Lurking like a lost child, it follows me. I can feel its welding breath hot and wet against the back of my legs, but I dare not turn nor run. Its emotion lifts into the atmosphere like poison. I can feel its hunger and hatred. It leads me on into the desolate realms without so much as a noise spouting upon its lips. No, nothing but a low growl is heard, rumbling like a steady stream way down deep in the monster's throat.
We surge on into the unknown. I know what it is –that one who follows me. He is a wolf, but more than just fur and fangs create his ferocious demeanor, but flaming furnaces guide his movements. Some may call them eyes, but I know better. They are more than his sight; they are his soul—his tormented being. I know this, though I face him not. I saw these flaring coals once, and, though that was long ago, I can still clearly distinguish their dark glow even now in the far boundaries of my recollection. White on black, then all black, now flaring red, now fading, dissolved—those demon eyes possess me again and again, reaching from my mind, tearing me, burning me. I shiver, but my instinct continues to guide my feet as they hurry along this horrid path. I know, somehow, where it leads, but even that detested image doesn't break my resolve. The world glowers down at me, and I feel the beast's breath hotter now on my legs than ever it was before as I needlessly and foolishly plunge into the fated conclusion of this unpredictable journey.
The forest opens into a large chasm of rock and darkness. I can hear invisible things scattering around me. I can feel their senses as they wonder who their new captive is. I pause, sure my ending is approaching, but nothing stirs in the black air. Silence leaves me confused for a moment, and then a strong howl penetrates through me like acid. It is the voice of my pursuer. I do not wonder how it is possible; I simply listen and understand the voice as it forms into words in my mind.
"Fate has brought this one to us." The beings around me snarl and growl, shuffling toward me in the darkness.
A hiss like that of a venomous snake seethes over the cavern, the return of is echo slithering up my spinal cord. A dark drape of air, however impossible, moves before my eyes, allowing me to gaze further into the darkness. Not far beyond me lies the coiling fumes of a throne, no, not a throne, but an altar, red as blood. It flames with an unseen heat, and I know to whom this altar is intended. I know no sense, for I am not afraid. I stand still as a cloudless night. Yellow, slitted eyes envelop me in a burning gaze. I am certain of my fate. My ending draws nigh as I approach the altar, each step a pressure in my soul, as if it were to rip suddenly from my body. Curtains of fire blind me as I climb onto the small platform, pushing up with my hands and knees. I am not burned, but burning. Smoke billows from my veins. A sour taste slits my tongue. An eerie roar dashes into my eardrums like the sound of exploding dynamite. A shaky vision impales my eyes. I see a dark figure who holds a scythe. He approaches me through the clouds of steam shimmering off my skin. He readies himself, and then stabs, and I am cut through.
Needless to say, it was a dream, though I don't awake in fear or cold sweat. I awake undaunted. The image shifts in my remembrance, making me blink hard. Soon everything fades. My room appears before me, plain and simple.
Words dangle in my brain as if they were recently spoken, "Fate has brought this one to us." I shake my head and shiver once. I am wide awake now, unable to sleep even if I were to try. So I stare blankly at the dark ceiling, tracing the moonbeams with my distant gaze.
A voice bubbles up in my soul, soft and soothing.
I am here; do not fret. Sleep, dear one. I am always here. I will save you in that day that approaches. Doubt not my words. Not one will touch you. You will not perish by that Blade of Darkness.
Who are you? I am startled at hearing my own voice.
Your only hope…
Suddenly I am lost in a deep sleep.
I awake not for many hours. I toss and turn. Obviously whoever had last spoken to me had upset me more than the terrible nightmare I had witnessed earlier. But how can that be? The voice was not devilish, to say the least.
My eyes open in a crossed perspective. I wait for them to align. When they do, I identify the glittering above me as sunshine dancing on the ceiling. So I roll onto my feet and limp to my dresser. My feet ache. The reflection in the mirror solemnly regards me.
Sweeping the hair out of my eyes, I go to walk out of the room, but I am suddenly blinded by a great light. Stepping out of the glare, I look up. Gold streaks like metallic foil stream across my ceiling from a small area above me all the way over to my bed. The shimmers I thought were sunlight are not as they appeared.
It can't be real gold… I remark. Perhaps I am dreaming still.
