Copyright 2017 Michael P
Published by Michael P at Shakespir
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The water was pulling me out. I swam towards shore. I saw the figures, the moving colorful blurs that must be people, moving away. I heard something. In hindsight, it must have been a whistle. The lifeguard was surely running out towards me after all. He was surely coming to save me. I wouldn’t drown here. I kept trying—desperately trying—to swim towards shore. It was futile. Every stroke I made pushed me further and further away. The lifeguard was floating on his little red device and yelling at me now. I squinted, trying to read his lips. Again, futile. It was all so blurry, so chaotic. I closed my eyes.
I felt the water taking me, having its way with me. I had accepted that there was nothing I could do. I had fought. With all my heart and soul, I had fought to no avail. I had lost. After all my best efforts, in the end I had still been bested. I felt a wave lift me and throw me down. I felt the tide pulling me further out. I told my arms to swim. I told my legs to kick. They didn’t listen to me anymore. The water was their master now.
After a long period of being dominated, I felt my back brush against something rough and grainy. I felt the friction of that strange surface latch on to me, trapping me there. I felt the water pulling back out to sea, my body remaining on what I had by now assumed to be the shore. Why wouldn’t anybody help me? I had seen people on the beach, so why weren’t they here, breathing life back into me? Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I was still in the sea. Maybe I had just gone insane. I had to check. I had to open my eyes.
I told my eyelids to move, as I had so many times in the past. They didn’t. I tried again, again and again. Nothing happened. It was useless. I no longer had control over my own body. I had already given that over to the sea. And the sea had rejected me. I was done for. It was all over. I would be lying here on this beach for eternity. All the tourists would skirt around my body, leaving me trapped for eternity. It was my own fault.
I opened my eyes. I’m not sure how; I had already given up on trying. Still, my eyes were closed and then once again they were opened. I saw a seagull flying overhead across the grey-clouded sky. The seagull was beautiful, with its white and grey feathers and its long orange beak. The way it stuck out among the dim and weary clouds offered a peaceful release from the world around me. Eventually it flew outwards, past my field of view. I couldn’t let that happen.I had to keep watching the seagull.
I stood up. I turned towards where the seagull had been flying. I’m not sure how I managed it, my body just seemed to be moving of its own accord. I didn’t think it was possible for me to move this much now. Still, I turned just in time to see the seagull glide gracefully into the grey mist that hovered over the sea. The grey mist was massive and intimidating to look upon. It seemed to stretch to the ends of the earth, and then out some ways more till the ends of the very universe. It seemed to tower well past the sky and sink down deep below the ocean itself. Still, that lone seagull fearlessly powered its way through, breaking down the walls of the grey mist as if they were nothing. I wished I had the confidence to act similarly.
After the seagull disappeared, I looked around. I saw that there were indeed no people near me. In fact, I was no longer even on the same beach that had held the colorful I had drifted away from. I could say that with certainty because there was water surrounding me on all four sides. I was on an island.
The island I had drifted out to was small. It was maybe ten feet long and twenty across at best. It was ovular and contained nothing but three palm trees, with a multitude of rich brown coconuts hanging in the shade under their leaves. One of the coconuts fell suddenly to the ground as I watched, landing among the many coconuts sitting before it. There were also rocks scattered along the ground, so at least I would be able to break open the coconuts and eat something. I would likely be on that island for a long while, after all.
That thought sunk in. I had drifted out to who know’s where in the middle of the ocean. It was miracle I had survived, even though nobody in my family believed in miracles. Did I have a family? I couldn’t remember. It didn’t matter now. I was alone. All I could do was wait and hope, hope that a boat happens to drift by, floating peacefully and beautifully out of the massive walls of mist that surrounded me. That boat could be seconds away; it could be minutes away; it could be years away. There was no telling how long I was stuck on this island, with only coconuts to eat and nothing to do. Even if I was so fortunate that that boat came while I was still alive, who knew if I could get its attention. There was no way to start a fire, or do anything really at all.
So, I settled into the island. I cracked open some coconuts, drank their milk, and ate the food they could offer me. I savored it of course, taking my sweet time and appreciating every last bit that I could manage to carve out. I saved the husks that I had broken open in hopes that I would one day build a raft using them. I didn’t know anything about how to build a raft—I had never designed any such product in my life—but I had to hope. I had to hope because I still wanted to believe that one day I would get off this island.
It didn’t take long before that belief went away. It was nice, actually. I began to appreciate the island a lot more once I accepted that I would be living on it for the rest of my life. Knowing they were the only beauty I would ever see, I suddenly felt myself falling in love with the palm trees. Their beautiful, intricate designs of the wood, the carved, rough texture, the comforting shade of their massive leaves, all of it suddenly seemed so magical. The coconuts also became much more delicious after I stopped saving their husks. The milk I squeezed and the food I carved out became so much sweeter. It was strangely peaceful on the island after accepting my fate. There was nothing; no good, but also no evil. I had no sense of time on the island, but I eventually became content. I was grateful for what I had and sought nothing more.
That was when I realized I was sinking. Well,
was not sinking, the island was. I had said earlier that the island was about ten feet one way and twenty the other, but one day I woke up and realized it was not more than seven feet one way and fifteen the other. Over the next couple of days—I assume it to be days; time makes little sense on the island—I carefully observed the water and how it changed with the tides. I saw that there was little doubt that I was running out of time. I had escaped the treacherous fate of drowning, but soon I would be faced with that same threat again. I took a rock and began sharpening an axe.
I chipped rock against rock repeatedly for hour after hour. I regretted now that I had given up on collecting coconut husks so long ago. To create a raft now, I had no choice but to cut down one of the beautiful palm trees. For the sake of my survival, these palm trees which have done nothing but allowed me to survive had to die. After some uncertain amount of time, I managed to sharpen a rock enough that I would probably be able to force it through a tree’s trunk. I would be able to cut down the trees to obtain the wood I needed. I took the sharpened rock against a tree and swung it with all my might.
Taking the rock back to swing again, I saw the mark I had made in the tree. I looked upon the single dented blemish on the otherwise flawless palm tree. I thought about how it had felt to accept my fate on the island, to learn that these trees would be my only source of beauty, my only source of food, and my only source of drink. A seagull flew over head. It did every day, or perhaps once a week. It didn’t matter. I saw the seagull fly past and once again disappear into the wall of mist that had never stopped surrounding me. It was a beautiful sight every time I saw it, watching the gull gracefully drift across the sky and past the island, quickly disappearing out into the mist. I looked back at the palm tree in all its majesty and realized I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t cut the tree.
Slowly, I put down my axe. I can’t really describe what I was thinking as I did so. On one hand, destroying this tree was my only chance of survival, my only possibility of escape. On the other, destroying this tree would also be denying everything I had come to accept in my long time spent on this island. I had been brought here by the hands of fate and been doomed to live out my life based only on this palm tree. To me, this tree had been Eden. It had offered me life where there had been none; it had shown me beauty where I had expected to find only suffering and death. Cutting it down was the most logical choice, but it was something I could never do. It was such a beautiful tree.
Once that decision was made, all that was left to do was wait. I would wait for the water to take me once again, for it to have its way with my body and humiliate me for the second time. Once more, I would relinquish myself to it, but this time I would come prepared. I had already accepted my destiny, and could only hope that this time it would be generous enough to take my life. I had enjoyed my time on the island, and I was grateful for it, but I could not help but feel as though I had been mocked and offered a false hope only to be clenched back into the jaws of fate.
