A Hidden Path - Fiction - By Michael Palisano - The-Laser.com

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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Fiction


A Hidden Path

I was walking alone in the middle of the night.

It wasnít a particularly unique situation to for me have found myself in, but one that seemed to be less strange now. It seemed less surprising each time it happened, and became almost expected at that point. The hot summer sun had finally disappeared behind the western horizon. A long night took control allowing the nearly full moon to dominate the sky with an illuminating nocturnal light that lent the hill a serene glow. The world was under its watch and It almost seemed alive as it took its place in the center of the night sky. It was almost as if it was aware of my surroundings. It was omnipresent and had the ability to pick and choose which sections of the hill to shine itself on and which to keep hidden. It helped guide me, measuring my steps while subconsciously whispering to me where to head. It was a silent companion, as quiet as the trees and grass beneath my feet. I slowly walked under the trees, and began to head for home. I was getting tired. It had been a typically hot and dry summer day, where nothing seemingly happened. I walked around for many hours and finally rested in the familiar yet isolated safety of this small hill. There wasnít that much there that I hadnít seen before and I spent much of my time there taking it all in. It was a beautiful place, where I felt the world wouldnít be able to intrude. As I stood there, my memories coalesced around her once more. I could almost see her standing beside me, but I knew I was getting a little lonely after all the months that had passed since Iíd seen her. As I thought about what she had taught me over the past year, I felt a strange sensation that, despit e all I had discovered, there was more that I didnít yet know. I had many questions that I couldnít begin to answer on my own, but there wasnít much I could do about it at that point. I looked at the trees and they remained silent, but they seemed to know something.

Only a few minutes might have passed, but as I stood there, I came to a conclusion. This problem wasnít going to go away on its own. If I knew anything, it was that I had to mark a line and cross it in order to keep moving forward. It somehow made sense to me that I couldnít expect things to come to me on their own. I decided that there was something that I could do to try and figure out at least a small piece of the puzzle. Looking around, I knew there was something I needed to do before I could find the solution I had been seeking. I leaned down and looked for something I could use to lead me in the right direction. On the ground I could feel numerous rocks under the grass and began to search for one in exactly the right size and shape. Most of them were too large and jagged but I kept looking for one that had a bit of sparkle that would be visible under the moonlight. I needed something I could see from a distance. After several minutes of looking, I finally found a small oval-shaped rock with plenty of bright sparkling minerals on its surface that would be perfect for the task. I placed it in my hand, swung my arm up and threw it towards the other side of the hill. It hit the ground and bounced up a few times, then began to roll down the embankment. It rolled slowly down towards the cliff at the end of the forest, gathering speed before it finally rolled off the edge of the cliff. I followed its path until I reached the cutoff. I stood there and looked over the gap nervously.

At first, I couldnít see anything in the darkness. Apparently, it had fallen into the darkness and was too small too see underneath the blanket. Perhaps, it had fallen too close and wasnít illuminated by the moon. I looked and looked, but I couldnít find it. Once again, something I wanted to see eluded my grasp. This was disheartening to me at first, another one of my experiments that ended up feeling like a wasted effort. I thought about it, and my idea made no sense. I wondered what I expected to see down there, all those feet below. I stood there and looked up once again and saw the moon still hadnít risen to its peak yet. I still had plenty of time, but I would have to come up with a new plan. I walked back towards the middle of the hill and came once again to the clearing. This time I was on the opposite side of the forest, and I remembered how things had come to me once before. I thought of how we danced that night and the twirls and steps we created together. I wondered if there was some kind of secret code she was trying to give to me in the sequence of steps. I moved around a little bit, trying to recreate the movements we made. It was a little bit clumsy and off-pace at first, but slowly I remembered the rhythms and how we moved. I thought of how she felt when she was close to me and I could still recall how she looked at me that night. I twisted around a few times, dancing alone without music but I was still able to approximate how our moves went. I closed my eyes and I could almost see us surrounded by the lights and the other dancers. This vivid memory came flooding back to me and I spun around alone for a few minutes, reliving that moment. Still, it wasnít the same without a partner, I was lonely up there and wanted someone to dance with again. All that spinning made me feel a little bit dizzy and I felt my legs getting less sure. I stopped for a moment and opened up my eyes for a moment. The trees looked the same as they had before, but they didnít seem as quiet now. It was almost like they were hearing the music in my head, and watching me dance alone decided to join me. Swaying in the light wind, I could hear their leaves and branches rustling against each other. They seemed to be trying to tell me something. At first, I didnít realize what they were trying to tell me, but then it came to me. They wanted me to find something and were pointing me in the right direction.

