Anatomy of a Storyteller: Into the Wilderness

            Glen stood at the crossroads, not wanted and not welcomed to travel down any road.  But he could not stay there forever, and so he went back to his original idea.  He became determined to head off in the direction that had no road and no sign.  It had to lead somewhere too, and so he pressed his way into the wilderness.

            The bushes defied him, but he pressed on.  The trees sprang up to cause a zigzag path, but he would not turn back.  He found that in places there was a kind of trail, and that was comforting in a way to think that he was not the only one to venture out in that direction.  But then the trail was so overgrown it was hard to imagine that anyone had been that way in a long, long time. 

            Glen traveled for miles before he came to a pit much bigger than the hole in the road.  At least this one did not have warning cones blocking the way.  He wondered what it was, but only briefly as he got distracted by a voice crying out in the wilderness.  It was a man, a black man in an old and worn suit that had holes in the elbows and fringe at the end of the pants legs.  The shoes looked full of mud, but the man did not seem to mind.  He paced back and forth behind a pulpit and railed against the world.  First he praised God and gave all glory to God in the highest, and then he all but cursed God for ignoring the suffering of so many.  It seemed to Glen the man could not make up his mind.  And then the man paused and stared at Glen.

            “Son, what brings a white boy like you out here to the Pit of Poverty.  I would have thought someone like you would be lounging around Prosperity Palace with some ne’er-do-well friends.”

            It was hard to imagine what the man saw through the mud on a boy that just spent hours struggling through the woods, except that maybe Glen was white in his eyes.  “Poverty Pit?”  Glen pointed.  “There was no sign for this direction back at the crossroads.”

            “Of course, child.  The sign itself was so poor it crumbled to dust ages ago.  This is the final destination for the broken, the disheartened, the defeated.  It is for all those who never had a fair opportunity in life and have been crushed under the injustice of a system that is heartless and cruel.”  The man raised his hand and his voice.  “It matters not that there is no sign for this place.  People do not choose to come here.  They are driven here by the winds of a destiny designed by the heartless master of this universe.  How can a loving God be so cruel?  We ask because it appears so in our eyes.  But this life is only for a moment and cannot compare to the greatness of glory that awaits us on the other side.”

            Something stuck in Glen’s mind.  “That’s not true,” he said.  “I chose this direction.  I did not know where it would lead me, but I chose to come this way.”

            The man got out from behind the pulpit and stepped softly to face Glen.  He looked down on the boy and put a hand gently on Glen’s shoulder with the words, “Poor misguided boy.”  Then he stuck out his other hand.  “That will be ten dollars.”

            Glen patted his pockets and shrugged.  He had no money.  The man’s face turned angry and Glen found himself tossed into the pit.  He slid down the steep side and fell again into the mud.

            When he stood and looked around, he found the pit full of people of all ages, though there were not nearly as many people as some suppose.  He went to the first, his mind already telling him he had no intention of staying there in the pit, and he spoke.

            “Mister.”

            The man sat in the mud with his back to the wall.  He was perhaps fifty, gray and wrinkled, though to be sure it was hard to tell how old most of the adults were.  Glen suspected many looked older than they really were.  He spoke again.

            “Mister.”

            The man made no response.  He never looked at Glen, never looked up.  So Glen reached out and tenderly nudged the man.

            “Mister.”

            “No!”  The man shouted and sprang to his feet.  He ran off, looking behind him the whole time like he was being followed even though no one followed him.  He never did look at Glen, but if he had he would have seen a look of incomprehension.

            “Some cannot be helped.  They are not willing.”

            Glen heard the voice and spun all the way around.  “Who is there?”  He saw no one.

            “Do not be afraid,” the voice said, but since no one appeared to be saying it, Glen became very frightened.  He had to find a way out of the pit.  He had to get out of there, and he ran and repeated the same words over and over. 

            “How do I get out of here?  Do you know the way out?” 

