‘I could tell you my adventures – beginning from this morning,’ said Alice a little timidly: ‘but it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.’Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Time is strange. I walk, trudge, even run a bit when the path is briefly level. Has it been hours or years since I was at Longleaf? Was I ever there at all? Will I ever return to Buck and Lou-Lou and all the sweet familiarity of home?
Mountains rise around me. The path grows rocky and narrow. The air is thin and I am grateful for the bottle of water in my pack. Fog rolls in and I remember a time lost in frightening sea fog in a small boat in the Gulf of Mexico. I think of Yann Martel’s book, Life of Pi and the tiny boat so filled with life — terrifying and wondrous.
But I am not in a boat and so far as I can tell, I am alone on this fog-shrouded, rocky path.
What’s that? It sounds like squeaky hinges, then a bang. Metal on metal. It grows louder. The path widens and the fog begins to dissipate. I see the source of the sound now. It is a huge solid wood gate swinging on iron hinges. I see a key still in the lock. It looks just like the one in my pocket. Someone else is here!
I turn back to look at the path. It has disappeared. Rather than being alarmed, I feel light, curious, and eager even though the old mansion beyond the gate looks as though it has been abandoned for decades. I see vines draped over the stacked round stones several stories high.
I step through the gate and laugh out loud. The mansion and grounds have transformed. Instead of old vines draped over broken walls, I smell dusky climbing roses and the heady sweet scent of gardenias. Italian cedars line a circular cobblestone drive, and in the middle of it a fountain splashes.
Over the huge open double ebony front doors are the letters: BANCROFT.
The light inside is filtered. I don’t see another person, but I hear low laughter and conversation. I start to move in that direction, but the fragrant, yeasty aroma of baking bread draws me toward what must be the kitchen. I am suddenly famished.
Following my nose, I start across a wide hallway, but am stopped in my tracks by the faint tinkling sound of a piano. Is it coming from outside? I follow my ears this time, out the tall French doors , past a lovely gazebo, the strangely familiar music growing louder with each step.
How curious! The source of the music is a small structure built to look like a Grandmother clock. It sits just at the edge of a small lake, barely more than a pond. The music stops. Is someone inside? I walk around the structure, but cannot find a door anywhere.
There is a discreet name plate beside the clock face: GRACE ANN RINGER. Grace! What is she doing here? Grace is the main character in the novel I have been writing and putting away, writing and putting away, for at least five years.
II knock timidly on the clock, but don’t hear a sound. That’s when I notice the small red box at my feet. I am startled. It looks just like my red box of dreams.
I kneel down and open the fragile hasp.
It’s an old clock key. I like puzzles, and this one is pretty cool indeed. Within minutes I find the small winding hole, insert the key and start turning it. A trapezoid-shaped door silently opened and I stepped inside.
And a piano that looks like one where I spent many happy hours years ago.
And a screened porch actually hovering over the little lake. How had I missed that when I was looking for the door? I see Grace’s bright green running shoes on the porch, but no sign of her.
Now, I’m really hungry and eager to meet the others who have found their way here. But first, I really must play the piano for a few minutes.