A tiny child walks along a path. She rests when she needs to and walks when she wants to. She has a blanket to keep her warm. She smiles as she rubs its satin edge against her cheek. She takes in the vibrant colors that surround her. The smooth road is splashed with large patches of light that makes its way through the tall trees on either side of her. A cold darkness looms just beyond the uneven edges of her path, but she walks on, unknowing, unafraid, with her truth helping to light the way.
She wanders around a curve in the road. Something startles her. A racing pulse and a cold sweat replace her innocent calm. She has come face to face with a demon. She clutches a corner of her blanket, holding on for all she’s worth. Her inner light flickers as she steps backwards, and one foot comes down on a rocky patch, off the path, in the shadows.
Eyes wide, a frozen figure of fear, she screams. Fangs and claws and hot breath descend on her. She tries to suck in air, but there is none. She pulls harder, but it’s no use. The powerful monster controls the very air she is trying to breathe.
Thrashing panic follows. A restraining immensity covers her completely. One hand is pinned down. The other flails, throwing her blanket, her comfort, far into the shadows. She closes her eyes to the darkness, her mind to the fear, her heart to the world.
She silently pleas for breath. One breath. Please, just one breath.
A sound penetrates the cacophony of screaming silence. The creature coos a counterfeit incantation as he removes his foul hands from her. She pulls air into her tiny lungs and takes what comfort she can in the false offering.
Silence follows. Tentatively she opens her eyes. She can’t see the demon. She can’t see much of anything. She sits up in the darkness and strains to make sense of her surroundings, but it is too dim to see beyond her own outstretched hands.
Her heart pounds a new rhythm in her body, one of fear and confusion. Where is the road?
On hands and knees, she crawls through the darkness. She carefully places her hands in front of her, one at a time, feeling around on the ground, trying to find the smooth path she remembers. Instead, she finds painful chaos.
Thorns pierce her palms and legs as she moves through the shadows. She can hardly swallow around the panic as a longing begins inside her. She realizes that something she hadn’t even known she possessed had been taken from her in that one hideous moment. She picks her way through the brambles as best she can, and all the while one word resonates inside of her: home.
I will never find my way, crawling along the ground. Standing up, she moves forward, slowly, tripping often and turning when her way is blocked completely. She strains her eyes, searching for the light she is already starting to forget.
She finds no light.
In the darkness, a putrid stench announces the return of the demon. He has total control. She is such a tiny girl and he is such an enormous power. She shuts out her thoughts and her fear , her hope and her anger.
When the demon has gone again, she picks herself up and moves aimlessly through the prickly brush. She no longer searches for the smooth and colorful life-path she had once followed. She lives in constant dread. A tiny girl has little chance against a demon. Her only thought is to keep herself safe.
Again and again, the demon appears. He controls sensation and emotion and takes the air away.
Life is a dark walk through the woods. Fear is her ever-present companion. On a journey with no destination, she staggers, scurries and stumbles.
Gradually, the tiny girl grows a little bigger. As she struggles, she grows strong. She can make her way through the trees, and avoid the jagged cliffs and cold, murky lakes, even when it is completely dark. She is very good at surviving and forgets there was every anything more.
She finds a little cave. The cave is too small for a demon. She decides to stop moving forward and stay near the cave all the time, where she can feel safe. Now, when the demon comes to steals the air, she crawls inside and hides in the dark recesses until he is gone and she can breathe again.
She moves blindly through days and weeks and months and years. Buried deep inside her there is still a longing; a constant, unidentifiable yearning which makes her anxious and angry. I have everything I need. I am safe from the demon.
Occasionally, a flash of old memory startles her. It comes to her like a flicker of light. She closes her eyes and almost remembers something soft, something warm, something other than the emptiness of this God-forsaken place.
Time has passed. She is no longer a child. She hasn’t seen the demon for a while, but she remembers his immensity and power. She hears something in the distance. Her mind fills with dreadful visions of the massive monster she remembers.
She runs to the cave to hide, but she finds that she has grown too big to fit! She desperately searches for another place to conceal herself. She stumbles and falls on a patch of stones and pain shoots through her. Alone, cold and bleeding, she waits for the demon to come. She rocks and cries and nurses her wounds. She is certain that the demon is close. She decides to hold her breath so that he has no power over her when he takes the air away.
She closes her eyes to keep from seeing his terrible power. She waits . She waits. She waits until it feels that her lungs will explode.
