By John Thomas Tuft

In the darkness, the bare trees slip past like sentinel ghosts, watching for travelers along the road that begins beyond their sight and ends beyond their dreams. Headlights of passing cars briefly reveal their crooked arms and empty nests, awaiting the return of feathered tenants and the awakening of beetles, flies, crickets and other creatures. Such is the fate of roadside forests, waiting for the briefest of moments of recognition and tentative waves, the sleepy blinks of nodding children safely tucked into the backseats of solitary SVUs or horse drawn carriages. Sometimes a little girl will look with wide-eyed wonder or a little boy will nod and raise a finger in silent salute to the arborous apparitions aligned in silent attention along arbitrary Appian Ways winding through the darkened countryside.

Such it was that four travelers traversed this very road one winter evening. A nondescript vehicle with four strangers making a journey together, but wandering apart, for such is the lot of strangers, is it not. Two men and two women, all wearing different colored caps—Red, Yellow, Purple and White. White was driving the vehicle, Purple was in the front passenger seat, and Red and Yellow shared the back, but each had a window seat. As the miles droned on, they cast about for topics of conversation. Finally, the trip became magical when White asked, for no particular reason, “What would you do if it was your last chance to do it?”

“That’s a nonsense question,” said Purple, tired of nothing but bare trees to look at, zipping by too quickly in the dark to mean anything. “Why is it my last chance? We always get more chances.”  Yellow spoke up from the back seat, a little fearful of the looming trees out the window. “That’s not true. Or else it wouldn’t be called a last chance.” Red stared out the window, wandering if trees ever counted how many of them were tall or not, coniferous or not, sunset fire maple or not. White persisted. “C’mon. It’s a fair question. These trees are so close they make the road seem narrow. I need something to get my mind off driving.”

Purple sighed. “Okay. I give up. What would you do if it was your last chance to do it?” White looked thoughtful. Red asked, “Do you think trees know we’re here?” Yellow shushed Red. “I want to hear the answer.” “I think I would take a vacation. Yeah, I’d just take off one day and go where I wanted to go, do what I wanted to do.” Purple sighed again. “Where would you go? How much would it cost? And how did you get the chance to take this vacation?” Yellow exclaimed, “Oh, I like that idea. A last chance vacation. Much better than working all the time.”

Purple glanced out the window, not wanting to answer yet. “That’s a lot of firewood out there. Or lumber. You know, houses were better when they were all wood; floors, walls, ceilings, slap on some paint and you had yourself a nice place to live.” Yellow spoke up. “Well, I’d move to California. If it was my last chance, I’d go to live near my daughter and her children.” Red looked at Yellow, then beyond. That side of the road was lined with trees as well. “This used to be all one forest,” said Red.

White flicked on the high beams to get a better view of the curves ahead. “Who’s next?” Purple sighed. Again. “I’d start a business. Yep, I’d start my own business. Maybe a hotel, or a big park with rides and restaurants. Bring people out here to enjoy themselves.” Purple surveyed the others. “If it was my last chance, that’s what I’d do.” White asked, “What about a church? Or a chapel? Maybe out here in the woods.” Yellow exclaimed, “Oh, perfect. That would be nice. You should do that.” Red noticed a road sign. Still one hundred miles to go. Hopefully, it would not be too late.

The travelers fell silent.  The trees watched and wondered. In silence and stillness. “If it was my last chance,” whispered Red, already certain. Purple turned. “What? Did you say something?” Red nodded. “Tell us,” insisted White. “Yeah,” said Yellow. “You’re one of us. What do you want for a last chance?”

Red pleaded to the trees for strength. “I would fall in love. All over again for the first time.” Purple nodded. With a sigh. White turned off the high beams and smiled. Yellow’s eyes misted. Red said one more thing. “For the rest of my journey. I will fall in love for the rest of my journey.”

A breeze danced through the trees as the headlights swept over them and moved on. Into the night’s journey. And beyond.

This one’s for my Valentine.

Words are magic, and writers are wizards.