“Smoke and mirrors are cloaks and terrors in this, the sea of oceans
Hope and terror is soaked in error when slips the dreamer’s potion”
Warren had told him long ago, “You see the world as solid until you don’t.”
It was one of those phrases that he couldn’t understand, at least at first, whether or not it was terribly deep, or terribly shallow.
He found the answer somewhere between then and now. He was afraid Warren had done much the same. Sera…what had she found in the time between? She hadn’t said much, and he wasn’t surprised.
“You don’t get to hold smoke without putting your hand next to fire,” Warren had said before, “and you don’t spend time looking at clouds without tripping on the ground.”
He’d touched more fire than he’d wanted. Stumbled more than he should have. He, like so many others, had felt the freedom of things. He’d reached beyond Merit and walked the lands of impossibility. Like a boy learning the power of building sand castles, he’d felt a god…until he didn’t. Until he realized he wasn’t. Until he realized that impossibility is a bigger world than he understood.
Now he sat with pills dissolving in his stomach and note burning in an ashtray like questions were burning in his mind.
Kay had gone silent so long ago that he feared her dead. Ambrose has walked away from it…more than content to soak his mind in whiskey, his blood in Fugue. Tyler had defected – who knew where the fuck he was these days. Em had lost her mind – too many trips taken too deeply, too many times she’d touched the glare. Last he’d seen her, she was rocking back and forth while she drew a series of colorful pictures that looked like Van Gogh meets Picasso as performed by a six-year-old.
Captain and crew – army of one, he thought to himself.
He closed his eyes and took a breath – not one of relaxation, but one of resignation.
The Valley lay before him. Within his own mind, he blinked hard and stepped within to bridge the span that led into the Mire.
Water sloshed around him as he sat within a small rowboat on a lake of endless colors – a sheet of calm blue with rainbows swirling beneath, as though it was an ocean of oil catching the sun.
He rowed slowly but called out to a world of sunrise and sunset. The land swirled like a film of time-lapse. He coasted slowly along the coast and called out to shores where long ago people stopped swimming.
His feet met sand and water that felt like indigo against his skin. A world grown cold and empty, where the color looked drained and thin. Along the beach of broken embers, fragments of long-dead ages and unremembered dreams he walked.
He called out to a debris-littered patch of sand that looked more ashtray than beach. He called out to a small shack with a door that never closed quite right. He called out to the Reflection of where he’d been that night, with a needled in his arm, half-suffocating on his own vomit. Where he’d been when he was trying to make the visions stop – where he was a man in the throes of some terrible dementia.
He stood at the door and listened. The Fume was light here, like being at high altitude. He knew Warren wouldn’t be there. He wouldn’t be anywhere that anyone would think to look. But if he was leaving breadcrumbs, he’d have to leave them where people might actually find them.
As it was, he was running out of places to look.
Within was the sort of place that you imagine people going to escape life. The sort of place you image people go to die. Furniture was more an element of suggestion than fact. Nothing seemed to stand upright, everything looked like it leaned, or tilted, was broken or ready to break.
He ran his fingers over the walls. He peered into mirrors in hopes that he’d find some Whisper, some fragment of an Echo.
He left as a man feeling as if he were more lost than he was when Warren first found him.
He closed the door in his exit, felt it grind and hesitate. He stopped, opened the door again, closed it again. He felt where it pinched and rubbed against the frame. Then he slid his fingers around the edges, the frame, the knob, the latch, the lock. He pulled at the strike plate until it broke free. Beneath was a coin. A silver penny. On the front was pressed the image of an eye, on the back, the image of a key.
This is a collaboration piece I’m working on with Tara at Caribou Crossing. She will be doing even-numbered parts and I’ll be doing odd-numbered parts.
Link for Part 4 will Eventually Be Here