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Header image by Diego Delso under Creative Commons 4.0.

“You are aware I won’t be able to go with you when you go home, don’t you?”

I had no immediate answer, so I avoided his gaze and nodded.

It was early autumn; for some, the best time to be far from the city. It’s one thing to view the autumn leaves on the mountain trees from afar, but it’s quite another to be there. But right now, I wished I was on the other side. I could see it; when home is an unspecified light in the distance, it doesn’t seem so far any more. As a child, this mountain was always the first thing to catch my attention. I told my parents I wanted to climb it “tomorrow”, or “next week”. I couldn’t blame them for being amused, looking back. At least I finally did it, even if it wasn’t under the circumstances I wanted. But that’s enough for needlessly bleak-sounding introspection.

Even with that said, I couldn’t help but watch the leaves falling from the trees and down below, past the edge – it was like they were supposed to fall to the ground, but somehow missed. They just kept falling and falling…I had to remind myself to say something – this could be the last time I ever see him, after all.

“If you can’t be anywhere near the city, then where will you go? I mean, how are you ever going to go back?”

Even though I was finally going home, something anybody in my position would do, I felt so bad. His unrelenting, serious stare was hardly helping matters, either. I would have thought he’d have somewhere to go, be it this world or the Outerlands. Maybe not. Maybe he was hoping I’d have had an idea of where to go back in the Outerlands, or maybe he was hoping I’d find a way to live with everyone else back where…well, where I thought was his home.

“I know how to get back, I’ve always known how to get back. It’s being back there that’s so difficult. I don’t know how long it’s been back there. They might not accept me.”
I was beginning to feel like he was being a little selfish here.

“And it’s no different for me, either. It’s not like I wanted to leave. I have everyone back home waiting for me, too.”

I pointed at what I hoped was the general direction of home. The lights were especially visible in the evening but the buildings of the city themselves, not so much.

“They’re all right over there, going through who knows what. Even you should know what it’s like. I’m sorry. I can’t stay with anybody in the Outerlands. I just…I like everybody there, but I don’t belong there, okay?”

I must have offended him, because he stood up.

“And I don’t belong here, either.”

He walked off, seemingly melting into the trees. I stared at his back for the brief time I could still see him, wondering whether he really did have somewhere to be. But he knew as well as I did that I was very close to home, and that he couldn’t go there. I wondered if I would ever see him again. As of now, I still haven’t seen anything of him or the Outerlands.

I got up myself, and noticed that the grass for several metres on this side of the nearby stream was flattened. Maybe the water carried conversations of this kind from hundreds or thousands of others. Maybe this was a sanctuary for lost souls of sorts, or a last stop in the journey. But this was no time for reflection. The end was quite literally in sight.

When home is a light in the distance, you have to keep going.

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