I waited for hours, or days, or years, until the water finally began to cover my feet. I clung to the palm tree in a final desperate attempt to preserve my life for just a little bit longer. Overhead, yet another seagull flew by, gliding gracefully over the island and slowly dissolving into the wall of mist surrounding us. It remained a beautiful sight, even if I had already seen it hundreds of times. I loved that seagull, and watching it had broken the usual monotony of this island. I sent out my thanks as I felt my arms beginning to give. I felt my muscles straining to hold on for dear life. I felt my grip slipping more and more. I was going to die anyway, so why not let go and embrace it? Still, I held on. I was not fate’s tool. I would defy my destiny until the final moment.
As my strength continued to give out, a massive black figure with white spots appeared in the water below me. The massive blob must have been thirty feet across and nearly fifteen feet long. I had never seen, or even imagined for that matter, anything like it. It stopped below me, as if waiting for me to let go. I supposed I must have been looking like I would be its next meal. My strength continued to give out. I was now holding on by only my fingertips and my sheer will power. I was drenched in sweat, only adding to the weight I had to hold up. I felt my fingers sliding, centimeters at at a time; then, I felt them leaving the tree. I fell.
I fell straight onto the black and white shape that had been hovering in the water below me. I landed on it, and it supported me upwards. It was a soft, but slimy substance that seemed to barely be able to hold me above the water. After realizing I was safely supported, I slowly began catching my breath and regaining energy. Eventually, my focus cleared enough that I could once again be bothered to process what I was seeing. It appeared the figure I had landed on was a ray, an incomprehensibly large ray. As I came to that realization, it flapped its wings and began to move. Not expecting it, I lost my balance and toppled over into the ocean waters.
As I fell into the water, my eyes instinctively closed and then opened again. When they opened, I found myself staring into the discomforting face of the giant ray in front of me. The mouth on its white underbelly was unnaturally human-like and had two slits that I presumed to be nostrils above it. The eyes were more off to the side, but appeared to be staring at me, as if to say, “Why did you fall, silly human?” In one fell swoop, the massive fish dived under me and lifted me back above the surface. It nudged it’s head forward, as if to indicate it was going to start moving again. Unsure if I had gone insane, I grabbed between the horns on the ray’s head and braced myself for movement. Sure enough, the ray began to swim.
For those of you who have never ridden a Manta Ray—which I suppose is probably most of you—let me tell you that you are missing out on one of the most incredible experiences available on this world. It is better even than the relief of finally cracking open a coconut after many long hours of futile efforts. It is more exciting than trying to guess the number of ridges on a palm tree’s trunk and then counting them. It is even more exciting than watching a seagull fly across over your head and disappear into a massive and beautiful wall of mist.
When you are above the surface, the wind blows softly against your face and the water splashes upwards over your sides. You feel yourself moving so gracefully, effortlessly, and magically through both the air and the sea. Even better is what happens once you become accustomed to hanging on to the back of the massive manta ray, when you and the beast begin to merge into one single being and move as if you have always been together. At that point, the ray can begin doing tricks that would have shaken you off previously. It can dive deep into the water and rocket upwards, flying out of the ocean and propelling itself beautifully into the air, launching forwards before landing back into the ocean with an incredible splash. You, as one being with the ray, can experience all of those thrills along with it, just as it does. When I first experienced one of this manta ray’s jump, I found myself wishing I had been born as one of them. To be able to freely experience the seas in such a thrilling way for all its life—for the first time in a long while I found myself experiencing some envy. Then I remembered that now I got to experience this unparallelled experience that no other human would ever know, and I felt that envy fade away and the contentedness I had learned on the island return.
After a while of riding, we arrived at the wall of mist that I had watched so many seagulls—or perhaps it had just been one seagull, many times—escape through. The magical manta ray rode fearlessly into the grey area of floating moisture that had stayed standing for so long. The great,graceful beast I was riding on did not seem the least bit intimidated by this blinding environment. As we entered the mist, I looked back over my shoulder. In the same way I had seen the seagull disappear from sight so many times, I watched as the island seemed to quickly fade away in the distance.
If I was not on the back of a manta ray, traveling through the mist would have simultaneously be the most miserable and the most terrifying experience of my life. Everywhere I looked I would swear I saw faces; there was nothing but grey mist anywhere, but it always felt as if pale faces were staring at me, their arms reaching for me. A few times, I instinctively jerked my body away from them, nearly knocking myself off the back of the beast below me as I did so.
I definitely didn’t want to fall off in the mist. I could feel the water of this misty area splashing up on me, and it was cold and mucky. There was little doubt in my mind that I was riding over a large collection of unmarked, drifting graves. Something told me that everybody that was ever lost at sea, or given willingly to the sea, eventually ended up under this mist. I can’t explain how I knew that, but I did.
Still, riding the manta ray was my saving grace. The poor creature did everything it could to support me and hold me above the water. It adjusted under me as quickly as possible every time I suddenly jerked away from another nonexistent face staring me down. As long as I stayed above the cold, murky waters, pushing through the mist was actually a rather nice experience. Well, for that to be true I also had to somehow ignore all the floating faces and arms I kept seeing.
After what felt like an eternity, the magical ray and I made it out of the massive wall of mist. As soon as we saw the blue skies, those beautiful and loving blue skies, my friend dived deep down into the blue seas and jumped out into the air higher than he had the entire ride. I laughed as we flew across the skies that had finally cleared around us. It seemed like he—or she, I didn’t really know—had been as miserable in the mist as I had been and was just as happy to get out. As we returned to our usual gliding across the ocean, I could not help but marvel at how strange the expression on my face felt. It had been a long time since I had smiled.
It’s funny now when I think about how I had been willing to live on that island. I had figured that I was content there. Sure, there was nothing particularly exciting, nothing great, but I could live and I could be thankful for living. But now, now that I had remembered how wonderful it felt to smile, I suddenly found myself wondering why I would ever want to be content when I could chase after happiness. Maybe I had forgotten what it felt like, maybe I had been to accustomed to it before, but for whatever the reason I had been willing to accept a life on that island where I would never experience new joys. Now that I was able to smile once more, to love the world around me, I vowed never to return to the island. Halfway through that vow my entire brain stopped thinking as an event I had come to believe would never happen again occurred.
I saw land. It was still many miles away, a long travel time away even on the back of a manta ray, but it was doubtlessly land. At first, I could not see the land as any more than a miniscule speck in the distance, but quickly it began to take shape. Before long, I could make out a beach, and behind that, a forest. Beyond that forest, towering over everything was a massive mountain. The mountain was white at the tip, presumably with snow, and turned grey with a majestic purple tint as my eyes followed down it. The forest before it was beautiful, greens and browns of all different shades, and the beach—well, honestly it was nothing special, just covered in a large collection of well-packed grains of yellow brown sand.
As my new partner and I drew even closer to the shores before us, the ocean began teeming with life. Countless fish swam around us, though they did not act as I would expect. The sharks and dolphins swam side by side, playing around together and acting as if they were friends. The other fish would join them for short whiles, sometimes even swimming through the shark’s jaws. Not once did I see a shark eat a fish.
