*A little later than promised, but hey, it’s here….
Revelations From the Depths
Across the lake, the sun was beginning to set. Slowly, the sky changed from a pale yellow to a deepening orange. It glinted from the very points of the ripples, casting rays in all directions, illuminating the water in exotic colours.
Across, towards the other bank, the land rose sharply, covered in a thick layer of deep-green fir trees. As I bobbed up and down in the tiny rowing boat, the distance between there and here seemed immense, unfathomable. It was as though the water stretched outwards almost indefinitely, as if its end – the sandy banks, were nothing more than an illusion that one could never dream of reaching.
The resistance of the water pushed back against my palms, as my hands did well-practiced semi-circles, grasping the oars, pushing the tiny craft onwards. I cut my way through the orange water, headed towards the far Eastern point of the lake where it thinned and morphed into the outgoing river. There, the waters became shallow. Reeds and numerous other aquatic plants burst through the surface. Above the faint sound of running of water, the beating of dragonflies’ wings could be heard – darting gracefully from one perch to the next.
I stopped rowing, and brought the oars to rest on the damp bottom of the boat. I let my mind wander, from the farthest bank, to the nearest water lily, all the way to the sun, and back to the rippling water. The boat slowly drifted towards the mouth of the river, though, the motion was almost imperceptible – like a slow rocking, cradling me, ushering me into relaxing pastures. I let it happen, as my body forgave its rigidity, as my breaths slowed, as all my worries seemed to evaporate and become caught in the gentle Autumn breeze; carried away to distant lands, to be noticed by nobody.
I opened my eyes – the world was dark. Just above the most distant of hills to the West, the faintest glow of light remained; another minute or two, and even that faded entirely. Nothing could be discerned but the moon’s thin reflection on the silvery surface of the lake.
My body ached; it felt like a deep aching, one conjured up over many months, one that was not so easily forgettable, not so easy to push to the side. I stretched out, reaching my arms towards the stars – my back cracked, my ribs clicked, my wrists released their built-up tension. But despite this mild relief, the aches still lingered in the deepest parts of my joints.
I cast aside those thoughts for a moment, and in the darkness, fumbled for the oars. The boat bobbed against the bank beside the mouth to the river. I pulled out my phone, and switched on its torch. The bright white light cascaded across the land, the antithesis of everything that surrounded me – a beam summoned from another realm. I resented its use, but there was no alternative.
I could turn around, row my way along the shore, until I reached the jetty that leads to my cabin. That would have been the easiest, the safest option. But I knew it wasn’t the right one. And so, I stepped out of the boat – the shore’s shallow water creeping into my boots, squelching, and I struggled up the embankment. With the current pushing against the boat, it would stay right where it was. Even if it didn’t, it wasn’t more than a few miles around the shore back to my cabin. The phone’s battery would last that long, I was sure of it.
A slightly chilly wind blew through the night, rustling my pullover, causing the hairs on my arms to stand on end. I had never been one to be fearful of the dark. In fact, I rather liked it; the silence of it, the ambiguity and uncertainty that people generally found frightening. To myself, it was a welcome break to the monotony and the all-revealing light of day. So, I was calm, composed – why shouldn’t I be?
Trees encircled me, though, not dense like on the far bank, but deciduous trees spaced well apart. Here and there I got glimpses of where their trunks shot from the ground and up into the dark sky, splitting and spiralling off, each one completely individual. Silhouetted against the moonlight, it was eerie, of course it was, even to a person who likes darkness. Branches slowly swayed, crossing, connecting with each other. Over the low breeze, the trees creaked and groaned. I imagined them to be bones, large and stiff, lumbering and completely bare to the elements. But, at least I wasn’t utterly tethered to the ground like they were, at least I had that.
I began to walk, keeping to the dry parts on the shore, the lake always on my right. Every few moments, I found myself staring towards the sky, wondering about the infinite, wondering how to comprehend that idea. Maybe it couldn’t be comprehended at all – maybe it shouldn’t be.
