Marga Pantha (The Path Traveler) by Author Brian Michael Barbeito

It was then in the direction of the lumpy hills they decided on. There was something about that area that all three of them, the man and the two dogs, felt drawn towards. It could have been the verdant bushes and plants that were there in the distance, or some fragrant feral flower scent wafting towards them. It was hard to know, but there had been a definite moment when a pull in that direction happened. The man thought that this was also the best way back to the vehicle, and not the other direction. However, he did not realize then that he and the canines were headed in the wrong direction. The forest was like that, and a person or even animal, or at least a relatively domesticated one, could become turned around and lose their way even fifty or a hundred feet of a main road or path. Though they had ventured to those parts before, and had been frequenting them more as of late, the area was such that everything often looked similar if not the same. There were some paved roads around the outskirts of the woodlands, and then dirt roads, and afterwards paths, but there were no markers or signs.

Though it was overcast, it was still sometime in the day. Elias kept an eye on the dogs and they seemed fine, even on the joyous side. Though instinctual and usually instep with his moods and he with theirs, they did not pick up on his secret fear at the time. There was no way around it. They were lost. This had happened before, one incredibly hot July day. At that time, the dogs were new, and Elias remained calm, even going along the forest pathways slower than usual, in order to preserve everyone’s energy. He even took photographs with his phone in order to help himself remain calm. Performing this secondary action, besides walking, kept him focused. In fact, that had been around the time that he had developed his love for nature photography. He was able to capture flowers and insects, strange butterflies, multi-hued dragonflies that were neon and coy, plus myriad other artifacts and living things such as river tumbled stones, Milk snakes, deer, hornet nests, root systems, and especially wild mushrooms. He had learned that getting lost was not always as problematic as previously thought. It worked out that time, as eventually a path was stumbled upon that led to a main artery path. He wasn’t certain this time what would occur, as he was more lost than usual and the sky was by turns only either gray or black.

They went on like that for some time. Two crows kept cawing in the distance and then could be spotted just above the canopy that made up the forest firmament. Silhouetted there in fleeting seconds against some gray clouds, Elias felt oddly at ease watching them. Previously he had bought into the negative mythology regarding the calling and cawing crows, which was that they were a sort of harbinger of death to come. Then, one would worry upon hearing them, Who shall die? How will it occur? But something had shifted. This was a forest with troubles surely, for there were poisonous plants, places a traveler could fall, and coyotes that could stalk a walker if they were hungry, feeling bold, or even rabid, yet it felt felt like there was more beauty than darkness. Elias secretly wished he could read the land and its birds, all its flora and fauna and even the winds and clouds, the way a mystic or shaman would be known to interpret them. And he had been studying, learning, and practicing in his own ways.

Soon they passed a place on their way with hundreds if not thousands of wild Trillium flowers. Most were white, the color of purity and high vibrations, and some were red, so deeply red that one thought of passions and intense worldly energy. But there was a third variety, one that had been somehow naturally and organically cross-bred. There were not a lot of them but they were there if one took their time and watched with soft eyes, relaxed eyes, taking a curious account of the environs. These were pink, and had splashes of white and red in and about the outer parts of the stems. These flowers bobbed and swayed in a wind that foretold something, but it was difficult for Elias to absorb what. Three things were certain. He and his two companions were more lost than ever because the pathways, as alluring as they were, only led them into more pathways labyrinthine and confusing. Secondly, a storm was coming because Elias had felt bits of rain. And thirdly, the phone was not going to magically recharge itself, so he and the dogs were alone and lost in all ways.

Going down a long meandering path the dogs startled and then stopped. This meant they had sensed or saw something. Usually they would know before Elias if a person or animal was near. They crouched and then waited. The next step, where they ran up to whoever or whatever it was, did not happen. A woman appeared, having stepped out from somewhere unseen, and stood in front of them. This was the first time the dogs had not reacted. The woman looked at them, and they stayed still. Odd, thought Elias, that a soul would have that effect on them. They didn’t seem afraid per se, but respectful, like something in the lady made them at ease, safe, even placid.

