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  • Writer's pictureJames Leyson

Inescapable Fate

The warm summer air was still, the rest of the world seemed to follow it. Everything seemed stagnant except the sun; it slowly began to drop out of the sky casting long shadows from the trees. The dark shadows all seemed to point to him, as he stood on his handcrafted porch looking over the valley that was his backyard. The landing he chose had a perfect view that was vast, allowing him to see everything on this side of the Mountain. He could see lakes, farms, trees and rolling hills; the view made him feel important. Which wasn't a new feeling for Elliot.

He turned his back to the view, headed inside for a moment and returned, the sun was still in the sky as he planted himself in his old wicker rocking chair. He kicked up his feet, his dirty blue jeans dark in the diminishing light, however his fresh snakeskin boots gleamed as they sat atop the small railing that traced the porch. He continued to stare at the sunset as he brought up his small porcelain pipe to obstruct the direct light. Elliot fumbled around his pockets, pulled a small bag out, opened it; the bitter aroma of freshly dried tobacco filled the air around him. He took a deep breath and sat for a second. It had been a long while since he last did this. The shredded tobacco filled the chamber of the pipe loosely. He placed the bag on his lap, dug around in his pocket and pulled out a worn down box of wooden matches. The black letters ”strike anywhere”, were almost impossible to read, not that he needed to read them. He slid it open with barely a glance, eyes still focused on his sunset. He pulled a match out, closed the box and with one motion grabbed the bag of tobacco and the box, and tossed them on the ground next to him. He leaned forward, pulling his feet off of the banister.

He watched as the edge of the sun broke the horizon and began to sink into his valley. He fiddled with the sliver of wood pinched between his fingers, taking the back end and playing with his flakes of brown that rested in the white rim he held. Finally he reached out with the match in hand and dragged it heartily against the top of the porch fence. It sparked and was consumed with flame, he held it up to the sun, the flame vanished against the immense light for a split second before he pulled it towards him. His pipe met his lips as the flame found the brim and he watched as the brown turned to black in the dim light of the match. He inhaled with force turning the tobacco into a smoldering ember in only a few moments.

“Finally” he thought, the look on his face said so much more. He hadn’t smoked since he first moved out here. He had been too busy, too exhausted to even lift a finger as the sun set day after day. He exhaled and a large plume of smoke filled the air around him but quickly lifted into the sky. He looked around at his porch now, in the last minutes of light he admired his handiwork. It was just a few hours ago that he had put the last touches on his achievement. The stairs down and the banister that framed the entire edge. As he looked around, he saw his minor mistake even in the dark. He shook his head, kicked up his feet onto the banister again, and took one more drag from his pipe. He brought his overly large cowboy hat down over his eyes as he let the second puff of smoke out. The smell of freshly smoked tobacco lingered. His body relaxed, enjoying his forced retirement in a place he had made his own little paradise. He pulled his large plaid jacket around him, and drifted to sleep on his newest accomplishment.

“Mr. Wit?” a shy voice echoed through his head. Elliot opened his eyes, light filled the darkness that had consumed his vision. He looked around, he wasn't on his newly beloved porch. He wasn't lazily drifting away in his favorite chair. Instead he was here. The beginning of the worst day of his life.

He didn't move his mouth but heard his voice form the words “Yes, Alice?” His eyes locked on the view from his old office. It wasn't as vast as his new view but it was empowering. Glass and metal across the way reflected his own building. Light bounced all over, it was subtle in some spots and too intense in others, it was a spectacle of man-made beauty. His focus shifted to the tiny people below, but it was quickly broken by Alice’s wispy voice.

“Sir have you heard yet?” She asked as she walked through his office over to his desk, followed by the sound of shuffling papers.

He didn't want this part, he knew what was coming but he didn't want to move. He wanted to keep staring out his window, enjoying his view just a little longer. However his body moved anyway, turning his back to the luxurious window. “Of course I have.” He was still trying to stop his words.

Alice took the statement how it was intended, he could hear how distraught she felt in her voice. “Right, it's all over the news. What are we going to do?” His eyes drifted as she pulled some paper off his desk, her attempt of organizing his mess.

