The sun was high and so very hot in the sky when I came upon the clearing, yet the air had chilled me to my core. Dark green leaves dropped down from above and reached up from the earth, and soon it seemed the whole part of the forest was walled off by the undergrowth. The sunlight that did break the canopy created shards of glass that danced to and fro on the countless tones of green and brown. The shade was cold - so very cold for July - and the very life of the forest seemed kept-at-bay by the darkness of the place. Countless greens and browns became countless browns and greens, became lesser and lesser, until it seemed only one hue remained in the shade of the trees above.

In the very core of the place stood a cairn

(/kern/ noun a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline.)

A crown of molden stumps jut out of its peak, their trunks rotten and splattered across the clearing like a slaughtered platoon. A strange moss grows across its surface, the hue so unlike the surrounding: dark, deep purple. The color of ink, of tar, of sin, of wicked things.

I stand some ten feet from the mound at this point, and from the distance--and despite the thick growth coating them--I see these stones are no accident. Their placement too-intentioned for anything but a burial ground, I know the epic threshold that has been crossed.

A shiver goes up my spine, the chill grips my flesh. The dark stain of Death reigns here, and even the forest cannot breathe its frightful odor.

I circle the cairn slowly, taking in the surrounding trees and looking for any unwanted spectators, but the forest is silent as a crypt.

I take a step towards the stones, my nerves gnawing in anx. That dark purple.

Two steps. I have never seen such a hue in the wild, nor shall I again, I know.

Three. The chill grows with every footfall, but like Father Time I am only moving one way now.

Four steps. The cairn is before me, its stench roiling in my nostrils like a bay at storm.

Five and I’m there.

The stones tower above me now, so very high above me, as though they’ve grown some hundred times in my quest, the moss coating them a mammoth of inky, purple mass. I reach out, and feel the softness in my outstretched hand.

We all die alone, just as we live. As life-forms we have walls to our selves, our systems. Like a cell wall in biology class, the human body separates us from one another. We can establish connections, through art and culture and joy, but we can never tear down those walls. Not in life. So as we all live alone, striving to become something greater than ourselves in a world so chock-full of strange versions of ourselves, so too do we die alone. But that is not the end to our story. For as we return to dust, so too must we have come from dust. When our minds leave our bodies, our spirits do as well. But unlike our minds - retreating into the void from whence they came - our spirits return to the wind. For as the king must eat, so too must the smallest mushroom in the forest. As we rot, and that wall we call the human body breaks down, our spirit returns to the earth, to feed the worms and nurture the dirt. As the last sparks depart from our flesh, we burn to our smallest atoms, and our spirit returns to the fire. Melting into the soil, nourishing the tiniest bacteria and the oldest tree, our spirit returns to the water so essential to life on this Earth. We all die alone, but in death we are never alone. In death we are in each blade of grass, each drop of rain. The seas carry our song just as the wind in the meadow. Our song and the song of so many before us, each carrying across the elements in its own waves and currents, its own incarnations.

The moss does not kill me. The moss does not hurt me, or eat me, or turn me ill with its odor. The moss is soft, and warm, and moist. The moss teems with an energy unseen but so very felt. The smallest life-forms in the forest live and work and travel and die across this ink-dark carpet; fueled by the souls of the endless dead, the sands of time fallen through the hourglass that knows no end.

For our spirits must go on, endlessly chasing the light that dances in the shade.