I stand three paces from a stone in the sea and I am not precisely sure what I am doing here, nor even how I came to be here. I see the stone very clearly, rising above the water, small ripples pulsing out and away from it. I am not even sure how I know this is a sea, for there is no evidence of a tide; it is calmer even than the surface of a lake. Yet I look out through vague distances in the grey fog and know that, farther than my eyes can see, a vast and shallow ocean stretches away and away, a distance I cannot remotely fathom. I stand ankle-deep in the water, which is blood-warm, but so clear that I can see my bare feet and the particles of grey sand in which the ocean floor is covered.
There is no sun I can see through the foggy greyness above me, but there is some light source, perhaps even coming directly from the fog. Also from the fog there seems to come a faint hushed sound, like a wind soughing through a cave; it comes and goes with the currents which stray here and there and pattern the fog in places. Yet I feel no wind touch me.
The stone is tall and narrow, taller than the height of two men, twice as wide as a man. It is smooth, with some small flakes from the side as though it had been beaten once by a very hard and angry object. It is the only identifiable object I can see and I want very much to touch and explore its surface, yet I hesitate to move and break the stillness all around me, to pattern and ripple the water with the movements of my feet toward the stone.
Suddenly a high, sharp keening sound breaks the silence. It comes again, and a white gull slants down out of the fog. He circles perfectly to alight on the stone, but his webby feet find purchase only with difficulty, and he flaps wildly to keep his balance. He regains his dignity and turns a sheepish black eye toward me. "Did you see that? I meant to do that," his shining eye seems to reflect.
I grin, wondering now where the gull came from. In such studied silence, it is vastly comforting to find a fellow creature. The gull keens again at me in greeting, seeming almost to grin back, if a gull can grin. He leans forward, examining me with first one eye, then the other, as if to be sure he sees me aright.
"Cocky, aren't we?" I ask him.
He hops toward me a bit and fluffs up his neck feathers in response. Definitely cocky, but cheerful.
"Well, my fine friend, I seem to be lost. Any idea where I am?"
The gull leans forward as if listening, then without warning spreads his wings and takes off toward a point somewhere behind me in the fog. I turn to watch his flight as he enters progressive layers of greyness, seeming to dissolve before my eyes, and is gone. Something buried in me struggles to rise from the water, to take to the air in sweet release, to fly effortlessly after him. But --
feet on the ground sweetheart
-- I have forgotten how. It's been too long. And the sand and water clutch suddenly at my feet, pulling insistently at me, swallowing me down and down and down, and I try to pull away, to fight this inexorable sinking into the mistrust and cruelty of the outside world, but I am weak as a kitten against this force. I open my mouth to call again to the gull, assaying for outside help, but the only sound I can make is the hoarse caw of a carrion bird...
... and I start suddenly out of my dream to the sound of crows circling and cawing just outside the window. I'm curled up in the window seat of a public library. I'd only intended to sit down for a minute to gather my thoughts; I must have been more tired than I imagined.
When was the last time I had a really pleasant dream?
In any case, this branch has Internet access and I've been able to update my master list. There are a few new names now, which always renew my hope. Maybe this time... I swing my backpack up over my shoulder, take a long draught at the drinking fountain by the entrance, and head out, taking some extra pains to avoid the crows.