“Release a statement, say it was an unforeseen error, it was an accident and we will open up an investigation into this horrible incident.” This time Elliot tried to say something. Something else, something more. Anything. No other words came out. She only stared at him, after a moment she finally responded.

“But sir? Are you sure? Isn't that the ship tha-” she said starting to panic, her anxious eyes getting wider as she talked. Her eyes now matched her hair, both reflecting the craziness that he felt inside.

He wanted to stop her, but he couldn't. He had made this decision and now he was reliving it over and over in his dreams. This was the moment that kicked off the worst day of his life. Elliot knew that. He sat there staring at his desk. He knew this was a dream, or a nightmare. Either way, he had suffered through this surreal memory every night since he was “retired”. He hoped to get away from it, forge a new life and not think about his past. He had quickly learned that was impossible.

His hand drifted up to his head, he ran his hand over his slick aging hair. His memory then walked him over to his computer. The monitor, a dark mirror that glinted with his old self. He wore a suit, black, it complimented his speckled grey hair. He tapped the screen with his long thin finger, he felt the weight of his watch, saw the shine from his cufflinks before the screen illuminated. He didn't want to look at the screen, he knew what he was going to see. He didn't want to see it again, but unfortunately he didn't have a choice.

His eyes locked on the title. A news article took up the entire screen. The whole of his mistake plastered over news websites and broadcasts. The proverbial smoke that would lead to fire. The article had a large video accompanying it on the screen, an image that was ingrained in his mind; a large ship motionless, surrounded by the darkness. A feeling that he would soon relate to as his company treated him the same way, as a pariah. He no longer wanted to look at the word “catastrophe,” but his dream wouldn’t let him looking away, his eyes stayed fixed on the screen.

The world stopped, everything froze, he knew what came next. He averted his eyes from the screen as much he could. Out of the corner of his vision he see the door Alice had used. The perfect white panel, framed by the silver edging that kept everything in this office separated. On the other side the true defining moment of this day was being drafted, his public statement. His corporate blame game that would decide the fate of his life, his company. If he could get up, stand up, walk over to the door, ask Alice to stop, things would be different. He, however, was stuck glued in place, staring at the screen.

As he re-read the article, over and over, the screen began to shift up and down. He blinked a few times, “Maybe I need to get off the computer” he thought before remembering this was a dream. He attempted to lean back to get a better look at his screen. The monitor was not the only thing that was shaking, everything on his desk wobbled around, pens started flying, papers slipped off the desk, his coffee mug tipped over. “This is wrong” he tried to say, but nothing could be heard over a deep rumble that had grown from below the surface.

He felt his leg slam into the ground, a weird sensation when he thought his feet were already on the floor. He shook awake, his eyes opened to darkness. He brought his hand up to his face but it was met by the flimsy cowboy hat that was over his eyes. He pulled his hat off. The sun was in the sky, directly above him. The shaking continued, pushing him off his chair, rattling his porch and slamming his door against its frame. Elliot stood up, walking out in front of his small cabin. He looked across the valley he had grown to love. It was still, completely how it was the night before, nothing seemed out of place. Yet the Earth still trembled underneath him. He turned back to go to his dwelling. He froze looking at what use to be the peak of the mountain.

The Earth roared, black smoke launched upward, shaking the ground with every large plume. Panic and fear filled Elliot from head to toe. His mind shut down, thoughtless, motionless he stared upward into the darkness of hell. Without another hesitation, without thinking, he turned and began to run in full strides down the steep mountain he had hoped to make a home. His boots were not made for running, he found that out within the first 5 strides. This is when his mind restarted, he came to a stop. “Maybe I can go back and get better shoes.” He turned back to face his cabin, something he felt pride at every time he had looked at it, every time except this time. His hopes for better shoes were instantly crushed when he saw that the cabin was being swallowed up by the ground around it. Was it ground? He stared for a moment longer than he should have. At first he thought that it was mud, viciously consuming his small achievement. He rapidly realized that it wasn’t dirt, but something worse. Lava. He hadn’t noticed it when he was looking up the mountain before, he barely noticed it now. This lava was dark, barely resembling lava at all, this radiated something other than heat, something entirely unnatural. There was no light coming off of this sludge, more than that, it consumed light, as it rolled down the steep grass towards him. Elliot thought, “maybe it is just the lighting that makes it seem so dark”, but as it got closer to him he realized this was no ordinary lava, this must have come straight from the devil’s heart. It emanated hatred, anger, and fear, all feelings he redirected at the lava as it destroyed his small home.

