The dirt road grew deeper and more worn, and he passed intersecting paths and crossroads with growing frequency. As he approached the still distant city, the surrounding world was increasingly under its shadow. Another day’s walk and the road would turn to stone under his feet, then grow smooth and busy from the traffic.
He smiled at the thought. When he decided to return after so many years, the traffic was not something he considered. Yet now, surprisingly, he realized he missed it. The chaos and the noise and the craziness were overwhelming, yet it was a comfort in its own way.
For now the dominant sounds were still birds in the trees and rabbits in the brush. He had never come this way before, the long way around the mountains, and it was nice. There was potential here in this greenery.
An unusually large tree grew right up next to the road, its branches extending deep into the woods on one side and far over the road on the other. Nothing grew beneath it but grass, as the greedy green beast stole all the sunlight in its domain. It made a nice spot to stop and fish the pebble out of his boot that had been bothering him the last mile or so.
He took off his pack and leaned it up against the trunk. He sat atop, tugged off his boot, and watched with satisfaction as the nuisance of a stone slid out and into the grass. He put his boot back on and took a deep, slow breath of the cool air. He would have to come back this way again once he got things settled. Maybe a cabin out here for when that bustle of the city finally grew old again.
He fished the letter from his pack and read it. He didn’t need to since he could recite if from memory, but it was more than the words on the page. By holding it as he read he felt a connection that went deeper than the letters and the ink. The page was creased and more than a little abused, with one corner purple from a spilled cup of wine, but that made it all the more real.
He carefully folded the letter back up and slid it into his pack. A strange sound reached him from the far side of the road as he stood to get moving again. He cocked his head and heard it again, but he could still not tell where it was coming from. He left his pack against the tree and stepped out onto the road to investigate.
His pack was still up against the tree, pulled open and scavenged by animals, when travelers paused at the same spot two weeks later. The travelers fished through it, taking whatever they found of value, and left the rest scattered beneath the large branches. As they rode away, the letter fluttered across the road in the wind, caught on some brambles, and tore.