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DESTINY UNFOLDED: A Story of Life…
“ERROR: No data found,” read the words illuminated on the screen of my iPod after I had attempted some bizarre, intricate button combinations. I sighed. Finding additional clues about the whereabouts of this so-called “key to life” made the word “impossible” sound like a fun little road trip to Niagara Falls or something. I wondered just how I had stumbled upon that map to the oasis since I was fumbling around like a total idiot with the device at that point. I recalled that cloudy Wednesday morning a week and a half ago, a day that commenced like any other day. A usual day consists of waking up, yelling at the alarm clock, rolling downstairs and out of the house, and walking to school while listening to music. However, this walk to school would take a turn for the mystical. In typical klutz fashion that I’m so well known for, I dropped my iPod (lovingly nicknamed Harvey) on the sidewalk while walking to school. Bending over to check for damages, I noticed that the typical display screen had been replaced with a message - “The key of life is held in the still oasis within the Eilann Desert – Destiny unfolds in your hands and your songs.” Being the good-natured (and occasionally somewhat gullible) person that I am, I accepted quickly enough that this wasn’t a practical joke that Steve Jobs and the rest of Apple, Inc. were playing on me – this had to be for real. My gut convinced me of it.
“Can we keep going? We’re in the middle of a desert at noon and the sun is in full force. ‘I’m overheating’ is an understatement.” These words came from the mouth of my best friend Alicia Drake. Alicia was the only person who knew about my mysterious discovery before I left home, and also the one who figured out which bus we had to take in order to arrive at the Eilann Desert twenty miles from home. She’s one of the most dependable people I know.
“Yeah. Sure.” I rose from my somewhat uncomfortable rock chair, my tired muscles aching with the effort. The silver backside of my iPod glimmered in the sunlight, my name, “Lindsey Palatino,” shining bright in the midday sun. We began walking in the direction that the map had first instructed us to head – eastward. The problem was that we had been heading eastward for the past few days with absolutely no luck. Still, I somehow knew that the map would steer us right. The incessant, nagging voice in the back of my brain that I call a conscience seemed to think so at least.
The two of us trekked for the next few hours, some leisurely conversation and inside jokes passing between us to keep things light. A strange preoccupation with my iPod and its “abilities” overcame me for the majority of the walk, however. I had discovered that certain songs gave Harvey superpowers of sorts, and, much like Yoda, I was interested in testing my iSkywalker’s powers. I swiveled my thumb around the click wheel, looking for a song that could possibly spark an epic iPod reaction. I settled for Taking Back Sunday’s “What’s it Feel Like to Be a Ghost?” An eerily prophetic notion that something was about to happen crept down my spine on scuttling spider feet.
The first notes of the driving guitar hook filled my ears. Chills seized me, squeezing the heat out of my body, and my heart bounced around my chest like a pinball inside a pinball machine. The sun was still out, and I assumed it was still about six million degrees outside, but somehow, I felt like I was in a freezer. I wrenched my head sideways to face Alicia. When did it become so hard to control my movements anyways?
“A-A-Alicia!” I gasped through chattering teeth. “W-w-what do you t-think the temp-p-perature is?”
“About the same as a convection…OH, MY GOD!” Her even speech morphed to shrieks as her eyes fell upon me. I looked down. The shocking revelation that I could actually see through myself gripped me. I was as transparent as…
“A g-g-ghost!” As I felt my lungs entering the last stages of red alert, I raised a wobbly thumb to the iPod’s pause button and hammered it down. The music stopped. Immediately heat rushed through my bloodstream, and my lungs regained some composure.
“What happened?” Alicia had her arm around me, a look of concern mixed with fright clouding her eyes.
“I was listening to ‘What’s it Feel Like to Be a Ghost?’” I explained quickly, shuddering. “And apparently, it feels quite chilling, to say the least. I think it’s Harvey the iPod – remember what happened when you decided to listen to ‘Ring of Fire’?”