He snapped out of his fear driven paralysis, ripping his boots off he ran as fast as he physically could down the incline. He looked over his shoulder for one last glimpse at his humble abode but only saw the devil's blood cover it like a scab. He ran, even harder than before, even faster than he thought he could. He just wanted to survive. At the last second he decided to run through a thicket of trees hoping that they would slow the lava down more than they would slow him down. Instantly he realized this was a bad decision.

The branches of the tree created a wall of meshed needles and firm limbs. He struggled to push his way through the first set of trees, the branches clawing at him. The jagged pins ripped at his clothing as he made his way through. Once on the other side he started to run again but was pulled back against the wall of greenery he had just emerged from. He attempted again but was pulled back once more, he made no progress. He could hear the mountain continuing to roar, the heat from the lava was getting closer, his panic was increasing. He pulled away from the branches harder and he heard an intense rip, a branch firmly grasped his jacket. Without hesitation he yanked it off, pushing away from the trees and running with all of his might. He continued to break through walls of branches, each one harder than the last to get through, lava licking his heels each time he slowed down even a little.

Finally he emerged from the trees to see a clearing, his excitement grew for a moment but was consumed just like his house. Lava began to come from every side of the clearing except directly across from him. He ran in the only direction he could, but he was starting to slow down, his body didn’t want to run anymore, not that it had a choice. He made it to the other side of the clearing. These trees were more open than the last batch he had pushed his way through, they were tall and narrow with too many roots to count. He could easily weave his way through these. He even managed to gain some distance from the hell storm that was behind him. He began to build up speed again, hoping to get enough of a lead that he could prepare for whatever was ahead.

He looked back again to see how much space he had, “Is it even behind me still?” He couldn’t see the rolling hatred anymore, it seemed to fade into the ground behind him. He wasn’t taking any chances, he slowed his pace but kept jogging down the mountain. “One last look”, he longed for a break, just for a moment to catch his breath. He turned his head, just ever so slightly but he didn’t manage to look at anything, before flying down to the ground. His big toe had slammed into a firm, weaving root causing him to convulse in pain while falling forward. Elliot shrieked as his arms buckled a the weight of his falling body, smacking his head against the ground, followed by his shoulder and then his back. He continued to roll down the mountainside missing tree after tree, curled up, tucking his arms close to his chest, pulling his head down and his knees up, surviving. His eyes tightly shut, he bounced across spiderweb of tree feet, roots guiding his every move. The pain was overwhelming, he prayed for it to stop, to have a break, to rest and recollect himself. He prayed to be off the mountain, to be in his office, in his suit, sitting at his desk, instead of half naked rolling down an endless natural pegboard that was treating him like a pingpong ball.

Without warning the pain stopped, the feeling of the roots dissipated, as did the security of the ground. Wind rushed around him, he could no longer afford to keep his eyes closed. He split his eyelids with some force, air whirled, encircling him, the sun directly in his eyes blinded him instantly, something he didn't have time for. He was absolutely sure he was falling to his death.

Before he could get a grasp on where he was, how far he was falling, if he would be able to ask for forgiveness, or beg for life, the Earth slammed into him. His legs folded under him, he felt his body screech in pain and he no longer felt in control of his actions. His legs and arms twitched, beaten and bloody from the roots, the trees and the fall. He lay there, his eyes refusing to open out of fear. Elliot regained his breath, calming himself, preparing to accept his fate without attempting to stand, that is when he heard it.

