Akiyoshi walks into the forest.
He does not turn around. Though when he hears the girl laugh he feels the pull of it and stops, thinking “this is it, I will turn back because of this.”
Her laughter catches in the branches and hangs there for a moment like a bird you cannot see before a breeze stirs the air and carries it away.
Akiyoshi lifts his feet and walks on.
He is aware of the deepening shadows, the cooling of the air. He feels the softness of the ground underfoot and smells the dankness of the moss.
He had known it would be this way, the world asserting itself. Vivid, ultra, real.
“It is not there, Akiyoshi. You do not see it.”
He says it out loud, to be sure the forest understands.
A shaft of light falls between the trees and guides Akiyoshi to a clearing that is light and warm.
“Yes” he thinks “This is the place.”
But the trees whisper.
“We have seen your like before, Akiyoshi, many times.”
The leaves shimmer and join the chatter, their voices insistent.
“This is not a good place. You must go.”
Akiyoshi stands firm, but feels the water rise around his feet as he sinks into the moss, the ground giving way beneath him.
“Walk on” it says to him.
And Akiyoshi teeters and slumps onto a rock worn smooth by rain.
“It’s okay. Sit here a while with me” the rock says. “Sit here in the light and we will tell you things.”
Akiyoshi closes his eyes, but feels the sunlight on his lids. He cups his hands around his ears, but hears a bird chirrup. He fills his lungs with air and holds it there, but feels the breeze as it ruffles his hair.
Akiyoshi has measured the rope. He has calculated the correct length, held it in his hands and felt the weight of it, the heft. He has considered the drop, the height that would be necessary. He has studied knots and practiced well.
But he has not considered this – the soft rain that begins to fall, drop by drop.
“The tears of those who have come before you” the forest explains.
“Why were they crying?” he asks.
And a thousand voices answer.
“These are the tears that fell as we fell. They dropped to the ground with us. Don’t believe it will be any different for you, Akiyoshi. You must go.”
And Akiyoshi understands. He opens his eyes and nods. He bows low.
Somewhere, the sound of laughter frees itself from the branches and floats high into the sky.
And Akiyoshi walks out of the forest.