I float effortlessly atop a sea that earlier threatened to drown me. Before, it was churning, burning and now it is calm, soothing. I drift with the tide of happiness, buoyed by a mood that came over me just recently. I have found the trail and it lies within me. This trail runs deep through my veins, linking my clearings, always sheltered by the tightly woven canopy. The clay cools my bare feet; they in turn sculpt it into beautiful shapes and scrunches. Then gravel crunches. Sharp stones press at my heel but I do not feel them in pain. I recognise the joy they bring, because they are solid, the earth beneath my feet. The hills tower before me and the breeze pushes me back, but it is gentle, like a lover, like the tide in which I float effortlessly.
We run for joy, to solidify our friendship. My companion is struggling; his legs are shorter than mine, though he has twice as many as I do. He strides valiantly along, determined not merely to keep up but to lead the way, even though he doesn't know where we are going. He puffs and pants but continues to drag me forward. We run in response to some deep instinct that lies at the core of all running beings. He is a dog, and I am human; together we run for joy.
I simply run. Before this moment, the world could have swallowed me up—I may not have noticed. I was too busy running. It wasn't joyous; it wasn't real. I was running away from something, being chased down by the expectations of others, fearing capture and containment. Now I simply run.
The world around me bursts into glorious song. The colours speak to me in hushed voices; flowers reach out with long tendrils of esters to enrapture my senses. The sun shines brightly somewhere above, but I can not see it, here beneath the canopy. The trail winds endlessly on between the trees, littered by the gold and red leaves they have dropped here. Something scurries beneath and my companion darts off into the low scrub, snuffling at the ground, desperate to catch a scent. My feet dance swift and fleet over rocks and mud as I leave him behind. I am at one with the world around me.
A tiny rock juts up and catches my toe. I squeal, as I do each time I trip. My companion lets out a panicked bark in response. I take two more steps in an attempt to recover, but this only serves to drive me towards the ground even faster. My shoulder slams painfully into the dirt, and my head hits a tiny rock.
I open my eyes and tentatively touch my forehead. Shifting my hand disturbs my companion, who has been worriedly licking it in an attempt to wake me up. At my temple, find a trickle of sticky blood, but not so much that I should worry. I laugh, and stand up. Twilight has come, filling my dreams with new colours and images that I can't quite fix upon. It is always hard to focus externally at this time of not-day, not-night. The only thing left to do is seek within. I open my eyes.
This mystical world has suddenly opened to me in all its glory. I see lights dancing across the forest, flitter-fluttering to and fro in the gentle breeze. A small worm inches slowly out of the mud, wiggling its way over to me. A mosquito alights gently on my arm; I slap it away and a small splotch of blood paints my arm. I hear the distant hoot of an owl and feel the silent beat of bats’ wings through the inky emptiness above my head. Something scurries, stirring up the leaves; it has given away its position and a hungry night creature pounces. A weak, longing howl echoes in the night, raising my hackles, but my companion sits calmly by my side. Everything is moist and fresh; everything smells like life in this mystical world.
The darkness is now complete. I swing my backpack down to the ground and fish around in it for a torch that I know I threw in there weeks ago. My fingers skim across the emergency blanket, the first aid kit, the packet of chips and my jacket. They sink into something softer, tearing a foil wrapper, and the rich smell of chocolate makes me salivate. It seems to have the same effect on my companion, who looks at me intently, willing me to share. I wonder if I was mistaken, but then my fingers brush the cool metal surface and I grab my torch. I switch it on; it lights my way and cuts through the darkness.
We have played all night, it seems. I stop, disoriented by the twilight, until I realise it is dawn. I know this trail well, yet I have wandered all night. Only now can I see that I have circled back on myself. We have a way to go, but it is not a long way. My companion is tired; he slumps to the ground and licks at his paws, whimpering. I kneel down to pat him, which seems to be all the encouragement he needs. He sits and drinks the water I offer him in his collapsible bowl. I have very little left, but he has always stayed by my side and I am happy to share. We move again; this time he is content to follow my lead down the trail. Soon we reach the clearing at the end of the road, where my car is parked. The red paint has been decorated by golden brown leaves and the gritty defecation of night creatures, but that is to be expected when we have played all night.