The lava slithered down the hill that he took the express lane to get to the bottom of, the lava must be close behind now. “Is this it? I can’t even-”, trees began to crack and tear above him, dirt and twigs dusted what would soon be his corpse. He let his eyes slowly open. Acceptance reflected in their watery gloss. He stared up the small ledge he had fallen down. He stared at it for a moment, he had been sure it was bigger, “Am I going to let something so small stop me?” No, his body rung out. He collected himself in an instant, attempting to stand he stumbled at first but made it to his feet. A warmth ran down his skin as his open wounds spread.

He needed to keep going, he couldn't let his injures slow him down. Elliot began to look for the best path off this God forsaken mountain. He turned to look for an exit, all around him was walled by trees and brush except one small opening. He figured that was the best way down.

“No, this way!” A voice sang out from behind him, he jumped slightly causing his body to seethe in pain. He rounded to see where the voice came from, his entire being was caught off guard by what he saw.

A woman stood leaning against a tree, her naked body one with the bark,arms hugging the trunk, her gold hair spread through the air. Her green eyes overwhelmed him, in that moment he felt even weaker than when he was laying on the ground. He gasped for words, he wanted, needed to warn her of the impending danger that trudged toward them. “Lava!” he let out in a scared belch.

She responded with a nod, “I know, this way, there is a safe place.” She seemed to remove herself from the tree, her body separated from the bark, her skin a perfect match making him wonder if she had actually been a part of the tree as she raced around the corner. Elliot was not sure if she was real or a part of subconscious giving him a few moments of relief before he met his doom, but he wasn’t going to ignore a naked woman leading the way. He followed as quickly as his damaged body would allow, he made it to the corner she vanished behind, only to watch her disappear behind another tree in the distance. Her golden hair seemed to glow in the dim light of the tree canopy, making her easy to follow.

When he came to the tree he had last seen her vanish behind, he stopped and leaned against it. His ribs had started to hurt, making moving a tough feat, let alone running away from a fiery death. He hobbled around the tree to see a small cave opening, with the woman standing in the entrance. For a split second, she radiated warmth and comfort, everything the lava wasn’t. As soon as he noticed her glow it was gone.

Vanishing into the darkness, she entered the cave. He looked up the hill, the black lava had made it’s way to the middle of the tree line. He could barely move, he had no time to make a decision. He followed the strange woman into the darkness unsure what to expect, hoping that he could just lay down and rest. As he entered the cave, lava slowly began to cover the entrance. Elliott backed away, watching as the light of day faded away, until only the darkness remained.

He made his way in the direction of the mysterious woman, stumbling through the dark, feeling around with his bare feet. He would stop occasionally, not wanting to continue, taking a moment to rest, wishing he could turn back but knowing he couldn’t. He would move on, slowly slapping his feet against the cold ground. After what felt like hours looking for a correct direction to go, a small blue light appeared at the end of the tunnel, his speed increased, his muscles aching with every additional step. As Elliott got closer the light became a soft teal, reminding him of calm ocean water.

The beaten man made his way into the illuminated room made of the earth from his mountain. There she was, sitting in on a flat plateau staring at him with eyes that seemed colorless under the glowing ceiling. Her skin which had matched the tree of the bark was now grey, her hair however still radiated gold even under the bioluminescent cave ceiling. The floor was plain, dark and lacking compared to the smoothness of the walls and the breathtaking appearance of the natural glowing tapestry above .

She was motionless, relaxed, tranquil along with the rest of the spherical cul de sac that was this room. His eyes glided across the bare walls, then to the ceiling, the light seemed to come from the Earth itself. “This is-” the breath escaped his lungs.

“You are hurt.” She cut him off with soft, delicate words. “This is a sacred place, it will treat your ailments. The water will heal your wounds, clear your mind, cleanse your guilt.” Her last word resonated throughout the entire cave, through the tunnel, straight into Elliott's conscience. He felt his mouth go dry, his throat scratchy, unable to move. He managed to split his lips and whisper, “water?” He looked around the room again. There wasn't water anywhere in this cave. In response she dropped her hand to the ground, her index finger stretched out. Before it touched the hard stone that made up the underside of the cave, what seemed to be the bottom foot of air rippled apart in perfect circles. Miniature waves slapped the sides of the cave, as she pulled her hand back up to her body, her eyes still fixed on him.

