The comforter failed to deliver on its namesake, no consolation in its smothering embrace, her bare legs kicking it off for the thirtieth time. Curling around the pillow with a lover's embrace, she can feel the icy fingers of night tracing patterns on her shoulders, unwanted advances whose alternative comes with sweat-soaked sheets.
Somewhere, the cat was sleeping contentedly, curled-up and probably purring beside the window. She knows it, and she knows that the cat knows that she knows it, and grows increasingly frustrated at the chain of knowledge now floating in her head where the dreams should be, or at very least the other side of dawn. Somewhere, possibly beside the cat, lie her dreams, warm and floating peacefully above the ground, mingling with warm, soft fur and the softer, gentler cousin to the rumbling thunder in the distance.
An itch on her cheek, as her locks betray her yet again. The thought of shaving her head someday tickles her for a moment, teasing a smile from her lips using imagined mirrors. As if the sleeve of ink, the piercings, and the scar across her back didn't do enough for her image, to suddenly have a shaved head besides . . . it would almost make up for the tiny frame that never seemed to grow past middle school, or the high-pitched voice that further betrayed her secret nature, that which transmogrified "hardcore" into "spunky" and "strange" into "quirky."
That beneath her pillow, she clutches a one-eyed teddy bear, is irrelevant. She could still be a badass in the dreams, even if said dreams were off cozying-up to the ball of fur elsewhere.
The silly little image distracts her from the comforter's advance, finding itself wrapped around her tiny frame once more, a dependent relationship troubling to all sentient parties involved. The thought of her dreams, manifesting themselves as little puffs of fur and warmth, playfully nuzzling into the cat's own, gently pulls at the corners of her mouth and eyelids, little unseen feet walking toward one-another.
One last glance at the alarm clock's consternation yields only the faintest hint of red, before her mind's eye remains the only one open. The nagging suspicion of a girl standing triumphant over shattered war machines, their unblinking red eyes flickering to darkness, fades quietly away, as frustrations slip quietly from beneath the covers, creeping unceremoniously toward the window before making a much-anticipated exit under cover of rain.
Peace descends upon the formerly restless, a blanket offering no unwanted heat but the warmth of comfort.
A perfect opportunity for the cat, dreams so nestled in his fur, to use her head as a pillow.
She'd been driving north for hours, sunrise having kissed her goodbye, bidding her luck in sating her wanderlust. The clouds had kissed her, too, not long after, squeaking windshield wipers joining in the rhythm of raindrops pounding upon her car, unrelenting yet never malicious in its tone. Absent either, there came a lonely peace across the horizon, made all the more profound by the rolling hills before her now. What a place for a rest stop, she thought, lost in the patches of green reemerging in the distance.
It'd been years since she was last there, his breath still lingering in the smell of the air, as memories drove by on the highway below, driving the same beat-up sedan just behind where she stood. Only a few more hours to go, she remembered thinking, casually slipping another CD-R into the slot, time and time again. That's only three more albums, right? There was always a special one, the one she saved for last, another's squiggly handwriting caressing its surface, full of songs that would make her heart skip a beat, then another, growing in frequency until only minutes from his door...
Another car pulled into the lot, an older couple with a much smaller mess of hair in the backseat, its tiny nose pressed tightly against the window. She pretended not to watch as the newcomers stepped out, her eyes subtly shifting from hills to the man with the perpetual frown, eyes hidden behind deeply tinted glasses, trying desperately to keep pace with the shaggy mess bound to his wrist by a strikingly red leash. Stretching beside him, a heavier, perpetually smiling man kept his eyes upon the horizon, the frigid wind not so much bothering him as greeting him, playing with the hairs of his great arms and beard. Taking their time for all it was worth, they called back and forth to each other, just far enough away to not be heard, save for the laughter rolling gently across the hills.
Lost somewhere on the horizon, the familiar sound of inside jokes and gentle playing tickled and teased her weary ears, broken only by the sudden echo of doors closing, shortly before the revving of a tired old engine. For a brief moment, she thought to wave, only to see through the passing glass two sets of eyes that could only see the world around them, the trees and hills and excited little dog alike, the scenery to their own secret story. She recognized the look, hidden in those songs that would stop her heart only to set it pounding again, in the smell of the air and the memories happily driving below.
