The Certainty of Surrender: Hope & Rescue

by Scott Campbell

I'm standing on a jagged rock face, auburn and sun baked, staring down at the alien-looking vegetation that stretches in a panorama of unfamiliar colors as far as the eye can see. I can make out a spiny, blackish blue tree lying far, far beneath me off in the distance. The sun hangs like a giant disc in a foreign purple sky. It almost reminds me of a shade that might be dawn, or twilight, except the heat is beyond unbearable and that shimmering disc is directly overhead. A milky colored lizard, with giant shining chocolate colored eyes, looks at me with disdain for a few moments from its perch on a nearby boulder as if to ask, "Why are you here?" I know my expression to be desperate, my lips cracked and throat parched; I want to ask it that very question. Why am I here? For that matter, where is "here", anyway? I stare at it with pleading eyes. I reach up and wipe at a small trace of dark, red-black blood that has run from my nose to my upper lip. The lizard twitches once, disinterested and bored with the whole affair, and without a backward glance scurries off into the distance. Sadly, I watch it disappear in the shadow of something that looks like a cactus, and yet resembles what you might just find growing and glowing on the deepest ocean floor.

I feel as if I am dying. There is no comfort here. I feel like I haven't had anything to eat or drink in days and days, and my insides are very literally folding in on themselves. Begging. I am being cooked alive. There is a howl in the distance, though it sounds like nothing I've ever heard before. A menacing dark cloud moves in front of the sun, though it seems to provide absolutely no shade or comfort from the heat, and I know in my heart that even though it's the right color -- or, what would be the right color in any other place -- this cloud does not come to bring rain. There will be no respite at all. Breathing is becoming more and more difficult, and as I struggle for another breath and try to fight down the anxiety rising like a flash-flood in the pit of my stomach, I look longingly toward the insane cactus, hoping for a glimpse of the strange creature that fled there so nonchalantly just moments ago. It's the shape of a cactus, but it looks like a sea-anemone. I guess I'm hoping to sight some sign that anything at all can indeed sustain life in this place. But, alas... it is gone.

Suddenly, there is a brisk breeze that whips up small clouds of sand and debris far in the distance. The shirt-tail plastered to my waist by sweat actually flutters, and I feel a surge of something almost resembling hope inside of me. Simultaneous to the feeling of relief uncoiling deep in my belly, it feels like a million tiny daggers are being thrust into every inch of my exposed skin, white hot, though it's apparent no physical objects ride upon this breeze. I stagger, and struggle to remain upright. I feel delirium tickling the edges of my consciousness, like a whispering laughter, and as the wind continues to whip past and increases in intensity... so does the pain. I'm struck by how profoundly I'm affected by the sudden, irrelevant and ironic knowledge that the word "anemone" actually originates from "daughter of the wind". I can't tear my gaze from the cactus. Finally, the breeze subsides and I'm able to take a few shaky steps forward, closer to the cliff's edge. I look behind me, I look from side to side, I look at my cracked and bleeding bare feet, exasperated and pleading and utterly defeated. There is nothing. No reassurance, no real geographical features, but a reddish-brown landscape dominated by shallow ravines and hostile, prickly, brightly-colored plants who seem to announce: "welcome to your new home. you have no business here."

...Am I in hell?

Just as abruptly as the wind of needles started and stopped once more, I am confronted by what I now know I must do. I feel tears stinging my eyes as I take another step forward, to the very outermost lip of rock, and look down. The vertigo is instantaneous and intense. The scene beneath me is no less frightening, but far enough; down, down, down. Far enough down to bring a small measure of comfort that it is enough to accomplish my task, that it will all be over soon. Should I jump? There really is no other alternative... is there? The shade of rock so many hundreds of feet beneath me, however, is a different hue entirely than the cruel plain stretching out behind me and on either side. It's a ghastly bluish-gray: the very color of death. My calves suddenly twitch as adrenaline fills my system; there is a sweat beading on my forehead now that has nothing to do with the excruciating temperature. I take one last glance over my shoulder, a childish gesture of "I-want-to-be-sure", and just as I am flexing my muscles to summon the courage to meet my fate, the stone beneath my feet crumbles and shifts, shifts to dust, and I am flung backward with all the grace of someone who's had a carpet yanked violently from beneath his feet. There is a sickening sound of bone against rock, the back of my skull caving with a wretched "crack" in protest of the impact. My vision brightens to singular white momentarily, then dims all at once to black; I'm fighting to establish either consciousness or lack thereof.

