The gatekeeper walked towards another wooden door, with intricate carvings on its surface. I could make out strange landscapes and symbols I had never seen before. I didn't have much time to study them though, because the old man opened the door and stood aside, waiting for me to walk out first.
I was however unable to step beyond the threshold. The view in front of me took my breath away. The sun shone over rolling hills covered with short grass. Here and there, a few groups of trees and bushes. In the distance, the horizon was lined with a mountain range, grey and jagged at the top.
But what made my eyes go wide was the sky. The sun was still high, but the light was dimmed, almost tired. The sun itself looked swollen.
For once, the gatekeeper offered to explain something before I could even think up the question in my mind.
"This is not the world you are used to. Our sun is old, giving its last rays of light over the land."
I remembered the strange occurrence in the bar and had to agree. Definitely not the world I was used to.
"Then what world is this?" I blurted out. I stared suspiciously at the giant sun, wondering what sort of trickery that might have been.
"I have already told you." The old man went back to his cryptic answers. I knew that was a dead end, so I didn't press the matter any further. "Please, after you."
I stepped outside and got a chill. It was rather cold, like an autumn day. Remembering the gatekeeper's explanation, I just buttoned up my shirt over my blouse and gave myself a big hug. Summer was far, far away now.
The old man followed me out, closing the door behind him. He started walking on the narrow path that began in front of the door and wound upwards on the slope of the hill in front of us.
"Will you take me there... wherever I have to go?" I trailed along, shivering under the swift wind.
"No. You must go by yourself. Follow this path, it will be your best guide."
I felt a wave of disappointment and a bigger surge of anger, ready to flood my reason.
"Do I even have any kind of motivation to do this? I was tricked into coming here, yes, I was a fool." I stopped and crossed my arms. "Is there a real reason why I can't go back the way I came in? Or just wake up from this stupid dream?" I almost screamed. The old man was a good twenty paces in front of me.
He turned around. "This is not a dream. However, you cannot go back from where you came. The only way back is walking forward." Again with the riddles! "My hut is on the way. I will give you some supplies and warmer clothes."
He started up the path again. I planted both feet in the ground, telling myself that I will not be led around like a dog on a leash, not knowing where I was being taken to. He reached the top of the hill and disappeared from view.
It sank in then. I was alone. His help was limited and his advice confusing, but even these small things were better than sitting there like an idiot in an unknown world.
I sprinted after him, yelling from the top of my lungs "Wait, wait for me!"
I reached the top, huffing like a steam engine. He was waiting patiently. I looked down towards the valley. A small cottage stood between the hills, looking like it was protected from the wind. It seemed like a cosy little home. We walked towards it in silence.
Reaching the door, he asked me to wait outside and went in alone. After a short while, he returned with a small leather backpack and a thick, heavy hooded cloak.
"This will be good as blanket and should protect you from the wind. I packed some food and water for you."
"Thank you. Forgive me if I'm blunt, but do you happen to have a map as well?" The cold had dulled my rage to a murmur.
"Maps are useless here. Stay on the path. And stay true to yourself."
Defeated, I put the cloak on and the backpack over it. Together, they immediately made my back warmer. I pulled the hems about me, thanked the old man again and we bid our goodbyes.
The path swayed gently in front of me up another hill. Well, every journey begins with one step, I thought, and off I went.