The snow crunched underfoot as I continued marching down the deserted forest trail. The cold evening air nipped at my cheeks and I quickly pulled my red knitted scarf up over my nose.
“Lost,” I muttered, my voice getting muffled in the now icy thick woolen strands that covered my face.
I stopped for a moment and looked at the desolate scene around me as my heavy boots slowly sank into the crisp, dry snow underfoot. I had arrived at a small clearing – an opening in the eerily dense forest I had the misfortune of finding myself in. I froze. Where would I go next? What was I to do? I closed my eyes for a moment and took a deep breath to calm myself. One. Two. Three. My eyes opened. Looking out in front of me, I could see two separate paths opposite each other on the other side of the small field. Uncertainty took hold of me, and as I turned my gaze upwards, I watched as the trees that surrounded me slowly faded from focus, becoming large lumbering silhouettes as the sun slowly slipped from the pale northern sky above. Blue turned to yellow. Yellow turned to pink. Pink turned to gray. Gray turned to black. There was no going forward from this point on for fear that I would stray so far off course I would never be found.
There, at that moment, I realized I was well and truly alone.
I leaned up against a nearby pine tree and slowly slumped towards the cold, unwelcoming ground. The bitter December wind had begun to pick up in small gusts, and I instinctively wrapped the thick oversized coat I was wearing over my knees as I huddled up for a long night…no…the longest night. There was no movement, no signs of anybody or anything. The only sounds came from the wind as it weaved its way from branch to branch far above my head. Out of sight. Out of reach.
I looked up again and stared into the dark, cold winter night sky. Barely a cloud. Barely a star. Bizarre. Suddenly, a small bright light darted across the heavens above. If I had blinked, I would have missed it completely. “A shooting star? … a meteor?” my voice trailed off. As I spoke, I watched curiously as my breath sent thin wisps of white into the air. There was little unusual about it at first; the ghostly mist hung in front of me, curling inward on itself. I had expected it to vanish into the cold, but it stayed with me for some time before gradually shifting out towards the wintery glade. As it moved, it slowly grew in size, getting larger and larger by the second. Suddenly, it split apart into eight smaller clouds and, I swear, as I looked upon them, each one wore a face; some smiling, some frowning, some crying, and some scowling. Were my eyes deceiving me? I continued to stare, bewildered by the sight before me as they began swirling around the clearing. An unnatural glow not of this world seemed to illuminate their movements, each one in perfect rhythm while floating about in different patterns.
A sound…several sounds?! The night air was filled with humming … or chanting. I could hear it, but it remained unheard. A noise in the background; audible but without substance. Were they singing? Some high pitched while others a low drone – all in perfect harmony. I closed my eyes for a moment and trained my ears on the chilling sound. It was beautiful! The music warmed me to my toes, and a smile crossed my lips. I found myself humming along with them as my head swayed back and forth to the strange mixture of guttural and dulcet tones; a tune I knew from long ago but couldn’t quite place in memory. My eyes slowly started to open, and the scene that appeared before me was beyond compare. Thousands of small shimmering snowflakes, almost too many to count, sat suspended in the air; each one slowly twirling but never falling as the ghostly shapes continued swirling, diving, and waving about in circles. I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. I watched, speechless and with endless wonder, for what felt like a mere matter of minutes.
But before long, there appeared a glimmer of light over the treetops behind me. The sky was getting brighter, and the sun began to rise; the luminescence started bouncing off of each of the intricately shaped crystals still hanging delicately in the air. My pulse quickened as the ghostly forms began to pale, flying closer and closer together in the center of the clearing while circling each other faster and faster until they became one thick swirling pillar of mist. A sudden gasp, almost as if something had exhaled sharply, echoed off of the trees which had begun fading back into view. Then, as quickly as it at all started, the snowflakes began their slow descent to the ground and what remained of the ghostly shapes drifted aimlessly, gradually becoming thinner and thinner before finally joining the haze that hung in the crisp morning air. Once again, there was no movement, no wind, and no sign that anything had ever taken place in the forest glade.
I stood up from my perch on the cold, wet ground and took one final look up at the now warming horizon; another singular light shot across the sky, similar to the first from the night before. My eyes followed it across the clearing to where the two paths split the opposite side. That’s when I saw it; a third path sitting in between the other two, overgrown and barely visible, yet clear as day. I smiled.
“Change is coming. Forward,” a soft voice whispered inside my head.
I closed my eyes and took another deep breath. One. Two. Three. My eyes opened, I brushed the snow from my jacket, and took the first few steps down that forgotten path, leaving the emptiness behind with nothing but the faint haunting hum of ghosts better left to the past.
Image Credit: CJ Bowers