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This traveler would be the first of many who would consume the fruit of my branches. And while they ventured deeper into the grove, other scarred and weary travelers wandered out from the thicket. They, too, collapsed and took root in front of me. Soon, I was not one of the trees of the grove but one of the thicket.
Travelers seemed to be oblivious to this transformation, seeing only what they wanted to see. I had no right to criticize them. After all, many of them had never walked with the gatekeeper as I had. They rejected him from the beginning. My heart broke when I realized that his voice was fading from my memory. I struggled to recall his final words of warning, but suddenly, the memories came rushing back to me.
“I will not keep any good thing from you; neither will I give you anything which will bring you harm.” I wished that I had listened to him.
“I will never leave you! Call out to me in the day of your distress, and I will deliver you.”
Those were the last words the gatekeeper had spoken to me.
What did he mean? Could he deliver me from my current state? Surely, it was too late. I was trapped in the thicket, imprisoned by my own choices and, now, destroying others. “Gatekeeper,” I whispered.
“I am here, child.” That beautiful voice! Was it my imagination?
“I have failed you. All you asked was that I trust you and follow you. I did neither. Why are you still here?”
“I promised you I would never leave you.”
“Can you help me, even now?”
“I can,” He immediately appeared, and I realized that once again, he had been with me all along. “Trust me; whatever happens, I will deliver you.”
Even as he spoke, gnarled branches of a nearby tree seized him. He stood his ground as vines wrapped around his head and thorns gouged deep into his scalp. Blood flowed freely from the wounds. I could only watch helplessly as the courageous man was ripped apart by the evil which I had embraced. Vines bound his hands and feet against the trunk of the old tree, and thorns pierced through his flesh like stakes.
Guilt and shame washed over me as I realized my choices had brought all of this on him. Many of those voices which had once beckoned me warmly now laughed and cheered as one broken, jagged branch thrust itself deeply into the side of the gatekeeper. The tree ceased its attacks and rose up so that all could see the broken, lifeless body. A cheer reverberated around me. Victory belonged to the thicket. Aware that I was now doomed, I sank into hopeless unconsciousness.
Co-authored by Brad Poplin
Featured Image By Chris Leipelt