Categories > Original > Fantasy > Tradewinds 06 - "Falling"


by shadesmaclean 0 reviews

Sensory Deprivation

Category: Fantasy - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Fantasy,Horror,Sci-fi - Published: 2008-12-01 - Updated: 2008-12-02 - 1996 words - Complete

Shades sat slouched in a very cushy chair, slumped down to keep a low profile for those who passed behind him. Someone else, a pleasant couple who, like many he encountered, were blissfully oblivious to the hidden horror that surrounded them, had beaten him to the two chairs against the wall.

In his hand he held a copy of a book about haunted places and disappearances that he hoped might be of some use to him. Nothing so far; all the people in these accounts had either inexplicably escaped their predicaments, or had vanished without a trace. Either way, not very encouraging. He had already read a few chapters of this volume, and still no help, so he had decided to switch and read one of the comics, the manga (he was fast picking up on the terminology, and finding it increasingly fascinating the deeper he dug), English versions of what most of the shows he had watched the other day were based on.

The place he was currently hiding called itself Bookworm’s Paradise, a place that he felt would be ahead of its time in his world. The very concept was entirely new to him, and after a mere six hours he had already fallen in love with it. He could sit in a very comfy chair for hours at a time, reading any of thousands of books, with no obligation to buy. No Are you gonna buy that? or This isn’t a library!— in this place, the books sold themselves.

Or, in Shades’ case, served as a poor man’s library.

The only thing he didn’t like about this place was how the aromas from the store’s own café made him hungry. It made him wish he still had some gum left. In his experience, nothing went better with a good book than bubblegum. Gum had a way of taking the edge off. Off his bewilderment, frustration and free-falling anxiety.

In short, off the fact that hundreds of people seemed to walk in and out of this place somehow, and yet he couldn’t find a way out.

There had to be one. He still refused to believe it— after all, there was a way in. Already he knew he would have no peace until he found John and Amy. John, who had gone the same way as his favorite cliff. And Amy, to whom that place was also special. Yet he marveled at how seldom the two of them ever crossed paths there…

…Shades sprawled in the warm spring earth between the roots of the ruins of what was once a great tree. Blackened and charred at the top, this odd landmark stood in the middle of a broad clearing near his favorite clifftop lookout spot. What was left still towered over twenty feet above him, a trunk split by more than one lightning strike over the years, for it was the tallest object for miles around.

From this lofty vantage point, one could see the entire northern half of Flathead Lake, all the way across to Big Fork. From a little farther along the cliff, he could see most of downtown Lakeside, including the school playground. When he was younger, he used to come up here with Dad’s old binoculars and pretend he was a spy, scoping out enemy territory. In addition to reading, he also came up here sometimes to train, or just to wander around and think.

In that narrow band of shade, his legs crossed in the grass and dirt, reading a copy of
The Two Towers, which Arthur had lent him. There were some books he found that he enjoyed most reading in fresh air and sunlight. Good book, check. Gum, check. Shades, check. Headphones playing loud music, check. Bottle of pop, check. Solitude in the middle of nowhere, check.

Ultimate Sensory Deprivation; nothing else existed except the world contained in those pages.

So deprived was he of his earthly senses in this state, that it was only after a deeper shadow fell across his lap that he realized his solitude was not as complete as it was a minute ago. When he got really lost in what he was reading, he tended to blow big bubbles that he noticed only when they started to cut into his reading vision, and so startled was he by this unexpected presence that he gasped. Causing the bubble to blow up in his face— something he had ordinarily long-since mastered
not doing. With no other options, he yanked off both specs and headphones, trying not to show how embarrassed he felt at being caught unawares like this.

“Dexter? Is that you?”

And then things got a whole lot more embarrassing, as he turned and saw that it was none other than Amy O’Connor who hovered over him. Shades set aside his glasses, the gum stretching and most of it peeling off, and his headphones, nearly tangling his hands in the cord as he fumbled for the
STOP button, completely losing his page in the process. There was the traditional awkward moment of silence, then Amy started giggling in spite of herself.

Not-So-Ultimate Sensory
Reintegration, more like burning up on re-entry and crash-landing.

“Um… yeah…” Shades finally managed.

“Who’s the spaz?” a second voice piped up.

As a second shadow crossed him, he saw that she had a little boy in tow, and the grin on his face was a joke whose punchline escaped Shades, but suggested that the joke would be on him soon enough.

Into the vacuum left by the absence of Shades’ response, Amy spoke on his behalf, saying, “That’s Dexter MacLean. He’s in my Geometry class.”

“Shades, please.” At last regaining his speech faculties, he quickly added, “That’s what all my friends call me.”

