The Farthest Point - Part two - Fiction - By Michael Palisano -









In Memory
Sean Pettibone



The Farthest Point (part two)

I looked ahead and measured the distance ahead of me, the journey seemed to be getting shorter but there was still a long way left to go. I swung my arms by my sides carelessly for awhile, letting the motions cycle through me. This made me feel free again and I strayed from the narrow, straight path a little bit here and there, giving me a sense of control, that this journey wasn’t entirely pre-determined. I decided it wouldn’t be as challenging in that sense. I felt the pressure lift from my shoulders and resumed the path, taking the task ahead of me a little more seriously, yet allowing myself space to maneuver across the field at my own pace. I seemed to wander from the main path occasionally but I had enough sense to correct myself. Slowly, I came to an incline and the formerly flat surface began to lift enough that it resembled a shallow hill. This wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, though it wasn’t steep, the difference affected my pacing, slowing my pacing slightly. I walked and saw that the other side was slowing drawing near and I felt that I was finally getting somewhere.

I took a few steps further onto the slowly emerging hill and paused for a moment to catch my breath. The sunlight was still as bright as it had been when I first found myself there, and the silence and stillness surrounding me hadn’t changed either. It was a little unsettling to be so alone in such a large space with no real direction. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was headed in the right direction, but decided that I wouldn’t change my commitment. I resumed walking forward and made more progress towards the other side, and it drew ever closer, its outlines forming in advance of my arrival. It motivated me to keep going and I began to walk faster again, eager to finish the long walk. I began to nearly run at a fast pace and quickly moved up the grassy field until I had nearly reached the half-way point between the center and the edge. I took a brief break to catch my breath, and found myself growing a bit tired but still wanted to keep going. I turned my head around and thought I saw something out of the corner of my eye. It seemed to be a brief glimmer from above and seemed to vanish almost the second I saw it. I turned my head around and scanned the skies but saw nothing more. Perhaps, I had been out there under the hot sun too long. I resumed walking forward, continuing the motions and movements, moving quickly towards the destination. I began quickening my pace, and resumed walking on the straight line, determined that I wouldn’t be distracted. I had come too far to lose track of the main objective.

I kept going straight and then noticed a strange flickering, almost imperceptibly on the margins of my line of sight. At first, it wavered enough that I was able to ignore it and it would quickly vanish. I walked further towards the outlying sections and it began to re-emerge. It resembled a small blinking light but then a more distinct shape became visible.  I turned around and saw that it wasn’t visible from certain angles, and it seemed like a minor break. This interruption seemed distant and erratic, a small break that seemed to radiate from a far distance. At first, I dismissed it as a minor thing, possibly a small cloud getting in the way or something insignificant, but it was persistent and recurred with increasing frequency. I walked faster across the field and waited for it to vanish. It diminished but didn’t disappear entirely, resembling a small circle floating above the ground. I tried to turn in other directions but the stayed close by and it seemed to be following me. No matter where I stood, it would find my position. My feet remained anchored to the ground. I tried to ignore it, and kept going and this worked for awhile, but as I drew closer towards the other side of the expanse of grass, it seemed to grow larger. Deciding to investigate further, I looked around and couldn’t see anything up above that would block the light. I stood for a moment and examined the abnormality. It held steady in place, maneuvering through the sky, without moving. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me. It waited for a moment as it increased in size until something I didn’t anticipate occurred.

It drew to sufficient size as it came down from the highest reaches. I focused on the object until something began to change. As it came down, I noticed the dark circle was beginning to fray and seemed to split apart, slowly dissembling and breaking apart into smaller pieces. Each of the fragments still remained part of the whole. The smaller objects continued moving together and still looked like they were heading towards the same destination. I didn’t realize what was happening and couldn’t quite figure out where they could be going, but as they split, I noticed that they were all moving together in a parallel circular path. I watched them and they seemed to be closing in toward my position. At first, the bright summer light obscured their position but they held steady on their path. The small dots grew larger and rounder, and came ever closer to me. As they came near, they seemed to quicken their pace and intensity. I watched them moving across the skies with increasing speed. They came closer and I noticed something, the dots were making some kind of odd motions I couldn’t quite understand until they came closer, revealing their wings. Extending their path in outward circular motions, the blue flock began to diverge from the tight circular formation that had obscured their true form. I watched them closely for a minute and couldn’t quite figure out what they were up to. I tried to imagine where they’d end up and it looked like they were flying far above me, unaware that I was standing there.

