Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Decker 32

The river, wide and flat, ran through mist-blanketed plains. Here and there a downdraft would open an eddying hole in the low fog, revealing desolate washboard beneath. The sky, too, was shrouded in low-hanging haze; sulfur-tinged, uneven, it was the blotchy, sick-glowing ceiling of an endless claustrophobic cavern. In some areas, it seemed low enough that Decker might reach up and stick his hand into the cloud.
The river, though shrouded overhead with the same dead yellow cover as the land, was not blanketed in fog. He could clearly see the shore, and the first three feet or so of land, some fifteen or twenty steps away. He splashed toward it.
The water was rising fast enough that he could see the mist being pushed back; see the land being consumed by the water. Though it felt solid underfoot, it appeared that as the river swept over it, the shore was somehow being dissolved, altered...
Stepping hesitantly from the water and into the shin-deep mist, Decker wished for Degren's leather-tough soles. He was going to have to move away from the river quickly, and though the mist swirled away as he pressed into it, he still had no clear view of where he was placing his tender, boot-accustomed feet.
Six or seven steps further and the harsh, abrasive feel of the ground grew gentle and welcoming. He thought his feet might be numbing due to some effect of the river water, but when he lifted one up to examine it, he noted it was covered in short, dense, fleshy-hued fur. The bottom was walnut-stained and leathery.
"I'll be damned," he rasped, "am I still tripping? Wonder if tripping's like dreaming." He grabbed a fold of forearm skin between finger and thumb and bore down. As electric twinges jumped up toward his shoulder, he realized that he hadn't learned much from the experiment... except that there was no fur on his arm. Chortling to himself, he pressed on.
He remembered the difference in strength and dexterity between his body and the Degren body. Stopping and dropping to a half-squat, he tensed his legs and leaped with all his might. The result was disappointing. "Shit, I'm just me. I wonder..." He set his mind on metamorphosing into the soft-furred, hard-muscled entity he'd come to know and love in his dream, or trip, or adventure, or disaster, or whatever it was...
...and found himself covered with velvety beige fur. "Hot damn!" He sprung into a high-arcing forward flip, landing 20 feet ahead of where he'd jumped. He was inspired to duplicate an Olympian tumbling run. Flips, triple flips, twists, cloud-grazing pirouettes, round-offs, reversals... he felt as though he could travel for miles in this fashion. The sky seemed to brighten and dome upward where he cavorted and bounded.
Exhilarated, he howled and yipped like a coyote, all the while performing whatever acrobatic acts he could think of. Distracted by his own antics, he soon found himself splashing along in shallow water. the tingling in his toes returned, galvanizing him to race away from the rising river until he was far enough to allow himself a brief pause for thought.
"Okay, dude, what now?" The water was rising. He'd not seen so much as a cockroach or a blade of grass, much less any other sentient life. Unless he could imagine food and a place of safety from the seemingly all-consuming water, he was screwed.
The pendulous ocher clouds seemed to darken and sag over him, shortening his field of view. It was as though invisible walls closed in on him, suffocating, petrifying. Suddenly, he couldn't decide which way to go, or imagine why he should even bother,
He was alone on a dead, drowning world. What companions he'd had were probably hallucinatory. The memories he considered "real" were mostly of a solitary existence, where even his family was ghostlike and distant... did he have any childhood friends? Brothers or sisters? he couldn't remember. Even his parents were foggy specters in a fading dream. The Degren/Furge memories, whether hallucinatory or otherwise, were fuller, richer visions.
The cloud ceiling was only inches above his head; the river licked his shins. A thin layer of fog was creeping over the shore and onto the water, threatening to obscure his view of the transition and leave him directionless between rapidly closing horizons. Once again he raced out of the water, away from the shore, while he could still discern which way that was. Thin, wan bolts of lightning arced across the sky, away from him in every direction.
He ran until he was exhausted. His heart thudded, leaden in his burning chest. A fading endorphin rush pressed back the sky, offering him a view of endless swirling fog below and ominous, mottled-glow mustard clouds above. The lightning became sporadic, shorter, ebbed and ceased.
As his energy had waned, he'd felt as though he might have been running on a slight incline. Looking around seemed to confirm this sense; the fog sloped away from him in all directions and the clouds, which danced around his head where he stood, planed away from ground level into the distance.
Decker collapsed to his elbows and knees, let his forehead rest on the coarse, clayey sand. As his heartbeat slowed and ragged, burning gasps eased into more normal breathing, he rose to a kneeling position, arms akimbo. He noted that, as his mood continued to darken, the conical incline he was centered on seemed to flatten incrementally, though not quite as quickly as the sky descended...

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