I am falling.

I am falling. This much I know. Strangely enough, after the initial contact of my head with the cliff's edge, my body is not tumbling repeatedly against any rocky surface, but simply twisting through the air. I have a glimpse of what I think is the cloud moving out from in front of the sun, which is no longer its former oppressive crimson-orange, but bluish white against the same purple canvas of sky. It looks... it looks like the moon. I'm vaguely unsure whether or not this is simply a product of a sudden head injury. If it is indeed the sun... it's no longer scorching me. And with the certainty of surrender, I'm no longer afraid.

Endlessly I fall, forever it seems: my vision is playing tricks on me; do I even have my sense of sight anymore at all? I think that I do, as end over end I turn, and the grayish ground takes turns with that purple of the sky filling my field of vision. When I'm briefly facing the sky, I am almost certain I see a small meteorite streak across the heavens, like a car's headlight in the late evening caught from the corner of your eye. Fleeting. And I'm one hundred percent aware, with perfect clarity, of exactly where I'm going. Even though I have absolutely no idea where I'm going. Such a contradiction as this is simply too much for my frail mind to handle. But I know that it's going to be okay.

After a minute, a week, a thousand years... I see the ground rushing up to meet me. Now a stranger to fear, instinctively I brace myself for impact.

I crash feet first into the ground. Suddenly I'm being thrust downwards with immense pressure. I don't know what the fuck is going on. It feels like the weight of a car on my shoulders, and though I'm no longer falling, I'm being pulled downwards. It feels familiar. Disturbingly so. It takes me several long, long moments to realize that I didn't just "cease to be" when I hit the ground. It didn't all just end. How could it not just end? At the same time, though, there is no more pain. There's a flickering light from above me, a thousand little pinpoints of light, blurry and wavering. Thrust deeper, and deeper, the descent is warm and comforting. The pressure around my shoulders increases and constricts my chest, and finally I place the sensation: I am underwater. I can't breathe... but before the fingers of panic can even begin to cinch closed in my stomach, I'm moving back towards the surface, no longer pulled down, but rising rather quickly. I break the surface and inhale; air explodes into my lungs and verifies that I do still possess biological functions. As I feel the oxygen flood into my bloodstream, I expect this current reality to simply fade away like some sort of hallucination, but it doesn't. The sky has darkened, but it's still purple; the glimmering dust of a billion stars and more hangs like a blanket over the canopy of impending darkness. From the corner of my eye, I see the moon, gently reflecting the sun's light.

...could that possibly be the same light, bouncing serenely from the moon, from which I had only just now unintentionally escaped? A shiver runs up my spine. From somewhere deep down, deeper than my bones, I know that it can't possibly be. But that it most certainly is. What a fantastic matter of perspective. Everything around me is unsettlingly clear, vibrant, and sharp. Vivid, like a very small boy holding a door open for someone's grandmother at the grocer, or vivid like a very first kiss.

The sound of a foghorn jolts my attention from the sky. There is a small ship sending gentle ripples outward on the horizon, its dull silver hull a contrast against the inky black water. It sends puffs of white steam cascading into the air, and I can see men frantically shouting back and forth to one another, running about the deck, and pointing into the sea in my direction, obviously alarmed.

The mournful horn sounds again.

It's sailing my way.

A gull cries and flaps overhead. As the ship gets closer, I realize that the whole time, I had been treading water without even realizing it. Soon it's no longer in the distance, and where there had been many crew members scuttling about, now there is only one, a small, wiry, wizened old man. As he reaches down over the edge and pulls me up onto the deck with a strength that belies his tiny frame, I can't help but think of names such as Merlin or Gandalf. He smiles, his gnarled hand gripping mine with a ferocity and intensity that is very much in opposition to the gentleness in his expression and the fractured moss-green eyes, framed by a shock of gray and white hair.