“How could I forget?” Alicia said, launching into mad laughter as the memory of that violent, glowing fireball danced in her eyes. Needless to say, Alicia’s quite the pyromaniac. She motioned to Harvey when she finished. “Hey, let me see that.”
I relinquished control of the device for a few minutes, although a strange part of me strongly disagreed with this action. Alicia intensely regarded the screen, inspecting my music library. “Hmm. No…no…definitely no…”
“You don’t need to pick a song…it might be better if I just take it back. You know, give it a rest for a while before we might need it again.” I was struck by just how anxious I was for her to return my version of Luke Skywalker.
“Don’t worry, I’ve found the right song!” Uh oh, my conscience fretted. “’Apocalypse Please’ by Muse!” She pressed play and tossed the iPod back to me.
“Are you serious? Do you have any idea what that could do? Just judging by the title, I mean, really!” My voice rose two octaves as I became more and more flustered. Apart from my rant, the piano chords of the song’s intro pumped through my earbuds. As the vocals kicked in, the desert horizon began to change.
It started out small – a tiny whirlwind of dust putting on a show for the surrounding vegetation. The tiny storm swept up more and more sand, growing larger and larger by the second, until the most frightening vision lingered before my eyes. A massive monstrosity of a sandstorm, powerful winds spinning hazardous, circular threads of sand, slowly yet steadily began to advance towards us. Jaws naturally dropped and legs stiff as petrified wood, there was nothing to do except stare in utter horror as we awaited our fate. “This is the end, the end, this is the end of the world,” Muse mused through their song in my ears. As if I needed reminding.
A scream from Alicia catapulted me back into consciousness. “What are we doing?! RUN!” Taking little time to weigh my options, I realized it was in my best interest to obey her command.
We exerted as much force on our legs as we could. Unfortunately for us, they gave out after about ten minutes. Spitting out the sand I had swallowed upon my collision with the ground, I observed that we hadn’t exactly widened the gap between ourselves and the sandstorm. The distance between disaster and life had, in fact, diminished. Alicia gawked at the “apocalypse.” Suddenly, she spoke. “Lindsey, find a song. Any song. That iPod is our last chance to survive!”
Looking back, the remark does sound a bit corny, but in the heat of the moment it was all the motivation I needed. Frantic, I turned to my iPod and searched through my library for a song…any song…that could possibly save us. The song titles looked foreign and distant. It seemed as if every song had zero optimism, which was exactly what we didn’t need. I checked the horizon. The horrific mass of sandy death steadily advanced on us, and it didn’t look like it would retreat anytime soon. In that moment, I learned, surprised, that I had gained the clichéd sweaty forehead. The desire to laugh seized me, but I swallowed it as the sand bomb crept closer. It obviously disapproved of my sarcasm.
The lack of time to think became increasingly apparent as I kept scrolling.
“GAH!” was my reply, an exasperated cry of annoyance. My eye caught something in my library right that second, though. “Wait…” I slid my thumb around the wheel, backtracking to what I had thought I saw. It turned out that my eyes were not deceiving me – I had found what we needed. I pressed the center button.
“Why are you SMILING?!” Alicia was still in panic mode. She glanced over my shoulder. “Oh…excellent!”
As Death Cab for Cutie’s “Stable Song” kicked into gear, I decided it was time to sit back and watch the beautifully chaotic natural disaster disintegrate. I agree that it’s a bit strange how something can be so beautiful yet so destructive, but that’s often what you encounter in life – contradictions of character. Anyway, as the song began with the words “Time for the final bows,” the storm’s swirling gradually began to slow, just seconds away from gobbling myself and Alicia up for all eternity. The chorus arrived, and an incredible thing happened – the storm collapsed into oblivion. “We’ll rest easy, justified.” Truer words were never spoken. I’m positive of that.
