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It Began With a Light

Gretchen Lenth

"A Walk in the Park" Micah Dennis

    It began with a light. Or, at least, what I’d come to recognize as light by the burning in my eyes from staring too long. But my eyes were filled with more than a desire to blink. I could see a color. I think. 

    Orange is the color of the sun, of flames, so orange is what I think this must be. Orange and then something else, pockets of what must have been yellow twisting within and shooting out in sharp-looking peaks.

    Or perhaps the orange is the yellow and vice-versa. They are both the colors of light, and I never have been able to get them straight. I suppose there’d be no other way of knowing than to ask someone. But I could not sense anything else around me, save that lingering speck of orange-yellow. 

    In fact, I felt very little at all. The ground beneath me had been pulled away, or more accurately, it had yet to appear, and I could not tell whether I was standing or lying down. Though making this distinction hardly made a difference when suspended in mid-air. 

    It should be noted that where I was seemed hardly of the slightest concern to me, as I’d known right from the start that this had to be a dream. In no other space would I even be questioning whether the colors I’d been staring so intently at were orange and yellow or yellow and orange. Or, when a new, completely unfamiliar color faded into existence, would I ever have been able to ponder what this one must have been. 

Hand outstretched, I see if I can identify it. But it offered me not heat, nor wetness, nor any sensation at all with which to gauge its identity. I must have been too far away. 

    When I tried to walk closer toward its source I realized I was indeed lying down. As it is, walking while lying can be a bit tricky – as is standing yourself up off of nothing. 

    Fortunately, I soon felt a prickling tickle that ran from my ankles to the nape of my neck, indicating the tips of untamed grass. 

    So this is what green looks like.

    I’d say green is a good way to describe this color. 

    Grabbing a blade of grass, I twisted it between my fingers. I felt the familiar thinness coiling together, rubbing against my skin.

    Green feels like green looks. But it doesn’t feel awfully different from how it felt when it looked like nothing at all. 

    Standing myself up in a world that was taking shape with every blink of my dormant eyes, I noted the new hues that came to my attention. Of the presumably-brown of the hands gripping my knees for support, ones that vaguely matched the patches of presumably-dirt that spotted the slowly-growing field. I also noted the color that was probably blue on my knees, as I felt the roughness of denim. And I didn’t recall owning anything denim that wasn’t also blue. 

    And though they were not perfect matches, the blue of the denim seemed reminiscent of the color I’d tried to match with a word a little while before. A color that now hung above my head. I was not yet perfectly convinced that these colors were one and the same, but the sky is something above me, and the sky is normally blue. So that must have been the sky, the heat within it the very sun I’d used as a measure of color when this world first presented itself to me. 

    Of course, I was making quite the assumption in believing that this dream-land would follow the same coloring rules as reality. I had no reason to believe that it would be nice enough to give me green grass as opposed to, say, purple grass. But since this was in fact a fantasy, and my findings were of little consequence, I would like to think that I can come to whatever conclusions I please. 

    So now here stood, in what must have been a field somewhere in ‘Dreamland,’ surrounded by five-and-a-half different colors. And now more seriously confronted by the reality that this was, in fact, not reality at all. 

    Which raised a few questions, ones that were a little less related to what colors I’d been looking at. 

    One of which being the obvious, asking as to why this night of all nights was the night that my mind decided to show me a dream. 

    Though I imagined there were likely answers to this, no matter how hard my admittedly fuzzy mind searched, I was unable to even recall going to sleep to begin with. Least of all which day in particular had preceded this night. Anything that may have triggered a dream in the waking world would be lost to me until morning. If, in fact, I would be able to recall these events past the bleating of my alarm. 

The second question I asked myself was one of greater interest in this moment: How come I knew this was a dream? 

    It had been a simple conclusion, but from what I’ve known of them before, dreams typically did an exceptional job masquerading themselves as your reality, at least for their duration. 

    Yet I continued to exist consciously in what must have been a figment of my imagination.

    I only wondered how it was that my imagination also held knowledge of color. 

I stumbled forward with legs that felt increasingly less like my own the further I travelled. They were not my legs. Instead, they were denim-colored extensions only partially in my control. 
    Color existed as a sphere around my presence, a familiar haziness that surrounded all but my feet (bare despite the fact that I would never be so careless) and the path they’d yet to travel down. 

    Though I never stopped walking, I wondered just the same if this lit path was one created out of my own agency, or if the strings of this dream were the ones tugging me along. Regardless, I humored this path and whoever it was who told me to humor it.

