by Rhawn Joseph
Rivulets of sunlight streamed through the phosphine foliage, overhanging yellow branches, and swaying crimson leaves, splashing on the orange rocks and blue humus of the earth below. The warming sunlight kissed his face, creating sparkles of light and purple shadows that danced hypnotically across his lips and eyes.
The whispering wind tiptoed through the crimson branches of the lavender forest. Mantling shadows slowly crawled across his face. Casting his gaze to the aquamarine heavens he watched as magenta clouds sailed gently across the verdant ocean that formed the polychrome sky.
Except for the murmuring of a distant sea, everything was so quiet. He relaxed, dreamily, with a peaceful sigh.
Cyanic sky, evergreen and golden cypress, purple fur and aquamarine pine...it was like...it was like....
He shrugged, unable to remember what was bothering him.
He plucked a golden twig from a purple bush which seemed to stare at him with prying eyes, and plied it thoughtfully between his fingers. The twig, he realized, seemed to pulsate with the green vitality of life, which made him laugh, for of course, it was alive. So alive, he could almost taste it!
He could taste it! Green, oily, pulsing, pulsating with the sickening yellowing flavor of the sweetness of...of... death. Recoiling, he released it from his fingers. Slowly, ever so slowly, it fell and floated, twisting and turning, and finally disappeared into the orange and blue humus that covered the spongy green soil beneath his feet.
It was like...
Scrunching shut his eyes, he tried to remember. There was something. Something at the edge of his mind...hiding in the shadows...impenetrable... a lost thought, a forgotten memory lurking just beyond the mind's eye.
He jerked, startled, glancing all around.
A child's laughter. But where was it coming from?
Glancing into the lavender sky, he shaded his eyes, and then turned away. The prismatic brightness of the platinum sun, like a giant blood red eye glaring down and tossing orange streaming rockets of vermilion light into the cadmium sky, was painful and disorienting.
In the distance he again heard laughter, a child's laughter, and then the chattering of voices sailing to him in snatches through wind. There was something.... something that...
The child's laughter made him whirl about. It was closer now, louder. Came from behind him...just beyond the swaying azure branches of the sapphire trees. Was there someone watching him?
It was time to quit this place, he decided. Spying a clearing among the verdant woods he stepped onto a well trodden silvery path that he knew would lead to town.
And then he wondered, how he knew.
Quickening his pace he soon stepped onto the cobbled street and glanced at the quaint multi-colored shops which lined the variegated roadway.
The buildings looked strange, yet familiar. Alien, yet reminiscent of home...or of a doll's house.
Again, the laughter; it was a child, a little girl, laughing, giggling.
He spun around, looking this way and that, the shops and buildings flashing round and round creating an iridescent polychrome blur.
He felt sick. Dizzy, lost, disoriented.
Everything seemed, somehow, wrong.
And where was everybody?
A terra-cotta, cinnamon sign hung from the front window of a little titian-colored shop. In chocolate letters the sign spelled out: FOOD.
Feeling hungry he dipped his hand into his pant's pocket all the while trying to remember....If he could just get a bite to eat it would give him a chance to collect his thoughts. He glanced again at the sign hanging in the mirrored windows of the little cafe.
The sign read:
"What the..." he said aloud.
Feeling increasingly confused, he began searching his remaining pockets. Where was his wallet?
He swore silently to himself. No wallet, no money, no food!
The emptiness of his stomach was bothering him. No wonder he felt confused, disoriented. He had to get something to eat. Why, he hadn't eaten in... in... Patting his shirt pockets, his brow knitting together, he tried to remember.
There was no money, no papers.... nothing... nothing except some tiny grains of sand and a single shiny piece of paper with some writing on it. Rotating the silvery sheet between his fingers, the glare of the sun reflecting from its surface, he tried to make out the words. But they didn't make any sense. Glancing up and down the quaint and rural boulevard he scanned the various signs and names of the shops and stores, but, like the words on the paper, he couldn't quite make out the meaning. Had he lost the ability to read?
Glancing anxiously to and fro he suddenly realized that he really didn't know this street after all. Although it seemed familiar, it wasn't. Everything was wrong. Buildings were where they shouldn't be, and, where were all the people?
