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The road I am on is potholed, it has been since I decided to turn off the highway, abandon my car, and take a route with no name, no reference on a map, no signage that foretells what lies beyond the bends, the dips, the ruts. I haven’t encountered anyone traveling in either direction, but I can tell from imprints left behind in the road that others have journeyed before me. The path demonstrates its age, stubbornness, and its indifference to those who walk upon it by discouraging you from proceeding while encouraging you to retreat. The road will learn of my resolve, and I will bow to its reverence.

My eyes witnessed debris, possessions of no value, scattered off to the sides as I approached a grade in the passage that climbed and twisted into the mountain’s canopy of forest and darkness. My temperament welcomed the challenge, and I had but one expectation, that I will fail. If I don’t fail, how can I learn to succeed?

The passage of time appeared stalled because I neither felt the need for nourishment nor shelter. I approached what looked like an encampment, forming a circle bordered by Douglas-fir trees reaching for the skies above, shards of sunlight piercing through pockets in the canopy, illuminating the clearing and the audience. The bath of light welcomed me to take center stage, from where I could see all the eyes drawn to my presence before them. Particles of dust reflecting light seemed to float in midair, not bound to the laws of nature.

I walked the circumference of the cantonment to greet the eyes of the audience. Astonishment? Yes. Disturbing? No. The congregation assembled, the denizens of the forest, gazing upon me with curiosity and formulations of circumspection, focused on who or what I meant to them. At no time did I feel my presence as a spectacle of judgment, and I wanted to oblige them with my respect and humility. A shriek cut through the air as a Red-tailed Hawk glided under the canopy of bordering trees, extending its talons to grasp a perch on a fir branch that stretched out over the perimeter of the stage. The audience displayed a reverence, reserved for a leader enlightened by experience and wisdom, for this bird of prey.

I dropped my left knee to the earth and bowed my head. Chatters and whispers filled the air, as I heard a voice beckon from the entrance to a den at the base of a tree stump, “I stand corrected before the fellowship, this human being distinguishes himself from others who have appeared before us,” retorted Brown Coyote.

“Indeed, Mr. Coyote, this man displays respect,” replied Green Tortoise.

I heard the flutter of wings that silenced the audience as the Red-Tailed Hawk flew from its perch in the trees down to rest on the shell of Green Tortoise. “What do we call you human male,” asked Red Hawk.

Without raising my head, I answered, “I am called Frank in this world.”

“What do you mean by ‘in this world,’” inquired Red Hawk.

I considered my response with delicacy to not offend their intelligence, as I replied, “I travel inside the mind of my host, the human man seen before you. I represent him during our journeys through his life.”

The silence increased as the seconds lingered on, but a Spotted Owl peering down from its roost broke the calm of the air, “I am most intrigued by this human man, for he is not what he appears to be,” stated Spotted Owl.

Mr. Coyote raised up on his hind legs, “I concur with Spotted Owl,” he said.

“Please rise human Frank,” commanded Red Hawk, “We invite your elaborations to this assembly.”

“My human host is on a journey of the mind. He lives in a state where he can not talk, move, consume food from the mouth, or perform other actions of a human in health. He exists in his brain, and I am the entity who manifests to keep him company along his travels. I stand at his side to steel his nerves.”

“Miss Tortoise, what say you,” asked Red Hawk, as he returned to his perch.

Miss Tortoise inched towards me while I knelt down to meet her eyes, and the depth of them mesmerized my attention when she spoke, “Your human host remains injured beyond repair, for that we offer our empathy to him, and we extend to both of you an invitation to live among us for as long as you wish. Your plight to serve your host, your friend, humbles this fellowship. The forest murmurs for you.”

“I am honored to have been befriended by this congregation, this kingdom, this sanctuary of enlightenment, nestled under the canopy of the forest enchants me, and I am moved by your invitation to remain among you,” I replied with heaviness in my heart, ”but I must continue my journey.”

Red Hawk, Mr. Coyote, Miss Tortoise, Spotted Owl, and the denizens of the forest huddled around the clearing, I turned 360 degrees to meet their eyes, and I bowed, releasing myself into the aether. The sensation of time passing, hissing in my ears, converging at a point between two trees, disclosed the path to what lies beyond this sanctum of forest dwellers.

“Travel in peace our human friend Frank,” Red Hawk said, “and may you find your way to salvation. Return to us when you have completed your journey.”

I approached the arch between two trees, craning my head over my shoulder to face their eyes, smiling with gratitude, forever entranced by their compassion, and stepped through the passage. I reemerged on the road from which I arrived, carrying in my heart an experience, unrivaled by none before it and shall remember for all time. One step after another I walked, hopping over potholes, traversing ruts, my spirit filled with humility, heading in the direction of home, to a body that doesn’t move.