Sound rushed over me and consumed me. Specifically, the sound of waves. I woke up on a beach with warm water being pulled in and out underneath me. The waves were only a couple of inches tall, and they crashed into the side of my body with a pleasant sensation. Through a groggy fog, I became aware of a thought that wondered how I hadn’t drowned.
I slowly stood up and brushed some sand off of my pants and shirt, though removing it all would have beeen entirely Sisyphean. In one of my pants pockets, I found a collection of heavy rocks. It was night, but thanks to the almost-full moon that peaked through the clouds above, I was able to see a fair amount of my surroundings. The water, and I don’t know if I’ll ever know if it was a lake or a sea or an ocean, stretched out in front of me until infinity, culminating into a black line on the horizon that my mind imagined. To my left and right sides, the shoreline went on for what looked like miles. It, too, stretched beyond the limits of my current perception. Since nothing of note besides vastness took place in front or on the sides of me, I turned around to see what happened to be behind.
The moment I spun around, light and airy circus music began to play, which seemed all too convenient as a brightly-lit carousel suddenly illuminated itself atop a hill nearby. It spun and spun with no riders, all light and magic with only a highly-confused audience. I merely observed it until it and the music stopped. As soon as it stopped moving, its lights blinked out of existence and it returned to the inky night from which it came. I could no longer see it or the hill it sat on.
Playful mechanical sounds started emanating close to where I saw the carousel, and suddenly, another lit hill exploded into my perception. It was filled with dozens of mechanical animals and creatures who made music together. Small red-eyed monkeys played cymbals, bears beat their drum sets, a horse in a ranger hat played a guitar, and a feminine unicorn plucked a golden harp. Together, their sounds created an excited and playful symphony of child-like emotion and sensation. It seemed I was being presented with a show, albeit a strange and slightly sinister one.
The animals had their fill and disappeared once they stopped playing, much like the carousel. I stood waiting for another hill to present itself with a new musical and mechanical wonder, but one never came. Further up, the beach eventually turned into a grassy meadow, and so I wandered in that direction on a small stone path lit by the moonlight. As I walked, I heard sorrowful horns play in the distance with low and long notes that hung in the humid air like dreadful shadows.
The meadow was large and I could just make out the edge of a forest that seemed to surround me. From within the trees, someone spoke to me in a terse, echoey voice that seemed to be warning me of something. The words were there, but they were spliced up into incomprehensible pieces that I couldn’t understand. Not so much a different language, but more of a recorded voice that was chopped to bits and reassembled into something darker and foreboding.
Oddly, I felt no fear, only a faint curiosity. I didn’t seem to be in any immediate danger, but my current circumstances were certainly beyond eerie. I still had no idea how I came to be where I was. My mind moved from darting thought to fleeting feeling as I continued my slow saunter up the stone path. The moon, much like the hills from before, instantly disappeared and left me in the dark, despite the fact that it was nowhere near the horizon when I last saw it. It was as if someone flicked a switch and turned off the moon. This seemed to be the most reasonable theory as then, in the next moment, close to where the moon had last been, a hazy sun appeared in what was now a bright blue sky. My eyes had issues adjusting to the change in light, and so I stopped walking and closed my eyes until I felt they had reacquainted themselves to the staggering brightness.
I was correct about there being a forest nearby. It stood in front of me and to my sides. It formed a wide and curved entrance into its depths, which seemed welcoming in the sunlight. I could still hear the sound of the waves washing up along the shore behind me. The forest, while mostly green and verdant, also had intricate crystal trees that swayed in the slight breeze, much like their traditional counterparts. These trees were all sorts of soft colors. Light yellows and blues mixed with light pinks and purples throughout every tree, and they crunched and clinked like glass when the wind blew through them. I approached one, touched it, and found it to be quite warm, warmer than the air. I could hear quiet music coursing through it and so I put my ear up to its trunk. The sound continued unabated, quiet, clanky, and melodic, as if some creature below the tree were playing its roots like a xylophone. I moved to another tree and found the same song rising from its roots. I wondered if all of these crystal trees were being played in the same way by the same creature below the soft and loamy dirt. The song then changed to a steady beat of the same tone. Perhaps the creature wanted to tell me that my time as its listener had ended.
My stone path continued into the forest and I followed it in between the living and crystalline trees. The next sound to find my ears was a woman’s voice, heavily accented, describing a nearby scene:
“In the forest, there was a house, inside the house, there was a table. On the table, there was a coat. In the coat, there was a pocket. Inside the pocket, there was a stone. Inside the stone, there was a key.”
The recording of the voice played on repeat. I walked into a house that was just off the path and found an old, worn coat sitting on a small wooden table. I picked up the coat and felt inside one of the large pockets and, expectedly, found a heavy stone. I removed the stone from its pocket and put it into pockets of my own.
The windows inside the house were all open and I could hear the wind picking up outside the small shelter. I left the house and closed the door behind me. In the sky, the sun began to flicker. This worried me as there were no other light sources around. It blinked, stretched, and distorted itself. I wondered if the sky were a hologram or maybe a massive screen.
It darkened to dusk. Dark grayish green and purple clouds stretched across the sky. There was no sun or moon to be seen. I continued on my stone path.
Far away birds chirped and sang, which warmed my heart as this was the first natural sound I had heard besides the wind and the waves. They sang their good-night song and I wondered if their delightful voices came from actual birds at all. Since they sounded so distant, I knew I wouldn’t see any of these birds anytime soon.
I kept walking through the dusk. It grew no darker or lighter and remained a strained gray.
I heard a spotlight turn on and a large light illuminated a clearing in the woods nearby where two children danced in a circle, holding hands. A chorus sang out softly, “keep us warm and see us through the night. Don’t be scared. Just hold my hand.” The children danced and danced in a circle with contented smiles, completely unaware of my existence. As I walked closer to them, the voice transitioned into a sad violin and the spotlight shut off, sending the dancing children back into a veiled darkness. I called out to them, but no one responded.
After a little while longer, the path ended at a precipitous cliff with a woman facing away from me. Dressed in a simple white dress, she stared straight ahead into the clouds above the high cliff. I realized I could hear the crash of the waves below, but this time, they sounded much stronger. Much angrier, and much more hungry. It wasn’t cold, but snow began to fall. The woman looked up into the sky. I assume she pondered the snowflakes. She then stepped forward and disappeared over the cliff, as calmly as possible.
I ran forward trying to rescue her, but ice had formed on the path. I slipped, fell, and quickly careened towards the cliff myself. I flailed wildly, trying to grab onto anything nearby in a vain attempt to save myself. The plants recoiled into the ground to avoid my touch, guaranteeing my quick descent. The wind turned into a gale and blew me over the edge.
In no time, I was in icy cold water. The woman was nowhere to be found. I couldn’t move. I descended into dark infinity.