Saturday, March 10, 2012

Waking Time: Part One

This is part one of a two-part story. As always your comments and critiques are most welcome. Enjoy.

I am lying in a room with a cream-colored ceiling, an open window to my left, above my head. Outside it is sunny, a soft cool breeze fluttering the thin blue curtains and brushing against the dark hairs on my arm. I watch them wave with the moving air, convincing myself that I can feel the sensation against skin warming in the sun. The sudden urge to pee overcomes me and I must stand.
Walking is not fluid, steps like from inside a thick suit, missing parts, and I’m standing above the white, lifted seat, hand steadying my shaking body against a wall. I think of you. The two small rooms are bright with light, but it is tainted, dull, as if a film has been pasted across every surface. I stand by that open window and attempt to peel my eyes with my fingernails but there is too much pain for the attempt.
There are parts that don’t happen but do. At the door is a tray of food – an apple and bread with cheese and a thermos of cold water and a plastic container of homemade chili, beans and meat and still rising steam, the smell reminding me of something old – served with a rounded metal fork. I eat it all ravenously, my hunger waking up after the first few bites. There may be more food in a few hours, just before I wake up again. Until then I am stuck in this room, unwilling to leave it, unable to face the things outside it. I stare at the slow-moving street outside, the green and yellow yard and the sparse trees, always the same.
 I read a book, then a magazine. They are always in the room, the same ones on a shelf. I read the words and understand them but can’t remember them now, they form meanings and stories but little ones that seem so flat and unimportant. For a long time, I sit on the edge of the bed and stare into the ground, into the floor, studying the texture of the wood grain, the swirls in it. At last I feel tired, feel my eyes begin to droop, and I fall into the softness of the bed.

 * * *

“And I re-awaken as if from a dream.” Nathan says, standing upon the craggy rock which outlooks the vast ocean beyond, sparkling in the glow of the rising mid-morning sun.
“That sounds truly awful,” says the woman standing just behind him, perched as he is on a separate but equally precarious outcropping, holding on to the man’s strong arm.
“Truly, Alma, and it happens at odd intervals several times a month, there seems to be no discernable pattern to it.” He turns to her, still perfectly balanced, and takes the woman into his arms, sweaty and gleaming in the bright light. “But I am here now, where I and we belong, so we must not think of such sorrowful things.” And he kisses her deeply, enjoying the salty taste of her lips, the invigorating sea air rustling through their hair while picking up and throwing about their loosely worn dress.
 Beyond her face lies the island, his island, with great battlements of forged volcanic rock rising along the natural formations of the land itself. Nathan laughs, throwing his face up into the air, and, pulling Alma deep into his chest, he turns and jumps from the rocks, plunging them both headfirst into the deep blue water. It is cold, colder than any water tasted in dreams, than any wind blowing through that old window with the chipping paint on the sill. Underneath the surface the world is clear, he can see the shape of the volcano base falling away into the depths, massive schools of brilliantly colored fish swimming in formation, and the smile on Alma’s face as they both kick effortlessly up to air.
Swimming to the nearby shore, the two step onto paradise. Several of the native boys, all with sun-darkened skin, were pushing long canoes of palm wood into the sea, fishing poles dangling over their shoulders as they smile and wave at Nathan and Alma. “Good Morning, Mister Nathan!” one of them yells out before splashing into the water with his boat.
“They really love you here, don’t they?” says Alma with a smile.
“I suppose so,” answers Nathan, “I suppose the slaying of a great sea monster that has been slaughtering your men and boys for decades will endear a person to you.” And once again he laughs, heartily.
“And finding that treasure of pirate gold buried in its lair certainly didn’t hurt,” Alma adds with her laugh, light and tinkling, her long, sand colored hair whipping now across her face, obscuring all but her emerald eyes.
The day continues much the same as every other day had, the sunlight hours filled with lounging, hunting, swimming, and laughing amongst the lush green jungles and white-sand beaches of the island until at last the sun begins its descent. Then, within the newly-constructed castle that Nathan had built for himself with his newfound wealth, a great feasting takes place. In the main chamber, a massive hearth is set ablaze and wild boars caught from the brush and enormous fish from the surrounding waters are brought in upon poles to be roasted. From drums of stretched hide and wooden flutes, traditional rhythms and melodies are played by the natives. Then, large palm leaves bearing island fruit of every color and texture are carried into the hall by beautiful young girls wearing nothing more than the ceremonial grass skirts of the island nation. And to top off the celebration, large and burly men of the island haul in massive ceramic jugs of sweet-smelling and potent palm wine, fuel for a night of laughter and dance.
 At last, Nathan and Alma, the strange white saviors from beyond faraway blue (as they were known to the natives), retire after a night of much eating and drinking and dancing. Up a long spiral staircase of stone they walk, then run, then stumble, laughing as they do, the darkness spinning about their heads as they enter the high bed chamber near the very peak of the inactive volcano. And they collapse, breathless and red-faced, onto the sprawling bed and into one another.

