Forest of Faith - Chapter 1
... a path unfolding
That night I couldn’t sleep. I knew the end was coming and I didn’t want to waste what little time I had left alone in bed. I threw on a pair of jeans and found a sweatshirt under the bottom of a pile outside the closet. It smelled clean enough.
It was that time of the morning when things slowly begin to take shape in the distance through the lifting veil of misty darkness. I walked through Stanley Park in the early light and found my bench, sitting lonely against a thin mist rising from the ocean. A field of gulls circled off shore. I sat and waited but no one came.
I must have closed my eyes because suddenly the world was awake. A jogger ran across my field of vision, a pretty thing with a ponytail and silver headphones. Then another girl a short time later, and eventually a lone cyclist, his head down, pumping flat out and making good time in the opposite direction, tires humming and streaming rainwater as he passed me.
A figure appeared on the bench beside me out of nowhere and I turned to look at him for some time before either of us spoke aloud. The medications I was taking were powerful as hell and they couldn’t always be trusted. I have found it prudent to be patient in these circumstances.
“You stare because you do not see me. But you want to, no?” he said, not turning. He remained motionless beside me, looking out toward the water.
“Sometimes,” I said, “things appear but are not real.”
“And which is better for you? Appearances or reality?” He was wearing a raincoat, one of those types you see in old gangster movies, with the collar turned up and the belt hanging loosely at the waist. There was something familiar about him. I knew that I knew him, but he utterly refused to find his rightful place in my mind. So I decided to accept him as he was without the need to define or limit his existence. The sun was up fully now and you could feel the warmth of it on your face. I leaned back and took it in fully, the lightness of it bright against my closed eyelids.
“What inspires a man to come here to this park bench, on this day, at this hour, to meet another?” the man said. He had a subtle accent, German? Dutch? Texan? Maybe Swahili. It was one that I could not quite nail down. He was years removed from wherever it was he had come from so only a hint remained. His voice had pleasantness to it, smoothness. It made me want to keep my eyes closed and drift. He let me sit there in silence and we both listened to the sea stepping gently into the rocky shoreline.
I wanted to tell him I was dying, that in fact within a year I would be dead, but I felt there was no need to. In the back of my mind I thought somehow he would already know this and that that’s why he had come to visit me. I could hear the gulls in the distance and felt a breeze move the hairs on my forearms. If I opened my eyes at that moment and looked, the man would be gone. So, I didn’t open my eyes and look at him and in that way I kept him there beside me.
I was wondering how it is I could tell so much about a stranger by only a few uttered words. And I realized the only possible answer: excellent drugs.
So I began to explain them to him.
“The pink pills relieve the pain,” I told him quietly. “The blue ones help me sleep. The green ones relax me. And I have no idea what the small black ones do, but I’m up to seven of those little sons of bitches a day.”
“Yes,” he said. “We all need our little black ones.”
I smiled and the universe fell perfectly into alignment.
But even then, I knew nothing lasts forever.
I opened my eyes.
He began talking again but it took a moment to register. I saw a tiny space ship land on one side of his face, just below his left eye. It fired its port side thrusters in a controlled burn making a perfect three-point landing. I imagined a room full of diminutive technicians and specialists sending up a tiny collective cheer on the home planet, their bulging eyes glued to banks of computers and monitors.
“I have often, in times of profound personal challenge found solace and comfort in the Good Book,” he said. His eyes welled up a little at the recollection of the solace and comfort he had often found. He cleared his throat. “You know, prayer is a powerful resource. We can always turn to Jesus Christ, our personal saviour and redeemer at any time to give us the strength we need to overcome even the most difficult of obstacles.”
After a moment, the hatch blew and two time travellers in space suits emerged from the landing craft on his face. They slowly descended a silver ladder, one rung at a time. Then, one small step and one of them planted a small colourful flag inside a nearby acne crater on his chin. They turned to each other touching hands together in a high five salute of congratulations and began exploring his face.
“Are you for real, man?” I asked the man.
He turned slowly to look me in the eyes. “Certainly. All notions of energetic separation are incorrect. Correct?”
It sounded convincing, but I noticed the time travellers were relieving themselves in his mouth and they had missed the potty. Long flight. It looked like he was drooling from an overdose of Haloperidol and suddenly he reminded me of a man I once knew.
I reached for my pill bottle. “Care for a little black one, sir?” I asked.
“Don’t mind if I do,” he said, smiling. “Don’t mind if do, son.”