The Logic of Fire, The Beginning




Stretch had just slipped into the water, was not very deep yet, when he felt a sensation of orange tracery like the lines receding water traces out from the ankles of birds at sunset. He rolled over to see if he could see the moon. For a moment he felt slightly confused: what he felt and saw was not what he had expected. Then he was mighty confused, betrayed by the fabric of reality. He was not under water, he was not in his wet suit, he was lying on his back naked in the air, somewhere prickly, naked in the cold, above him only dim light. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply; his breath was unconstrained. It did not work; he was still lying in the cold on a rough surface, pricked on the sides, legs, and chest. The pressure on the gasses of his blood could be giving him hallucinations. Shit, this was serious business. It must be the prickling, he thought. Yet he could breath easily; the air had the clean, sweet smell of the forest with a faint trace of sourness and wood smoke. Only it was as silent as the sea world. Was that a hallucination? They taught you to look at your depth meter and at air bubbles. He opened his eyes. Darkness with faint, muffled light from above. He tried to raise his hands to his face. The feel of twigs on his arms and their scratching loud in the silence oriented him; he was lying on the ground in a thicket.

Once when he had taken PCP he had run out of camp and crashed through the brush and run and crashed and run and crashed, smashing branches, making a trail he could walk the next day with admiration at his own strength, screaming with exultation, smashing, breaking, until he had passed out and found himself lying in the underbrush afraid. He had died for a moment then. It had been a hot day in a state park in the foothills colored with sun yellow and black, the black of his leathers, and the red dawn or sunset of his rage and the torrid air of foothill summer. Now it was blue black, like ink, and he... was nowhere conceivable. He tried to twist over onto his hands and knees. The underbrush was thick as packaging. It scratched and fought back at every movement and the thin scrapes shrieked in the silence. He lay still. It was cold and still. As his sight adapted to the darkness he could find traces of gray blue above his head and perhaps suggestions of stars or the moon. He was chilly. With cautious twisting, he endeavored to work over onto his stomach. He would be scratched and maybe bleeding when he got somewhere he could take a look at himself, take a hot shower. He got to his stomach; the chilly earth was wet and a damp; a slightly sour smell filled his breath. He began to slowly gather himself to his hands and knees, lifting and arching his back, his head down to protect his eyes. The struggle oriented him toward the ground and the thicket. He rose to a crouch, the branches still scraping and the scraping penetrating the stillness. As he tried to stand, his shoulder met with what must be a heavy branch. He heaved and broke it aside. A wrench of his shoulders tore the air. He was on his feet. The underbrush was not so thick around his head and shoulders. He paused to listen. The silence was intense, more intense than the underwater silence a few minutes ago, for his breathing was no longer reflected in his ears.

He paused, centered himself, breathed, assumed an alert, defensive posture. Bare feet on earth, flesh distributing the weight to the pads. In the darkness he could very dimly make out the trunks of trees, black on black. Above him, perhaps, stars. He thought it must be the darkness before dawn, about five o'clock this time of year in southern California. The air now came fresh and cool, without the musty, rancid tint present at ground level. He breathed deeply and thought he might just stand there until there was light enough to see out of the thicket, but soon he began to shiver. He shivered more and more. His shaking against the brush, which encompassed him like a body cloud, rasped in the silence. His teeth began to chatter. He thought he had to move to escape the cold. He felt about him in the dark for a soft way; but it was the same wherever he felt ? directionless. He stuck out at random, pushing, scratching himself, the noise cracking the chilly darkness. Then he heard a cry. It was the chuckling lute call of a water bird. When he paused, he heard another birds song, something like a sparrow, and shortly another, and another. When he began to work his way out of the underbrush the sound diminished. In perhaps two or three yards he had worked himself into an open space. He paused. The bird calls picked up, the shuddering of life at days start.