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CHAPTER THREE
Uncertain Encounter

Silently, she led him closer to the plaza. When he slowed, or seemed reluctant, she would pause and wait, smiling quietly, until he resumed their short journey. As they drew near, Carl saw tables placed under the portico which ran in front of the buildings, openly accessible to all in the courtyard. A number of people were gathered about them, partaking of a variety of foods spread along the tables.

He could identify a variety of fruits. There were tall, slender decanters, filled with clear liquids, some colorless as water; others held an amber tinted liquid, which he watched an Elder pouring into a goblet. This seemed to be of a thicker consistency. There were golden domes of what appeared to be bread; a thin patty-type creation apparently made of seeds of some sort; and individual sized cakes of many shapes and colors. As in all other activities he'd observed, there was an air of fellowship and festivity.

His companion was greeted with an unspoken, but fond, welcome, and he was accepted as casually as if he were a familiar visitor, greeted by smiles and nods of welcome. He was wondering if these people could speak. He'd heard them laugh, and had heard calls of some sort to one another, but not any actual exchange he could recognize as words. The woman who had brought him here had not uttered a single word so far.

Even as he wondered this, an Elder man approached him, nodding in silent greeting; then tapped himself on the chest in an identifying gesture, while uttering something that seemed to be his name. It sounded like "Ee-tah-nigh". Carl smiled and gestured respectfully toward the gentleman, repeating the sound as best he could, lifting the end inflection into a question. The man smiled and nodded happy approval. He then gestured toward Carl with an expectant look. He wants to know my name - Carl thought. He pointed to himself, and said - "Ka-ral". As he heard himself, he wondered why he had double-syllabled his name. It just seemed instinctive. A humorous picture of Tarzan greeting strangers flashed into his mind. He couldn't help but chuckle at the similarity of this present greeting exchange. The Elder chuckled also, as if sharing the humorous picture. Suddenly it dawned on Carl ! Of course ! They communicate telepathically ! Where was his sci-fi recall when he needed it ?! The Elder smiled, and extended a hand - "Ka-ral - welcome". Then he motioned in the direction of the tables, in a manner clearly suggesting 'Join us.'

Carl paused a moment, trying to associate the accent of the Elder with a known accent. But, he had not yet heard enough to make association. However, he was now beginning to realize that his stomach felt awfully empty. In fact, he was very hungry. He nodded to the Elder and moved toward the tables. As he did so, a murmuring began to pass through the courtyard. A dim twinge of uncertainty rippled through his hunger. The Elder motioned him on, and the woman who had led him there smiled reassuringly. He moved closer to the tables.

Suddenly, younger members of the group seemed to come from all areas, gathering toward him. All smiling those silent smiles, as if they had been watching his reaction, and his movement had triggered some unanimous response in them. He wasn't sure whether it was favorable or not. he was feeling uncomfortably crowded. Carl didn't like being pressed into anythng, whether it be by fact or phantom ! Now he heard only a jumble of words; a flood of rushing sound, spoken by a converging tide of the 'Unknown' ! Strange sounds, mingling into a confusion in which he couldn't understand any of it ! It was now an enclosing babble that began to suggest something ominous to him.

Some ancient form of panic began to tremble inside him. He couldn't understand why, but it was mounting. Carl had been required by his career as Journalist to adjust to many different environments, and had always done so. He was perplexed now,and was also bewildered by that very fact. One young man had taken hold of his arm, and was pointing toward the roadway. It was all becoming a blur. The young man just kept smiling, and pointing toward a gleaming vehicle sitting on the road. He kept repeating an unfamiliar word over and over, always smiling - smiling - smiling -

The panic broke through ! Carl's head began to spin ! The smiles - the strange words - the faces - collected into a great threatening wave, lunging toard him ! Converging confusions of the whole unreal day, like huge ocean waves, were bearing down on him - towering - about to break on him in full force ! His arms thrashed of themselves, pushing his way through the smiling faces ! His legs carried him wildly through the crowd of strangers ! His eyes did not see ! His mind could not comprehend ! Blind panic propelled him through archways and doors ! In and out of buildings ! Weaving past pillars and walls !