Elias, a bit nervous at all of this, managed a hello. The lady nodded. She asked if they had seen the mushroom. A strange question it was, but Elias took it in stride and inquired as to what mushroom she was talking about. Perhaps the mushroom as a lost dog, or the nickname for a companion of the lady. She said that above him, behind, on a Silver Birch tree, was an important mushroom that cured the ills. He wondered why she spoke in those terms, almost cryptic, as with her own out of date nomenclature. Jacob remained silent while the lady walked past him and mumbled some kind of prayer, and then reached up and gently knocked the mushroom off with a walking stick. It fell to the ground and the dogs sniffed at it. The lady picked it up and broke a piece off, handing it to Elias. She told him to keep it in his pocket, on his corporeal, as she put it, and even having it close would help with bone, blood and brain. Whoa, Elias thought, This person is a different type. He looked at the mushroom, which hardly resembled a mushroom, but looked more and felt more like a rock. It had intricate brown lines that ran through bright textured orange coloring on the inside, while on the outside a black cover, deeper than the night of any witching hour, and somehow glorious in its pure look and feeling, housed the inside. He put it in his pocket and felt some vertigo, but also giddy, lighter, and inspired.

The woman walked with him and said her name was Hecate. She explained in her own terms and different manner of speaking that she lived in the forest, but not in the complete wild. She had a small place, wooden, where she kept herbs, stones, and other things for healing. When Elias asked her if she was someone who had chosen to leave mainstream society and live off the grid as it were, she was adamant that she had always lived in the forest. Elias left it at that, but wondered. It began to rain then in earnest and Hecate said they were close to her dwelling and should go in.

Warm. Dry. Safe. And there was a smell he had never smelt before, something like sage but not as strong, something lighter. Something that reeked quite literally, of benevolence. Elias explained they were lost, and the woman, perhaps sixty, but at the same time with some youthful quality and vibrancy about the eyes and body movements, said that he would find his way. He couldn’t help but feel she meant more than simply the way out from the forest.

As she offered him and the dogs bread, which was taken and eaten with gratitude and quickness. The bread was unleavened and she provided water in glasses. Then she began to talk without being asked a question. Her voice was soft and sure, and her words seemed relaxed and deliberately paced. Elias listened to her words carefully because something in him told his higher self or inner meter that this was not a half baked forest dweller who had fled society, or an unfortunate soul grappling with mental health issues, or even a rebel. This was, whoever and however she came to be, a wise entity. The rain sounded on the thatched but thick roof of the small abode. The canines rested in two of the corners upon purple blankets like it was their own home, and Hecate, which resembled the word hectare, which Elias thought was amusing but perhaps profound also because it denoted a metric in which the woodlands were accounted for under the Metric System, began a discourse of sorts…

She said the world was going the wrong way, and it is in the middle of trouble not understood. Yes, the world had always been troublesome, but it had reached in the large places to the top of a tree. The people were sinning, though it is not a word she liked to use much because it is a word of the hypocrites. But, they were sinning. The game was breaking. Souls only served the other one in lip and tongue. They did not do anything in blood and heart. Too many things and the wanting of many things yet. Gone were the words and the ways of the elders. The many abodes are too close together and the air is sad, sometimes decrepit. Too much belly ache, and not enough doing. Wrong medicine too. The world needs older medicine, like the mushroom, and many other gifts from Mother besides. These should be harvested with ethics. Our kind takes too many tablets and many have the fire water disease. She hinted that maybe one day he would one day help with this, in some small way. But right now, he was lost like them. He would have to fight two wild beasts, and possibly a third and hidden one, more dangerous than the first two. And he shall meet another person.

