how strange!

“This is most unlike it of him”, they mused aloud, “Perhaps we missed a spot.”

The small party resumed its search. At times others followed along, mostly out of curiosity. Some of the more perplexed stood to the side, scratching their chins in an exaggerated show of thought as the party sifted through the dense shrubbery.

“Sir, I think I’ve found something!” comes the skittish cry of the party’s youngest member.

Suddenly the party comes to a halt. Their leader, a tall man of commanding form and graying hair, steps forward, jaw almost comically agape in awe. He places his hand against the rough of the bark, trailing his wizened fingers along its many rivets and turns. His hand stops before his fingers pass over the recently-disturbed bark. The tree, as if bleeding from a mortal wound, lets loose rivulets of sap that trace out the gashes etched into the tree’s hard surface.

He adjusts his spectacles, misted with the light rain, and reads out the clean inscriptions, voice thin with feverish excitement.

“Those more determined will find the light”. He pauses to allow his scribe a moment to jot down the essentials of the situation. “Hidden away, the secret shall stay / Cast away ’til another day / Make haste, lest it take flight”.

The leader steps back, rubs his hands together, and says aloud, “Strange. Let us continue onwards!”

The party continues its tiresome trudge through the thick undergrowth, ponderous steps fading into the dark. A curious bystander steps up to the tree and stares at the inscription, brow furrowed in deep concentration, eyes picking apart every detail. He blows at the finely etched writing and a sliver of bark falls away, revealing a message.

“Not ordinary?”

follow.

It follows me wherever I go, fused to me eternally, refusing ever to leave me. It changes always: sometimes its dark figure crouches and moves beside my own in tortured steps, its form misshapen yet commanding nonetheless – at other times it hides as if afraid of the world, only to reappear in full force the moment I dare to venture into the light. It has no name, nothing to call its own, and lends itself to mock my every action. When I step out of darkness, out of obscurity, my hands raised in triumph, it raises its hands as well, holding within them a reminder of the mistakes that I have made.

It exists only to ridicule me. My existence provides for it a life of its own, my home a place for it to brood in festering delight, the nourishment that I take in the wispy sustenance for its survival. I am aware of it as it is aware of me. I, an individual seeking to define the self; it, an entity that seeks to lay waste to whatever I create. We are graced, as we are cursed, to walk alone.

I found myself seated at the dining table, studying the patterns that nature’s scribe had so eloquently transposed onto its surface. The intricate swirls, smooth lines, and soft tones contained within them a story of which had been commenced with the germination of the rubber tree, ended abruptly by the jagged teeth of man’s saw. It studied with me, oblong head rested at a slight angle against its disproportionately long arms, hoping with my hope to glean from the wood whatever remnants of its tale could yet be recovered. I thought of the recent day gone by, of days spent long ago in places now entirely foreign to me, remembering all the unsavory events that I had involved myself in. I ran my tongue along my inner lip – the stale taste of freshly stirred bitter feelings registered back at once.

Hindsight is always 20/20, or so I am told. I find that my mind’s eye has a strange tendency to gloss over my achievements, placing emphasis instead on my every failure. Tonight it drew attention to the problems that I had caused in my past – the squabbles over little nothing, the passionately purposeless fights, the silent brawls with my conscience. These are what make up my track record. These are what others see when they look at me, or so I’m told. Despite my clean appearance, these blemishes find they own way of surfacing. They lie trapped within my being, compounding in number until they erupt outwards with violent force. From there the decay runs rampant, casting blight upon all that it comes across.

I rise from the table, suddenly much more aware of my faults, in need of some comfort. It rises with me, the light forcing its poorly defined form into grotesque parodies of my own. The night offers strange solace – it is not to be feared, only to be respected for it is commanding as the day to those who revel in its cloaked beauty. I don my shoes and it slides its small feet in with mine.
Our movements in perfect harmony with one another, we step outside and into the dark. For an instant it disappears, only to reveal itself again as my eyes adjust to the pale moonlight and the muted glow of faraway stars. I move slowly and my shoes cast soft steps against the tiled floor – it moves in unison with me, the hushed whispers of its movements imperceptible over the nighttime din of my quiet neighborhood.

I venture out into the clear nothing that lies outside of my home. The nothing of the air, the nothing of the dry asphalt beneath my feet. The road is hard and uncaring, offering nothing but a defined path with which to reach the outside world. It is kind to my feet, pushing back with each step that I take, really wanting nothing more than to be rid of me. Here there are no streetlights to cut through the swath of night, no loquacious insects to break its silent embrace. Here is gone – even it, my follower, has left me, perhaps to haunt some other weary soul. Glad to be with none but myself, I continue my meandering journey. Thoughts echo and bounce in my mind, clear reminders of what I have set out to do.

From here the road continues until it reaches a lookout point, a grassy clearing partially obstructed by a cold iron fence. The people that live across the street from this lookout have been so kind as to manicure it, furnishing it with quaint benches and beautiful, shy flowers.
At this hour of the young morning they have long retired to their chambers to sleep, to rise again only with the brilliant rays of the herald of the morn. If only they could see the beauty of the night. Still night, which far outshines the garish rays of the day in its own light. The road gives way to streetlights which light the way to my retreat, but their rays cast short of the lookout out of respect to its nighttime perfection, leaving its momentous beauty unscathed.

It presents itself again as I make my way over to the clearing. Its pace is unhurried, the soft flutter of its chest as it takes in unsubstantial air is leisurely, even effortless. Yet out of the corner of my eye I see that its strides are absurdly measured, the dark silhouette of its face sharp and biting, the outline of its lips curled in a distasteful pout. I move faster and it follows doggedly, its feet stepping on mine with disdain, its wispy arms striking mine in a show of insensitivity, its head turned at a soft tilt towards mine, the dark where its eyes should be glare at me with envy and razor-like perception. It sees me as I see it, yet I know that I am better than this loathing follower. I stand tall in my stride and it mimics me – as I pass under the glow of streetlights its figure stretches outwards and looms over me. My pace changes from a stroll to a trot and it follows in mad pursuit, knees outstretched, arms swinging like great pendulums to hold its balance. My trot becomes a mad dash but with every step I take, it never fails to follow.

And suddenly it disappears. My heart beating against my chest, my lungs aching for sweet air to fill their dark void, I find myself finally at the lookout. The benches are damp, as if they have taken this lull in activity to perspire after absorbing the piercing rays of daylight. The well-kempt lawn is soft to the step, yielding with grace unlike the reflexive kick of the asphalt. I stop to recover my composure and, realizing the hour, remind myself that no one is out to judge my appearance. Hands leave their task of tidying hair and begin instead to paw at the soft grass, pulling away with them the beginnings of morning dew. No longer followed, I seat myself among the gentle blades and lie down, allowing the grass to cushion my weight. I close my eyes and dream of my ideals. I cast images of perfection into my mind – of a perfect home, the perfect companion. Everywhere I turn in my mind the faint shimmer of perfection exposes herself, coquettish and shy. At peace with myself, relieved of my own weight, I fall asleep in the clearing; no longer followed.