* * *

When my eyes are open, they take a moment to focus – the same cream-colored surface bearing down on my head, the same open window blowing a warm day in and out of the small room. My hand clutches something, crinkling, a slip of paper placed on my palm. I bring it up to my face, blurry but I wait a few more seconds and I can read it. It’s from my mother, says so at the bottom. She says she wants me to meet with a certain someone, with a doctor, a Doctor Song. I crumple the note.
I don’t appreciate her being in my room, not without me knowing it. I know she doesn’t like talking to me or even seeing me anymore. It’s in her eyes; a hurried look, seeking escape, it’s clear in those few times we still meet as she sneaks food past the door. But I understand. I move to my bathroom to relieve myself and to splash cold water on my face. The man in the mirror is pale and unshaven; a thin apparition that only resembles myself in the briefest of glances. I don’t like looking at that man too much either.
 Back in the bedroom, I can hear voices and movement from below. Briefly I wonder what time it is, what day it is. The months and seasons move swiftly here, with little consequence, whereas a day with you can last for hours unending it seems. And yet, the time we have is still too brief and the hours themselves that I spend away from you, here, in this place, crawl by at an agonizing pace as I anxiously wait for this body to drop back off to its untroubled sleep.

 * * *

“You left me again.” She whispers this softly to him in the dark of night, her soft body resting atop his, the streaming-in moonlight lighting the outlines of her form and his upon the feather-stuffed bed.
“I’m sorry,” he kisses her, “was I gone long this time?” he asks.
“No, not very, you were just very still for a minute or so, hardly breathing, and I knew you were away from me, somehow I knew. I am less scared now that I know that you will always come back to me though.” Alma presses her lips to his chest, sighing happily and resting her head against him. “Always.” She said again.
Nathan lay with open eyes, staring out at the glittering stars through the oriel windows. ‘Always’ he mouths to himself, wondering how true this is. Though he could not always remember all that went on during his episodes, Nathan recalls this time a note and the face of his mother passes through his mind, a message. Not from his real mother, no, he had seen her just recently, paid for her to sail across the ocean to visit him and his new wife on their island. She had had a fantastic time – she so loved windsurfing in the evenings – he can still recall the look of wonder and enchantment that came over her face as the three of them watched the beautiful gold and red sunset on that first evening. So vivid is the memory of her face from that time while the face of this secondary mother, this abstract idea, who is in fact the same person but yet not, is fuzzy to him. What had been on that note?
Unable to rest, Nathan lifts himself away from Alma, from off the bed, and strides naked into the darkness. Down the winding stairs from his high-placed bedroom he descends, grabbing a lit torch from its holder at the base of the stair. In the firelight, the castle is still and ominous, shadows both enormous and monstrous leaping from every surface as Nathan moves through the interior of the dormant volcano and out into the open night. 
“Something troubling you, Mr. Nathan?” asks an older man standing near the entrance, standing as if on guard with sharpened spear in hand – Tonogu was his name, the very man who pulled Nathan and Alma free from the sinking wreckage of their cruise liner so many moons ago.
“I am unsure, to be honest, dear Tonogu” says Nathan, wistful as he once again stares upward at the stars in their never-ending splendor.
“Perhaps you sense the changes taking place on the island.” Tonogu stands close to the man to whom he had come to regard as a son and a brother, placing an arm tightly around his shoulder and holding his face close to Nathan’s ear, lowering his voice. “There is something new on the air you see, a great stirring from deep within the underbelly of the volcano.”
 Nathan returns his gaze to the old man’s face with silent alarm in his eyes. “You don’t mean…the Anraknovi?”
Tonogu, returning the grave look, only nods in reply. For a moment he turns his sight to something far-off and unseen, perhaps the past, perhaps to thoughts of his children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and the children that they too might sire in future days. Then, he looks again to Nathan and speaks thusly: “Please do not speak that name openly. For many they are a thing of myth and stories told around the fire but for the old ones such as myself, the memory of that scourge remains vivid and to hear that name still strikes such terror into my heart.”
“But why would they be returning? Why now?”
“I do not know. Perhaps they, those foul beasts, feared the far-reaching tentacles of the undersea monster which you did slay. And now, with its corpse sunk to the great deeps and fed upon by thousands of tiny fish, they are emboldened enough now to return once again from the depths which they came.”
Pointing his fire light back to the rising rock of the island, Nathan glares at the looming shadow, his free hand clenched into a white fist.
“What needs to be done, Tonogu, to stop these terrors? How can we prevent them from surfacing their horrid forms and how long do we have until they do?”

Continue to Part Two...