She smiled, losing herself in the sudden solitude, her short locks tousled by the winter's lost breath. Only a few more hours to go, she thought, leaning back and looking into the sky.
And by the time she stepped back into her car, she could not tell if she had been stifling her laughter or quietly sobbing.
arms stretching. shoulders convulsing.
mouth agape, fingers crash into keyboards. where were the colors he was meant to see, the ones others would not? static stabbing at his ears with tiny needles, little blood prickles trickling down his ears, fingers idly turning the volume knob ever so louder, ever so louder, ever so
arms stretching, shoulders convulsing.
the monsters would come soon, shadow, only the static could keep them away, clawing at the edge of seeing, pulling, threatening, shrieking in colors only silence could paint, colors of blood, of bile, snot, pus, urine, smelling of blood, bile, snotpusurine
a loud groan.
a pause in the noise.
break in the static.
green, peaceful, a stream of lights coalescing between bursts of monitor light. shadows bleed away at the edge of vision. jaw quivers, shock, awe, happiness, relief.
arms stretching shoulders convulsing
all the world was green, no more transmitter picking up the signals to keep him safe, no more monitor to tell when where to look. just aural radiance, the aurora of deafness pouring out his ears, little cells bursting never needing to heal.
pupils dilate. a smile weakly forms under foaming mouth. an echo across memory, resonating within him, the vibration of cosmic radiation, the peace of being one with the cosmos.
nine thirty. fleeting glimpse of a clock on the wall.
"What do you make of it?" he asked, trying to fight every impulse to scratch his unshaven chin while wearing the glove.
She took another look at the smattering of parts, feeding into each other using wires frayed and spliced. Electrical tape, folded into shapes, marked each, even those seemingly leading nowhere. The smell of singed carpet still lingered in the air.
"I don't know," she finally sighed, staring again at the headphones broken in the fall. "Maybe there's just something we're not seeing."
Not yet, came the echo of a thought, lost somewhere within the warmth. Not yet...
it awoke, eyes still focusing to the world around itself. strange patterns of light erupted in the air above. a rain of what once had been moving, alive, remnants barely worth salvaging. what could be done to commemorate their memory more than to be reused? but there would be none of that now. they had made sure of that.
another explosion, closer to the ground. rising from the hole it had kept safely away from battle, the little machine took one last look at the now-familiar panels and stone, etchings and run-down equipment turned into something new.
soon, came the thought, dull metal barely reflecting the morning light. soon.
Flicking short locks from her eyes, she looked over at the clock nearby, only to quickly bury her head in denial and regret, hidden in the folds of her down paramour. The sun, once denied her embrace, had deigned to steal away beneath cover of clouds, leaving her back exposed and growing colder each conscious moment. The hint of a shiver tickled her skin, as she pulled herself even deeper under the covers, before quickly thwarting the daring escape of a renegade foot from her precious cocoon.
But I want to know what happens, came another thought, dripping with drowsiness and the slightest hint of regret. I want to know...
the autonomous clicking of its fingertips whispered in the air. the new arm, patched-together from what scraps could be salvaged, still needed some adjustments. how many comrades had been honored by its creation? too many, far too many, their memories forever etched on the exposed steel and copper.
ragged cloth flapped in the wind, a traveling cloak too long to be of much use. still, it would be need for what was next, as it retraced old footsteps. the landscape had changed since the war, once great cities reduced to nothing, vapid wastes of the unused, the forever forgotten. but some things remained, as it lifted old scraps of iron from the ground.
rusted panels and the faint kiss of erosion upon the stones, illuminated by the gray morning light. its eyes focused now on the hole, scanning every inch of shadow.
please, came the thought, again and again. please...
An all-too-familiar weight bore down upon her head, as breathlessly she cursed the voluminous purr acutely ringing in her ears. Forcing, at all costs, to keep reluctant eyes tightly shut, she reached for the furry interloper, swiftly tugging him beneath the covers, before gently, but firmly, pinning him to her chest. Strangely hesitant to resist, her diminutive captive merely took advantage of the newfound warmth, kneading the comforter nearest his claws.
Soft fur tickling her chest, she sighed, venting frustration and regret, as her eyelids strained less and less to remain closed. Somewhere just beyond the pillow, the sound of rain delicately tapping upon her window whispered in her ear.
Just one more chance, came the whisper of a thought, pleading with all its might.
one more chance...