And then she stopped her discourse. Elias could figure out what some of it meant, or might have meant, but not other parts. He was especially confused about the beasts and the other person. Hecate’s eyes rolled up in her head and Elias felt fear, because what she was doing was not for show, and it was no longer in the realm of talk, however odd. She was now doing something he did not understand but had an aura and air of extreme gravity and graveness. She opened her eyes and told him to go, that it was time. She said that he might not succeed with the beasts and may not even meet the other he was yet to encounter. She put a small rock in his hand and took him outside. As the dogs followed, they were soon all in a clearing. The rain had almost completely petered off, and Elias noticed a path that was barely discernable. Hecate intoned some practically inaudible prayer or mantra, and then pushed Elias on the path. Her hand felt strong on his shoulder, but also kind. He went and the dogs followed in step.

On this path he felt a mixture of things. On one hand he was more lost than ever, but there was some power inside of him. This prowess made him tingly and even in this new and peculiar place he was for a long time inviolate amidst the thick flaxen reeds that bent this way and that in a post storm breeze. After about a half hour he sensed something. He turned around and saw only bouncing chaparral that dotted the terrene ground. The feeling persisted and he looked around once more. It was not a sound then, but a silence. He heard the silence. Two coyotes were staring at him. He was quickly astounded that the dogs had not noticed. Two dogs that can spot and chase a squirrel from fifty feet away. Two dogs that could sense a person coming by their footfalls and scent in the far and far and far distances. Two dogs in the prime of their life, spry, agile, intelligent, athletic, curious, protective, stealthy, and the epitome of health. And they had seen and heard and sensed nothing.

The coyotes were good. Too good. Good in the sense that they were incredibly quiet and perhaps smelled like the forest. They blended in almost seamlessly with the surroundings. How long had they been there? It was then that Elias realized they had been stalking him and the canines. The coyotes spread out then, on each side, and a third, as if from astral level or magical realm, appeared in the middle where they had been standing. It had been in the deeper forest. Finally the dogs noticed. The one began barking, and then the other. One coyote began barking also, and then stopped. The silence erupted again, unsettling. There is a silence that many parents know, that a child can have, when it is quite hurt in a fall or accidental mishap. It is a silence beyond tears and yelling and crying, and is more telling than even wails and complaints. This was silence akin to that in its warning signs. The coyote that barked was through talking, and the three had positioned themselves.

Bite. The coyote in the back, perhaps a leader, got in a bite to one of the dogs on the first shot. The dog did not hesitate and went for the coyote’s leg. It missed, and then went again and the impact of the dog teeth startled and the coyote and sent it back a few feet. In a second the coyote was back and the five animals entered a violent and loud ordeal. Sometimes only a mass of fur could be seen, as if on some other weird and different level, the wretched and bloody fight, for now there could be seen bits of red amidst the fur and on the leaves, was an organic whole, a process that was happening as one, a whole that exceeded the smaller fractions that put it together.

Elias jumped in with stick. He found one of the coyotes and hit it, at which point the stick broke. Yet, the coyote had been injured. Elias noticed that it seemed fearful for a few seconds. This was enough, was it not? Enough of an opening of fear to pursue the coyote. Elias jumped up for he had fallen and began to haze the coyote with extreme yells and loud calls. Then he did something that surprised him. He grabbed a ground branch and swung it wildly at the coyote about fifteen times while advancing forward. The coyote retreated, and Elias, not the coyote, began to growl. He used the deepest guttural growl possible. Above, the sky was still gray, and the rain began to patter again. Elias found some anger inside of him, some vexation that he was mildly aware of but had a feeling that had never even come close to real fruition.

One of the dogs fought with one of the coyotes, while the other fended off his friend. Elias assumed that he was fighting the biggest one, the leader, but did not know for sure. Fatigue and commotion, plus the outright luridness of the whole affair, had made him confused that way. However, he was not confused about his own growling. He had found a certain voice, become possessed and adorned of some primal vocal dress, and was now suddenly adorned of a rage-anger-fearlessness before unknown. Not only had the coyote backed up, but Elias’ feet were moving forward. Fast. He was chasing the coyote with the stick and calling, yelling, growling, and threatening. Elias ran in the rain, slipped once, got up, and continued running. Any nascent part of his escalating rage had been non-existent or skipped or had occurred as a quite fast stage. He had gone from hunted to hunter.

