The Road To Paradise

Another story is taking place this very night on one street, in a suburb of a small city.  From the corner shop, steeped in pseudo darkness, lit by the artificial neon of the late night newsagents sign.  Further along this road, with its wide patches of greenery and long queues of parked cars nestled amongst a myriad of identical houses lies one in which a man is about to leave.  At this late hour, when it is almost morning and no longer evening, you might find it strange to see someone gently push open their front door, step through turn around and delicately shut it with silent grace.  He doesn’t want to wake the rest of the house.  He doesn’t think they’ll ever know that he’s been gone.

It’s so early that the black carpet sky on which the stars lie will soon flood with a pale blue as the sun creeps steadily around the globe.  But for the moment a different pale blue washes across this residential landscape.  It is a full moon.  The man had been watching the moon from his window earlier, unable to sleep with rogue thoughts careening around the arena of his mind.  He made a decision to treat it as a sign, a lunar goddess guiding him.  So when he reaches the end of the driveway, and places two, en-shoed feet upon the gravelly pavement, he looks up at her.  The moon waits patiently in the sky and attempting to follow it the man walks left down the street.

He steps through the circles of light cast by the street lamps and back into the dark night, flickering like a phantom as he winds his way along.  He turns into an alley and ascends some steps.  A solitary street lamp sits on this route, in the modern world it feels like an old relic though it cannot be more than forty years old.  This back path cuts between two residential areas of the city, but the hilly nature of it has left it undeveloped so that a straggle of thorny trees blankets the slope.  The lamp, a black pole with a lantern atop it, was half smothered in the tangle.  He half-expected a lion to leap out at him when he passed.

Reaching the height of the slope he steps out onto the next road and shortly crosses it.  A car drives past, catching him like a spectre in the headlights, as he steps into another lightly wooded back path.  The trees here grow close together, though the illusion of nature is spoilt by the walls of houses that egde this small reserve.  The path emerges near a motorway but joins a country lane with little space for one car to pass another.

As he joins the lane the darkness begins it’s lightening, passing gradually between night and day.  The lane guides him through a tunnel beneath the motorway, beyond that the houses eventually give way to fields, the pavement to grass.  To his left he catches a glimpse of something, over a hedge and in a field.

It stares back at him and, for it is still hard to make out anything in the burgeoning light, he is not sure whether he is imagining it.  After a pause he manages to identify it as a deer.  He is amazed, he has never seen a deer before, at least not in real life and for several minutes neither figure moves.  Eventually though the man decides to move.  He knows that nothing will happen if he waits and continues on the path.  The deer stays stock still, moving only its head to follow him.

He walks through the morning, steady, certain, his confidence growing.  He rises over the crests of the road and descends down into the dips walking proud and strong.  Passing a lonely cottage he thinks about the people who must live there and the tales of those who come across such isolated homes and the friendly people within.  Snow White who came across the seven dwarves, Goldilocks who found the less friendly three bears and of Mr Tumnus the faun who readily looked after four lost children.

The man recalls all of these childhood stories, of slipping away to another world, and he begins to imagine himself on that journey.  He sees electrical pylons in the distance and imagines them as towers guarding the boarders of an evil king’s domain.  The road he imagines as yellow brick at first, then he begins to think of it as a dark river, sweeping him away towards a cave hiding an ancient relic.

He enjoys these thoughts, though he tells himself they are not real.  His journey though exciting, is nothing more than a walk down a long country lane.  The distant forest is not an enchanted wood, the cottages are not inhabited by witches and the single car, headlights on, driving towards him is not a great beast he has been chosen to slay in order to save the villagers.  He chuckles quietly to himself as the car passes, the driver watching him curiously.

A mist settles over the countryside as he approaches a crossroad, here is the beginning of a dashed white line dividing the road ahead.  He places his feet, one in front of the other upon the white line.  It feels as if a decision should be made.  He has been this way before, though only in a car, so he knows that straight ahead of him is a hill he has seen many times from the road, but the other side of it he has never seen.  A perfect place for a hidden door.  He refuses to return the way he has come.  To do that would be to quit, to give up, to fail.  Though if he turns left he can still return home, via a different route, this way would be a journey, an event but leads to ultimately no change.  And finally he considers turning right, a way he has never been and a way he knows nothing of beyond what he can see, it is unknown, both better and worse.

He takes a deep breath, hopeful, desperate.  A morning mist has settled on the landscape, obscuring his view in every direction.  He shuffles one foot ahead, keeping his feet on the white lines, staying in the middle and progressing straight ahead.

The man emerges from the misty morning.  A pale blue hangs across the landscape like a veil, filtering the colours through a blue spectrum.  A patchwork of fields spreads out in the valley, shimmering in the breeze like a calling ocean.

He’s giving focus to his footfalls, treading only on the white, centre lines.  His scuffed shoes scrape on the tarmac as fatigue tugs him.  His face is cast with a grim, determined look, shined by a thin layer of cold sweat.  The confidence is gone, drained away by the endless trudging of his walk and not stoppered with an event or sight or hope of some kind.

His mind begins to wander, circling in on itself like the snake biting its own tail.  The thoughts grow more violent as they repeat themselves, angrier and more desperate with each orbit.  And then he spots a stone.  He stares at it through red-veined eyes for a moment.  With a grunt of exertion he throws the stone, over arm, at a wall lining the road.  The stone clatters harmlessly to the floor, leaving a faint pealing echo.

The wall, made of piled up rocks, sits between the man and the hill he has been looking for.  It is a barrier between him and the landscape beyond.  The man clambers over the wall, knocking off the top layer of slabs, which shatter on the road.  He scrapes his ankle and tears through his trousers and landing gracelessly on the other side marks his hand and knees with grass stains.

He stands up, pausing to look around and receiving blank stares from a herd of grazing cows.  They appear statuesque, watching him without moving.  guardians of the field.  None of the cows had ventured up the hill he noticed and toyed with the notion that they might consider it sacred.  The man had his eye in it, even if they were avoiding the place.

He moves around the hill, looking for something.  Searching.  He clambers up its side, reaching the top.  A sweeping view appears before him, immense in volume.  The hill overlooks a deep, wide valley cast with a faint blue from the mist.  The view is a patchwork of fields, lined up in uniform squares, as if a hand has painted the scene, orderly and neat.

The man spreads his arms, willing himself to fly, to soar into the open space and dive down amongst the fields.  To float away on the breeze or fly as high as the clouds and explore a secret city.  But instead he lowers his arms and looks around him.  The hill dips slightly at its apex.  There is something there that attracts the boy’s attention.

He climbs higher, having to move horizontally around the hill when it becomes to steep.  The ground is damp and he slips occasionally on muddy patches.  Slowly he reaches the top and looks down into the dip.  It is not too deep and the man climbs down, moving quicker now as desperation and hope mingle together in his mind.  He hunts through the dip, trying to find something suspicious.  An entrance of some kind, a door or portal.  A cluster of flowers watch through sleepy petals as the man begins to claw at the ground, raking up clumps of dirt.

Embroiled in the aching blue dawn, with the skin on his face held tight by dried sweat, the man looks up at a silent and calm world.  He falls back, his red-veined eyes staring blankly ahead.  He thinks for a moment, and the thought appears to pain him further.  His face begins to contort, twitching as he tries to hold the muscles in place.

He had convinced himself it could happen.  He had believed it would fine. Yet he had found nothing.

Sat, alone, in the disturbed mud of the hill his will breaks.  The man cries.

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