At last, it carried him into a small cubicle. He didn't know WHERE he was ! He didn't know WHO they were ! Instinct flattened him against the wall, trying to hide him from the throng. His breathing was gasping - heavy. The proverbial cornered animal - he huddled - outwardly stiff, inwardly quivering.

He noticed a movement outside the cubicle. His muscles grew even tauter; with effort, he focused and looked closer. The pool was out of sight ! Trees were sliding vertically in his view ! Now he saw only their tops. ! Now, nothing but sky and clouds ! The cubicle was moving ! Moving upward ! Carl's heart was pounding.

Gathering himself into action, pressing against the wall, he moved cautiously toward an arched window. HOW had he gotten in here ? Leapt the window ? He couldn't recall. He was in some sort of lift ! Recalling the tower structures he had seen when approaching, he looked down. Below, the plaza was as before. The people pursued their casual activities. They didn't seem to be searching for him at all.

With the automatic motions that often follow panic, he scanned the horizon. He knew somehow, that he was facing West, toward his cabin. Now, as he looked out across the hilly scene, a strange sight greeted him. Desert had disappeared. The land was now lush with new color, both pale and dark. It seemed as if an ocean of rolling green, silver, amber, and indigo stretched before him. Could it be only hours since he had walked across that stretch ? His watch told him so. Yet, now, no houses were to be seen. Where his cabin had been, there was only rolling color. The cabin was not there ! The world he had known, had disappeared ! The realization gripped him with a sense of the unretrievable. He was lost in a strange world, and didn't even know how it had happened.

Movement stopped. Hesitantly, he looked about him. A smooth wall on one side slid open, revealing a balcony, stretching before and around sides of the lift. The area was enclosed by a wall carved of openwork, which rose to about waist high. It appeared to be made of material similar to marble. This was obviously one of the observation areas he had thought might be at top of the tower structures. It offered a panoramic view in all directions. He turned to search the lift for a sign of controls. He could see no sign of knob or button. Just smooth walls, except for the now-open door, and the small window in one wall.

He moved onto the balcony, and found it furnished with a couple of the curved divans , a small fountain in the center, and a table, spread as abundantly as those in the plaza. He wondered if this were reserved for private meditations. There was ample view of the spacious courtyard below. He searched and listened. There were no signs of pursuit. The sun, now low in the West, cast a rich, roseate warmth over the scene. It looked anything but threatening.

Panic suddenly subsided and he longed only for rest. Tensions and uncertainties of the day had exhausted him. Even his fears deserted him. With a sigh of surrender, he lowered his weary body onto a divan. Too tired to think anymore, he relaxed and absorbed the view.

Faint tinges of mellowing light around the horizon, gave a mystical appearance to the lush foreground. Like a golden disc, the pool shimmered with rosy tincture of late afternoon sunlight. Casually, people shared unfolding sunset. Flutelike tones of the fountain fell soothingly on his nerves. Peace seemed to infold him in her mantle.

What had happened to him ? No doubt the people had only meant to be friendly. Exuberance of the younger members was only natural to youth. He must have appeared as something of a novelty in their world. They had tried to welcome him. That was all. He could see that now. Why had something in him panicked ? He could only guess that accumulation of extreme and unexplained changes, which he had faced alone, had become more than he could rationally handle. Some primitive instinct deep within him, had bolted in fear and mistrust.

All the tensions seemed to dissolve at once, leaving him relaxed and drowsy. He leaned back in the divan, letting the cool scented air, and soft, flutelike sounds, wash over him. He closed his eyes, adrift in calm.

He must have dozed for a short time. Floating up from soothing sleep, he sat up. It was close to the last hour of the long, uncertain day. There was now a deepening reddish glow on the horizon. Looking toward North, then South, he saw what appeared to be an approaching fog. It was moving rather rapidly from both directions toward the plaza. Crossing the balcony Carl scanned the East, and saw the same phenomena. Wind was not strong, and certainly wasn't blowing from all directions ! He supposed it might be different at lower elevation. Above him, the sky was a clear circle of deepening blue. A first,faint star appeared, barely perceptible.

He decided to pour himself a glass of the amber liquid. It had a clean,faintly sweet taste, cooling to the throat. He selected a seed-patty,one of the small cakes, and a large orange, and returned to the divan to watch the scene below. Seated on the edge,he could easily see down into the courtyard.