It seemed that the usual animal hierarchies of predator and prey did not apply to the fish that swam along this beach. It seemed that all the creatures were friends, swimming together and sharing their water. The sharks and seals swam alongside the fish and minnows. I even swear I saw some of the seals riding on the back of massive killer whales as they propelled themselves up into the air. The ecosystem of this beach was unlike anything I had ever seen and, had I not seen it myself, I would not believe it existed.
Then, the manta ray pulled up alongside the beach. We were in a spot now where it was shallow enough that I could get off without getting anything more than my feet wet. My new friend nudged to the side as if to gesture that this was my stop. The ride was over. I slowly climbed off, enjoying sinking my feet through the cool water and down into the soft sand. I looked at the manta ray whose back I had ridden upon for so long. I looked back towards the forest, trying to understand where my life had taken me. I looked once again at my new friend. It was already swimming away.
“Thank you!” I yelled out. “I hope I see you again.”
The hope was genuine, but the sad truth was that I would never see that ray again. I would never forget it, and it would never forget me, but our time together as one had ended. It knew that, and that was why it had rushed the good-bye so much. It didn’t want to get caught up in the tragedy of the moment. I don’t know what I would have done if I had known for sure that we would never see each other. I probably wouldn’t have done anything differently, but I would have felt a lot sadder. We had grown close in our journey through the mist.
After the manta ray swam out of sight, I turned to the forest preparing to explore the land it had brought me to. Surely, I had been brought here for a reason; it seemed to calculated to be any sort of coincidence. The first thing I noticed as I walked towards the ginormous forest was the large group of penguins gathered around what appeared to be a sea lion. The sea lion appeared to be young, with soft brown fur and the most adorable black eyes I had ever seen. The penguins were the typical black and white pattern, but smaller and with a proportionally larger beak. They were flapping around and squaking at the sea lion who seemed to be heartily laughing in the middle of them. I couldn’t help but smile at the sight.
Suddenly, the penguins all scattered and the sea lion ran out into the ocean. It didn’t take me long to figure out why. A man stepped out from the forest. He was fairly tall, and certainly strong. He was dressed comfortably—his clothes appeared to be relatively wealthy—and seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He dropped the glass he had been holding in his hand and let a squeak escape from his mouth.
“How did you get here?” He asked. He had a slight southern twang to his voice that immediately comforted me.
“I rode a manta ray.”
“You came from an island?” I’m not sure how he knew that from what I had said, but I figured I might as well continue answering truthfully.
“Very well.” He said, breaking out into a smile. “Follow me then.”
Immediately, he turned back into the forest and began walking at a leisurely pace. Unsure of what else to do, I decided to follow him. I don’t know why, but I felt I could trust him. Something deep inside was telling me that he was a good man. Besides, it was fun walking through the forest. It was among the most beautiful forests I had ever seen. The bountiful branches of the trees drooped down, showing off the intricate designs of their leaves, while the plants below them thrived in all sorts of shapes and incredible colors. There were critters of all types and sizes scattering around the path, but even as we wandered straight past a massive grizzly bear, I felt perfectly safe. In this forest, all the living creatures were friends. None of the creatures surrounding me now would hurt me.
As we continued our journey through the forest, I lost myself in deep thought about the world around me. The land I had arrived on was strange and peaceful. I thought about the waters we had ridden through, and how clean and beautiful they had been. I thought about the beach the Manta Ray had dropped me off at; I could have been happy for the rest of my life just living there alone. I thought about the forest I was now following this strange man through; it was more incredible than any sight I had seen in my entire life. Or, I thought it was at least. I couldn’t exactly remember my life before I had been pulled out to sea.
I looked up at the mountain. It was a sight more enamoring than even the immense allure of the forest I was journeying through. I followed with my eyes up the purple majesty before me, staring at the white blanket so softly and gently covering it’s top. The snow was scattered at first, but became more dense as it approached the top. At the tip, I was sure it must be more snow than mountain. I wanted to be up there. I felt the mountaintop calling to me, pulling me away from the life I was entering.
“What’s up there?” I asked.
“Where?” The man sounded confused.
“On the mountaintop.” I pointed.
“I don’t know.” His voice was apathetic.
“Do you want to?” He looked even more confused at that question than my last.
“Why would I?” He paused for a moment, seeing that I had no answer. “Let’s continue towards the village.”
We walked on in silence. I continued to stare up towards the mountaintop, wondering what it was that drew me in so strongly. The creatures of the forest seemed to be dancing around me—mice and lions alike were scurrying before me as friends—but I hardly even seemed to notice. The towering mountain that stood above this mystical forest had made me forget the rest of the world. I hardly even noticed as we stopped and my guide pulled down an apple from a tree, taking a rather large bite.
I looked up at the tree he had picked the apple from. The apparent deliciousness of the apples went far beyond my wildest imagination. They were colored a bright, sweet red, seeming to glimmer and shine as they reflected the sunlight. When I managed to somehow look past that brilliant, savory-looking radiance of red, I saw how plump they appeared, as if I would be able to squeeze juice out of them just by holding them. I would have thought they were nothing more than big bundles of soft-juiciness had I not already heard the incredibly satisfying crunch when my guide had taken a bite out of one. The crunch his effortless bite had created had echoed across the forest, making my mouth water just by hearing it.
“Pick one.” My guide spoke the words I had been desperately hoping to hear and gestured towards the many delicious fruit hanging from the tree.
I reached for an apple. The slightest tug was enough to separate the fruit I had selected from the branch that had birthed it. I smiled as I brought the mouthwatering-delight up towards my face and opened my jaw as wide as I could. Clenching my teeth together through that apple, hearing the loud crunch echo all around me, and feeling the delectable juices spray out from my mouth was by far the best experience of my life; I didn’t even need to remember my life to know that. The sweet, savory taste and the crunchy, juicy texture of that radiantly delicious apple all combined for an experience so incredibly enamoring that even when I looked at the mountaintop that had so deeply and inexplicably entranced me, I felt I was happier where I was than I ever could be up there. That mountaintop was so far from these apples, after all.
“They are good, aren’t they?” My guide asked.
“Good is a bit of an understatement.” I retorted.
“We have whole orchards of these apples for our village. We eat them every day.” He explained. “I will introduce you to everyone and then you may stay with us for as long as you like.”
After having a taste, quite literally, of their offer, I was unable to refuse. Even with the little I knew about this village, if I could eat even one of these delicious fruits everyday it would certainly be worth it. I couldn’t wait to see what the village was like, especially if it was to be my new home.
The village turned out to be a quaint little town made up of houses made from straw and clay. It may not have seemed like much, but it seemed to give off a peaceful aura that would have been incomprehensible to me had I not experienced it myself. There were probably around a hundred houses, all spread out and built using varying designs. It’s funny—I never would’ve thought that one could build so much with little more than clay and straw, but this village had everything from huts that looked as though they belonged to the first of the three little pigs to mansions that a billionaire would consider pricey. I laughed as the thought struck me, but found myself quickly wondering who the three little pigs were. I stared up towards the snow-covered mountaintop as I tried to understand why a pig would have a house.
I met the people of the town as well. It seemed as though every one of them belonged to a different nationality. They were all kind, incredibly so, but I also couldn’t help but feel that most of them were in their own little world. When I tried to ask them about themselves, they all answered that they had ridden here through the sea on the back of various creatures after their island had sunk At first, I thought this to be strange, but I quickly realized I could tell them nothing different. Still, none of that mattered. All that mattered was that we had ended up here in this village, and here we could be happy.
