Tuesday, April 24, 2012

frozen in time

She had been wanting this shot for her film forever and now, standing almost at the precipice along the side of the mountain, cold air whipping around her nearly 360-degree view, she knew it was worth it.  Even though they were in the Caucasus, she suddenly thought of Into Thin Air, the Krakauer book that had kept her up for many a late night as they prepped for this trip up the mountain.  They’d taken every precaution.  There were no tourists here; everyone knew what they were doing.

Her production staff had resisted this trip, insisting that everything she wanted could have been done with CGI, but she was old-school.  There was just no substitute for the real thing, and no amount of pixels was ever going to convince her otherwise.  Sure, she’d played Riven and Myst back in their day -but she’d never been fooled they were anything but what they were, i.e., pixels on a screen.  Yes, yes, CGI had come a long way, and its judicious use she had no issue with, but ever since she’d seen the laughable Star Wars prequels, she knew in her heart she wouldn’t make that same mistake with her film.

Her friend and benefactor Dmitri moved up alongside her on the narrow ledge.  He had a bottle of vodka in his hand (but of course he did) and it was open and he was offering it to her.  She smiled gamely at him and took a swig (a small one), and then passed the bottle back.  He took a very deep swig, (in contrast to her very small one), and then capped the bottle.  He was extremely wealthy now, but back in the day, he’d climbed his share of rocks -even K2; he’d almost forgotten the thrill.  Even though their altitude was low by daredevil standards, they were still standing up in the air.  Not so many people could ever say they did that.

He took a deep, satisfied breath -its vapor hanging briefly in the air before vanishing -and then clapped her (very gently) on the shoulder, and grinned, “You are crazy, woman, but that is entirely the reason I like you.”  She only smiled back in response.  It was cold and it was time to set up camp.  She was determined to save her breath.

After camp was set up and she’d gotten the shots of the frozen lake that she wanted, (she kept wanting more, but the film was precious, (though they were using digital as a backup)), everyone settled in for some good-natured goofing off, which mostly consisted of dares and drinking vodka, (she stuck with water).  At one point, everyone stripped down to see how long they could take it, which she found incredibly stupid, causing her to wonder when on earth she’d become an adult who could no longer enjoy such silly, foolhardy things.  She smiled and laughed along with everyone else and somehow found herself also unzipping (though she kept her coat on) and then falling into a tent with Dmitri.

“Kiss me, you crazy woman,” he hugged her close, whispering in her ear.

“No, no,” she laughed, “but I’ll cuddle with you -because it’s cold.”  Even though it was quite dim inside the tent, she could feel his grin expand his entire face as he whipped off his gear and then patted the empty space in the sleeping pack next to him.  She laughed again and then whipped open the flap of the tent, sending in a gust of freezing air and earning a yelp from him.

“Dammit, woman!”

She only laughed and went for her tent, but once there, she thought, Why not?  She grabbed her pack and the film and the rest of her gear and trudged back to his tent.  When she poked her head back inside, he let out another yelp, but it was one accompanied with his huge grin -because she had come back.  She dumped her gear and then crawled into his bedroll.

“No funny business, sir!” she admonished as she wiggled up next to him.  He only growled in response and then wrapped his arms around her.  Getting this far with her was a triumph and he was going to sleep well that night.

*
He woke with a start.  A nurse was standing over him, as well as a doctor.  Both were looking at him with unmasked concern.  He looked around the room, and blinked.  He didn’t understand why he was waking up here, and the first word out of his mouth was “Sophie?”, but it came out like a croak.  The nurse looked at the doctor and the doctor shook his head and he saw that.  He blinked again.  “Sophie?”  His voice was a little more clear this time, at least in his head, but for the others in the room, his voice sounded thick and unhealthy.

*
A few weeks later, he stood at the spot where they’d been airlifted to base camp and then onto the hospital.  This was the spot she’d brought him to, somehow, in the space of fourteen days, after the freak storm had wiped out their camp, most of their gear, and their ability to communicate with the outside world.  The rescue had begun as soon as the storm and the threat of further avalanches had subsided, but by then, nearly four days had passed, as well as so much blood from his body, she must have despaired to save him.

