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Volume 14, Issue 4: Similitudes

The Wooden Gate

Douglas Wilson

Andrew assumed by this time that he was going to go to sleep and wake up in the next garden down. But the lady told him that this time he was supposed to climb down.

It was late afternoon when Andrew began to scrabble his way down the slope. Most of the boulders were huge and in no danger of moving at all, but between these boulders was a lot of loose gravel and rocks the size of grapefruit and cantaloupe. The small rock skittered down in front of Andrew, and several times a large rock bounced merrily ahead of him.
The slope was steep enough that Andrew had to pay close attention to what he was doing, but not so steep that he had to really worry about falling. The air was still, and the sky overhead had begun to turn a rich purple. The hike down took several hours. He came down to the back of the next garden, and soon found himself looking over the edge of a small precipice, with a straight drop of about fifty feet into the garden. There was no way down that way. Andrew worked his way around the edge of the garden counterclockwise, and after another half hour of arduous work, he scrambled up onto the lawn that sloped down from the front gate. As soon as he did so, night fell so suddenly that it seemed to Andrew that the sun had been waiting for him to reach his bed. Of course this was silly, Andrew thought, but that didn't keep it from being true. And so he laid down on the grass and went to sleep.
When sleeping outdoors, it is difficult to sleep at all. The sun begins nudging you right away. And as Andrew began to wake up, he noticed some strange mingled sounds that had been missing from the earlier gardens. A meadowlark was perched on the wall of the garden, about fifteen feet from Andrew, and was happily conversing with the new day. Behind him, in the dense green trees of this new garden, numerous other birds were singing as though it were creation day. For, of course, as far as they were concerned, it was.
Andrew sat up, and rubbed his tousled sandy head. He was not hungry, but he had to have a drink of water. He did not know why, but his bones were thirsty. Standing up, he walked over the center of the front wall where he supposed the gate would be, and there he found the remains of an ancient wooden gate. The gate was hanging off its hinges, and numerous slats from the gate were lying on the ground. The gateway was about eight feet across and about six feet high. The holes in the gate were big enough to step through, but suddenly Andrew pulled back. It didn't seem right, somehow. He fumbled with what remained of the latch, pulled the left side open, and walked through.
He explored this garden the same way he had done with the others. But this garden seemed much less mysterious and frightening than the others had been. It contained only fruit trees, which accounted for all the birds, and one pathway down the middle of the garden, which led to a fountain. Behind the fountain, built right against the back cliff was a old shed, made from the same kind of plank that the front gate had been made of.
Andrew stopped at the fountain, and plunged his head into it. He had never experienced such a delicious coldness in his life. His thirst disappeared, and he stood up and shook his head. As soon as he stood, although he was no longer thirsty, he felt suddenly grimy, worse than when he had been talking with the Lady Margaret. Looking around, he was convinced there was no one else in the garden, and so he shucked off his clothes and stepped into the fountain and washed. It was cold, but not at all unpleasant. When he was done, he washed his clothes as best he could, and laid them out in the morning sun to dry. When he was done, he sat in the sun himself and waited. After several hours, the clothes were dry enough to put on, and so he did.
Andrew then walked back to the shed and peered into it. Unlike the gate out front, the shed was solid, and inside he found a workbench and some basic tools, not many, but all in good condition. There was a hammer, and a saw, and a hand drill, as well as a few other things which Andrew did not recognize. Looking around, he found no signs of recent activity—there was sawdust, for example, but it was mingled with dust.
Blinking, he went back out in the sunlight. What was his test in this garden? In every place he had visited, he had been tested. But here there was no one to say no to, and no one to obey, and no one to give him riddles. He walked around the edge of the garden twice, and on the second time around, the nature of his test occurred to him—the test was to find the test. That had to be it. The next time around, his glance fell on the broken gate, ineffectively guarding the rest of the garden. That was it, Andrew thought. Fix the gate.
He hastened back to the shed and gathered up the tools and some wood he found inside. He set to work with a will, but was surprised at how long it took. He worked the remainder of that day, through the next two days, and on the third day, late in the day, he stood back, deeply satisfied. He just stood, looking at the gate, when suddenly he felt a white kind of gaze between his shoulder blades.
Turning around, he saw a gigantic man, clothed in a deep purple robe, standing about twenty-five feet from him. "Well done, little one," the man said. "You would be surprised at how many do not guess the riddle of work."

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