For a long while, I was able to live my life in the village without ever having any worries, fears, or doubts. I would go about my day with a total carefree attitude, eating savory apples almost constantly. In the rare circumstances where I had craving for anything else, I would just open the cupboard to my small house—which was laid out exactly as if it were my dream house—and find exactly what I had desired to snack on. I had family now, a wife and kids. I loved them more than anything. During the day, I would go outside and hang out with my neighbors where we would do whatever we felt like doing. One week, we may become professional fishers. Another, we may try and start our own investment business. That was the beauty of this island: if we wanted it, it would happen.
That motto remained true until one day my friends and I decided that we would try our hand at mountain-climbing. It brought back memories of desire long gone—before I had tried the delicious fruit and entered the wonderful life of this village. In an attempt to repent for my sudden greed, an emotion rarely found in this village, I forewent eating my apples that day. That only made the craving worse. I wanted to climb the mountain our village was at the foot of. Unable to resist my instincts, I asked my friends to climb the mountain with me. They laughed and refused. Still, the want within me grew. The ocean, the manta ray, they had lead me to this place for a reason.
For a whole week, I tried to quell my deep desire in any way possible. I ignored it. I ate apples until I could eat no more. I stayed up all night. I slept all day. None of it worked. No matter what, I still wanted to climb up to that mountaintop. Even though everybody else seemed to think it was a terrible idea, I still wanted to climb up to that mountain top. I knew what I had to do. No one in the village could help me heal; I had to find the one who gave us this utopia.
I left the village. I traveled along the river that flowed alongside the bottom of the mountain. I continued walking beside the flowing water as day turned to night. I watched as the sun disappeared behind the mysterious mountaintop in a beautiful manner full of stunning colors. I watched as the moon and the countless stars took over the sky, first bright whites among a dark royal blue sky and then those same whites against pitch black. I was still wandering beside the river as that black sky disappeared and the blazing sun returned above me.
I grew weary as I walked. The long distance took its toll on me. I had water from the river, fresh and clean, and I had food in my bag, a seemingly endless supply. That food and water was a gift from the same being who let us stay in the village, the same being who offered us the happy lives we lived, the same being who I was now seeking to meet. I was risking everything—if I pissed her off, it would all be over for me. I would lose my happiness and live the rest of my life remembering what I could have had.
I stared up at the mountaintop. I stared at its white-coated blanket of wonder draped upon its purple majesty. I stared for a long while, taking in the entirety of the view, wondering what could be atop that mountain that drew me in as it did. There had to be something, didn’t there? If there was nothing, why would that wonderful place be so alluring? I bet the view from the top was even more beautiful than it is from the bottom. Our village probably looks like no more than a dot from up there, like it hardly exists at all.
The forest became dark. As I continued walking besides the clear river, The trees around me began to thicken. It wasn’t long before the light of the sun that I had previously believed blessed all the life within this forest could no longer make its way through the branches above me. As the forest grew darker, my other senses became more and more aware of what was going on around me. Every little flap of a bug’s wing and every brush of a plant or soft breeze began to cause me to jump. I squinted forward, doing the best I could to see what was before me, walking slowly and cautiously as try and avoid falling into the river besides me.
I fell in. I put my foot down softly at first, but upon feeling land I shifted the rest of my weight onto it. It turns out, the land I felt was not solid as it gave right in under my weight, causing me to launch myself forward and into the river. I immediately panicked. I couldn’t explain why, but every instinct in my body was telling me that this was wrong. It didn’t make sense. I had fallen in the water many times since drifting out to the island, and it always turned out fine, or as fine as I could ask for at least. Still, this time something was different. I was terrified.
I swam to the side and pulled myself out. It wasn’t particularly difficult, or it wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been so overwhelmed with fear, but it was a huge relief. To be out of the water, even if it caused me to realize how cold I was now, calmed my body down almost instantaneously. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Shivering, I continued onwards.
I was walking uphill now. The light had returned again and gone so often that it was now impossible to say how long I had been walking. My legs were beginning to feel like jelly. It would be hard enough to continue on flat land, but uphill hiking was nearly impossible. I was just about ready to give up. If I fell backwards, limp into the river and let the water take me, I would float freely back to the village. I don’t know how I knew this, but I did. Part of me was screaming to fall in, to let the water do with my body what it will and offer it full control. I wouldn’t do that though. I needed to ask what was on that mountaintop, why I wanted to go there so bad. Not that it mattered anyway; the river terrified me.
It wasn’t long before the river lead me to a waterfall. The waterfall was a stunning sight, standing thirty feet tall and fifty across, water flowing down it with an incredible force and velocity. Drops of water sprayed up in the air while white foam spewed outwards, pressing against the shore. There was a long rock shelf that spread along a majority of the bottom of the waterfall. When I looked more closely, I could see a cave standing over the middle of that shelf. I felt a smile form on my face. I had made it. After all that walking, I was here.
I ducked behind the waterfall. I entered the massive and dark mouth of the cave under the flowing water. My clothes were dripping wet, further soaking the dirt below my feet.
The sound echoed at a deep, low frequency throughout the cave. The soft pitter-patter sounded in a calming and repetitive pattern. My feet sunk into the damp clay-like substance below them.
I looked around. Little light managed to find it’s way through the trees, the rocks, and the waterfall and into the cave, but I was still able to see a little of my surroundings. The walls of the cave appeared as smooth as glass except for the crystal rocks growing out of them. The crystals were mostly white, but there were some of many different colors. Some were purple, blue, or red. Others were green, yellow, or orange. No matter the color, every crystal was semi-transparent. The light seemed to reflect of every single one of them, as if they all contained their own bundle of energy constantly brightening up the cave.
I followed the smooth, crystal-lined walls deeper and deeper into the cave. As I continued into the cave, the lighting continued to grow dimmer. It wasn’t long before it felt as if there was no light behind me at all; the crystals, and the crystals alone, were lighting my way. Many times, I found myself pausing and taking a deep breath. I had never experienced anything like this. My heart was beating louder with every step. It was becoming harder to think with every moment. Breathing was all but impossible. I was getting closer. With every step, I came closer. Then, I saw her. I was there. I had made it.
She was more beautiful than I ever would have imagined. Her fur was the most incredible, the purest and prettiest, shining shade of white I had ever seen; the stripes that lined her back and her face were blacker than even the darkest parts of the forest that I had journeyed through on my way here. Her nose was a soft and powerful pink that stood out in stark contrast to her fur; her eyes glimmered green in a way that managed to make her simultaneously appear kind, powerful, and terrifying.
As soon as I saw her, I forgot everything I had ever known. I forgot to breathe. I forgot that my heart was supposed to beat, that my blood was supposed to pump. My entire body froze and I felt as if I had somehow exited time itself. All there was, all there had ever been, and all that would ever be was her. She was why I had come here. She was why I had been able to come here in the first place. She was everything. And now that I was so fortunate to look upon her wonder, I understood that.
“Welcome.” She spoke in a purr. Her voice was so kind, so full of compassion and loving, that I could barely comprehend it. I looked at her lovingly.
“Hello.” I said, still staring at her in awe. “I am here.”