Twenty yards or so later he stopped as the coyote had disappeared into the thickets up a ridge way. The dogs showed up at his side and though panting and with some blood on their coats and legs, were not profusely bleeding or in any real dire straits. Elias sat down on a nearby rock and summoned them. He pet them, and assured them. He inspected them and spoke to them. He called them Good Boy and Good Girl. Two babies, was another way he addressed them, which was not a pejorative term at all, but a loving term, for though they were five years old then, they were his babies and always would be. They understood. The three had formed a sort of trinity in their life and their walks, because though some parts of the trinity had different attributes or strengths, they were equal and even in the beginning and end, and formed a One, being together and essentially the same in spirit. He had not thought of himself as their master, like other owners, but more as a friend who performed certain necessary functions they could not, such as drive a vehicle.

They had won. Encounters had been had before, and accidents had occurred. There were old barbed wire fences in the forests, left or forgotten about from previous decades. Sometimes they had come across aged pieces of steel or scrap that people thoughtlessly left there. Yes, many moons and suns had brought several joyous times, but their journey had not been without its own troubles. All three of them had at one time or other run into something while going too fast, or been cut on something, bit by something else, or touched and then had a reaction to some noxious or nearly noxious herb, flower, hair, resin, water, or other. But today, though still lost, had been the strangest and most dangerous of all excursions. The vagaries of this diurnal were ones pronounced, petulant, problematic, but also in a peculiar manner, they could be said to also have providence. Why? Because through their occurrence so far, though nobody would at first glance think most any of the situations positive, they had brought out some extreme traits or skills from both Elias and the dogs. They had found parts of themselves latent and now exposed. They were, through extreme situations and encounters, doing a type of soul work.

Startled. Magnificent. Regal. Two crows alighted on a nearby tree branch. Both stared at Elias. He looked into the eyes of one of them and felt something wonderful but also highly anomalous, or rather; it was what he did not feel that was impossibly peculiar. It only came back in afterwards, when the mind clicked in, and thought and time occurred again. He had lost himself in the crows. They had become more than a mere message or totem. They had become a gateway to a mystical union. But with what? He did not feel bliss and experience visions of the future or past events. He did not feel his heart or third eye chakra spin like a wheel and open. He felt none of these or their similar mystical counterpoints that he had heard about or read about. It was rather an actual awakening, or a satori, a mini encounter with the absolute. He wondered how long this loss of identity had lasted. He could not figure it out, because there was nobody to mark time, having entered the timeless. It could have been a few seconds or a few minutes. It could have been an hour. It was almost dark, and though he did not know the time, the time had accumulated. The grey in the clouds had all turned practically black, and the sky looked like it had skipped those wonderfully well wrought dusks that had their own magic and phases with turns of mood pink, mauve, purple, and many moods in between all of those. He got up slowly and began to walk again. The crows had left.

Going down a path in the same direction Hecate had sent him, he encountered an old car. It must have been there for some decades. The automobile looked like a Chevy, and more than a skeleton of a vehicle than anything else. There were no windows, and no glass on the ground, because whatever the windows and glass once were, had long since broken, died, and been absorbed by time and existence into the earth and air, into wherever glass goes to die. The sides contained bullet holes of small and large calibers and Elias was reminded not of rough living, but of people who were perhaps of a different ilk or mindset. Someone, or multiple persons, had through time brought firearms into the forest, and then had proceeded to practice shooting through the car’s exterior.

