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Sojourn – part 1 – Nothing to See Here…

I woke up running.

My hands flew hot and heavy before me, inflated like lead balloons, pierced by needles of blood, thrown out toward the light that drew me on. I turned back to look into the tunnel out of which I ran, but the darkness had already been enveloped back into its depth, and I stumbled. The earth beneath my feet hardened as a single set of railway tracks protruded up out of it. As I closed in on the exit, I heard a rush building up from behind. It soon became obvious that a train was bearing down upon me, its mechanical rhythm pounding like a frightful heart, threatening. I threw myself headlong into the sunlit day, baulking to one side as the menacing locomotive flew past my heels.

I found my feet and stood in the soft sand, hands on hips, holding myself up against exhaustion, heaving for breath as the shock of my awakening receded back behind my eyes. The train’s tracks sank down into the earth and it followed, morphing into a giant worm as it crashed through the sands, showering dusty grains upon the land and myself. I stood aghast, but awake, in a strange new place.

Leaving the tunnel behind me I noticed that where a city once stood deep desert sands now reigned supreme. My reality had been reduced to dunes and spinifex where once tall buildings and the traffic of commerce had held sway. Ahead of me now, only reflected heat shimmered in waves above an ocean of unending sand. The sound of rushing locomotion had now faded into an eternity of emptiness, its traces disappeared, leaving only the whispering of burnished sand on the air. I sniffed salt to my left and knew that the ocean was nearby. Without thinking, I shifted in that direction, and almost instantaneously the ground beneath my feet began to give way to a softer sensation. The smell became stronger as saltbush appeared ahead. I saw water and felt the land falling away from beneath my feet as I descended steep dunes towards the ocean. I turned to see that my shape-shifting pursuer had now disappeared, having sped on blindly away beneath the surface, sending up a plume of desert particles in its wake. Did I escape it with my sharp instincts, I wondered; or was I allowed to move out of its way for some further purpose? Perhaps I was only in its path by coincidence, I thought, as I slid down the coastal face towards the saltwater caress that I knew would embrace me. I didn’t particularly care about finding an answer or knowing what had gone before this sudden and brutal awakening. I just wanted to feel safe.

My breath became easier as I approached the calm water, without fear for the first time since I had been so tumultuously awoken. I felt the sea lap around my legs before I slowly dived in, having known instinctively that it would be tepid of temperature and comfortably salty. I soon became oblivious to the abruptness with which I had arrived here and, the shock subsiding, I allowed myself to surrender to the waters. Once I had calmed down, I began to have a good look around. There was some reef in the water nearby, not sharp, but close to the surface. As I walked around it, I felt strands of seaweed wrap loosely around my legs and then wash away in the soft current. I still had no idea how I had come to be here – in fact, I really had no bearing at all on whom, let alone where, I was. But there existed about this place a peaceful tranquility that I had not expected, and that allowed me to relax in my new surroundings. When I heard voices nearby they seemed warm, confiding, even friendly. Soon a gathering of women was in the water with me. I did not know what to think, but they exuded peace so I just accepted their presence without preconception and they seemed to accept mine in a similar fashion. We just lolled about in the water with no particular purpose in mind, allowing the sea and the sun, the reef and its weed to just inhabit with us the same golden aura of unbroken placidity.

The peace lasted for some time, I couldn’t say how long, until a strange urge to vomit overcame me suddenly. Aftershock, perhaps. Regardless, there was nothing I could do but let the bile rise and release, and watch in self-disgust as it floated away from my body. I made a move to leave the water so as to not to pollute it further, when a flash began to appear from across the horizon. It rose over the sea, at first appearing yellowish like the sun, but soon growing whiter as it sped across the sky in our direction. It moved at an inconceivable pace, giving rise to that particular horror one feels when a momentously dangerous impetus closes in and we try to convince ourselves that it is not coming for us. It was the same dull inevitability I felt once in that split second when a car flew sickeningly through the air straight towards me (having crashed into a construction barrier across the road) and I realized that escape was impossible.

Sometimes in these moments a magic touch gives us the feeling that we can simply flow out of harm’s way, and we do. Unfortunately on this occasion, from my vantage point in the water, the light’s trajectory was rapidly dispelling any such comfort for my female companions and me. In fact the women were now beginning to panic as they rushed from the water. Perhaps they knew what was going on, had seen it appear from the horizon and rush towards them before. I remained standing still, dumbfounded, before finally stumbling up the beach as the searing white light appeared directly above me and began to descend. It seemed to be a triangular craft made of shining steel, but it was like nothing I had seen before. As it lowered, a beam shot down towards me on the beach. Having earthed, the beam then materialized into a system of metallic scaffolding. This in turn sank into the sand, at the same time ensnaring my body in an attitude of crucifixion, arms stretched out to the side and bolted to the mysterious structure. I had no idea what my fate would be or what I had done to deserve it. I was held fast as I awaited the judgment of my new master from above.

*

I turned away from my reflection, shocked at the depth to which my imagination was taking me now that I was off my meds, knowing I was just wasting what was left of my lunch break, wandering down the mall and staring at my reflection in a shoe store window when I’d slipped. Was this the logical conclusion to twenty-first century narcissism? Entering the final rabbit hole of self-involvement, where meaningless phantasmagoria mingled with possible past life memories and deeply repressed possibilities and surreal fantasies, as if an excess of colour could convince us life was still happening, that it wasn’t all just a flat, shallow, surface-level meandering from one screen to another…

Hiking boots and leather brogues melded into the background as my face stared back at me with detached interest. Lines had recently appeared around my eyes, as I left behind the strictly youthful phase of my life, and they betrayed the tiredness that lingered as a hangover of my recent stay in an infectious diseases unit of the nearby hospital. An adventurous holiday in South East Asia had seen me return with an exotic tropical disease. Fortunately the incubation period passed while I was in transit, so that I was comfortably back in Melbourne before the illness hit. I was diagnosed with Dengue Fever, but all the doctors really knew was that my complete exhaustion, high fever and night sweats weren’t due to malaria. Meanwhile I had lost the energy to care what they called it – all I wanted to do was to sleep, a necessity I now viewed, out of my fitfulness, as a luxury.

