Story Q 'The Powers of Perception' by Raelinda Woad

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I was feeling worn out when I arrived at the cabin in the woods. The season was early summer, but I myself was in the autumn of my existence.

The cabin was originally my grandfather's and it was pretty much the same place that it had been when I was a girl. Four wobbly walls, a highly ventilated outhouse, and a well that was always filled with the type of cool, sweet water that can be found flowing beneath the roots of old trees. I called it the wishing well because whenever I was thirsty it would always grant me my wish. The secret to magic is knowing what to wish for.

I drew some water and drank my fill and then I got to work. The cabin was filled with cobwebs and pollen, dust and leaves. And of course mice. The mice regarded me as an unwelcome summer tourist and had taken over the stove again. They had made themselves a nest out of some of my stories I'd been working on last summer. Little baby mice sleeping inside last year's thoughts.

I found what was left of a shredded notebook on the floor and flipped through it. Here and there a paragraph had survived that I could actually read. But who was this naive young creature who had written them. Not me. Last Summer I had been a different person. I had been young. Twenty eight. Now I was twenty nine. Next summer I'd be thirty.

"How quickly one's life flies past," I thought. "At this rate, there won't be enough time left for all my dreams. There won't be enough time left for love."

I hoped that there would at least be enough time left to clean the stove. I lifted the hinge and opened the door. A family of mice glared out at me as if to say, "What? You again?"

It was a freestanding stove with four stubby legs and a little round belly. It's sides were embossed with ornate scenes of country people cheerfully plowing the fields. It was supposed to look like an antique, but it was not. Someone had broken into the cabin one winter and stolen the original stove, a true antique. That one had been quite plain looking and had worked wonderfully, keeping the cabin warm during late winters and early frosts. It was also a lot larger than this pretty little decoy which was very unfortunate since most of the wood stacked by the cabin wouldn't even fit through this new stove's door. One summer I had thought to chop the wood into smaller pieces. But when I tried to pull the axe out of the log that it was embedded in I couldn't even make it budge. This clued me into the fact that I probably shouldn't be using an axe.

I sighed and shut the door of the ornate mouse condominium.

The cabin was as clean as it was going to be. I grabbed my grandfather's walking stick and set out for a walk. I cut through the woods and joined up with my favorite country road. It was unpaved and steep and heavily scattered with mineral fragments. And almost never used. Snakes and salamanders dozed without fear among luminous chunks of milky white quartz.

About a mile past the cabin, in the upwards direction, I came to the McCuan's place. Mr. and Mrs. McCuan were retired and lived at the top of the mountain. And they were usually quiet and solitary as I imagined a retired couple should be. But as I neared their place I began to hear the excited, musical chatter of a large group of people having a reunion and eating lots of sugar together. I'd forgotten that today was the annual meeting of the Halifax Antique Car Society.

The McCuans had a lawn that rested like a gentle green bowl on the mountain top and as it came into view I could see that it was just brimming with old people. And they all had so much energy! It seemed to bubble up into the air over their heads like a sparkling cloud of ginger ale. In loud, exuberant voices they exclaimed over each other's grandchildren and each other's antique cars and each other's antique stories. But even stronger than their joy was their sense of anticipation. They were like a group of close friends who had assembled together at a train station, with all their most cherished possessions from their lives gathered around them to take with them.

As I walked past them they all started waving gaily and calling out, "Look, look! The Professor's granddaughter!"

I waved back and thought, "Gosh, old people can be so cute, ha, ha." And then I continued on my walk.

It was starting to get hot and, a few miles later, I decided to leave the country road for one of those secret little lanes that wind through the woods like hidden embroidery. Where the tall, tall trees rise up on either side and the shadows of their leaves wash over your body like wishing well water. Overhead, the sky moved through the narrow space between the tops of the trees like another path of faraway blue.

It was so quiet in here and so still. It felt like the forest had managed to capture a perfect moment of cool air and dim underwater light, and had caused it to set roots into the earth and remain here like this, always this dark quiet moment, never changing.

But suddenly the sun reached the top of the sky, that blue mirror path, and the whole lane was flooded with sunlight. The air brightened, the underwater shadows snapped back to their leaves, and from behind me came a loud, "TOOT! TOOT!"

I was so startled that I jumped backwards up onto the embankment and landed in the 1920's.

The very first cars ever made came bouncing down the lane, out of a tunnel in the air. Buggies, Jalopies, and a Ford Model T polished so proudly that the sun's reflection rode on its hood like an extra passenger.

Car after car drove past me. And each one held a young couple who were shining the way people do when they've just discovered love.

They had so much energy! They waved gaily, they honked their horns wildly, they squealed and clutched their grandchildren at every bump, and they flashed their smiles right back at the sun.

I dropped my walking stick and started waving back with both my hands and all my heart until the last car had disappeared down the lane and back into the air.

"Wow!" I thought. "I wish that someday I could be that young."

What had changed wasn't the way they looked, but the way I saw.

Well, they say that the speed of light is so powerful a force that it can actually make time slow down and stay awhile. But I'd say that it's got nothing on the power of perception.