Out of the Darkness, Into the Blue
But it was a darkness that came like a blackout. I was in the darkness. Not falling or floating, just in.
After moments in the black, bright light flooded into my eyes, blurry and bright. It was almost as if I was watching myself open my eyes. I found myself in a strange icy place. And I was running.
I could see my legs moving on the ice, but I didn’t feel the constant pressure of my stride. The icy place felt familiar, but off. My gut told me I knew the place while at the same time screaming at me to leave it.
Then, my legs stopped running and I stood on the ice and looked around, turning slowly on the ice.
My legs started moving once again and I walked across what I recognized now as a frozen lake. Massive peaks rose up into the clouds and surrounded the lake. I scanned the shoreline for people or houses but saw nothing, only trees.
Then I heard something. A distant sound. It was the whine of a small one-propeller plane. The sound came from behind me, so I turned and saw the plane in a dive, its tail completely gone. Behind the plane, on the frozen lake, a deranged-looking bear stood roaring and holding the tail of the plane in his enormous paws.
It was my brother-in-law’s plane.
“Sarah! John!” I yelled but no sound came from my mouth. “Sarah! John! Pull up! Pull up!”
But the plane fell like a weight out of the wintry sky and crashed into the frozen lake with a sickening thud.
“Sarah!” I screamed.
I ran to the plane and grabbed the remaining wing and pulled and screamed.
“Sarah get the girls! Get the girls!”
But she just stared at me from inside the plane. Her gaze was vacant and lost.
I turned and faced the bear. He stood on his hind legs at the far end of the lake. He continued roaring, holding the tail. I turned back to the plane, but it was gone. Sunk deep in the icy lake.
“No!” I shouted as I turned and ran towards the bear.
With each step, the ice cracked. Water seeped up. Each step I shouted an obscenity at the demon bear. Each step I felt my rage grow into nausea.
But as the lake began to crack open while I ran, I heard a voice come into my head. It was the same hideous sound I heard moments earlier on the mountain, only not a sickening bobcat-like scream but the sound of a voice that was the hate behind a scream.
The bear was speaking to me, his voice injecting itself into my mind.
I felt confused and filled with wild rage. I knew I was caught in a sadistic nightmare that was, no doubt, brought on by the mountain fight. Or maybe I was dead and passing into some haunted Dante-like realm. But as nightmarish as it seemed, it felt very real.
And even though I’d never heard the bear’s ghoulish voice before, I knew who it was.
And so it was that in my raging run toward the shoreline where the bear appeared, Abaddon and I spoke to one another.
I began with obscenities.
His voice was mixed with beastly gutturals and an air of pious sophistication.
“Will,” he said, responding to my profanities. “I am not this terrible fiend you seem to think I am. Surely you remember.”
I tried to shake his words from my ringing ears. His voice shot into my head like so much clanging and banging of drums. “Tell me, what do I remember,” I said.
“Before the plane dive and the crash, you knew me.” he continued. “I don’t like performing acts of violence. With you and me it was always a game of doubt, subtle fear, arrogance. Remember? That’s always been the way you and I connected. But I’m a bear now and known to you, Aylin and Borean and even Turner as the ‘demon bear.’ And so I play the part. But you knew me before I was clothed as a beast.”
“We are not some play needing actors.”
“Oh, but you are. As am I—well, perhaps not Borean. He is a different kind of animal. And so I destroy, with my hands. I wanted something different, you know. I wanted to rule this land with my own kind of spectacle. Like Aylin, but also unlike her. That was my path before … ”
He muttered off something, sounding agitated, crazed, but solemnly so. Something about Springer’s Pass and his transformation from what he was in Thuaidiah to his current state.
“Destroying is not ruling,” I shouted.
“Of course it is. That is the way of this land. That is the language your kind hears. Your native tongue. And there are so many ways to destroy. Not only with brutishness, mind you. That’s so obvious. No, I strangle, slowly, by dimming all Aylin touches. Your machines make that ever so simple.”
He coughed loudly and growled and gagged, then continued.
“I work at bending you towards what your already-bent soul desires. But let’s be clear. When I say destroy, I do not mean to annihilate. Rather, I mean to ruin. I’ve made my way into other worlds now and the same task befalls me. To ruin a thing is not to wipe it away. One can ruin in a myriad of ways. To ruin is to frustrate what is good in a thing. That is the bulk of my work. In your case, and others like you, I take license and mix a touch of brutishness with a healthy bit of spoiling, and it so often yields my greatest work.”
He talked in my mind with a dank calm tone, saturating my insides with his stink. This was the same stink on the ridge just before Aylin arrived. He sounded more like a college professor than a demon bear, explaining his work with gruesome precision and delight but with a growling cackle of a voice—as if he was chewing while talking.