Turning, I notice how dark my windows are. It is still night! But, how is that possible? Glancing back at the gold, foil-like material glinting off my ceiling, I notice something that hadn't occurred to me before. The gold is illuminating, spreading light around the room in differing formations. As I stare a moment longer, all the formations take on a new appearance.
I gasp when I distinguish the golden door made out of light shifting and shimmering like water ahead of me.
I forget my name, and all recollection fails. I gawk at the door, now seeming to be growing larger, larger. Or am I walking toward it? No, I can't be. I want to look away, but a trance seems to hold my sight fully upon this eerie phenomenon.
Suddenly the door opens, and with it, a yellow light bursts upon me. I am submerged in a lake of butter, sunflowers, and lemons.
I am lost.
Cotton Candy Cattle
Crisp, scented air expands my lungs. My eyes flutter wide. I am incased in a buttery glow, but, though I don't recognize my surroundings, I am not afraid. The warm light caresses me like a caring mother. My bones feel loose, my weight subdued, my emotion strong and unclear, and my imagination wild. I lay on a feathery downy of compressed illumination. Though the light is brighter than the earthly sun, my eyes do not burn nor water. They take in the radiance as if it were an easy liquid.
Time bends and breaks. I don't know how long I have lain here, lost and enthralled. My mind wanders. It forgets the present for a moment and eases into the past where it studies studiously. I can feel it make my heart mourn for past losses and lighten with the remembrance of past successes.
When my memory finally returns to the far boundaries of my thinking and I awake from my reverie, I am caught in a breathless gasp. I see a bright blue sky above me, but this sky, I know, is not ordinary. It is too vibrant, too lovely, and too breathtaking to be.
Perhaps this is paradise… And so it was in my mind.
Finally remembering to breathe, I stand and gaze around dizzily. Beyond me, a golden wall of flowing, glowing water rages like a herd of wild beasts down a steep incline, jetting into a vat of water so smooth it seems to be a fine tapestry of mingled gold.
I nearly faint at the sight of its beauty.
With tingling hands and sprouting excitement, I turn to wonder at the scenery. On my right, a huge field seeming to bend across the edges of the earth, shimmers neon green. Then I see them! Too pure white to imagine are these fluffy, bleating creatures, their black hoofs melting like candle wax into the green shrubbery.
As if they haven't noticed me till now, and in a quite rehearsed manner, all the sheep turn to face me. They stare with crystal eyes, silent and unsure. Unexpectedly, every one of the cotton candy-like cattle begins baaing at me in a fretful voice.
What am I to do? I gaze blankly at the shuttering herd. How am I to prove that I am not a foe?
Suddenly someone comes barreling across the far side of the field, beyond the herd. Quite out of breath, he stops when he reaches them. Our eyes meet. His eyes are bright, though I can't yet make out their color.
Though we are a long way apart, I can distinguish him clearly enough. He is about my age, wears a straw hat—the softest straw I have ever seen—and he holds a cane.
He must be the shepherd, I reason. Still gazing clear into my gaze, he walks toward me. I reckon that he walks like a king –so straight, so tall, and yet so reverent and obliging. He must be the type of person that one can keep a close, friendly relationship with, but secretly admire and respect. Though, strangely, what his attitude plainly doesn't remind me of is that of a shepherd, but his clothes have need to contradict.
He stands in front of me now. He doesn't smile, but his countenance is cheerful and stirring. I now understand, like the other things in this new world, he is not human. What gave me this realization were his eyes. They are like glowing, golden orbs. They aren't scary or absent, but seem insightful and…beautiful. They seem to trigger and awake a before-dormant instinct in my soul.
"Welcome." His one word fills me with an avalanche of thoughts—some questions, some answers, and some random imaginations. None even come close to what I should reply with. The Shepherd smiles. His smile is like cool water washing over me in a desert land.
As if he were greeting a long-lost friend, he reaches out his hand for mine. I allow him to grasp it. "Come." He beckons. "I have much to show you."
He leads me.
I follow him past the still water.
The walkway on which he leads me is soft and easy. My feet, though bare, feel no pain.
We sit beside the water, a bed of blunt, green grass beneath us. A wave of starry-eyed daisies bob their heads at us in recognition, their petals the sheerest white imaginable.
He still holds my hand—a gentle, caring grasp. We are quiet a moment. I wait for him to speak, but the only sounds are that of this new nature. The raging water—a soft tone, like a mother's soothing voice. The descending breezes—so relaxed, so sure of itself. His sheep that follow him like paparazzi, always near, always alert to those things that pertain to their master, produce a worried baa every so often. These noises seem so lonely without the shepherd's voice. I feel my insides longing to hear it. The want grows as the moments pass until my mind can only contain that one thought.
