The Untold Path [ by Matthew Mirliani ]
Comfort was knowing he could always go back.
It was a humid early summer day. But with the midday rainstorms it would cool down by night.
He missed those New Hampshire summer nights.
Sherlock stared out at the campus from the small window of his suite at the Inn. It had been years since he last saw the bell tower, the library, the glistening green grass. The sight unlocked memories he did not realize were even there — and he was constantly thinking about this place.
He remembered what year it was. It was still a relatively stable time. It felt like the last summer of his generation.
What was he doing here?
He had to take one last look — one last look at paradise to know for certain if it was as beautiful as he remembered it. Whether that would make the present more painful or less, it did not matter. He had to know.
Sherlock was here to see his 22-year old self. He would not meet with him. He would not approach him, talk to him — none of that. He wanted to witness him in his prime — with a head still full of hair, a smile that suggested no worries, a sense of carefree joy, safe here within the woods of New England.
How he got here he could not fully explain. This was not something that others were doing at the time, or even advertising — though one could imagine how easily someone could monetize an experience like this.
It was a typical day at The Strand in lower Manhattan when Sherlock — who would frequent the place often after work— came across a section on the Occult and other miscellaneous mystical topics. It was there where he stumbled upon a thin, black book with gold lettering. It was the gold that caught his eye, but when he picked up the book it was the title that then drew him in: The Untold Path: How Ancient Mystics Traversed Time. Curled up at home he read the book intently — studying every word, and at the end becoming convinced this was something he could achieve himself.
And now he was there, standing in a year he had lived before.
He remembered where the fraternity stood in relation to the Inn. In fact, as he remembered it, all of the fraternities were on the same street — at least the majority of them. It was a street just across from the left side of the library. Past that street you started entering the northern part of the campus, that would eventually take you to the golf course, the lake, the business school, and the way to the river.
Sherlock knew that graduation was only in seven days — that this was the seniors’ last week on campus. He knew exactly where he’d be. He’d be where he was on every night his senior spring. The spot in question was the expensive bar downstairs in the Inn, adjacent to the restaurant where he had once enjoyed an eight course meal paired with whiskey, senselessly spending his parents’ money, with no concept of money himself.
He was holding The Untold Story in his hands. His fingers were tucked inside the pages. The page he was saving to read once again was one that began with the sentence: “Though the disappearance of the mystics who ventured into the realm of time suggested their attempts were successful — corroborated by messages other mystics received through the fog of dreams and meditation — the mystics who did cross over to previous ages did not make a physical return to the time which they left. Whether they were unable to do so, or chose not to return, has never been clarified. The messages that were received by the other mystics who stayed behind were muddled, undecipherable, but clearly stated the time in which the travelers currently were in to ensure there was evidence that the experiments worked.”
Sherlock was tempted to visit his fraternity — present himself as an alum, go down to the basement — feeling the floor stick to his shoes as it did in the past — and treat himself to a cup of hard apple cider (though an autumnal drink, hard cider proved timeless in New Hampshire). But he had long given up drinking.
He decided to duck into the museum to wait out the inevitable rain. He took his time surveying the displays of Assyrian and Persian artifacts — a mainstay of the museum. He recalled years back a museum open house with sparkling white wine and cheeses. Just like any collegiate memory (his liberating first kiss with another boy, early morning hikes in Vermont, existential, late night conversations in the dormitory) it was to him a warm blanket, a catalyst for a lump in the throat, tears welling to the brim of his eyelids. Sherlock was alone at the museum today, however. Not a shock given the campus belonged solely to the seniors this week and they had other things on their mind than ancient artifacts.
A shadow eclipsed his on the floor. It stretched beyond his like a stain. He turned around to see a looming statue of an Assyrian king. The majority of the stone was intact, with just the face of the king worn away. Sherlock lost track of the time staring at him.
He still had the book with him. Did any of the kings know of the power to return? Did perhaps a king — at the brink of defeat on the battlefield — perform the same ritual Sherlock performed a few days before? Did the king without the face disappear, abandoning his people and thus had his face erased from the record? But then why did they keep the rest of him intact?
Rain came down on the metal roof of the museum like an answer from heaven. Sherlock sat down in a corner and opened the book again. There was no mention of kings.
When the storm passed, the coolness had set in, and the sun returned to the sky. Sherlock stood up and made his way to one of the long, thin windows to look out onto the campus. The students had reemerged from their own hideaways and were populating the green again.
He suddenly saw himself. Walking along the green with a friend. They were heading towards the bar. They were there early though. Perhaps tonight the fraternity was having an event. If there was an event, perhaps Sherlock could be in the house undetected — blending into he crowd. He knew where’d he be during the event: up in the fraternity library drinking some red wine, listening to Stevie Nicks.
Sherlock took one last look in the mirror as he made his way out, The Untold Path still in his hands. He was considering leaving it behind, but his gut told him to bring it with him. As he looked to comb his thinning hair, he noticed that where his face should have appeared in the mirror was an indescribable smudge. He decided to let it be.
The campus still smelled like rain. The sun was starting to set, casting red, yellow, and orange across the green — hitting against the white walls of the old colonial buildings on the east side of the campus.
No one noticed him as he walked.
Approaching the house, he suddenly thought about the challenge of getting inside. It would be locked, with only the fraternity brothers having access. But then he remembered that he was not there in his present time where the password would have changed. He was there in the time he had been before, and of course he remembered the password. He just had to make sure that no one was coming in or out at the same time.
The fraternity smelled as he expected — old wood and stale beer. He could hear the regular commotion down in the belly of the basement as well up on the second floor of the chapter room. He knew which stairway to take in order to completely avoid having to walk through the second floor and bring any attention to this strange, older man.
He arrived at the third floor library. It was empty, but a few brothers seem to have been in their rooms surrounding the library. Sherlock remembered that at that time there was one bedroom that was not occupied on the third floor during the hotter months due to problems with the air conditioning. It was here that he knew he had to lay low for the time being, and wait for himself to come up and begin his red wine and Stevie Nicks ritual.
Two hours passed. The noise downstairs buzzed up through the floor. There was never an end to the bustling, and he could hear the opening and slamming of the front door reverberate throughout the house.
He heard footsteps on the stairs heading to the third floor. He heard his younger voice. He was amazed by its vibrancy, its energy. When was the last time he spoke with such passion?
He was getting closer. Sherlock could feel his heart pound furiously, his throat becoming frustratingly dry. Would he be able to stand being just a few feet away from himself? It was painful enough to think back on these golden days.
He knew it in his gut he could not stay. It would ruin him. It would ruin the current him and the past him. He had to get out of there.
There was a way through the window of the bedroom out onto the roof. He suddenly remembered that he would be drinking out there that very same night. As nimbly as he could, he made his way out. He had no plan to return home. He had no plan at all.
The Untold Path was waiting for his younger self to find on the roof a few hours later. On the first page, scribbled with a random pen found in the library, were the words: “You can always go back.”
Matthew Mirliani is an independent singer-songwriter, filmmaker, actor, and writer. He self-published the fantasy book The Bracken Family in 2005 as well as the poetry book Letter to a Former Lover on July 14 in 2011. He recently served as curator and editor to his father’s self-published collection of autobiographical stories entitled Icons of New England. Matthew graduated from Dartmouth College in 2016.