You shut the car door with shaking hands and stuff your keys in your pocket. The tension is high and you can feel your anxiety, which coils itself around your body like a large, oily black snake, twisting itself around your shoulders and neck and ever tightening, whispering in your ear that nothing is fine, no one you love is safe. With great effort, you turn on your heel and begin walking up a gravel path, eyes fixed straight ahead and shoulders slightly hunched. The snake whispers again – Go back. You cannot rid yourself of me.
Dark evergreens loom in the distance, growing ever taller with each step that you take towards them.
Go back. This is futile. This changes nothing.
A deep, shaking sigh. A trembling hand reaches out and touches, ever so lightly, the trunk of the first tree. The bark is rough, cool. The snake hisses.
You continue walking through the woods, moving away from the edge and going deeper, admiring the patches of sunlight that filter through the canopy and how it glitters when you look up through the leaves. You breathe deeply, smelling the pines and the earth, and the snake slips off of your neck, spitting venom, but its whispering is weaker now, tinged with fear and desperation, though you find yourself still listening – You should go back… This will not help. It cannot help.. No one is safe…
A sharp cry breaks you from the snake’s spell and you look up through the canopy, catching a glimpse of a hawk gliding in circles, a small dot in a bright sky. A smile twitches at the corner of your mouth and your neck releases some of its tension. You breathe deeply again, looking back ahead, and continue walking. The woods are still but for a rushing in the distance and you head towards it. The snake is quiet.
The rushing becomes a roar as you approach it, and you arrive at the edge of a small pool, a great waterfall plunging into its depths. The water in the pool is clear, and you crouch down next to it, gazing, taking in the greens and browns and blues of the rocks below. You reach out and trail your fingers along the surface, tentatively at first, for the snake still has hold of your shoulders, and the water is cold, but you dip your hand in further anyway. The snake reels and lets go of your torso, coiling on your shoulders and spitting angrily in your ear. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?? THIS IS FUTILE. THIS WILL NOT —
A cool mist floats in the air, catching rainbows as it dances toward you from the waterfall. You stand, snake still screaming, and open your arms as it comes closer, breathing deeply and cocking your ear away from the snake, turning your head in its direction.
“Shut up.” You say, as the mist washes over you.
The snake writhes, it shrieks. It lets go and falls to the ground, ever thrashing, and retreats, back out of the woods. Your shoulders loosen, you close your eyes, sit back down, and the mist caresses you, cleanses you. You stretch your legs and arms, feeling their freeness, and a real smile returns to your face, which is now wet with mist as well as tears of relief. There is no noise but that of the waterfall, which fills your ears with bright white swirls and sends tendrils through your brain that clear all thought. The shaking has long since stopped and you remain still, relaxed, for a long time, breathing in the rainbows from the mist, losing the anxious, black mud from your lungs.
After what seems like an eternity, a lifetime, you open your eyes again, your vision clear, taking in all of the beauty around you. You don’t want to leave, but you know you must. With a sigh, you stand and turn back towards where you came from. You know the snake waits for you by your car and you bite your lip, but the mist caresses your shoulders, whispers.
Do not be afraid, the snake is a sad and tortured creature. You are safe. The people you love are safe.
You smile, the waterfall sings.
Come here again, you are always welcome. We will heal you.
You look once again at the pool, nodding at the waterfall. Then, after this last glance, you turn and begin the walk back to your car, calm, rejuvenated, filled with courage. Until next time. You think, thank you.
At your car, the snake is nowhere to be seen, at least for now. There is only a light mist on the windshield.