“I’m not here to annihilate you because I’ve already ruined you. But if you deter me from finishing my work of killing Aylin, you will not live.”
“What has she done to you?”
“What has she done? You don’t believe her words to you, do you?” He threw his head back and let out a gurgling roar. “Why she’s come to you, I do not know. Perhaps she sees something in you I cannot. But to me, out here on the ice, you talk like an old man—blind and deaf, ready for his grave.”
“Why didn’t you stay with Aylin? Why would you turn from all you had with her in the Thuaidah?” I asked still running across the endless surface of the lake.
“I don’t want to be with Aylin. I want what she has. But no one can be Aylin. With her, there’s room for no other power. I tried staying in Thuaidah, doing my job there. But, well, we all possess our own special ambition, don’t we? I knew if given the chance ...”
He trailed off once more in a growling mutter, cursing her but explaining to himself how he never meant to something something something, and then he bellowed in frustration.
“Well,” he continued after gathering himself, “I did not account for the consequence of becoming a beast!” he shouted, letting out a grotesque bellow. “But I’ve found it suits me. I don’t care about my form. Only for ruin—ahg—Ruuin!”
His ability to speak was slowly fading. He struggled to make intelligible sounds. He coughed and roared.
“Gah-ruin! Ah-ahag! Ruin comes—ahg! It … comes … like, summer wind—warm and comfortable … Gah! Yet, poison—poison. Deadly!”
He stood now on all fours, throwing his head violently, frothing at the mouth, his voice undiscernible.
I kept running. My legs did not tire. He paced back and forth, frothing and bawling thunderously. I pushed harder. I tried to run faster. But I did not come any closer to his spot.
Then, a sudden stillness came. I no longer heard my feet running. I no longer felt the cold air.
—This is it. Am I dying? I thought as the air fell silent. Was the dream fading?
Suddenly I found myself standing on the edge of the ice, near the shore. But Abaddon had retreated to the edge of the treeline, where the forest rose up and spread out and up the mountainside. I looked up and watched as an endless number of stars fell from the sky. Balls of fire and light and balls dark and smouldering smashed into the forest behind Abaddon. A contrast of light and shadow filled the woods with hurricane turbulence.
I felt the storm wind as I stood on the lake’s edge. And from the woods, an aura lifted and haloed the trees with hovering fire—the light from which shot forth and baptized the frozen landscape in a fierce luminosity. I shielded my eyes with my forearm as I continued to run toward Abaddon.
Then, out of the woods, they came. Out of the shadows, out of the light, figures like that of warriors emerged from the wood. The shadow figures formed lines of battle and a shield wall behind the seething bear, to my right. The contrast made it hard to make out exactly who or what they were. They weren’t beasts like Abaddon, but they weren’t men either. Their dark armour covered them from head to foot. They marched—an ink smudge against the snow. I felt like I was caught in an apocalyptic vision and about to witness the end of all things.
To my left, the warriors of fire gathered and formed their own shield wall—a harmony of light with armour that shone like diamonds in the sunlight. They looked human in form, but with a glory only found in dreams.
Abaddon turned and addressed the shadow warriors with loud grunts, while the fire warriors moved their shield wall towards the frozen lake, keeping their eyes on the shadow battalion. A tall brawny red-haired man stepped out from the lines of the fire warriors.
It wasn’t Borean—someone else, just as impressive and similarly dressed. He stood a head above all the other warriors. He broke ranks and faced me. He drew a sword from his back and waved it in the air.
He continued waving when Abaddon turned and attacked him. The fire warriors stopped their slow move towards the lake and turned in unison towards the attacking bear. Abaddon ran on all fours with terrible speed and was upon the swordman in moments.
As the dual began, the dark warriors broke ranks and attacked the fire battalion with devastating fury. But my eyes fixed on the fight between Abaddon and the tall swordsman. Though Abaddon towered over him, he held his ground, parrying the bear over and over again. The great battle now sprawled out in front of me.
The sound of metal on metal and metal on wood echoed over the frozen lake. The aura over the forest now grew more intense and I saw that it was no halo. The woods were on fire. The inferno lifted up into the pale grey sky—I couldn’t tell if it was dawn or dusk.
I could feel the heat from the forest fire on my face. All around me the ice cracked, snapping in loud bursts. I looked down at my feet. They wouldn’t move, no matter how hard I willed them to.
When I looked up, Abaddon and the fire warrior duelled right in front of me on the frozen water’s edge. I stepped back and felt the ice give. I was trapped.
The tall warrior stood between me and the great beast, broadsword gripped in both hands. He backed on to the ice, and in a swift and even movement turned, looked at me dead in the eyes, his red locks burling wild from battle, lifted his sword high and said, “Will. See.”
Then, he plunged his blade deep into the ice.