“Wait…look over there!” Alicia motioned over my shoulder. Her eyes were fixed, relief reverberating in her eyes. I looked, and as soon as I did, I knew Alicia’s spirit of relief had spread to my eyes like the plague. A crystal-blue shimmering sheet of an oasis lay about twenty feet away from where we stood. A stack of sepia-toned boulders marked our final destination. I exhaled, and my legs began to walk as if independent from my body. Finally arriving felt like a dream.
We stopped at the edge of the water, and the desire to collapse and purely lie there for the rest of time entered my brain. “That’s too easy,” I heard myself say out loud.
“Finding the key? Yes, it is too easy.” Alicia stood before a small pedestal that somehow escaped my path of vision. A small, golden object in her hand reflected the sun’s cruel glare. “But finding out its purpose, on the other hand...”
“Let me see that!” I snatched it out of her hands. Alicia looked surprised at my sudden obsessive streak. I examined the key. The word “life” was engraved on it. Other than that, it looked like it could open any of the houses found in Pleasantville, USA.
“So what does this mean for us?” I whined. The weight of Harvey in my pocket was starting to annoy me. Falling prey to my sudden irrational impulses, I collapsed on the ground. “Why?” the five-year-old deep inside of me raged. A sharp corner poked my side, and I yelped. Rolling over, I noticed a padlock. Reacting quickly and instinctively, the key to life was shoved roughly into its home, and I’m assuming a deranged gleam seized control of my eyes at that moment. A portion of the ground began to move sideways with a loud scraping noise. Loose sand pebbles fell onto the resulting stairway underground.
“I swear, five minutes ago we had just arrived here on that Greyhound,” I heard Alicia say behind me. She scratched her head, looking at me with an oddly nostalgic gleam on her face. I followed her lead as she strode over to the staircase and began to descend.
The staircase had a dungeon-esque aura about it, a bit like the entrance to Slytherin House would feel. Oh well, I thought. The hallucinations from the desert heat had to come at some point. We descended in silence, discovery seeming inevitable and sweet.
A small room lay about a yard from the end of the staircase. The underground cavern was surprisingly well decorated – marble columns lined the walls and the floor was composed of rectangular stones. The excessive amounts of the color ivory seemed to transport me to a realm that should only exist in Harry Potter books. It was as if Alicia and I were characters in some fantasy tale, perhaps a short story written by a fifteen-year-old or something similar. My eyes finally settled upon a wooden chest at the far wall of the room. I advanced towards it cautiously, noting that whichever freshman had written this story seriously needed to work on cutting down on the amount of clichés weighing down her writing.
A small piece of parchment was resting atop the chest. Picking it up, I scanned the delicate ink scratches for a message. I read the note aloud:
The treasure you seek lies here, gold more plentiful than your mind can conceive.
However, your struggle has not yet been won – if you were to be rewarded now, you’d be nothing more than a thief.
In a sense, your inevitable doom was defied, but not without help from your friend.
Man or object – this is the question – which will pass the test?
“Oh, how I hate these riddles that are so poorly written and make absolutely no sense,” I complained.
“Really, what does any of that even mean?” Alicia asked.
As if on cue, a scraping noise echoed throughout the small chamber. I jumped, startled, and Alicia covered her ears to block out the noise. The sound was caused by a moving floor panel in the back left corner of the room. The movement created a small pit. I gasped as I noticed that the wall panels beside where we had entered were closing up our entryway.
“NO!” I leapt across the room and jumped for the doorway. I landed hard on my side, arms outstretched. It was no use – we were trapped.
“This is it. This is how we’re going to die,” Alicia said, collapsing into a sitting position next to the wall. An anticlimactic air of defeat filled the room.
I went over the puzzle pieces in my head as I sat up. The treasure chest, the note, the mysterious pit …what were we supposed to do? Our whole situation had “hopeless” written in bright red Sharpie all over it. Within about two minutes, however, something clicked.
“It’s you or Harvey,” I whispered, stomach sinking.
“What do you mean?” Alicia crawled over to me.
“’Man or object,’” I recited. “Man is actually woman…it’s you. And the object is the iPod.”
