In the Forest
The sun shines through the trees and casts playful shadows on the forest path. I know this path well; it leads home. My footsteps crunch the leaves and pebbles underfoot. Birds sing in the trees and the forest is alive with sound. A breeze blows and I catch a whiff of pine and moss. A cloud covers the sun and I sit on a fallen trunk and wipe the sweat from my forehead.
I remove my shoe to tend my aching foot and groan at the blister growing on my toe. I feel I’ve walked for days, yet I set off early, well fed and rested from a good night’s sleep. Why am I so tired?
The sun beats down on the trunk and the heat weighs on me. I wipe my sweaty forehead again and take a swig from my water flask; the cool liquid soothes my parched throat.
My eyes grow heavy and the ground, so mossy and cool, beckons me to lie down and nap.
“Don’t,” I croak to myself, “remember the stories. This is how they start. Changelings, elves, fairies appear to weary travelers as they stop to rest.”
But the fatigue and heat are too much, and my words sound stale in my ears. I want to nap; I want to lie on the cool, damp earth and close my eyes. This forest is as alive with stories as with flora, and sometimes the sprites bring good, and other times they’re harbingers of evil. I’ve always suspected these encounters were dreams.
I give in and welcome the cold dew as it seeps through the back of my shirt. My eyes grow heavy and my body falls away, as if I’m floating.
I jolt and open my eyes; there’s someone beside me. A young boy sits on the fallen trunk and gazes at me, his head resting on his hand.
“Hello,” I say, “are you lost?”
The boy shakes his head and giggles.
“Are you from around here?”
He shakes his head again.
“Where are you going?”
“Home,” he answers.
“Where’s that?” I ask.
The boy smiles. I gaze into his sparkling eyes and a faint memory tugs at my mind.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“You know my name.”
The boy nods again. I rack my brains; I’ve never seen the boy, but then, I left years ago. Could he be an old friend’s son? Yet, when I study his broad, freckled face and his wide smile, I recognize no one.
“Are you… Rumpelstiltskin?”
The boy laughs like the chatter of squirrels.
“That’s a fairy tale!”
“No, that’s only a play!”
“I give up then.”
“You know me in other forms, I’ve been with you all your life. I’ve guided you, taught you, chided you and consoled you. Have you forgotten me?”
He fixes his bright eyes on me; images, memories, flash through my mind, and I’m on the cusp of understanding, of grasping his identity, but it pulls away like ocean waves.
“Are you a ghost?”
The boy smiles, and the sun’s rays beam on him; the brightness stings my eyes. I blink. He’s gone.
“I’m always with you,” his voice whispers in my ear as the wind whooshes through the trees.
I stand up and put my shoes on. The sun is low and sets the forest afire with its last rays. I resume my walk; I have a strange sensation this was no dream.