Narrow forest path

A Path After the Road

A short story by Tyler Golec

Halfway through June, the sun was hot and the boy and girl were sweating hard as they ran up the road. Their faces could have been the same, siblings with long dark hair. The brother, older by a year, led their charge up the mountain road.

The promise of mountain springs and cold mixed with the energy of youth kept them going. There was moisture in the air. It had rained in the morning. They struggled to catch their breath in the humidity as they stopped where the paved road ended and the trail began.

“Still not ready to go?” the brother asked.

“Neither are you!” the sister accused.

He smiled. “That might be true.”

When breathing was even, they stepped carefully beyond the road onto the trail. Close together they walked, hand in hand. It was best not to get separated while on the trail. 

The brother watched the forest to the left. The sister watched the forest to the right. Together, they walked straight along the middle of the path. Shoulder to shoulder, eyes on the forest, they passed carefully along the path.

“Will we see it this time?” the sister asked.

“I hope not,” the bother answered.

“It let us go before.”

“I might not do so again.”

In silence, until the path opened to a deep pool and a waterfall. Relieved, they both cheered and ran for the water. They stripped off their clothes and blessed themselves with the coolness of the pool.

Clean and cool, they dried and dressed. No one else came here. It was their secret since they were eight and nine. The path though, where the road ends, was likely the reason why. To pass through the forest on anything but a road… it was as good as folly to go anywhere, not along a road.

But who made the roads? Their mother didn’t know. Who made the monsters in the woods? Nobody knew. It was only a hundred meters from their pool to the road, but it was getting dark.

Once again, shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, they made their way back to the road. In the long shadows of the trees, little eyes could be seen. As they always could be seen when the sun was low and the light was lean.

“Children, you came again?”

They turned swiftly around to see a man they had seen before.

They walked backward, shoulder to shoulder, away from the man. The road wasn’t far, they could run.

“We just wanted to swim,” said the brother.

“It is so hot in the valley,” said the sister.

“I understand this, I know.” The man took a step toward them. Tall and lean, pale and dark, he was cloaked. Only his head could be seen.

“We just want to go home,” said the sister.

“We just swam, we will leave,” said the brother.

“You have it wrong, you are mistaken,” said the man on the trail. “I love to swim. I enjoy the coolness of a mountain breeze. I know how hot the valley is in June.”

“Of course,” said the brother, they were so close to the road. “We will just be on our way.”

“Thank you, mister, it has been a pleasant chat,” said the sister.

They both turned and sprinted the last dozen meters to the road. They ran, the brother a step in front. His foot caught a rock. He fell forward, too fast for his sister to catch. He struck nothing, he fell through. 

She watched him pass to nothing, his outstretched fingers grazing the road. She stepped onto the safety of that road. The man walked to the end of the path stopping before the road.

“Where is he?” she demanded.

“In a place that is unknown.”

“How do I find him?”

“Oh, I don’t know.”

“What do you mean?”

“If you come with me, we will see, our way in and out of what is known.”

“No,” she said. She stepped back deeper into the road.

“Child, where else will you go?”

She shook her head at the man. “He will come back on his own, to chase the lost is folly. He knows this, and I know this.”

“He won’t come back at all.”

“Then,” she said while shaking, “he will find his way back, that’s all.”

She turned to walk back down the road. She made sure to say along the faint yellow line at its center. Her brother would find his way back, she told herself. He would find his way back.

*****

Botanical Gardens in Oahu, Hawaii
Photo by Micah McKerlich on Unsplash

It was year, not a day more, that the sister stood at the threshold of the Pass at the end of the road.

“Are you ready?” He asked. “Are you ready to learn what hasn’t been told?”

“I am ready to find my brother.”

“We will find him,” He said. “Many truths, you will need to know.”

She stepped beyond the road onto the path. The man turned from her and walked into the woods.

“The only thing you need to fear in these woods is you.”

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