In the Shadow of the Forest

There is, some say, a door of sorts that opens in the woods. It is there when the sun has just set and any remaining light disappears before it reaches through the trees. It is never said which woods, and if pressed, many will admit that it could be any woods. In truth it is every woods. Every copse of trees thick enough to hide a piece of itself from the sun as it is up holds one of these entrances.

In one such copse of trees, just large enough to hold a single one of these doorways, wanders a man half-mad with purpose. He had made a promise, many sunsets ago, to find the doorway. But these entrances, as sometimes is the case, are far easier to find when one is not looking for them.

Still, he searches, first methodically, certain that with the right amount of clues he can piece together the location of the entrance. But shadows are hard to measure, and as days shorten and lengthen and clouds pass it is impossible to map where its darkest and most hidden part might lay. Then, insistently. If he walks every step of the woods, he will surely find that one step that will take him Elsewhere. But even a small gathering of trees is too much to keep track of. So his next steps are frantic, running through the trees, jumping into each shadow of every tree.

Then, desperate. He loses all sense of organization as he runs frantically through the now-familiar landscape. Then tired. His mind is blank and his only thought is to force himself onward.

He has made a promise, he says to himself with every trudging step. He cannot give up. His steps become mechanical, and he wears a path into the woods. He takes to muttering, about grids and cloud cover and the season’s effect on light.

After time uncounted, he thinks distantly that he has tried everything. He wonders if starting again in a different copse would raise or lower his chances.

“No,” he mutters, unaware that he is speaking aloud. “these are her woods.” It has to be here.

There is a night in which he finds his thoughts caught on a not-quite-familiar song. The tune makes its way to the back of his throat as a hum, then passes his lips as a whistle. He startles himself with the sound as it rings clear around the silent trees. His feet find their way off the path quite without him, stepping in a way almost rhythmic enough to call a dance.

At some point, the music stops coming from him and finds its origin in the woods. He finds himself in a part of the woods he does not recognize, and he wonders how he could not have seen it in all his time under these trees. The fact is, however, that a copse so small as this one would have to actively hide itself from the light of the sun.

He had asked, once, how one would be able to see in a place that hid itself from the sun. She had reminded him that the stars illuminated themselves, then admitted that even that explanation fell short, as she had not seen the stars in her time there.

“It is not the same sort of sight as we are used to.” she had said, a bit wistfully. “Nothing there is quite the same.”

And he found he agreed, for as the music led him through the doorway, the world drained of color and became a strange sort of fuzzy that felt clearer than his own sight. The entrance he has so longed to find leads him out of the woods and onto a dance floor full of silks twirling to the same music that had led him here.

He scanned the crowd of dancers and, in a panic, realized that after all the time that had passed, they might not be able to recognize one another.

But as the thought crossed his mind, the crowd parted for a figure that had been visiting his dreams for longer than she had been missing. The dancers knelt for her, and she made her way towards him, appearing such that he could only call radiant, even in a place where the word had no meaning. She stopped in front of him, and he sank to his knees, hand gently reaching for hers. He kissed her knuckles and muttered a single word.

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