Writer's Note: While it requires some editing -- I pass from present to past tense seemingly at random -- the bones of this vignette align in my own brain. This acts as a continuance of sorts of my blog post "Hitting the Mat."
I hear waves.
No explosions, bullets, or foreign voices reach me. The pressure is off my leg and I feel warm. I move my arms and open my good eye.
I'm lying on warm sand.
I struggle to my back and prop myself on my elbows. In front of me, waves roll into the beach but 20 meters beyond the waves an opaque whiteness like a wall or some kind of fog blocks further view. To my right and left the white sand beach extends another 20 meters or so and seemingly blocked by the same fog. I rub my eye. The recent explosions and shockwaves may have done more damage than I realize.
I look again with a fresh eye, trying to blink my way passed the wall of fog.
Directly behind me are three palm trees. Nestled amoung them is a large wooden packing crate with the lid not quite nailed on. Beyond those objects, more fog.
I blink some more then gather myself. I stumble for a step, but I managed to get my body to the crate and palm trees.
There are two dozen bottles of water, sunscreen, wool emergency blanket, a first aid kit, a bag of netting that turned out to be a hammock, a couple dozen k-rations, and three formal suits.
I stripped down and salved my wounds with ointment, wrapping gauze and bandages where I was bleeding or oozing most. I dry swallowed two pain pills. My stiff fingers worked enough to stretch the hammock between a couple of the trees. The effort exhausted my already spent carcass so with the small amount I had left I eased myself into the sling.
For the next two weeks, I healed under a never-changing sky and perfect weather. I drank most of a bottle of water a day, and what appetite I had was met with stale k-rations. The pain in my side receded to a dull ache and most of the rest of me felt much better in my little beach bubble. But I was restless.
I hadn't spent much time thinking about the walls of fog that enclosed me; pondering it most as I stood in the surf and washed, but it never felt time to investigate it properly. I spent more time trying to piece together in my head what had been happening to me. That and just enjoying not being shot at or beaten up.
I got dressed. The suit pants felt like they'd been tailored just for me but I didn't bother with the jacket. The temperature was so steady that I think I would have overheated.
With the water on my right, I marched toward the fog. I stopped within inches of it. I waved a hand into the wall; it felt momentarily cold but it was definitely fog of some kind and not solid. I stepped forward.
For a moment my skin felt taunt.
Almost in a flash, a world was drawn in front of me, color closely following, filling in the shapes. Layers of texture blurred into focus and I was standing on a section of beach very much like my own, minus the trees and plus a large rock in the middle of it. This scene was also encased in a box of fog.
I strolled the boxed area. There were no unique features except the rock. I walked through the wall that I'd emerged from, accompanied by the same tight feeling and assembly of the scene.
I went to the first-aid kit and retrieved a pencil; a scrap of paper from the bottom of the crate.
Making a careful square-by-square map, I walked the short coastline which was bookended by apparently unclimbable cliffs. There were few defining features to be found. I headed away from the water, into the newly discovered tree line. I stopped searching for the day when I found the body.
Clad in white polyester and gripping a tattered parachute backpack in its partially rotted hand, the body lay sprawled in the clearing. I patted the corpse down for a wallet or anything useful, disturbing the body as little as possible. I came up with nothing but a brochure for a beach resort. I pocketed the folded paper.
The next day I put a bottle of water in my pocket, along with a k-ration and my scrawled map. There was barely a lump in my pockets. I reached for another k-ration and water and pocketed those as well. Still no change. I put my hand in my pocket and felt around; I touched two bottles of water, two k-rations, my map and pencil. There seemed to be no limit as I transferred the contents of the crate to my pant pockets.
I went beyond the area of the polyester corpse and eventually found my way to a broken bridge. The gap was no more than four feet so I took a running jump to reach the opposite side. As I jumped the distance stretched in front of me. I twisted my body and extended my arms, my fingers grasping spasticaly for purchase. It was enough to grab the cliff edge from where I'd jumped.
It was obvious then that I'd need to repair the bridge if I wanted to proceed. I consulted my map. There were three cubes I had visited that contained three wooden planks that matched those from the bridge; and one of those cubes had a length of rope which I'd already dropped into my bottomless pockets.
Fixing the bridge was a simple matter. More simple than I would have imagined possible.
After crossing, dealing with some wild boars -- I threw a k-ration into the fog for the boars to chase -- and scaling a cliff face I reached a box that had steep edges all the way around, five feet in from the fog. In the middle of this flat area stood a plain white door. Next to the door stood a wizened man, hunched over a cane and staring at me.
"Ah, the traveler comes," he said. "I've been expecting you. My name is Walthencrop."
"Skip it," I said. "Is the door the way out?"
"Ah, you have many questions, I assume."
"Just one. Is that door the way out?"
"It is the door to enlightenment but first you must answer my riddles for the path to enlightenment is not without searching for answers and most of humanity serves a purpose which is not incongruous to living in a blind." Walthencrop continued, stumbling over some words, switching nouns and verbs that had no business being there.
I stepped forward and poked him in the jaw with a hard right. The downward angle knocked him toward the ground and off-balance. I kicked out the cane and gravity did the rest.
"Why did you strike me?"
"I've got no patience for riddles."
With a small twist of the knob, the white door swung open to reveal a bubbling wall of black oil. Whatever Walthencrop said next was rendered a murmur as I stepped across the threshold.