Walking across the field, I came to the edge of the trees once again. They seemed thick and a little bit intimidating, but I knew something was there that I hadnít seen before. Most of the forest was fairly consistent in appearance but I looked closely to see anything out of place. I scanned over and over again until I finally discovered a small gap between the two of the trees. It wasnít very large and I could have easily missed it if I hadnít been l looking at things closely. Suddenly, I saw it and immediately knew where to go. My eyes were drawn to the slight odd way the trunks were tilted towards each other in a kind of protective shield but I knew this was the place. I walked towards them and took a close look at their branches. They were almost intertwined, nearly fused together, on the ground, and only gradually tapered apart slightly. They were thick and strong, making them difficult to climb over. It took me a moment and I hesitated for a moment before I climbed over them. I put my foot on the bottom of one of them and grabbed on to the sides of the branches, getting myself high up enough to climb through them. It was still a narrow squeeze for me, and I had to turn myself nearly sideways before I could pass through. I reached the other side and landed on the dirt, and found myself standing on the other side of the forest. I didnít know precisely know what was ahead of me, but I decided to discover what it was.

Slowly walking underneath the trees, I noticed that a ragged path was somewhat navigable if I watched my steps. Mostly consisting small clusters of dirt over leaves, I was able to follow it, though I needed to be careful not to lose track. Slowly, I came to see where I was going and began to carefully move deeper inside the small forest. I watched every step, looking out for the sharp rocks, jutting sticks and sharp drops along the way. I used the light from the moon above me to see where I was going. At first, it seemed like it was a huge mistake. It was a little bit frightening in this unfamiliar territory, which was more rustic and unkempt than the other sections. I was tempted to turn back as I walked deeper into the forest, but I decided to keep going, despite this. I felt something pulling me forward, encouraging my uneven steps. As I got further in, I noticed that the ground was becoming more open and I could feel the ground becoming more clear. I began to walk a little bit faster and slowly, the trees which had been tightly packed together began to separate, allowing more of the moon to come through. I looked ahead and could see the edge of that side of the forest. It seemed to be largely undisturbed, as if no one had been there in many years. The trees served as a barrier, keeping their secrets safe and once I broke through them, I walked and found another clearing. The grass here was taller and it wasnít as soft as it had been on the other side. It was sharp and some sections seemed to have grown almost into bushes. I walked through them and noticed that there was a river on the other side, which led into another series of trees. The river was fairly still and quiet, and I noticed that the water was flowing gently. There was no bridge there, and it was too deep, so I wasnít able to cross over. It was another serene, quiet section, and it seemed even more peaceful here than it did on the other side. As I walked down the riverís edge, I noticed something that seemed out of place.

With the trees and grass surrounding me on every side, it was easy to feel isolated, far removed from the world. There were none civilizationís distractions to worry about, I felt like I was completely alone in forest up to that point. I walked towards the object and as I got closer it seemed strange. Someone else had been here and had left something there just in case someone else needed a place to rest. It was just a simple steel-works bench, but after all the walking Iíd done that day, it was a great relief to see it. It seemed old, as if it had been there for many years, but it wasnít rusted or dilapidated. Its paint was a little faded but it didnít seem to have any chips. It was surprisingly comfortable and it was a good size for me, and placed my feet down on the ground to relax my feet for a few minutes. I sat there for awhile and watched the moon filter down from the heavens, slowly moving eastward along its well-traveled path. Using this moment to reflect on where Iíd been over the past few months,

I once again wondered what the significance of it all had been. None of it had a logical explanation, but deep inside I knew there was something I couldnít explain that had serendipitously led me to that bench. I waited for awhile and closed my eyes. I could hear the waters of the river flowing gently in front of me, the stream working its way over the thick rocks, through the gaps between accumulated branches and under the muddy embankments. I could smell its natural components flowing under my nose, regressing backwards into other waves, all the while keeping time at its own pace. I remembered how she felt, like a river herself, flowing through the world effortlessly. I noticed this about her vividly when she was next to me and felt an echo of that same sensation on my back earlier in the afternoon on the pier when I turned around.  I thought of how she was waiting for me that night on the island and I wondered if she knew that someone was there waiting for her at that moment. Somehow, all of this was going to make sense one day. In the meantime, all I could do was sit there and try and hold onto the clues I had. In my mind, I was saving them for a later time when I knew eventually that the scattered pieces I discovered would converge in some way. I didnít understand what it all meant at that point, and my mind wandered back and forth, going in circles. This continued until I became exhausted in my attempts to reconcile my contradictory thoughts.

