I first saw it in a dream. At least, I thought it was a dream. I’m not sure how I would’ve gotten on a boat otherwise. The quivering lights, on the horizon, drifting and shifting, a mirage on the bay, towards the harbor. A flying fish leapt from the salty spray to watch me before returning to sleep in the deep.
A spot, gold yellow like an amber drip, rose and fell in intensity with the waves. I remember squinting, straining my eyes to see them better, but no matter how I sailed I never seemed to see more.
Next thing I remember is a waitress asking me what kind of toast I wanted. I looked at her, dark hair, 30s, with small wrinkles at the corner of her mouth. I took a breath. Must’ve been a dream. It’s dark out, and my watch reads five. Five AM?
Rye please, thank you.
She brings me a plate of eggs, bacon, and rye toast. I’m the only one there, besides an old grizzled man at the counter. He has his arm laid flat across a newspaper, whose ink has stained his elbow. His free hand clutches a steaming coffee mug.
I look at my notebook, but there’s no clues. My phone is dead. I pay in cash and walk home.
Next time I saw it, I wasn’t on the boat, but in the waves. I could tell the water was cold when it lapped across my neck, but my torso was numb to it. I couldn’t see out onto the horizon, the waves around me occupied most of my view.
The water looked black around me, obscuring the view of even my own body. Without feeling it, I had to assume it was all still there. I raised my hand above the waves to check, but returned it to the water soon after to avoid sinking.
I looked up to the sky. A clear night. One wispy cloud slipped across the dark, barely visible. A single star twinkled in the night, and that’s when I remembered.
I struggled to raise myself in the seas, fighting above the waves which seemed only to get stronger. The water felt thick, as if holding me down, pulling me deeper towards the depths. I saw it, closer than before, a bright flash showing me where to look.
The light sat outside a door which I hadn’t noticed until now, the same familiar yellow. The door sat in a rounded wall, like of a barracks, recessed into the side of a grassy slope diving into the water. A spindly pier sat in front of the building.
On the pier, a figure stood, dressed in all white, some sort of hazmat suit. Their face obscured by a deep red visor. From where I floated, it looked like a mask.
I started to swim.
I felt sore, but tried to drive my arms into the waves, push my body to parallel, if it was still there. I dug in and thrashed towards the shore, a moth drawn to the light. I fought against the waves, the water going in and out of my mouth, salty with a metallic tang, like the taste of blood on my tongue.
I couldn’t tell if I was getting closer or not, but as I swam on it got harder and harder to progress. I felt my limbs slowing, numbed by the battering of the waves. I dipped lower into the waves, trying to will myself forward.
The current grabbed me, and I went down, the water filling my mouth and my nose and up to my eyes as I dropped under the waves and all was black and then it was nothing.
I woke in a grassy field. Tall flowers rose above me, waving in the gentle wind. The smell of lilac and mint drifted into my nose. The stars shone above me, clearer and stronger than I’d ever seen.
I swear I could make out the shapes of constellations, like a spiderweb shimmering in the sun.
The grasses wrapped around my waist and arms, holding me in a close embrace. My body felt light, but I didn’t want to get up. I knew I could stay there forever, and be safe.
I sat up.
I was on a shore, the waters calm out in front of me. The tips of waves gleamed like jewels, mirroring the stars. I felt a light on my face, and looked to see the building from earlier off to my side.
The corrugated metal wall illuminated by the celestial bodies, as if glowing from within. There was no sign of the figure. A moth glided past me, the color of sunset, in no hurry to get anywhere, drifting towards the door.
I stood, feeling the wind at my back. I started to walk to the door, slowly at first, shaking off the slumber in my bones, like a toddler stumbling. I felt more confident with each step, more sure of where I was going, standing straight, knowing I meant to be here, was meant to go here, to see whatever this harbor held for me and me alone.
The moth drifted off, landing where the light protruded from the wall, sunning its wings on the night air. Looking closer at it, it seemed to give of a green glow I hadn't noticed before. The handle of the door was brass, and warm to the touch. I opened the door and pushed in, met by a brilliant light, squinting to protect my eyes.
I must have continued walking, because once my eyes adjusted I stood a few feet from the door. The room in front of me was massive, like a cavern. Moths lined the walls, fluttering between resting spots. All hovering in orbit around a giant glowing white orb.
It cast a light that seemed to emanate from its core, a massive moon, pale and pure, the light cut through me. The figure stood with their back to me. The light bounced off of their suit, making them seem transparent, except for the red screen where their face should be.
With the voice of a woman and of a man, the figure spoke, raising their arms to the side, palms up. As they did, moths flocked to them, like pigeons landing on a branch.
“Welcome home. Let’s begin.”