Finally I gain enough audacity to speak, hoping deep within that his answer—his voice will ease my longing.
"What is this place?" My voice sounds so puny, so shy. It surprises me.
"It is called My Pasture. It has no other name." His voice is so big, so deep, so ravishing! I am ashamed at how simple mine had sounded, though I am sure his purpose was not to outshine me in any way.
Suddenly my mind processes the words he so eloquently supplied, and I blush at my long hesitation.
"Does everyone here call it My Pasture, or do you literally mean it's yours?" I ask, wondering. He drops my hand quietly into the grass and sits erect.
"I am the Only One," he professes. "Only I and my sheep live here. Yes, this is, accordingly, My Pasture in both uses of the title." I am awestruck.
"You must be someone great to have a land as vast and beautiful as this!" I remark with feeling, glancing at the shifting waterfall and its array of gold. The shepherd smiles.
"Thank you, but you have not yet seen all my land has to offer. It is vaster than you can even comprehend, and the herd that now stands at our backs is only a portion of my flock. As you see, I am their King." He says this in such a way that it doesn't come across arrogant, but just a matter-of-fact statement.
"Is all of your pasture as wonderful as this section?" This question feels mediocre, but I need some noise to fill the gap of silence in which my soul dwells.
"All of My Pasture is as fresh in splendor and delight as this small portion."
Is there then no suffering?"
His face darkens—a fretful sight, making me inwardly curse myself for asking such a question. His voice comes at a more solemn tone.
"No, My Pasture knows no pain, but there is a separate place sometimes mistaken for My Pasture for it lies on the innermost boundary. That place is filled with tormented ones."
"Well, wouldn't everyone discern the difference between both places and stay far away from that land?" My brows knit in confusion and curiosity.
"Not necessarily. There are always some sheep who are coerced into going off the beaten path by one evil being. He is called Viper and sometimes, Nemesis. He is very talented at making death and destruction seem pleasurable and satisfying. He lurks even now upon the way of my sheep, causing them fear, making them question my leadership. If they would only trust their Shepherd on all occasions, even when all is going well and there is not a worry in sight, fear would not find them. But their own flesh is their most dangerous adversary. It fights day and night for unnecessary and, most of the time, harmful lusts. If and when they give into Viper's false reasoning, they are at their weakest point. That's when he attacks. Before my sheep know what is happening, it is too late. They find themselves stranded on a harsh path far from My Pasture. If they are brave, they do have the power to turn back, but not all do, for doing so is like paddling up stream—difficult, but not impossible, for I will help them if their want is pure."
"Your sheep must not be too bright, then," I begin, glancing at the grazing beasts. The shepherd laughs—a glorious sound, even more grand then the rushing waterfall's song.
"They just don't know what is best for them. At least most of them don't, but there are always a certain few that truly do see through Viper's misleading."
"Well, you are certainly at a young age for having to deal with all this," I remark. He just stares at me—an expression I can't read.
"I have no age," he explains.
"But you must have an age," I say, laughing good-humoredly. His expression doesn't alter.
"I have no age," he repeats, "for I have had no beginning and will have no ending."
"That's impossible. All things have a start and a finish." I am truly puzzled.
"Ah, that's what you think, but don't you know that earlier this week if someone had told you that later on you'd be here in this realm talking with me, you would have also claimed that impossible, yet here you and I are." I remain speechless in deep thought for a moment.
"True," I finally agree. "But why am I here?"
Silence embeds us for a small expanse of time. He too looks absent—deep in wonderings.
"You, my friend, have come for a reason, doubt it not." I wait for him to say more, but he seems contented with what he has said.
"What is the reason, then?" The world around me seems mute.
The shepherd smoothly gets to his feet.
"Come, will you not? There is more I'd like to show you before night arrives."
I gaze shortly at him before standing.
We leave the bobbing daisies wondering at us as we travel further into the pasture, the shepherd's faithful sheep tracing our soft footsteps in the shimmering green lake now waving goodbye.
We trek up the side of a small hill. No stones line the way. All is soft and easy. A willow tree waves back at us from the top, beckoning with its shimmering limbs, drawing me closer in a trance filled with beauty and light.
