I walk along the sidewalks of my development. The well-manicured suburban lawns and topiaries pass by, lit by a full moon. It is a familiar course that I walk, I have done it hundreds of times in my waking life. I come to a favorite place, where the suburban lawns end and an empty, fenced off lot begins. The trees and plants here are not friendly and held back by lawnmowers and chain link fence. They live next to the highway and have to fight for survival, but I have made friends with them. I ask nothing of them except leave to sit beneath their branches. I pass by the lot until I get to the gate that divides the “pristine” suburban world from that patch of wild. I take one look back at the topiary across the street and wrinkle my nose, then turn back to the gate. I smile as I step through it.
Immediately, the world changes. The drone of traffic on the highway, the airplanes roaring overhead, the dogs barking among the houses all gone. The barren, poisoned patch of forest that is normally there is now gone completely. I stand in an old forest. Older than any I have ever been in in my life. The trees here make my King of the Forest look like a child. I turn behind me and found the same chain link gate. It is rusted and the hinges barely held the gate up, and the rest of the fence was nowhere to be seen, but that gate is still there. I step up to the nearest tree and held my hand out to it, run my fingers over the bark. It is so old and wise and strong. I have never met anything so old in all my life. I smile as my hands feel the rough bark beneath them. I turn my head to study the forest around me. The ground is coated in brown leaves and occasionally some pine needles. I can see oaks, beeches, sycamores, and even a hemlock or two. I can hear a small brook babbling over the rocks somewhere nearby, the wind through the ancient trees and some birdsong. I inhale deeply and take in all the scents of the forest.
Then, I am running, weaving in and out of trees and jumping brooks. Not fleeing, just running for the sake of it. My bare feet push me along faster than I have ever run before. They are hard and calloused, unaffected by the undergrowth or terrain. The knee that gives me so much trouble in waking life is not painful at all. The asthma that holds me back un waking life is nowhere to be felt. My lungs expand and contract unhindered and powerful. I can feel every muscle as they work in harmony to propel me along. I feel free. I marvel at this feeling to run like I never have before.
My attention returns to the old forest around me. I am not alone. As I crash through the undergrowth I can hear and feel something running with me. I catch a glimpse here and there through the trees of a tan blur. Curious of who I am running with, I stop, and so does my companion. A pair of massive antlers push through the undergrowth, and there before me is Stag, noble and proud. His tan coat gleamed in the moonlight, and his deep brown eyes bored into mine. The spirit that has helped me and guided me for some time now stands before me in all his kingly splendor. He reaches out and touches my chest with his nose, a sad, apologetic look in his eyes. My chest tingles where he touched, and I realize that I have the brand on my chest. It is now healed completely, leaving only the design in ghostly white scar tissue upon my pec. I reach out and touch his face and antlers and then wrap my arms around his neck in a hug. I can smell the earthy, musky scent of him. He then turns away towards the forest, moving his head as if to follow.
Then we are running again. This time together. I try to show off and outrun him, and he allows it for a few strides before leaving me in the dust. We run together like this for some time. Most of the time with me just keeping pace and following him along his trails through the forest. When the moon was low in the sky, about to set, Stag slowed to a jog and then a stop in a familiar clearing. He looks into my eyes again. His look said “We will meet again.” I shake my head as I spot the gate through which I came to this forest. I do not want to leave. Why would I want to return to topiaries and asthma when I can have the freedom of this forest? He stamps his hoof, indicating no room for argument. I resignedly move towards the gate, happy that I can at least return. I give Stag a last hug and he assures me without words that I am welcome here when I want to return. Happy in that knowledge, I walk back through the gate and into suburbia. I turn to look back at the gate and see the sad trees that live there in waking life. I whisper a thank you to them.
I open my eyes to look at the ceiling of my bedroom. The sky is just beginning to lighten, indicating sunrise. My covers are kicked off into a tangled mass at the foot of my bed. I stretch and then fix the comforter. I roll over and go back to sleep with a big smile on my face. I do need some proper sleep before starting my normal day.