Colors in Descent by Nicholas Trandahl
They had once been young lovers, but now they were no longer young. During the summer their twenties had both given way to their thirties, a fresh new decade that was yellowed and antiqued, matured from the pastel gloss of the prior ten years. No, they were young no longer, but they hadn’t noticed it yet.
The man and the woman walked into the autumnal heart of the Apple Creek Forest on a Saturday morning. The day was pregnant with promise and the warm-hued leaves of the oaks, birches and maples shivered in delight at the passing of the pair. Outfitted for autumn, they wore warm sweaters, boots and beanies. The woman wore black tights and the man wore jeans. The man’s eyes, a yellowed brown, glittered in the amber rise of the sun and his full brown beard took on a reddish sheen in the rich light. He carried a small backpack. Twin black braids descended from either side of the woman’s beanie, and in the cold morning air of mid-October her breath could be seen escaping in ethereal plumes.
The pair walked side by side, but at times they followed one another. The hike of the two was an ever-changing, mercurial thing, and it was a route they’d taken so often and had known so well that their conversation was never impeded with discussion of their surroundings. They only rarely lifted their eyes from their trudging hiking boots, and when they did it was usually to gaze into the familiar face of their significant other to listen or to laugh. Apple Creek Forest was a second home to them, an arboraceous abode that served them as a frequent escape from their small town lives in the community of Appleham, the town itself a quiet idyllic place in Franklin County on the southwest edge of the forest.
When the coldness of the October morning stirred into a more tolerable autumn crispness with the crowning of the sun, the couple had reached a small forest glade in the depths of the wood. A small pond darkened the heart of the little dell, and within the center of the pond was a protrusion of stone. Fallen leaves of oaken umber, maple scarlet and birch amber were heaped in the sylvan basin and they floated in strange primeval formations upon the surface of the water.
“Are you ready to have a bite?” inquired the man, stepping to the edge of the pool and dropping his pack from his shoulder.
His inquiry went unanswered immediately as the woman breathed in and out audibly from the hike. She nodded with a slight smile. “Sure.”
They both sat next to one another on a fallen log next to the pool, an old oak log topped in a crunchy frosting of fallen leaves and its long sides peppered in pale shelf mushrooms. He took off his beanie and messed up his short brown hair that was slightly damp from the hike and the heat of the headwear. As he rummaged through the pack for their lunch and something to drink, the woman said quite softly, “I just love this place.”
“Me too,” he answered, still rummaging. “It’s our place after all.”
She looked across the pool and then up in the patch of azure sky that loomed over the glade. A nostalgic smile spilled out across her lovely face, rosy-cheeked from the brisk autumn hike, and she asked, “Do you remember what those old guys told us when we first moved to Appleham and started hiking in here? They told us that there used to be a woman in the woods that sang magic songs.”
He snorted through his nose and grinned as he pulled two bottles of water, a couple of ham and swiss sandwiches, and some plastic bags of sliced apples lathered in cinnamon and honey from the backpack. “Sure. I remember.”
“I think that made me love this place more. I hate that there’s no more magic in the world. Do you think there ever was?”
“What, like wizards and elves? Like Tolkien stuff?”
She smirked and shook her head as she took her lunch from the gentle hands of her lover, and responded, “Not really. But don’t you feel like this place has power? Some sort of ancient power?”
“Yeah,” he replied before taking a bite of his sandwich. “We’ve discussed that before, remember?”
She shrugged, reaching into the bag and munching on the glazed apples. Her fingertips were sticky and golden and she absently sucked the sweet honey from them. “Sometimes,” she began, “I feel like we’ve discussed all there is to discuss. Do you ever feel like that?”
The man raised an eyebrow in inquiry and returned, “That sounds grim. What do you mean?”
“Well, we’re thirty now. We’re so much older than we were.”
She continued with a melancholy that the man had gotten more and more used to over the years, “It’s over, honey. Our twenties are over. And they passed without any fanfare or fireworks. Were we supposed to feel something? Did we miss something important?”
“I feel something. I feel older.”
“Are you okay with that?” she asked concernedly. “I’m not sure if I’m ready for thirty. We were having so much fun in our twenties.”
The man washed a bite of sandwich down with a swallow of cool water, and replied with a grin, “Well, sweetie, thirty is here whether you’re ready or not. Time has a habit of advancing against our will. And of course we had fun in our twenties, but we still are having fun. Aren’t we? We’re still working and going hiking every weekend. We still travel. In fact we travel more now because we can afford it a little easier. We’re going to keep having fun. I promise.”
She sighed and leaned into the broad-shouldered form of her lover. He put an arm around her and held her against him as they finished their lunch. Finally she said quietly, “I love you so much.”
In response he kissed the top of the head against his shoulder. The trees around them quietly rattled their limbs in a crisp October breeze. As moments continued to relentlessly pass more leaves were plucked from their homes in the boughs of the trees. The leaves fluttered down towards the forest floor to be forgotten and crumple away into loam. But the colors sure were beautiful during their descent.
Nicholas Trandahl is an author of poetry and fiction, currently residing in northeast Wyoming. He has two daughters and is engaged to be married. His passion for literature is fueled by his fondness for the literary works of Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Cheever, James Salter, Raymond Carver, and Virginia Woolf. He was born in 1984.