High atop a red-rock mesa, standing between three pine trees that overlooked a vast basin of sage and ocotillo cacti, sat an abandoned, concrete building. It had no windows, but five hunters observed remnants of an antenna and satellite dish on its rooftop as they pulled open the building’s steel door. An icy wind of snow and darkness blew at their backs while these men quickly shuffled in.
“Good fortune this is,” said the man called Dorn. He entered the building, a single room having no interior walls or furniture.
“How is it that we’ve never come across this place?” asked Shane.
“Well, maybe ’cause we’ve never been along this trail before,” replied Dorn.
The men dropped bundles of gear and backpacks, each wrapped in various fabrics: laced leather, fur, colored wool. Some of the bundles they placed into corners of the room, where they noticed stacks of dried cedar. In the center of the room was a stone fire ring.
Dorn stared at the ceiling above, spotting the evening sky peer back at him through a small hole. “Good fortune indeed,” he said. “Hurry. Get a fire roaring.”
Within minutes, each man had a place near the blazing wood. Some of them had already rolled out their bedding, too tired to drink the tea Dorn had concocted.
“This’ll be nice,” said Dorn, handing a steaming cup to his nephew, Milo. “We’ll get good rest here.” He looked around the room and smiled appreciatively. He was the oldest man of the group, having long silver hair braided into rows. His face, a map of leathered wrinkles, sun-baked and hard, seemed betrayed by his compassionate eyes. “A hunter can always use a good rest.”
“I’ll drink to that,” replied Shane, lifting his cup to the old man. Shane looked at Milo then, who had placed his tea onto the ground. A young man of eighteen, Milo appeared distracted, rummaging through a large sack. “What’cha looking for, boy?”
“Yes,” Milo whispered to himself, retrieving a small, leather-bound book. He grasped his tea, looked up, smiled, and then took a drink before placing his cup onto the ground once again.
“Oh, help us,” muttered Shane, rolling his eyes. “Here he goes again.”
Milo opened the book and read softly, rapidly, to himself.
“You’re wasting your time, boy,” said Shane, pushing a stick into the fire. “Better to think about a pretty woman, than old-fool logic such as that.” Dorn’s chuckling joined his, as both men leaned back onto their packs.
Finished reading, Milo closed the book and looked up. “Have you even read it, Shane?” he asked.
“Relax, son,” replied Shane. “No need getting into a huff.” He glimpsed down at the thin book. “But no, I haven’t read it. And I don’t mean to, either. I’m not interested in a boy called Skylar Freebird—or whatever the hell his name was.”
“Freeborn. Skylar Freeborn. And he isn’t a boy.”
Milo adjusted his own pack into the form of a seat, leaned back himself, then stared into the fire. He was a handsome young man -– tall, brown hair cropped short, smooth face — the spitting image of his late father. Dorn peeled his eyes away from Milo, as the young man looked up again.
“Some say he’s still alive after all these years,” said Milo.
“You see,” replied Shane. “Fool logic, right there. That book was written three-hundred years ago, kid.”
“And you’ve yet to read it.”
“And I’m not planning on it.”
“But doesn’t it even interest you? The way of fractal design. Nature. Us, and the entire universe, tied together.” Milo lifted his hands up in reference to their surroundings. “People knew the guy, Shane. He was here.”
“And I don’t care. So what? A boy called ‘Skylar’ knew a thing or two about science, wrote a book. Big deal. What’s that have to do with me?” Shane threw another piece of wood into the fire. “More importantly, what’s that have to do with staying alive?”
“It’s a matter of faith,” said Milo. “And faith has everything to do with staying alive.”
Shane paused, looked across the fire at Dorn. “Much like his father, ain’t he?” he laughed.
“That he is,” replied Dorn.
From a sack, Shane retrieved hunks of dried venison. His hands were like knotted oak, strong and hard, being miniature replicas of his stout body and thick head. He passed a piece of venison to Milo, then threw one to Dorn. “Fine then,” he said, leaning back once again. “Go ahead and indulge us, Milo. Indulge us with this faith of yours.”
Milo smiled and opened the book. He turned to the first page, which contained an illustration of a spiral galaxy, a flower, and the human body. Also on the page were various numbers, and the name, ‘Skylar Freeborn.’
“As a boy,” Milo began, “Skylar knew the secrets of Fractal Interpretation. He left his village when he was very young. He said he was going out to explore, and that was that. He showed them his hands though, before he left. Each had ended at the wrist with rivers of white fog pouring out of them. He had no hands. Some say the boy was smiling at the time he showed his people this. That he even laughed, declaring, ‘As is above, as is below,’ before he walked away.”
“Sounds like a bunch of hocus-pocus if you ask me,” laughed Shane.
“It’s not,” replied Milo. “To understand the secrets of fractals is to understand how to manipulate them. It says so, here in The Tome.” Milo went on to remind them, that before Skylar had left, he told his father where he kept his journal. The journal described much of Skylar’s intuitive, untrained insight into fractal design. And that once his people had witnessed Skylar’s hands transform into white mist, the journal had become sacred. It became the model for what is now called, “The Tome of Equations,” of which a small following of people refer to as a means of religious faith.
“Everything fits together, like pieces of a puzzle,” continued Milo. “Our entire universe, with everything in it, is one giant fractal. We,” he made circles with his hands, “are larger versions of a cell, yet miniscule versions of a galaxy. In The Tome, it says that we are all actually ‘cells’ of our planet, which in turn is a cell of the galaxy, which again, is a single cell of the universe. And so on, and so forth.”
