Path To The Past…

Home, Northern Woods, Short Story, Winter Scene 1,
A crisp morning, a reddish dawn well after the storm, wind-swept sleet that finally rested as soft whipped cream snow, the type that if you even touched it, even for a moment, would melt as frosting will, having been beaten one minute past seven.
I got up here alright but somehow lost my way back to the village. I could see it in the distance but had no idea what path would take me there. As I approached this gate, having no other better idea nor way, I came upon two men I had never seen before.
Both aged for sure, the one, tall, lean but muscular, even for his advanced years. The other, shorter, finer boned, both with that patsy-white complexion, high forehead and sharp bone structure that would undoubtedly match the sharpness of their wit all men from this area seem to possess.
The shorter, slighter man was slowly riding a bicycle and not some 21st century million-speed number either, just a plain, old manual boy’s bike, well- used, the age on it quite nicely matching the age of this late 90-something, no, 100 year old looking man.
The taller man, on foot, age, I’m sure, nearly the same, his long legs keeping easy stride with his cycling friend. Their backs both to me until they heard me approach.
“Well, hello there, Lassie, where you headed?”, the cyclist inquired.
“Hello there too”, I chimed back. “Oh, well, you see, I think I’m kind of lost. I got up here okay but cannot for the life of me find the right path back to the village. I’m new here and just wanted to take a stroll around my new ‘Home”, I sheepishly confessed.
“You headed back, are ya, well, we can take you there. Follow along, Miss, we’ll guide ya gladly”, the taller one said.
“Thank-you ever so much. I was afraid I’d have to camp out with the odd cows and sheep I see on this hillside”, I giggled back.
Both well-worn men smiled an all-knowing smile under their up-turned collared overcoats, winter scarfs and Fedora hats as they allowed me to catch up to their speed. Only men of this age still wore hats like these, and yet, on them, they just seemed “right”. It was odd though, for I felt like I “knew” these men but also knew I couldn’t possibly, having not been here long enough to meet many people at all. Both men had their heads down as they cycled , walked and talked but because I didn’t want to pry I never attempted to look directly into their eyes, I was just grateful they had come to my rescue. The heavy “r” sound of their accent and the speed with which they spoke, made me smile, a feeling coming over me that it was I who was the one with the foreign accent and they were speaking as they should, as people should, being from your Home Town.
“Your accent is foreign, where you from?”, asked the taller walker.
“From across The Pond, a fish out of water, a mixed breed, as it were”, I chuckled.
“Well, you do seem to have an unusual tone, but nice, warm, very nice indeed. Not as harsh as We here, it’s a pleasure to listen to you, surely”, the cyclist offered as well, gentlemen, the pair of them, of that there was no doubt.
Blushing, I gave a humble Thank-you and as I walked in between the two gentlemen I felt so safe, so warm, not caring much anymore if I arrived at my destination or not.
“You seem to know your way around these parts for sure. You’ve lived here a long time?, I asked.
“We’ve been here forever, save time out for Fate and the War, of course. This place is in our blood surely as the grass is chewed by the cows in those pastures. We couldn’t imagine living anywhere else, Lassie, no, not anywhere else at all”, the taller, Northern-handsome man said.
“It must be so nice to know your Home and be content in it. Me, I’m a traveller, a by-product of the culture from where I came. I’ve always searched for “Home”, had it once, I think, then lost and have been searching for it ever since. But now, I think, I just think, I may have found it again…here.”
“There will be no other place in the world which will make you any happier than this Land and these People here, Lassie, we promise you that. Stay here and you will not go wrong”, the taller man said, with such utter sincerity and loving decisiveness.
I smiled back, still too shy to look either man dead in the eye but so glad they had found me and were leading me back Home.
As we got to the last fork in the road that led either further afield or to the village, the cyclist said, “There ya be, Lassie, you’re Home. Just take this left and soon you’ll be on the footpath that leads you your street past the Square.”
“You aren’t coming with me?”, I wondered, a kind of sad pall coming over me that I was to lose my new friends.
“No, we are headin’ that-a-way, there. We don’t go down into the village much anymore, our place is further afield now”, the taller said, looking with quiet assurance at his cyclist friend as he did.
“Well, geez, thank-you and all. Will we meet again, do you think? Maybe go for a pint someday in the town nearby?”, I inquired, praying they’d say Yes.
“Ah, Lassie, soon you’ll be friends will all the villagers and half of the townsfolk, you won’t need to pal around with old codgers like us”, the taller said, his strikingly cold hand resting on mine as he did, as if to assure me, sensing I was missing them already.
“Well, I hope you’re wrong about not being with you again, but I thank you both for rescuing me”, I added.
“No thanks needed, we saw you comin’ down the lane before you got there”, a remark I found confusing but comforting all the same.
As I turned back to wave Goodbye, both men, their backs again to me now, waved back, taking the other fork, putting distance, and time, between us all.
As I saw them head away, the image, my image of them, was disintegrating. I shook my head, thinking, maybe, I was going temporarily snow-blind, but my sight of them was fading, slowly but surely, a definite image dwindling to pixelated points of light, dwindling further to a kind of snowy mist, their existence eventually fading to nothing, all gone they both were to me, right before my very eyes.
Then I noticed. “Their” path headed to the cemetery.
These two men were dead. Long since dead. Ghosts, now, vibrant Northern men of a long ago time.
I was protected and comforted by two very familial beings, who were really just dust in the ground. Two men who made it their mission to come to anyone’s rescue when a soul like me is lost in the Woods and searching for “Home”.