She cried into the fire, fighting back the river. She lost her ground and the current stole her away.
She had only ever seen two paths. There was the way ahead and the way behind. If she stayed on the path going forward, she eventually came upon a fork. One path typically looked dark and the other path looked light. She always picked one of the paths although she varied on whether dark or light was the best way to go. There would sometimes be other forks on the side trails along the way back to meet up on the big trail. The darker path was scarier at first but there were often hidden surprises and fantastic things could happen. The light path often looked easier and seemed so as well, but there were dangers that she was often unprepared for. One day she was traveling along the path and came upon a fork in the road. There was the dark path and the light path, as she had anticipated. The light path looked very unappealing but the dark path was too intense. She could not see down that path and the dangers were completely unknown. The light path was a known, she could see what she was getting into. She knew the dangers and could generally prepare for them ahead of time. The path had not been very good and had become less and less rewarding. It was getting monotonous and meaningless. It was however a familiar path and significantly less risky. She stayed course and chose, from her perspective, the lesser of two evils, never taking enough time to think that there may actually be another way.
As she traveled, she began to second guess herself. She hated this path. She hated that she hated something. And she hated that she let this path get to her enough to hate it. She was thinking about turning around to change course, but going back was not really an option. She was getting sick from her travels. Her motivation was dwindling. Her destination and even next check point were unknown. Everyone knew that she was on the lighter path because that was the normal way to go. The dark path is for excitement when you have time to wander and wonder. She did not take the dark path without telling at least someone first. She started running as fast as she could through the brush keeping on the trail but it was narrowing. A stick slashed against her cheek instantly causing a streak of stinging and burning. Her feet began to propel faster than she thought she could move them. She was almost out of breath. She never had been much of a runner but this was fight or flight time. She was fighting. She knew that this was another obstacle coming at her like a battle. If she got through this, she could move on. As she ran, her heart pounded and she could feel her pulse in her throat and finger tips. Sweat was dripping down her face and into her eyes. It was stinging and her vision was getting blurry. She questioned who she was fighting or what she was fighting and did not know the answer. Why did she have to fight? Why didn’t she fly? Although she could not see clearly and had no idea what was happening on the sides of the trail, she did not stop pushing forward. She was missing experiences all around her. She took no time to be curious about anything and just wanted to finish so she could rest. She was missing the entire point and she knew it. She was not blind but she needed to go and get it done so something else could come. Something better. A new change with a new life that was better. She needed a new direction but she couldn’t find anything that was substantially better, more than simply a different direction.
Her thoughts were twisting around inside of her trying to erupt out. The trail was scratching at her clothes and tearing at her body. She almost felt like the tearing was more inside her skin than outside but was certain that was due to this need to persist. She was weakening and still trying to fight. The trail was narrow and the brush was thick. Her vision was cloudy. She did not see hazards that were all around her. Her side was aching with intense and crippling cramps. Her lungs burned from the cold air and felt eternally frozen. She had to stop and catch her breath. She was bent over, holding herself up with her hands against her thighs, staring at the ground with the world swirling around her. Minutes went by before her breath really started to slow down enough to be comfortable. She closed her eyes and leaned to the right, pulling against the pain in her side to stretch it out. With her face up to the sky, she inhaled deeply and the pain caught in her rib cage. Her eyes flew open. The world did not look the same here. She realized that in her haste, she had missed something. This path was not really what it seemed. It was carefully carved out, used by many people but it was not being maintained adequately. With astonished puzzlement, she exclaimed aloud, confusion shaking in her voice, “Who made this path and why do I have to take it? I don’t even know where it leads!” She was furious at her revelation. Why had she never asked that before and who really had made this path? Why? It was a treacherous path and took her by things she had not wanted to encounter. Just then, she looked forward and down at the path. Not 10 feet in front of her was a fallen tree. She was stunned to see it right there. A tree had been broken down on the trail covering most of the path. It was definitely a large trunk but it was flat and wide. Her new wonder drew her toward the tree to examine it. It looked like it was laid in a trench. This tree had not reached the end of its days and fallen to rest. It was not knocked over by wind. It wasn’t even from beavers. Someone cut this tree down and carefully placed it over this path. She could have gotten seriously hurt if she had not stopped before it was too late. This was absolutely ridiculous. Other people are supposed to help clean up the paths because so many people need to use them. Somebody made this one dangerous intentionally! Why would anyone do that?
