My dad and I had been walking for a long time. I’d long since lost track of how long, and I had no idea where we were, but I knew that my dad was my hero and was keeping me safe. He had told me that something was wrong, but he wouldn’t tell me what it was. He told me that I didn’t need to know, that I wouldn’t understand even if he tried to explain it to me, and when he smiled at me it reassured me, and I trusted him. I knew that he wasn’t lying to me, because I could feel it too – something supernatural in the air around us, like a distant sound that you couldn’t quite hear. It had been there for so long that sometimes I would forget that it was there, and sometimes for a second I would think that a quality about it had changed, but it was all too fuzzy, and if you thought about it too hard, it slipped away. Like how you can see a star in your peripheral vision, but when you try to look right at it, it disappears.
It was late in the afternoon. We were walking along a grassy path cut through the middle of some woods, just him and me and the wind rustling the leaves. Up ahead I could see a shack of some sort, long since fallen into disrepair. I wondered if a witch lived there. My dad raised a finger and turned to me, and we both stopped dead still, holding our breath. For a second, he had that far-away look in his eye, and I knew what he was doing. He was listening, or sensing, I don’t know how to describe it. He was smarter than me, he knew more about what was wrong. He knew exactly what to listen out for, how to examine that strange feeling in detail. He’d been doing this for as long as I could remember – every few minutes he’d stop, and I’d stop too, and he would check to see if something had changed, some sign that this flaw in me, or him, or the world, might be getting better. And then his focus would return to me, and he’d smile, that same big reassuring smile that he smiled every time. The one that told me that things hadn’t changed; but that we’d keep on walking, and we’d keep on hoping, and we’d keep on surviving.
Inspired by a recurring dream that haunted me as a young boy