What had that been like for her, he wondered, to walk that many miles alone in the snow, with little gear, and the albatross of him dying wrapped almost literally like a stone around her neck?  Everyone assured him that she’d been dead before she hit the snow; that her death would have been calm and peaceful -hypothermia was like that -but what about the intervening fourteen days?  What would those long days and long nights alone have been like for her?  She must have been terrified, he thought.  His chest felt tight and heavy; he didn’t think he’d ever enjoy breathing cold, thin air like this again.  It had always felt like a liberation before, (he drew a deep breath), but it didn’t feel that way anymore.

“Sir?”  It took a few tries for him to respond.  He finally looked over at the man speaking to him.  “Are you ready to go on?”  He didn’t answer; he just adjusted the pack over his shoulder and then started the long trek up the low mountain.  He planned to walk her steps in reverse, as if somehow, he could walk backward in time to her.  The man with him shook his head as he fell in line behind him.  What Dmitri really wanted was to die, but he wasn’t going to let that happen.

Friday, April 20, 2012

the Star Destroyer

he looked like a vagabond on the side of the road, a satchel over his right shoulder and a long staff in his right hand.  he walked with purpose, and he made no small talk -an interesting observation, given that he walked alone.  every so often, he would check the skies for what he was searching for -direction, perhaps? -and he’d check the digital apparatus that he carried in his left hand or in his back left pocket.  maybe it was a compass.  whatever it was, it had worn a pattern in the pocket of his jeans, which seemed themselves to hold together as if by some kind of magic.

she’d been following his progress for quite some time -mostly bored with it -though sometimes she’d perk up when he’d appear to do something interesting, like... stop to eat, or sleep.  he was like some kind of machine.  she wondered at that, how anyone could go on for that long without any seeming need to just... stop.  she also wondered what it was he was looking for.  he clearly hadn’t found it yet.  she blinked behind her binoculars and then set them down.  looking through them all day was worse than staring at a computer screen all day.

she scribbled something in her log, and then looked up.  when she set her sights through the binoculars though, he was gone.  dammit, she cursed herself.  he’d given her the slip once before, and tracking him down again had been a colossal pain in her ass.  resigned but with determination, she strapped on her gear and set her coordinates for his last known location.  there was nowhere to start from but there.

she landed on the ground with a soft plop.  quickly, under the cover of the falling night and the brush by the side of the road, she stowed her parachute into her pack, hoping it hadn’t sustained damage that couldn’t be undone, and then set off.  if only she knew what he was looking for, she could just meet him there.  wouldn’t that be easy?  ...grumble ...grumble, she thought.

*
from the safe camp he’d secured when he’d finally managed to give her the slip, he felt his excitement rise.  a star had fallen nearby and his goal was to reach it and destroy it before she found him again, for that was his singular purpose in life, unless dodging her -his constant shadow -also counted as some sort of purpose.  racing against her was always this dash against time, and it always seemed to be on her side.

he set off in the night, certain in the darkness he could feel her breathing behind him, even though every time he turned around there was no one there.

*
several days later, he stood over the gaping crevasse where the star had fallen -but there was no star; it had gotten away.  he felt impotent in his frustration.  now he would have to track the star, knowing the whole while that she was tracking him too.  if she ever discovered his singular purpose in life, surely she would destroy him, for was that not her singular purpose in life?  it seemed so pointless, this enmity between them, but solipsistic philosophy wasn’t really his area -and he was in a hurry.  very conscious that he was exposed and out in the open, he very quickly took off.

*
she left the binoculars to dangle about her neck.  this was much more interesting than she could have hoped for.  not only had she found him (ha!, she thought triumphantly), but she had also found his singular purpose in life (double ha!):  he was a star destroyer.  that would explain the magic compass he was always checking in his left hand.  it didn’t exactly explain why he was traveling like a hobo, but that was his business.  she figured, if he wanted to die in a questionable pair of blue jeans, then so be it.  that was just fine by her.  she licked the tips of her arrows, and then set off.  she knew exactly where he was going.

*
a few weeks later, she found the star first, dangling from a rope around its neck.  she wondered what had led it to this ignominious end -a bar fight, perhaps? -but she didn’t stop long to ponder.  he would be passing this way soon, and better for her to vanish into the crowd before that happened.

