Illuminating moonlight pierces the fall-barren branches in broken shafts of skeleton white light. Leaves rustle in rhyme with your underfoot shuffle in time carrying you along the path unknown. The rise of distant wolves' cries run chills up your spine, sharpened in the crisp night air.
Boldly you step forward, each movement carrying you further into the narrowing way. Trees now so close that the darkness encloses you like a coffin.
Carefully you step, walking alone, your destination spied on some old map you saw once but now view only through the certain and certainly wrong mind's eye. Your confidence internally uncertain, externally infallible.
A light. Candlelight dancing in a window ahead. A cloak of hope, in which you quickly wrap your fear. A friendly face, perhaps. The creak of rusty hinged door reveals a shadowy hooded figure standing before the doorway, black as the night. Hope, yes, hope, you tell yourself stepping forward.
"Good evening!" you say optimistically.
"A fine All Hallows Eve to you!", he replies as you exhale a breath of relief and pull your cloak closer, "Trick or Treat?" he says, his face cloaked in shadow and mystery.
"Trick or treat?" you squeak.
"Yes, trick or treat. It is Halloween is it not? Which would you prefer?
"By the way, I am Kenji, the Keeper of the Paths.
"Just beyond my small cottage the one path becomes two. You must choose which way to go. One way will be a treat the other a trick."
"Well, of course I'd like the path of the treat."
"I cannot tell you which path is treat and which path trick. This you must choose for yourself," he says as an owl alights on a nearby tree, "I caution you not to decide too quickly, for what is treat can often appear as trick and that which is trick, treat."
"Is there nothing you can tell me that will speed me on my way?" You reply sensibly and hoping to move along without seeming impolite.
"It is cold. Do please come inside and sit for a while and I will tell you what I know of each."
A shiver runs up your spine but whether from Kenji's words or the chill night air you cannot tell. Reluctantly you follow Kenji into his cottage.
Kenji guides you to a cozy seat by the fire from which he withdraws a kettle and pours two wooden mugs of mulled cider. You sit quietly, enjoying the warmth, aromas of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg wafting up from your cider, firelight dancing upon your eyes.
It is several minutes before Kenji speaks, "All who pass my gates wish for the path of treat."
Seemingly in reply, a sudden gust of wind rattles the windows and the fire dances higher.
Kenji takes no notice and continues, "Each asks for my knowledge of the two paths but I cannot speak of which is trick nor of which treat."
As Kenji leans forward his shadow casts across your brow and he says in a confidential tone, "You must know this of yourself."
Kenji sits back and takes a deep draught of his drink before continuing.
"This is what I can tell of the two paths. One is wide and well-traveled."
The wind seems to quiet down. Even to become calm for just this moment as if listening to every word.
"The other narrow and unclear."
flames reflect in Kenji's eyes giving an eerie glow to his hood-shadowed face.
"The wide path you will find predictable with few turns and surprises. Although sign posts show the way, others will lead you so there is little need to know where you are or where you are going. There are many places to stop along the way and many settle along this path. A few move on from time to time.
"If you choose this path, I can supply men to guide you, and maps and books to aid you."
Kenji peers at you and lowers his voice, "On the narrow path there is little I can tell you but this much I know."
Kenji pauses a moment seemingly deciding if you are worthy of what he has to tell you.
Suddenly a black cat hisses and leaps from behind you, startling you, before the cat lands on Kenji's lap.
Not missing a beat Kenji continues, "It is not unusual for travelers heading that way to lose their hearts to the trail. Few other travelers go that way and those who do are creative, brave, and adventurous.
"The path has many turns and blind corners. Once on this path, you cannot go back and to take the wide path as you are sure to be lost.
"The only maps you can find are very local. However, kind strangers will assist you along the way. In some places you will have to make your own trail.
"If you choose this path I can only give you a compass to guide you."
The wind howls once again. Flames dance in time to the rattling windows. The cat, resting comfortably on Kenji's lap, opens one eye to look at you with cat-like disdain.
Kenji continues ominously, "One of these two paths is dangerous but you will not know it until you have traveled some distance."
Kenji sits back and strokes the cat. Its spine rising to his touch and a loud purr audible over the whipping wind outside.
"So the time has come for you to choose. Which path will it be, then, wide or narrow?"
Kenji tends to the cat while waiting patiently for your answer. The first hints of daylight are now visible through the windows. With this new light comes a new day and you see the forest more clearly.
Kenji says, "It is time. Place your answer in the tally box and then I will tell you something more."