yet not a moment seemed to have been wasted. We talked like we used to, and there was plenty to say, but not much to explain. We turned on the music once again and danced and jumped and screamed along to the beats. It was like old times, After awhile, we reconnected. We didnít need to say much more after a few hours. There was little more that we needed to say after all this time. Days passed and then weeks, but it didnít seem like it. Little by little, things were uncovered. As we continued our long-delayed conversations, he said something that I found a little odd, but began to make more sense the more I thought about it. He wasnít expecting to see me here so soon. This caught me off guard, it was a strange thing to say. He told me I needed look into one of the mirrors around his greenhouse. He told me they did more than simply reflect light and amplify the heat. I didnít know why he wanted me to look at myself or exactly what I would discover.
Then he said something I didn't anticipate. He said that I needed to find that woman in the polka dot dress again. She was ready to take me back.

- Michael Palisano