*
by the time he found the runaway star, it was little more than a rotting corpse.  it twinkled in the dark like a toy that had lost most of its glitter.  he covered his nose with his bandana and drew up close enough to prod it with his walking stick.  a few tiny bits of remaining light broke off from the corpse and fell to the ground.  he backed up, not wanting the dull bits to stain him.  it was such a shame, and such a waste.  it had lost all of its luck and its light -and probably in one of the many questionable bars that ringed the infamous cantina.

if he’d gotten to the star first, of course he would have destroyed it, but not like this.  why do they always run?  he shook his head, right as an arrow whizzed by, clipping his ear.  instinctively, he dropped to the ground, but she had anticipated him, and the next arrow nailed him firmly in the back, right at the nape of his neck.  he didn’t even bother trying to move, because he knew that he could not.

*
“Why?” he managed to whisper when she came near.

“I might ask you the same question, but I know your time is wasting very quickly now,” she answered coolly, her voice flat and measured.

A touch of compassion would have been nice, he thought, but with effort.  Already, he could feel the muzzle of death clamping down on his brain.

She knelt beside him, her arrows safely stowed, but a knife at the ready in her hand.  

“You’re a star destroyer,” she mused, her voice now gone soft, “Of course, I didn’t know that at first -that you were an eater of light.”  

Gently, as though she had heard his unspoken desire for compassion, she opened her hand -the one not holding her knife -and brushed the hair on the back of his head.  

“My vendetta was personal.  Don’t you remember me?” she asked him pointedly.

His eyes blinked slowly -twice -but he did not answer.  

“You stole my light,” she whispered, her mouth so close he could feel the faint breath of it in his ear.  “You mistook me for a star and you stole my light.”

When his eyes finally closed, she quickly severed his head from his body and threw it to the waiting crowd.  There would be no momento mori for her.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Silence

she hung up, frustrated yet again.  “why is he like that?” she asked no one in particular.

“like what?” she answered her with disinterest, more concerned with the tiny world trapped inside her phone.

“I asked him a simple question, and he wouldn’t answer!” she exclaimed, her frustration palpable between them.

“doesn’t seem that unusual to me,” she responded without looking up.  she was in the middle of an email and didn’t want to stop.

“but,” she sighed, “I could hear him breathing on the phone!”

“that’s just weird.”  she hit send on the phone and finally looked up.  “he’s strange anyway.  isn’t that what you thought when you first met him?  kind of sketchy?”

she was breathing deliberately through her nostrils, her arms crossed, her eyes staring without seeing through the windows.

“I mean,” she continued, “he’s cute, but,” she shrugged, “whatever.  Come on,” she stood up so she could look through the windows too, “I’ll go with you,” she reassured her.

She easily shrugged off her loose embrace.  “that’s not the point,” she hissed, but her eyes never left the scene outside.

“no, of course, not,” she agreed, hypnotized by what she was seeing through the windows too, “What do you think is going on?”

“he’s an asshole?”

“no, I mean, outside.”

it was the most peculiar thing.  coming towards them was the oddest wave.  except, it wasn’t really a wave, per se, but more like, a coming toward them of odd events.  she really had no words for it -she could see the pattern, and the pattern seemed to be a wave.

one of their neighbors had climbed out of their window, and now there was her husband on the lawn, clutching his throat and gesticulating wildly.  that was surely out of character for them, and they weren’t the only ones... behaving oddly in this, their quiet little subdivision.  the perfect green lawns were slowly filling up with these oddities, these neighbors of theirs who they rarely to ever saw, suddenly exposed to them in their housecoats and slippers.

in the middle distance on the sidewalk was an upturned tricycle, its little training wheels still spinning, but the owner of the trike was nowhere near in sight.  she wondered if the child was hurt, and if the small, bright patches of fabric a few yards away was perhaps that of the missing child, lying facedown in the grass...  

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the STOP sign on the corner... seem to melt.  Well, that wasn’t it exactly.  actually, the letters were melting.  and the sign was too, right down the post -like it was bleeding bright red and white.  that was surely unnatural.

she turned to her sister to say something, but no sound came out of her mouth.  how peculiar, she thought, blinking confusedly.  she simply stared at her sister, but her sister was staring back too, her mouth opening and closing and then... just open, in a silent “O.”

and that’s when she realized what it was about the wave that was so terrifying, this wave that was surely a figment of her imagination...

    it was perfectly silent.
    there wasn’t any noise.
    there was only...

she tried to take a deep breath, but she had to really think about it.  before her, her sister was doing the same, she could tell.  at least, she thought so.  she tilted her head to one side, but the thoughts that she could have sworn were right there... now seemed to be spilling out of the top of her head.  Or, really, it felt as though something was tugging on her brain, with tiny, invisible fingers...