The food was tasty. By the time he'd finished the orange, and drained the goblet, he felt replenished and clear headed. Fog had drifted closer to the courtyard, and appeared deeper and thicker in the fading light. It was rolling across the plaza. The roadway was out of view, and even the stand of trees to Southwest was covered, except for very tips of the tallest. Above him, the sky was a vast blue circle, translucent with last traces of daylight.

The courtyard held only a few people seated quietly by the pool, apparently unconcerned with the aproaching fog. The same sapphire blue of the sky colored the pool. The fountaining water glistened a faint silver. Carl guessed that most people had gone into the buildings. He saw no sign of lights reflected on courtyard tile, but assumed the covering portico intercepted inside lights. It was strange to Carl how intensely he noticed every detail. It was even more than his customary reporter's eye. As he watched, fog began to give a haziness to the scene below. He had an increasing feeling of detachment.

It was odd to watch the fog move over the scene, when where he was there was no sign of it. As it slid in, it seemed as if an opaque curtain had closed. He thoughtfully considered the simile of curtains and scenes as they related to his present situation. How apropos it was ! Early that morning the long siege of fog had lifted, revealing a completely new scene - like another 'Act' in a Play. Now, the fog descended again on the scene. He wondered if tomorrow it would lift, and if it did, what it would reveal.

Carl felt suspended in Time. He still didn't know where he was. He was even beginning to wonder who he was. He fumbled for his wallet, and such records of Carl Jordan as it carried. He was familiar enough with them to count them off as he flipped through the wallet: social security card, press card, various credit cards, pictures of Julie and himself, and friends, all records of a life. He found some cash in the bill compartment, which caused him to smile. It certainly made no difference now. Tucked in the bill compartment, he also found a small, folded paper, slipped there, and forgotten till now.

Unfolding it,in the fading light, he could just make out lines of a poem Julie had once given him. It had been when she was trying to explain what was wrong with their marriage. It seemed ages ago. He wondered now if he would ever see her again. All that had been his familiar world, taken-for-granted, seemingly secure, was gone. Or - was he what was drifting away ? He read thoughtfully.

How to forget the things that did not happen;
the bud, that never escaped the itching bark;
the hope
that never rode down the moment's slope;
the frozen rivers that never tasted thaw;
the spacial lights that never unfurled their law ?

How to forget the country road that ran
peacefully parallel the highway's span ?
How to solace losses that cannot be;
the unmourned love that never sang; the leaf
that knew no Spring;
the unsown grain, that finds no sheaf -
no budding - no flower - no seeding -
no grim relief ?

How to heal wounds that were not wrought;
dormant dreams; unuttered thought;
stillborn grief ?

The words turned in his mind like a tight spring unwinding. There was a mist in his eyes, but a strange easing in his heart. Now he could see what she had been trying to tell him. He approached life as a 'spectator', not a 'participant'. That's what she meant when she said he made her feel "so outside" !

He could see that attitude encapsuled in today. His approach to the experience had been that of 'observer' only. That was partly why the youthful display had caused him to bolt. It was getting too close. Drawing him into it. Touching his detachment too eagerly. The old world had vanished, and he had refused the new.

He felt as if he were on a bridge veiled in fog. He had taken uncertain steps onto it, and was too far along to go back. He didn't even have a faint glimpse of the other end of it. Where it touched down, he had no idea. He would be forever suspended in uncertainty if he didn't move on. No - he didn't know what lay beyond on the other side. But he did know that only he could change speculation into experience. Only he could take the next steps for himself.

He resolved that tomorrow he would go forth into this 'unknown land', even if he had to call to those below for help, or slide down the side of the building. He would mingle. He had studied the people from the 'outside', examining them like specimens. He had made no real contact. He would correct that tomorrow.

There were so many things he could see clearly now. The fog of the past few weeks was as nothing when he realized that, for years, he had moved in an 'interior fog', which - because it was so subtle - and unknown for so long -had been much more threatening.

The order in his thoughts percolated through his being, spreading ease and resolution. He felt so refreshed that the need for sleep seemed unlikely, so he sat quietly, listening to the clear musical sound wafting from below, and watching the stars come out, one by one. He had a lot to think about.

High above, a thin streak of light etched its way across Infinity.



CHAPTER FOUR
The Dream