They Emerged from the Sea: #2

Norm Gibbons

They emerged from the sea and had been running since – it seemed forever. Now sheltered under a log straddling two rocky outcrops, only to catch their breath, their clothes drenched and torn, and she with a gash on her chin and another on her knee, her hair a soggy straggling mess, and his skin, the pale white of Kabuki, but deeply wrinkled, was the brightest speck on the stage of this darkened world.

He took off his rubber boots and poured the ocean onto the land.

“After all that running, I can’t believe the saltchuck’s still sloshing in my boots,” he said, more to himself than to his companion.

“A last good-bye to the sea,” she said – a moody statement rather than words of certainty. She wrung out her coat sleeves and emptied a hitchhiker sculpin from her pocket.

“Others have come ashore before us,” she then commented.

“Maybe,” he said.

He looked around, “I don’t know where we are.”

“That makes two of us,” she said.

Occasionally they had seen lanterns in windows, while they scuttled quickly over a perplexing and exotic world, and once they had passed close to a light and a figure had bisected the light, but they had not stopped. Stopping would have been the rational thing to do, to seek the illumination as if it were the beacon – an invitation to shelter. They could have made a formal bid for friendship, warmth, and if fortunate, gained admission to a lush pastoral community. But they had accelerated their pace and ran on.

Neither had thought that stopping would be sensible. Nor an option. A non-specific fear, intensely foreboding, compelled them to run – agoraphobic in extremis. Though they did not realize, the two behaved like spooked animals flushed by a sound, a smell, an imagined movement, more likely a dispassionate eye in the sky monitoring their journey.

The day, indistinguishable from night, was dark and windy. Rain slanted in all directions. They could see quite clearly into the gloom, much as a night scene in a film noir where the viewer willingly suspends disbelief; in fact, knowingly joins forces with the camera crew and lighting effects in order to follow the coarse of action. Neither the man nor the woman had yet commented on this unreasonable circumstance, that they could clearly see their stylized and cinematic surroundings, illuminated by a feeble mysterious source, a silhouetted celluloid panorama, impossibly visible.

“We’re dreaming the same dream,” she said, as if admitting this statement were a public disclosure.

“We don’t even know each other,” he said, as if a past relationship made possible their dreaming in parallelism.

“I’ve been trying to wake myself.” She knocked herself on the head with both fists as if that might rouse her to wakefulness. In sympathy, he chose to bite his tongue until the pain became unbearable.

The last time they had stopped – under the brow of a cliff over looking a vast city – they had poked and prodded and pinched each other thinking that might be the trick, but nothing could wake them.

Nor had they considered making their way down to the city.

“Let’s agree that if by chance one of us wakes, we’ll wake the other,” he said.

“Of course, that goes without saying,” she assured him.

“Good.”

To reassure herself, she said, “Well, I am saying…simply to make sure that we understand each other. If our dream is a collaboration – by the way I seem more convinced that you – then you and I will never know for certain what is understood and what is not. We must be aware that we could be making assumptions that are taken for granted in ordinary waking life, but under these weird circumstances, a new set of rules applies. Don’t you think?”

He didn’t answer her question. It seemed he wrestled with other thoughts.

She tried to think of situations, conventions, protocols that carried the potential for misunderstanding or misrepresentation, however, it seemed that the dream erected barriers to these new thoughts and would not permit her access to the possibilities.

Now she thought of the dream as a presence – a whole new thought for her – a force that controlled her, that had its own intelligence and agenda, positive or negative she could not hazard a guess. She thought, It has power over my companion too, whomever he might be.

He turned to her and said, “I’ve got blisters on both feet. Why I never put my socks on, I have no idea.”

My god, she thought, while we’ve been running all these days, I supposed that he and I were somehow connected from the past. Maybe we were lovers, or a brother and sister, or simply platonic friends. Now that I look seriously for the first time, while he is distracted with his blisters and boots, what a pasty pruney look he has.

From their position under the log they looked out onto a great plain, dotted occasionally with large boulders and thickets of scrub brush and patches of tall bleached grasses. Nothing moved out there and nothing could be heard out there.

She thought, We’re at a transition point. She wondered if the dream planted that thought.

As he examined his boot, he thought, This dream is sparse on details. Then he wondered why?

It could be that the dream has limited powers. Or, he considered another alternative, were dreams not always like that, with the dreamer rarely noticing a paucity of background detail, because, unlike me and my companion, a dream could not reflect, second by second, on their real condition? If I was running the dream, I’d have more light and a scene with a bounding herd of antelopes and with a swarm of vultures above circling on the updrafts from the warm land. He wondered if the dream knew how observant he was.

The machine that ran the rain and mixed the wind quit.

He put his boots on and said, “Maybe we should continue now that the weather has improved.”

They ran on, no longer running in panic, yet still with the urge to flee from the shores of their old watery world. From boulder to boulder, from thicket to thicket. They kicked dust and stumbled and separated from one another and then closed onto each other again, and she took the lead and he took the lead, not a race precisely, the pace more deliberate now, lacking the heavy acrid smell of fear, the disturbing metallic taste of zinc in the larynx, they ran with a new sense of purpose and conviction, as though they had become the seekers rather than the sought, covering the dry and parched earth apparently not perturbed that they had left behind a lush land where humanity presided, and toiled for their short years given, and on Sundays rested, and Saturday nights drank and danced and fornicated, and through the week searched for illusive meaning cocooned in stuff and work. But never found it, but always pursued it, and that was the reason for Saturdays and Sundays.

At first it looked like a big rock, but as they approached, they saw a battered and rusted chimney spewing a light grey smoke, which in this desolate see-through world appeared the bright white of jet contrails across a deeply blued sky. Under the chimney was a hogan type dwelling, a few timbers and wattle showing through the mud baked walls and the door of rough, weather-eaten planks hung on leather hinges, agape, but slightly, and eyes watched through that slit. The man and woman stopped. Neither of them panting though they had run for miles.

Together they had the same thought at the same instant, We might stop here and see who lives inside now that the dream is content to let us linger.

The woman went ahead of the man and stopped about ten feet from the door. She said, “Hello, anyone home?”

The door shut.

“Why don’t we move on?” said the man.

“I would like to speak with whomever is inside. I want to know where we are, that’s all.”

They heard the voice of the eyes behind the closed door. “You got to be kidding that I could give an answer without the proper coordinates registered and dignified and dressed in the newest fashion.”

She said, “We promise not to take much of your time.”

In disgust, the voice of the eyes said, “Don’t you know, long ago time dropped dead. I ain’t never seen nobody since the passing of time. If you want to know where we is, then you got to tell me where you been, and when you been there….that’s important too. I got to know the when of it and the where of it, and, of course, the why,.…gi’me answers to all the “w” words and they’s five as I recall.”

“We emerged from the sea and passed through a lush land. I don’t know the longitude and the latitude if that’s the information you require,” said the woman.

“I cain’t help neither of ye. Git from my property and git from my barren land.”

The woman looked to her partner for help. He shrugged his shoulders, but then a memory worked its way into his consciousness – that was his first recollection, since leaving the sea. For all one knows, a token of appreciation from his dream.

He walked up beside his companion and called to the voice inside the hogan. “If it helps, I travelled a course due west, along the 49th parallel. I’m just guessing here, but we were probably heading for the fishing grounds.”

The voice of eyes, appeased slightly, opened the door a crack and said, “Well, that’s a beginning. Got any more memories?”

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Author’s note: Many times an anonymous, unidentified black and white photograph suggests a story. I’m working on a B & W series.