Inspired by Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled"
Nothing was making sense. She was lost, here in this jumble of leaves and sunshine. How she got there, she didn't know. But why would she, Sarah Elliot Rose, be dressed as though she was going to the prom and find herself in this huge forest? Its silence surrounded her; there were no birds chirping, no rustle of leaves beyond those crunching beneath her bare feet, and no bubbling brook. She was following a path although she didn't really know where it led. In fact, she couldn't really figure out anything about this. This can't be a dream, Sarah thought, or else everything wouldn't seem so real. And seem real it did. She could feel this forest with all her senses.
She continued to follow the path for a while, until it split in two. She stopped there, wondering where each path could lead. The paths were lined with a thick blockade of trees, obstructing her view of where the paths lead. It reminded her of something, but she couldn't figure out what. She looked around. There didn't seem to be any sort of magical creature that would jump out at her to say hello and give advice, like the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. No lock or gate was there to prevent her from leaving the path she would choose. But still, she liked her forest. It was calm and tranquil, with no unexpected change thrown at her. However, as much as she liked it, she couldn't stay there forever. Sarah decided that she would try both, and see where it would lead. After all, there had to be some reason for her to be wearing a prom dress.
She took the path to her left, feeling as though she was choosing a door of her own fate, like in that story "The Lady and the Tiger." She inhaled deeply, wondering if what could wait behind this great span of trees.
Sarah looked down as she stepped onto the first path. She was on water, but she wasn't sinking. Looking back, the forest remained. So, she took a step, and only felt the bottoms of her feet getting wet. It was a weird feeling, like trying to jump in a puddle when there wasn't really much of one. She kept walking on the water, until she reached the island, with swaying palm trees and the sea breeze blowing through her hair. Coconut trees grew a hundred yards inland, and the island's center was a hill, perfect for seeing things yet to come. As she got closer, she noticed some movement on shore. There was music coming from a tree, literally: music notes floated off it as Bob Marley's "Jammin" somehow reached her ears. There were people there too, although she couldn't see their faces yet. They were lounging on the shore, talking and taking in the sun. Sarah loved the beach, she always had; and the idea of having one to herself and maybe ten other people seemed pretty spectacular, especially for a small town girl who lived in the boring hills of Maryland.
She stepped onto the island, and looked out to the path. It had disappeared. But it was okay, because a familiar voice sounded in her ear. It sounded like Johnny Depp's voice, but he looked Zach Braff, ZJ, she decided. But still, it made Sarah doubt her theory that this wasn't a dream. Why would someone like this be on her tropical island?
"Hey," he said.
"Hi," Sarah replied sheepishly. "Sorry, but, um, what is this place?"
"This is wherever your heart wishes to be the most." He looked at her quizzically. "Don't you know?"
Sarah tried not to burst out laughing. The idea of her, in a bright pink prom dress, with ZJ on a tropical island with trees that played music, seemed slightly strange. She didn't really mind it though. If this is truly, deep down, what her heart desired the most, however, it didn't really make sense. This was the stuff of daydreams, not of a soulful longing. "Are you sure?"
"But…" she stammered. She was extremely confused. "This is so weird! Where did everyone else go?" She had just noticed the crowd of ten or so people had disappeared.
"Well, you see…they went to the land of dying dreams."
To Sarah, this sounded like a line from a poem. She looked up. The people, along with the hill floated up towards the sun, which was colored a bright lime green. One by one, they were swallowed by it. She couldn't really put words to her confusion.
ZJ noticed. "When a dream is no longer part of the dreamer, it leaves."
She rolled her eyes. This was probably the least helpful answer she could have gotten. She tried to read his face, looking into his eyes, which were a bright purple. Why is none of this normal? They didn't reveal anything, and this frustrated her. He started to fade away, turning transparent. She didn't really want his perplexing answers anymore, but she was still confused. She didn't want to be on the island alone. She willed him to stay, and his face became solid again. He smelled like orange juice and soap, and the island was changing colors. The trees were now orange, and the ocean turned red. The sand felt like concrete against her feet. This island, her once-dream island, was changing against her conscious will. She liked it the way it originally was, and all she wanted to do now was get off. The island started to spin, and she wondered. If I can walk on water to get here, I should be able to walk off. She stepped onto the water, and once again did not sink. She started running, praying that the path with her simple, unchanging forest remained there on the horizon. And there it appeared.
She finally arrived on its dirt floors, and a feeling of happiness infused her soul. It was kind of weird to think about the island in hindsight. Although she still couldn't decide whether this was a dream or not, there was this weird feeling she couldn't shake about it. It seemed so real, but at the same time so fake, it was unnerving. The island was her supposed dream, but it had changed the second she got there. She couldn't control her basic surroundings, and she didn't like it. It felt good to be back in a place that was beyond her control, but still was fairly constant in all its beauty, not unchanging like the sea.
