“I don’t know, Cerby. Not sure I want to cross the clearing and talk to the Reaper again.”
Those who venture into the unknown often find the unexpected. You have traversed many trials. Let your courage guide you. The future is not always as we imagine.
I wasn’t asking for Mack’s opinion, but as he usual he chimes in with it. It’s a he. At least I hear his voice as a man’s. Is it mine? I don’t know. I’m still not even sure how I hear it. Is it inside my head? Can Cerby hear it?
It feels like almost dawn, and yet the sun still hangs in perpetual dusk. We’re on the near edge of the clearing, and I can see the robed figure about a quarter mile away on the far edge of the clearing. The tall oaks surround us like a prison yard fence. It’s like they’re forcing us together.
I reach into my pocket, my hand brushing the locket I’ve been carrying. I’m instantly dizzy, stumbling across the path and falling into the dirt.
Hold fast. Ground yourself in the present. The past can be a turbulent sea, but it does not dictate where you sail now. Remember, fear is but the mind trying to make sense of the unknown.
As Mack’s voice continues to echo in my mind, I find myself wanting to block it out. I’m overwhelmed by an onslaught of sensations that feel like I’ve been thrust into a maelstrom. There’s an insistent lurch in my stomach, a rising tide of nausea that roils and churns, making me feel as if I’m on the verge of throwing up.
The world around me begins to blur and smear as my eyes cloud over, a veil of smoke-like obscurity that makes everything unfocused and indistinct. It feels as if I’m trudging through a blaze, the searing, stinging sensation clawing at my eyes. My eyelids squeeze shut against the onslaught, the inside of my eyelids seeming to dance with shadows of flame and destruction.
But it’s not just my sight that’s under siege. Each breath I draw is a struggle, a desperate gasp for air. It’s as if my lungs have shrunk, leaving me grasping and clawing for air that remains tantalizingly out of reach.
And throughout this, Cerby stands guard over me, his head cocked sideways, his gaze intense and worried. He’s a beacon of comfort in the storm that rages within me. His barking is the only sound that cuts through the chaos, sharp and clear. It’s a lifeline, reminding me that I’m not alone in this. That I have an ally. Even if I don’t know why this is happening, or what it means. Even if it feels like the beginning of the end.
Focus on the rhythm of Cerby’s bark, the rustling of leaves. Anchor your senses to the now. You are here and you are safe. The past cannot harm you.
Okay. So this is a memory. I remember the same sensations when I found the locket.
I close my eyes and breathe, telling myself that this is not real. I’m not burning. Nothing is on fire. Almost instantly I gasp, my lungs drawing in the cool air of this place. I blink, and my eyes are now clear. I’m no longer dizzy.
I push Cerby away as he’s licking the side of my face. I stand up and look to the other side of the clearing.
“Is that thing still there, Mack?”
Yes, she remains. Waiting for you to cross the clearing. Waiting for you to make your choice. What will you do?
She? Mack knows who this is. He probably knows why she’s here, but I won’t bother asking because I know he’ll just give me vague answers. Instead, I look down at Cerby. He’s moving back and forth across the path, tail wagging. He’s not threatened by whatever person—woman—is on the other side.
“Fine,” I say to Cerby. “Let’s go, boy.”
Good. Face the unknown as you’ve done before. Let the uncertainty fuel your courage. Go and discover, for discovery is the key to understanding.
Cerby and I cross the field, the wheat up to my waist. I doubt someone is growing wheat in this empty, barren place, but that’s what it looks like.
We’re about 50 yards away, and the woman still has the hood from her robe over her head. But I can see locks of dark brown hair cascading out and onto her shoulders.
Almost there. Continue forward. And remember, truth can be a dual-edged sword. It cuts through the darkness of ignorance, yet it can wound deeply.
I stop about ten feet from the figure. Cerby is at my side, his tail waving gently in the air, a sign of his relaxed curiosity. In this light, the silhouette is more defined, softer, feminine. I can hear my heart thumping in my chest, a drum echoing into the silence of the twilight.
Slowly, she lifts her hands and draws back the hood of her robe, revealing herself. A cascade of long, dark hair tumbles down, spilling over her shoulders and brushing the edges of her cloak. It glows a deep chestnut in the dim light, stark against the monotonous dusky palette of the sky above. Her skin is fair, almost ethereal, like porcelain touched by the first light of dawn.
As our eyes meet, I’m struck by the intensity of her gaze. Her eyes are a piercing green, emeralds illuminated under the dying sunlight. They’re unwavering, filled with an emotion that’s hard for me to read. There’s joy, yes, but also a profound sorrow. A yearning. And a recognition that sends shivers down my spine.
Her lips, soft and delicate, tremble slightly as she parts them to speak. “Hello, Thomas,” she says. “It’s so nice to see you again.”