I still can't get over how real it seems. The fire dancing, throwing light and shadows on the circle of reclining seats and, farther back, on the towering trees. The wood popping slightly as the flames consume it and the familiar scent of wood smoke. The warmth from the coals heating my legs as I gather my thoughts.
"Tell us a story from 'the good old days', they asked. How to choose? There are so many of those stories but the memories are all jumbled together like a litter of puppies trying to eat from a single food dish. "Well, let me think", I rasp and, in the quiet, the whisper of the simulated wind in the simulated trees accompanies the crackling of the campfire as they patiently wait.
The family has gathered to commemorate the wedding of my niece, Tessa and Inness. It's been 85 years now since the blessed event. It has become a kind of family reunion. The simulation that surrounds us is sophisticated enough to transcend the uncanny valley that plagued the clumsy early attempts at VR. It is almost more real than the real thing. Of course, now we know the real thing was simulated, too. We just didn't know that at the time. The story that now begs to be told seems so, what's the word? Archaic? Primitive? I wonder if I will be able to convey any of the sensual information using words. The youngest ones will probably not get it. They still like hearing the stories, though. I adjust the raspy quality a bit so that my words can flow better, while still conveying a sense of the depths of time.
Many of those present are directly descended from Sheri and me, and many are not. I nod at Tessa and she begins to sing softly and strum the ukelele. Bree begins playing guitar and humming that simple harmony that first amazed me with its beauty and simplicity so many years ago, on the weekend of the wedding. The fire crackles and dances rhythmically in time with their strings and I begin.
"Sheri and I stayed up late that night and crept out of the camper like a couple of teenagers playing hooky. The rest of the family had gone to sleep in the camper/truck after we set up camp in the dunes. The Pacific was calm and we could hear the breakers on the sand nearby. The air had a tropical scent and the breeze was gentle and warm and we were young, so young. The moon was full and had been up for some time. Apparently it couldn't sleep either."
At this point the girls' voices take on a strange quality. A haunting ethereal quality permeated with something wild building up that is elusive but unmistakable.
"The full moon on her face. Her eyes
. She ran away. She returned. She danced and spun in the moonlight
. I just stared. I saw a wildness that I didn't understand. It almost frightened me. I guess maybe it did frighten me, just a little. She was a muse and a denizen of nature
. A true force of nature and I was just transfixed
. I remember thinking, 'What have I gotten myself into
?' as she danced around me in the sand. But I didn't want it to stop
. Not at all."
The ukelele and guitar change tempo now, voices quickening into a Celtic cadence.
"My thoughts went back briefly to another full moon night like this
. Years ago, it seemed like, but it had been only a couple of months. We sat underneath an old apple tree on Corky's farm, laughing at the moon and making out. Sheri asked me a question and I knew it was important that I answer it correctly
. 'If we make love, do you think it will change this, our friendship?'."
The music continues to build tension as the two girls' harmonies get more tightly woven and evoke a third melody that is sensed more than heard. This one dances in and out of their voices like the flames at the center of our circle, like Sheri's long brown hair and blue eyes sparkling in the moonlight.
"I took a deep breath before I answered, measuring my words and speaking softly, slowly, 'I think that, it doesn't have to change things, if we don't want it to.' After a moment she nodded and I breathed again. I hadn't realized I was holding my breath. My heart was beating so hard I was afraid she might hear it. That night we slept together, the first night of many. We also made love that other full moon night months later among the dunes on the west coast of Mexico. But that isn't what I recall most. What I remember so vividly is the madness, the wildness in her eyes as she danced among the dunes, like a butterfly fluttering among the flowers, drinking in the sweet nectar of the moonlight, feeling the sea breeze in her hair. That is the spirit that captured me that night and it still lives tonight."
The song the girls have been singing so sweetly ends, and we sit quietly for a while, looking at the fire.