Finding and Searching

The house Rune saw as he exited the forest had the familiar shape of the homes in his subdivision (“a terrible place to come home to when your drunk,” his uncle had wisecracked on his first visit), but he quickly realized he’d retained enough memory of playing in these backyards to know where he was. This was the back of the Florentino house, with its distinctive deck. Only five houses up from his home — he was surprised to have come this far after leaving his tracks, but at least he knew where he was now.

The snow was still knee deep as Rune plodded between the Florentinos and Morgans. (No, not the Morgans, they moved. New family, oldest child in third grade — that was all he remembered.) The sidewalks were equally as deep, and the teen had to almost leap over the snowbank to reach the street. Plows had cleared the street, leaving a thin stripe of snow on the black pavement, reminding Rune of the inside of an Oreo cookie with its frosting scraped off.

For the first time since walking off the front stoop of his home earlier that evening, Rune’s boots touched solid ground, and he realized his feet were numb. More irritated than concerned, Rune jogged to his family’s home. The garage door was still open, his mother’s car absent. He walked up to the front door, tested the knob — unlocked, he walked in. Heard the television in the living room.

He tugged off his boots, felt warmth and feeling return noisily to his toes. Tossed his wool cap and jacket to the floor. Walked into the living room, saw his father sitting his his recliner, legs parallel to the floor and head rolled to the right. Eyes closed, chest rising and falling in slumbering waves. Glass half-empty on the side table, a solitary ice cube half-melted.

Laughter came from the television. Rune looked at the screen, saw a stand-up comic grimacing sardonically. Glanced at the mangle clock above the screen. 9:21. Brother’s hockey game was in the city, they probably wouldn’t be back until 10.

Waving his greasy hair off his brow, Rune dismissed the idea of going up to his room. He thought the comic on TV was more obnoxious than funny, but the thought of searching for something more palatable did not appeal to him. He sat on the sofa to the right of the television and watched, as his father snored softly in the recliner to his left.

End of Chapter 6  

Promises and Answers

“No.” As if Rune’s monosyllabic utterance was a command, the apparition above the lake vanished, leaving him staring up at the black canvas of night again. The hum of the turbines downstream also decreased down to its distant murmur.

Rune blinked, shook his head. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but had no intention of experiencing anything like it again, not this night anyway. Rising quickly to his feet, he picked up the footfalls he had left on the shoreline earlier. Light from the cabin that had lead him to the lake grew in strength, illuminating the snow in a pale yellow where his tracks had exited from the woods. He sighed with relief as he stepped back into the pillars of trees, his previous footfalls distinct, the path back to his home clear.

 Trusting his eyes to lead him back, Rune allowed his thoughts to reflect on the apparition he had seen, or at least thought he’d seen. It had challenged, invited him; declining still seemed the right decision, but why? What motivated his answer?

The cedar that had temporarily trapped him on the way down came into view, the entangling limb now dangling limply, like a hanged convict. Rune smirked, reached out and grabbed the limb, pulled it free of the defenseless tree, tossed the dead branch to his left.

The Sea Goddess had made him an empty promise, he suddenly realized. Had offered to take him to a place where he wouldn’t feel alone, wouldn’t suffer the pain of loss — bullshit. Just another lie. As he picked up his trail again, Rune knew the answers he was seeking were only going to be found in this world, not in some distant land. The answers would not come easily in this ceaselessly cruel world, but finding them would be the only way he could find peace.

Through the woods, he saw distant lights. Perhaps his house, or another family’s — didn’t matter, really, if he followed the lights and exited the woods he would surely find his way back. Abandoning the tracks of his previous journey, Rune rushed forward towards the light, until he reached the other edge of the forest a moment later.

Song of the Sea Goddess

As the apparition formed and descended on him, Rune heard the mechanical hum of the turbines churning within the hydroelectric dam downstream. Though he had walked a good distance from his closest approach that evening, the hum was more distinctive than ever, with an anthropomorphic quality he had never detected before. The turbines sounded — thirsty, quenching its insatiable desire with the waters of the lake before exhuming it over the metal walls to the river far underneath.

But his focus remained on this vision before him, this angel from another world, this Sea Goddess, as it floated down to him, and with her lips closed in a gentle smile, began to sing in his mind:

Down long black clouds of ink you see me wave,
A silver vision from a distant sphere.
My time has come to shine your dreams away,
Forever starts tonight, so have no fear.