He walked on, not glancing back at the car. What was its story? And who had been the owner? How on earth had it gotten there? Thinking on these things he saw a container red and white, with a handle on top. He realized it was a, to his way of thinking, ancient wash basin, non electrical, and even portable. After that, a blue and white container that had the words TRANSMISSION FLUID. It was on its side, and had a large sad hole in it. He looked around further. The dogs seemed okay. Perhaps their wounds were already healing, small bits of blood coagulating to form darker red, but healthier marks as opposed to wounds that leaked blood. Blood. Blood was not supposed to be on the outside of things. Nor were bullet holes. Many things did not seem to belong in the world, but had made themselves at home. Brazen these things. What word did his mother used to use for overly vocal people, or those that didn’t understand a proper pecking order? Bold. She would call them bold. That person is bold, she would claim. Usually she was correct. His mother. He thought of her. She fit the tough but kind mold. And his father? The same. He walked along. Maybe one thinks of the people they love when they are in trouble, lost in a wilderness and surrounded by bullet holes, white witches, hungry coyotes, or the opaque sky that the clouds make when they decide to be bold and block out the sun, the constellations, and even the moon.

Thinking of things, Elias stopped and took some water from his canteen while the dogs drank from a small runoff of water the hills had made. He knew one thing. It was about his family that was waiting at home, surely wondering where he was. The singular fact was that he loved his wife and kids and whether he made it out of there or not his wish for the children was always the same. It had, since they were born, become more of a prayer, and it was, though seemingly prosaic and normal from the outside, a special and important thing to him. It was that they were safe. Safe and protected as much as possible in life. That was it basically. Other than that, he hoped that once they were safe they would always remain in contact, as many people don’t. He knew that most parents thought their children were special, even precious, and there was nothing wrong in that. However, he also knew, as egotistical as it might have sounded to a stranger, that his children really were special. They had that aura all over and about then, and in their years thus far had proven it through their character and actions and talents. In an instant he was roused from these thoughts by a sound. He looked up and out of his musings. There was a man standing in front of him.

Elias was not nervous as he was with Hecate. He was too exhausted. If he did manage a hello, it was mild, soft, understated. The man in front introduced himself as Joshua. He was older, perhaps seventy or more. Dressed in jeans and a plaid shirt, he looked like a farmer, or someone situated in and with a rural lifestyle. Elias eventually looked closer at him and he could see even in the quick dimming light that he had kind eyes, blue eyes, and a wisp of gray hair that came down just so above a wrinkled forehead. The man explained that he was a farmer, and that these woodlands, as vast as they were with their length, their great width, and summits and valleys, were owned by him.

Elias listened carefully, but could not take it all in. He had been through an ordeal. Fights, scares, strange women appearing, the oddity of the encounters with the crows, and now this. He told Joshua that he was lost, and apologized for being on the land. Elias was an affable person, one that by nature sought and even tried hard to find common ground with whomever and whatever he came across. The man looked at him and reached down and pet one of the dogs that was trying to jump up.

Surrounded by new sounds of the forest, such some kind of night bird that called, and the cricket sounds that had chimed in and turned up, they both stood there for a while. Sometimes the girl dog, named Tessa, barked. She was a good dog, but barked more often than other dogs, even of her mutt mix, which was half Sheppard and have Doberman. The other dog, called simply Wolf, for his majestic stature, gait, and countenance, was half Husky and half Border Collie, and more open and friendly. Wolf should have been trained, on paper anyhow, to not jump on people as much, and Tessa, his adopted sister, should have been socialized with more dogs to learn that it is okay to be around others and not all things are a threat. However, Elias had not liked dog parks. He learned this early on. Many of the people were nice enough, and the animals also, but there was usually an element there that was too rough or careless, too crated and pent up in various ways, to be around. Such dogs could get into a fight quickly and with little reason. Elias was a loner by heart, and loved the forest and fields, the whole rustic and rural atmosphere and aesthetic. He and the dogs had long ago eschewed the crowds and closed spaces and gone their own way. That meant alone. Away from people and business, aloof, and as free as possible.

More time passed. The farmer mentioned that it was okay to be there. He said that not many people went around there, but he did not mind a few as long as there was no smoking and no engine powered vehicles. He explained that there was once a forest fire caused by someone who camped out and also that engines scare the animals. Somehow during this talk, Elias had gotten up and the two with dogs in tow, began to walk up a valley path that wound.