“That much I see.” She responded with a laugh. It was a beautiful laugh, unlike any I had ever heard. “But why are you here?”
“I—” I began to speak, but found the words became caught in my throat. I wanted to say them. I wanted to tell her my dreams. But I wasn’t sure if I could. After all, only she knew the truth. If my hopes were in vain, if my purpose is no more than to exist, she would know. That was one thing I didn’t want to learn.
“Speak boy.” Her voice had become more menacing. “I am here but to listen.”
“Don’t you already know why I am here?” I asked.
“I do.” She answered, once again speaking softly. “But I need to confirm that you do as well.” I wasn’t sure what she meant by that. Why would I not know my own reason for coming? It didn’t matter. I needed an answer.
“I want to go to the mountaintop.” I spoke loudly. “Can I?”
p. “Why do you want to go?” She replied briskly.
“I don’t know.” My voice was trembling. “Perhaps for the adventure or the challenge. Maybe I want to see the view from the top, to see the village smaller than an ant. Or maybe I just want to be able to say I did.”
p. “All very good reasons.” She answered. “But none are correct. I suppose it doesn’t matter. You will learn the truth if you get there, no matter what.”
“So I can go?” I asked again.
“If you wish.” There was a deep sorrow and lovingness in her kind voice. “But I must warn you: if you try and do so, you will never return to the village.”
“Thank you.” I said as I turned back around and prepared to exit through the waterfall. “Thank you for everything.”
p. “Do not thank me yet.” She responded. “You still have a long ways to go if you plan to go any ways at all.” With those words I turned and began to walk back towards the waterfall covering the mouth of the cave.
Outside the waterfall, I saw a raft. The water was crashing down in front of it, pushing it outwards with immense forces, but still the raft remained unmoving. It stayed there, perfectly still in the water, seeming to ignore all of nature trying to move it. It was a small raft, made of dark brown wood tied together by a light grey rope, but it was strangely beautiful. As soon as I saw it, I knew the raft was for me—a gift from her to help ease my journey back to the village. I smiled and said “thank you” once more.
I jumped out through the waterfall and onto the raft. I put my hands out to the side, expecting to need to catch myself after the raft wobbled under my weight, but the raft did not move. Until I landed firmly on it and managed to find a comfortable balance, the raft remained as firm and still as if it were lying on hardened concrete. Then, when I had secured myself safely, the wooden planks rocketed forward.
I traveled across the river at speeds that I had previously imagined would be impossible—speeds that certainly couldn’t be achieved on a small wooden raft floating down the river. The wind pushed violently against my face; the water splashed upwards, chilling my body. I closed my eyes and lived in the moment. It was an incredible moment—the kind that may come around once in a lifetime if you’re lucky. I was in the middle of a beautiful forest, riding down the river on a raft that was capable of impossible speeds. The mountain towered over me in all its majesty and the fish happily swam below me. As for me, I had just seen a creature more beautiful than I would have ever thought possible—a white tiger that knew all the secrets of the world.
Due to the immense speed of my ride, I arrived at the village rather quickly. Of course, the first thing I did was to go and talk to my family. I had a kind and loving family in the village with two daughters and a son. Them and my wife, the sweetest and most wonderful woman in the world, made every day a blessing. They had been worried about me while I was gone, but were happy that I was back now. Despite my worried expectations, my life here quickly returned to normal.
My friends barely seemed to notice I was missing. They had just begun working on plans to form a scuba diving company and had no hesitations to let me join in with them. Learning to scuba dive was a fun project--there was no other experience quite like observing the terrifying yet beautiful creatures of the ocean in their natural deep-sea habitat-- but I couldn’t help but feel that there was something missing, that it all didn’t feel real all of a sudden. No matter how hard I tried to just be happy like everyone else, my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.
Didn’t it all just seem to convenient? All of us had just randomly washed up here, and we had managed to start our own civilization. In this world we can do literally whatever we want, and we all lead happy lives with families and friends. None of us work, not really anyway. We just do whatever seems like fun in the moment. Now it’s scuba diving, last time it was mountain climbing, next it may be programming. It’s all the same. It’s just ways to keep us entertained, distractions so we don’t notice just how convenient our lives happened to be.
Of course I couldn’t say this to anyone. All of them would think I’m crazy. They didn’t see it; they couldn’t feel it. Nobody else realized how unnatural, how statistically improbable this village was. In that feeling I was alone. I couldn’t help but wonder if I was the only person in the entire village who wasn’t happy. Part of me wondered if everybody in this utopia was actually unhappy like me, and I just didn’t realize it.
I stared up beyond the village and beyond the forest it had been built in. I looked up at the mountain, it’s majestic towering stone side that so often seemed to glimmer purple in the lighting. Right now it was grey, not purple, but it was still every bit as stunningly wonderful. And still, it was covered in a soft, magical blanket of white at the top as always. If I went up there, I would have to leave the village forever. That was what she said. I wanted to go up there. More than anything in my life, that mountaintop called to me. Maybe there I would find answers. Maybe I would finally understood why this life felt so fake. Maybe I would find true happiness. Maybe I would find nothing.
Two weeks ago, I had attended my daughter’s ballet. She fell over during it once, but she got back up and kept dancing. She was so graceful that I watched the whole show with eyes of wonder. When we got home my other daughter, who had quit ballet because she felt it was “too girly” for her, gave my daughter who had danced a big hug.
“You’re awesome.” She said, with the biggest and most genuine smile I had ever seen.
“I fell though.” The hug-receiver said with a quiver in her voice.
“Did you?” The hugger said. “That doesn’t matter. It was beautiful dance.”
A month before that, I had taught my boy to ride a bike. He had fallen off that thing so many times. Even with me to support him, he would still manage to fall flat-faced on the ground. And then, he would get up again. He would try once more to ride his bike. Eventually, he succeeded. Now, he can ride that bike with no problem. Both my daughters showered him with praise the first time they saw him doing so.
What I’m trying to say here is that my family is strong. They’re an incredible group of people who I love more than anything in the world. They can get up on their own, but they’re always there to support each other, and as a dad that makes me prouder than I would have ever imagined possible. So, when I consider that they felt fake just like everything else on this island, it really does make me hate myself. How can I doubt something so magical, something that I love so much? How can I honestly consider leaving them behind and climbing up that mountain?
. That’s the only thought running through my head as I pack up my bag. It remains the only thought on my mind as I quietly, carefully sneak out the front door as my wife and children sleep. It continues to bounce around my head as I stare up at the stars, one last time taking in the grandiose view of infinity from a place that I am fortunate enough to be able to call home, wondering if I’m not just making a really stupid mistake that can never be fixed. It is still echoing in my head as I walk through the village, silently praying that somebody will pop out of nowhere and ask me what I’m doing, make me stop. I’m still thinking it as I leave my village and finally begin making my way up the mountain.
The beginning of the mountain trail is rather easy, if not tedious. It’s a steep incline that seems to stretch on forever. I walk and I walk and I walk, but I seem to get no closer to the mountaintop than I had been an hour prior. However, as I continue to walk, every once in awhile I make the foolish mistake of looking back. Everytime I do so, I become afraid upon seeing the village shrinking more and more with every step. I feel a tear drip slowly down my cheek as I think about everything I’m leaving behind. I hear that tear as it leaves my cheek and finds its way down to the floor.
