"Sometimes you just have to bow to the absurd."
- Captain Jean-Luc Picard
I vomited again.
Grass…it was grass. No, the ground was hard. Earthy. I was outside. Frogs and owls started calling. It was cold.
What the hell just happened? Only a few moments ago... I had been sitting at my desk with my LED lamp illuminating a 1:1400 model of the USS Enterprise, the final piece ready to glue to the rest of the ship thus completing months of work. A wave of nausea hit me like a spear tearing at my insides…spreading out like liquid ill, enveloping me with such force and speed that it caused me to double up. I tried calling for help, but produced only a low, agonized moan. A moment later, I had found myself face-down in the shag carpet of my room. I'd laid there like a fish out of water, my eyes unseeing and my mouth gaping as I snapped for air, the tearing in my guts ripping me apart. Thoughts of somehow dialing 911 were interrupted as reality seemed to melt and warp, and then the carpeting became...cold, hard dirt.
Several tense moments passed before I dared to open my eyes and take in the environs. The ground was a shade of green that was a dubious shade of brown, of what terrain it was I could not fathom; the trees were a sort of purple; and the flora was a mismatching clod of ferns, vines and flowers that were swamp-like, which matched the sounds I was hearing, yet the air was arid. The forest looked almost like it had come down with disease and never recovered.
"Jesus." I sat up, covering my face with my hand, taking a breath, trying not to let it become a sob. A sharp pain in my hand directed my attention to my clenched fist. I slowly opened it to see the final piece of my model still there, cutting its outline into my palm. I closed my hand about it again in spite of the discomfort. It was like clinging to a piece of my sanity. I glanced again at the purpled trees.
I forced myself to my feet.
I unfurled only to a point, too afraid to stand tall, to make it all real by interacting with a bad dream. Forcing my muscles into action, I stumbled forward towards the clearest visible area of forest, my heartbeat riding on the sounds of my sometimes-rustling, sometimes-cracking footfalls.
As I walked I realised what a fool I'd been. I cackled with the manic realization that I had my phone in the breast pocket of my shirt. I clutched my chest in search of it; the impact of the hard chunk of plastic on my palm sent a joyous jolt of relief through my entire nervous system. Body standing down from full alert, I unbuttoned the pocket with a shaking hand, hit 999 and pressed "Call".
A moment's silence. And three sharp beeps answered my plea for help. I knew what those beeps meant. The sob I had suppressed earlier escaped me. No service. No service! I collapsed against a tree and dropped the phone into my pocket.
Somewhere in the back of my befuddled brain, reason was trying to apply itself to the situation, and getting brutalised by instinct and hard reality. Was I cut off from humanity? Was I walking the wrong way? Salvation could be behind that clump of trees I walked past, unknown to me. These thoughts threatened to push me to the borders of insanity.
Keep yourself together, Chester. Just keep your head.
There was no other option open to me, so I moved. I walked. The forest-thing remained the same. The ground remained a greenish-brown. The flora still made no attempt at order. Still the trees looked like bloodshot replicas of swamp trees. At least the feel of movement and purpose, however desperate, had made me calmer. Berries were dangling from outstretched foliage. I wondered if they were "safe".
I saw up ahead a stop in the trees – clear air from what must have been a cliff beyond. Different terrain, something to prove that the entire world around me wasn't the same forest going on forever, was most welcome.
And then, it wasn't so welcome. I stopped near the edge of the rocky cliff, and beheld a violet sky.
I simply stared at the clouds, which weren't clouds at all, but thin trails that hung in the sky. Some appeared as spirals, others stretched across the sky in snaky strips. Near the horizons the sky grew a lighter shade of violet, like a sunset without a setting sun.
My body went cold while I stood there, thunderstruck with a terrible awe. I slumped down to the ground and stared up at the sky, mind a complete blank, thoughts ceasing to occur. In spite of myself, a smile began to touch my lips. Perhaps the complete bleakness of my situation had started to find cracks and crevices in my psyche, but I was reminded that once, a great man once said that sometimes, you just have to bow to the absurd.
Not without a self-depreciating smirk, I flicked the plastic replica of the Enterprise's engine down the cliff. Goodbye, sanity. I knew ye well.
I walked along the cliff's edge feeling utterly out of place wherever I trod. The world seemed to be collapsing in on me, pushing me from all directions. I walked with equal parts senselessness and mirthless humour. Occasionally I succumbed to a bark of laughter for the sheer hell of it.
From my vantage point, I could see that the cliffs seemed to spread around a valley that went on for as far as I could tell to either direction. If things weren't already bad, thirst began to make itself noticeable. I regretted passing up those berries. I kept moving.
At first I blamed my imagination, but then I was certain: the trees were beginning to grow ever-so-slightly greener. The terrain, primarily lumpy mounds of earth placed at random, began to flatten. And somehow, the air seemed clearer – easier to breathe as compared to earlier. But I was no nearer to anything hopeful.
I spotted a deep, black crevice in a rocky rise ahead of me, mired in darkness. I couldn't sleep outside on the forest floor; and I had been a vulnerable enough target for any fantastic predators that may roam nearby. Likely, there was nothing in that cave for me to fear.
Heart pounding anyway, I extracted my phone once more and switched to its MP3 player. I could use the phone as a light source – the only one I could think of – and if anything was in there, I would play the alarm tune and run, hoping to get away while the phone's music provided a sufficient distraction. Frankly, this was lunacy. Surely dark caves in forests were better explored in daylight. But that was, of course, assuming that this world had such a thing as daylight. For all I knew, this murky twilight WAS the shade of day. I couldn't wait for a sunrise that might never come.
Holding the phone before me, the cave turned out to be small and empty, barely more than ten by four feet. Although almost impossible to believe, there was nothing here. No traces of habitation, no animal bedding, just an empty cave.
I turned to the mouth of the cave and slumped against the back wall. I had started to approach something that resembled "safety".
It had been a long time coming, and now was the best time. I bent my head back, looking out at the alien world beyond the cave mouth. For a while I just stared at it, hoping the image would go away somehow, that the environs outside would shrink away until they vanished into an infinitesimal speck. I wanted it so much that I began to hope that force of will alone would cause it to happen.
But wanting something doesn't make it reality. No, reality was very different to what I wanted it to be. Very different indeed. Even though my memory of how I came here defied all attempts to understand it, I clung to the idea that it was rational, and reversible, like a man lost at sea clings to a rock to protect against the tide.
I was scared, I was tired, and most of all, I didn't want to be here. Arm sliding along the ground, never taking my eyes from the cave mouth, I lay on the ground and waited for sleep to come and take away this nightmare.