Crossing The Plain

I hated crossing the plain.

It's really more like a swamp than a plain. Well, it's not wet like a swamp, but it's got all those holes with mist coming out of them. They weren't like holes punched in a flat sheet or anything. More like little depressions which we presumed had holes in the bottom. Otherwise where would the mist come from?

I didn't have to cross it often. None of us ever really had to...but sometimes we did, anyway. Like tonight. I hated doing it, and there was no reason for me to, but here I was anyway.

The ground was firm under my feet, and very nearly flat. The grass that grew elsewhere didn't grow here; it was more like the ground was covered with moss.

It was never very windy on the plain, which is a good thing, because otherwise none of us would ever have made it. Of course, none of us ever went out when it was really windy, perhaps for that reason. We never tried crossing the plain without a decent chance of success. Even so, we didn't always make it.

The holes were sparse at the edge of the plain, and became more common as you went further in. The mist from each hole drifted lazily with otherwise invisible currents, rising slowly.

The mist was the main hazard. Perhaps the only one. It was impossible to avoid it entirely when crossing the plain, but we tried as much as possible. I usually managed to keep from inhaling any until I was almost at the centre of the plain, where gaps in the mist became the exception rather than the rule.

I also rarely went above a leisurely stroll, despite my body's desire to run and get through this as fast as possible. If you were so eager to get out of this, I said to it, why did you make me enter it in the first place? I preferred a reasonable pace which allowed me more control over my breathing. Of course, some people that ran had crossed as many times as I, so I don't claim to have the One True Way.

The mist's danger wasn't direct. It didn't eat at your lungs until you coughed up blood and expired. It didn't lull you into a sleep that never ended. It only offered one thing--mystery.

When you got your first whiff of the mist, you began to wonder. Where did the mist come from, when the ground is dry? Were there really holes at the center of those depressions? Was the mist actually all that harmful? You didn't seem to be suffering any ill effects so far... Maybe you'd just see what was at the center of one of those depressions, anyway.

If you were smart, you turned these wonderings the other way. What happened to the people who didn't return? Nobody had ever encountered their bodies, skeletal remains, or even lost trinkets. How could you walk a more or less straight path across the plain and still emerge where you started? What compelled you to cross the plain in the first place?

I was almost at the centre now. I could tell from my train of thought that I was inhaling more of the mist than was usual, and tried to breathe more shallowly. I tried to find as many gaps in the mist as I could, but, as a more mundane hazard, it blocked vision as well. More than once I'd had to retrace my steps upon finding my path blocked. Nobody that had returned had ever been fully enclosed by mist, so we assumed it was fatal.

As I wended my tortuous way slowly among the billows, I thought that perhaps this was how we all got turned around. If I were to go straight into the mist, maybe I would emerge someplace different...

I had inhaled a bit much. Going someplace different wasn't the point. Or was it? Were we all trapped by some peculiar apathetic spell in our small community, except for an unconscious fantasy of escape which we had to exorcise by pretending to try?

Sensing the train of my thoughts, I started to panic. I was almost surrounded by mist. I ducked my head down below the level of the mist--funny how I'd never thought of that before--and took a deep breath before running towards the rapidly closing gap.

Suddenly my foot landed on a slope, and my ankle twisted beneath me. My breath exploded suddenly, and it was all I could do to lower my head before I inhaled again. It didn't help; I was too close to the hole, and my lungs filled with mist.

After a moment, my breathing steadied, and I became aware that I was still kneeling on the edge of the hole. My ankle's throbbing started to subside; I hadn't twisted it too badly, then. From this angle, I could see that at the center of the depression was a metal grating, much finer than we would have been able to make.

I stood up and tried to regain my bearings. If my prior reasoning was correct, then if I headed in the direction of the thickest mist--it now seemed utterly harmless, and I wondered what I'd been afraid of--I would find out what lay beyond the plain.

Based on the words: Smart Mystery Curling Fantasy

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The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey / alfvaen@gmail.com