Two roads diverged in the woods, and Warren could not tell which one his errant dog had taken. There had been a frost the previous night; it had hardened the ground against footprints, and the leaves seemed equally trodden upon.
Warren was unconcerned. He often came to these lovely woods with his little dog. They belonged to a friend who lived in town and didn’t mind people stopping by. In the summer, the woods had been filled with monarch butterflies, flitting from one tuft of flowers to the next. With the approach of winter, of course, they could not stay.
He stood and listened to the sound of the trees as the wind flowed gently through their bare branches. His right hand, of old, unvanquished habit, clenched around an invisible mate, and then it tightened into a fist.
Warren had often brought Amy here. They stood in this spot and held hands, admiring the birches and the phoebes and each other.
But Amy had gone back west to care for her ill mother. And across the distance, as so often happens, she had met someone else and never returned to Warren or the woods.
Warren had ambled the city’s streets late into the night after that, beyond the furthest city light, numbly exploring the vast reaches of the growing desert place inside himself. At times his heart burned; other times it was as though ice had taken over. But he eventually returned to the natural world; he had already given up love and the future he had wanted, and even though the birds’ songs would never be the same, he refused to give up his precious walks in the woods.
Never mind that, he told himself with a sigh.
Night began falling fast. Warren whistled once, and then again, as loudly as he could. A bark answered him, and he looked down the left trail. Robert raced into view; he danced upright for a moment before coming to a stop at his master’s feet.
“It looks like it might snow,” Warren told the dog. “I’ll have to take you in tonight.”
Warren led Robert back toward the edge of the woods where the car was parked. They came to the short rock wall that Warren’s friend tried in vain to keep in repair. A squarish rock lay on the ground, and Warren was almost certain it had been on top of the wall when he and Robert first passed by only an hour before.
Warren opened the car door; Robert jumped in and went directly to the passenger seat. Warren slid in behind the wheel and started the car.
Robert looked out the window and yawned. Warren scratched the dog’s ears.
“Only a few miles to go, and then you can sleep.”