    the silence.

her head felt heavy, like it did when she was very, very tired.  if her head was emptying; it should have felt lighter.

that was her last thought as her sister crumpled to the kitchen floor right before her.

stop the time

she bristled at the suggestion that he made, as if anything he said would ever be relevant again, but she said nothing.  instead, she shrugged.  all this talk of watches when nowadays no one wore them anymore, unless they were being ironically or stubbornly anachronistic.  either way, everyone had a phone to tell the time, and you could tell the people who used to wear watches versus the ones who didn’t -the ones who used to wear watches would sometimes flip their wrists up as if the ghost of their watches still lingered there.

the air on the back of her neck felt cold.  she shrugged deeper into her light winter coat -a winter coat in spring.  hmph.  she used to wear a watch, but that had been years ago.  she could barely remember those days, but she remembered her last and favorite watch.  she still had it too, but she would never wear it again.

“I’m looking forward to the watch my brother is planning to give me,” he commented, “but I’d rather have the bike.”

“yeah,” she responded, “seems much more useful.”  but she wasn’t thinking about watches, or bikes either -she was wondering what would happen if you could really stop the time, the way cell phones had stopped watches and watches had stopped sundials and no one looked up at the sun anymore.  she could actually tell the time, though, just by looking up at the sun.  she couldn’t tell direction to save her life, but the time she could always tell (as long as the sun was shining) -and she was proud of that fact, though it was a secret she rarely shared.

she wondered about that too -secrets, that is.  just because something wasn’t shared, did that automatically make it a secret?  couldn’t someone be private without being secretive?  for some reason, thinking the word “secretive” made her think of Templeton, the little mouse from Charlotte’s Web, staring back at her, as though frozen momentarily when caught in the act of hoarding something.  the notion amused her and she chuckled.

he looked at her, curious, but she shrugged and said nothing.  the inner workings of her mind were not his to have.  

whenever he was with her, he knew things were slipping away, every day in fact.  he wondered if there was a way to hold on.

“do you want to see the watch when I get it?” he asked her.

“sure,” she said, noncommittal.  she didn’t really know where he’d be when he got it, and he didn’t either, except they wouldn’t be together -and they both knew that.  it startled her to realize that she wouldn’t know him next year.  she might be sitting on this very same bench (doubtful), but it wouldn’t be with him.  something about knowing that made her feel... she didn’t know.  pleasure always seemed to be mixed with pain for her.

*
he caressed the watch in his hand that his brother had given him.  the steel felt silky, cool where it did not touch and warm where it did.  he was like Gollum with his ring of power, only all the watch did was tell time.  and look good on his wrist.  

he suddenly remembered, rather randomly, the conversation he’d had with her about the watch that day on the bench.  it had been an unseasonably cool day.  he’d been wearing a button down with an argyle sweater; she’d been wearing her rather ridiculous black coat with no belt (why no belt?).  she hadn’t been too enthusiastic about the watch, but she was so practical, of course she’d preferred the bike, the bike he still did not have.  he kind of wanted that bike.

he closed his eyes.

“why did your brother get you a watch when you really wanted a bike?” she asked him.

“I want both, actually,” he answered her.  he opened his eyes, startled to find her there, asking about the watch.

she shrugged.  “well, it’s a nice watch.”

he looked around, confused.  the air was cool, the way it had been the last time he’d seen her.  how long ago had that been?  he couldn’t really remember, but there she was now, quite unexpectedly.  had they had plans to meet back on this bench?

“how did I get here?” he asked, calmly, but inside, he was tumultuous.

“I don’t know.”  she gave him an odd look.  “I guess you walked?  Didn’t you say you took the bus?”

“uh... how long have we been here?”

“you’re the one with the watch,” she yawned, “I don’t know.  long enough for me to feel cold.  shouldn’t we be walking now?  I’m hungry; let’s go.”  

she stood up and waited for him, but he didn’t move.  he felt a momentary paralysis brought on by his confusion.  he was back in the day when they’d met in the park and then had dinner together (all she’d had was garlic mashed potatoes; all he’d had was roasted asparagus; so, between the two of them, an almost incomplete meal).  the day was as he thought he remembered, but it wasn’t, because now he had the watch.  and their conversation was not the same.  was she the same?  he looked up at her, trying to see the differences, but she held onto her mystery, as she always did.  always had, he corrected himself.  he tucked his hands in his pockets and walked away with her.

*