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Volume 14, Issue 2: Similitudes

Stone Cherubim

Douglas Wilson

When Andrew opened his eyes, he was still in a garden, but it did not look like the same one he had been in before. He looked slowly around and saw he was lying on the grass, next to a low stone table. He did not remember the previous nightfall. Rising quickly to his feet, he walked out to the front gate to see if the dragon was still there. He knew this did not make any sense because if it were a different garden, why would it have the same dragon? But still, he needed to check. There was no dragon.

There was a gate, just like before, and a sloping lawn of grass running out to a boulder-strewn drop off. The same mountain range he had seen yesterday from the first garden was still across the deep valley. Andrew walked out to the edge of the jagged cliff and looked down. The cliff was not straight up and down, but was nevertheless too steep to walk down. An expert climber could do something with it, but Andrew turned away. But just as he did, he noticed something—a small patch of green far below him. Staring at it, he finally decided that it was another garden, either the one he had come from, or yet a third garden. He turned around and looked up. He was clearly farther down the slope than he had been the day before. It looked as though there was a line of gardens running down the slope of this enormous cliff. The bright orange glow of an approaching daybreak spread along the sky along the opposing range of mountains.
He turned back and walked slowly toward the gate of the garden. He was coming up to the garden when a flash of some quick motion caught his attention. Andrew looked up, startled, and standing in the gate, on four tawny legs was a . . . I don't know what to call it. Andrew told me later that it was really hard to explain. You could never look at it straight on and see what kind of animal it was, but it was still clearly an animal. It flashed past the gate on the inside, and then leapt up on top of the wall on the right side next to the gate. Andrew looked quickly over to the left side and was surprised to see another of the creatures sitting there, silently, as though he were waiting.
"Welcome to my home," the creature on the right side said. His voice sounded deep, like black gravel. At first Andrew thought the creature small, because of how quickly he moved past the gate, but now he could see that it was quite large, bigger than a lion. Two enormous wings swept back over its haunches, and its legs were more like a lion's than a bull's, but they were identical to neither. Even that was a guess, because it was hard to tell—it seemed that the creature was moving at a frightful speed just to remain where it was. It was hard to focus on any part of it, but looking at the head was particularly difficult. At first, the head looked like a bull, but it kept changing, or Andrew kept changing his mind about what it was—he was not sure. After the bull, he thought it was an eagle, and after that, it seemed like a man. Andrew looked off to the side so that he would not have to decide what he was seeing. He was terrified, at least in his legs which felt like pillars of stone, but his mind remained calm.
"Thank you," Andrew said. "What are you?"
"I am the guardian of gardens. I have even walked in the garden of God."
"Are you a servant of God?" Andrew asked.
"I do not guard my gardens by answering questions. I pose them. I ask my questions. Those who answer my riddle may enter, and those who do not are therefore given to me."
Before he had been inside, and the dragon was out. All he had to do was say no. But now, he was outside and had to do more than simply make a decision. "What do you do with those who are given to you?"
"I devour them." The creature did not say this as though it were angry, or hungry. It just said it.
"And suppose I do not choose to answer your riddle? Suppose I do not play the game?"
"Those who are cowards are given to me as well."
Andrew's mind was still calm, although he didn't know why. "Ask your riddle then."
The creature threw its head back and in a strange chanting said the riddle, as though it were a holy thing.
What falls but never breaks?
What breaks but never falls?
Andrew turned and walked back to the edge of the cliff. He had no doubts that the creature could catch him if he tried to climb down. Neither did he doubt that it would devour him if he failed at the riddle. What was curious was his confidence that the sphinx would abide by the rules he had propounded. Still Andrew was confident that if he answered correctly, he would be allowed back in the garden—which is where he assumed he was supposed to be. The creature seemed rebellious and evil, without having rebelled against its own nature, and its nature seemed to need to chance everything on riddling.
As Andrew stood contemplating these things, and meditating on the riddle, the sun slowly came up over the great mountains across the way. As a shaft of sunlight crept across the lawn, Andrew suddenly smiled. He turned around and walked back to the cherubim. "What falls more often than night, and yet remains whole? What breaks more often than day, and yet never falls?"
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Andrew saw that the creatures were carved statues on either side of the gate. He pushed it open, and walked through.

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