23rd September

Off the Beaten Track

I was walking in the forest. I had heard stories about a place somewhere on the far side. Some told of an old castle, or of a pool with a waterfall, or of a secluded, sandy beach beside the sea. I wanted to see if the stories were true.

Earlier in my walk I had come upon a narrower, less well maintained path than the one I was on, but a man with an official look about him had stopped me taking it. I regretted that I had allowed this to happen. Perhaps that path led to the place. It was too late now, though, to turn back.

Just then I spotted another path, one so overgrown and thin that it hardly qualified as a path at all. Still, I decided to try it, to see if it went anywhere or petered out.

Although it was very rough, and steep in places, the thin path did not peter out. The forest was quiet and still, but after some time I sensed a change. I could hear something: a river, or a waterfall, or the sound of the sea. I pressed forward, and suddenly emerged into a clearing.

A man stepped out from behind a tree. He was solid and tall and carried a large stick. His clothes were made of thick, heavy tweed, in autumnal colours, and a deerstalker was on his head. I was sure that this was the man I had met earlier.

‘What are you doing here?’ he demanded.

‘I’m just going for a walk,’ I replied, ‘as I told you this morning.’

‘What do you mean? You have never spoken to me before.’

‘Yes, I have,’ I said. ‘You were wearing different clothes, a kind of uniform, blue or possibly black. You threatened me with your stick.’

‘That’s a lie,’ he said. ‘I’ve never seen you before. Anyway, you’re not allowed here. You must go back.’

‘I don’t wish to go back,’ I said. ‘You will not turn me away twice.’

‘I will turn you away as often as is necessary,’ he said.

He raised his stick.

I considered my options.

I was afraid, but not as afraid as he was.

Reader: Matthew Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium and Piano: Kit Downes
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