For life, a fragile song of bitter joy,
Plays no key that will ease your ceaseless pain.
Blind love gives pleasure, but time will destroy
The reason for your struggle, all in vain.

Some gotta lose, but losers have no name.
Why let life leave you standing there alone?
I can take you to where sleep has no shame –
All you must do, is join me on my throne.

Come fly away, high away, to my sea;
Perfect in body and soul, you shall be.

The silver clouds surrounding the apparition shimmered, and Rune knew her song had completed. In the distance, he heard the mechanical hum of the turbines, churning to quench their thirst.

Apparition

And then she appeared to Rune, a young girl dressed in silver, sailing down from the lights like an angel, but he sensed in her a lead heart, black and cold. His instincts urged him to get onto his feet, turn and run from this misguided spirit, he knew if he continued looking into her fiery night eyes he’d go crazy.

But then his body relaxed, like an animal accepting it could not escape from its trap. For while he knew this apparition contained a terror that was powerful and rich, he also sensed that they two of them were, as farcical as it sounded, a pair, kindred souls.

The spirit coming down to him was not from his world, this goddess from beyond the sea, yet there was compassion in its ethereal face, an understanding of his sadness. Rune didn’t know what this sea goddess would do with its knowledge; perhaps this creature would exploit that insight, use it to exploit him, be the cause of even more suffering. But Rune sensed that even hearing this sea goddess lie would be better than living without its presence.

He had stepped onto the merry-go-round, and he could not get off until the ride was over. Unable and unwilling to move, Rune looked up as the terrible beauty descended upon him.

Winning and Losing

The sky above Rune erupted again in a brilliant display of green jets streamed with red, like fireworks launched from the surface of the frozen lake. He looked up, smiling, felt his body relax for the first time that evening, muscles sighing from relief.

“So . . . ” Several words came to his mind, were rejected before they reached his throat, none able to convey the effect of the dancing lights above him. It was just . . . “So.”

Then the memory of everything he’d experienced that day erupted in his consciousness. Finishing last in the fencing tournament, Double-J kicking his ass, the argument with his father. Annie saying they shouldn’t date any more. Annie breaking up with him. Annie riding away in her family’s Cadillac.

Of all his loses that day . . .

Rune lurched forward, hands pressing down into the snow, his body convulsing in sobs he no longer wished to subdue. He’d lost her. She’d felt like his reward for a lifetime of loneliness, her presence awakening sensations he’d never imagined sharing with anyone else. Having her as his girlfriend made him feel like a winner. But that feeling had driven off with that Caddy.

He opened his eyes without realizing he’d shut them. Still sobbing, he wiped his eyes with the back of his right hand. In the dim light he could see the outlines of his tears where they had fallen in the snow. His cheeks stinged with streaks of ice.

The edges of his vision caught a change in the lights above him. He sniffled, propped his body erect, knees still dug into the swow. Looked up. The lights, yes, they had changed. They were all white now, almost cloud-like. And . . . they were forming into a shape. 

Good Sounds

A sound, the first Rune heard above the humming of the distance machines since the animal had run into the forest at his approach. At first it sounded like a piston or some other device striking against metal, but softly; he focused on the noise until he realized there was a rythym, piano keys striking against strings, music. He continued listening, began recognizing the melody. It was a song, a popular one, this wasn’t a recording but somebody reciting it, on the piano, in one of the cabins along the lake. Rune nodded; the song was sad but beautiful, and the pianist was performing it quite well.

Ride Away

Rune fell to his knees, jeans crunching into the snow-filled shore of the lake. She’d just walked away, said she was sorry, take care of yourself. Walked to the Cadillac, opened the door, got in. Never looked back. The door closed, the Cadillac pulled away.

A faint green glow rose from the horizon of the lake. Then disappeared, leaving only the black canvas.

It was over. He’d pleaded with her, couldn’t remember the words he used (other than please, repeated several times) but he’d definitely clamped his hands together, like a hungry man begging for bread. She’d never wavered, showed no willingness to change her mind. Just walked into her Caddy, rode away. And he’d known her long enough, well enough, to have any hope that she’d change her mind.

Cold crept into his knees like ants. The sky remained black.

Order

“No there isn’t.” Her face betrayed no emotion, showed no recognition of the dismay he chose not to conceal. “We just need to stop dating, that’s all there is to it.” Annie brushed her loing brown-pony tail off her shoulder, let it fall down her jacketed back.

