When Glen awoke the second time, he kept his eyes closed for a minute because something felt all screwed up. He was not sure if this was the same night as his vision of the Tree of Life. He was older than he had been before so he thought maybe it was some time after the vision. He was fifty-eight. He felt more like eighty something in his knees.
Glen paused. He thought this might be earlier that his vision of the Tree of Life, though that made no sense. It was curious to think this experience might come after the vision and before the vision at the same time, but that was how it felt. Glen was older, but at the same time, somewhere in creation he was younger than six. He saw himself as a three and a half year old, suffering. He felt the electric shock. It felt like death, but it was not, yet. He was sure of that. What he was not sure of was where he was and why. He was confused, so he decided to wait and see. He would let his outsides define his reality even if he knew that was not always the best advice.
Glen’s back remained against a tree, his eyes closed. He thought to listen again for the sound of that glorious music. He had hope, but all he heard was some sort of rumble and normal birdsong. When he sniffed, he smelled normal forest and a bit of salt that he could not place at first. He opened his eyes at last. The tree was just a regular, old oak and he was disappointed but felt relieved at the same time. Glen felt sure he was back on earth, though mysteriously he was not sure he wanted to be.
He was at the top of a hill or ridge with a great river valley spread out below. He wondered how he came to be in that place and if maybe there was some place he needed to go or something he needed to do in that place. The thunder was still in his ears, so he stood and walked once around the tree to take in the scenery. He stopped half-way around, and stared.
Not a hundred yards from where he stood, there was a golden, sandy beach. Beyond the sand, the ocean stretched out to the horizon, dark and full of a soft but steady wind that rolled the waves gently up the shore before they pulled back into the sea. It was a strange, but lovely sight. It looked idyllic, like he was standing on the edge of a beach resort. Glen took a deep breath of salty, sea air and smiled until he realized something and felt confused.
He spun around again and saw the river valley far below. It suddenly seemed to him to be a death valley, being so far below sea level. One breach in that sandy beach and the ocean would go crashing down into that place and drown everything in its path. It was frightening to think about, but then he was distracted by the river which he could clearly see winding its way across the land. He wondered how it could reach the sea. Something in his mind said it raced uphill at some point and rushed into the sea, but another thought said that could not be true. Water did not run uphill.
He contemplated the whole scene while his hand fell into the bag he carried on his hip. He briefly considered standing on his head to make the scene look right, but he knew that would not work. That would not raise the valley, and it would put the ocean in the sky – a frightening prospect. He chose not to second-guess the reality he found himself in and wondered instead what his hand had found.
The bag contained a big knife, sheathed forever as far as he was concerned, unless he came across some jungle he needed to hack through. A water bottle took up a good bit of the bottom of the bag. Then there was a box with a blinking light. Something in the back of his mind said he should not touch that just yet. There was also a good bit of folded up cloth, and it was a strange enough cloth to the touch. He caught the hint of morning dew and maybe spider webs in that fabric. The last item was an apple – a golden apple that had several slices missing. He was glad despite the missing slices because he was starving, so he pulled it out and became more curious than ever.
Clearly the apple had been in his bag for some time, yet it was not brown at all. It was golden on the outside and the flesh was just as sweet and juicy as if it was fresh picked. Glen knew that was odd. He understood that some land could be below sea level, though the river bothered him. He also understood that a tree could grow up to the edge of the sea, though he suspected normally it would be stunted and shaped a bit by all the salt in the air. But he knew an apple exposed to the air should brown in short order. He had no way of knowing how long he was there before he woke, but this apple was not brown at all.
He shrugged. He was hungry, and he enjoyed it. And then he made a little hole some distance from the oak and planted the core with the thought that if a tree grew it would provide that much more protection for the lowland against the sea.
“Ho there.” The words echoed from the trees down the beach. “What ho, stranger.” Glen saw yet another strange sight as a man on a strong white horse came trotting out from the trees, waving. He had the lance of a knight tied to the side of his saddle. He had the sword and other accoutrements of a knight as well. The horse blanket, which was also white and long, and decorated with red crosses looked worn from years of cushioning the saddle. But it looked serviceable and it sported the finest lace and tatting all along the edges.
“What ho.” The man waved again as he trotted up. He stopped and dismounted several yards away, and he let the horse wander as he stepped in Glen’s direction.
“Friend, where are you headed?” Glen asked. It was the only thing that came to his mind.
“Here and there,” the man responded with a smile. Glen detected a bit of the Scottish sound about his words, but said no more as he examined this strange sight. Glen was not sure of the man’s age. The man had a gray beard, but appeared younger than the gray. This man’s long tunic covered some kind of leather and chain, and it was as white as his horse, and sported a single big red cross in the very center. Glen could only imagine a crusader.
“Welcome,” Glen said at last.
“Well met,” the man responded. “But you haven’t a fire.” It sounded like a scolding.
“I haven’t been here long,” Glen responded, and the man nodded his head and set about building a fire. Glen helped, at least enough to fetch some wood. Once the flames were up, the man asked if Glen had eaten.
“Only an apple?” He chided before he laughed and proceeded to catch a pigeon which he killed, gutted and plucked in almost no time. He put it on a stick over the fire, and wrapped some roots in leaves and threw them into the fire as well before he took a seat. “You must be new to this place,” the man said. Glen nodded. His tongue felt shy. “You will get used to it.”
“Where are we, exactly?” Glen wondered.
“Where do you think you are?”
Glen looked around once more. The sun was getting ready to set over the sea at his back. “This is some place different,” he suggested. “Not like any place I know on earth.”