By Sara Seibert (Sun Valley High School, Aston, PA)
My old heart is racing with excitement as I make my way down the battered path. It has been decades since I last made this journey, yet my mind still remembers the way and my feet instinctively take me where I yearn to be. The sun filters down through the canopy above me, giving highlights and shadows to the forest that made it appear as if I am walking through some surrealistic painting. Birds chirp and flitter above me and the hidden silhouettes of deer can be seen though the thick trees.
After walking about a mile on this isolated trail, I find what I was looking for. Before me is a large wooden door, looming a couple of feet above me, set into a hill. It is constructed of wide, sturdy planks with a large black iron handle to the right. I smile and close my eyes, letting the all too familiar and comforting smell of pine and faint smoke enter into my senses. It all reminds me of that time I was here so many years ago. I clear my mind, I did not want to waste this time by reminiscing on the past. I wrap my gnarled hands around the handle and pull with all of my remaining strength.
Ahead of me lies a tunnel burrowing into the hill, it is formed out of packed dirt, with tree roots lining the sides. That earthy smell of untouched nature is strong, and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia sweeps through my body. Knowing that I still have a long way to walk, I decide to give into the feeling, and let my mind wonder back in time.
I was a young girl, only 20, and had all of the youth that has left me now. I had a happy enough life then, my family was fairly wealthy and I was receiving a decent education. However, I was an adventurous girl, and so one day I took off into a tract of woods that my father had just bought but had not yet built on. Nobody knew that I left, and I simply starting running through the trees without a care in the world. Only later would I notice the pulls and tears my blouse and skirt had suffered during my flight. That did not matter at the time though, the only idea that was running through my head was how good it felt to have the wind rushing over my face. I reached what I thought to be the heart of the woods and that is where I found the door for the first time.
I stop my memories, seeing that I had neared the end of the tunnel. I begin to have a strange feeling as I get closer to my destination. The pain that was set deep into my joints from so much walking has faded away and I feel as if some weight has lifted from my shoulders. I pass this all off as unimportant and step out of the mouth of the tunnel and into a large field. I am relieved to see that the place has not changed in the four decades I have been gone. It still has that air of an unseen magic and nothing has that abandoned look to it that I feared that time has a tendency to do. I walk, yet again, crossing over a small bridge built out of branches and twigs. Looking back at the bridge, I see a small house hidden under it that I had completely forgotten about. I smile and make my way through the place. I pass by all of my memories. To my left are bright and colorful mushrooms with small doors leading into them. To my right is the entrance to a small and empty building. I continue straight ahead and climb up a ladder-like structure onto a platform that is wrapped around a thick oak tree. I look out ahead of me with a view of almost the entire secret meadow, happiness coursing through my body. I glimpse the outline of a building and I am instantly reminded of one of my favorite places.
I climb back down the ladder and go towards my left, where a barely visible path is hidden. I quickly walk down it, approaching another wooden building. I walk inside, where above and around me are chimes. They are all different sizes and colors and I let my fingers graze a few, hearing their small sweet tinkling sounds as I make my way to the center of the room. I let loose all of my feelings, pushing the long tubes of graceful metal into one another to make my own unique song of pure joy. Although I am by myself, I laugh. I laugh like how I used to when I was young, and with all of the unrestrained bliss of a young girl. After what seems like hours, I let them settle, and that is when I realize how quiet it is outside.
The last time I was here, I remember there were many noises. I never directly saw any creature before, but I saw their shadows and outlines and heard the noises they made as they walked through the woods. The silence upset me, and I left the chime house in search of a living creature. I remember another section of the field where there are chairs formed out of logs hidden in secrecy.
It was at this place, I remember, where I found fruits and other small gifts set out for me before. They were accompanied by a note imploring me to stay there and I had thought it was sweet. Images of sweet, little creatures had passed through my mind when I wondered who could have left a present there for me. Today, I make my way there again, keeping my ears open for any sounds in the ominous stillness. Small, grumbling noises come from in front of me, and I hurry to the source of the commotion.
I walk around walls of hay and branches and quietly tip-toe to the opening of the meeting area. Sitting in the chairs are creatures I had never before seen. They remind me of those silly lawn gnomes, except they did not seem so silly now. They have more serious faces, with human expressions. Their clothes are earthy, like their surroundings and their skin is wrinkled with experience. Fear arrived unexpectedly, and I froze. The gnomes noticed me, and began to rise from their chairs. They begin to beg for me to stay, bringing me back to my memory of the gifts, but their faces look frightening and I become ever more scared. They start walking towards me and my frozen stance melts, and I start to run back to the tunnel. I had no idea what this feeling was that had come over me. This meadow had always seemed so peaceful to me when I was young. But now that I see the twisted faces of the creatures that live here, my young dreams shatter and I climb into the tunnel.
I hear scratching noises from behind me and run faster. Halfway through the tunnel, I am again enveloped by silence, although this time it is comforting. I slow down and continue to walk until I reach the door yet again. This time, when I leave, I will never come back. Now, as an old woman, I look back with regret. at the same place I had once looked at with wonder as a young woman. Things change, and I promise to myself to sell the tract of woods as soon as I find the opportunity.