My legs instinctively ceased as a loud splash sounded to my right. I questioned myself, fish aren’t that big, especially not here. I shook it off. It’s the dark, the night, it can play tricks with even sounds, not to mention my slumbered tiredness.
Then, there’s another, and another; more, lots, rushing towards me, gaining in speed. I take a few steps back, as far as my limbs will take me, backed up against a thick oak.
The splashes stop, they morph into crunching, disturbance on the short pebble and silt beach – out of the water, looming towards me. My hands trembled, as I grabbed hold of the crumbling age-old bark. It wasn’t meant to be like this. I was meant to be home, free of the lake and the night, getting comfy, maybe with a glass of whisky beside the woodburner. That newfound darkness wasn’t the kind that brought undivided solitude, calmness even in uncertainty. Instead, I’d been hurled into a nightmarish blackness, the mind of some irreparably insane inmate. Probing one’s sanity, it’s never the easiest thing to do. Pondering whether anything exists in its true form anywhere but the tumultuous place my mind might be – it’s terrifying.
Even the glow of the moon seemed dimmed to almost nothing. Somehow, sound seemed to have been exiled from the world. Stars glimmered, telling of unknown places, places that would never truly be known. I shook. I shivered. The pebbles, the movement… the stopping of the movement – they’re all I heard.
Then, a presence, was all I felt.
I clamped shut my eyes, cutting out all light. It wouldn’t help, I knew that. I could have run, I could have sprinted into the darkness with no sure direction. But I didn’t. There was no clear reason for that. I did things with my heart, all decisions passing through its filter, and to run, it wasn’t one of them. I didn’t question this, life is lived by inborn morality, those things, they exist for a reason.
“Hello William,” the presence said – a female voice, airy and distinct.
My legs weakened. My vision blurred.
“I am quite curious, why are you walking tonight?”
I had no words. Of course I didn’t.
“You may speak. Use your words William.”
“Who-” I began.
“I think the question you truly want to ask, is what am I? Is that correct?” It said.
I managed to control the fear for a moment. “Yes.”
“May we take seats?”
Two roughly worked benches appeared, facing each other. Between them, a small, glowing blue light, apparently floated in mid-air, perfectly spherical. My eyes came to rest on it for a long while, momentarily forgetting the intruder, trying to comprehend the seemingly impossible. There, where the trees met the lake, I was bathed in a pale blue glow which skewed and muted all other colours of the world.
“Please, sit,” the voice said.
I quickly snapped my head back, towards the voice. And in the light, its origin was unmistakable.
A woman stood before me, completely naked. She was small, I suppose smaller than your average person, but not… unusually so. A tatoo ran from her shoulder, between her chest, around her belly, finally coming to a finish as it looped around the top of her right thigh. I ran my eyes down and around it, trying to understand its form. It was a snake-like creature with red, almost feather-like fins on its back. The rest of its body was a light pastel blue, intersected with numerous white stripes. It was like nothing I had ever seen before, mysterious and sultry. She had a slight smile on her face, I didn’t take it to mean anything, it seemed like her lips rested at that.
I sat on the log. Of course, the terror was still present in gigantic amounts, though it had plateaued. I was glad of it. Once more I began to sense some form of control slowly returning; and with it came a subtle, ambiguous comfort that I could not pin down.
“So, William, why are you walking?”
Why not entertain whatever this is, I thought… “I don’t like to row when it is dark. I will fetch the boat tomorrow morning,” I said.
“Ah, I see, of course,” she said. “No need to trail back, the boat will be on your jetty before you return. I will see to it.”
I didn’t care how that was possible, how it made any logical sense. “Why are you here?” I asked.
“Like many things, there is no straight answer, but a cumulation of reasons, of intrigue. They rile around inside of me, disrupting the tranquility, the balance that is always required.”
“I don’t understand?”
“No? That is okay,” she said, shuffling a little. “What is it like to be you?”
“To be me?”
