Flash One: Cassiopeia (I)
The late-night sky looked unfriendly, even slightly threatening. It floated, like a mantle, above the dense foliage that surrounded the river. Despite the dark-green carpet of grass that caressed his feet, it was actually cold, close to freezing. He had decided to spend the night here, in the tent. Away from the city’s noise, without a radio or a phone.
A full Moon painted in the color of blood was rising above the pine-covered mountains. His gaze focused on it for a moment, then moved higher until it reached the trembling lights of the five stars that sketched the big “W” shape of Cassiopeia. A grin came across his face as he recognized the familiar constellation. The man stretched his arms to the sides like a pair of wings, imagining he could soar all the way up to the edge of space.
He had set up the tent already, right before sunset. The weariness brought on by a long and tiring day was slowly sinking in, taking control of his body. He glanced at the sky one more time, then disappeared inside the canvas dome. The sleeping bag swallowed him at once, like a cocoon. Soon, a heavy slumber enveloped his thoughts in a halo of dreams. The dreams took control of his mind, coming and going in fuzzy whirlpools of colors and shapes. With them came a feeling that someone from a different space and time was watching him.
The sound of the stream flowing a few paces away became louder. Frequent splashes in the shallow waves were interrupting its flow. He woke up.
Must be a boar looking for roots and seeds on this side, the man thought. Perhaps I should check it out. He reached for the lantern and sneaked out of the tent, light off. A few quiet steps got him to the water’s edge. No boar was there.
The stream glistened in the moonlight, alien and uninviting. Dark shapes were moving along it, marching or swimming upstream in parallel lines: hundreds and hundreds of fish-like creatures with long tails and lizard legs.
He turned on the lantern. The other bank had changed. Trees shaped like baobabs filled the opposite slope, their blue leaves reflecting the light of an invisible moon. The sky looked alien that way, too, with the spiral arms of an immense galaxy spreading over it.
Oblivious to his presence and ignoring the lantern beam, the creatures kept going on with their journey. Bluish sparks glistening in midair revealed the boundary between his world and the other reality. Looking upwards, he saw the border extending across the sky: a giant half-circle, dividing the Universe in two.
Above him, the same familiar stars were still shining. Wait, there was something different, something weird high above, in the Cassiopeia constellation. Right on top of the “W” shape and a little to the right, a new luminous dot was blazing, about as bright as Venus.
No, this can’t be true, he thought. His decent knowledge of astronomy reminded him of the supernova discovered and studied in detail by Tycho Brahe in 1572. Had he somehow slid back in time? Nonetheless, the landscape on this bank looked the same. Then what about the city? Of course, the urban center was too far away, and he had no means to make sure it was still there.
Suddenly, a breeze carrying warm air from the other bank blew onto his face. He noticed a movement on his left and felt a light touch on his shoulder. Something shaped like a butterfly had landed on the dark fabric of his jacket. It was an insect the size of a sparrow, with a blue body and wings covered in black and red patterns.
Time was slowly pouring into the night, its flow marked by the cadence of the creatures moving along the river bed. Time itself felt like a river streaming above the valley where the procession was taking place. Piece by piece, it was engulfing the watercourse and the scenery surrounding it. Now he could also hear drums in the distance. He felt the desire to cross the boundary grow more intense, like a rose spreading its petals in the morning sunlight.
The alien butterfly was still resting motionless on his shoulder: a delicate decoration glistening in the night. He decided to leave it alone, refraining from touching the fragile-looking wings. After moments that seemed to last an eternity, his feet moved forward.
A gentle electric discharge came through his fingertips when his right hand touched the border between the worlds. The loop of eternity shattered. The alien scenery faded away. Everything came back to the familiar configuration. High up in the sky, the bright star from Cassiopeia was no more.