A boy and a girl meet and fall in love, and one day they decide it’s time for them to go for a walk in the woods. They’re hoping to see the white bird of the forest.
They set out together one morning, holding hands. They smile as they walk down the path. They know that if they see the white bird, it’ll mean that they should be married.
They follow the path deep into the woods. The trees on either side are thick and tall.
After a while, the girl looks over.
Do you see anything yet? she asks the boy.
No, says the boy, and he shakes his head.
What if we miss it? says the girl.
Miss it? says the boy.
He hadn’t thought of that.
I’m sure that won’t happen, he says.
But after they walk on a little bit further, the boy suddenly stops and turns to her.
Are you watching this side, or that? he says.
Oh, I’m watching both, the girl says.
Well, says the boy, we should probably have a system.
They talk it over, and settle on a plan: the girl will watch the left side of the path, and the boy will keep his eyes to the right.
That way there’s no way we’ll miss it, he says.
Okay, says the girl.
It makes sense.
And so they walk on, now looking different ways—though, of course, still holding hands.
They walk and they walk, each watching their side. They know it’s just a matter of time—of course they’re going to see the white bird!
But they have been walking for some time.
In fact, by now, they’ve been walking for hours. They have seen a couple of deer, and a number of chipmunks and rabbits and squirrels.
But the white bird of the forest has not appeared.
Finally, the boy stops. He turns and looks about.
I wonder where it is, he says.
The girl gives a shrug. She looks at the sky.
It’s starting to get late, she says.
You think it’s back that way—you think we passed it? says the boy. Were you keeping watch on your side?
Of course! says the girl, and she frowns at him. Were you not watching yours?
Of course! says the boy. Of course I was.
But now he’s starting to worry. Could his attention have wandered a bit? Could he have missed the white bird?
And now the girl is wondering the same thing: Could she have become lost in thought? Could she have been thinking of their upcoming wedding? There’ll be so many things to get done.
What do you think we should do? says the girl.
I really don’t know, says the boy.
The two of them stand there and look at one another.
Maybe we should split up, the girl says.
What? says the boy, and he frowns at her.
Just for the moment, the girl says. Just—one of us goes forward, and the other goes back.
In case we already passed it, she adds.
The boy thinks a bit. Then he frowns again.
Do you think that’s allowed? he says.
I don’t know, says the girl. No one said that it wasn’t.
We could cover more ground, she adds.
That’s true, says the boy. It would double our chances.
The two of them look at one another. Then, together, they start to smile.
Do you want forward or back? says the girl.
So the boy takes forward and the girl takes back.
Let’s meet back here at seven o’clock, the girl says. That’ll give us time to cover the whole path.
Okay, says the boy. Good luck.
Good luck, says the girl, and she leans up to kiss him.
Take care now, he says, and kisses her.
And then they kiss again and smile at one another, and then they each turn and walk away.
White bird of the forest! the boy calls out gently, as he walks, peering about, down the path.
White bird, white bird! the girl sings to herself, sweetly, under her breath.
And they each keep walking and looking for the bird, and meanwhile, they keep imagining it appear. They keep imagining seeing it sitting on a branch, and then—when seen—taking to the air.
But as the hours pass, and the two continue to walk, neither of them sees the white bird. In fact, all around them, the forest has gone silent. There are no squirrels now, no deer.
And so, to pass the time, the boy and the girl find themselves starting to think. They find themselves thinking of their wedding day, which is rapidly approaching—with any luck.
They each imagine a picture of that day. They each see a clearing trimmed with lights, and their families and friends all gathered around, and dancing and drinking into the night.
And then, after that, they each find themselves thinking about what’ll happen after that—after all the wedding guests have gone home. And the two are together, all alone.
Of course, the boy and girl are not virgins anymore—they’ve been together before. In haylofts and fields, in quick, hurried moments. But it’ll be different when they’re married, they know.
It will be so much freer—they won’t be so worried about being caught or found out. They’ll be able to relax, and won’t have to rush, won’t get poked by rocks and sticks on the ground.
And after that they continue on to imagine other things. They imagine their lives lying ahead. They imagine the home that they’ll make together; they imagine the children that’ll come.
They each imagine seeing those children growing older; they imagine them too finding love. They imagine their grandchildren coming to visit; they imagine picnics on the lawn.
They imagine themselves as they’ll be when they’re old. They imagine long walks side by side. They imagine themselves growing weak, falling ill.
And they imagine the darkness to come.
And it’s right at that moment that they each break free, out of their long chains of thought, and just as they do, they each stop and look up—to see that the sky is growing dark.
Oh! they each say. How’d it get so late?
Somehow the time has flown by.
And so they each turn and start to hurry back to the place where they’d agreed to meet before.
They rush down the path through the quickening dusk. Neither of them brought any kind of light. At first they’re walking quickly, then running flat-out.
And then, like a door slamming, it’s night.
