I was a journalist. I had received an exclusive invitation to visit the tiny village on Amos Island.
They had made a name with their excellent (and expensive) wine. It was said the people had preserved a traditional harvest festival that dated back centuries.
How they got my name I couldn't say, but this was an opportunity I couldn't decline. Shortly after I accepted, I was sent directions and the keys to a house.
A winding coastal road took me far from the world I knew. Just when I was sure that I was lost, the island appeared off the coast. A ferry station sat on the shore.
I waited and watched as the boat returned.
The men that stood with me were silent. They wore simple clothes which looked home-made and handed down. They were more patches than anything else.
I was quite self-conscious in my suit.
Once the ferry docked, we boarded. All attempts at conversation were met with little more than nods or grunts. The awkward, silent wait seemed to take forever, but, finally, the boat departed with a lurch.
I felt a moment of strange apprehension. It seemed less that the boat moved, and more like the world turned beneath it. The world I knew fell away to the west, the island crawled from the east.
After disembarking, we followed a dirt road up and through the rocks. The crumbling cliffs concealed a rich green garden.
The village was a glimpse back through time. There were no modern roads, they were muddy troughs at worst, pebbly paths at best. Most of the houses were tiny, spreading out from a central green where logs and bundles of wood had been gathered.
The single main street held a courthouse, school, doctor's office, and the general store where I stopped to get supplies and directions.
Inside a man and woman watched me suspiciously as I gathered a few days worth of food.
When I asked about Edi's cottage, the place I would be staying, the woman scowled and disappeared through a door behind the counter.
The man growled gruff directions, pointing out the window.
“Follow the road around and up the hill.”
Before I could even thank him, he turned his back and followed her out of sight. Gathering my things, I stepped outside and started on my way.
Though I smiled and nodded at the people I saw, they turned away or glared.
The people slipped inside and peeked out from the window's edges. The only sound I heard from the weathered shacks was the mournful barks and baying of the hounds chained there.
They slipped away as I walked, swallowed behind me by the forest.
The trees were a mixture of young and old, of living and dead. The leaves whispered and the limbs muttered as they watched me pass. The brush reached out into the road, clawing at my arms and shoulders.
Following the road up the hillside, I found a quiet orchard at its end.
Tucked away in the orchard, a short, round cottage waited. Its smooth, domed roof reminded me of a mushroom cap. The stacked stones that composed its walls spoke of an antique age.
Inside, there was but a single room.
There was a fireplace and wood for warmth, an icebox to store the food I brought, a table for work, and a bed for rest. Water came from a well to one side, an outhouse waited far to the other. There was no electricity, light would have to come from candles or a lantern.
With no phone and no television, I wondered how I would retain my sanity.
But what it lacked in terms of these modern distractions, it more than made up for in a sense of tranquility. There was a hypnotizing peace in its quiet simplicity, and a kind of reverence seized me.
Instead of dwelling on the loneliness, I was thankful for the silence.
Once the fire burned and I had finished a light supper, I was eager for a stroll around the grounds. A path marched beneath the trees.
Stripped of their fruit, they held few leaves. These dropped in spinning dances to be borne away by the wind. The scent of the air was a mixture of the rich earth under my feet and the breeze rising from the ocean.
I breathed a heavy sigh as the sense of isolation returned.
Watching the sunset paint the sky with glowing, electric light, I realized the beauty of this place. The heaviness that settled upon my heart was nothing more than a wish.
For the serenity, for the wondrous beauty I saw unfolding all around me, I wished with all my heart that I had someone to share this moment.
The emptiness within me was merely a reflection of the absence at my side.
Letting this melancholy mood pass, I turned back the way I came. Lining the path were a number of rosebushes slowly making ready for their winter slumber. Their browning leaves were dry and wilted.
But standing tall and defiant, a single bloom of pure and brilliant white opened its blossom to my eyes, as though nature had placed it there just for me. I enjoyed its faint but sweet aroma. Before I could stop myself, I had cut the stem.
I took this marvel back to the cottage where I placed it in a vase on the table beside the bed.
The air outside had grown chilly. I hadn't noticed until I stood by the flickering light of the fire. Its warmth surrounded me with comfort, wrapping around me like loving arms.
I felt, for all the world, as though I was being welcomed home.
In this state of contentment, I yawned and soon sat on the edge of the bed. I sampled the rose's perfume one last time.
It seemed much sweeter than before.
I stretched out on the bed, drifting off to sleep with an ease that I had rarely ever known.
I ran, like a child, through the trees.
The limbs above were full and green, casting a soothing shade beneath.
I had no care in the world, until I heard her laughter. It playfully teased me from someplace nearby but unseen.
My own joined hers as I set out to find her.
I would close in, certain that I'd have her, only to find nothing and to hear her calling me from somewhere else.
I would catch glimpses of her, her hand, her hair, her eyes twinkling from behind the flowers.
Finding nothing over and over, I became frustrated. But, the instant the anger flared in me, I heard her sweet voice speak from close behind me.
Turning, I gazed upon a beauty that was perfect in my eyes. I was speechless.
But, between us, words were not required. In the meeting of our eyes alone, we said much.
I felt as though I had known her for my whole life or, somehow, even longer.
We ceased our game and walked together along the path. I reached toward her and found her hand in mine.
I did not look toward her, but merely smiled and knew she was smiling, too.
We marveled at the flowers, at the butterflies bouncing across the air.
As we walked past the roses, I stopped and turned her to me. Her lips, full and red, wore the hint of a smile. I knew she had waited eagerly for this moment.
Without hesitation, I leaned in and kissed her softly. My heart pounded so hard it brought me tinges of pain.
In that moment, the life within me flared brighter than the sun.
When I opened my eyes, I saw her smile, her lovely face, retreating from me. Her hand slipped from mine with the awful steadiness of a natural force.
Though I wanted to beg and plead with her to stay, I knew that our time was over.
A peal of thunder rumbled from above. The sky had become grim and gray. The air was cold. Like my hopes, drops of rain fell.
It was as though some dim and terrible memory rose into the sky.
Though I tried, I failed to answer its riddle. To me, the solution was unknowable, hidden somewhere beyond the boundaries of my life.
When I looked toward her again, she was gone. She had vanished into the hazy gloom that surrounded me.
To have known, at last, the purpose of my heart and to have lost it just as fast...
Near madness, I tore back along our path, searching everywhere for her.
I was gripped with a certainty, to the end that it crushed my soul, that I would never find her, never know her again.
But my heart would not quit and I vowed that I would not rest until I did. If it cost me the rest of my life, if I had to die to achieve it, I would find her. She would be mine again.