THE OTHER SHORE
Sam looked back on the world he had come from. The light faded a little more each second. The forest grew thick and dark. A hollow day slowly died. Surprises did not come. Days were no different than nights. All places were the same. The world was tasteless and gray. He stood in the place where he held Sara’s limp body in the waves. The same place where he had prayed to God to bring her back. From that same place in the waves he turned and looked out into the sea.
The ocean is not a part of this world. It speaks in a language most cannot understand. But Sam could understand it that day. He could hear its solitary whispers. It beckoned him. It whispered impossible things to him. It spoke of horizons and shores beyond this world. It offered to kill his pain if he would only step into the waves and leave the world behind.
Sam made a boat and some simple oars. He pushed out into the waves. The gray water crushed his head like an icy helmet. He felt his insides start to freeze. But he continued to push the small boat out farther and farther until he climbed in and rowed out beyond the last breakers. White mist covered the shore as it disappeared behind him. He looked upon it and lowered his head. He looked back on it until it faded completely. Turning to face the sea, he rowed hard out into the nothing. A sea without end stretched out before him and yet it here it was splashing up against his small boat. The horizon divided this world and the next.
Days passed by. He drifted. Summers and winters shifted back and forth like the pendulum of a great clock.
Sam changed. He still carried the shape of a person but inside he became ageless, like the sea. The emptiness of the ocean had given him a sharp and clear mind. He felt the waves of a new storm before they arrived. He smelled islands and distant shores before they broke the horizon. He avoided all contact with his own species. Before he departed, his green eyes were green and full of sorrow. But these changed too. They turned golden and tinged with sparkling bits of blue. They were piercing and animal like. The sea broke him into his parts and he tossed aside anything that did not serve his drifting ocean life. He hunted birds and fish. He roasted under the iron hot sun. His human ways drifted slowly to the bottom of the ocean and sunk into the silt of old creatures and things. His face developed strong lines of age and muscle. And yet along this drifting course, he never forgot those whispers of the sea, those invisible promises of what lay beyond the horizon.
40,000 winters came and departed. The sky changed. Sam drifted.
It was a warm night for early spring. Without wind, the ocean lay flat and still. Sam laid on his back on his little boat and dreamed. He dreamt there were soldiers all around him fighting to their deaths on the sand. Swords cut the air and he tried to hide behind small rocks. No one had yet noticed him. One soldier, a general held up a sword and stood on the fallen men in triumph. He cried up to the sky and shook his sword in the air. Then he was cut down and fell into the sand with the other fighters. Sam scrambled across the sand and fled up a small mountain. No one would see him now.
As the sun lowered, the battle wore on with muffled cries and clashing swords below. The land began to darken and Sam noticed a distant city on the horizon. Fuzzy yellow lights glowed and wavered in the desert heat. Horses passed below the mountain on a road that stretched toward the lights. It was getting very dark now. The horses were towing something behind them. Sam strained his eyes to see what it was. Then it was clear. They were dragging his small boat through the sand. They ran strong and hard across the desert. Soon they were gone. The yellow city shimmered in the distance.
Sam awoke at dawn. Thick white fog laid like a blanket across the gentle sea. The boat was passing between great black islands that stretched into the sky out of the ocean. It was strange he had not sensed these islands approaching. They seemed to have just risen out of the sea. There were no signs of life. No birds or plants in the black rocks. A shroud of gray clouds blocked out the sun. The fog continued as the morning drifted between islands. Strange green trees glowed under the water. They swayed and pulsed beneath his boat, aware of his presence. The trees began to light up in succession. They flashed in a pulsing green line leading toward one of the islands. It was a dark mountain rock, like the others, but rounder and less steep. The boat shook a little. The trees had grabbed his boat with long seaweed fingers and passed it along toward the island. Sam looked back and forth at the sky, at the boat, at the trees below. Fear and excitement flashed inside of him. Slowly the boat was guided into a watery cave and finally stopped. The walls were smoother than any rock and metallic black. Sam dragged his finger across the wall. The rock was vibrating very slightly.
"Do not be afraid." A voice sounded in the empty cave. Sam spun around but there was no one in he cave with him. The voice was neither a man's nor woman's. It sounded ground up, like shredded rocks.
"I am number 17 and you are in separation. There was an entanglement 1,600 years ago and very few animals survived. This is a simulated environment designed to keep you safe from physical danger. Will you step ashore to avoid physical danger?"
"I am not afraid of physical danger."
"We can offer you unlimited life in separation. We can dispose of your body and process you out of this frame. We can show you the yellow city from your dream Sam."
Sam sat down on his boat. His eyes fell on the strange shore of the cave. A picture of Sara's face came back into his mind. The rock in the wall began to morph into her face.
"I can see you Sam. I could touch you again." The voice now came from the face in the cave wall. Sara stepped out of the rock. She wore a simple white dress, like the one she wore on their wedding day. She held out her hand to Sam.
"Step onto the shore Sam. Let me show you the future, the peace that is possible. Leave your body behind. Leave this ruined world. In all your drifting, these thousands of years on the sea, did you not hate the world of humans? Did you not look upon their sick carnival with scorn and sorrow? Did that world ever give you anything but decay and loss? Leave your boat behind. Let us show you the other shore."
Sam looked into her shimmering brown eyes. A tear dripped down his cheek. He placed his hand on the smooth shore and felt its faint mechanical hum. Then he took hold of his oar and pushed it into the rock. The boat began to glide away from the shore. Sam smiled at Sara. He still looked into her eyes. He was calm when he spoke.
"There is no other shore."
A smile, faint and simple, drifted across his lips. Then he disappeared.