Alicia’s face fell as she realized what I was saying. “And the pit is for…sacrifice?”
“Yeah,” I sighed.
“Well…what are you going to do?” Alicia sounded vaguely worried.
“You sound worried,” I noted, giving voice to my observation.
“Well…I could potentially…you know…”
“You think I’m going to shove you into that pit?” I started to laugh. “Are you serious?”
“Well…look, I don’t know what you’re thinking!”
“I’m not a psychopath, I’m your best friend!” I reminded her, laughter making my words somewhat incoherent. I had forgotten, however, that the small chamber was extremely prone to echoes, so I clamped a hand over my mouth when I realized that I needed to clamp the other hand over my ears to block out the deafening consequences of my chortles. I spoke again when the noise died out. “More seriously, though, I’m not sure whether or not throwing Harvey into the pit will actually solve our problems. How do we know that we can trust a piece of paper?”
“It’s all we have,” Alicia pointed out. “Look around and tell me what else you see.”
I swept my eyes around the room, completing the standard 360 degree room check. “I see stone, columns, a treasure chest, stone, the note, stone, the pit, and…yeah, that’s about it…except for all that stone I forgot to mention…um…” I crawled over to the pit and peered down into the black void. There was a vague notion floating around my head that perhaps I could discern some secret escape route in the hole, but all that the pit held was black emptiness. Speaking of emptiness, my mind was completely empty – I had no ideas whatsoever.
Turning back to Alicia, I could see that she had somehow gotten the iPod out of my pocket as she was looking around for something that could save us. I had a gut reaction to this method, however, and I vocalized this instinct – “I’m really not sure if that will work.”
“Why not?” Alicia put Harvey down and looked at me, puzzled.
“Whatever forces or magic involved to make Harvey what it is – a resource – probably act upon this very room as well. How else do you explain the staircase, closing doors, and the pit? The room probably has some security device specific for cancelling out Harvey’s powers.”
“That may be true, but we can’t give up hope yet,” Alicia reminded me. “We have to think of something. You should try looking around again, and I’ll stay here with the iPod.”
Again, just like back in the desert before the sandstorm, that weird connection I had with that iPod tugged on my heart. I snapped out of it, realizing that I had larger concerns to worry about. “I’ll check again,” I decided out loud.
I stepped lightly around the edges of the room, wary of any floor panel that could potentially jerk away from under my feet and give way to an endless drop. The wall stretched in front of me, ivory in sharp contrast to the black clouding my brain cells. The black, however, didn’t have enough capacity for the engravings that I found on the ivory wall. I stopped walking for a minute as my subconscious discovery began to register. The engravings were behind the large chest, explaining why I hadn’t seen them earlier.
I crouched down and took a closer look. The engravings were purely another message:
The least sensible option turns out to be your escape,
It oftentimes happens to be your desired fate.
I had to take a moment to wonder if this was intended to be a helpful hint or an insult. The first explanation seemed more appealing. “Alicia! I have a present for you!” I called out.
“Did you find something?” came her reply.
“YES – firecrackers!” I gleefully exploded.
“How old are you again?” she asked me. I heard her footsteps clop across the room.
“Look! See! Firecrackers!” I exclaimed again. “FIGURATIVE FIRECRACKERS!”
“Someone took their nerd pills today,” Alicia shot back. “Wow, I guess being locked in a small room for a period of time really brings out the completely pathetic humor in all of us.”
“The firecrackers are engraved into the wall! Look!” My short experience with captivity had caused some side effects of hysteria, evidently.
“I was wondering where you were going with that metaphor.” Alicia studied the message. “I guess this means we’re jumping in the pit, then?”
“Oh…really?” My hyperactivity’s sudden mind control didn’t leave much room for critical thinking. Focus, my conscience reminded me. I became aware of my pulse throbbing in my neck as I realized just what we had to do. “I’ll go first,” I heard myself say as every particle of my being strongly disagreed.
“You don’t have to do that!” Alicia protested.
