My grandfather first turned toward the river, or where the river ought to have been, somewhere out there in the mist, then he turned to me. "Are you ready, boy?"
"Ready for what?"
"To cross the river. The old man in the oak wants you to come with us."
"But how can a tree ...?"
"Not the oak tree, boy, the man in the oak."
And then in a voice so low I felt it more than I heard it, "Do not be afraid, young one, you will see that you belong."
My grandfather offered an encouraging nod, a slow turn for me to follow, and then gently pulled me into the mist.
I felt my way with each footstep, down the bank, waiting for the water but the water never came, rather the soft, crunchy of snow upon the ice ... and the frozen cold rose up from our footsteps and soon we were breathing with winter's breath.
We moved almost as mist ourselves, walking but with no sense of distance being covered. We kept pressing through the woolly mist; we kept pressing through the hushed quiet, that breathy silence that the cold night air does have. Every now and then, grandfather would whisper, "Are you still with me?" Every now and then, I thought I could hear the old man breathing nearby.
We made the far bank, my grandfather giving me a helping hoist up the slope and over rocky outcropping that guarded the maple woods beyond. From there it seemed like it took the longest of time, tree trunks suddenly appearing out of what now was more fog than mist. The woods became as a maze, turn after turn, tree after tree. But then we came upon an unseen presence, a massive presence. And the grey of the fog turned into the grey of the stone.
"Yes, Greyfriars Abbey," my grandfather answered.
I reached out and touched the ancient stone. It was as cold as it was grey. And then the bell began to toll, but as if tolling from a more distant place.
As I listened to the bell's low, slow call to penance, the old man in the oak began to speak, but more within me than to me, "Forever, we have returned to forever."