The Simple Path

By RavenBlack, 27th Feblueberry 1999.

He awoke from the deepest of sleeps, refreshed, to find himself in unfamiliar surroundings.

All around him seemed unreal, impossibly neat and contrived.

In front of him, a vast flatness, broken only by several paths leading away and out of sight, lost to distance.

To one side, a sheer vertical stone wall, with perfect storybook cave entrances.

On the other side, a pristine city of metals, plastics and brick.

He turned, and found behind him, a forest, thick with trees and plants, but with clearly defined trails.

Finally, as he stood, he noticed beneath his feet. He was standing in a chalked circle, atop written words, "Take the simple path."

He looked around again, considering all the paths available. Surely the simplest would be on the plains? With that in mind, he considered the three paths before him. One of clean-cut marble, perfectly smooth. One of flat stones, neatly sunken into the ground. One merely a trail of dirt, worn into the surrounding grass.

'The marble one,' he considered, 'is surely simple, for it is flat, no bumps, no roughness.' With this in mind, he set off walking along that path.

He walked, and he walked. After a time he glanced back, and saw nothing but the path he was on. The forest, the stone and the city were all far out of sight. And in front, the path continued, still, as far as the eye could see.

On he went, still, sure he must have chosen right. Eventually something came into sight ahead. As he approached, it became clearer; a stone wall. A city. A forest.

And, in the end, a circle, with the words "Take the simple path." written within.

Somehow unwearied, though he had been walking for what might have been days, he looked again at the flat paths. The worn path, he considered, is so primitive, so simple, it must be the right path.

So he walked, and he walked, not glancing back in case he somehow would be turned around, and eventually a speck appeared on the horizon. He approached, with trepidation, and again it grew; a stone wall. A city. A forest.

And between the three, a chalked circle, and the words, "Take the simple path."

'Well,' he considered, 'the stony path can't possibly be right, as it only shares qualities with the other two.'

He looked at the alternatives. The caves, simple, he supposed, in their lack of light and natural formations. The forest, considered simple by so many, yet boundless with complexity. And the city, simple enough to have been created by simpletons.

With no grounds to decide, his most logical reasoning having already proven false, he set off through the centre cave. He walked and walked, as the light faded into the distance behind him, until all was consumed by blackness. He trailed his hand along the wall to his left, and walked, and walked, and eventually saw a speck of light in the distance. It grew as he approached, and eventually revealed, of course, the forest, the city, the plains, and the chalk circle. And the words "Take the simple path."

"How am I to choose the simple path?" he asked himself, "I have tried the easiest path, I have tried the least complex path, but still I am stuck here in this strange place."

Still untiring in body, though feeling emotionally aggrieved, he set off into the city, considering that the forest, like the stone path, shared simple qualities with the others, and added only its own complexity.

He walked through the gleaming streets, bright signs flashing at him, water dripping from rooftops, yet not a living thing in sight. Most of the signs merely advertised unpleasant food and drink, which, anyway, he felt no need for.

One sign caught his eye with its sheer plainness amongst the others, then held it with its words. "The Way is simple. That does not mean it is easy."

He stared at the sign for a time, then walked on. He didn't go far before, on rounding a corner, he found himself back in sight of the stone wall, the forest, and the plains. A few more steps, and he was back in the chalk circle. "Take the simple path."

He shrugged, and headed for the most overgrown of the forest paths. 'Not easy,' he said to himself, 'but simple, in its way.'

And he walked, and he walked, pushing through branches, scratched and stung by sharp leaves, and still not a creature stirred, and not a breath of wind moved. Eventually, far from the chalk circle, the path grew easier, the branches thinned out, and he found the way much easier. He breathed a sigh of satisfaction, and started to walk faster. Some time later, he slammed to a stop, in horror. Ahead, through the branches, he saw the plains. Only a little further on, and the whole scene was again revealed, the city, the stone wall and the chalk circle. And the words "Take the simple path."

He walked to the circle, and cursed at the words, and screamed, "I have taken all the paths, and none have been simple, and none have led me anywhere, and all I have to show for it are these cuts and scrapes. Why? Why am I here?"

He looked to the sky for the answer, and yelled into it, "Why? What is the purpose?"

And he smiled. And he saw the simple path. And he spread his wings, and flew.

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