I froze when I realized which trees were in front of me. I did not remember how I got here. Again. Only that I had closed my eyes in my room, and opened them in the grove.
Purple flowers hung in lengths of grape-like clusters from thin twigs and branches covered with a deep green surface that shimmered as I tried to study it. Low clouds teased the upper reaches of the canopy. A sweet and soft smell descended from the flowers to stroke my exposed skin in comfort. Just as I remembered.
I heard footsteps off to my left. I only turned my head and saw my past self and her escort walking peacefully into the distance. She had just admitted to him that she was lost and couldn’t find her fellow soldiers’ camp. He had just pointed the way and offered to lead her there. Innocently, she accepted.
And now they were walking away, back into the past.
There was something in the trees. Something I didn’t see then. Something I can’t see now, but can feel and experience very vividly.
I looked down the other direction. The perfectly straight dirt road extended further than my eye could see. The clouds that were politely above the canopy came down in that distance to obscure the perfectly straight rows of trees that marked the edge of the road and whatever could be at the end of it.
I looked back to my left. My past self had forgotten to be worried. Forgotten to be afraid. So much shit was going on in her life at the time, that this twenty minute walk in a strange place with a strange man who said nothing during the entire duration was one of the most peaceful moments she will ever have in her life, before or after.
Well, it was at most twenty minutes to her and her watch. Her sergeant told her later that she was absent for at least two hours.
I turned forward to face the mute tree in front of me. Identical to all the others that lined this road, both in front of me and behind me. If only I knew then what I know now…
“It’s a shame I didn’t pick up any rocks while I was here. The flowers he gave me were quickly lost after I returned. But then again, I never was able to find this place on a map when I searched for it later, so there’s a question if the flowers ever physically existed in the first place. This grove, this road, that man, and you… Fey.”
I felt the tree smile at me even though not a single petal quivered in movement.
“Now there is a continent and an ocean between us. I will likely never return to that section of the Black Forest [in Germany] where I encountered you in this lifetime. Politics and monetary funds are funny like that. But… I didn’t seek you out again. You pulled me here, somehow. I take it there is unfinished business? Or some shenanigans you would like my participation in? Or maybe just to stop by and say hello.”
The softly sweet scent intensified without becoming cloying.
“Well, greetings to you as well. I very much appreciate the time you gave me then. I’m sorry it wasn’t enough to prevent [an unpleasant action that happened shortly after my return], but I have often wondered if the point was to keep something worse from happening in those two hours they were looking for me.”
Something soft touched my forehead and the scent started to pull at my awareness.
Far down the road, far away from my point of view here, the strange man stopped and pointed to an unusual cluster of thickly wild bushes between two trees. He couldn’t help my past self leave the road. She would have to struggle through the bushes on her own. She expected the thorned wood to be impossible to pass. The branches mournfully yielded and turned away at her touch.
As my past self cautiously pushed her way through the enveloping hedges, my awareness started to fade and their grip on me began to lessen.
“I have so many questions…”
My past self can see the camp through the thinning autumn leaves.
“… but they all begin and end with…”
I opened my eyes to find the sunlight pushing against my curtains.
I turned over and silently mourned an unsourced sense of loss and disconnection.