Where was he?
He looked about uncertainly, eyes blinking in the cruel kaleidoscopic sun. It was so bright, he was seeing double: two suns, like two blazing eyes, glaring down in anger...laughing at him. Laughing and laughing.
That laughter! A little girl, laughing at him. She was watching him, he knew it!
Glancing up the street he spied an older, heavy set woman, draped entirely in walrus-black, accompanied by a little tow haired, ivory skinned girl who was tugging at the fat woman's arm. The old woman, had a incredibly huge, protruding derriere. A string of alabaster pearls hung loosely from her lactascent neck. She held an old fashioned lorgnette through which she peered at him most disconcertedly as she waddled across the street.
It was the little girl who laughed!
The alabastrine child wore a little blue sailor's hat and carried a short fishing pole. For a moment he thought he recognized her. She looked like.... But then, he realized, it wasn't a child at all but a big rufulous dog, a water spaniel, with a squirming, wiggling fish in its drooling toothy mouth.
Little bands of sweat began to bead up and roll down his forehead. He closed his eyes tightly.
The sounds of the street, of voices, townspeople, shop keepers, children laughing, laughing, were suddenly everywhere, and growing louder. Were they laughing at him?
Opening his eyes he was surprised to see the albino girl child standing before him, grinning. Her eyes were barium pools of sparklingly marble...two canescent beacons of frosty light... so cold they burned the skin, blazing at him like the sun.
Squinting, shading his eyes, he took a step back into the shadows.
The argent child was nowhere to be seen. Instead, an older, beak-faced, balding man, wearing spectacles and a captain's sea cap, stood staring at him. In his grizzled hands he held an old fishing pool.
Again, the laughter. And now, singing. Children singing:
"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream....merrily merrily merrily, merrily, life is....Life is. Life is. Life is...."
Pressing his hands to his ears, he tried to shut out the repeating, reverberating words: "Life is. Life is. Life is...."
"Life is what?" he suddenly yelled.
The old sea captain spoke up: "Why, life is..."
And then, the captain was gone...no, not gone, disintegrating into fragments...and the fragments became a prismatic multitude of polychromatic butterflies that flitered this way and that. Then in a spectral cloud of flapping wings they flew away, disappearing into the sun; all but one, which floated just before his eyes, levatating on its multi-pigmented gossamer wings.
It was making a tiny sound: ee ee ee ee...
The man inclined his head, closer, leaning, lending the little creature, his ear:
"Life is. Life is. Life is...."
Jerking back, he eyed the double winged flying insect and was astonished to see a human head atop the butterfly body. Staring back at him, was the mocking etiolate face of the laughing little alabaster girl.
"LIFE IS," screamed the butterfly, and then it flew away.
His pulse quickening, waves of fear began washing over him.
What was happening to him? He didn't understand, couldn't remember.
Again the man gazed up and down the cobbled street. It was familiar, yet it wasn't. In fact, he didn't know where he was!
Swaying slightly, his eyes closed, he could feel the heat of the blazing sun and fought the growing fear. Wave upon wave of confusion washed over him.
"Think. Think," he mumbled, feeling increasingly uncertain and panicky. "Think," he said again, closing his eyes, trying to remember. The street, the faces, the signs...
Ice cold fingers of steely terror crawled up his spine. His heart began to thump wildly in his chest. He couldn't remember...
And then, a horrible realization: He didn't know who he was!
Who am I?
The laughter of the little girl rang wickedly in his ears.
Snapping up his head, looking fearfully up and down the street, he fought the impulse to run and cry out. He needed help. Glancing about wildly, he practically tripped over his feet as he stumbled down the pavement.
"Can you help me?" he called out frantically. His eyes wide with fear he approached an old sailor with a flowing white beard, dressed in seaman's clothes and carrying a briefcase and umbrella.
"I, uh... I don't know who I am!" he gasped.
The old sailor gave him a piercing look and then laughed. "Why, you are who ever you want to be," the sailor called over his shoulder.
"Who ever I want to be?" he repeated, his breath coming fast, heart beating heavily against the walls of his chest.
