The Path

Come lovely and soothing death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, on the day, in the night, to all, to each, Sooner or later, delicate death’

Walt Whitman: ‘The Lessons of Grief’

The girl with no name ran as fast as she could. The never-ending, uneven stone path had made her fall, not registering any pain, she picked herself up and set off running again. She did not know why she was running. Was she running to something or, perhaps, away from something?

Her flowing chestnut hair matched the rustling leaves of the trees surrounding The Path. The continuous lines of trees either side formed a neat canopy; informing her there was only one way… Forwards. She had not realised that despite her arduous trek for what seemed like miles, not a bead of sweat escaped her pores, and her lungs were never starved of oxygen during her panic ridden journey. Oblivious to this unsettling fact, she pressed forwards, her eyes darting about to try and make sense of the scenery. Luminous green moss crept around the edges of the stone Path. She noticed bulges and imperfections in this trail, pushing the stones upwards and providing a very unstable running ground. She thought how much they resembled tumours, and it seemed that every so often they pulsed ominously, looking as though they were filled with some unexplainable substance.

Finally she stopped running, not from exhaustion, but from the need to collect her thoughts. The panic that fiercely coursed through her arms and legs stopped, and she stood still, cradling her elbows in her hands. Having become desensitised to her new environment’s scary unfamiliarity, she began to see the gloomy beauty of The Path. It was dimly lit, with the overhanging trees just managing to let some golden sunshine pierce through. The ominous bulges now looked completely harmless, in fact they provided some nice deviation to the otherwise plain pathway. At once everything just seemed to revolve into place and the fog that had clouded her mind was lifted and she allowed herself to think.

From the corner of her eye she saw a subtle movement. Suspicion furrowed her brow and she looked down the gentle slope of where she had just been running. The trees were still holding that golden light at bay, there was still the uneven Path but she was sure that one of the bulges had deflated; where had the substance gone? She caught herself and asserted that this was an impossible thought, and yet she knew that nothing here had to make sense.

The Path just is.

From the moment she had arrived (which was a memory she found totally inaccessible), she felt somewhat… lighter. At first scared, but underneath, unburdened. She used to suffer from terrible nightmares when she was a girl, restlessly tossing and turning underneath the covers. When slumber did hit her, it was fraught with the evil grins of vampires and creatures with hidden faces chasing her. As the monster got her, or she closed her eyes so tightly she woke up, tears would fall and cries would escape. Her mother’s kind and soothing presence would normally make her sobs subside as she had prepared herself nightly to rush into her daughter’s bedroom. She was also a keen player of video games and her mother, familiar with the controls and workings of the console, one night taught her a technique she still uses if the now rare nightmares ever returned.

“Imagine, in your dream you have your controller in your hand. Think about its texture, the cool hard plastic, the two joysticks and the buttons. You know the ‘pause’ button? Go ahead and press it while a baddie’s coming after you. Pause the dream and it will pause, scroll down to ‘quit’ and the dream will quit. You have total control over your nightmares, sweetheart.”

Her mother’s advice which she remembers so clearly now worked a treat and eventually, she progressed to using some more advanced controls to fight back or enter a new dream world. Right now she would love nothing more than to quit this nightmare.

With absolutely nothing to lose, she closed her eyes and held both her hands out. As she had done many times before, she brought to mind the dream controller, the familiar hard plastic gripped tightly. She pressed pause. Scrolled to ‘quit’. Pressed ‘select’.

Then she felt something change. Some gentle heat on face, working its way down her arms and to her legs. She felt herself becoming lighter and behind her closed her eyelids she could see gold. Opening her eyes she saw the path disappearing underneath her. The canopy of trees had opened and stood upright, and as she rose higher, it seemed as if they were saluting her.

Compassion, tenacity, creativity. Qualities she had displayed on the path which had allowed her to overcome whatever obstacles she had faced.

And then there was peace. Sweet warmth and comfort, wrapped up in safety like a baby in a blanket. She wept, mostly out of relief but seasoned with sadness as she realised what had happened to her, why she had found herself on the path. This feeling dissolved almost as quickly as it had appeared as she felt completely at peace. Then as Sophie Larkwell drifted, somewhere another lump bulged in the path, filled with her soul, returned there for the moment, when at some time in who-knows when, the lump deflates and has another chance at the game called Life.

Image and words Copyright © 2016 Alex Marlowe

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