Elias felt the man to be trustworthy and knowledgeable. He asked the man questions about the sound of saws, and the old car, about this artifact and that area and anything he could think of. He asked the man, above all, how to get out of there. Joshua said that it was not safe to continue during the dark, and that he should come to the farm up the way where there would be a chance to rest for the night. Elias thought about it, and wished he could find a way to make it home just then. After a few moments, Elias figured he didn’t have many options, and though also that there may be electricity, a way to charge his phone. His wife would be worried sick, and also his children. He agreed, moreso capitulated to the idea, and followed the old farmer along.

The sky as they came into an opening had one last vestige of light. It was just then that it practically blinked off as if overcome by millions of tons of black ink let loose from some broken fountain pen in the unseen firmament. There was a field, which was in reality a feed corn field. Then a path to the side of it, and a forest to the left and a quick open area after that. It was odd to think that there was even anything here, this far out, or in, whatever the case may be. Soon they were at a barn, and behind the barn was a small brick house with a structure on the roof that looked like a large Catherine Wheel but which Elias figured was a type of weather vane or else folk art decoration.

Joshua’s wife opened the door. She must have heard them. She introduced herself as Mary. After Joshua explained the situation, they all three went out and made the dogs comfortable inside a section of the barn. The lights shone on the flaxen hay and straw, and even with odd smells, Elias was glad to be where he was. After some small talk and adjustments they went inside.

Over coffee and some food, Joshua began to really speak, but not before Elias. Elias, after glancing at a wooden cross on the wall, asked who the lady in the forest was, relayed some of the things she had said, and also offered that it had been kind of Joshua and his family to let her live there. Joshua listened in stoic silence and did not say anything for what seemed like two or three long minutes. His wife just stared at Elias. There was an uncomfortable silence as the wind rapped on the old windows.

Joshua smiled and said there was nobody that lived in the forest, and especially not a strange woman that collected medicinal mushrooms or spoke in prophetic terms. He gave Elias the benefit of the doubt in that he mentioned that perhaps he had fallen asleep and had a dream, or fell and become more injured than he realized. Elias knew there was a woman, but figured it would be best to just agree, so he nodded and remained silent. They said he could plug his phone in, and he took it out of his knapsack with the charger and did so. For this the gratitude was beyond words.

Outside there was lightning and only brief bits of its remnants could be seen from the window. It was far, but it was there. How did light travel? And from where did it come exactly? Elias listened to the old farmer Joshua begin to talk about the history of his land and the surrounding areas, but sometimes became lost in the idea of the light. Martha seemed to have disappeared, and it was then the two men at the table. The two men, and the night new but somehow also ancient, remembering in its context and contours, its inky blackness, all the nights that had come before. And this was the sense that Elias felt also, that something ancient yet present and persistent, was at play.

Sometimes he stood and glanced outside, such as the time Joshua excused himself to use the washroom. Twice during the night Elias went out to check on the dogs. They were sleeping in spite of or perhaps because of the sound and rhythms of the storm. The storm and the night, stories in their own sense, with characters and denouements, arcs and climaxes and sub-texts and symbols of their own. Sometimes the rain lessened. At other times it raged. The light when it lit up everything was extraordinary. It was like the night was a long secret kept by the earth, and if you could just hear it, you would understand it. Yet, though surrounded by it, it was out of reach. Only for a second could you see it when the light lit it all up. When it did the barn roof, the concrete stones and few forms, plus a silver silo old but proud, somehow sagacious even, all showed themselves. One could make out crevices in the walls, patched stucco parts, old bricks, a weathervane, and the outline of some structure in the distance.

And there was something else. The second time Elias checked on the dogs is when it happened. He was on the way back inside. It was only about half a minute from the house proper to the barn. Out of the corner of his eye there was the light again, and in it was a form moving. It seemed like a woman with long hair moving across the field. Elias stopped and squinted, but then the form, if it was still there moving, was unseen because the lightning had ceased. He moved again and went inside.

