The Gifted Curse: Excerpt Two

When I woke up I felt off somehow. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. As I started to move my head I felt a sudden vertigo come on. The trees swam in my vision and my stomach turned. I closed my eyes for a moment, took a deep breath and opened them again. Without moving I looked around and watched the trees above me. They swayed in the breeze, branches rustling against each other. The sound of the forest brought comfort as my brain adjusted to the feeling. Eventually the sensation passed and I was able to sit up. The light shining through the trees was beginning to take on a softer hue. I wasn’t able to directly see the sun, but it felt like it was much later than when we had laid down to nap. I guessed it was getting on toward later afternoon.
Then I remembered my dream. Dreaming was rare, and it was even more unusual during a daytime nap. I had been chased by two lions. The sensation had felt unreal, even as I slept, knowing that these lions shouldn’t be able to hurt me. They were both males, and their large manes stood out in my memory as dark, almost black. In my dream they were charging at us, but I hadn’t woken in the midst of an attack. Something had happened to make them stop. But now I couldn’t remember what it was. I cleared my head and sat up.
I checked my backpack, it still had water from this morning. As I drank I looked around the grove some more. This was the place where we had come and taken a nap, but it felt changed. The exact nature of the change left me uncertain. The large cedar trees surrounded us like before, but their arrangement somehow seemed displaced. I reassured myself that this was normal. Forests always do this, you think you’re headed in one direction, then you see a tree that you thought you saw before. Easy to get turned around.
“Hey sleepy, time to go.” I nudged David.
He groaned and then began to stretch and yawn.
“This place is starting to creep me out. Can we get moving?”
“Yeah that’s fine, but you woke me up from a lovely nap. I could have slept another hour.”
David sat up now and pulled out his phone to check the time. My phone was somewhere in a pocket in my backpack, and I didn’t bother. The growling in my stomach told me that it was time to eat.
After another moment I was ready to go.
“What are you doing? I want to get back before it starts getting dark, and I’m hungry.”
David was still sitting down, doing something on his phone.
“Oh, sure, just trying to check something.”
He paused for a moment.
“Huh, that’s strange. No connection. Was trying to check on a place for dinner.”
“The phone isn’t working?”
“Oh, I mean the reception isn’t working, there’s no cellular network out here. It was working when we got here, or at least I think it was.”
He pocketed his phone and got ready. I didn’t think about it until later, but it had been another clue, a sign of a change.
We headed out of the small grove, back toward the coast. The path took us into the open pasture from before. I looked around and tried to get my bearings. It was the right direction, but it also felt different.
“Were those trees there before?” I asked, pointing to three trees in the middle of the field. They were cedar, and the tallest one looked to be about forty feet tall.
“I don’t remember them. They must have been there, but wouldn’t they have blocked our view of the grove when we first got here? You know, I think we must have come up over there.” He pointed at the end of the pasture, a bit to the right.
I nodded. “Yeah, I think you’re right.” It made sense, but it seemed wrong somehow.
In an attempt to get my brain onto a new topic, I began thinking about our next steps once we got home. The kind of money we might see from the sale of David’s business would change our lives in a number of ways. It wasn’t so much that we could forgo considerations of income forever, but it was still a big deal.
“Do you see yourself still working if this deal goes through?”
David answered without hesitation.
“Oh absolutely. I’ll take the deal because it’s a good one, but it doesn’t mean I want to change what I’m doing. I have ideas for how I can improve on the work, so I may stay with the company as a stakeholder, or branch out on my own.”
Then, with enough of a pause that I could sense hesitation in the question, “what do you want to do?”
The question took me off guard for a moment.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that, this changes things for both of us. Do you see yourself continuing to work at your job, or do you see wanting to do something different?”
The thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I had imagined using the money toward retirement, buying a home, or investing in the next business ideas.
“I’m happy enough with what we do. It’s just that -“
The words weren’t clear to me at first, and it took a moment to contextualize them.
“I’d like to keep doing what I do, but without the fear of losing it.”
David looked at me and gave a quizzical look.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, I think knowing that I didn’t have to work would fuel me on. There’s things I really like about my job, and knowing I’ve had a sabbatical coming up has been a driving factor toward dealing with the unsavory parts of it.”
That wasn’t quite it though.
“There’s something more. I want to continue to excel and push myself, that’s rewarding in and of itself. What I don’t want though is the fear of messing up. There’s always been the risk of being let go if I stepped out of line, or pushed too hard in one direction. I feel like this will help shift things for me, where I can do or say what I need to make the best products possible, without being worried that I could be let go.”
“But doesn’t the checks and balances of the team help make for a better product, what does that look like if someone could just do whatever they wanted?”
His question was sincere, but it missed the point in my mind.
“It’s not quite that. I want the checks and balances, of course, but sometimes I miss sharing my best work or pushing myself because I’m afraid of the repercussions. Knowing we have enough money in the bank to not have to work for years, well that feels like it could shift my thinking.”
David smiled. “You’re excited about this.”
“Yes, I am. I’m thinking about possibility.”
“This is something new for us, and I’m excited to see how it will change things.” He reached around and grabbed my hand, a smile crossing his face.
It was a happy moment for us, our last.
We began to approach the edge of the meadow, where it led further down into the forest, David paused and looked down at our feet.
“What is it?”
“The ground, it was gravel here. I swear I remember feeling the shift somewhere in the meadow.”
I looked down at the ground and saw the small rocks. I couldn’t remember.
“It must have been before.”
“Feels like both our minds are playing tricks on us.” David said.
As we began descending the hill I looked out across the plateau below us. The hills extended several miles, and beyond it I could make out the ocean. There wasn’t much to see, with most of our view obscured by the treelike. I remembered seeing the castle and part of the town before, and looked for it. That’s when I felt the bottom drop out under me. The previous moments since waking had felt unsettling, like I was adrift with some sort of drug. Still aware of reality, but slightly shifted from it. Now the disquieting thoughts jumped to the fore and I knew, with absolute certainty, that something was wrong. I tightened my grip on David’s arm as my fear began to rise.
“David, it’s not there.” My voice broke.
“What do you mean?”
I pointed out to the ocean.
“The town, it’s not there.”