I need to breathe!
She opens her eyes and gasps in cold, fresh air. Her racing heart and mind slow gradually as air fills her lungs. There is no putrid smell. She doesn’t see the demon.
Is he here?
Is he real?
Did I imagine it all?
She pushes herself up. Beneath her hand, there is something on the ground. It is not a stone or a branch. The softness feels out of place and somehow familiar. She closes her hand around it and untangles it from the brambles. Slowly, she lifts it close to her face where she can see it in the gloom.
It takes her mind a moment to recognize her blanket. It’s old and dirty but still holds a sense of something she has forgotten. She presses it to her face, breathing deeply, letting her mind slip to a safe and gentle place.
The monster in her memory has developed into something so immense that even the thought of it threatens to swallow her whole. Despite her fear, a calm comes over her. The longing she has always known expands until it fills her up. A word she has not thought of since she was a tiny girl begins to echo in her mind.
She knows that even death would be better than hiding in the darkness forever. With nothing to lose, she decides to face her demon and find her way back to the path where she belongs.
She is strong, but afraid. She is determined, but cautious.
Silent resolve spreads over her like a cold sweat.
She stands and listens to the voice inside that she has not heard since she was a tiny girl.
She knows which way to go.
She begins to walk.
Ahead, she sees light. As she moves forward, flashes of forgotten color brighten her view. A little further up, she steps onto a smooth, bright path. Light dances on the even surface. It feels easy, true, right. A half-remembered breeze gently pushes her hair from her face. She hears a stream nearby that she knows can quench the desperate thirst she’s had forever.
Even so, she can’t allow herself to enjoy any of it. She steels her heart, waiting for the monster to appear. Even in this place, she is empty and alone.
Her pace is slow, now. She wants to hurry, feeling like she has lost so much time, but she hesitates, expecting the worst at every step. She tells herself that maybe she imagined the monster. She forces herself forward with the false knowledge that the monster isn’t real at all.
It occurs to her that if that’s true, then she has brought all the darkness on herself. Did I really lose my way all on my own? She keeps a wall of steel around her tenderest emotions to numb herself from the self-accusations.
Just as she is beginning to accept that it was all her fault, she follows the path around a vaguely familiar curve. The demon waits in the distance. She stops, filled with the ancient fear, unable to breathe.
She closes her eyes tight, wishing the monster away.
I have to know.
She forces air into her lungs.
She opens her eyes.
It waits for her.
She considers running back into the woods but sets her jaw with resolve and takes a step forward. It’s too hard to look at it, but she continues to walk towards it. She stares at the ground, willing herself to take another step, and then another. With each movement forward, she imagines how massive the creature will be when she stands before it. Her hands are slick with perspiration, her head is buzzing at the temples; blood pounds a steady rhythm in her ears. Slowly she approaches what she most dreads.
Finally, she knows she’s reached the monster. The presence of the creature is stifling. Its foul smell pollutes the air and she chokes and comes to a stop. She forces her eyes up to meet those of the ugly thing that has tortured her thoughts.
Incredibly, what she looks at now, is not the overwhelming monster of the past. It is as ugly and loathsome as she ever imagined, but it is so small she has to squat down to see it clearly. Her steady gaze alone seems to sap the strength and power from the ancient demon. It shrinks further as she watches.
She realizes she could crush the monster of her nightmares with the heel of her hand. In this moment, this revelation, she knows that she doesn’t need to destroy the monster. It is destroying itself. With no fear to feed it, it grows tiny and week. In the light, all its ugliness shows through. It is only a pitiful, twisted smudge of debris.
She stands up and brushes the ugly thing off her path with the side of her foot. For a long moment she reflects on all this encounter means. Something repulsive and nasty had once flared up and overwhelmed her. She shuddered at the feeble, silent cries she remembered and her soundless plea – Just one breath. The horror she recalls brings on a sadness and anger more real and more threatening than the monster itself.
She had been pushed from her path. She had not brought this on herself. This was done to her at a time when she was powerless and small, but somehow she has grown strong. Somehow she has found what she needs to face what she fears most. Somehow, she has faced the demon and that in itself is enough to melt it away.
She looks ahead at a path filled with light and peace. She realizes that soon, when she has pushed through all the murky sadness and anger, the last of the darkness would be gone with it.
Finally, she falls to the downy earth and sleeps. The monster isn’t part of her anymore. From now on, she will live on the sunlit path, where she belongs.