The Shepherd walks ahead of me, and I walk behind with his sheep. Somehow I feel almost part of the herd, following my guide to higher ground where the grass is evergreen and the water is pure.
Step by soft step is the way the Shepherd leads, not in a hurry, but as if he held this earth and, therefore, time is not a worry.
We reach the top, and I gasp. Beyond us the hill breaks and falls into a wide canyon reaching to the edges of the kingdom. Overlooking the fields is my only intent. I forget my past, my future. I am enthralled and distant. If only I could stay cemented here in this very spot, then I would consider my life a great accomplishment.
Down, down below, white sheep march, nosy trees bend, gold water glitters, grass sleeps, being drawn to one side as a lively breeze makes its unannounced appearance. I am not much for heights, but the Shepherd's presence cleanses me from all fear.
I remain transfixed with a power I can't describe. It gives me an inner sense of security and makes me feel as if I am no longer attached to myself, or at least what I had been. Now I am in an endless flight, drifting at the top of the galaxy—a small feather in a world too big and too mighty for me to control alone, but that's all right, because my Shepherd is here to direct me.
My Shepherd? My own thoughts have never startled me to such an extent before. I quickly cut into awareness just in time to process some recently-uttered words.
"Would you like to live here?" It is the Shepherd's still voice. I turn to him, confused.
"Live here? With you?" I think for a moment. "I desire that more than anything I have ever desired."
"Then it is yours." The Shepherd's expression doesn't change.
"You're giving it to me?" I can barely keep up with what's happening. My mind is aflutter.
"If you claim this as Your Pasture and me as Your Shepherd, then it will be as you desire. …Do you trust me?" There is no doubt in my mind. I trust him fully. I want to live here forever, but yet I can't believe he is just giving it to me.
"But…what do I have to do?"
"Only what I have thus commanded."
"But I must do something. This land is too grand for me. I…I don't deserve it." My eyes drop. The Shepherd steps up to me and grasps both of my shoulders. I shiver with a sudden chill.
"Look into my eyes." His words come across as a direct order. I immediately obey as if he were my king. "I made this land. I own it, and everyone who lives therein is mine. You have not the ability to even comprehend what toil I endured to create the bridge that binds this world to yours. Now I have brought you across, giving you a chance to witness this world before you claim it, and, even now before it all, you deny me?" No rage sears his eyes, but they are unbearably sad. I have to look away, I just have to, but I can't. He releases me. Our eyes unlatch.
"That is not what I meant." I don't know how to explain myself, but I must try. I can't allow him to think I deny his offer. "I want to accept your gift." I wish to say more—to bleed out my heart—to hide nothing, but I am speechless.
"Then why don't you?" His words are softly spoken.
Why does my heart hurt so badly?—I wonder.
"Let me…let me think about it. How much time do I have to accept?" His eyes hurt me, they are so sorrowful! I turn away and remain silent. I can feel his emotion embedding into the atmosphere—a troubling sense.
"You have until death, but afterward, it will be too late."
"Oh." His answer surprises me. "Then I have much time. Perhaps tomorrow I will take up your offer." The shepherd nods, but I know he is not pleased. I gaze off the side of the cliff. For some strange reason, I feel dizzy and queasy. Quickly I back away from the edge. The shepherd notices; I know he does.
Why won't he tell me? I want to ask him something, but the question seems far way, swallowed up in the back of my mind. I feel like asking, "What just happened?" but that wouldn't make any sense.
"Come." I nearly jump out of my skin. I glance up at the shepherd. His face seems like a stranger's, and then I realize, he is a stranger. I know hardly anything about him. Why was I so foolish as to speak so openly with him? But it had been so easy. He asked nothing of me. He just let me speak my mind, something I hadn't been able to do with someone for many years, and, during this short time I had with him, he enabled me to discovered things within myself I had forgotten existed. It was as if he'd always known me—known everything about me, but I know that can't be true. Or can it? No, I am just scaring myself. I shouldn't be so trusting. He is a stranger.
Even my reasoning doesn't convince me. I don't know what to believe. I am caught in a distressing quandary as I stare helplessly into the far distance.
Absently, my eyes follow the shepherd as he walks down the side of the hill. Wait. What did he just say? Something about me following him? Yes, he did. But…should I? Knowing I would be mindless to wonder off into this unknown land by myself, I choose to act like the Shepherd's sheep and trail behind him like a shady shadow.