Elliot began to walk into the center of the room, the edge of the water was abrupt, his feet swiftly found there way through the shallow invisible pool. The water glided over his skin, wrapping his limbs like silk, it made no noise as he waded into the shin high water. His toe which had felt broken began to relax, painlessly drowning in the mystical water. He found the center of the pool, and looked at her with confusion, which must have been clear, “Lie down.” Without hesitation he threw his body down into the water, still there wasn't a splash, the water simply glided up around his body, tugging his skin, rolling over the cuts, bruises and scrapes. Instant relief spread over his muscles. He wanted to plunge his face into the water, to feel the euphoria all over. As he leaned forward she stopped him with her soft words, “on your back.” He looked at her from the corner of his eye, he thought that was a ridiculous request, as if lying on his back would make the water work better. However he didn't want to argue with her, he didn't want to risk leaving the water.

He shifted his weight back, bringing his head to the water. His body lifted up from the ground and buoyantly relaxed on top of the clear liquid cloud. As he drifted on his back around the center of the room. He could feel his injuries diminish. He stared at the ceiling the lights tranquility was matched by its mystical intensity, his eyelids drifted shut, it was all too much. “Good, keep your eyes closed. You must confront your guilt, release your tension. Allow the water to help you.” She said softly, it was initially hard to hear from under the water, but her voice became more clear as she kept talking.

“I don't have guilt.” Elliot coughed out, his words echoed through the tunnels he had come from.

“Don't you? You feel guilty for your mistake, for what you have done to the water, the ocean, to the planet. You feel guilty that you are responsible that you caused that accident. Admit it.” She guided his thoughts through that day again, what he thought was his worst day, only matched by this one.

“No, not because of the accident. I feel guilty I couldn't do anything to stop my company from losing that oil. I feel guilty that I won't be there, that oil spill cost me my job, my life. All because it killed a few fish.” The water rippled at his words, the cave shook, but Elliot didn't notice, the water kept him secluded from the trembling Earth.

“Hmm. You should feel guilty for more than that Elliott Wit. I am giving you a chance at forgiveness, all you must do is ask.”

He floated for a few moments letting her words sink into his mind. “Why should I?” He finally responded, the cave became motionless, not even he moved in the water anymore. “I was trying to help society, provide a basic necessity that allows our world to spin. I won't apologize for that.”

“So be it.” Her words reached out sharply to cut his justification down. The water began to bubble around his body, Elliott felt the bubbles push him around, his eyes opened, he attempted to regain his footing to stand up, confront her and her aggressive words, but he couldn't, he was incapable of moving. The water began to rise, but he stayed in the same spot, the heavy water, slipping over his limbs, entwining his body together, climbing it's way to his face.

Without warning something underneath him grabbed his healing back, viciously pulling him down to the bottom, slamming him into the ground, he let out a groan and a cough as his body met the cold stone floor. He opened his eyes, struggling to move under the weight of the water, wanting to flail but unable to even wiggle his fingers. The teal light faded out of Elliott's vision, overcome by darkness, he worried, feared he would never see light again. He kept his eyes open, hoping for another glimpse of the blue glow, his breath collapsing under the pure blackness that was beginning to overtake the water. He let out a gasp, but no bubbles formed, nothing seemed to move. The liquid started making its way into his mouth, down his throat, penetrating his ears and nose. His tongue finally tasted it, the dirt, the thick weight of oil in his mouth. He gagged, his body curled, the pressure of the dark oil kept him pinned to the bottom. The man that was Elliot Wit began to fade, in this moment, he realized he was going to drown.