All there is, is darkness. Absolute black. They can’t see anything at all. Not the trees, not the path, not their hands before their eyes.
And there is no moon and no stars.
And so they each stand there, alone in the dark.
Hello? they each call out. Hello?
Are you there? they each cry. Can you hear me? Hello?
But nobody answers their call.
Well, they each say then, looking around.
What do I do now? they say.
It’s too dark to move; they would only get hurt. And so they do the only thing they can: they lower themselves down; they sit on the ground. They feel the dirt beneath them, the leaves. They wonder how long it’ll be before dawn, and wrap their arms around their knees to keep warm.
It can’t be that long, each of them thinks.
It’s not that big a deal, they each think.
And then they keep thinking that over and over.
And then, all around, the forest wakes.
They hear it as it happens, although they can’t see it—a million little noises in the night. The crackle of leaves, the snap of a branch.
Hello? they each whisper into the dark.
Who’s out there? they say. Who is it? Who’s there?
And then, all the noises seem to stop.
For a long time, all there is, is darkness and silence.
And then the boy and girl see a light.
It’s hard to describe what this light looks like—at first, it’s not a light at all, just a shifting gray spot; but then that spot pales, and then, bit by bit, it seems to glow.
It’s hovering in the air now, right there before them—it’s twisting and turning in the dark. It’s sheer and spread-out, a diaphanous form, with shapes that are waving like wings.
What is this? they think, as the floating thing comes forward.
And something inside them seems to slow. And they find themselves lying back, down into the leaves, and looking up at this thing from below.
It’s shifting and bright now, pulsing above them. They can feel the blood thrumming in their veins.
And they find themselves lifting up, slowly, from the ground—rising to meet it in the air.
And as they move closer, the white light grows brighter. There’s a sound, a kind of murmuring rush—and then they’re inside it, inside the white light.
And then they are through it, and somewhere else.
They’re floating in the air now, in the midst of a blue sky—the sun is shining down from above. The forest, the path, the town where they live—it’s all spread out on the ground below. But now, for the first time, they can see beyond it—they can see towns and cities far away. They can see mountaintops and caverns underground, they can see ships sailing on the sea.
And they can see their own lives—both present and past—and they can see beyond those as well. They can see what their own lives might one day become, if they made different choices somehow. They see themselves leaving town, going other places—traveling north and south, east and west. They can see the different lives they might live in each place, the different people who they might become. They see themselves following other talents and interests, learning other trades, other skills. They see themselves dressing in all kinds of different ways, entering into different social circles. They see themselves rising up, bettering themselves; they see themselves famous and rich. They see themselves living lives as artists and soldiers, as explorers and traders, kings and queens. And they see themselves meeting all kinds of different people—a myriad different men and women—and they see other faces, other lips, other eyes, other shoulders and arms and hands and smiles. And beyond just seeing all these different things, they can feel other feelings as well—they’re shot through with pleasures, pains, terrors, and excitements—
And then all of it suddenly goes away.
They’re lying on the ground now. Alone, beneath the trees. They look around; they’re back on the path. They sit up and see, now filtering through the trees, the sun’s first weak morning rays.
It’s morning, they say, and they each wipe their eyes.
I must’ve fallen asleep, they say.
I was dreaming, they say, and they rise to their feet, and brush the twigs and the leaves and dirt away.
And then their thoughts suddenly turn to those of one another.
I hope she’s okay, the boy says.
I hope he’s all right, the girl says, and looks around.
And they turn and starting running down the path.
They run and they run, each thinking of the other—and then, there they are, up ahead!
And they smile and they laugh—but just as they do, something swoops down toward them from overhead.
They turn and look up, and it’s a little white bird—just a tiny, insignificant thing—fluttering its way down and over the path, and then flittering off into the trees.
Look! they both cry out. The white bird of the forest!
And they laugh and fall into each other’s arms.
And they smile and they wave at the little white bird as it weaves between the trees, and is gone.
The boy and the girl look at one another.
Well, I guess that’s that, the boy says.
And they smile and they kiss, and then kiss a little more.
What kind of cake should we have? the girl says.
Hmm, says the boy. How’s about vanilla?
Vanilla is my favorite, the girl says.
And they take each other’s hands and start to walk back.
And what about frosting? the boy asks.
And so they talk and talk, as they make their way back, and everything between them seems right. But still, at the same time, somewhere in their minds, they each keep remembering last night.
Both, in their minds, keep seeing that thing—that strange, mysterious, glowing thing—and all the sights it showed them, the feelings they felt.
No no, they keep amending, it was a dream.
And each, for a minute, even considers speaking up, telling the other—but no, what would they say? What even would there be to tell one another? What even is there to explain?
It was all just a dream, and so the two of them stay silent. And they walk into the sunlight, down the path.
And they smile and they hold hands and talk about the future, and do their very best to not look back.