I pass through the vortex. It roars in my ears. I can just barely make out voices. Not their words, or anything useful. Just that they are there. In the distance. I feel weightless but there is no question that I am hurtling forward. The experience doesn’t last very long, though.
As quickly as I was sucked in to the stomach vortex, I’m spat out the opposite end. My reaction time surprises me, and I start running, so when I make landfall on the sand, I don’t fall. A few stumbling steps later, and I’m stopped, heavily breathing, surveying the landscape around me.
The first thing I notice, and this is very hard for me to explain or understand… the world is.. Tilted? Slanted. But everything is consistent with itself. It’s like I’m standing on a slant but everything isn’t, but everything is. Geometry here is strange, wrong. I’d call it non-Euclidean but I am completely certain that this isn’t R’lyeh. There isn’t an eldritch vibe here whatsoever.
It is strange, though. Sand as far as the eye can see, everything askew. The sky grey, but not with clouds. I start to walk. Direction matters not, so long as I don’t go in circles, I reckon. After a time, I come to the remains of a barbed wire fence. It’s nearly entirely buried in the sand, but here and there it sticks up. Maybe if I follow it for a while, I’ll find something. I turn right, and continue walking.
As I walk, slowly, the haze on the horizon starts to lift, and a skyline starts to emerge. It’s only after several hours of walking that I recognize it. There, tilted as all things in this impossible place, buried to their middles in sand, are the Towers-that-Fell, the Towers-that-mustn’t-be. And there, just the torch that was held by the wretched statue on the island. I’ve not gone far, I’m still in the city, but this… I can’t think of any process that would choke the city with this much sand. It makes no sense.
I see a pair of figures in the distance, and they are coming this way. No reason I can think of to avoid them, and so I continue on. Presently, they are close enough to see. Two children, a boy and a girl. Both yellow-haired and both wearing white. They don’t smile. The boy carries a stick he found somewhere, and he occasionally hits the barbed wire fence, or plunges the stick into the sand, pulling it back and continuing on. They look at me disinterestedly. Asking if I may accompany them, they shrug and continue on. I follow, and they don’t protest.
It’s at this time that I begin to hear a voice on the wind. Faint, but lovely. I can’t really make it out… but then I can.
She is singing. I don’t know where. It’s very clear in my head though. As I watch the children, I realize that, perhaps, the song is only in my head. They don’t react at all. I follow them, watching the boy probe the sand now and again, and as I do, in my head, She sings.
You’re in full bloom, She sings, and you’re a lovely flower. But after blooming there is only silence before the inevitable decay. When will you notice, and turn your head and laugh? Hahaha!
When will you notice, She sings, that all this time, I’ve been singing about you? Hahaha! But never feel regret, keep it all in your heart as proof of our time together. When did you notice that you’ve come to far flung places such as this? Hahaha! But never feel regret, because the You of Then wouldn’t.
You’re in full bloom, She sings, and you’re a lovely flower. Notice!
The boy has been probing the same patch of sand for several moments. He tosses the stick aside and starts digging in the sand. The girl watches at first, but then helps. I want to help too, but the look they gave me when I approached suggested I ought not.
The digging isn’t easy. They’ve only their hands and the stick to dig with. The sand keeps flowing back down into the hole. But presently, they retrieve what they’ve been looking for — a rectangular box, not deep. There’s a hint of joy about them now as they move off a short ways and kneel down to open it. I remain slightly removed from the scene, behind them, but I can see the book as well as they can.
It’s a sketchbook. As they flip through, I can see sketches of the city as it was before this happened. Portraits of people. They flip page after page. I find it impossible that they could remember this city as the sketches portray it, but I do, and now, in this desolate wasteland, I feel tears welling up as I remember what once was.
They turn another page, and there, staring back out of the page is a portrait of She. She wears a floppy hat, and is amongst trees, I think. But it’s most definitely She. And then an extraordinary thing happens, and this time I’m sure it’s not all in my head. She starts to sing, and move, in the sketch. The three of us watch and listen.
It seems new, She sings, it seems like me. It seems like you.
One time, She sings, we called each other ‘lover’. The seaside we visited that time, I went there again by myself. While searching for long forgotten landscapes, the sound of the waves reminded me of you and I thought I’d cry.
It’s new, She sings, it’s me. It’s you. If I could be reborn… You speak of happiness, but look, your words flow through my fingers like the sand. The day you left, saying you’d retake what we’d lost, I remember it. The sky and the sea grew, and the world changed and I thought I’d never see you again. And so I came looking for the same old landscapes.
I don’t know what she’s talking about, but it strikes me that, perhaps, she moves through time and space differently than I do, and that we are meeting each other in a differing sequence. Then again, we’re not actually meeting this time, are we? But She continues.
You are to love, She sings, like the station is to the express train that doesn’t stop at it. But together we can be both departure and terminus. Yes, that’s how we could have been.
Soon, She sings, will come my first summer without you…
The sketch stops, freezes. The children sigh, stand, and walk back from where they came, leaving the sketch book lying in the drifting sands. I watch them go until they fade from sight. They don’t look back.
I want to pick up the sketchbook, but there’d be no purpose in it. I leave it where it is and I walk away from the city skyline and away from the fence, and I walk until I can barely stand. Then, off to my left, I hear a soft poot poot poot… poot, and drag myself up the dune on that side to see what is making the sound.
As I gain the top and look down into the depression on the other side, I smile in spite of myself. The sound is caused by tiny balls of flame popping from the sand every few seconds. And in the midst of these tiny fireballs is She. She has long hair, and wears a black dress. Atop her head is a pillbox hat with a black veil. She is in mourning. I slip my way down the dune to wear she is. I approach, and she looks towards me, but through me. She sings.
This year, She sings, there will only be one season. My memories are far away from here, and the line between dreams and reality is vague. Despite that, I still believe I’ll speak to you again one day. My dreams don’t lie.
Today was a lot of fun, She sings, and tomorrow will be fun too. I thought these days would continue forever.
To repeat the same thing day after day, She sings, is tedious, unsatisfying. It’s a product of this strange age we live in. You’ve gone on ahead, but I’m about to give up.
Today was very sad, She sings, and tomorrow I’ll cry too. Days like this happen, but happy days will surely come too.
How many times will the limitless seasons change in this life, and what am I searching for?
What are we searching for?
What are We searching for?
She stops, and regards me, her face marked with sadness, trails of tears on her cheeks. I feel my own tears welling up. The blood rushes in my ears, woosh, woosh, it sounds a little like the sea. I smell salt breeze. I turn around.
I am in a garden overlooking the sea. I turn around again, and I see her asleep on a bed in a delicate gazebo.