Tyner Roycroft

The Oft-Trodden Path

The Path

Walking swiftly along an oft-trodden path, James whistled to himself an old familiar tune. Not a shrill whistle -- no, certainly not -- as that might have disturbed the child strapped so snugly on his person. His whistle rang out across the plains and valleys around him. Though its sound was bright and clean, its melody was less so.

It began softly with a long continuous note. It continued with a sort of building of notes, one made up of shorter and progressively higher sounds. A quick paced crescendo. This progressed into what could be considered the main verse of the song -- though no one had ever proclaimed that in as many words. This main verse -- were it ever called such a thing -- was simple and quiet. As it became lower, deeper, and quieter, James face displayed less and less emotion.

At the end of the song with no words, there was no applause -- only the stark quiet contrasted against a song that no one but James would ever hear. Perhaps his whistle was somber -- to some, it may have seemed that way -- or perhaps it was more light-hearted -- just a simple song with no meaning, something to pass the time.

To James, it was simply what it was, an old familiar tune.

Later that day, the sun sank softly down toward the horizon -- its bright colors lit the sky with a sort of auburn hue.

Drawing his left eye toward it, and painting across his face the golden-red light of sunset. The colors of the sun were vibrant, but its shine was not half as bright of course as when it had shone fervently through those same-colored leaves on the trees by the sides of the path he walked.

A fork in the road approached him, and as though it were a stranger in the night, it passed him without so much as a nod of acknowledgment. Without any thought, James wandered down a less-oft-trodden path, and toward the sunset.

He had been drawn toward the sunset as a moth may have been to a flame, a boat to a wiki’s light, or a man to his salvation just before the longest night closes in.

Not long after that stranger passed without a spoken word or a nod of recognition, James found his mind occupied with thoughts of his journey. Not the thoughts from before, those of grandeur and salvation, but more terrible thoughts about the creatures of the night that he may encounter if he chooses to continue.

Creatures of the night stood between James and his goal. Were he to stop for the night, he may have realized that the stranger should have spoken when he passed. He may have realized his folly in traveling toward the setting sun, rather than to the north, and he may have realized the path had changed quickly into a more treacherous one.

Realizing none of this, James had put himself in danger. James' danger was not simply because of the treachery that he stood to face, but also because the likelihood of his journey's completion being successful diminished with each and every step he took toward the sun, which had now set.

Eventually, James gave into his initial concept of the journey, that is, an adventure like no other with as few stops and starts as possible. Not quite as comfortable in this decision as he might have been, James found himself comforted by the soft snores of the child on his back, by the familiar clip-clopping of his sandals on the hard path, and by the beating of his heart, slowing now to match the quietness of the sounds that it accompanied.

Continuing through the night was as ill-conceived as it was reckless, but to James it was more necessary than it was either.

After what had felt like a terribly long while, James' salvation had arrived. James had come to realize something about his path had changed.

The night sky had been dim and dull for a little while, the sun’s flame having long been extinguished by the new moon that he could only imagine overhead, and yet a light could be seen in the distance.

He never stopped to ponder what it may-or-may-not be, as he had already concluded its origins as well as its meaning to his journey, despite realizing only moments before that he had taken a wrong turn. He concluded that this was the town that he had searched after for some time or, he thought, the village just south of it that he had expected to make it into before the sun rose again in the west.

The lights ahead appeared to be those of torches, torches along the small homes of the village people, placed there to ward off any creatures of the night that may stand to do harm to them -- or to James.

These lights must have fueled the fire inside him and given him a new sense of hope for his journey, as his legs could have carried him much further had not there been a destination just beyond the cropping of a hill, not-so-far into the distance.

Perhaps an hour passed before he crested the hill in the distance to find what he believed to be a village. Coming into a village like this, on a night like this, would have made very little sense to any traveler, let alone to James, but his journey was too important.

His child was sick and he needed to see the doctor in the town to the north.

Entering the village, passersby glanced frequently, stared more sparingly, and jeered to one another readily. James, strong-willed as he was, put forth an effort to ignore their prejudgements and continue what may-or-may-not have been a slow and somber journey.

Shaking off the grips of sleep as they closed in had become more difficult than James imagined.

It seemed as though sleep had been slowly conspiring to steal from him his eyes and ears.

His eyes had long been playing tricks on him, as the passersby with their prejudicial jeers were no such thing and had simply been the rustling of various flora and fauna in the forest he had wandered into. Dimly lit as they were, their forms had become muffled by the cavernous swells of dark ink that made up the night.

Likewise, his ears heard what his mind imagined, that he was in the town just south of his destination and that the people of that town were those that took none-too-kindly to strangers. In actuality, the subtle snickers and belonged again to trees and coyotes and such, those that dwelled in the forest he had never visited, and would never visit again.

The stars in the sky became torches, the eyes of wild dogs became those of an unkindly people, and the dark forms of trees and their limbs embodied what he had actually heard: the calling of wolves, the hooting of owls, and the yips of coyotes.

After realizing precisely none of this, James decided to sit down, remove from himself the burden that was his journey -- that is, the sleeping child on his back -- and take a rest for the remainder of the night.