At this point, I was getting quite tired emotionally, too. My feet were sore from all the walking and I needed a rest. I waited patiently under the moon, marking off time and waiting for something to happen. The night was beginning to deepen in its hold over the world, and I sat there, watching the trees swaying over me, their leaves scrambling to stay connected to the branches. I felt the riverís pulse under my feet, its waves flowing through the ground shaking the ground beneath me. In a moment, I dazed off and began to slumber for a moment. At long last, the clashing thoughts I had inside my mind began to subside and I was able to relax. The stillness was a pleasant change of pace. I felt like I had been running not for that day, bur for more than a year since the previous summer when I saw her initially. At last, the momentum seemed to subside, and it was a great relief, even if only for that moment. It was getting late and I felt myself slowly drifting off to sleep. Iím not sure about how long I was out, but it couldnít have been that long since it was still dark when I awoke. As my eyes opened, I felt something on my back. I wasnít sure what it was at first, but I came to the realization quickly.

It wasnít like what I had felt earlier in the day, it was much stronger and warmer. Someone I knew had placed her hand on my back gently. I turned my head around and saw a familiar face. She was standing right behind me. I didnít know how long sheíd been there, but instinctively I knew it hadnít been too long. I looked at her and she seemed relieved. I quickly figured out why. She was finally able to find me once I was in the same place for awhile. I had been walking around all day, going from place to place. This probably made it difficult for her to find me. Now that we were finally together in that place, it seemed to make sense. Immediately, it felt like time compressed. It had been months since that night on the island, but time seemed to evaporate instantaneously. She looked as radiant and beautiful as she did that night, as if a moment had not passed. Our connection resumed almost immediately and a sense of security immediately overcame me. She was there at my side, protecting me for reasons and from what I didnít understand. I would come to know later on, but at eleven years old, it probably would have been overwhelming.

At that moment, none of that mattered. I was no longer afraid or confused, the pressures from the world outside evaporated. I looked into her eyes and she didnít seem to have a single worry inside of her. She seemed just a strong and wise as I remembered. Instinctively, she also seemed to know what I had gone through in the many attempts I had made to find her. She didnít need to say a word; at long last we were finally together again. Taking her place beside me, I knew there was something that she needed to do. She probably noticed how tired I seemed at that moment, b ut also relieved. We sat there for several minutes, just enjoying each otherís presence. It was a rare moment where things made sense once again. All the walking hadnít been worthless, and everything wasnít a dream. I felt so relieved, and I thought maybe she was. I sensed she may have been worried about me, and was happy to find me safe. As we sat there, I also had the feeling that she also wanted me to do something for her.

At that point, the last thing I wanted to do was walk somewhere else, but I knew that the nightís journey wouldnít be complete. In many ways, meeting her was only the beginning of the adventure. Somewhat reluctantly, I got up from the bench and she followed me. We stood side by side. She took me by the hand and held it firm. I was tired, but she took the lead and gently pulled on my arm. We walked parallel to the river for a while until we reached a point where it was especially shallow. Crossing the river took only about a minute, and we were on the other side, slowly but surely moving towards a destination. I wasnít sure what she had planned, but at this point I trusted her. Slowly, she began to let go of my hand, as if to tell me that the most dangerous part of our journey was over. She walked ahead of me a little and motioned me to pick up speed a little. The night wasnít going to last forever.

Walking towards what looked like a large cluster of bushes; she nodded to me and motioned for me to come with her. When I reached them, I noticed that they werenít bushes at all, but were the tops of a group of dunes. We overlooked the edge of a waterfront section above the ocean. I hadnít realized how far Iíd come, it was at least ten miles from the hill to the nearest beach. No wonder I was so tired. She took my hand again and we walked over the dune and found ourselves standing over a cluster of sand that I didnít recognize. The sand was surprisingly wet and my feet had sunk under it, getting soaked with each step. We stood together and looked at the ocean waves, standing there together soaking it all in. The ocean air was a little thicker down here and its densely packed vapor permeated the sky, saturating the skies in an oceanic green fog. We kept walking until we reached a corner. It had been another long walk and it was really getting to me. However, she was a little ahead of me and was once again motioning me to come with here. It took me minute or so to find it but, when I saw what she was looking at, my sore feet were forgotten.

Sitting across the waves from us, outlying the waters I managed to make out the silhouette of a familiar place. It took me a moment, but I realized that was the island where we had met and danced together several months earlier. I spent so much time looking for it in vain, seeing it again made my heart soar as it all flooded back. I remembered exactly how it felt to be there after the long journey over the water. It was difficult to find even when I had directions, and felt fortunate enough that I persisted in my journey. I remembered all the people dancing and how they were all much older than us. I remembered how out of place and odd I felt, like an unwelcome guest. I didnít feel like I belonged there until I saw her. I remembered how she made all of it disappear the moment she extended her hand and invited me to dance. It came flooding back to me as I looked at it once again.

