Patrick stood alone at the top of the sandstone cliffs looking out over the expanse of jewel green pacific ocean stretching away from him. If he were to draw a line from the point where he stood peering out from the New South Wales coastline, the line would span 7,000 miles across the pacific to Canela, Chile. The cliffs themselves were a testament to the millions of years of weathering that helped to shape it. Here and there, the exposed sandstone was eroded and hewn by the wind and salt air to make alien tunnels with tongues and ripples of rock that gave the impression a great wave had suddenly been turned to stone mid crash. All of this had given him respite of but a moment of enlightenment, like a buddhist koan or a word only remembered behind a shadowy veil of forgetfulness. Then the reality settled in as a massive wave tore away hungrily at the rocks and sands below him.
She isn't here. Claire is still in the house that used to be our home together.
He adjusted his sunglasses for several minutes while the inner darkness took form, sputtering and spewing as it tried to consume him from within. To share this upside-down-world with one person was his dream; and there is nothing more destructive to the human spirit than a dream which one knows can never come true. Finally, he gave up and turned from the scene to continue down the isolated trail he was following along the coast.
Patrick had convinced himself that he should take this trip as a chance to learn to be by himself again. It had been just over 3 months since his marriage to Claire had finally crumbled, and he had thought he was ready to move on. This would have been the perfect opportunity to rediscover what it meant to be alone; the inspiring vistas and grand sweep of nature were, he said to himself, perfect for emancipating him from the loneliness which robbed him of all his pleasures back in his real life.
But, as his friends had correctly warned, the distance only served to lengthen the shadows of his own isolation until they consumed everything he saw in muted greys. Instead of seeing Australia's vast colored beauty and all the unique flora and fauna which only exist there due to eons of tectonic isolation, Patrick saw the ever widening gap between himself and the only creature to which Australia would never play host. Even the inversion of seasons served to further illustrate that his separation from Claire could never be more complete than at this moment.
In front of him, the winding trail began to descend. Anticipating that it would continue to lower, as it had many times before, until the path widened into a beautiful and secluded beach, he began to run. The ocean was now his escape from the darkness. After a moment, he plunged into a small copse of alien trees that looked like giant ferns towering over his head, and then just as quickly he burst into the sun again as his shoes met the loose clean white sand of the 200 foot wide beach. Throwing his pack on the ground without care, he began to shed his his clothing as he bid the sun to come and burn away the darkness he so longed to be rid of. With one sock still on his foot he reached the water and continued on without his cares.
He stayed in the water treading like this for almost an hour. Alternately laughing and then crying as his thoughts escaped from him like compressed air. Finally, he returned to the sand and collapsed, exhausted, and the world merged with the crashing waves.
Patrick stood up slowly at first, as his eyes adjusted to the velvet dark as it swaddled him in the warmth of a summer evening. He peered out into the distance to find where the shore had retreated, but there was no shore, only more sand. Walking slowly at first into the wilderness of sand dunes where the Pacific once stood, he increased his pace as his mind grasped for the ocean like lungs starved for oxygen.
On and on he walked in the darkness. No stars hung above him except for a solemn moon hidden behind a thick veil of water vapor. Finally he came across a small stream and joined with it on the quest to find its terminus, all the while descending deeper into the crevice that formed the gap between the continents. Eventually, the stream shrank imperceptibly, and then it was a trickle-- and then it disappeared altogether.
Patrick continued walking along the same direction the stream had followed, looking for its rebirth...a spring or a pool where the water recollected before continuing its journey to the sea, but he found no sign of water again that night.
Finally, he came upon the ruins of an ancient city, covered in sand and dried seaweed. Inside the buildings he could hear the whispers of the dead inhabitants, going along their daily routines as though nothing were amiss. Occasionally, the mist obscuring the moon would thin enough for faint shadows to materialize for a few moments.
The city was as massive as it was dead, and Patrick did not belong there. Refusing, however, to turn back, he continued along as the ruins became fully formed buildings and the sand merged into cobbled streets of a lost civilization.
He continued on and on as the whispers grew louder and softer only to redouble their cacophony. Patrick's being was filled with dread--a sense of doom that chilled his bones. He shivered furiously as he trudged forward as quickly as he could.
Finally, the edge of the city.
It was if someone had drawn a line along the sand tangent to the road he was walking along; across this line no street and no building appeared, but to the north and the south the buildings stretched into the darkness with no apparent end. Pausing only briefly to observe this strange phenomenon, the cacophony of whispers turned into screams, and the moon burst fully from behind it's watery shroud. The shadows took form and Patrick was no longer invisible to the shades. They began to pursue him as he ran for the edge of the city.
Not daring to look behind, he didn't hesitate to leap off the edge of the road into a bed of smallish smooth pebbles. The whispers stopped instantly, the warmth returned, and the city slowly faded as the moon was once more overtaken by the mist. Patrick stood for some time as he tried to catch his breath. It was several moments until he saw the woman standing nearby, patiently.
She was beautiful.
"Where am I?" he asked her.
"There is no where," she answered.
"Am I dreaming?" he asked.
"You are not awake. You are not dreaming. You are not important. This is the dream. The dreaming."
"Will I ever see Claire again?"
"There is no 'ever'."
"What do you mean?"
"You are incapable of knowing because you do not belong here. You are in a where between wheres and a when between whens. I will guide you back to when and where."
"When and where what?"
"I will give you back to the world in which those words have meaning. There is another between the wheres and whens that you belong. I cannot take you, but you will find your way there soon enough on your own. You were pushed into this world by mistake."
The woman took his hand gently into her own. Patrick, with his guide, disappeared into the starless night. It was the only breeze that blew at the edge of the dark city.
The sun hung low in the sky and Patrick had a several miles of trail left before he would get to the site his German friend back at the hostel in Sydney had circled on his map.