Dragan Bender walked through the hazy forest, his eyes dazzled by the deep golden sunlight which refracted off the mist to create a permeating glow. His footsteps fell quietly on the lush, impossibly green grass, and he wondered how he had gotten to this place.
Just a minute ago, he had been walking off the court, victorious. Now, he was here, and he had no memory of his arrival. He thought he might be in some kind of dream, but weren’t you supposed to wake up from a dream once you realized its oneiric nature? There was no path that he could see, so he made his own way between the gnarled, ancient-looking trees while pondering this question.
Birds chirped melodiously all around him, but there was otherwise no sign of life in the forest. It was stunningly beautiful. The landscape’s every color was more vibrant than any earthly color, and when he came to a swiftly-running stream, the water he sampled from it was pure and cold. Content, he found a nearby tree root and sat down on it, thinking that if this was a dream, he didn’t mind if it went on forever.
An unknown amount of time passed. Then, Dragan was roused from his reverie by a rustling sound behind him, followed by a mischievous chuckle. He turned around to see a small leg darting behind a bush ornamented with jewel-like red berries. “Hey, who’s there?” he called, loudly enough that he felt like apologizing to the birds who had temporarily ceased their song in response to the new voice.
There was more chuckling before a short, man-like creature emerged from the undergrowth. He wore a blue, pointed had atop his lumpy face, and his body was clothed in a simple woolen outfit. “You caught me, Dragan!” the gnome said. “Or, more accurately, I caught YOU! Oh-ho-ho!”
Dragan tilted his head in confusion. “I don’t know if anybody got ‘caught’ here. More like I discovered you, or you discovered me, or…what is this place, anyway?”
“This is my forest!” the gnome proclaimed, holding his arms out proudly.
“It’s beautiful,” Dragan said. “The most beautiful place I have ever been. But I still don’t understand. Why am I here?”
“Oh-ho-ho!” the gnome laughed. “Why do you think, my tall friend?”
Dragan tried to think back to his “real” life, and already found the task difficult. All of his past accomplishments seemed so meaningless when contrasted with the absolute tranquility of the forest. “I guess…I guess I just scored a career-high in points.”
The gnome clapped his hands happily. “Yes, yes, exactly! Your best game ever as an NBA player.”
“Maybe this will quiet down my detractors,” Dragan mused, although the thought of it didn’t excite him as much as he felt it should. If he could spend the rest of his life in this stunning forest where the warm, golden sun seemed to be part of the air itself, none of the worries of his former life would ever bother him again.
“Quite right indeed!” squealed the gnome, apparently delighted at Dragan’s quick thinking. “You are here because this is a transition for you in your career. You were slower to develop, some might have even called you a ‘bust’, but you have silenced those who doubted and emerged as a true factor in the NBA! Oh-ho-ho!”
Dragan sat back down on the root to think over this information. “So, this forest exists just for guys like me, who maybe don’t score as many points or get as many rebounds as people expect, so when we do finally reach our potential, the magnificent natural landscape and pervading serenity serve as a symbolic turning point in our careers.”
The gnome nodded. “Yes. And now that you have discovered the true meaning of my – oh-ho-ho! – my magic forest, it is time for you to return to your world.”
At these words, Dragan thought he would feel disappointment or regret that he would have to leave this wondrous place, but was surprised when these emotions failed to manifest themselves. He supposed that the nature of the forest was to only allow positive thoughts.
The light of the sun was growing brighter, and the gnome was waving at him. As the bright light overtook his sight, washing out the vibrant greens of the forest into a sea of gold, Dragan waved back. There were tears in his eyes, but not tears of sadness. Tears of pure joy.
Then, the glow crested fully into a burst of pure white, and he opened his eyes again in the real world.