Nathaniel Buckley had ventured into the woods before. Sometimes he’d chosen a path, others the path had chosen him. But he allowed himself to venture about. One path to another. Some longer than others. The woods took on different shapes and colors depending on where he was headed.
His idea of where he’d end up changed over the years. There were times the trees would cut his face. The blades of grass grew razor-sharp and cut his heels. Yet he tread on. The wounds healed. All of his scars faded over time, but he still felt their location. There tenderness.
Nathaniel took a break from his journey for a time. He lived his life, worked at his job, experienced good times and bad with his friends. He avoided the woods. He’d walk by them at times, straddling an invisible line between the outside world and the deep, dark woods. Some evenings, he found it almost impossible to resist. The moon light created green glittery lights dancing and taunting Nathaniel as he’s make his way in the world.
After a time, Nathaniel relented. He decided to see what the woods would offer him. He’d watched from the sidelines as his friends dove in head first, never to return again. He’d also seen friends flee the words with tears trailing behind them as their feet trod sodden holes in their wake.
He stepped in slowly and looked around. He noticed a narrow yellow path leading to a clearing ahead. He opted to take it, and every step seemed custom fit to his wandering feet. This path was his. It was created for him.
When he reached the clearing, he noticed the path diverged. He walked straight into the heart of the grassy knoll. The yellow path led him to a similar yellow circle of dirt. Around the circle diverged what seemed to be an infinite number of winding roads, all leading deep into the woods.
Nathaniel couldn’t fathom how to make the choice. Impulse? Logic? Blind faith? How could you decide? So he chose not to for a moment. He sat down in the yellow circle among the dirt and pebbles. He closed his eyes and let the wind whip his hair up and down on his head. He felt the sun shining on his face, bringing a comforting type of warmth. A thought formed in his head. If he couldn’t choose a path, why not let the path pick him?
He stood up and pulled his shoulders back. He would be strong and confident when making the call.
“Show me!” He yelled at nothing and everything at once. “Show me where to go!”
His world spun. The trees in the distance blurred together and he nearly lost his balance. The paths shifted, curled, multiplied and combined. When all was said and done, two yellow paths stood in front of him and one behind. He sensed the others were there, hidden from regular sight. The possibilities didn’t elude him, they just didn’t make themselves evident.
He looked back down the path he had come from. It led through a light dusting of trees and straight out of the forest. No, he thought. He had come for a trek, maybe a stay in these woods. He wasn’t going to give it up yet.
One of the paths veered slightly to the right. It dove straight into a tangle of thick heavy oak trees. Nathaniel studied the path, wondering what adventures it would hold. The path was a bit older, as time had softened it a bit. It was heavily occluded but still inviting. A quiet invitation. The yellow path turned a muddy brown at the path’s treeline. He saw fresh footprints along the path and knew others had traveled through or may still be wondering through that particular patch of woods. He took a step forward and felt at ease. The path was comfortable. The path was soft. But he had no idea what could be hiding in the trees.
The path on the left was paved with smooth looking stones, straight through to the manicured maple and willow trees. The leaves were lush and green, taunting him. The wind rustled through them, causing them to wave at Nathaniel like a hand beckoning him forward. The trees bent and dipped in such a way that Nathaniel could see almost to the other side of the woods. He took a step on the smooth stone path and almost fell on his ass. He regained his composure and glanced down again. The path wanted him to walk down it. The leaves and grass trembled with excitement.
Once again, Nathaniel didn’t know which path to choose. He wanted to walk them both and see where they led. But he knew if he entered the woods, he could only take one path. The woods were fickle. What appears one day may not be there the next.
He paced around in his circle, not sure of what to do. He paced down the right path, stepping close to the woods but not entering. Then he paced down the left, careful to not let the smooth stones slide him all the way into the forest. He walked up and down both, always ending up back at the circle.
And there he paced, not knowing what to do.