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Every night Micah begs a God he only partly believes in to bring him a dream.

It moves across an insignificant Cascades pond. Above where the water is barely inches deep, its skip matches that of a thrown stone, but never sinks. Micah watches and listens as it bounces toward him like a lover's sigh. A message.

The morning sky has a high overcast that is falling. It may mean snow by noon. But for now he can see peaks beyond the ridge—four of them from south to east: Nelson Butte, Mount Aix, Bismarck Peak, Timberwolf Mountain. They lie inverted on the calm water. The message skims over them.

Micah is the name of a prophet. (It is he, therefore, who should have no trouble with a clear picture of the future.) He waits in a deer-hunting blind, away from fellowship, alone, so he can dwell deeply on his fixation with a weapon in hand. He dwells so much on her that in the company of others he would be thought of as strange. But secreted there amidst pine and vine maple, vetch, the forbs of the understory, Chihuly-blown ceramic fungi, solitary, waiting for deer, Micah is unremarkable.

(To protect her innocence) she will not be named.

But he knows, or wants to believe, this pleasant desperation that has taken the form of a hard coal in his mind: She wants him to love her like sunshine.

The clouds darken and begin to roil. They are laden with information that competes for his attention. He tries to listen, but it's like a badly tuned radio: static. So much information, layer upon layer--how can he ferret out whether there is a signal from her?

There are caves under the ridge opposite the pond, old tubes that once ran hot with worms of lava. Micah's gaze drops from the threatening clouds to the ridge. Aix is fading in cloud. He thinks perhaps a mummy is buried in the tubes, a semaphore, like a dense planet that bends light and flings each encoded datum toward him. Why else would there be so much traffic here? He read about such a thing in a newspaper, an old hunter-gatherer discovered in British Columbia by hunters. A Tlingit ancestor, intact, whose barkcloth and sinew carbon-dated at eleven-thousand years. Metal on the man's belt, iron implements he possessed, drove the anthropologists who inevitably followed the hunters crazy, fuzzing their satellite uplink back to base camp.

Forever seeing things in the woods that aren't there.

A failing cedar stump across a ravine looks like the hindquarters of an animal—he could swear it's moving, but then it never does. In Micah's periphery, he spots movement, turns, and there's nothing but forest. Colors of the prism explode from one drop of water captured on a fern-frond. Micah sees the face and shape and spirit of her. Through an aural backdrop of the complaint of the squirrel, raven's reedy honk, the drop of melting snow from evergreen boughs that sounds like rain even when the sky is clear, wind carries a frigidness through skin into a man's meat. It colonizes him like glass. When, and if, sun finally slips the horizon, it must permeate this layer to warm him. The forest is a richly sensual place.

Micah had wakened this morning from a dream of her. No, not yet, he pleaded through half-sleep, slapping at the travel alarm from his sleeping bag. Not yet, because he knew waking meant the end. Even now, a couple of hours later, the dream dwells in his guts.

Every night that prayer: God, please. Prove you are there. Bring me a dream. Last night was no different—in the warm flannel of his sleeping bag, he pretended she was there with him. The fit of the bag is perfect for the arcs and angles of two bodies, his and hers. He places his nose at the nape of her neck, inhales the scent of her hair. His arms envelop and kindle her. They burst into flame like blown book pages.

Sitting on a rotten log, Micah practices dialogues: "If circumstances were different," he whispers, "I would have pursued you." "I would have let you catch me," she says, from a dreamscape. Another place; another time.

A doe wanders out of a tree-break into the clearing between Micah and the pond. Its delicate hoof-fall reminds Micah of her movements. There is grace and pause, stored energy in the tendons beneath the doe's hide. It looks directly at him, cants its head to one side, the ears fluctuating. Does the doe hear it too, this cacophony of input that cannot be decoded? Its eyes are like obsidian stars. Micah smiles, lays the rifle across his lap. The doe pulls its lips upward and back, imitating his face. They play this flirtatious game together for fifteen, twenty minutes. Exhaled breath from the doe's mouth and flaring nostrils rises slowly and joins Micah's, braided vapor ascending into firmament.

Behind the deer, a line of circles expanding on the water.

Wavelets grow concentrically—good news may be coming. Micah waits with struggling faith.

It will all be O.K.

He believes this the same as he believes there is a Southern Cross, although he has never seen the Southern sky.

A fusillade of input staggers him on the stump. Under the doe's skin, a tremor works across her flanks, through the soft underbelly, over the withers and neck. She quivers from head to white tail, gathers, bounces away. It's like there are words in his head, not his own, being fed forth from a squadron of transmitters. He is overmagnetized with competing data, imprinted with disorder. Like a confused electronic device, he needs a good degaussing. What he is thinking is unallowable. Forbidden. But please, please, he whispers. Oh God, please.

Evidence of the approaching answer (if that's what it is) crosses the pond like electricity snapping horizontally across an abandoned prairie. The widening orbits left in its wake look like ravenous crop circles, kinetic with growth. For Micah they are metaphors for potential—this message could say anything.




Not in a million years.

Are you out of your mind?

He should know; he has the name of a prophet.

Nelson Butte disappears in cloud. Timberwolf is eclipsed and Bismarck vanishes beneath waves. A front of frozen mist hovers for an instant over the opposite ridge, and Micah is faintly aware of the breeze stiffening. An opening curtain of light corn-snow draws across the pond toward him. He braces for an overload, draws his wool coat up around his bare neck. The message skims the last shallow of the pond on his side. As far as he can tell through quickening snowfall, it continues toward him.

He sees her eyes. They are brown, but light, with specks of sienna. There is joy in them, invitation. Her lips are red and moist. He sends a counter-message. Her mouth forms a word. It launches from the last bounce on the pond. It arcs through the snow over reeds and tall grass, across the clearing to where he waits. All of it parts with telescopic clarity. His whole life he has waited, and he is sure of this now.


She says, "Yes."

Copyright © 2002 Brian Ames.

Brian Ames writes from the Puget Sound area of Washington state. His work has appeared numerous places on-line, including, Sweet Fancy Moses, Cenotaph and The Melic Review, as well as in print journals including The Massachusetts Review, night rally, Glimmer Train Stories, Snow Monkey and Wisconsin Review. Pocol Press of Virginia has just published his short-story collection, Smoke Follows Beauty. He is a former editor of Wind Row, Washington State University's literary journal.