SHORT STORY: The Stranger’s Quest

By Andrew Keith

The sun rose as it did every day, above the thick tapestry that hung like a damp blanket over the opaque woods below.  No matter how vast the blazing sun’s bright rays were shining down on the earth below, the woods remained eerily dark as if veiled by some silent and unknown menace. No animal of the wildest kind, even those who would face the grip of Death with a gut-wrenching roar, dared enter that forest. It was not for the faint of heart.

On this particular day there was a visitor, a resilient one like the others. The small, child-like stranger stood contemplating his impending uncertainty; an odyssey through and through he was about to embark upon. Around his waist a black belt with shackles unlatched that reminded the stranger of where he comes from, along with a razor-sharp knife recently bloodied by a hapless trespasser. His unrecognizable feet were caked with mud from the exhaustive journey thus far. He fancied a locket around his neck inscribed with the words: I give thee all I have to offer. His hair, long and beautiful, composed of a magnificent diversity of hues, as much as our spectrum has to offer, from astonishing-azure to vibrant-violet. Quite a character this one was.

Unique yet not totally unprecedented, the stranger stood idle for a long while, the sun still rotating above—ever, ever so slightly—to where the feeble eyes cannot tell it is moving until the passage of time permits awakening.  The sun had made half of its diurnal journey across the clear, blue sky. It was time.

Still daunting and full of fear, the enigma that was the woods welcomed the stranger into its dangerously hospitable arms. Never once looking back, the stranger took step, by step, by step, slowly, slowly ambling into the woods. The crunching of dead leaves sounded like screams from the depths of Hell. The rustling of the canopy above like a demented hunter stalking his prey. There was no settled path, as no one had traveled this section of the woods before. More afraid than ever, the stranger, now rigid in motion, lurched through the maze of trees whose previously brown color had since faded to a deep, despairing black. An experience unlike anything the stranger had ever seen before or could possibly had prepared for, he continued on despite his frequent tripping and tumbling. Now bloodied and bruised, he trudged on.

The sun now a figment of his imagination, the stranger remained steadfast in his mission. He continued through the depths of darkness and despair, through the evil that pervades the mysterious expanse, through the unparalleled and uncompromising circumstances that left him tattered and confused. Now unmistakably lost, he had managed to keep some of his wits by keeping his belt and subsequent possessions wrapped tightly around his waist, a reminder of the beginning of this journey, of times more serene. His feet were no longer brown with mud but replaced with a black tar making it even more rigorous an expedition. No test, no trial, could have prepared the stranger for this.

He wandered aimlessly for days, weeks, months, years. With no end in sight and no path to return to, the stranger collapsed where he stood, which could have been anywhere in these damned woods. No longer able to find the edge of the darkness as he had been hoped and prayed before, the stranger was a failure in his mind. He had failed as all the others had.

But suddenly, as the stranger’s eyes began to shutter, ready to fall into a deep slumber, he could see for the first time what he had been searching for, longing for, for so very long a time. The sun must have passed overhead a million times now. It didn’t matter. There it was. The light, a liberation, at the edge of the expanse, the end of the woods. The glorious saving grace for the world and its misdeeds and trespasses; a utopia of sorts unbeknownst to mankind. The stranger had finally found what he desired so much and nothing could stop him from getting up off that wretched ground and dragging his body into the light. Just to see what it could have been like. What a world so pure, so free, so truly serene could have been like. Suddenly, before he could begin to get off the cold, hard ground, the light grew brighter and brighter as it proceeded toward the stranger.

The stranger sat back and peacefully let the light trek its way into the woods, transforming the desolate grounds into a remarkably beautiful forest with birds singing tunes in unison with one another, deer traversing the luscious green ground, flowers blooming instantaneously. Ah, what could have been for the world, the stranger thought as pure and unrefined perfection ripped him out of the fiery-Hell that was his quest for progress.

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