The man with the cane now paused before a large gate. It was open and felt almost inviting in the twilight of the wintery evening. The sun had set but the last glow of it lit up the clouds on the horizon and that beautiful brightness shone just over the crest of the hill. There was a shadow at the top of the hill that seemed like some kind of structure or statue but Zach couldn’t make it out from where they stood. He turned to ask the man about it and saw that his guide was fading into the shadows.
“Wait! I don’t know where I am,” Zach said, starting to panic. “What do I do? I need help.”
The man looked at him and sighed. There was no sense of impatience in him nor did he seem annoyed. Instead he looked over Zach with a knowing expression.
“It may not be what you had intended but you did wish to go home, young man,” the man replied. “When you see your visitor, you will understand that you’ve been home all along. I won’t spoil the surprise though.”
“Father?” a soft voice called from the shadows. “Father, are you bringing him home to us?”
The man looked away to the shadows, his eyes softening and brimming with affection. Zach looked over to see a young man who looked very much like the man before him. The look on his face was one of naked disappointment but the man with the cane only smiled warmly at him.
“So impatient, my darling son,” he replied, striding over to where the boy stood. He tilted the boy’s chin up and even though the young man was clearly still unhappy, he smiled a little for his father. “These disappointments are temporary, my dear boy. No one lives forever. He’ll come home soon enough.”
Zach watched the interaction between the two and felt a small hint of envy as he watched the man with the cane comfort his son. He knew that whoever they were talking about was going to die but it didn’t seem so bad when he saw how much the boy wanted to see the person. A part of him wished in some way that maybe it would have been him. He didn’t really want to die but it would be nice to be part of a family like that.
“They are waiting for you, young man,” the man with the cane said, gently. He smiled as bowed as his son did the same. “Run to where you are compelled to go. Your family awaits as does my own. We will meet again.”
“Thank you,” Zach said as they faded into the darkness around him.
Standing alone in the snow, Zach was cold but no longer frightened. He realized that throughout the whole journey here, he’d been clinging to the book in his arms still. As he stood beneath the streetlamps, he could see that the hair that had marked the page before had gone but he knew what page it had drawn his attention to. He flipped open to the page that had been marked and saw a grainy photo of a structure that looked a bit like an altar. There was a statue in the centre of it that had been vandalized many times but the bronze figure remained intact. Zach could only see the faint glow of its outline in the fading light of day. He shivered as he heard a familiar voice call his name and he knew it was coming from up there on the crest of the hill. He felt a bit hesitant and wondered if he really felt okay going up there. Still, he already knew that he wouldn’t find his way back to the library on his own now. He looked around one last time before he made his way through the large gates and began on the only path through the snow to his destination. All the while, that familiar voice lilted on the cold winds, calling him nearer.
Once inside, the air here was much warmer. Zach felt alarmed at the major difference between the two spots and felt a bit like he was entering a new world. He was also unprepared to see a great many phantoms appear before him. He felt like he was dreaming as he slowly walked the path through the park. There were young children dressed in clothing from many different periods of history. One who couldn’t have been more than two or three had a small sailor outfit on and offered the hat of his outfit to a tiny phantom girl in a party dress. She had bouncing curls that shifted each time she moved and perched the hat on top of her head, letting it settle on there for a moment before pulling a bow from her dress and giving it to the boy in the sailor outfit.
“Ain’t they just the most?” a man’s voice startled Zach. He was standing next to a phantom of a man who was in his sixties. From the look of him, he could have been Santa Claus but for the respirator tube in his nose. He didn’t seem that distressed as he looked on the children in the distance. “Only good thing about those little ones coming here. Ain’t nothing like that time when they are so little and all they want to do is play. Eternity at their fingertips and every day a new adventure. Ain’t that just something.”
“Some of us aren’t as lucky,” another voice sounded nearby. The Santa figure rolled his eyes and just chuckled to himself as he disappeared into the darkness.
Zach looked over and saw a woman in a wheelchair, scowling at the snow around her but clearly not stuck by it. She looked over Zach with a mix of something that was like anger and a little bit of fear. She shook her head.
“You, you’re too bright to be here,” she snapped, backing her chair away. “Too bright, you hear? You run along. Some of us don’t want any of your foolishness.”
“Never you mind, Delilah,” another calmer voice said, somewhere up the path.
The angry woman looked spooked before disappearing. The owner of the new voice came forward and Zach saw an older woman who appeared to be holding a candle. As she got closer, he saw that she was actually carrying a small warm flame in her hand. He started and began to back away but the woman just smiled and shook her head.
“It’s always a bit of a shock to see the light in such darkness, isn’t it Zach?” she said.
“How do you know my name?” he said, cautiously. “Is it you who has been calling me?”
“We’ve all called you, my dear boy,” she said, beckoning him closer. “You are family and we miss you terribly. We’ve been waiting but someone in particular wishes to see you now. Come now and enjoy the light. I know you’ve been missing it.”
“There was a man with a cane,” Zach began as the woman took his arm. “He said that there are no lights here because people are afraid here.”
“He is right and at one time, he was defiant to what they would have him do,” she said, warmly. She led him closer to the statue. “They wish to keep us in the dark here but as you can see, that’s hardly a worthwhile strategy. And as with you, if we wish to see someone, we will find them.”
She led Zach up to the large stone base of the statue but it was laid out like a table. As he came closer, the world felt like it was entering a dream. The twilight sky above cast with a million stars made him feel like he was watching everything unfold in slow motion. The world around him seemed unstable and for a moment, he felt like he was somewhere familiar. It felt like a small cottage and when he looked, he swore he saw a fire in a pit. The statue was no longer just a base but a real table with two plates and three cups set out and waiting. His mind had painted the image of a house he didn’t recognize but immediately he knew that he had come home.
“And not a moment too soon,” someone beamed behind him.
Zach turned immediately at the sound and tears began to stream down his face. He didn’t believe his eyes and soon could barely see as he wept.