All these months later, the place looked different, hiding under the foggy air that night, It seemed distant, almost hidden like it didnít want to be seen. I saw its general shape but It was too far away so I couldnít see the tents or the docks or any of the other places. It was quiet and I didnít see any lights on, I saw it quite clearly but it defiantly held onto its many mysteries, including ours. It didnít matter to me, since the moment I saw it, those old songs began playing once again in my mind. We stood there together for awhile looking at it, She knew that I needed to see it again, so I could know without a doubt that what happened wasnít a dream or something I made up. I had been so filled with questions, wondering what happened and even if it had. I wondered what it all meant. Did those people even remember us now, and what did they think about us? It was something I tried to figure out but decided not to think it after some time. I still had too many questions, but not enough to really begin to come to any satisfying conclusions.

It all washed away in a moment and she took me by the hand and once again gestured to me to join her. We began to move around in familiar circles, but the ground was soft, so weíd quite have the grace we did during our first dance. Iíd grown a smidge taller over the summer and was also a little more confident, but this was undermined by the saturated ground under my feet. It was a clumsy attempt, with our feet leaving transient impressions in the wet sand weíd have to navigate around. Still, we persisted a few times in our stumbling attempts to dance. I tried to sing a few notes from one of the songs we heard, but I didnít quite remember all the words. It wasnít the same without music accompanying us. I was so happy to be in her arms again, that it didnít really bother me. After a few minutes, we slowed and stopped, and stood there on the beach, watching the waves roll onto shore. Our gaze returned to the island, and it seemed to have moved closer to us in some way. I felt the wind pick up a little while the waves began to churn. I could see more clouds moving towards us. At this point is was probably getting very late. We stood there and she turned her head towards me and I knew we couldnít stay here forever. I didnít want the moment to end, but I knew she something else she wanted to show me.

I took one last, long look at the distant island. I was a bit sad that I couldnít stay longer. Part of me wanted to take her there again, but I didnít have a boat. I was glad, however, that she had shown me the way to find it again, even though it was quite a walk and the ground seemed unfamiliar to me. I knew I could find it again if I wanted to. Slowly, we walked back down the beach and I followed her back down the other side of the dunes. We walked back through the trees and crossed the river once again. It didnít seem to take as long now that I knew the way. We returned to find the old metal bench and we sat down together to take another rest. I knew that she had brought me back there for a reason, but I needed to catch my breath for a moment. She took my hand again and squeezed it, as if she was preparing me for something. I looked at her eyes and they seemed to be a little bit mischievous, but I couldnít understand why at first.

She grabbed something from underneath the bench and handed it to me. It was that strange book Iíd seen earlier on the other side of the trees that had been sealed shut. Somehow, she knew how to open it, and she placed it on my lap. The moon was still bright enough that I could see the pages, but I was surprised to feel how heavy it was. I looked at the cover and figured out what the initials on it meant. I was a bit nervous about what was inside, but her presence reassured me that it wasnít anything bad. Leaning in over my shoulder, she began to turn the pages for me, pointing out things she wanted me to see. We spent many minutes on the first few pages, going over everything carefully together. She wanted to make sure I understood everything before moving on. Once she got me to past the basics, she moved a little faster though the pages, going quickly through most of it.

As we looked through the pages, I was overcome with a sudden realization that while she taught me a few things, that knowledge was dwarfed by what I didnít know. Despite its heft, I knew that even the most elaborate book didnít contain all or even most of the answers. What I saw was enough for me, I knew it might be a difficult path sometimes, but I was going in the right direction. Some questions I had were answered on those pages, but most others kept their mysteries to themselves.

Once we reached about a quarter of way through, she told me that it was enough for a single night. She closed it and put it under her arm, signaling that it was time for her to get going.  At this point, I was getting tired and I still needed to take another long walk home. I watched her walk down at the side of the river until she disappeared under the moon. I knew Iíd see her again before, but still couldnít figure out when. I sat there for awhile, my head still spinning from everything we experienced together that night. I never really told anyone about us, or all the nights I spent looking for her. After that night, things began to become a little bit clearer, but there was still a long way to go. I knew if I said anything to anyone, they wouldnít understand. More importantly, Iíd give up the trust she had given me. Walking through the night through the streets on the way home, I thought about it and decided not to tell anyone where Iíd been or who I was with.

What happened that night would always remain our secret.

- Michael Palisano

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