She fully approached the tree and felt the moss on the bark with her hands. It meant no harm. It was placed here and it seemed to be damaging and extremely bizarre. Something did not feel right. She felt a lump in her throat and a rock in her stomach. She stood tall and climbed onto the log to see from where it came.
Moving through the stickers, the path of the tree was clear enough and led right into another shadowed path. This path was different than any little side trail or off shoot she had ever seen. It smelled earthy and plastic. The rock in her stomach was burning now. Her pulse was once again present in her extremities. She felt chilled and had goosebumps climb her body like a vine overtaking a tree. Everything down to the air was eerie. The sound didn’t echo right; it sounded insulated. It felt like a terrible secret was close by. She started to feel not just uncomfortable and nervous, but, out of place.
She looked around expecting something to happen. She saw some leaves rattle and, startling herself, crept closer to the rustling leaves. She did not notice the slow white figure slithering across the ground. Just as she was reassuring herself that there was nothing in the leaves, a large shimmering snake slid over her toe, getting just enough attention to be noticed and cautiously alarmed. She moved back against the tree and stepped on top of it, keeping her exit in sight. The snake continued to move on its course and then circled back when it reached the far edge of the trail side. Sunlight sparkled off of this snake and it had a golden stripe running from the tip of its tail to the back of its head where it split and swirled like opposing waves. There was a color lining the inside of the waves where the gold strip split apart; she could not really be sure what to identify this color as. The elegant color was some kind of lavender with teal or sea foam green or something. It was subtle yet powerful enough to distract all of her attention. The snake was clear in its direction and it was approaching her. She saw that it was not coming near her or heading past her but it was explicitly intent to meet her. The snake stopped before the log and lifted its head to her knee level, tilted its head and directed its gaze at her face. It had a long dark tongue that was not black, maybe forest green?
It greeted her, “Hello, my dear. It is a pleasant afternoon.”
“Yes, I do suppose it is. How do you do?” she replied trying to hold back her skepticism.
“I often spend my time on these trails. It is nice to see you over here. You don’t normally come this way.” The words came out as though it were speaking to an old friend.
She was mystified and slightly stunned. Her response was cautious. “I beg your pardon; you know of my travels?”
“I do. I watch the travels of many. I have seen you for years. I am often overlooked in the scenery. I wasn’t expecting to meet you today but here we are.”
Still cautious but intrigued, she retorted, “So it would seem.” She paused for a second to grasp her composure and questions began to flow out. “Where does this path go? Does it cross over to the main path? Where is the fork for this trail?”
The serpent avoided these questions and coiled its body around and around without breaking eye contact with her. It delicately hissed and enticingly stated, “This is just another way. Why don’t you come with me and I will show you some of the nice spots?”
“I really don’t want to travel that way with you right now,” she snapped with more emphasis than she had intended.
“You should have focus. Think about what you want and take things seriously.”
She was dismayed at the assessment of the snake. While she did not feel it was anyone else’s business to involve with her affairs, she declared, ” I am quite serious about my life. I don’t know what gives you any indication I want you to make an evaluation on my life.”
The snake was amused. “Listen, my dear. You do not take your life seriously. You are serious with your intentions; this is true. You are careless with your life and traveling down a road that is leading you to a destiny that someone else dreamed.”
Astonished at the boldness of the snake, she did not know what to say. She was taken aback.
“You are alive but you have not discovered life.” The forked tongue flashed in front of her eyes and the snake continued, “You are blind to the powers that drive this world. I can show you how things actually are if you come with me. If you turn away from me, it will haunt you all of your days and you will never uncover what I can teach you. I am often watching many people as I travel my own roads. You are lost, sweet child.” The tip of its tail twitched back and forth. It was unclear whether this was a sign of annoyance or another distraction.