No moon, came the weary thought, spindly fingers ever so slightly tightening their grip on the gnarled and weathered staff. Necessary, perhaps, but making it almost impossible to navigate...
Almost instinctively, its clicking fingertips reached for the small satchel at its side, pausing only moments before unfastening the latch. No, came another thought, the falling of its hand enjoined with the stifling of a sigh, no charms will guide my way, either . . . tempting though it may be.
Bowing its head in concentration or perhaps shame, the searcher quietly slipped between stumps of fallen trees, carefully taking notice of a clutch of saplings nestled among their barren and lifeless roots. With what could have been a smile, its eyes glowing a little more keenly as it passed, the searcher uttered a small blessing to bestow upon the little ones, sylvan etchings upon its steel-skin radiating ever so slightly with light. "Grow tall, young ones," came the hollow whisper, stifling the hint of heartfelt laughter, as verdant markings faded to the shadows once more.
Bowing its head ever so slightly, the silent sage quickly returned its gaze to the horizon, its footsteps ever mindful of the life hidden in the soil. Adjusting to the palette of the moonless night, its eyes at last began to see the details hidden among the giants sleeping all around, broken limbs and scarred bark slowly slipping into focus. Slowing its pace in awe, the searcher reached for each wound as it passed, losing itself in memories ancient and new.
What stories do you have to share, old one? came a thought, pausing before the greatest of them all, its branches reaching far above the others, pulling down the night itself along its limbs and trunk. Drawing closer, the searcher freed one hand from its fingerless glove, and traced ancient lines upon its bark, so fragile as to chip away with the slightest movement. Pressing a bare palm against the wood, the sylvan etchings upon its hand filled with light, spreading along its arm and into the tree itself, each crevasse slowly radiating with the sage's touch.
A sudden jolt of pain surged through the searcher's arm, as the force of the unseen blow knocked its limber frame to the ground, tossing the hood from its head. Still wincing from the shock, it could only gaze upon the glyph where its hand had been, the light it had borne slowly bleeding a viscous shadow. "Unnatural," came the mortified whisper, as the searcher took staff in hand, only to strap it over its traveling cloak. No moon, the words echoed in its mind, necessary, perhaps...
Rising, its unblinking eyes never leaving the darkening wound, the sage cautiously pressed its palms together, its eyes dimming in grim concentration. Statuesque, its hands drifted to where a mouth could have been, as the whispers of ancient tongues slowly filled the air, seeming to circle the blackened wood still pulsing with shadow. Light spread along each twisting, knotted line upon steel-skin, seeming to grow new branches along its arms and face, revealing roots among the delicately-constructed feet, as even its eyes, narrowing to hold back the coming burst, soon erupted in a verdant glow.
In one swift motion, the wandering sage thrust its hands upon the open wound, the folds of its clothes suddenly and violently waving with the sudden release. Toes digging into the earth, the searcher strained against the shadow lurking beneath the wood, forcing the shining light through the ancient skin. Saplings of pure radiance burst through the ground at its feet, slowly giving way to a shimmering ivy, wrapping itself around corrupted roots and trunk alike, as whispers of incantation gave way to the sound of rushing wind and birdsong, channeling the very heart of the forest itself.
With a flash, the bark fell away, revealing but a gnarled and twisted cocoon, a pulsating prison of shadow. Hands still pressed against the chitinous shell, the sage let forth a great cry, fissures tearing through the living shadow, until, at long last, the cocoon burst forth, spilling light and shadow onto the forest floor, and once again knocking the searcher to the ground.
Sylvan markings still aglow, the sage gradually recovered from its trance, to be met by a nursery of youthful viridian, and the sound of distant winds. Turning to where the ancient once stood, the searcher could only stare in awe, rising as though unsure of possessing limbs or eyes, its footfalls never seeming to reach the ground.
Floating high above the ground, where leaves may once have been, flowed a stream of countless lights, swirling in shapes fantastic and alive, an aurora of the forest given life. Reaching up with fingers shining, the sage felt the delicate touch of a single point of light, no bigger than a grain of pollen coming to gingerly rest upon its hand.
Thank you, came the words floating through its mind, in a voice not its own.
Floating back into the air, the sage could only watch, eyes ever smiling, as the light drifted into the moonless night, spreading far beyond even the widest reaches of the forest.