I went out to wander the trails after lunch this afternoon. I had a lot on my plate (in more ways than one) and I thought I should go walk it off. It was clear and cold, but I had my wool coat to keep out the chill; I'd left my obligations at the threshold of the forest, and so I pressed onward. The woods were in limbo. In spite of the sunshine and the snow's messy, incomplete transition into mud suggesting the advent of spring, there were no birds, not even one of the crows that perch on the tree by the steeple year-round. My canvas-clad feet made the only sound, now crunching through winter's dirty rags, now squishing through the grit and grime of an almost-but-not-quite renaissance.

I have this habit of getting absorbed in my thoughts while I'm walking. When that happens, walking becomes a sort of compulsion and I can't stomach the thought of sitting still, so I will invent long-cuts and detours to keep myself from ever getting home. It doesn't matter where I go, if I'm retracing my steps or if I've never been there before; I follow where my feet will go and I don't ask questions. This is how it came to pass that, in the midst of my walk, I stopped quite suddenly at the junction of two paths and realized I hadn't the foggiest idea where I was, nor had I been paying enough attention to follow the same trail back to where I'd started.

Standing there, I bounced nervously on the balls of my feet and recited Robert Frost to calm myself. I'd been lost in these woods before. They aren't very big; the key to getting out is picking a direction and sticking to it. And sticking to the trail, of course, because if there is a trail at all, then someone else has been there and presumably that person also found his way out. So all that remained was for me to choose left or right and continue walking until I came to something - a house, a road, anything.

I peered down the path to my right. It was coated with ice and curved sharply back to disappear in shadow behind a snowy hill. The path to my left, on the other hand, had shed its icy shell and was dappled with sunlight. I was cold, and I knew progress would be slow and tedious on the ice, so I took the left.

After a few minutes I was already warmer and my step took on a contented bounce. This was an adventure! Just the thing I'd been waiting for. I wondered what Lucy Pevensie would do now. She would be looking for Aslan, of course, with the help of whatever woodland creatures she encountered. Then I began to wonder what went through a woodland creature's head. Not just in Narnia, but everywhere. Do birds realize how lucky they are to fly? Do snakes appreciate the simple joy of laying on a rock in the warm sun?

As a matter of fact I was tempted to do just that. It had gotten so warm that I had to unbutton my jacket, and moments later I shed it altogether. I hung it on a broken branch of a pine tree, busted off to form a natural coat hook, to keep it out of the mud in the event that I should come back this way and want to wear it again, and continued on my way. But it was as though summer had come out of nowhere, and soon even my hoodie was too much. I hung that on a branch as well and kept going. At least I would have trail-markers if I eventually turned around and tried to find the way I'd come. In fact, I thought, perhaps I should just turn around and try to find my way back. I'd gotten where I was; surely I could get back to where I started if I turned around and walked. But it was so cold back there, and my thirst for adventure lured me on.

The afternoon wore on. The shadows stretched out across the leafy brown carpet of the woods, where not so much as a patch of snow remained any longer. I couldn't believe I hadn't found my way out yet. I was hungry; lunch seemed like a lifetime ago. My legs were numb from hours of walking, and even when I paused, I still felt like I was moving. But of course I couldn't stop for long. It would be dark in a couple of hours and I was not prepared to spend the night out of doors. I wished I'd turned around, but figured by now I must be closer to the opposite side of the woods than the side I'd started at, and going back now would take much longer than continuing to the western edge of the forest.

This was beginning to feel less like an adventure and more like a disaster. And though the shadows grew longer and the day wore thinner, it was still getting warmer. I thought, Maybe I somehow walked the full length of the East Coast and wound up in Florida. Or Mexico. Somehow. All I knew for sure was that I was sweating like a sumo wrestler, my jeans and t-shirt felt like they weighed a hundred pounds each, and no one was around to mind if I ditched another layer to continue the journey in my underwear, so I did.

I was in a stare-down with the sun. Even with the trees filtering out some of the light, it was too bright for me to see where I was going. I noticed at once when the path began to incline, though; my tired legs were actually grateful for the slightly different motion required to travel uphill. The golden hue that comes just before sunset settled on the scene.

But something was very, very wrong. The scraggly trees had thinned out and I could see that the setting sun was enormous. I remembered learning, far off in some long-lost life, that the sun always appears to be less than the size of your littlest fingernail if you hold your hand at arm's length. When I measured it, it took my entire palm to cover the crimson orb. Well, I thought as I discarded the last of my clothing, that explains the heat wave.