The sound breaks the silence that has filled the air for so long. Suddenly, I feel lonely. What am I doing here? Am I really leaving that wonderful village, that utopia? I look forwards to the mountaintop that appears so far away. I want to be there. I look back. The village is just a dot in the distance. I look forward. I walk a little more. I look back again. The village is gone.
My heart begins to race. My breathing grows heavy. My head starts to spin.
Suddenly, this is all real. I’m actually doing this. I’m actually seeking the mountaintop, leaving the village behind. What’s wrong with me?
Why would I do this?
I take a long moment to collect myself.
Nope, still panicking. I take another long moment to collect myself. My head clears, my heart and breathing slow. That seemed to work. I can think straight now, at least.
I get back up and continue walking towards the mountaintop. I’ve already started this adventure, already fully committed myself. There’s no point in freaking out now. All that’s left is to reach the mountaintop.
The trail is growing steeper now, quickly becoming too steep to walk on normally. It isn’t long before it ends at a massive cliff. I look for a way around the cliff, but it seems to stretch for many miles. I want to go straight to the mountaintop, and that delay just seems like to much. I look up the cliff. It stands about forty feet tall, with rocks of all shades from black to white jutting out in various spots. It seems to curve out towards me about thirty feet up creating a ledge I could rest on, but then curve back in after that. I did rock climbing once, with my friends back in the village. We had called ourselves professionals, but it had been nothing like this. Maybe that had been fake too.
I shook my head. I couldn’t think like that. One of the most important challenges in mountain climbing is to stay calm. Losing your cool in the wrong situation can quickly lead to demise. I needed to trust my skills and to trust myself. I studied the rock a while longer and found a path that I believed would be able to lead my to the top. It took a deep breath and began to climb.
I made the first twenty feet in no time, but I had already known that that was the easy part. I looked up and saw the rocks of the cliff curving out above me. I would have to find my way around and over that curve if I was going to make it. It was the only way.
I continued climbing. I hoisted myself up, one hand and one foot at a time. I could feel my entire body dripping with sweat. I could feel my weight pulling me down, seeming to grow heavier with every passing fraction of a second. I pushed myself up to the level right below the small ledge that curved out of the cliff. I found strong footholds and reached my right hand out, trying to reach the outer edge of the ledge. It was a little too far.
I couldn’t reach. I couldn’t give up either. I had come to far for that. Slowly, with immense caution, I put my hands on the bottom of the ledge above me, pushing them upwards. I lifted my right foot and pushed it into the wall of the cliff. I lifted my left foot and pushed it into the wall as well. The strain on my body was miserable. Every muscle felt as if it would explode at any minute. Every millimeter of slippage in any of my limbs felt like it would lead to me falling to a painful death. I removed my right hand from the bottom of the ledge. I brought it over to the edge of the ledge and reached over, grabbing on to the top. As I did so, I pushed off the cliff wall with my feet and swung my left hand up next to my right.
Now I was hanging over the ledge. My arms and core were much to sore to be able to pull me up. Still, I had to. My life depended on it. I started to swing my legs, trying to build as much upward momentum as I could. I wasn’t thinking anymore, my body was just acting of its own accord. I had been possessed by pure adrenaline and survival instinct. On an upward swing of my legs, I began to pull myself upwards. Every ounce of my strength and energy went into bringing my body up and over that ledge.
As soon as my feet followed the rest of my body over the ledge, I passed out. When I came to my senses, I looked down and quickly began to panic. Then I looked up and saw that I still had about ten more feet to climb before I made it over the cliff. Every single cell in my body had exerted its last bit of energy to pulling me over this cliff. Perhaps I was just stuck here forever. I could probably manage to settle here. Eventually, I may even grow to forget about the rest of the world and be satisfied to live only on this ledge. It could be my new island, but with no coconut trees and no risk of being flooded.
I sat there well into the night, and for much of the day that followed. Then I waited as the sun fell over the mountaintop once again in a brilliant purple flare, and the moon once more took control over the sky. That was when I heard the howl. It was a lonely sound, echoing across the mountain as if it was lingering, waiting for a friend to join it. The howl shared with the world deep passion, but alone it was meaningless. I felt my instincts kick in and did something I never would have expected.
I howled. I curled my head back, looking brazenly up towards the moon that towered over me and I sent out the loudest, most passionate cry I could manage in my weakening state. My howl echoed across the mountaintop, joining the voice of the wolf in perfect harmony. Together, the howls traveled many miles. I followed the sound waves in my mind as they made their way down to the village. I pictured my children, waking up in bed, wondering what that sound that came from the mountain was. It was foolish, of course. My children couldn’t hear me, nor the wolf. The village was gone, and I had to accept that.
I heard the howl of the lone wolf growing closer. I looked up and saw him standing above me, pawing at the ground playfully. He bounced around, wagging his tail and howling loudly up at the moon. It’s funny. I was stuck under a cliff, barely able to move with a wolf pacing above me, more than capable of pouncing and eating me for dinner at any given moment. I was in a situation more miserable than I could imagine in even my worst nightmares. Yet, for the first time in a long while, I was at peace with the world.
It was real. The threat of the wolf, the idea that I could—that I
die at any moment, the fact that all my determination had lead to this was real. This was a combination of what I deserved, and what the world had dealt from me from the beginning. It wasn’t some made up utopia gifted to me by a white tiger without me even knowing after I drifted onto her island. It was reality, a dog-eat-dog, wolf-eat-man world.
My eyes glimmered with excitement and energy as I looked up at the wolf. Once again, I acted in a way that made little sense to me. Against all my better judgement, for one final time, I threw my head backwards and I let out a wild howl. I put all of my emotion into this howl, one final attempt to communicate my feelings—feelings I, myself, did not understand—to the world. This howl was louder than any howl any wolf had made, and it was likely louder than any howl any human had ever made. I had no way of knowing this at the time, but my children woke up moments after I released this beautiful sound out into the world. They woke up wondering what kind of wolf could possibly make a sound so defeated, yet still so eerily peaceful.
After my howl diminished into nothing more than an echo, the wolf that had been standing over me backed away from the edge. Then, it reappeared, staring down at me with its piercing and terrifying yellow eyes, baring it’s pretty, yet sharp and deadly white fangs towards me. For a moment I was afraid. I saw my life flash before me. The wolf opened its mouth. Down dropped three apples.
I grabbed the apples as quickly as I could. They were nothing like the apples I had eaten down in the village. No, these apples were small. They were green, but with brown and black rotting spots spread throughout them. There were holes in them, in which I had little doubt that worms had tunneled through. Feeling them in my hand, they were abnormally squishy in some spots, and hard as rock in others.
I opened my mouth and bit down on one of the apples. My bottom teeth had gotten a mushy part; it felt as if they were biting into mud that had just been rained on. My top teeth hit a hard part; it was much like digging into a rock. The taste was bitter, and perhaps a bit sour. If there was any sweetness, any succulence, it was well disguised behind the many disgusting characteristics of this rotten apple. As I forced myself to swallow, I immediately felt my body trying to repel what it thought surely must be poison.
It was the most wonderful snack I had had since waking up on that strange island with two palm trees so long ago. Within a matter of seconds, I had devoured all three of the apples the wolf had been so kind as to give me. I couldn’t, at the time, imagine a better meal. I felt energy returning to me, not much, but enough that perhaps I would be able to safely make it up the cliff I had been stuck below for so long.
