Glen came out of the woods on to a scruffy, bramble filled path that was barely discernable in the dim light of the afternoon. The sun was setting behind the trees at his back and he briefly wondered if he could outrace the shadow. After so long among the trees, the idea of being bathed in light was inviting. But then he saw a sculpted hedge to his right and he thought he might take a closer look, not the least because it took him away from the darkening forest.
The hedge was tall, perhaps eight feet, and there did not appear to be a break in sight. Glen followed along with the thorn-filled path and the trees to his left, still moving to get out from the shadow, only not as quickly as he first thought. He paused when he spied a sign. “No Trespassing,” it announced in bold print. A few feet on and another sign said “Keep Out,” and they alternated every few feet: “No Trespassing.” “Keep out.”
It was not easy going, pressing through the ferns and stubborn weeds, avoiding the bees and other insects, watching out for snakes. Several times Glen had to make a wide birth around some bush grown up against the hedge. Still, the hedge held strong and remained unbroken until a small wooden gate presented itself.
The scene through the gate was bucolic. It was a pasture of lush grass without a weed or thorn or so much as a daisy. There were sheep there, grazing quietly under a sun which was not nearly as low in the sky as Glen thought. The sun made the wool glisten golden and stark white so it was hard to look at for its brightness. There was a pool of clear water in that meadow. Without the least ripple of a wave, Glen could see the sand and smooth round stones at the bottom of the pool.
Glen was so thirsty.
He quickly found the latch and discovered the gate was not locked. Even if it had been, he could have easily jumped it. It was a gate, but just enough gate to keep in lazy sheep, and Glen wanted no more than to sip that water, to touch and follow the sheep, to find the shepherd who surely must be the most wonderful master to provide such a perfect place. He was ready to enter when he saw the big sign. “No Trespassing. Keep out. You are not welcome or wanted here.”
Glen stepped back like one struck in the face. What could he do? He tried not to think about it as he turned away and continued along the edge of the hedge. Soon enough, the gate was out of sight behind him, and at that point he heard the sound of rushing water, somewhere far but not far away. After a few yards of travel, he found the source. The hedge made a sharp right turn in that place and followed a cliff top before it picked up on the other side. There was no way across that cliff. The hedge grew right to the edge. And that cliff ran along the end of a deep chasm where a great, rushing river made its way into some underground course beneath the cliff.
Glen looked to the other side of the chasm. It looked a much easier journey there. But the chasm was too far to jump and the hedge, which he judged again, actually stuck out over the edge making travel across that cliff-top impossible. Glen took two giant steps back from the edge of that chasm, not being enamored with heights, and then he considered his options.
He could return to the gate and claim he never saw the sign, but no. He was never a good liar. He could go back into the forest and see if there was another way into the green pasture. But no, being stuck there as day turned into night was not what he wanted. He could follow the path of brambles and thorns – the one on his side of the chasm to see where it lead, and hope that he might find a place ahead to cross over to the easier path on the other side. It was that thought that got his feet moving again. He would find a way to cross over, though it meant walking beside the darkness for a time.
It was less than a half-hour when Glen saw a figure in the distance, coming his way. He waved. When he saw it was a man, he cupped his hand to his mouth and hollered. “Hello!” The man said nothing, but looked up for the first time so Glen knew he was seen. As they approached, Glen realized that this was a very big man. “Hello, friend.” He spoke up, smiled and added the word friend just in case.
The man stepped up to Glen without a word, and Glen saw that he was big, indeed. He was also handsome in a way, with dark hair to match his dark eyes, but the eyes were also bloodshot, sweat dripped from his brow, and his cheek showed a touch of blood from a cut just below his left eye. He stared at Glen with that eye for a moment before he grabbed Glen’s collar and planted his big fist in Glen’s face. All Glen could think was this one was on drugs.
Glen broke free. He danced among the shrubs and moved and tried to defend himself, but it was no good. The man was faster, stronger, and crazy, so in the end the best Glen could do was collapse and pretend to be unconscious. The man grunted, and kicked Glen twice before he moved off and left Glen to bleed on the weeds. Glen was not sure he so much as bruised the man, but then Glen was only trying to defend himself. Sometimes he regretted trying so hard to take control of his temper when he was young. Now, when the adrenalin started to pump, his body shut down. Glen won’t let himself fight.
It was not long after the big man moved off when another man came along. This was an older, more normal sized man, and Glen called out to him as well as he could. It was not a strong call. His throat was dry and his lips were cracked, He was surprised he could make a sound at all. He was also breathing rather shallow for fear of the damage his body might have taken. He dared not move much in case his ribs were as cracked as his lips.
The man did not stop. He moved closer to the chasm rather than get close to Glen. The second man was the same. He would rather risk falling off the cliff into the raging waters below than acknowledge Glen’s presence and a person in need. The third man lead an ass in his wake. He at least paused, and for some time he stared at Glen.
“Please,” Glen said, and reached his hand out to the man. But in the end that man shook his head.
“I am not for you,” he said. “You do not belong,” and he followed the ones before him, down the path and out of sight.
After that, the shadow of the trees caught up to Glen and he knew he had to move. He was stiff and hurting everywhere, and not sure if a few bones might be cracked. He decided he was lucky none were broken, but he limped all the same to find the sun again.