I walked towards them to get a closer view and they began to change direction and gradually began circling around. It wasn’t immediately evident why they decided to change direction but something had definitely changed. The swarm quickly arrived at a safe distance from position. They moved closer, making their movements became more pronounced as they flew against the blue expanse. I saw their wings flapping in steady, consistent rhythm. After a few minutes, I was able to distinguish individual members of the group, flying across the skies in near-robotic precision. They continued in their mission, moving undeterred overhead, seemingly unaware that they were being watched. I stood far below them at a great distance, and looked at them as they drew ever closer towards my position. It didn’t cross my mind what was happening but I was impressed by their circular paths, poetic motions and elaborate arrangements. They seemed to merge with the skies above effortlessly, floating in and out of the skies like some kind of strange ghosts. I stood still and gazed upward, and noticed their wings were colored blue, nearly making them seem almost translucent against the skies. Underneath the wind currents seem to draw them closer towards my position. They revealed more of their mission but something emerged as they circled back the next time. Despite remaining somewhat far away in the distance, I was able to see that they seemed to have changed direction and plotted a new course. They began to descend towards the ground and started to dive. They dropped in altitude and their lower height and shorter distance allowed me to examine them more closely.

I watched them move fearlessly and majestically far above my head. They were simultaneously beautiful and intimidating. I wouldn’t wasn’t to be on their wrong side, it would be a good idea to stay out of their path. Unfortunately, it quickly became obvious that I had done something wrong that managed to accidentally alarm them. It took a moment to realize what was going on, but it quickly became apparent that they were moving faster, increasing their velocity. They seemed to be protecting something, but I had no idea what it could have been. I scanned around the field, and there didn’t seem to be anything significant around me. I wondered what they didn’t want me to find. I stared at them and began walking in the other direction, then stopped. None of my movements seemed to have changed their mind. Somehow, without my realizing it, they seemed to have become aware of my presence. They’d been alerted and were headed directly towards my position at full speed. Their rapid approach alone made me nervous enough, but as they came towards me, I noticed something even more unsettling. They were holding objects in their claws that resembled sharp arrows.

The winged mass moved relentlessly towards me and I stood there temporarily paralyzed, unsure what I should do. I looked around and the flat fields surrounding me gave me no place to hide. They were moving in fast and only increasing in velocity. I knew I wouldn’t be able to run fast enough to escape them. I felt my feet shudder, unable to move I took a deep breath. The flock dove and headed on a downward trajectory, tunneling through the air, deepening the line of attack. As they drew closer, I noticed their wings had begun to flare, shifting upwards to make their angle even sharper. The distance between us closed and in a matter of seconds, it seemed that they were directly in my line of sight. They had come close enough that I could hear their wings flapping and clashing, rapidly beating at the same speed, the birds maintained their positions and flew in a close, precisely arranged circle. There was enough space between them so they wouldn’t topple or crash into themselves. They moving at an ever increasing rate, their straight, sharp path had become unstoppable. Everything began to flood back to me. I regretted rushing through the portal only to find myself wandering and lost. I had no idea where I was going, until it was too late. Now, I had seemingly alerted these malicious forces to my presence. I was standing out there alone, completely vulnerable, with nothing to defend myself with. There was nowhere for me to run. Nothing I could do would deter them from completing their mission. Screaming closer towards me, they made no effort to adjust their direction. They held fast to their projectiles, their sharp arrows glistening in the light as they carried them relentlessly towards the target. They swooped in ever close until I could make out their individual forms and bodies. Emotionless and ruthless, they seemed knew exactly what they were doing. I noticed something strange in their eyes which shined and glistened, seeming to repel the light, instead of reflecting, they were absorbing the glaring sunshine.

I heard them hovering right above my head and as they arrived, their energy created a strange disruption, causing the inward forces above to crash down. I felt the wind and force coming straight towards me, they drew further downwind and the force nearly knocked me off my feet. It was a frightening moment, but since I couldn’t outrun or hide from them, I decided not to let them intimidate me into running away and losing my progress. Holding the position I’d earned, I watched them come straight at me, holding firm, lifting my arms to cover my head and not giving into fear. They flew downward and their draft blew right into my body, pushing me backwards slightly. Their numbers grew and their speed intensified. I had to close my eyes but felt them dive even lower. I knew I had to take a defensive act and reached down at the last possible second, kneeling quickly holding my head downward before I crouched, getting as close to the ground as possible. The squalling mass continued its spiraling onslaught. At this point there was nothing more I could have done. I nervously shut my eyes and prepared for whatever they had in store for me. They came in quickly flying nearly parallel, just a few inches over my bowed head. Their wings sharpened and came at a sharp angle. I crouched even lower to avoid a collision, but was unable to completely avoid making a brief contact. Despite my lower position, their feet still brushed the top of my head, nearly scratching my hair with their claws and nearly dislodging some of their sharp arrows. I felt their wings flapping right above me. It was difficult not to panic but I wasn’t afraid and held my ground. They continued to come at me, relentless in their continued assailment. Counting them with my eyes closed was a difficult task, but it sounded like there could have been a hundred of them converging on my location. After several minutes, the assault began to subside. After the main group moved on, I was relieved but not complacent. Despite the long battle, it would have been reckless to assume the worst was over.

