OSTRANENIE
having the familiar and commonplace made strange or alien

This is for Writer's Group 10 on the Earthsong Forum. Very different from my original ideas, but I think it works. Anyway, you might recognize the first half - I wrote it a number of years ago.


JUNGLE

She really, really didn't want to be here. This was scary, this was weird, this was insane. But… it was a dare. A rite of passage. She had to, or be cast out. Her footsteps echoed on the metal of the corridor, and she imagined she could hear noises and animals through the soundproof door, even though that was a crazy thought. She opened the portal with a touch, and stepped into a different world.

The comforting gleam of the metal soon disappeared beneath the dirt and loam of the tropical rainforest, taken and preserved in entirety from its home on Earth, transported and displayed on the colony ship. It was an enigma to everyone – supposedly, there were half-wild savages living in the forest's expanses, caring for it and warning off everyone who didn't belong. If a person went in for a certain amount of time and returned alive, they were hailed as a hero and never bothered again. The hierarchy aboard the ship was strange even to its inhabitants, and she did not want to go into it.

Vines brushed her arms, and she cringed. She tripped over an exposed root, and nearly yelped. An hour and a half to go… torture. Animals screamed in the background – were they really animals? She thought she heard wild laughter. Birds cawed, bushes scraped against tree trunks, and her clean shoes were soon covered in mud and dirt. Deeper into the trees she went, catching flashes of movement out the corner of her eye, nerves fraying and fear growing. She glanced up trying to see the ceiling, but couldn't see anything through the tree cover.

Finally, she caught sight of a light through the gloom, and made her way toward it, regardless of what it signified. As she got closer, she thought… she heard drums? And rattles… suddenly she didn't think this was such a good idea…but she was already there, at a break in the trees, witnessing something she had never dreamed possible.

An open flame – so very dangerous! – was in the center of the clearing, with half-dressed men dancing around it. In the flickering shadows at the edge of the light, people crouched or sat, holding drums or other mysterious paraphernalia. She shivered at the sight, morbidly fascinated. The dancers – or at least she assumed they were dancing – jumped around, skin glistening in the red light, arms and rattles blurring into the dark air, tassels spinning and falling in waves. They danced and spun in a circle around the fire, moving slowly, sometimes, other times weaving along the ground or into the air at odd moments.

At some point, she wasn't really sure when, a woman entered the current. Dressed in streamers and vines, hair loose and long and glimmering darkly in the crimson-tinged half-light, wove amongst the softly stomping men, leaping gracefully into the air and seeming to float there. Her hands wove their own patterns, seemingly independent of the rest of her body, serpentine. The fire sent sparks and ribbons of flame and smoke into the air, refracted into different shades, impossible shades of color, blues greens and whites… the streamers hung in the space above the dancers and below the trees, entwining into a net and somehow staying there long after it should have. The beat continued under it all, making her heart pound.

Suddenly she didn't want to be there. Something about the scene made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end, and she shivered involuntarily. This was not for her eyes, not for human eyes! She backed away, for some reason reluctant to look aside, then turned around and hastily made her way back to the door, mindless of the branches and vines. The haunting music followed her, clinging to her mind and echoing there long past the point it should have passed beyond hearing range. The drums seemed to beat in her heartbeat, in her footstep, in the sounds of the forest…

The door came into sight – redemption, and peace.


THE SHIP

The boy balanced on a tree limb, contemplating his next step. Rites of passage were funny things, he thought to himself. To do something unnatural, simply to prove a willingness to take part in the affairs of grown men seemed to be a silly thing to prove, yet - here he was. The boy had never been this far into the forest before. Or rather – out of it. Always before it had been trees and loam, and things were measured vertically rather than horizontally.

The boy had noticed several things wrong with the world by the time he reached his destination. First was the character of the animals. He couldn't see a single one, not even the small colorful birds that infested every tree. He could hear their regular calls, but not see them. Second, the ground didn't feel nearly as springy and soft as it had before. And lastly, the strange fog bank that hovered solidly among the trees ahead wasn't that at all. It was a wall unlike any he'd seen before, smooth and gray and featureless.

Ah. Now the boy knew where he was.

If the boy stayed out there until midnight and returned, he would be accepted as a man and marked warrior. Now he was here, waiting for nightfall. The boy wasn't too worried. He had the best night sight of all his agemates, and could identify a footprint from a treetop. He was ready for this trial. As darkness fell, the boy cautiously approached the wall and touched it with a fingertip. He snapped his hand back and hissed. It felt strange. Completely unyielding, and it sent a odd shock up to his first knuckle. It felt dead. The boy had never felt anything so unresponsive before. Gathering his courage, the boy reached for the wall one more time and laid his full hand upon it.

It moved. Reflex had the boy jumping up the nearest tree in seconds, from whose safety he watched the wall collapse outward into itself, like an invisible finger ripping through fabric, until an oval opening remained. The boy didn't move, and after a moment the wall closed up again, soundlessly. Still he remained motionless. The wall did nothing else, and so, unease full upon him, he approached the wall again. This time he was prepared for the weird shock which lingered in his palm, and the hole opening up beneath it.

He was unprepared for the blindness which hit him as soon as he went through it. All he could see was gray and bright light. Again, reflex had him trying to return to safe territory, but when he turned around, the hole was gone. The only evidence that he could still see was a brown footprint clearly outlined against the flat gray of the ground. The boy swallowed, put his hand on his belt knife, and moved forward.

The world had become narrow, colorless, and endless. It curved all around, like the inside of a pipe, and seemed to be lit from both ends. After only a few steps the boy looked back and could see his footsteps growing fainter. He started stepping down harder, leaving more of himself behind to mark his way. As he walked he looked ahead and saw a light from beyond the edge of the world. The boy drew closer and saw that it was from other of those holes. From the hole the boy could hear strange sounds, and sounds of… people?

But they was all back in the forest! How could there be – the boy looked inside as his thoughts whirled, and nearly shouted in fear. Pieces of wall were moving around and walking! There was a horrible mix of noises coming from somewhere the boy couldn't see, making the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. At some point the boy noticed he could pick out sound similar to the drums and flutes of the rituals – was this music? As soon as he made that connection, the boy saw that the pieces of wall were moving in rhythm to the music – they were dancing. And they were people, but pale people, colorless like their world and dressed in gray.

The boy shook his head slowly, eyes wide, and backed away. As soon as he could no longer see into the hole, he turned around and ran as silently as he could, mindless of the walls and the light. The frightening music followed him, clinging to his ears as it chased him back to the forest. His footprints grew darker and more solid until the end of the path came into sight – home, and safe.