The Journey

The wind had changed. It was time to leave. She’d worried over it for months. When? How? Where? But now it was obvious. One moment she was there, the next she was gone. Utterly gone.

The first thing she remembered was being woken by the tree tapping on the window. She’d thrown open the sash, and the moonlight showed the tips of the branches were quivering right in front of her face. It didn’t seem strange, even though she was pretty sure that yesterday the tree hadn’t even reached the downstairs lintel.

The tree was beckoning her. Its leaves whispered an invitation. She wrapped her red dressing gown around her, and climbed straight through the window into the branches.

A hoot close to her ear revealed she was not alone. Next to her sat an owl. A huge owl. Taller than she thought an owl could be. And as the owl spread his wings and took flight, she too spread her wings, and followed him. Flying was easier than she expected. She briefly wondered why she’d never done it before.

From up here, everything looked small and perfectly laid out. The houses, mostly sleeping, but here and there a gentle curl of smoke from a chimney or a light in a window, hinting at wakefulness. The gardens, cut short by the railway line. The road just a stream of red and white lights.

Beyond the road, a field. The owl circled downwards, she followed. Just before they reached the ground, she saw the horse. As still as a statue. Blacker than night. So sleek he glinted like water in the moonlight. She landed on his back, her folded wings dissolving back into her shoulder blades.

Immediately, he was galloping. It didn’t occur to her she might fall. She had no concern about where they were going. There was nothing to tell her where the horse ended and she began. Her senses were overwhelmed by the heat of his rippling muscles, and a feeling of staying still, in a dynamic suspended animation, while the world rushed past.

Equally suddenly, she was on the beach, her bare feet sinking into sand, and the horse was gone. Ghostly boats approached the shore, and shadowy soldiers piled into the water, running towards her, passing straight through her. She heard the faint echo of their war cry, felt their fear, smelt death. Then they were gone.

A single boat remained. A little wooden fishing boat. A crow, sitting on the prow. Looking at her. Waiting. And at the stern, the ferryman. This was the beginning of the journey. The rest was simply what it took to bring her here.

She stepped into the boat. Or, rather, how it seemed was that one person began to step into the boat. And as soon as the first foot touched the wood, an entirely different person took the second step. Either way, here she was, standing in the bow, looking out across the water. the crow perched beside her as the boat began to move.

All at once, she saw herself with a blistering clarity. A clarity that brought to the surface every hidden secret, every buried memory, every dark desire. You might expect that to be embarrassing. But it wasn’t. Purifying, if anything. Ordinary. Like most of her life had been spent holding her breath, and finally she got to release that stale air, and draw the fresh sea air.

Salmon swan alongside, splashing her as they leapt. The water brought with it new wisdom. A wisdom that saw the world clearly, and knew all of it for exactly what it was. A knowing that passed all understanding.

And then, the boat was pulling up on the beach. The night sky giving way to dawn light. She stepped ashore, both categorically herself, and equally definitely not the woman who’d stepped onto the boat.

She awoke in her bed. The window open and the curtains fluttering in the breeze. She got up, aired the bed, and went downstairs to make breakfast for the family.

Who she’d believed herself to be was gone. Utterly gone. Of course, no one even noticed. Though her husband briefly wondered if she’d had her hair done.

Sitting at the table with a cup of tea, she began to tell the story of her dream. Glancing up at the window, a crow met her gaze and she fell silent.

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