On the third night in hospital I had hardly slept a wink as my mind gathered at the edge of awareness, while my laboured breathing and overworked immune system battled the internal disaster zone of my body. In that night’s deepest hours, I lay praying that the intolerable boredom of exhaustion would pass, allowing me to slip out of consciousness and into the bliss of rest. I felt terribly alone amongst the cold, white sheets and ultra hygienic conditions. My consciousness swirled around the room as my head swam into the pillow.

Shifting, I felt a cognisance that may or may not have been mine looking down at me from above the bed, near the ceiling of the hospital room. It seemed to consider the state of my body dispassionately, hovering while I discussed with the rest of my muddy self what the hell was going on, before it dived. I felt myself falling immediately into a swoon, in a headlong rush down through the room, through the floor of the hospital, and into the depths of the earth beneath me. Time also seemed to rush by in this tunnel so that I experienced passage across all dimensions at once. I must have blacked out as I fell because it was with a start that I jolted back to life soon after, for just long enough to record my strange vision, before finally falling completely and silently away to enjoy a soft, deep blanket of sleep.

*

I came upon the old bluestone building after stumbling across a field cloaked only in short grass over a bed of cold, dark mud. The structure was clearly a remnant of a bygone era; I’m not even sure the stones were shaped. It looked more as if they were chosen to fit, one against the other, in some painstakingly careful process that came from another time and mindset altogether. Each stone seemed to sit in its place perfectly as if it were meant to be there and nowhere else, as if it were a wholehearted embrace of only exactly what it was. This seemed to presage a sentiment of the universe and its underlying order that could compel a person’s interest within, toward an acceptance of their self that was more complete, more harmonious than we usually allowed ourselves in the so-called postmodern world. I peered closely at the walls. It was almost as if you could read an ancient story in the cracks between the bluestones. For now, however, something drew me on to enter the place.

As I approached the old building it dawned on me that it was not only abandoned but without a roof. There was only one doorway and it faced some low hills behind me. The roof must have been wooden and burnt out some time ago, as there was no sign left of it ever having existed. The whole edifice had an imposing aura, which seemed both sad and magnificent. I entered accordingly, unsurprised at its emptiness, and walked toward the far wall. Looking up into the night sky, I thought that there could be nothing more beautiful than a roofless cathedral under the stars. For a moment I felt at home under the plethora of life burning in space, all of it hanging exactly where it was, just so, just as I stood here and looked out into it…

I lowered myself to the ground, softly, as if drawn to it, and noticed a slight sizzling sound near my head. There was a bright new glow just a short distance away. A perfectly rounded sphere of crystalline white light hung just off the ground, glowing ethereally. It was brighter than any earthly light I had ever seen, yet it did not burn my eyes in any way, because the light was so soft that it drew them in rather than dazzling them away. I found I could visually inhabit this crystalline sphere, glowing as it sat just above the ground, but I enjoyed this sensation for a mercilessly brief moment. While I did so I felt a perfect purity emanating from the orb. Years of hardened resolutions began to dissolve as I discarded an age of cynicism and defensiveness. Then, instinctively, I held out my hands toward the light. Without reflection I reached to touch the most sublimely beautiful presence I had ever experienced. No divine voice directed my actions, nor was I readied by any artifice of ritual or purification. A deep and immediate desire called out to me in that instant that could not be forestalled by any consideration at all. I simply surrendered to my desire to be completely wrapped up in the softly glowing radiance.

As soon as I reached forwards, however, the ground beneath my body began to rumble, and instantly my focus was snatched from the precious sphere of light. I had no time even to refocus on it, as the rumble became almost as violent as an earthquake, and I scrambled to my feet. The shifting in the ground was actually emanating from an incredibly deep, guttural voice arising from within the earth itself. It shook the entire surrounds, or so it seemed, with waves of an incomprehensible, archaic language.

Terror-stricken, I felt this chthonic voice tear my world apart, threatening my mortal and spiritual wellbeing with its snarl. Utterly unhinged, I gave myself no further chance to see the light as I turned and ran, fast, toward the only exit, with just one thought left in my screaming mind – to get out. As I did, I noticed an old wooden throne in the centre of the chapel. I was certain that it had not been there when I arrived – humble as it was, it could hardly be missed in an empty space – but unfortunately I had no time to herald this mystery. I was busy escaping, just managing to hold off from shitting myself as I tore down the plastic walls at the edge of my mind and ran terrified out into the rest of the night.

*

I gulp and swallow hard as I force myself awake on the trudge to work, a mundane drone in a shopfront nightmare, selling normality and trying to keep the edges tucked in, whispering to myself and others, it’s OK, it’s going to be alright, everything is going to be alright… On the other side of this dream is a place nowhere near as comforting, where such complacency would see me swallowed whole in an instant. I smile wanly at my manager as I enter my next shift, as the robotic attempt to maintain this façade is nibbled away by the rumbling beneath my feet. Nobody else seems to notice it. Or, more likely I suspect, they are just better actors than I. I greet my first customer after lunch, heart beat calming, with the minimum pleasantry they expect, and set about my job.

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