Joshua had been waiting. He told stories explaining everything with a certain pride though it was not a boastful pride, only the kind where one simply is taking ownership of what one does in fact know. His words were not as slow or hypnotic as Hecate’s otherworldly seeming discourse. He spoke faster, and it was as if his view or paradigm and whole experience was, though positive and life affirming as Hecate’s, also a counterpoint or alternate reality.

As he looked out the window the drops ran down the pane and were sped up or slowed down at turns by the wind. Joshua began; I was here since I was a little boy. I was born here. The asphalt roads that are on the outskirts were not only not paved then, but they were not even dirt, were not there at all. That came later. There was only one way in, and now there are several. It’s simple. My father and his brother owned all this land. Then my father bought my brother’s half, and it became mine after father died and my own brother died. I have no children, and don’t know what will happen to it after me. I don’t worry much though, because I will not be here. I will be with God.

Elias took all this in. So the farmer and his wife were the last stewards of the land in a fast changing world of subdivisions, of unoriginal and soulless urban sprawl. Elias knew that some of the farms and acreage around there showed signs that said, THIS LAND NOT FOR SALE, and no doubt it was because the developers had come knocking several times and in several ways. Nobody goes and makes a sign like that, Elias had pensively though, after just one inquiry from the outside.

There was a force that was moving. It was the new world trying to overtake the old. This was a losing game lately for the large tracts of land in the counties. It had been said to see the big box stores, the sudden traffic jams, the people and places so homogenized and cardboard cut-out like. This world of overpopulation and greed was fast overtaking the rural land and lifestyle, but above all, the values. People had become short tempered, short sighted and lacked creativity. It was not that everyone should have been an artist, thought Elias, but rather mainly two other points besides.

The creative artist, be he or she poet, writer, sculptor, singer, musician, installation artist, painter, or even creative engineer or designer, was not valued by the modern mindset, and was sometimes even laughed at when their type and endeavor should have been lauded. There was not room for anyone different in the modern world he saw around him, nevertheless a true creative or visionary. The houses all looked the same and the people in them all thought the same. People honked, judged, argued, but never really listened, never really took the time to go into something and explore it.

As for the land, Elias had learned back in high school geography class about three types of cutting. There was clear cutting, cross cutting, and patch cutting. At least while developing land the cross cutting and patch cutting left places for trees, for ecosystems, for little streams and birds, dens, the feral, the beautiful and mysterious and alluring flora and fauna of the region. But everything he saw was clear cutting. And then the developers had the audacity to sell their neighborhoods with such deceitful monikers as Forest View. Meanwhile the deer and other animals that were there first were ending up lost and trapped in suburban back yards, falling into pools, and getting hit by cars.

Joshua continued and explained that the old car Elias had seen had a particularly interesting history. It was abandoned there by an actual bank robber during a chase. The fugitive had robbed the local bank and there was a pursuit of him but he out maneuvered the law, as Joshua had called it. After that, he drove the car down into the forest through a way next to nobody knew about. He hid out there for days while they searched the town and parts of the forest. Leaving the car there, deep down a certain series of ridges, almost in a valley, he made his escape. A few months later, as Joshua related it, he was almost caught, in of all places, a town in Florida. His name showed up there through some distant and convoluted series of events and traces, but only briefly, and he was never actually caught or heard from again. The sheriff came to inspect the car, which Joshua found, for even and especially back in those days, he did his ‘rounds’ of the forest, surveying and seeing this and that such as which tree needed clearing, or which path needed to be kept up from being overgrown. The sheriff said afterwards that Joshua could keep the car, as he did not want to go through the trouble of getting it out. Joshua pulled the engine from the vehicle, and transported it out of there with pulleys and a small mowing tractor. He reused the engine, and left the car there to rot, which it did to a large extent, but still keeping its own certain secrets and tales, never to be told, such as exactly what it was like while the driver was going down there, or how long or close he stayed near the car before deciding to make the proverbial run for it.