Sarah tried to take a step back. It wouldn't work. She was bound to this space, the step between the two paths, and couldn't reverse what had already been done. That meant she couldn't go back to the island, either, even though that wasn't exactly in her plans. But she couldn't stay here forever; there were places to go and things to see. The world was forcing her to move on, even though she wasn't ready.
She walked onto the second fork, and immediately things changed. She was in a small, cramped alley, dirty with people's trash. It seemed to go on forever, yet there was a light at the end of the tunnel: the island. She squinted, and saw no weird colors or whimsical things on its shores. If she was going to get there, however, she would have to deal with this alley, filled with dumpsters and potholes and graffiti.
A man appeared, poorly dressed in clothes that just hung off his body. "What are you doing here?" he said, leering at her.
Sarah flinched. She didn't really want to talk to this guy, who showed up out of nowhere, but his face was that of one expecting an answer. "Um…nothing." She rushed off, leaving him behind. She felt something squish beneath her feet. Ew, she thought as she looked at the bottom of her foot: a blackened banana. She started to run, until an old woman who looked like Professor Trelawney in the Harry Potter movies, held her hand up at her, saying stop. Her glasses were large and thick, and she had such a capricious air about her. She wore a blue dress that made it look like she was floating. Floating through life, Sarah thought.
"What?" Sarah snapped.
"You are going too fast," the lady said.
"Is there, like, a speed limit for walking through an alley, or something?" Sarah replied sarcastically. She was sick of this place, the forest, the island, everything. She just wanted to get out of here.
"You must stop and enjoy it. You can't just run through the bad parts of town and hope that everything would turn out okay once you get out. You've got to go slow, and appreciate the good and the bad."
Sarah rolled her eyes. She was so fed up with this. She wanted to be with her friends, hanging out, or sleeping, or something. "Yeah, like there's good in this dump."
"Yes, there is. Look. I'm Hester." The old woman held out her hand.
"Sarah." She shook Hester's hand.
"See, now you have a friend. Sarah what?"
I wouldn't exactly call you my friend, she thought. "Sarah Elliot Rose. So what's so great about this place?"
Hester grabbed her hand and led her down the alley. "Look, that man is feeding that poor dog. Her name's Nicky." The dog had one eye and was missing a leg, probably a true veteran of the alley. "And Mr. Jones over there is cleaning up the graffiti some hooligans made yesterday. And Sam found a patch of dirt over there and some flower seeds in the trash yesterday. Soon there'll be a garden here. It's a beautiful day, the sun is shining, but it's not too hot or too cold. The man who owns that business there donated a palette of water bottles for everyone."
Sarah looked at it all, seeing the beauty in that unsightly place. Hester was right. And there was only a few feet left until she reached her beach. She didn't know how all this was possible, but she was thankful. She may have had to understand and work for this, but it felt fantastic to step on the sand. The island had changed before because she hadn't deserved it to be her dream, and now she did. "Thank you for helping me get here," she said to Hester, "Would you like to come?"
"No." Hester smiled knowingly. "I'm happy here. But you must be thirsty." She handed her a water bottle.
The alley disappeared, and was replaced by the bright blue water of the ocean. Her friends were there, and ZJ was there, with normal blue eyes this time. And the island was a beautiful place, full of life and what she'd been waiting for. ZJ put his arm around her, and said "Welcome back."
"No more changes this time?" she said, smiling with that smile that meant there was no place that she would rather be.
"Oh no. You had to work for it, but now you know."
And she did. She could get somewhere without any work and have it fall apart, she could just stand there between her choices and watch life go by, or she could work for something and understand, appreciate when it came, which would keep everything together. She danced to the music while she drank her water, and ZJ led her to her friends. You sold your soul for a soul that's life-full. The years go by but you don't have a single sweet memory. And if you don't deserve to be happy, why would I? The lead singer of Daphne Loves Derby sang, and suddenly, finally Sarah understood. And everything began to fade away…
Sarah rolled over as her mother stuck her head into her room. "So have you decided yet? You've had a week. You need to choose."
She groaned, rolling her eyes. This is ridiculous. "Mom, I just woke up, like five seconds ago. Seriously."
The song changed, and Sarah got up, staring at her wall covered in posters and pictures, examining the faces before her. She picked up the two letters next to her bed, and reread them again. "And on the roads ahead we'll keep going further. The rest is right, the rest is wrong; the rest will come when it comes along. Rest will find us," she heard in the background. And Sarah knew. She would choose the alley, with the island at the end.