The Gap in the Hedge

I rushed up the path, trying to keep the hedges from snagging my clothes or hair. At least there were no other students to dodge, just the brambles protruding into the walkway. I steered out of reach of most, until my bag tangled, wrenching me to a halt. I worked to release it and calculated the likelihood of getting scolded when, or if, I got to class. When the hedge relented, I moved to make a run for it, but instead found myself hurtling back into the thorns, then through them, a hand clenched around my arm. For a moment I froze, all gasps and scratches. Then he spoke.

“Where have you been?”

I responded with silence. Blinking, I craned my head to see his face, but couldn’t. Something about the angle of the sun and the flow of the breeze seemed to get in the way. His features swam and wiggled, and my eyes failed to capture his appearance. It made me feel like the earth rumbled under my feet, and I stopped trying to make eye contact.

He cleared his throat. “We have to get going.”

When he didn’t elaborate, I replied, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

He let out one boom of a laugh, then paused. “No?” I shook my head. “Oh.”

As he lapsed into thought, my eyes scanned his frame. The clothing he wore seemed to flicker between a business suit and monk’s robes, and the more consideration I paid these discrepancies, the more my knees wobbled, so again I abandoned my attempts at observation.

“Okay,” he said. “I still think you are who you are, or you are who you ought to be, so let’s go.”

A voice inside my head pointed out that this was the moment to run screaming and alert Campus Safety to the presence of this stranger, but instead my mouth opened and asked, “Where?”

“Hmm, well,” he responded, shifting his weight in a way that made the changeability of his features bubble and flare, and I had to look away or risk seasickness. “That is not my task, that is yours. I am the transportation, you are the destination.” At his words, thoughts and feelings rearranged inside me, like marbles rolling into knotholes on a wood floor or door latches clicking into place, and I longed for him to go on. “Shall I show you?” I nodded, and he fanned the fingers of his right hand. “Choose one.”

I touched the tip of my forefinger to the tip of his pinkie, and the sight of this man and the hedges disappeared. I saw a meadow, until my eyes winced from the smoke and my stomach heaved from the smell. Both emanated from a pile of bodies. I felt a tug and looked to see my left fist clenching a sword. A glint caught my eye, and my gaze turned to trace armor from my right shoulder to my wrist. My finger still touched the man’s pinkie. I searched his face. Although his nose, eyes, and mouth wavered as in a heat haze, I could discern his fear. I broke our connection and touched his ring finger.

We stood in a shop. Relief flooded me. The man laughed, and I broke our connection to explore. Puppies romped in a pen, and we both knelt and chose one. The man named his Honey and mine Boo. They scurried down an aisle, and the man and I chased the clack of puppy claws throughout the store. We admired the birds, fish, lizards and mice, as the slant of the sunlight lengthened. When a door slammed, I grabbed my puppy. The man hefted his, too, and fanned out his hand. For a moment I wavered, then shook my head. I hated to do it, but I took his puppy in my arms and dropped them both back into the pen before touching his middle finger.

My feet hit dirt. I opened my eyes to a path and hedgerows.

“Oh,” the man mumbled. “Isn’t this where we came from?”

“No,” I replied, and I knew it in my bones. I took a step down the path. “This way.”

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