The Mirage

by Daniel Karasik

Wind swept through the deserted streets of the city like cold serpent's breath, looming buildings and sharp forms deliquescing into shadows.

Friday stood on a street corner, gripping a lamppost as if it were the only thing keeping him from floating up into the night sky. It seemed as if the buildings around him were shaking violently, and took him a moment before he realized that his own shivers were causing the subtle movement.

Friday ran his hand through his scraggly brown hair. This was certainly a dream. Certainly. The buildings around him looked unfamiliar, the cobblestone streets unlike any he had ever before seen. Shades and hues melded together so that the world took on the feel of an impressionist painting. Certainly a dream, albeit a post-modern one.

He whirled, hearing furtive sounds behind him. Friday quickly took a step back, paralyzed with shock and fear.

A looming blackness stood where the road to his back had been, a chasm that appeared to swallow the landscape in its path.

The wind whistled, blowing impossibly across the gaping vacuum.

Prickly daggers of ice touched Friday's arm. He jumped, startled, as a small girl of no more than twelve years laid her hand upon him.

"Come," the girl said, beckoning Friday with flawless blue eyes that seemed unearthly in the poor light of the street lamps.

Friday gasped. He slid his foot along the ground, stomped down a few times on the cobblestone street. It felt solid. He felt solid.

In front of him were the elegantly paved curving streets, deserted towering buildings of unknown origin, and the glowing lampposts that lined the curb. No cars. No activity. No life, save for the girl to his side.

To his back, the chasm beckoned.

Friday stared down at the girl. Her eyes were locked upon his with an unsettling intensity.

The child didn't break her gaze as Friday reached out and pressed his finger against her hand. It felt bony and vulnerable. But, most of all, it felt real.

Friday stared at the girl for a long while. "What is this place?"

The girl lolled her head to the side. The corners of her mouth twitched upwards in a manner that almost resembled a smile. "You."

"Me?"

"You," she repeated. "You are lost."

"Not lost. Dreaming. This isn't real," Friday said, motioning with his left hand.

"No."

Friday scanned the area, noticing for the first time that the road curved on an incline, leading up into the darkness. "What's up there?"

"Reality." Again, the girl's mouth twitched. "You are lost."

Friday shook his head. "What's your name?"

"Tell me what you know."

"What?"

"What do you know? Life. Trapped within the imagery of your life. Do not be afraid of me. Please. Tell me what you know."

Friday looked up the curving street. He sighed, though no sound came out. "My life?" Friday asked. "I crunch numbers for a living. I'm married. Three kids. Live out in the suburbs." He paused, unsure of why he had just said that.

"Is that your reality?"

"Yeah. I guess it is." His eyes were drawn to the cobblestone street. "Where does this lead?"

The girl stepped out of the shadows and in front of Friday. He could now see that she looked frighteningly undernourished, her gray cheeks sagging a bit. The girl's specter-like countenance was outlined eerily in the pale yellow light. Friday could not get over the fact of how real the child looked. While the scenery of this place seemed unstable, the girl struck him as somehow grounded in the nature of the dreamscape, a traveler like him.

"I will take you there," she said. "Follow me."

Friday hesitated. He glanced back at the boundless abyss that devoured the road behind him. He realized in an instant that he was looking at his own past, watching it fade away.

Darkness consumed memory.

The girl was paces away from him, a small figure walking up the abandoned street. He ran up to her side, avoiding the imploring stare of her troubled blue eyes.

Friday felt the cobblestone paving under his feet as he traversed the roadway, yet heard no sound from his footsteps. The scenery repeated itself as they moved up the street, Friday noticed, surreal reflections of reflections of reflections. Empty store fronts with no names; cement walkways that appeared undamaged by the passage of time; structures that had no meaning to Friday, yet still conjured bizarre emotions of fear, sorrow, and bittersweet nostalgia.

He slowly began to realize that he was somehow traveling through the corridors of his past, re-experiencing those emotions he had felt in his earlier years. Although the buildings around him had no names or discerning marks, Friday connected with them because they were a natural part of him. Memory, he found, touched something deeper than simple images or sensory experiences.

"What is happening to me?"

The girl stopped walking. She turned to Friday. "What is experience without memory? What is action without reaction? What is fire without air?" Her voice was soft and cold.

"It...it cannot exist."

"The chasm is the past. A mirage. I am the future. A mirage. Without both, you do not exist."

Around them the wind howled.

The chasm drew closer.

With a few more steps, Friday reached the end of the road. He saw nothing there, just more familiar buildings and a circular turnaround at the street's end. He waited for the girl to join him.

As the child came up beside him, a strange thing happened. The road pushed forward into the darkness, extending further upwards. Behind him, the chasm crept ever nearer.

The girl smiled. "The darkness is what you have been. I am what you will be." She turned away from Friday. "Soon I will be gone. Do not be afraid. This is not the last time you and I will meet."

Unreasonable panic flooded over Friday. "Wait. Please." He stared up at the road. It shifted forward once again. "What is at the end of the street?"

"When you get there, you will know."

With that, she was gone.

Friday stood alone on the cold street. Wind caressed the night sky.

The child had promised that reality lay at the end of the road. Holding fast to that thought, Friday continued down the cobblestone path. He knew that the chasm would always be behind him, and that where the road stopped, he would once again find the girl.

2002 by Daniel Karasik. All rights reserved.

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