She felt that the words of the snake were patronizing and manipulative. She did not trust the words or the intention. She felt that these words were carefully chosen to be honestly revealing and covert. The words felt accurate but the meaning felt twisted. What did this snake want and why was it interested in her? Did it need her to do something? She realized that this was a precarious situation and that the snake was backing her toward the edge of a cliff. At that moment she turned away without words and left the snake behind. She went back to the path she had been traveling down before she found the fallen tree. The snake did not follow her. She sat, alone, on the mysterious log that blocked her way now facing the open path beyond it. She sat in silence. Her thoughts were scrambled and her frustration mounted. She began to sob. Her cries roared out into the trees echoing across forest. Her sobbing was answered by silence and solitude.
Now, her head hurt and her face felt hot. She took time to breathe; she took time to feel the breeze. With a new perspective opened to her, she had resolve and determination to make things right again. No one could control her or hold her back. She was free. She believed she was and believed that was the only thing that mattered. If she believed that she was free she could argue against anyone who told her otherwise. The snake had correctly determined that she had a lack of direction. She once thought that following the only path she knew was actually the way out of the forest. It had only been easy. It was time for her to do what she knew was right and really the only thing she could. She would not go forward. She would not go back. She thought about the dark path and thought about how wished she would have decided to go that way before this whole episode started. She knew that was not right either. She went to what used to be the top of the tree and was now the end of the log and pushed the branches that lined the path aside as she broke into the brush.
There was no path ahead. She did not know what direction she should go or where anything went. There was no guarantee that anything would be alright ever again. She felt like her life had been shattered and she was left to pick up the broken shards of what she thought was her reality and had nothing else left. She muttered under her breath, “I guess nothing has ever been guaranteed.” She sighed and took hold of her life and went onward.
It was cool and it was late evening. There were new sounds all around. The air was crisp and she was enthusiastic and full of drive. Her energy was steady and she had not faltered much along the way into the unknown. The soil was loose below her. She would sometimes sink into the ground like it was hollow. Her foot would get stuck enough to slow her pace but not enough to break her determination. She had been traveling for hours without food, water or rest. Perhaps, it had been days? She did not know or really care. She didn’t need anything right now. She had never felt like this before. There was renewed passion and she was invigorated. The ground was becoming very thick. It was not muddy but the earth was soft and it seemed to swallow her feet each time she put her weight down. The ground was now falling over the tops of her feet with each step she took. She braced her left leg firmly down and thrust her right leg forward, out of the ground. It came down firmly in front of her and as she pressed into the ground with her right leg to free her left foot, it sank down to her knee. She was not upset and now pushed her weight left trying to release the grip that the earth had taken of her. She twisted and wiggled. Her foot was loose and she could wiggle her toes up and down but her leg was still down this hole covered with heavy granulated soil. She felt like there was enough stability in her position to dig around her leg. She shifted her weight and angled her body so that she could sit down. She began to dig around her calf and pushed the dirt to the side. She kept the hole that she was digging wide and built the walls around it up. The air was getting cooler and the dirt wall around the hole was getting quite tall but her foot was almost free. This did not seem to make sense. There was dirt all around her. While she had been digging her leg free, the ground she was on had been sinking. She had been sinking and had not noticed! What had she gotten herself into? What in the world could she or should she do? This was not the type of material she could dig her way upward and out of. She quickly realized that it did not matter. Darkness was certainly near and the walls started crumbling around her and she was still sinking. She felt a rush of anger and terror and clawed at the earth that was weighing her down. The panic passed on and she was in control of her destiny. She took the biggest breath that she could and closed her eyes and felt herself being swallowed alive into the earth.