He closed his eyes tightly and fought the tears welling up behind them. "This has got to be a nightmare," he reasoned. "A bad dream," he told himself as his pounding heart sent blood whooshing through his ears creating a symphony of pulsating, whirling sound that vaguely reminded him of the breaking waves of a churning sea: Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
Breathing in tandem with the soothing seascape that echoed within his inner ears, the man cautiously opened his eyes and gazed up into the tangerine heavens. Rivers of cerulean sunlight splashed down upon his shoulders and upturned face.
The lilac afternoon was cloudless, the azure sky an empty mirror, except for the bright opaline orbs which seemed to stare down at him like giant uncaring eyes.
Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh. Whoosh.
It did sound like the ocean, like the sea, he decided, and lowering his gaze a new fear washed over him. Where but moments before there had been shops and children, signs and streets, there was now a sanguine sea of nothingness which stretched everywhere and nowhere....rivers and streams, and chromatic waves crashing against the coralline coast that pressed up against this feet.
And now: The laughter. She was giggling. Laughing. Squealing and laughing with delight. And yet, she was nowhere to be seen.
"What is happening to me?" the man cried out to the indifferent sky. And then the tears burst forth from behind his crying eyes.
Falling to his knees he began to sob. "This has got to be a dream. A nightmare. I got to wake up. Wake up! Wake up!" he implored, beating his head against the sand.
Laughter. She was laughing at him!
Covering his ears, he tried to drown out the unmerciful laughter.
Laughter, and now, singing:
"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream....merrily merrily merrily, merrily, life is....Life is. Life is. Life is...."
"Life is what?" he screamed.
And then, through the tears, he saw it, looming larger in the distance, bobbing upon the purple sea: A small boat. An old sailor, a captain's hat on his head, was banging a large wooden staff in his hand against the bottom of the boat, in tandem with the singing:
"Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream....merrily merrily merrily, merrily, life is....Life is. Life is. Life is....merrily merrily merrily, merrily, row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream...."
Rising to his feet, he strode forward, toward the crystal ship, but could move only with the utmost difficulty. His legs seemed wooden and the earth like a molasses which sucked at his feet.
And then the singing stopped as the boat slid up upon the sandy shore. The old sailor was dressed like some ancient mariner, a gold ring hanging from his ear, his white beard flowing. Was it sea gulls he heard overhead?
The sailor looked familiar... like his father... like his....
The sailor was changing, growing younger...taller...more muscular... he looked just like.... just like...
And then the astonishment of recognition: The sailor looked just like him; "Like me," the man said aloud.
The handsome sailor raised his staff in salute, and smiled.
"Am I dead?" he asked as tears again sprung from his eyes.
The sailor shook his head.
"Please," he cried out. "you've got to help me. I think I'm going crazy. Everything is going crazy. Nothing is making sense...."
"Everything is the way it is," the sailor replied, "and this is because what is, is defined by what it is not."
Blinking away his tears, he stared pleadingly at the sailor and then noticed that it wasn't a staff, but an oar he carried in his hand.
"Defined by what it's not?" the man repeated. "Defined by who? What are you talking about?"
"By whomever rows the boat," the sailor replied, making rowing motions with the oar.
"This is crazy. This is like some nightmare... like some crazy insane dream," the man said.
"It is a dream," the sailor replied.
"A dream? This is all a dream?" he asked, looking from side to side.
"Just a dream." the handsome mariner repeated. "Life is but a dream. This is why what is becomes what isn't and what isn't becomes what is. Every man, every woman and child, dreams their own life; and when they don't others dream it for them. Even god has dreams," the sailor added.
"You mean I've really been dreaming all this? It's just a crazy dream?"
The sailor nodded. "Yes and no, But yes, its just a silly dream."
"Yes and no?" the man repeated. "I don't understand. Am I dreaming this or not?"
The handsome sailor continued to undergo metamorphosis, growing smaller, younger, more beautiful. He, was now a she; a beautiful alabastrine child with a little sailor's hat perched upon her golden head.
She laughed at him.
"Ask yourself," she said, "Are you asleep? Are you dreaming? Am I just a dream?"
"I, I don't know," he answered.
"Correct," she giggled. "Because I am dreaming you, and I'm dreaming me."
And then she began to sing: "Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream....merrily merrily merrily, merrily, life is but a dream."