Not wanting to waste my energy, I immediately began my way up the wall laid before me. I had planned my path days ago, but had been unable to move my muscles enough to have any real chance of making it. Now I had just enough energy in my body that I could pull myself up a few times. So, I climbed against the cold rock, pushing off with my legs, gripping tightly with my hands, and pulling aggressively with my arms. In no time, I was pulling myself over the top of the cliff and onto the ground above.
I laid on that sweet, soft dirt for a moment and stared up at the beautiful stars glittering above me. It was only a short moment, as it was quickly interrupted by a wolf’s face interfering with the stunning view. Though, I must admit, the wolf’s face was quite beautiful as well. Her fur made a soft white outline along the almost-as-soft grey that covered her face. Her nose was black, and stood out adamantly in contrast the lighter, softer colors. Above that nose were her eyes; small black dots in the center of bright yellow circles, the same color as a light bulb hanging in a dim attic. Those black dots grew as the wolf quickly realized that I was okay.
The wolf started bouncing around me as I slowly started to stand up. He bounded in circles, seeming to jump with every step. At one point he ran out of sight for awhile, but he appeared again shortly after that. As soon as I managed to stand all the way up and take in my surroundings, I shivered. I was a good way up the mountain now, and it was starting to get cold. That was a good sign though. It meant I was getting close.
The wolf eventually came to a stop in front of me and howled once more towards the moon. This howl was different than the others though; it had a happy sound to it. I couldn’t help but join in, throwing my head back and screaming out for all the world to hear. After we finished howling, we stood still for a couple minutes. Eventually, the wolf looked back at me, seemingly confused. She gestured to her back with her nose. I hoped I wasn’t interpreting that gesture wrong and responded to it.
I walked over the wolf and sat on her back, wrapping my arms around her neck. I lifted my legs off the ground, digging them into her sides. Immediately, she began to run forward at incredible speeds. We must have been travelling at least forty miles per hour, much more than I had thought a wolf capable of. Once again, I was able to experience the wonderful sensation of the chilling wind rushing against my face as we made our way up the mountain.
In no time, we began to enter an area of the mountain where the ground was covered in snow. There were still trees scattered around the area, and their branches appeared to be frosted over. It was an incredible sight to behold: a true winter wonderland. The trees looked to be frozen so solid that they had become brittle, as if the softest tap could break them into a thousand pieces. The snow was becoming thicker and thicker, until there was no rocks able to stick out from its deep encompassment. The wolf, whose grey fur and black nose stuck out magically in the white world I had entered on its back, seemed to float weightlessly over the layer of snow, leaving not even paw prints below her feet.
It wasn’t long before snow started to fall over us as well. We were in a cloud at that point, stuck racing threw a damp grey mist. The first flake I saw landed softly on the wolf’s head in front of me. It was shortly thereafter followed by another, and then another, and then a hundred more. My clothes and skin were quickly becoming soaked and frozen, but I didn’t care. For some reason, I didn’t feel as if this cold could hurt me. The wolf appeared unfazed as well. She continued prancing majestically at unbelievable speeds as if she didn’t notice the weather changes at all.
The snow stopped. Actually, that is probably not accurate to say. More truthfully, we moved above the snow. We passed through and came out over the cloud that the snow had been forming in. We came out of the damp must and into a bright sun and a beautiful blue sky; it seemed we had ridden all the way through the night. The wolf stopped. I climbed off. She gestured her head forward and then turned and ran downwards, into the cloud.
“Thank you!” I tried to call out. The wolf had already disappeared into the mist.
I was alone. My legs sunk into snow. I felt the cold, wet flakes pile up all the way above my knees. How had the wolf been running on this? I lifted my leg as high as I could and stepped forward. I lifted my other leg over the snow and stepped forward again. Two steps. I trudged forward some more. Ten steps. I felt as if I had been walking for an eternity, doing everything I could to continue travelling forward. I had taken ten steps. Maybe this was where my journey was destined to end.
I continued my slow march through the deep and tightly-packed snow that blanketed the ground around me. I had come far too far to even consider the possibility of turning back. I could hear the mountaintop calling to me now, begging for me to reach it and discover my purpose. The wolf had been afraid to go beyond this point, afraid to face the cold and brutal reality that I was now making my way through, but I was not. I would die before heading back down the mountain.
I shivered. I kept shivering. I couldn’t stop shivering. It was so cold, so freaking freezing… My body could barely move; my blood was turning to ice. I looked down at my hand and saw my bare skin, turned blue with exposure to the rigid temperatures around me. I felt my eyes trying to close, but they couldn’t; my eyelids were frozen to my forehead. At least it was getting easier to walk. The snow was now frozen so solid that I could walk on top of it effortlessly.
I felt the heat of a warm, living-room fire. At first, it was only in my hands and feet, but it quickly spread inwards, covering the rest of my body. I felt a blanket pull over me, trapping in the newfound heat and protecting me from the terrible cold that was trying to get in. It was so comfortable, so amazing. The best experience of my life.
I began to lie down. I began to shovel the frozen snow on top of me, like adding a second blanket on top of the first. It was so cozy, so warm, like cuddling around a campfire in August. I never wanted to move again. I could just lie here for the rest of my life. After all, if I moved again, I might get cold again. And I was so warm, so happy.
I turned my head. I saw another man, lying beside me with a smile on his face staring upwards. I looked the other way. There was a beautiful woman, blonde with blue eyes, also smiling and staring up at the sky. They must have found the warmth, the cozy, happy place that I was just now entering. They looked so blissful, as if they had found total peace with the world. I wondered if I could be as happy as them. I closed my eyes and let the warmth overtake my body.
I could hear my heartbeat slowing, becoming more distant as I lay there. My mind began to power down. Everything went black; everything went silent. Even my own thoughts began to sound muffled before eventually fading away into nothingness. I would just lie here forever and I would be happy. I was glad I had left my island but I had to admit, I prefered the village to this.
I opened my eyes. All I could see was whiteness. It seemed that it had snowed since I had passed out. I had no idea how long it had been, seconds or years, it didn’t really matter. I couldn’t lie there any longer. I couldn’t just submit myself to the comfortable, warm, joyful eternity of rest. I had come here to seek the mountaintop. I had to find the mountaintop. It was my destiny. Still, it was so cozy here.
I pictured how my daughter had gotten back up after falling at her recital, how many times my son had gotten up after falling off his bike. I was their father. I couldn’t just keep lying here. I had to get back up.
I began to sit up. It was hard at first. I had to break through the ice, and my muscles felt as if they had not been used in months. I suppose that maybe they hadn’t. After a long and tedious struggle, I found myself sitting. I put both my hands on the ground beside me and began to push with all my might. Before long, my legs joined in the act of trying to raise my body well above the ground. Not too long after that, I was standing.
I looked around my area. All I could see was snow. The ground was covered with blankets of snow. The sky was hidden behind a massive collection of falling flakes. The horizon was lost through a white wall in either direction. Everything was snow. I no longer could tell which way was up and which way was down. I thought about waiting, hoping that the snow subsides, but I figured I would freeze to death before that happened. I wasn’t even sure how I was still alive now.