And now curiosity gripped me. This path must lead straight to the sun! No one had ever been to the sun before. I would be the first. And when I'd explored the whole thing, I would turn right around and come back down this path and write a book about how wonderful it is inside the sun with all those electrons firing and photons shooting around, and everyone would be amazed, and I would simply tell them, If you look for it, you can find your way there, too. Anybody can go there, and it's a beautiful thing.

The forest was burning. Or what remained of the forest was burning - but that was merely a scattering of valiant trees somehow still standing amidst the black hillocks of their brothers' ashes. They were never enough to offer shade, and always less, until at last I was the only one standing, battered, breathless and barefoot, before a field of embers, face to face with a ball of fire taller than any skyscraper I'd ever seen. It occurred to me that I shouldn't be alive, and indeed, I felt heady and swollen as though everything inside of me was too large to be contained by the outside of me. I peeled off my skin and hung it on the last tree. That was better... marginally.

And I kept going. Blips of light with comet tails were streaking past me in all directions. At first they frightened me, but when I realized they were only light and couldn't actually hurt me, I saw how spectacular they were. I caught one and it soaked into the bones of my hand, causing them to glow. Though my muscles were gone, I could feel myself smile. The smoldering surface of the sun loomed ever larger, stretching out above and on either side as far as the eye could see. I was looking back over my shoulder to see if even a single tree was still visible when all of a sudden I hit a wall. My first thought was, Goddamn, someone has been here, and they're going to charge me admission to see the sun!

But then I looked and realized that it was only a door in the side of the sun. No one was there to take the money I didn't have. At the time, it didn't strike me as odd that the door was made of oak and brass. I didn't bother knocking; I simply turned the knob and let myself in. The door shut heavily behind me, leaving me in utter darkness and silence. And cold. Instinctively I rubbed my arms for warmth, and I realized they had flesh on them again. I reached for the knob to open the door and let in a little heat, but it was gone, so I curled up on the floor and cried. I wanted to go home. The sun was not beautiful. The sun was empty and lonely and cold on the inside, and I was never going to get out of there.

I don't know how long I stayed like that, but when I opened my eyes, they were accustomed to the dimness and I realized that it was not pitch black at all. In fact, there were stars overhead, and a full moon spilled its cool white light on a solitary pine tree, green and living, standing proudly just yards from where I lay. And draped haphazardly over a low branch was a very familiar looking wool coat, none the worse for wear, though it had surely been hanging there for days. I wrapped it tightly around my naked, shivering body and started to walk.


Okay. I'm sorry. This one is really weird. I was just out there walkin' and it came to me and I had to draft it right away. So this is what I've been doing since lunch instead of studying for my astronomy exam tomorrow. That's right, I do what I want.


jenniferin said...

Wow...well, you weren't kidding:P

I'll say it just for you...WTF?

Anonymous said...

I really like!

Anonymous said...

I like this. Quite a bit actually. Also I got your voicemail yesterday. I'm doing alright considering everything, but thanks for the sentiment. I was in a pretty bad mood when I got your message and it made me smile.

Anonymous said...

manderz, i love how you rope me in, make me think this is a ho-hum journal entry and then, before i know it, you're compelling my imagination to think of things it's never thought before.

this sounds like it flowed from your fingers. it feels natural. i like the writer you're maturing to be. i don't think i'd revise this one much, if i were you. C:


Anonymous said...

ok. first: where did the story of reality end? :p
second: you are an amazing writer, I love reading your stuff and I quite enjoyed this story
third: that all sounded like a dream someone on acid would have, so therefor, perfect for you

jenniferin said...

ok, I'll leave a more detailed comment...the story really drew me in, enough for me to think it was reality, up until the whole skin peeling off thing:P

Anyway...good job, you know well how to engage the readers interest

Douglas Bessette said...

wow.. this story is weird. It was really long but I could'nt stop reading.. I had no idea what would happen next!

Beak Wilder said...

You're light-years ahead of me with writing. I hope somebody finds you someday and sticks you in a room and makes you write shit like this all day. And I hope it pays well.

You're gonna get noticed. And that's not just the bong hits talking. You're just too good to not blow up.

"You are now about to witness the strength of street knowledge."
~ N.W.A.

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