            At last he grabbed a woman by the hand and forced her attention.  “Please,” he said.  “How do you get out of here?”  Glen meant, how do I get out of here, but the woman took it like he was speaking to her.

            “Why would I want to get out of here?” the woman asked in return.  “I have everything I need provided for me here and I get to do as I please.”  Glen looked around at the pit and the mud.  There wasn’t anything to do there, but after the first woman spoke, a second woman walked up and added her voice.

            “If you leave this place, the honker big mouths will grab you and make you work for the same things you get here for free.”  Glen hardly knew what to say, but he wondered what was so bad about work.  His father enjoyed his work and Glen thought that sometimes even his homework was interesting.  And he enjoyed learning.  But then a third woman added her thoughts.

            “They make you work like a slave, they do,” the woman said.  The other two nodded and made sounds of agreement.  “And slavery is illegal.  We deserve to get everything for free, we do.”

            “I would rather be poor and free than a rich slave,” the first woman said as the others agreed, “Yes, yes.”  It sounded so high minded and idealistic, but Glen knew it was actually drivel.  He took a step back and watched the women wander off and soon fall back into their own isolated islands of poverty and despair.  No one could like living in the pit.

            “It won’t do any good talking to the grown-ups.  They are too set in their ways.  They have made themselves deaf, dumb and blind.”

            Glen spun around again and was glad that this time there was a person he could identify as the speaker.  He was black and about twelve.  He looked older, but Glen thought he might even be as young as eleven.  “But how do you get out of here?”  He asked what was still on his mind.

            “There are lifelines thrown down into the pit, regularly.  Some of them don’t last long, but all you have to do is grab hold and pull yourself up.”

            Glen paused and stared because the young man appeared to be aging even as he stood there.  “But what is wrong with these people?  Can’t they see it?”  He finally blurted that out.

            The man, and he was a man by then simply laughed.  It was a laugh which reminded Glen of the laugh of his grandfather, Millard.  He found that curious.  He wondered if God arranged that in some way so he would feel comfortable talking to this man.  Then the man spoke again.

            “What I heard is most people are not willing to leave this place, and the older they get, the more stuck in the mud they become.  Some are broken in their mind or body.  Some are too lazy to even pull themselves out.  Most, though, are too afraid.  They don’t believe there is anything better for them.  They have been told all of their lives that they are hopeless and useless and at some point they believe it.  Then there is no helping them.”

            “That is sad,” Glen said, even as the man’s hair began to gray.

            “It is,” the man agreed as a rope came sailing over the side of the pit.  “But here is your chance.  Grab hold while you can.  Are you able to climb the rope?”

            Glen did not wait.  He grabbed on and began to climb, but he paused at the top to take one last look at the man below who was looking at him in turn.  Then he recognized the man.  It was Joe, the janitor from his country club church in the village, and he cried out to the man.  “Come with me.”

            The man shook his head.  “It is too late for me, but you better go before it is too late for you.”  With that word, the rope began to fray and disintegrate.  Glen had to grab hold of the tufts of grass at the lip of the pit to keep from falling back down.  He tried to haul himself up, but the  grass was slippery and the mud was everywhere.  The grass began to pull from the mud and he felt sure he was going to fall when a hand reached down and grabbed his hand.  It pulled him to his feet at the top like he was no more trouble than a baby pulled to her mother’s hip.  Glen shouted.

            “1192!  Sir Duncan!”

            Sir Duncan wrinkled his brow.  “What are you at this point, seven?”

            “Eight.”  Glen lifted his chin to make himself as tall as possible. 

            “Eight, and already falling into pits and traps.”  Sir Duncan was not scolding and he did not sound disappointed.  It honestly sounded like the man was simply teasing him.

            “I take care of myself.  I have to.”

            “Well –“  The Knight did not finish his thought.  He mounted his horse.  “Do your best.  That is all anyone can do.”  He began to ride off.

            “Wait!”  Glen hollered and tried to run after the man but soon lost him in the woods.

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