“No, I need to! If you go first, the chamber might think you’re being sacrificed. And I can’t believe I just spoke as if the chamber is a real person.” I paused. “It has to be me, Alicia.”
Alicia reluctantly nodded. I knew she didn’t want to see me put myself in danger, but I also knew that this was how it had to be.
I jogged to the hole. When I get anxious, I never try to delay the inevitable. My heart skipped about four beats when I saw the drop, though. I turned back to Alicia and shot her a nervous glance. “The best option for you would probably be to wait ten seconds after I jump, and if everything seems okay, then follow me,” I instructed her. “Then again, I can’t exactly form rational thoughts right now.”
“No, I’ll try to do that,” Alicia said. “Well…see you on the other side.” She gave me one last hug before I turned back to the pit. Drawing all the oxygen in the chamber into my lungs, I jumped.
The feeling of free-fall, of limbo, of allowing your stomach to rise up into your neck is about eighty times more terrifying when you experience it for longer than five seconds. I fell, eyes squeezed tight, into the endless abyss. This had to be the end for me. I couldn’t say that my life was that bad. I had friends, I had food and shelter, I had happiness. Some more time to enjoy that life is all I lacked. I said goodbye to myself as I opened my eyes, succumbed to the air rushing past…
The air was still. I was seated. I looked around, wondering if I had made it to the afterlife yet. If this was the afterlife, it was pathetic. The bland bench I was sitting on happened to be a bus stop. I looked behind me and I saw the edge of a desert. A shockingly familiar desert…
“I’m on the edge of the Eilann!” I shouted to the landscape. My solitude didn’t last for long, though…
“Lindsey!” came a voice from my right. I turned to see Alicia running towards me.
“You’re alive!” rejoiced our simultaneous outbursts. I gave her a hug. Notions of disbelief crossed my mind.
“Wait…Are we alive?” I asked Alicia.
“I think so,” she confirmed. “I feel the same. I still have the backpack and everything else I had before we jumped. My best guess would be that the pit teleported us back to where we started again…”
“Yeah…that makes sense.” I was too worn down by the voyage to be skeptical. Checking my watch, I noticed that it was 2:26 on Saturday, April 9, which happened to be right around the exact time that we arrived at the desert. I yawned, scratching my aching head.
“Before I forget, here’s your iPod,” Alicia said, handing Harvey back to me. I automatically pushed it back at her. Don’t worry, this action shocked even me.
“I don’t know if I want to see that right now,” I told her. “Hang on to it for a few nights, okay?”
“Sure,” she replied. “So, we’re back where we started.”
“Yep, that’s what it looks like.”
“So…the key to life…that was a bust, I guess.”
“Maybe,” I said. As disappointing as it may have looked to an outsider, I still felt like our voyage counted for something. “But then again, maybe returning to the start isn’t such a bad thing.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, if we really had found the key to life in that chamber, then what would we have to look for in our lives? Everything else would be so pale in comparison to our discovery. We probably wouldn’t have much to go to school for…not to mention that the meaning of life is different for everyone, right? Or, that’s what I would think, I mean, I guess it could be 42, but that doesn’t make much sense, because…”
“Hey! Philosopher! Calm down,” Alicia said, pulling me back to earth. “But I get what you’re trying to say. What would be the point of our lives in general, right?”
“That’s it! If that makes any sense...”
“For the record, I still had a good time,” Alicia told me. “I mean, the whole Death Cab thing? That was pretty cool.”
The two of us traded more sarcasm just like any other day. A half an hour or so slipped by before the Greyhound bus arrived to transport us back to our regular lives, although “regular” probably isn’t the right word to describe my life anymore. Not since the moment when my iPod first went berserk. Although I may not have found an instruction manual titled “Your Life: Some Assembly Required” in the oasis, I discovered something that I can’t quite put into writing. I can’t see it or reach out and touch it, but I can easily sense it. It goes without saying, however, that I just might be able to hear it clearly if Harvey’s messy shrieks end up communicating more to me about life than they already have.