Once upon a time, nine strangers met one another on the road to Paradise. Nine solitary travelers decided to walk the path together for a while, for the pleasures and wonders of Paradise are deemed either extremely mundane or exceedingly extravagant by the lonely soul. It did not happen at once; Time and space twisted and turned around them, almost rendering them star-crossed. Mjollinir’s thunder closely failed to smite the chance moment of their concurrence - Gods conspired, where mortals couldn’t plot. They banded together separately, and were lost, forgotten, misled, waylaid, robbed of time and pried apart. But nine strangers did meet one another that day, on the road to Paradise.

So they stood, at the golden gates thrown open, as they were for any who chose to walk away from life, Dante’s circles of Hell, and their own personal Purgatories. They stood open, for any who needed time to forget and memories to remember. They stood open, in defiance – lewd, mirthful, stuporous defiance, to the daily grind of chores masquerading as a job, to the daily news and the daily gossip during the daily routine of the daily commute like the monotonous droning of a playlist on repeat. They stood open, for carefree immorality, for hair let loose and cheeks left unshaven, overflowing laundry baskets and unchecked shopping lists, unanswered emails and unreturned calls, for hope, and the courage to live, and last chances, and not-quite-last mistakes.

The road had not escaped the enchantments of the Elysian Fields, and magicks were about. All reality was ethereal, and oft-told tales were like lies that could be made true through reiteration. Legends were reborn, myths relived, and the strangers found the world around them disguise itself to their whims and fantasies. Love and friendship were born out of the arid sand and the salty sea. Consciousness gave way to rich, liberating memories of stories we all believed as children. Perhaps that is what it really was; Ephemeral delusions of grandeur, and visions of pious beauty, where none could exist. But looking back, none of us could truthfully say that it did not happen. For they did climb a damsel’s long golden hair up the tower, and witness the princess awaken from her years of slumber at her loved one’s kiss. They witnessed the slipping off of the glass slippers at dawn, chased treasures where rainbows end, and saved the knight when he vainly marched to slay the dragon.

A week later I looked back, and I realized how silently and serenely, like a lamb, I was slipping back to the same changeless cycle. I could not remember what happened at the end of that road to paradise. I was stranded again, before I realized that the truth I am was pale and inconsequential compared to the make-believe stranger that I was. I realized that it was no longer for me to look back, for I was no longer capable of following in footsteps, even if they were my own. I had to break free, had to go forth like an arrow from the bow of the strangers’ resolve, I just HAD to go slay that dragon. I had had the epiphany ticking away inside my mind like a time bomb ever since that fateful day They met one another – there was no end to the road to paradise. There was the path itself, and the strangers you came across.

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