Her voice cut through the oil, pressing directly on his mind. He could hear her clear as day. “This is what it is like for every creature that is caught in oil. The darkness is overwhelming, the weight and confusion devastating. You think that this world revolves around humanity, that everything is made for you; if it does not affect you, it does not matter. Something you have to understand, everything is connected; if a fish dies it ripples through every ecosystem, birds leave, snakes starve, rivers weaken, trees perish, environments become unbalanced. If you believe that these things will not change the course of humanity, you are sadly misguided. You see, this planet does not live for you, the Earth will be here when your humanity no longer is. This is not the balance of the planet that I am trying to teach you about, but the balance of humanity. Humans will soon learn, climate change is natural, so is the extinction of species. Every single one of you becomes so involved in your societies and your jobs; you are obsessed with money and possessions, worried about your legacies, what you will leave behind, buildings, statues, parks. Now it's too late, the Earth will start to take back what she gave to you, to all of you. She will no longer wait for you to come to your senses, she is angry. She wants to restore her balance, and when she is done she will be unrecognizable to you and your humanity.”

Elliott's eyes closed, his arms floated lifelessly at the bottom of the oil pit. He could feel the oil sliding down his esophagus, blocking his necessity to breath. It trickled into his stomach, invading his chest, pressing on his legs. His conscience drifted, he could feel the life leaving his body, the irony of the situation sharply engraved his mind. “So, this is it.” He felt a faint rumble underneath him, then a hand grab his shirt collar, scratching his chest, pulling him to the surface of the oil. He coughed, regurgitating the oil that rested in his body. Gasping for air he opened his eyes, the woman was inches away from his face. Her breath warmed the thin sheet of oil that rested on his face. “I will leave your life for mother nature to reclaim.” She whispered, her voice feathery again. She let go and Elliott slipped back into the darkness.

He took a hesitant breath expecting to feel oil consume him from the inside out, instead his lungs were met with fresh air. He felt a small rumble under his feet, his eyes jolted open, all he saw was darkness. He played the scenario out again, he brought his hand up to his face, but before his hand made it there it was met by a flimsy straw cowboy hat. He ripped the hat off, his vision met with the darkness of the valley, faintly illuminated by moonlight reflected in the lakes allowing the small farms and trees to be seen. A deep sigh escaped his chest, he brought his feet off of the railing of the porch, his legs were dead asleep. Elliot stayed seated as he stared at the wooden walls of the cabin, something he had thought was lost. He allowed the tingling sensation in his legs to finish before moving them again. He reached out for the banister, stroking the smooth wood. He still had the cabin, he looked at the mistake-ridden porch, relieved that it had not been destroyed. The valley was silent, broken by a small chuckle that Elliott let out as he pulled the small pipe to him and removed the ash. He wondered what time it was, because the moon was about to set. He decided to enjoy the setting white sphere, much like he had the sunset the night before. He pulled the tobacco and matches from the wooden deck of the porch and packed his favorite vice into the pipe. He waited for the moon to drop ever so slightly, breaking the horizon. Then he pulled another match out and struck it against the same spot on the banister. The small flame illuminated his face and hands; he waved it over the pipe, saw the brown against the white edge and brushed the flame just above the tobacco ready to inhale. That’s when he felt it.

The ground rocked, throwing the match in his hand as well as the pipe, tobacco and box of matches to the ground. He stayed gripping in his chair, until the next lurch, when his body was thrown to the ground as well. He stood and looked over the property. Nothing seemed different, but he knew what was in store for him. He looked straight up, hoping to see stars against the faint purple of the night sky. There was no such view, it was obstructed by darkness.

Another large quake shook the entire porch, which groaned against the force of the ground rubbing against its underside. He stood up and regained his composure, “surely another dream” a voice in his head prayed. He walked to the field in front of the porch, turned and looked up the mountain. Dejavu set in as he watched the mountain rumble, and puff, large black plumes rising into the equally dark sky. Red and orange lava exploded from the peak, covering every inch of the upper mountain. He knew this was real, the lava was real, the smoke was real. His fate was real.

He went back to the old wicker chair, settled in, and pulled the white pipe, matches and tobacco up to his lap. Through blurred vision he replaced the spilled tobacco, dropping fresh brown flakes on top of what was there. Tears rolled down his face as he struck another match on the banister and pushed his back into the structure of the chair. He hesitated, the flame flickering in his shaking hand, he brought the light to the tobacco, small amounts of smoke danced out of the little fire. He inhaled, long and deep, as he watched the lump of brown turn to black, then white. Smoke filled the air, as he awaited his inescapable fate.

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