The Heart of Escher

by Jonathan Dance


The sky is bright blue, and set amongst some rolling green hills an unusual figure dances, moving through the long grass as smooth as a boat floating on a tranquil sea. Bright blue wings move in place of arms, feathers shining in the summer light. The dancer is blurred, but what is clear is that this is no man or woman. Its movements are graceful and as it moves, the flowers woven across the hill seem to turn and watch.

Trying to get a closer look, James moves nearer, only for the dancer to turn away and skip above a hill before retreating down the other side.

Having reached the top, James can see a giant mountain in the distance with the sun setting just behind its head. Beyond a valley of trees stands a tower, its outline joined by the many rooftops of a town below. James wants to inspect it further, but dares not look any longer with the blue dancer disappearing into the woodland. Continuing his pursuit, the meadow parts for him as if he were royalty.

Reaching the woodland edge, James peers through the branches looking for the hidden dancer. The forest is silent and still. Leaves hang unmoving, as if there is no wind at all. The only movement comes from shafts of light that trickle down through the forest canopy, and a strange mist that floats above the mossy green floor.

Searching the woods, James moves rocks, jumps over streams, passes tall trees and climbs giant hollow trunks until, watching from a branch up high, a flicker of light catches his eyes.

Floating down from the tree, James lands on the soft green floor before moving towards the flickering shadow. He climbs a narrow path, going up and around a hill, and stops at a wooden gate covered in moss and swirling green plants.

Through beams of light shining among the branches, James sees a blue flicker. The dancer is near.

Silently opening the gate, James keeps his head down, staying behind a bush of green and yellow leaves. He peeps through a small gap, finally making out the blue feathers of the enchanting bird. Carefully lifting his head, James watches on.

The dancer glides and pirouettes on a woodland stage of moss and fallen leaves, surrounded by the forest with the light pouring in all around.

James watches unnoticed for what feels like hours, but could only have been minutes. Daring a closer look, James moves out into the mossy opening, but as he does so, a twig breaks underfoot. The bird stops and turns its head towards him, its deep yellow eyes looking at him, yet at the same time looking straight through him.

The blue dancer stares unblinking until a church bell chimes in the distance. Its head turns towards the sound. Likewise drawn, James glances at the mountain, where a sudden distorted wave erupts from the sun, which starts to quiver and dim.

He looks back, but the dancer is nowhere to be seen. Before he can wonder where the bird has gone, a mighty boom sends his heart racing and a blast of air knocks him to the ground.

Stumbling upright, he sees the once-quiet forest sway sideways as leaves blow and swirl all around.

Black clouds storm out from the mountaintop like a herd of rhinoceros stampeding across the sky. As the forest grows darker and darker, James tries to work out what has happened, but nothing makes sense. What’s going on, how has this happened?

The trees are quickly ripped bare, their branches twisted into pointy, menacing hands, while the shadows that were once so soft now move like ghosts, stalking James’ every step.

With the darkness descending, James desperately wants to leave, though there seems to be no way out. Then it comes back to him. I must open my eyes.

Try as he might, he can’t, but before the darkness swallows him up, he remembers how. Then he is gone.

Chapter One →