    Having been absorbed by a shade of green that I was finally well-acquainted with, it was much to my horror when that hue transitioned into something new. The crisp greenness of before had been pleasant to the touch, ever so slightly wet with droplets of dew leaving my feet chilled, but not uncomfortably so. 

    But this new sensation spoke to me of decay, crinkling as I tread, falling apart and sticking to my soles. Just when I’d gotten used to walking without shoes.  

What had once been a comfortable jaunt through a well-tended field suddenly became a panic through rot, patches of dead grass gradually being replaced with larger and larger splotches of brown along with stout, greedy weeds (or, at least what I assumed to be weeds). The probably-weeds were painted a similar, albeit murkier color when compared to the grass, and also had a greater knack for pricking the soles of my feet.

    Finding this rather unpleasant for a dream that had been going quite well up until now, I willed myself to stop moving. 

    The sphere, however, did not stop, instead it pressed forward and confirmed an earlier suspicion of who exactly was in charge.

    As it left me behind, the spotlight shrunk, taking the sun and sky away from me. 

Fluttered blinks of darkness followed. Fear crawled into my heart, its beat soon becoming one with my blinks. I refused to allow this to become familiar once again.

    Breaking into a run, I started to follow the light with a rising desperation, though I could no longer see where it had gone. I could only hope it hadn’t vanished completely. Perhaps it had only travelled down a hill, and once I’d run up it myself, I’d see it waiting patiently in the valley. 

    I told myself this despite the fact that any grass with which to make a hill was now gone, not even a weed around to stab at my soles. 

    Worry grew to desperation, and I sprinted toward who knows where while I rubbed at my eyes. I rubbed them to numbness, but I continued see nothing through them, and they continued to lack a perceivable purpose.

    Balled fists and covered eyes does little good for someone trying to run. Even through darkness, it can be a detriment to your balance. I tripped over empty air, falling onto ground that wasn’t there. 

    As soon as I fell, I was standing again. 

    Standing in the light. 

    But there was no spotlight anymore. Instead, I felt the entire field for what it was. If you could still call it one. 

    The colors were all wrong. The grass wasn’t grass anymore because it wasn’t green. It wasn’t even close to green like the weeds were. Feeling them with hands that still trembled from the effort of running, it dryer and thinner than any other blade, surrounded by dirt that was nothing more than dust at my fingertips.

 Though far away, I saw things immediately recognizable as trees from how I’d had them described to me in the past; tall, with branches that shot into the sky, along with roots that dug into the earth. Only, their branches were empty as if it were the wintertime, but I could see no snow and feel no snow. Their roots were exposed, naked from within the thin soil. Soil the exact same color as the grass, the sky and the trees, though this wasn’t how I remembered brown or green or blue looking before. 

    This wasn’t the color I was looking for.

    I was angry this monotone world existed, that this was what appeared to me when I wished for light. I didn’t want light at all if all that it could shine on were the things I didn’t wish to see.  

    But once the light exploded, those things no longer meant anything to me. 

Cowering on reflex, I fell to my knees, my back caving in on itself and my hands covering my eyes. But even then, the light that managed to filter through the slits of my fingers burned right through my cornea, branding my retina with its million hues. 

I shut my eyes. But like linen curtains on a sunny day, they could only do so much to block out the visual noise. 

    The sun. 

    Taking a trembling moment to coordinate my limbs, I uncovered my face, arms hovering and ready to return to duty at a moment’s notice. 

    Much closer, and incoming still, that big ball of space gas looming directly overhead. Its hot pockets of curling flames getting ever nearer to touching the tips of my scalp with each explosive lick. 

    The earlier debacle over whether the sun was orange and yellow or yellow and orange seemed frivolous now that the star displayed every color at once, all in hues so vibrant I longed for blackness. 

    Longed for darkness, but my body could do nothing, and my eyes could do nothing but watch. Even as my cones and rods started to fuse together from the heat, my eyes eventually melting into their sockets. I thought I felt a sizzle, but any new type of pain was in-differential from the last. The ground pulled away from me again, the grass and trees and dirt with their similar shades unable to exist if I could not see them.    
    I wished to close my eyes for real. I wished this just as the tip of that bright, bright color reached out to me, just a glance away from coiling itself around my head and taking away my eyes completely. I opened myself up to this promise. 

    Then I opened my eyes.

    I opened them to morning darkness no different from any other darkness I knew. Knowing well that the heat — the light — was an orange-yellow. The orange-yellow of a lightbulb that hung from a ceiling lamp above me as my mother flipped it on with the flick of a switch. 

    But there was nothing, save the burning in my eyes from staring too long, to indicate to me that there was any color there at all. 

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