A Walk in the Woods

Inspired by this article.

I’m in the midst of a bright forest, golden beams of sunlight falling through translucent green leaves. A breeze blows the scent of pine and fresh river water. I’m walking hand in hand with my fiance. We stumble across a small squirrel in the path, nibbling at an acorn. It looks up at us, its fur perfectly bristled and vibrant in the sunlight on the forest floor. For a moment our eyes meet, animal and man, and then with a squeak it rushes into the woods.

For a moment there is silence again and we keep walking, smiling as we go.

Finally we come to a clearly, and we shield our eyes from the sun for a moment. The grass here is unkempt, growing in clumps up to our knees, swaying easily side to side as the wind riffles through it, flapping our clothes around our bodies. We walk a little further, notice in the middle of this open field is a small house, an old cottage; blue-green panels on the outside with peeling paint, showing the dark wood underneath. As we get closer, we notice the roof is still in good shape, weathered and discolored in rusty browns, but altogether whole and sturdy. We pass a small fence, white-washed pickets hardly taller than the grass, no gate at its front, just an opening leading us inward.

The doorknob is cold brass, a bulb and a curling knocker at the door’s center. We knock but hear no answer, and when we try to enter, the way opens easily. We enter a small foyer, stepping over creaking floorboards–the air is musty, but rich with the depth of wood and rainwater that has housed this place for so many silent years. We step into a small dining room and here’s a table, mahogany perhaps, large enough to seat six or seven.

There’s a copper platter as its centerpiece, flanked on either side by a pair of candlesticks; large wax tapers sit unused, their wicks charred and ancient flows of wax turned solid. I lift one gently, blowing aside the dust; it’s shining even in the shadows, and heavy, hardy. I return the candlestick and a little further into the house we notice a screen door leading to the other side of the clearing. The breeze rattles the frame, and we leave at last.

We’re no longer in an open field, but a tamed and tended garden full of blossoming flowers in purple and red that blanket the ground like autumn leaves; here and there, sunflowers poke up like little suns over a turbulent sea, drooping slightly as their dark round faces gaze at the blooms around them. My foot strikes something solid and I bend down to pick up a small chalice; it’s silver with golden scroll-work inlaid around the base and rim. I rub the dirt off with my thumb, and as we keep going, I place it on the side of a stout little birdbath we stumble across a little further through the garden. On the weathered grey stone, the cup shimmers like angels atop a gravestone.

Finally we pass through the other side of the garden, and here we pass beneath the trees again: a meandering copse, we realize, as we come to the shore of a river, or a lake; the water is dark and restless, white caps forming as the breeze–now a steady gale–whips into us from the distant shore. Just on the other side, my heart says, we’ll be home. We look around, see the water stretching far into the horizon; it’ll be fastest to cut straight through. I kick off my shoes, he follows, I fold my shirt and drape it over a branch. I slip from my jeans and take the first few steps in. The water is cold, but now it swells around me and its violence suddenly is an abundance of hands, holding me, supporting me.

The water’s at my knees and I look back; our eyes meet, we smile, he’s a few yards behind me, and we keep going. I feel the water leech into my boxers; I suck in my breath as it reaches my stomach, shuddering, but these watery fingers hold my firmly, won’t let me go. It’s time. The sun is setting somewhere, streaks of violet and indigo cut across a deep blue sky. I lift my feet and fall forward. The water rushes around, grabs me, pulls me forward. I’m swimming, gliding, held beneath the surface, tumbling in the undertow.

I open my eyes. I breathe. I break the surface while a silver moon rises above me.

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