“Oh yeah.” Though this wasn’t the only time in the years since he changed his name that she called him by his original name— not that he really minded, in her case. “So, what were you doing up here?”

“Well, I was reading.”

And then, just as Shades was starting to regain his balance, the little kid chimed in:
“Amy and Dexter, sittin’ in a tree, k-i-s-s-i-n-g…”

“Roy!” Amy snapped, pushing the boy back. “Don’t mind him. He’s just my little brother, and he seems to think every guy we meet is my boyfriend.”

To which Roy replied, “That guy you met yesterday was cooler than this geek.”


It would only be a couple years later, while sitting in a bookstore in another dimension, that he would realize just how embarrassed
she must have been, as well. Not to mention having that little kid following her around making fun of every guy she meets. For now, though, all he could think of was how this was one of the rare times he had gotten to talk to Amy outside of school, and the little brother from hell was ruining every minute of it.

Changing the subject any way he could think of, he asked her, “Do you happen to know what time it is? I kinda forgot my watch.” After all, in the spirit of the event, he didn’t bring his watch on his “Sensory Deprivation” sessions.

“Oh, it’s about…” she checked her watch, “three-thirty…” And an odd look seemed to cross her face, as if he had somehow confused her.

And then Roy jumped back in, more obnoxious-sounding than ever:
“Amy and Dexter, sittin’ in a tree, f-u-c-k—”


“You watch your mouth!”

“But Uncle Don…”

“Just do as he
says, not as he does.” To Shades, and Shades wasn’t sure she couldn’t possibly look any more embarrassed if she tried: “I’m really sorry, Shades. I love him dearly, but the things he picks up… So… Shades, what were you up to?”

“Amy’s got a boyfriend…” Roy sing-songed.

“Just a little reading…” Even as he spoke, Shades watched a couple good “sensory deprivation” quips go flying out the window. Charm was never his strong suit, but right now he would settle for just being able to make his tongue move coherently. “It’s a great view, isn’t it?”

“Amy’s got a boyfriend…”

Never in his life, even after all Master Al had taught him about the dangers of judging an opponent’s strength by appearance alone, would Shades have dreamed he could be beaten so easily by someone only half his age.

“Yeah…” Amy seemed to have taken Shades’ cue and turned her gaze on yonder lake. “Anyway, I was just showing Roy where me and my friends’ old tree fort is. See ya at school tomorrow!”

Shades’ “Um, yeah… You too.” was mostly drowned out by Roy crooning, “You gonna kiss him goodbye, Amy?”

To which she may well have turned even redder than Shades. Then another slow-time silence, in which Shades wished she would while trying to look like he thought no such thing. A breeze picked up, sweeping Amy’s hair aside as she turned to her little brother.

“Come on, Roy. We’ve got to be home by dinner, or Dad’s gonna ground
me. Sorry about that, Shades. Guess I’ll see you around…”

…Shades had sat there letting the very sands of time slip through his fingers as those two walked away. As embarrassed as he had been at the time, he had come to treasure that moment in his own peculiar way. So what if he lost his page? So what if he had to clean gum off his shades? So what if he made an ass of himself in front of Amy? So what if her pint-size bodyguard had just shown him some simple-yet-devastating Kung-Fu that bastard Carlos would never be able to touch?

He got to talk to her, dammit, and on the few occasions when that happened, he always feared it might somehow be the last time.

And now he feared that all-too-brief conversation in another mall, in another world— in what was already beginning to feel like another life— actually would be the last if he couldn’t find a way out of here.

Beyond these walls was a strange new world, just waiting for him. Though the possibilities fascinated him, at times, he still found it overwhelming. It was all so daunting, yet he had no choice. And, just as this place had proven bigger on this inside than it had on the outside, it had proven more dangerous than that little voice in the back of his mind could possibly have conveyed.

Though he had to make an effort not to kick himself for not figuring it out. This place was too much like a twisted version of those old tales of sirens and lotus-eaters for comfort. A commercial pitcher-plant, luring unsuspecting travelers with its glossy surface. Which was really just a slippery slope, sliding down into the nightmare that lies beneath that surface. Its exact nature still eluded him, but he sensed something behind the façade that made him more afraid of being here too long the more he thought about it.

So he mostly tried not to think about it.

As soon as his hunger reached the point where he could no longer focus on what he was reading, he would ration out a little more of his dwindling currency on something cheap to eat. In a few hours it would be time to sneak back into a certain furniture store and hide under a bed. After that incident with the little boy, he had made a mental note to pick beds with frills running around the bottom from now on.

Not to mention sleeping on his stomach; it wasn’t as comfortable, but he couldn’t help thinking of how he had avoided breaking his nose by only an inch or so when he woke up from that nightmare the other day.
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