The wind pushed through the gaps in the old house making eerie sounds and demonstrating real power. Cobwebs fluttered in the face of it and dust settled in its wake. There was no one there. Spiders hugged the walls and two mice ran along skirting boards. But no one saw them. The ragged curtains trembled either side of the small window in the scullery. No one shivered. A door from one of the outbuildings was partly off its hinges and creaked with depth as it moved involuntarily to and fro.
The traveller leant against a stout tree trunk and tried in vain to light a cigarette. He looked the old house up and down. He scanned its breadth in the scant light from the moon. He had the measure of it. To him it was stone and wood and turf and twisted metal. Clearly no one was inside. It would seem that no one had been there for a very long time. He wondered how long. He carefully picked his way through tangled garden to the door and attempted to open it. It was not as difficult as he had expected and so he entered more quickly than he had anticipated. He left it wide open.
Slowly and gingerly – not wanting any injury from random obstacles, the traveller looked around the little house. Here a rotten wooden cupboard with fragments of linoleum still lining its shelves, there a small table, white with age, and, everywhere, signs of a hurried evacuation. No food – the small inhabitants would have finished that off fairly sharpish – but crockery and pans in small numbers showed the traveller where someone had cooked and eaten a very long time ago. He lit his cigarette and watched as the smoke mingled with the cloud of memory that hovered there. A loose flagstone came between him and his exit but, instead of walking around it, his mind was jumping in and out of the stories he had read. He remembered people trapped in cottages such as these. He remembered such places coming and going through years – places like Brigadoon. He remembered Silas Marner, George Eliot’s weaver, who had hidden his money as he had hoarded it. He began to work his strong fingers around the loose flagstone. With difficulty he lifted it but found nothing underneath. He put back the flagstone and laughed at himself. He became aware, however , that he was not alone. He looked behind him, the hairs on the back of his neck bristling with something he did not recognise. There was no one there.
“You didn’t find it.”
The traveller looked up to see a young woman standing in the open doorway. She wasn’t standing very still. She seemed to be swaying but in a curving sinuous way.
“No. No – I didn’t find anything.”
“And, should you have found it, would you have kept it?”
“I – didn’t know – didn’t know what I was looking for.”
“They never do.”
“Who never does?”
“The men who come – they never know what it is that they seek – but they are all seeking something.”
“I didn’t come here to find anything.”
“No, you didn’t, but there is something missing for you and you feel an emptiness.”
“How do you – – – – – ”
“You will not find what is missing here. Go back and it will be waiting for you.”
“Where did you come from?”
“You seem to know all these things – you tell me where I come from!”
“You come from earth and it is to earth you shall return – but that which you are searching for is not of the earth. Go back and you will feel it.”
With that, the woman turned and it seemed she was blown along through the garden with the dried leaves and clumps of dead vegetation.
He was alone and wondering. He lit another cigarette and walked around and around the old house. It gave him no clue. He wasn’t good at taking advice. He was stumped. The wind was less aggressive now and seemed to whisper to him to leave. He closed the door behind him and stood on the path, taking in the night. His feet led him back the way he had come. It seemed the debris on the way through the wood was blown aside ahead of him. The trees coughed and croaked to him as he walked on and soon he felt a part of it all. Close to the edge of the wood he sat down and breathed in the night. The night breathed in the traveller too. And so they were one. A man whose life had been bereft of spirituality had been admitted to the spirit world.
They found him the next morning when two of the rangers arrived to fell marked trees. They told their story for a very long time. The man they had found had died peacefully and with the most wonderful expression. But the story doesn’t end there. The tree which had been his last earthly resting place was one of the marked trees felled by the rangers. As it passed through the neighbouring trees, to land on the floor of the wood, a cache of acorns and hazelnuts scattered from a crevice within its trunk. They became covered with leaf litter and settled into the earth where many germinated and developed into saplings and then into trees, breathing life into this world – life and spirit.