"Where am I?" I ask, and his smile simply broadens. Dramatically, he sweeps his hand towards the sky, towards the stars, his other still holding mine tightly, and I realize that I am not wet. My clothes are dry, crisp, and clean. Unconsciously, I'm running my hand through my hair, which is also dry and clean, and there is no wound on the back of my head. I smell something wonderful coming from the cabin, a heady aroma of roasting spices and meat, mixing with a lingering scent of vegetables grilling and freshly buttered pastries. I am aware that even though the air smells delectable, I feel no hunger, and a warm contentedness has spread subtly through my core. The parched sensation is gone from my throat and mouth.

He cackles madly, but there is a knowingness in his eyes rather than any madness, and suddenly he turns away and walks toward the cracked door leading inside the cabin, releasing my hand and gesturing again to the stars dusting the horizon. I follow him slowly, looking out over the railing and into the vastness of the sea. Scanning every direction, up and down and side to side, there are no signs of any rocks, cliffs, or plants that look like sea creatures. Just an expanse of blue-green, appearing black in the darkness and the distance, rolling and swaying quietly, topped by little bits of an off-white froth sloshed about by the salty wind. "Where am I?" I ask again.

"My friend, you are in a place where things are not always what they seem, and magnificence is never further than the blink of an eye you only thought could see," he replies quite grandly, and there is amusement in his voice as he pushes the door open and holds it for me, and as I walk inside I am bombarded by the sights and smells of a feast: acorn squash halves brushed and baked with butter and brown sugar; plates of shrimp and crab cooked in various oils and spices; cuts of beef obviously marinaded in extremely fragrant sauces, barbecued and sliced paper-thin; all other manner and variety of every kind of food imaginable. It is laid out like something you might expect to see in a grand ballroom, not a modest ship, what with candles and champagne flutes, linen and silver. The old man approaches the table and turns back to me, obviously pleased with my vacant expression of wonder. His green eyes twinkle in the low illumination, the color of moss lying on Bermuda grass, or perhaps the rind of a watermelon -- lighter and darker hues that dance among the candlelight. He smoothes his white beard as he bows slightly, and he says:

"Sit, stay with me a while, eat and drink and make no haste... for yours is a story of hope and rescue." He pauses to allow these words to hang in the air for a long moment, and continues, "Your journey will remain long and arduous at times, as it has been, but your stay here will be short. Your only duty now is to be joyous, and always to give thanks."

I open my mouth to respond, stammer a moment, and step up to one of the upholstered chairs. There is a knot in my throat, and the uncertainty of the situation is a little unsettling. "Thank you, sir," I say instinctively, and the wizardly old man shakes his head almost sadly, looking at me like you might look at a lost child, or a small dog who knows no better than to run into traffic. He walks a few steps to the side of the large round table, hanging his head and mumbling something to himself as he strokes his beard.

"Do not thank me, young man," he says, and with a single graceful motion he flings open a white curtain covering a long window, and the beauty of the night sky joins us in the cabin. I see a number of twinkling lights off in the distance above the horizon, which I conclude must be houses and buildings on a distant shoreline. A single light shines brighter than the rest, beckoning, some kind of lighthouse or beacon. He continues, quite simply, "Thank him." And seeing my slightly flustered and confused look, and after a brief silence, he adds, "The one who spun these very stars into the sky, who hangs the moon nightly like a lantern, and whose arms encircle space. I did not bring you here, young man. Come, now, and let's eat." I gaze at the old man, who picks up a chicken leg and starts gnawing on it hungrily. I reach over to a plate of stuffed giant mushrooms as I take my seat, still bewildered. He eats noisily, all but ignoring me, until he picks up a champagne glass and turns to me abruptly, and proclaims, with a mouth full of food, "To the forces of nature, and to the universe... certainly unfolding as it should."

A little awkwardly, I pick up a glass in front of me, clink it against his, and raise an eyebrow as he tilts his head back and cackles again with unrestrained glee. "Who are you?" I ask, mystified and yet unperturbed by the mounting feeling of tumbling down the rabbit hole. The cliff's edge seems like an eternity ago, although I can't possibly have been aboard this vessel for more than five or seven minutes. Or have I been here for a lifetime? Time seems to have no shape, no linear meaning in this place. Under the scrutiny of the old man's gaze, who is simply staring at me in response to the question, I am finally aware that I have either died or been dreaming, but the lucid and detailed qualities of my surroundings are almost more than I can bear, or begin to comprehend.