Rune released his hold on the handle of his house’s front door. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be, the fencing tournament was over, Coach Dan had dropped them off at his house, they were going upstairs to his room (concealing the sounds of their loving wrestling from his father would only add to their excitement), she’d stay for dinner, might even still be there when his mother and brother returned from hockey. She’d call her parents to pick her up when she was ready to go home, which Rune knew wouldn’t be any time soon.

But what had actually happened had led him to the shores of the lake, looking up at the black night sky, waiting for the northern lights to return.

“It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while.” That’s how she’d started the conversation — no, it was “We can’t date anymore,” but before that was “No, I can’t go inside,” and “There’s something I have to tell you.” Standing by the lake several hours later, Rune desperately tried to arrange his memory of her words in the order in which she spoke them, a vain attempt to understand, to control (an effort made more difficult by his inability to remember only his emotions, none of his words).

She’d rolled her eyes. “Double-J so much as touches me, except on strip, and I’ll deck him.” That came later, it was hard for him to reconstruct the order after forcing himself not to think about those words all afternoon and evening. She’d said why, yes? Didn’t he ask? “There’s no — there really isn’t — ” it was the only time he recalled her being uncertain — “I just don’t think you know what you want.” Yes, that was what she said, you don’t know what you want, it was also the reason he’d gotten so upset, because he didn’t understand what she was saying.

“No, I really can’t stay.” And she’d looked past Rune’s left shoulder, he heard the sound of tires crunching salt on asphalt. Turned and saw her parents’ white Cadillac pulling into the driveway.

Standing By

The lights shooting into the sky were columns of luminous green, the color of garish Halloween decorations but with a backlight of yellow and capped with warm orange tips. The columns pulsated, alternatelly rising and falling against the sky’s black canvas rythmicaly, as if they synchoronized to music Rune could not hear.

The teen stood on the shore of the lake, gaping up at the display of northern lights. Sighed, realized for the first time since that day he felt relaxed, at peace. These lights, they did not ask anything of him, weren’t there to judge him, did not care about his existence even. They just rose, pulsated, illuminated his vision from the horizon to high above his head.

And then, they were gone, leaving the sky black, as if someone had flipped off a celestial light switch. Please stand by, an unspoken voice apologized.

Rune remembered the lights had temporarily disappeared earlier, at least once during his trek along the lake. He stood, waiting for the cosmic lightbringer to flip the switch back on. Maybe this was the reason for his long walk in the cold night, maybe he sensed the lights would be there —

“Cool.” Jezz’s observation, as her car parked in Rune’s driveway, came back to him. He hadn’t known what she was referencing, but he remembered her looking away to her left. Had he subconsciously picked up her suggestion, headed in the direction of her impression, trusting he would find what she had seen?

The sky remained black. No, that wasn’t it, the pause before the resumption of the lgiht show allowed him time to be honest with himself. As impressive as the northern lights had been, he hadn’t come here to watch them, or to find the lake, or struggle through the forest. He hadn’t come to find anything, but rather to get away. From his father, from Double-J, from Bark Bay, from fencing. And, from Annie. And what she’d said.

Waste

The mechanical hum had been pulling him forward like a dog lured by a whistle, but he no more wanted to continue forward than he wanted his teeth drilled. His earlier wonder at what had bee drawing him forward was now replaced with a conviction that he’d been wasting his time.

He turned quickly. Could still see the lights of the cabin that had shown him the location of the lake. Looked down, located the impression of his bootprints in the snow. Time to head back, face whatever was waiting for him back in his house. Took a step forward, thinking how this whole day had been a waste, not just now as he dragged his frozen ass up and down this lonely shore but earlier. Ever since he’d left his house that first time, after his argument with his father that afternoon. He shook his head, “No” — that had been the second time he’d left the house that day, the first was this morning when Coach Dan picked him up for the fencing tournament. Even that had been a waste of time, another last-place finish, why bother showing up. Not that the second leaving was much better, wandering downtown and eating a bad meal and then showing up at Double-J’s party only to get his ass kicked. Third time he left, might have been the worst, just stumbling around in the dark, through the woods, reaching the shore and heading in the direction of the hum. Only to realize there was nothing there he wanted to see anyway.

Yeah, a waste. Rune continued forward, stepping into this reversed bootprints whenever possible, until he finally noticed, off to his right, the lights erupting over the distant horizon of the lake.