I encountered sporadic birds that staggered through, having fallen behind the main group. I looked up and saw a few of them still on their way left, wavering above and eying me warily. After a few minutes, the danger seemed to have passed. I took a deep breath and was relieved that I’d absorbed their glancing blow without taking too much damage. I stood up and looked around, and suddenly realized that I’d made a mistake. A second group was lurking right behind, nearly as large as the first. Positioned right above me, the new herd drove in even faster. I returned to my defensive position, trying to get even lower, hoping to avoid them. They came at me relentlessly and it seemed their attack wouldn’t cease. I heard their breath but didn’t know for how long the renewed assault would continue. The flock began to thin out gradually and their intense onslaught diminished and seemed to subside as I kept myself resolute yet passive. I kept kneeling down, my elbows rubbing in the dirt. I maintained a low profile, and stayed as still and calm as I could manage throughout. I had let them engage and see I wasn’t a threat, remaining calm. This mean I couldn’t stand up suddenly, trying to run away wouldn’t work, since there was nowhere to hide. After awhile, my strategy seemed to work and they seemed to realize that I wasn’t a threat despite my unexpected presence. I stood still for a moment, keeping my eyes closed until I was sure that they’d left my immediate area. I waited until I heard their wings slowly receding. I opened one eye and glanced upward, making sure they were far enough away that I could allow myself a brief respite. I’d withstood their assault and was finally out of danger.

I scanned the horizon and looked for their position, trying to figure out what they were doing and where they were headed. At first, they seemed to have disappeared, but was able to locate them when I looked closely. They’d gotten far away and had become nearly transparent in the bright sunlight. I noticed that they had converged on a position near the other side of the field and were circling in one distinct area. I walked quickly towards them and as I came closer, I saw that they’d been aiming for a position beyond mine. They were flying in circles, swirling around themselves. I began walking faster, moving quickly towards the far side of the field, the growing thick tangles of grass slowing my progress but not stopping me. Each step brought their mission into closer view. They seemed to have formed a kind of funnel cloud around that area. I stood back and paused, trying to figure out exactly what they were doing. I noticed one of them drop their arrow, striking in the ground, shattering its stillness and quiet. It wobbled for a moment and stabilized until it stood straight up. After a few minutes, another bird followed suit aiming its arrow precisely into the grass. I took a few steps closer and watched nervously, not wanting to rile them up. More birds shoot their arrows into the ground until they seemed to have set a system and rhythm in place. Working methodically and precisely, each bird efficiently dispatched an arrow into the surface until a shape began to form. Initially, it wasn’t clear what they were doing, and I had to carefully and quietly navigate the ground, moving slowly towards them. I waited cautiously with every few steps but quickly came to a position, at a safe remove. After a few more minutes, without realizing it, I’d finally crossed towards the outer edge of the field, and found myself unexpectedly standing just outside what had become our shared destination.

The energized flock were unrelenting and continued furiously swirling overhead, dropping multiple objects simultaneously. They seemed to be building some kind of object and continued until the assembled stock created what appeared to be a kind of larger circle beneath them. This formed a kind of inner core, but they weren’t finished. After this was complete, they worked on an outer ring that surrounded the first one, quickly forming a protective barrier. I was several hundred yards away from them and decided not to move in much closer, two encounters was enough for me. I continued to observe them and they reinforced the ground fortress. They worked methodically, with nearly the same intensity as they had attacked me. It seemed that the birds had an endless supply of arrows, but they weren’t reckless. They seemed to carefully aim each one and I didn’t see any apparent misfires, they formed the outlines of a third and fourth circle before I knew what was happening, dispatching endless arrows that pierced the ground. Completely oblivious to my presence, I walked a few steps closer to see what the purpose of their design might have been. I moved towards the massed birds and felt a sudden burst of heat, which stopped my progress. From that position, I could see the grass on the surface had been singed, the collective energy of the arrows seemed to have burned the grass, turning the ground red. There was a strange force beyond rational comprehension beginning to form in tandem with the birds. An eerie red force field began to form, quickly rising from the charred ground. The flock continued flying above the layers of intensifying barriers, seeming to guard it against any unwelcome intruders who might disturb it while it was in its formative stage.