"I'm only a friend, young man." He takes another giant bite from the oversized drumstick, grease glistening from the corners of his mouth as he chews, and I'm amazed that his flawless white robe has remained altogether spotless. He considers what he's just said for a moment before he goes on. "I'm here to tell you, quite simply, that you will endure a pain beyond your reckoning. However... your reward is greater than most, if only you're strong enough to step up and claim what should be yours." As he says these last words, he turns and gestures out the window toward the stars, crescent moon, and elegant lights dotting the horizon, which I notice are now much closer. He watches me, my expression contemplative, and slides a plate of all sorts of grilled kabobs, sweet red onions, and other roasted delicacies toward me. "Come now, you've hardly eaten anything."

Picking at the roasted asparagus and the filet in front of me for a brief moment, I open my mouth to speak, but I draw a blank. He hushes me with the wave of a hand, raises his champagne again, and drinks deeply once more before standing, his robe rippling behind him. He sighs, moves around the table, and places a hand on my shoulder. There is a moving sadness in his soulful eyes.

"Son, your time has come. But until you begin to realize that all you must do is believe that... there's nothing that I, or anyone else can do." He removes his hand from my shoulder, turns toward the door, and pauses once with a glance over his shoulder. His expression conveys his remorse for having to speak these next words:

"How many times will you stand upon that cliff's edge? That is up to you. At a high speed, water is harder than concrete. How many times will you crash into the same ocean, my friend? You may not always be so fortunate... so with that said, my friend, you must always give thanks. And never, ever lose faith."

And with that, he turns around and steps out the door, and clicks it shut behind him.

Suddenly I'm soaked with cold sweat and sitting upright in my bed at the DCCC, or Dickens County Correctional Center, a private detention company in the little prison town of Spur, Texas, an hour outside of Lubbock. It contracts with various county jails around the state (including Fort Bend, the one that I'm currently incarcerated at) and even with the U.S. Marshals to house offenders facing federal charges. I take a deep breath and look up and down the long, narrow dorm... maybe fifty or sixty feet long by about fifteen wide, long enough for twelve sets of bunkbeds along one wall, two long cafeteria style tables spanning the length of the opposite one. There are two phones along that wall opposite the bunks, with a small television in one corner. Past the television, there is a wall or partition of sorts that comes about chest high, with three toilets and two showers behind it. In this particular facility, they are kind enough to actually furnish thick plastic shower curtains, unlike other places I've been transferred back and forth to over the past year, which either have them fashioned out of trash bags by the inmates, or simply have none at all. I can't seem to catch my breath. I'm extremely shaken by the detail of the dream that clings to me. I look up and notice that a few people are lining up at the bars by the door leading outside, and the guard is checking IDs and scratching names off a pad -- they must have called for the Rec Yard while I was asleep. I throw my legs out the side of my bunk, slip on my white shower-shoes, and grab my shirt. I join the others and step outside, tucking in my shirt so I don't get sent back. The sight of pencil-gray chain-link and shiny razor-wire greets me as I move into the evening heat. I've been sleeping all day, and the sun has already set.

The sky is a foreign shade of purple.

As I snicker and talk shit good-naturedly with one of my cellmates, a young black kid named Fox who shares my love for reading, we walk into the yard's enclosure and I notice people from the other dorms who are already out here focusing on something on the ground. They seem to be chasing something. I jog over to see what the commotion is about.

"What the hell is that, man?!" one of them yells.

"My uncle says those things spit blood from their eyes, fool!" comes the excited reply.

In a flurry of motion, I see they are chasing after a small horny toad, a milky-colored lizard with brown and sand-colored ridges up and down his back. He darts to and fro, weaving in and out between dandelions and overgrown weeds barely sustained by the red, clay-rich soil. A chill runs up and down my spine; the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stands on end. As they close in, it looks my way serenely. Blinks once. Then it bolts to safety in a patch of grass just beyond the fence.

It has chocolate colored eyes.

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