I picked a direction and began to walk as briskly as I could given the condition of my blood being frozen over. I knew already that it made no sense for me to be alive. By all means, I should have been dead the moment I drowned. If not, there was no logical way I could have survived my icy journey up this mountain or my many days without food. I had given up on all that—the sense of being alive, the fear of death. Somewhere along the way, they had become meaningless. I just treaded on towards the mountaintop with no purpose, totally empty.
Then, I made it. I continued my trudge through the falling snow and I found my way to a clearing—a circle of rock floor with no blanket of snow to cover it. The clearing was around twenty feet in diameter, with a large rock sitting in the center. Slowly, with great suspense, I walked over towards that rock. Inside it was a pool of… some sort of liquid. It was clear, but it seemed to shimmer silver and glimmer green depending on the angle I looked at it from. It appeared somewhat viscous. I reached out to touch it, but as I did so it began to swirl. A growling familiar feminine voice called out to me.
“Are you sure you want to do that?”
I looked up and saw two familiar green eyes shining through the snowfall that surrounded the melted circle I was standing near the center of. She stepped into the clearing and shook the snow out of her wonderful white fur. The black stripes throughout it appeared to be untainted, but a couple stubborn flakes remained speckling her nose. She was even more beautiful here than she had been in the cave.
“I am impressed that you made it here.” Her voice sounded peaceful.
“Made it where?” I inquired.
“Don’t you know?” She began pacing around the outer edge of the clearing, one paw in front of the other, always looking straight at me.
“I want to.” My shaky voice betrayed my faltering confidence. “I-I didn’t make it all the way up here for nothing.”
“Do you know that?” Her eyes seemed to be piercing straight through my heart.’
“I have to b-believe it.”
“Then, it is up to you.” She stopped pacing and looked me straight in the eyes. “One-in-a-thousand people make it to a village. Of those, one-in-a-thousand may realize the village is fake. One-in-a-thousand of the people who realize their village is fake may be brave enough to leave and journey to find answers at the mountaintop. Of those brave fools, how many do you believe find this clearing?”
“One-in-a-thousand?” I guessed without thinking.
“Nowhere near that many.” She responded briskly. “You were not satisfied to be satisfied. Nor were you happy to be happy. When offered a blissful escape from suffering, you chose to suffer more. All to make it here. Do you know why you did all that?”
The question was rhetorical, or at least I hoped it was. The silence that followed was deafening. Even the snow that had been falling so heavily outside of the clearing had come to a halt; even the winds that were blowing so brazenly had faded away to nothingness. The only sounds were that of my heavy breathing and the explosive beating of my heart.
I closed my eyes.
“I thought not.” She purred. “Nobody ever remembers dying. If you want answers—and only if you
want them—you can find them in the pool in that rock. But I must warn you, remembrance is pain. I can offer you one last chance to return to the village. Half of those who make it this far take that chance. One hundred percent of them are happy for the rest of eternity.”
“And those who ignore your generous offer?” I had to ask.
“First, there is pain. The pain of memory, and the pain of knowing. What comes after that, even I cannot say.” She growled violently. “I honestly cannot understand why any would choose that path. I suppose there must be something more important than even an eternity of euphoria, for them at least.”
“I see.” My decision had, of course, been made before I had asked the question. Hearing that answer only confirmed it.
Slowly, terrified of what was coming next, I walked over to the rock in the center of the clearing. I took one final look of the whiteness around me, at the beautiful snow tigress who had offered me so much. I closed my eyes. I reached forward, into the rock, and touched the viscous liquid. It was indeed viscous, much like a soft jello. My mother used to make jello for me, when I was no more than a boy. I remembered what that jello tasted like, how happy I had been whenever momma made it for me. I remembered her making it after dad’s funeral, a futile attempt to make me feel better. Had I really forgotten all that?
I opened my eyes. Floating in the water was an image of a girl, roughly seventeen years old, talking on the phone laughing. I recognized her. How did I recognize her? What was I thinking?
Her eyes. I recognized those eyes—those beautiful hazel-green eyes that glimmered so gorgeously whenever she smiled. They were her mother’s eyes. As for her smile—well, it was hard to believe, but it was even more beautiful than her mother’s had been. It seemed to light up the whole world. I wondered if the people of the village weren’t curious about the strange light shining from the mountaintop. It was such a beautiful smile. She had my dimples. I remembered how proud she was of that fact when she was younger. “I’m just like daddy.” She would tell anyone who listened.
Her hair was strawberry blonde, long and flowing but also with a slight curl to it. Her skin was tan, but with pale lines on her shoulder that her sleeves were rolled up past. I couldn’t turn my eyes away from her. I watched for a long while. I kept watching as she finished her conversation, put the phone away and finally drifted off to sleep. Liana had a half smile on her face as she slept, as if she knew her father was watching over her. I felt tears well up in my eyes and a massive grin forming on my face. I was crying.
I remembered now. I remembered all of it. We had taken a family trip to the beach for my daughter’s seventh birthday. It had been so much fun—me and her had built sand castles, and played together the entire day. Then, a storm came in. Me and my wife quickly packed up or stuff and told Liana to follow us. When we got to the car, she was nowhere to be seen.
I ran back to the beach, faster than I had ever run. The rain was starting to pour down now, and the thunder was becoming explosive. I could see lightning striking the water in the distance. The lifeguards were packing up their things, joking around with each other and paying no attention to their surroundings. I reached the shore and began scanning around, looking everywhere I could for Liana. It took a while, but eventually I saw her, flailing violently about a hundred yards off the beach. I screamed. I ran into the water. I swam with all my might.
The waves that the storm had created towered as many as twenty-five feet tall, crashing down into an explosion of white foam that was nearly impossible for me to power my way through. The winds had created a current so strong that it took all of my strength to continue swimming towards Liana, towards my daughter. I saw the life guards, finally noticing me and my daughter. We were too far out. There was nothing we could do.
As I made it to Liana, a thirty foot wave—the tallest I had seen yet—was forming behind us. Luckily, it sucked up enough of the water in front of it that I could stand somewhat comfortably. I wrapped my arms around Liana, but the wave was crashing right over us. In my panic, I thrust Liana forward with all my strength, hoping she would land on top of the wave and it would carry her in. Doing so, I pushed myself under the wave, where I was caught in a riptide and pulled out to sea.
“She’s alive.” Tears were flowing rapidly down my face as I watched my daughter, so many years later, sleeping happily. “She’s alive.”
About the Author
Michael P is a college student majoring in Electrical Engineering and minoring and math. He is also a member of his school’s varsity tennis team. During summers, he works at a camp with younger kids. Of course, he’ll have to start doing internships soon, so that won’t be the case for long. While his schedule is already busy, he also enjoys writing and posting fiction and fantasy stories online as a hobby.
Connect with Michael P
Thank you for reading Away From Home! If you want to read more of my writing, check out my weekly serial and other stories at https://PhoenisxFantasy.com. You can learn more about me and my writing by following me at twitter at (@phoenixko12). All my writing is free, but if you are able to I would appreciate any support at .
This is a story that starts with a man drowning. Luckily he survives, but he still finds himself stranded on an island with palm trees to offer him coconuts for food and drink. It isn't long before the island starts sinking. Again he experiences a stroke of luck as a manta ray comes into save him. He rides the manta ray to a strange island with a village in a forest and a mountain. He establishes a happy life in that village, but always finds a part of himself wanting to climb the mountain.