“Neat,” replied Shane.
“It all sounds interesting enough, Milo,” said Dorn, “we ain’t disputing that. It’s just that, well—we’ve heard all this before. And frankly, just because some boy made smoke with his hands, then walked off into the woods never to be seen from again, doesn’t mean–”
“But he has been seen!” interrupted Milo. “Hundreds, maybe thousands of people have seen Skylar Freeborn. Even to this day.” One of the sleeping hunters stirred, and for a brief moment, the three men fell silent.
“But no one can prove it,” continued Dorn, in a soft voice.
“Which is where faith comes in,” replied Milo. “I believe Skylar is a real person. I believe that through his understanding of fractal design, interpretation, how we’re all connected, that he has discovered a way to bend his body at will. Some say he can transform his body into anything. A mountain. A tree. An empty bottle, for that matter.”
“Forget it, boy,” said Dorn. “What you’re talking about is impossible. Makes no sense.”
“Oh, but it does. It makes sense to me, at least. There’s even proof.” Quickly, Milo turned a few pages in his book. “Right here—about ancient photographs. The Tome refers to computer enhanced images of the universe, and of the neural networks in our minds.” The boy’s face screwed up into a large grin. “Side by side, they look identical!”
“But what does that prove?” replied Dorn. “So the inside of our brain looks like a bunch of stars.”
“Neat,” said Shane, his eyelids growing heavy.
“What it proves, is that everything is one in the same: Miniature replicas of each other, created by each other, each following its own spiral path—like a trail down a mountain. Don’t you get it?”
“Watch your tone, boy,” replied Shane, sitting up. He placed his hands toward the fire, then rubbed his face with them. “Like your uncle said, we’ve heard it all before. We don’t need your preaching.”
A log cracked in the fire, shooting sparks onto the ground. “Some say that he lives a fleeting existence,” continued Milo. “That he travels what’s left of our world, visiting villages, helping people, making miracles. And that often times he takes the form of an animal, serving as a sign to others who have prayed to him.”
“Like I said, a waste of time,” replied Shane. The man stood, pulled his bedroll from his pack and laid it out. “Seems to me there were many others who also prayed, five hundred years ago. And look what that got them.”
“Have you ever considered that what they got was the answer to their prayers?” replied Milo.
“Boy!” snapped Shane, throwing down his bear-hide blanket. “Don’t tempt me to beat some sense into you.”
“Keep it down, guys,” replied Dorn. “Milo…” His voice trailed off, impatience lingering in his eyes.
“An answer to their prayers?” scoffed Shane, crawling under his bear hide. “Ten mile wide asteroid crashing into the Atlantic Ocean. Devastation. Famine. Plague. In two weeks, seven billion people dead.” He looked across the fire at Milo, his eyes cold as steel. “I’ll tell you something else they said, boy; they said that the stench of death was so thick, there wasn’t a place on Earth a person could hide from it.”
“That’s enough of this talk, men,” said Dorn. “The elk were spotted in a valley south of here, near Bellow’s canyon. By late tomorrow we should be there.” He stood, then made his bed.
“Others say he appears as his true self,” continued Milo, after a brief pause. “Or how he looked the day he left his village: wrapped in the pelt of a polar bear, long golden hair pouring down his shoulders.”
“Silly fairy tales,” muttered Shane.
“That’s what my father said he looked like at least.”
“Damn it, boy!” Shane sat up with a start. “You keep quiet about your old man. He died an awful death. Don’t go shaming him with this foolish tale of yours.”
“Shane’s right, Milo,” continued Dorn. “I was there when your father got stuck by that boar. And I was there at his bed later that night, when he died in my arms. And I’ll tell you this; there certainly wasn’t any ‘Skylar Freeborn’ around to save him, that’s for sure.” Dorn spat into the fire then closed his eyes. “Now get to bed, already. Both of you.”
None of the hunters spoke another word to each other that night. Shane and Dorn drifted off to sleep while Milo sat there, reading from The Tome. And later, he placed more logs onto the fire, made his bed, and laid down himself, staring up at the hole in the ceiling. Even though the light from the flames made it difficult to see the night sky, Milo did spot a few stars twinkling way up there. “I believe in you, Skylar,” he whispered. “I believe.”
At daybreak, the hunters were a quarter of a mile down the trail when a light breeze kicked up. Fresh snow covered the ground, making travel difficult, and uncomfortable. Pulling up the rear, Milo stopped to adjust his pack. He took it off, set it on the ground, then heard a loud “snap” from above. He looked up the trail and spotted a man standing on a rock a hundred yards away. The man had golden hair, wore a thick white robe, and appeared to be smiling; or so Milo would tell later. A strong gust of wind screamed through the canyon, and then the man vanished, leaving a flurry of white powder adrift in the air.
Then much to Milo’s surprise, he noticed that high atop that red-rock mesa, standing between those three pine trees overlooking a vast basin of sage and ocotillo cacti was nothing at all. No concrete building with a steel door, remnants of an antenna or satellite dish. Nothing at all, but a thin blanket of snow.
AUTHOR BIO: Chris’ stories have appeared in over sixty magazines and anthologies. As a previous citizen of the Pacific Northwest, he vows one day to return, knowing that that which has yet to be named lurks somewhere behind the Redwood Curtain. He keeps a static blog of his writings at frombehindthebluedoor.wordpress.com, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.