It shared the some of the characteristics of the doorways and portals I’d encountered previously, but it didn’t seem nearly as welcoming. It was thicker and obtuse, and the birds guarding it seemed unwilling to leave. I patiently waited for them to tire but they continued to swirl around their creation without wavering. I stood there for a few minutes and watched the remaining barriers surrounding the sunken arrows in the ground harden into more solid forms, slowly marking the surrounding area as a forbidden area. Their intimidating presence had blocked any attempts that I might have contemplated about going closer towards that location. It seemed that there was no way of moving forward. I surveyed the area for a moment and tried to locate alternatives, but nothing immediately came into view. I was getting nervous and disappointed. It seemed that I had come all that way only to find my progress stalled. There seemed didn’t seem to be a practical or realistic way to change the situation. I took another look at the flock as they continued circling around, now seemingly oblivious to my presence. I walked a few additional steps towards the barrier, which now looked completely solid and examined the exterior. There was no way of passing through it. In the distance, on the opposite side of the incline, I noticed something coming towards me quickly, but it didn’t seem to be attacking me. Immediately, a realization came into being, revealing the birds’ true purpose. I looked upwards and took a glance above, towards the mass of swirling birds. Their appearance was deceptive and they obscured their true mission. I watched their oddly unnatural forms, moving in precisely formation, at deliberate speed and motion and realized what they’d been surreptitiously enlisted for, and what they’d been relentlessly protecting.

I moved closer towards the large structure and noticed that it had cooled somewhat in the ensuing minutes. I waited at its base and watched the birds carefully, still unsure of what I might have done to provoke them. I felt the warm gusts of air surrounding it but these gradually began to subside, making it easier for me to concentrate on examining its structure and purpose. I walked around it a few times, allowing myself to fully view its inner workings. The thick walls obscured the arrows at first, but I could see that they were still standing straight, pointing towards the skies above. It took me a few minutes to make my way all the way around the circle but I arrived back at the same point. Its purpose gradually came into view as I turned and changed perspective on the configurations within. Responding to the light surrounding it, the beacon seemed to begin spinning the arrows, splitting the rows and dividing into them into smaller circles, until they scattered across to cover the surface resembling supernatural polka-dots.

They began spinning and swirling until they flashed in a brief burst of focused energy. They sent a strange pulse of focused light that created strange signal. It drew energy from the surrounding light as it moved quickly upwards through the skies. They turned and spun around several more times, rebuilding their energy. The light built and coalesced a second time and sent another wave of focused light in the opposite direction, bursting through the horizon. The beacon seemed to shift in place, but contained the energy enough to aim it, then went silent as its energy was depleted. I waited patiently and looked above for any response. I knew it might take awhile but was growing a little impatient. I didn’t anticipate that the bursts of light would have another effect. They seemed to have frightened its bird guardians and they’d begun to fly away in confusion and fear, dispersing and losing track of their mission. They flew into each other and began moving back towards the direction where I’d first spotted them. Their retreat wasn’t as smooth or organized as their initial attack and they seemed to flee haphazardly, growing less organized after the second burst was released. It seemed our positions had been reversed, they were now afraid of me even though I had no idea why or how the beacon’s signals had been sent, or whether my presence had anything to do with it.

After the majority of the flock abandoned their posts astride the beacon, they regrouped towards the other side of the grassy field. They quickly returned to their original formation, regaining strength in numbers, before heading back far above, returning back into the blue skies. I watched them subside beneath the bright daylight, vanishing as suddenly as they’d appeared. I turned back towards the beacon, which had grown still and silent. I walked a few steps back towards the bright sun. I found myself relieved enough to walk out of its protective barrier. I walked carefully back onto the soft grass, taking a few further steps until I felt the bright sun emerging from its cool shadow and looked up as I inhaled the warm air, soaking it inside generously. There was nothing more to discover. I was tired but was relieved that I had made it through without help. The birds had finished their task ahead of me, and were free to leave. I watched them as the last of them departed, relieved that they’d left me alone on the way out. I realized that I wasn’t alone and wouldn’t be stranded much longer.

- Michael Palisano