I’ve decided to share this with you guys/girls, not for any particular reason other than I just sort of feel like it! It’s one of the pieces I’ve been submitting here and there, and the one that’s technically creative non-fiction.
Two things first:
1) I hereby claim this story as my own original work, and copyright it March 2012 under my legal name, L.J.A. So don’t even think of stealing this! I keel ya, I keel ya dead, I will.
2) The title is the name of the song that we were listening to in this story/essay. It’s from one of my favorite atmospheric albums of all time, “Duality” by Lisa Gerrard and Pieter Bourke. (Lisa Gerrard later composed the equally haunting “Gladiator” soundtrack, if you’re curious.) Here’s the song.
Here’s “Shadow Magnet”:
Wind lapped at our hair, and the nervous feel of letting go of the gas pedal and yet not reaching for the brake stirred my stomach. The road was simple — two-lanes, twisting through black trees and night. No houses, no buildings on either side. Just dense forest and beyond that, an uneven canvas splashed with untamed mountains.
During a brief stop outside of Flagstaff, we had put the top down so now we were cruising along quickly in the late May air unfettered. There weren’t many other cars on the road, perhaps because it was a Monday night. The weekend crowd was long since tucked into their beds, getting ready for another day of commuting down congested pathways to return to gray Formica desks and chipped white coffee mugs.
We began to notice that something was changing about our road trip. My best friend and I were no longer reliving the moments we had just had in Las Vegas, or reminiscing about high school. We were becoming still, the way old friends do, and slowly let our bones relax in their joints and sink into the white leather seats of the car. It was a gradual thing that had been happening since the sun had begun to drop behind us, but in the exhaustion of a full day of driving we hadn’t taken notice. Until now.
Ahead, my headlights brushed over the yellow line and made a full sweep of the trees and banks of earth crowded out to the edge of the road. I wondered if the trees and plants had moved out there just to study the alien cars as they sped past. But the rest of the time, the trees hung back in the forest and told stories to their saplings.
Kristen had been playing one funky song on repeat for the past half hour or so, and she asked if she could put on one of my CDs. “I’ve been saving this one until it was darkest,” she said, teeth flashing in the dim console lighting. I was glad she thought of this particular CD that way. I agreed without answering and she hit play.
The soft, ethereal mandolins and other ancient, wavering instruments I didn’t know the name of began to swirl into the air. My fingers flew to the volume button without thinking. A woman’s low, moaning singing voice wove between the instruments seamlessly, and it was at that moment — when the music became echo-y and fully surrounded us — when we came over a small hill, the trees broke and we saw the rocks.
Anyone who has driven the mundanely-popular Highway 89 south into Sedona has seen these rocks before. They tower majestically against the sky during the day, strangely Mars-like. Impressive under the forever-turquoise sky, yes, but also the stuff of gift-shop postcards printed in China. At night, those same rocks present like malformed, hunched giants wearing skirts of swaying pine trees and oak. The music combined with the sight we were seeing before and above us made my mouth fall open, and I thought I could actually slow time if I measured out my breaths. It would be quite welcome to be sealed up in a time capsule at that instant, so I could always be hearing this song and forever feel those moon-coated rocks overwhelming the small person that I was.
We were still pretty far from town, and we didn’t want to get there. I didn’t want to see artificial lights, artificial anything. I slowed down and switched the headlights off so that it seemed we were sliding down the hill in the dark, towards the open, gnarled arms of the pitch-black, whispering, alive forest. Kristen gasped next to me, yet not from fear. It was the beauty and excitement of losing ourselves submissively to the ethereal part of the world.
My stomach fluttered, and my eyes began to tear up from the wind. No. Not the wind, but the undulating vision in my head. I glanced quickly to my left and saw, in the dark, a family of trolls scampering up the embankment with rocks poised in their gray fists, ready to hurl at us. Up on the road ahead, there was no yellow line anymore, but there were shadows of trees and outlines of phantom women twisting in the moonlight.
The music was leaving thick trails in the air behind us as we drove on, the wheels clinging to the earth just barely. The ghost-glow of the moon fell everywhere, and I realized without looking up that it was a full moon. The ripe sheen fell on my own hands, my silver rings glittering in between shadows. I breathed deeply and felt my blood begin to tingle in my arms and feet. The music was inside me now, and not just all around me and on my surface.
As the music continued to swell, I spotted skeletons peering out from behind trees, heads tilting curiously as the living swept past them. The music had called many creatures out that night. Owls with human faces dipped down in the air above us, the stars outlining them as they followed us along the darkened road. A mountain rose suddenly on our right, very close to the road, and a huge, wide mouth dropped open to blow its warm breath of dirt, leaves and creosote out at us. We sailed through the cloud, our lungs sucking in sweet, ancient air. My car had become a chariot driven by invisible black horses that galloped on pillowy hooves. I didn’t have to steer, since they knew the way.
Up ahead, there was something weaving through the tangle of tree trunks and making its way toward us. Was it a floating parade of Titanias and Oberons, bearing torches of honey and twigs? The twinkling amber eyes of a dark green, three-mile long serpent?
Two headlights were on top of us in an instant. It jarred my breathing back to an everyday stress level and I flipped my headlights back on, disappointed in the technological simplicity of it. My shoulders sunk down just a bit, and Kristen tensed as the car whipped past us and was gone again. Another car was coming up the road, and another behind it. The tree sprites, bears and ghosts retreated back into the woods, and some even watched us go — I glimpsed them in the low red glow of my taillights in the rearview mirror. We didn’t want to return to civilized thoughts, but my car was pointing there and it wanted to go to a place with gas stations and glowing fluorescent lights. And the song had ended.