The sensation was not what she expected. She was calm and controlled. Everything seemed to be still and she felt as though she were suspended in some kind of space, unsure if she was floating or falling or even alive anymore. Her body was unrestricted and she could breathe. It was too dark to see anything. She felt weightless, and, then her weight hit her and she slipped into a free fall that ended with an abrupt yet gentle landing on cold, green stone. It was dark but there was light behind her and the popping sound of a fire. There was a thick, sweet smokey smell that drifted through the air without making it difficult to breathe. It did not irritate her eyes. It did smell like smoke but it was gentle and soothing. Her movements were very slow as she awakened into this mist. The air was damp and fresh despite the apparent fire in close proximity. There was also water flowing, definitely constant and audible but not roaring. She rose from the hard, cold stone she was resting upon. She came up to the fire and felt its light extend its reach toward her warming her through the middle while wrapping its arms over her body to comfort her mind, body and soul and covered her like a soft quilt gently cradling her body. A voice came out from the other side of the flame.
“Who are you? Why have you come to me?” the voice boomed forth but did not startle her. She did not respond and stared blankly into the flames. They flickered in the darkness and embers that floated through the air glistened in reflection from the wet stone below. The fire was born from a hollow pillar of nephrite which also reflected off the glassy floor. She looked around to see that she was actually inside of a cave made entirely of the green stone. The voice boomed at her again but the tone was softened, “I hope the fire is warm enough for you. Are you comfortable?” She nodded back to the voice. This time,the voice was anticipated and had softened, with a slower conversational tone, “Who are you?” it questioned again with patience.
She did not know how to respond. She did not know where she was. She did not know who this was. She didn’t even see anyone there. She was warm and comfortable. The voice was not intimidating; she felt compelled to trust it. Her words formed slowly in her mouth and drifted out over the fire. As she spoke, she heard no sound and watched as they appeared to float over to the voice across the light. “I hardly know, sir. I thought I did. It has been such a long day. Can you please tell me where I am?” The words disappeared on the other side.
“Oh, so you are lost. That makes much more sense to me. I couldn’t fathom why you would have come here intentionally. This is a place that is unlike yours. Here there is no time within these walls and there are no walls. There are no standards and guidelines to regulate your thoughts and behaviors with or to. This is not your land. This is not a land at all. The differences are much greater than you can comprehend. It is difficult to understand when you have no familiar basis of comparison. So…so, here you are. Here you are indeed. How do you feel about it?” This time these words also came without sound and they came without being visible. They were clearly spoken, not just understood. The sound was not inside her head but she did not hear it and there was no sound. This thought consumed her awareness. It was also crystal clear and she understood. She did not feel confused or disoriented. Everything was completely unfamiliar to her but she understood. Her head turned down toward her feet. She looked away at the ground and saw her own face looking back at her as if it were a mirror but it was not. It was not a mirror at all. It acted like a mirror but the image was not reflecting. If she moved her right arm, the image moved its right arm. She walked closer to…it. When she was right at it, the not-quite-reflection of her was coming from under the river. When she reached down to touch it she realized that not only did it not appear to be a reflection, it was not a reflection. It was her. She was under the river. She looked at the fire still burning from the pillar. There was no figure on the side of the flame the voice she had previously encountered came from. The flames were getting bigger and appeared to be inches in front of her face. The river was flowing over her body pulling her gently into the path of the river. She was not in the water but in the ground that was solid stone yet her body traveled freely through it.
She cried into the fire, fighting back the river. She lost her ground and the current stole her away. Her body was cold. Her muscles tightened up inside of her and she stiffened in response. She accelerated faster and faster through sparks of darkness and her body hardened like quartz taking on the color of the rocks around her. Her heart beat rhythmically from inside the stone version of herself rattling the essence of her existence. The stone began to crack as if fault lines were converging and diverging to break it apart.
She is now alone again but she is not. There is nothing here. She would have to say that her senses are numb except she doesn’t have any senses to anticipate any response from anything and there is nothing to expect a response from. There is nothing audible and no light, no darkness, no cold or warm. There is no sensation or stimulation. No energy flows anywhere. There is nothing. But she is here. Where is here? Where is she? She is awake.