“Well, it’s… I’m not sure.”
“Why?” She asks, sounding puzzled.
“I suppose it is normal. I’m an average person, nothing unusual, nothing special by any means.”
“How can you be sure of that?”
“I’m just like everyone else, what is there to distinguish me by?”
“I don’t know,” she says slowly.
“Who are you?” I asked, after a few more moments inspecting the tattoos imprinted upon her body. My eyes hesitating over her curves, her bare skin.
“I am many things,” she said. “I am a Keeper, and a Guard, a Monitor and a Free Person.”
“I don’t know what any of those things mean…”
“I know. You have no reason to,” she said.
I peered over her shoulder towards the dark lake. “Where did you come from?” I asked.
“From many places,” she watched me – still smiling. “You must see that I am not like you, that not one part of me resembles any part of you.” She looked down, running her hands across her skin. “Of course, this is a human body, but that’s all it is. I am not human in the same way you are.”
“What I am – what I’m not – isn’t easy to explain. Though, through no fault of your own, I’m unsure you would be able to understand to any significant degree if I were to sit here for many hours explaining. Some things become lost in… translation.”
“What do you want with me?” I asked, wary.
“I want to learn, and I also want to help, why else?” She rolled her shoulders a little. “It’s possible we might come to develop a relationship of mutual benefit.”
“I don’t need help…”
“Everybody needs help, William.” She waved her hand in front of the floating light. The air surrounding us became warm, blanketing my chilly body in a penetrating radiance of warmth. I appreciated it. Darkness beside the lake had always brought a briskness to the air. That, compiled with the lingering fear, made the night cold indeed.
“What does love feel like,” she asked.
I grunted – what did I know of love? What did anybody?
“Wouldn’t everybody like to know the answer to that. It drives life, it towers over most else. Nobody can answer that question…” I said. “You’ve never felt something like it, something close?”
She shook her head. “No, where I am from, love is not even a concept.”
“Maybe…” she said. “Do you think one can learn to love, create something from nothing?”
I shrugged. I was beyond questions. Curiosity had began to push the fear into submission. “To some degree, every person has to…. but some more than others.” I stared at her; unsure, and cautious. “Why does it matter to you?”
“My life, where I originate, it is so cold. Utterly bleak, systematic, and needlessly rational. It’s hard to bear sometimes.”
“I’m sorry, I just don’t understand… any of this,” I said, beginning to stand, suddenly wanting to be in bed – to awake with no memory of anything. For the boat to be moored at the jetty where it should be.
“I’m sorry for the imposition, I know this must be hard for you. Yet, I couldn’t help myself, I needed to talk, to be able to hear a voice that does not see the world as numbers, as yes or no, as profit or loss, win or lose. I wanted a conversation – a moment in present time without peering into the days to come. Can you understand?”
I let my weight rest on the bench again. “I suppose I can. You do realise how strange this is?”
“Being here like this, watching you walk from beneath the water, completely naked. And that tatoo, the way you speak; what you speak of. These are things that… bring into mind my own sanity.”
“William, I promise you, you are in perfect control of your mind. Don’t doubt that for a second. Don’t offend me by questioning my existence.”
I nodded. I believed her.
“Can I walk back now, it’s getting late.”
“There is no need to walk,” she said, smiling. “Please, take my hand.” And then, she hesitated. “But, before you do so, you have to promise me. Promise me that you can teach me to understand love, to even feel it someday. Teach me what this place is, what it is like to be a natural part to its whole, even when I can never be. Promise me this?”
I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t know what any of it meant. Maybe I was dreaming the most lucid, the most vivid dream of my life – maybe…
“I promise,” I said, throwing out the doubts. In life there’s no room for the deconstruction of each and every thing. And so, I followed the beating in my chest, as I always had done. And although life was not always so forgiving, it never let me down.
She offered her hand. I took it. Her skin was warm, and on her palms, smoother than I thought skin could be.
A warmness rushed into every part of me. There was a whir, and then the world melted.