As I passed among the towering oaks, the sunlight filtered through the laminous limbs and leaves, dimming the forest floor such that it might have been late afternoon instead of midday. The path upon which I trod was an old one, scarcely used now, and even then only by the most avid of hunters and hikers. The carpet of thick moss and moist, fallen leaves beneath my feet blunted the impact of my heavy boots.
It was like walking on those first few inches of snow each winter; the slight give before solidity found me, bore me forward, ever farther along my way, making the journey less strenuous, as if a complete day’s walk might feel like only a few moments had passed.
A journey of a thousand miles in a single step.
Unlike the snow, the forest floor left no sign of my passage behind after a moment, the resiliency of the turf overcoming the mere passage of man.
All the more isolated, alone, and forgotten. Indeed, my journey today was one of solitude, with no desire to see or be seen by my fellow man. I adjusted the sack on my left shoulder, tightening my grip upon it, and moved on.
The trill of the sparrows and robins escorted me along the path, broken only occasionally by the screech of the raptor, high above the canopy in search of prey, that it might dive and devour its smaller, weaker avian brothers.
Such was life in the wild.
I cannot say how long I walked, nor even how far. I simply trod the path until a clearing lit before me, the light greater here, but still stifled by the monstrous wood that surrounded it. A small jut of rock emerged from near the middle of the clearing. Neither large nor imposing, merely a reminder by the world that beneath all the green and life there was the rock, the bones of the world, stronger than any possessed by that which plied its vanity to deem itself alive.
I lowered the pack from my shoulder to the ground beside the rock and sat upon the turf before it. Removing a few small, wrapped parcels from the sack, I exposed my meal, my supper, my communion before the gods of nature before whose alter I sat.
As the simple bread and meat were chewed and swallowed, I washed them down with a mouthful of the whiskey from the slim flask I kept secreted in my jacket pocket for moments such as these.
The slight burning in my throat echoed the hint of the coming burning in my legs, even now stiffening with inactivity, reminding me that, though I would sit here forever if I could, I must return along that path, leaving no trace, making no mark, but trekking back into the deepening gloom of actual evening, made even deeper by the canopy, the calls of the sparrows replaced by the rustle of the nocturnal residents of the forest, waking and beginning their quest for prey, the raptors of the night.
As I finally breached the outskirts of the wood, the path having not long been replaced by a hard dirt trail, I saw home: the low-slung building of wood and stone, across the field of knee-high grass, its windows aglow with the light of the oil lamps, a small trickle of smoke rising from the rough, stone chimney. A small smile touched the corners of my mouth.
Where the heart is, so they say.
I glanced behind me, the start of my path, my secret road, all but vanished in the settling shadows of night.
I have two.