To an outsider, Cassandra Shaw ‘s life looks perfect. She lives in a beautiful, luxurious house in the English countryside with a handsome, wealthy boyfriend who insists she needn’t do a day’s work. But Cassie knows that something is not right. Her boyfriend has grown colder, treating her more like a housekeeper than a future wife , and her time feels empty and purposeless. And a recurring dream makes no sense at all.
Before me lay a thick, impenetrable forest stretching as far as the eye could see. It was dark and foreboding and I shivered with apprehension. In the distance, a firefly darted towards me through the trees and, as the pinprick of light grew closer, it hovered at the edge of the woodland… beckoning. I knew I had no choice but to enter, and though fearful of the unknown I took a tentative step. Pushing aside the undergrowth, I followed the beacon of light and drifted through the foliage like a spirit, twisting and turning through the trees. As I glanced up at the dense canopy that inhibited any natural light, I found my body rising through the branches, without control over speed, until high above the forest I gazed down upon a wild, rugged landscape shrouded in darkness.
On the wind I detected a scent of the ocean. Raising my eyes to the heavens, I watched dark cirrus clouds scudding across the night sky to reveal a wash of twinkling stars and planets. A halo of light surrounded the moon, its inner edge tinged red; the outer an altogether bluer hue. Gazing earthwards again, I noticed the thick tree canopy stretched for miles– like a spill of ink across the landscape– and all at once I was descending. As I plunged through the roof of the forest I closed my eyes, bracing myself against the scratch and claw of twig and branch. But, unscathed,I floated gracefully to the forest floor.
The firefly had waited for me. Resuming my journey, I followed its beacon of light through the trees until we came upon a clearing. Ten brightly coloured gypsy caravans encircled a campfire around which sat a group of people warming themselves from the flames. An assortment of scrawny, raggedy dogs wandered the encampment or slumbered beneath the steps of the caravans, and somewhere close by I heard the comforting sound of horses grazing.
As I hesitated at the edgeof the clearing, a sudden burst of laughter drew my attention to a small group of men sitting on the far side of the fire. A man plucked at the strings of a guitar and started to sing; his baritone voice pleasingly deep and smooth. Another cajoled a mandolin into life, while a third accompanied on an accordion. As the song gathered pace, increasing in intensity and tone, a young lad tucked a fiddle under his chin and enthusiastically joined in.
A number of children chased each other around the campfire unti l someone shouted and briefly halted their game, and swarthy, black -haired men danced with sultry, dark -eyed women– a twist of limbs and swirling colour, as their bodies responded ever more urgently to the primal beat.
Suddenly there was a roaring sound in my head, and as I became aware of the rush of blood pumping through my veins, I realised I wasn’t a wraithlike apparition or some whimsical spirit, but that I, too, responded to that beat. For the first time in many years I felt alive.
And then, throughthe flickering firelight, I saw you sitting on a log on the far side of the camp, deep in conversation with the man beside you. No one had noticed me and, moving closer, I took the opportunity to gaze at your face in wonder. You were not like the others; you shared none of their darkness. Prone to curls, your dark blond hair framed a genuine, open face that was teasingly familiar, and yet not. As your lips formed silent words I studied you: the slant of your brow; the sharp angle of your cheekbones; the shape of your nose; the tight line of your jaw. And I noticed the way your eyes crinkled when you laughed. Suddenly you smiled and I gasped, as intense, stirring sensations took hold deep in my belly.
From out of the corner of my eye I saw a man approaching. He requested a dance but, impatiently, I brushed him away, and when I turned back you were looking directly at me. Your gaze asked a question, and for a heartbeat I stopped breathing. I no longer had the ability to drift and cautiously, as if in experiment , I placed one foot in front of the other and stepped uncertainly towards the fire. But the heat was too fierce and I glanced at you in confusion. Had I misunderstood?
In a voice soft and tender, you encouraged me. ‘You can do it. Follow the path.’
A man threw more logs onto the fire and I watched the sparks fly as flames leapt into the cool night air. I bit my lip. How could I follow the path? It wasn’t safe. I would burn. Anxiously, I looked across at you again. You were still there, holding out your arms to me with that look in your eyes, and as I made to circle the campfire you spoke again.
‘Trust in the journey. Do not fear the process.’
Your words made me hesitate and, filled with trepidation, I stepped into the fire. But I needn’t have feared – there was no heat – and as the flames parted I left my world and crossed into yours.
‘I know you,’ I whispered, as I looked deep into your eyes. ‘You do,’ you replied, taking me in your arms.
And as you covered my mouth with a kiss of such sweet urgent tenderness, our passion took me far, far away…