The dark loomed onwards with bits of light cracking the sky open. Martha was long gone to slumber. Joshua was reflective then, and Elias, having checked the phone as happily noting its almost complete charge, had called his wife and explained what had happened. He told her he would be home sometime in the morning, as early as possible, for the farmer would point him out to the right direction.

At some point Joshua, after studying Elias asked him a question. He inquired about the woman and what she looked like. The context of this made Elias think that perhaps Joshua knew more than he had let on, that perhaps there was someone out there that they knew about, but did not necessarily talk about. Elias described her as honestly as possible. He said that she wore a robe-like outfit, knew about plants and mushrooms, their properties and uses. He said she had warned about the modern world and where it was headed. Joshua listened intently, trying to absorb everything. When Elias asked again if he had ever seen such a woman, Joshua denied ever having seen him herself but did state two interesting things.

The first mention was that he had heard that story a few times before, that others had gotten lost for the land being so wild and intricate and somehow different than usual forests. He relayed that it wasn’t many times through the years, but a few, and the story was always the same. The second thing he said was not in the vein or manner as before, where he shrugged it off to a head injury, fatigue, or a dream. He said that some forests are larger than even people familiar with them realize, and that even after years of being in the same one, a person can discover a new path, and that many things are possible.

It must have been the witching hour then, was what Elias was thinking. He thought it because so much time had passed, and also because of the subject matter. Had there been a witch, even one that practices white magic, living in the forest all this time. Was she a human? A shape shifter? An Obeah woman as some cultures called them south of the equator, which was a healer or shaman. Didn’t all cultures have such people, though they had been called different names and ascribed different values? 

It was a lot to think on. Did the old man know more than he was letting on? Elias thought so. That was his instinct, and he liked Joshua for a Christian, a God fearing man as they would have called him back in his own day. For this reason, Elias figured that Joshua would see anyone who practiced with plants and natural medicines and rolled their eyes back into their head to have visions of futures, as definitely in league with the wrong team.

A noise. Someone’s footfall. It was Mary. She was dressed and said that they were ready to go. Elias wondered where they were going in the middle of the night, but soon realized that that lightest shade early dawn makes had announced itself outside the window. The world was turning slowly from black to dark blue and once this dark blue gained momentum, it would become lighter. A bird called out. Then another, as if responding, sounded in the not too distant forest. The men stood and all went outside and gathered the dogs. Joshua started a tractor that had a wooden container for hay or something else, and Elias and the other two parts of the trinity jumped in. Leaving Mary, the men and the dogs travelled along the purlieu of the forest and met with a dirt road. It all took about twenty minutes. Joshua stopped and Elias, Tessa, and Wolf hopped down from the wooden planks. Walk that way for about a half hour, Joshua had said, and you will meet with the main road. Nothing should bother you, and that is where you will find the lot. And so that is what they did. 

During walk Elias reflected. The path had consisted of many paths, but they had made their way. He had learned magical and mysterious things from Hecate, and received more down to earth and sensible help and words from Joshua. They had overcome the coyotes, and found that anger and aggression can sometimes, in extreme circumstances, be used to save lives. He had also had a mystical experience with the crows. He wondered if he would be able to integrate his experiences, to reconcile the beauty and mystery of the forest with its dangers and violence, and then to be able to reconcile once more these things within himself. As he was thinking, he and the dogs came upon the noise of voices in the then clear and sun laden brightness of morning. It was a hiking group with their poles and gear, all gathered in the lot, enthusiastic and full of promise about the path walking they were about to begin. He smiled inwardly. If they only knew what he had been through during the past twenty four hours on his outer and inner path.

About the Author

Brian Michael Barbeito is a Canadian writer, poet and photographer. Recent work appears at Fiction International from San Diego State University, CV2 The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing, and at Catch and Release-The Columbia Journal of Arts and Literature. Brian is the author of Chalk Lines (Fowl Pox Press, 2013, cover art by Virgil Kay). He is currently at work on the written and visual nature narrative titled Pastoral Mosaics, Journeys through Landscapes Rural.

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