A man has a dream.
He is walking in the forest, not knowing what he’s looking for. The path is narrow, thick foliage traps all-access beyond the trail, and a silver light reaches through tiny holes in the canopy. The trail feels known to him, but mystery envelops every step while urging his curiosity forward.
He comes to a point in the path where he stops and looks forward. Something waits for him, here, at the end of the path. He finds that thought odd, “end of the path,” because past the invisible obstruction, he can see the trail push on in a straight, visible line. But for him, here is where the trail stops.
Standing alone, in the quiet underbrush, he gazes ahead, where a form materializes before his eyes. The light is limited…the only way he knows how to describe what he sees is if the existing light were rerouted, and then focused into a mold. A soft burst of silver accented by a gold undertone undulates and fluxes; glows transforming into edges and boundaries. Where one sparkle abates, a cascade of perfect blonde hair appears. Where another, a hand that bears itself familiar. The man, though in a dream, feels his heart palpitating and his breath catching. Hope mixes with pain, surfacing anew.
As the silver fades and the gold disappears, a beautiful visage remains. His wife, who passed away a few years before, stands before him. She’s perfect and beautiful.
The man jolts himself awake.
Now, I can’t speak on much of what happens while he’s awake. The dream is all I know.
In future nights he dreams pretty much the same dream. Only, each new version is rewound a bit and starts at an earlier point on the path. All done as if time was supposed to move backward, with the final destination found first. That first night, seeing her so vividly and complete, shook him to the core. But he couldn’t stay away.
In every dream after that, he finds her first, and he feels happy. Joy to have her again. Celebration to remember her again. However, he feels an itch every time. Something isn’t…it is not the same.
So every night, he dreams, and every dream comes and rewinds a little more until he finds himself closer to the beginning and facing a fork in the trail. He knows the one to his right; this road will take him where he started dreaming and reunited with his wife. The other route is unknown.
The initial pain at seeing his wife anew each night threatens to break him as he contemplates it. He feels like he’ll find her at the end of the unknown path too, but doubts. He lost her once…if he already knows where she can be found again, is it worth it to endlessly travail down another lonely, begotten avenue?
No. It isn’t.
So every night, he always takes the path he knows.
Then, one night he’s forced to decide to go down the other path. He can’t adequately describe the sensation, or the desire to change his direction. A pull from inside him, as well as from down the unknown road, leaves him little choice. Almost like his very being will unravel if he fails to face it.
The first step to the left reveals it’s incredibly more difficult, and he doubts. Difficult is unwanted. Difficult will ask more of him, and he can’t see if he’ll need more fortitude near the end. He can’t even see the end.
Instead of a straight trail, this one weaves. The path is still clearly marked, but buried stones reach out of the ground towards to sky, uncaring towards any they inconvenience. The trees are burdened with more branches and leaves, rendering a much more difficult journey for the silver light to get through. Brushes with sharp edges and points break the unspoken truce of the trail, spilling over just enough that the man must take great attention in each step.
How many times the man curses himself for allowing this choice…he doesn’t know. How often he fearfully glances over his shoulder, not only worrying should something anarchic appear there but yearning for the path he knows all too well…it’s impossible to say.
Still, unbeknownst to even his heart, he is pulled further in and obliges.
Suddenly, a flash of light more brilliant and vibrant than any yet encountered surges in front of him. His hands come up as he halts, feet perched precariously on uneven ground, eyes squinting in pain. For an eternity, the light shines in the gloom, though try as he might, the man cannot pierce within to see what dwells there. He is at its mercy. There is nothing left to do.
It finally dims. His wife steps out, smiling, and he struggles to keep himself from jolting awake again. She appears as she did down the other path but somehow feels more complete. He stands stunned for a moment, hands still held as his only protection. She walks over and grabs them in her own warm hands, drawing them down and leaning in, kissing his cheek. She’s real, and he can touch her.
Tears fall from his eyes. She stands next to him, and they start walking this new path hand in hand, silent. The painful hope present from before washes away. For the first time since she died, the man can recognize sincere hope, and feel love. He can also see the pain, trauma, bitterness, guile, and poisoned artifice that had begun to rule his life.
Shame fills his soul. How could he have fallen so far?
She squeezes his hand, and he looks up at her. Still smiling, she motions toward the path and the forest, so he withdraws from his turmoil to look outward. And what he sees surprises him.
This forgotten road…it’s more beautiful than the other path. He can now see the tiny flowers lining the bushes. Blues and pinks and purples that pulse within and saturate the dream. The uneven ground, that before tripped his feet and bruised his skin, accents a trail with character and purpose. A reason for those walking it to remain engaged in life.
It is still more strenuous than the straight road, but he doesn’t care about the difficulty anymore. Now that he’s with his wife again, what does it matter, easy or difficult?
They walk in bliss. He no longer fears where his feet will fall. His heart is full.
After some time, they stop, and his wife turns to him. He hears her voice in his head, “Take the chance.” Then she lets go of his hand and walks away, disappearing in another flash of light.
The man wakes up. His face is wet, and he’s smiling.