Original story:, The Human Illusion published 27 March 2014
Neither us of remembered the forest being on any of the maps or brochures. None of it really looked familiar, not according to the long hours of research before our trip, but we weren’t the type to avoid adventure opportunities. The forest was magical, with waves of moss, soldier straight trees, and soft light dancing around the shadows. We saw no one for hours, until we did, or thought we did.
We planned this trip as a belated honeymoon for our first anniversary. Both of us being in our late thirties, directors of large groups with pressing deadlines and obligations, we wed on Saturday and returned to work on Monday. We had vacationed together in Tibet a few months before, where he proposed at Namtso Lake.
As serious as we were at our respective offices, we daydreamed and wondered at the delights as we picked outings and excursions. Perhaps in the Alps – Italy, France, or Switzerland – river cruises on the Amazon – or maybe the Nile – backpacking in Paraguay or wildlife safari in Botswana. We had planned our China trip with the same childlike enthusiasm, as we did our first trip, four years ago, to Christchurch and Auckland to take in the best of both islands.
Neither of us inherited old money. We weren’t second generation new money. It took a while before I told him anything. I violated the confidentiality agreement I signed with the settlement to never speak of the incident or the payout. The spirit of the agreement, as my lawyer, also my big brother, explained was that the media was never to know. Which was fine by me. I would have been fine never knowing, either. But the dumbwit took video, and kept it. If he’d stayed off the kiddie porn, the police explained, he likely never would have been caught – being the upstanding, charming, highly educated, and trusted member of the hospital staff that he was. I wasn’t a kid. Neither was anyone else. It didn’t fit the standard profile, but it didn’t matter. Video was video and he’ll never see the light of day again for as long as he lives. But I thought if I was going to love someone, and that someone was going to love me, he had a right to know and back out if it was too much before it was too late. It was already too late, and he didn’t much care (after hours of hand-wringing and cursing and threatening the masculine anatomy of the now prisoner), and so I told him about the money, and how much, since his eyes showed his heart was true when he told me he loved me.
We decided on a seven day Fjord round trip in Norway, from Olso to Bergen and back, especially to see the Maabodal canyon and Voringfossen waterfall, followed by a few days relaxing in the hot springs of Reykjavik, Iceland. Because if you are going to have to live with what I have to live with, you might as well go all out with the love of your life at your side.
Everything was pretty hazy until we stepped on the trail into the forest. It was as if we had dropped from the plane onto the path. I blamed it on the second whiskey, a compliment to the prescription for anxiety Dr. Stanton gave me before every flight. One I could do. Two, I had never tried before. Dr. Stanton warned me every time: no alcohol. But a whiskey hurried the sleep that shortened the flight and staved off the jetlag.
It was just us for what seemed like an eternity, until a person materialized among the branches of the trees.
“It sure looks like a person,” he said.
“But I don’t think it is,” I answered.
“Me neither, but the illusion, gosh, it’s uncanny,” he said.
“Maybe it’s a ghost.”
“Maybe we’re ghosts.”
“He’s walking towards us,” I said.
We kept walking, casual. Like meeting a person in the middle of the woods when we had seen no one forever was a normal occurrence. Time, and perception, seemed out of joint. Though he was far off when we first contemplated his ghosthood, he was at our side momentarily.
“Welcome to the woods, Tim and Trish” the man said.
“Uhm…thank you,” I said. He smiled. “Can you tell us the name of these woods? Neither of us, this is my husband, Tim, by the way, and I’m Trish, remember this from the guidebooks. Wait. How did you know our names?”
“Joseph,” he answered. “And these are the woods between the worlds.”
“Oh,” I giggled. “I’m, we’re fans of C.S. Lewis.”
“You misunderstand, Trish.” He turned and continued down the path. We followed as if drawn by a force, like a rope tied around our waists.
We continued to walk. Tim and I whispered to each other occasionally on the sanity of following a stranger in strange woods, but there was no anxiety in the decision to continue on. We walked through dappled light, over soft grounds, through trees thick and thin, never once pining for food or drink, the packs on our backs as light as if empty. When we came to a clearing Joseph angled back towards us and swept is hand in a grand gesture over the area and we noticed the canvas tents, the fire circle, the gleaming Adirondack chairs.
Joseph explained we would camp for the night, there were provisions should we need them, and that he would be gone before sunrise in the morning. Tim and I listened, asking no questions, nor protesting in any normal way. We settled into the chairs overlooking the peak of a mountain we hadn’t noticed before.
We sat in silence, admiring the view, Tim and I holding hands. The sun never really set this time of year, and so we stayed in our chairs, watching the light dim, knowing it wouldn’t extinguish.
“You will know when it is time,” said Joseph.
“Time?” asked Tim.
“Time for what?” I asked.
“Choose your path,” Joseph pointed to two openings in the woods on the other side of the clearing. “The narrow path leads up towards the peak of the mountain before you. The wide path leads around and down into the valley behind you.”
Tim and I looked at each other, and he squeezed my hand tighter. We turned together to Joseph, but his seat was empty. We turned our focus again to the peak of the mountain, knowing we would take that path. And when it was time, we rose from our seats, hand in hand, and took the narrow path until we reached the gates.
Thoughts or feedback? What is missing? What is unnecessary? Any typos or grammar errors? Have you ever seen a ghost?
Featured Image by Unsplash — CC0 (Public Domain)
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