In a combustible moment, the ice popped loud and deadly. I felt my body shift. Then I felt myself fall.
Into the water, I fell.
The glacial liquid pulled me into its weight.
It felt like a sledgehammer landing all over my body, the cold, the immediate silence, the distance. I descended into dark waters but drifted quickly beyond the shadowy layer and into a hazy blue, grey with light. The cold did not subside. It increased as I slid into the depths. I tried to keep my eyes open, but the cold pushed me too hard, and my eyelids fell heavy and all was ablur. I could see, but only through slits. The watery world wrapped me in its obscurity.
I fought hard to swim to the light, what I hoped was the opening. But all my struggling accomplished nothing. I dropped through the water clawing and kicking in the blurry haze. Until I stopped clawing. The water won, and I felt my arms and legs go limp. My mind screamed to fight, but my body did not respond.
The bear’s roaring. The fire warrior’s words. All ringing in my numbing mind. And the gurgling echoes of the lake. A winter tomb.
It radiated into my heavy eyelids and woke my freezing mind to its luminosity. Then clear tones. Voices. Sharp and laughing.
And then, familiar tones.
One, now two. The voices of young women. Discussing, inquiring, joking.
And then I knew.
—The girls. My nieces!
Their voices—opening to me in the water.
I couldn’t tell if I was crying. I couldn’t tell if I was dying.
But for the light, I was dying. And for the light, I was waking. Into their grown lives, I think? Somewhere else? Heaven maybe, or a world beneath I could not see.
Then their voices reached through the light. So clear, like a duet of softly blown trumpets, smooth and calm.
—Do you hear it? That’s what Aylin had asked.
The water-sound of it all left me as quick as the cold numbing came. I continued to fall into the lightness, wrapped up in glow so bright it should have felt warm, but it didn’t.
Fugue-like they sounded, the water and the voices, overlapping in a vocal dance. No audible words, just the wonderful hum of voices. Like the downstairs resonance of your parents wrapping Christmas presents—their muffled laughs, and sighs. Their delight of the coming morning. All strange and beautiful to your hopeful ears.
I hung suspended in the wonderment of their sound. I closed my eyes, not for the weight of the stinging water, but for the warmth of their reverberation in my ears. And when my eyes closed I found myself immediately standing at the base of a mammoth waterfall. I stood drenched in its cool spray with the warm of the day pressing in from behind me. And there, where the water crashed into the pool, stood my nieces, all grown, and dancing.
The crashing water made rainbows in the air, the billions of tiny droplets shimmered in the sound and fury of the falls. But the crashing did not resound with numinous echoes. It played a song.
“I can hear it,” I shouted to them. “I hear the song too! The water song. I know it.”
They turned to me and stopped dancing. They waved me towards them while they backed into the cascading water. They looked so beautiful. I laughed and walked towards them. They vanished into the falls and I followed after. After a few steps, I realized I was alone. I looked up into the weight of the water—water that should have crushed me. But it hit my face and body with gentleness. Its sound enveloped me, and I fell to my knees and laughed, my eyes looked straight up into the cataract.
“I hear it too!” I shouted, unable to hear my own voice.
“Are you listening to the song of the fire, Will? It is wonderful, is it not?”
It was Aylin’s voice again. I couldn’t tell if it was in my head or in the water itself.
“Yes. Yes, I hear it. Where does it come from? Where are you?” I shouted back, crying in a broken kind of joy.
But she did not respond.
The ground beneath my knees softened and began to crumble beneath me. I looked for something to grab, but in an instant found myself cascading into darkness again. Harsh cold rushed in and took my breath away. I was falling in water.
White then blue then a dark watery grey flashed before me. My body was thrown and twisted. I was in water. I was in the river. I opened my mouth to scream but it filled with water. I choked and gasped and reached for the blue. But the force was too great, and I went under, then thrown back up into the blue. I thrust my hand into the sky as I felt my mind go numb.
Something like iron hit my arm and held on. I was immediately ripped out of the water and thrown into the snow. My body hurt. I wanted to scream out in pain. I spewed water from my mouth and choked on the snow smashed into my face.
I felt the iron once more on my shoulders as something turned me on my back.
The blue blinded me. But out of the blinding, two faces took form.
I woke to the sound of murmuring voices. And a shushing sound. When I opened my eyes, I saw the winter trees slitting up into the burning blue of the sky.
The morning was quiet.
Shushing and blue.
Then far away words. Muffled whispers.
My voice felt weak, broken. I closed my eyes to stop the scrolling of the sky and trees. My head and neck felt tight. I shuddered.
“Am I dying?” I said, unable to focus.
Then, the long trails of Aylin’s black locks dangled over me. Her blue eyes, looking like the sky, widened with her smile.
“No, Will. You are finally alive.”