Rune lurched forward, hands pressing down into the snow, his body convulsing in sobs he no longer wished to subdue. He had lost her. She had felt like his reward for a lifetime of loneliness, her presence awakening sensations he had never experienced. Having Annie as his girlfriend made him feel like a winner, for the first time in his life. But his triumph had driven away that afternoon in a 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 stung with streaks of ice.
The mechanical hum of the dam turbines caught his attention again. Though he was far from its source, the hum was more distinctive than ever, and had an anthropomorphic quality he had not detected earlier. He heard a word in the depths of its low rumble: rrrrruuuuunnnnneeeeeee. His own name, or at least the one he most often chose for himself. And the mechanical voice of the dam, it also sounded — thirsty, quenching its insatiable desire by taking in the waters of the lake, churning that water through its turbines, then exhuming the water down to the river far underneath.
The edges of his vision caught a change in the lights above him. He sniffled, propped his body erect, his knees still dug into the snow. He looked up — the lights, yes, they had changed. They were all white now, almost cloud-like.
And then… she appeared.
A young girl, dressed in silver, sailing down from among the lights like an angel, but Rune sensed in her a heart of lead, black and cold, her eyes growling red. His instincts urged him to get onto his feet, turn and run from this misguided spirit, as he feared that continuing to look into her fiery night eyes might drive him to madness.
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 absurd as the idea sounded, 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 their bond, use it to torment him, be the cause of even more suffering. But he had stepped onto the carousel, and could not get off until this ride was over.
Unable and unwilling to move, Rune looked up as the terrible beauty descended upon him, this angelic demon from another world, this Sea Goddess, as her lips closed in a gentle smile, and began singing 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.
Sweet love gives pleasure, but time will destroy
All life’s glory, and sorrow will sustain.
Some have to lose, and 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 journey to my throne.
Come fly away, high away, to my sea
And from life’s misery you shall be free.
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. Waiting. Thirsting.
The edge of the lake water was just a few feet away.
He looked up again at the Sea Goddess, who smiled and opened her white arms.
“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. And the hum of the turbines became a distant murmur again, its anthropomorphic thirst no longer audible.
Rune blinked, and shook his head. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but he had no intention of sticking around to see if it would happen again. Rising quickly to his feet, he turned back towards the woods, scanning the ground for the footfalls he had left earlier. The light was poor, but the path he had made when exiting the woods was unmistakable. He sighed with relief as he stepped back into the pillars of trees, his previous footfalls distinct, the tree branches above hiding him from the northern lights.
Trusting his eyes to lead him back, Rune allowed his thoughts to reflect on the apparition he had just seen, or at least thought he’d seen. Whatever it was, it had challenged, invited him; declining seemed the right decision, but he wasn’t sure why. What had motivated his answer?
He then arrived at an area where his solitary footfalls among the even white surface gave way a disheveled mass of loose snow. Rather than a single pair of feet, it looked like several people had been there, and engaged in some struggle. Then from the corner of his vision he saw a tree limb dangling, one he somehow recognized. He stepped closer, and then realized he was looking at the cedar branch that had temporarily trapped him on his way down to the lake; it now hung limply, like a hanged convict. Rune smirked, reached out and grabbed the limb, pulled it free of the cedar, then tossed the now dead branch aside.
Whatever he had experienced down by lake — a vision, a mirage, a delusion — the only thing it had offered was an empty promise. The Sea Goddess, whatever she was, 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. The agony he felt would stay with him wherever he went, and there was no sense in trying to run away from it. The world he knew may be cruel, but he understood it, and wasn’t about to take his chances anywhere else.
He picked up his trail again, and resumed navigating through the woods until he saw a distant light. 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 home. Abandoning the tracks of his previous journey, Rune rushed towards the light, until he reached the edge of the forest.