Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Entry #6

March 16th, 2009 by Wordsman


“Choose wisely.”

Abigail turned around.  “Did you say something, Theo?” she asked, her voice betraying a bit more than a hint of nervousness.  Her brother, however, was standing off in a corner, closely examining yet another statue of the Fox God.  He would have had to shout in order for her to hear him, and the voice had sounded much closer, much more intimate than that.  It must have just been in her head.  Or it could have been . . . no, Abigail decided firmly, it was just her brain playing tricks on her.

“Hey Theo!” she repeated more loudly.  “Come over here!”  While her brother approached she examined the two paths before her.  She had, of course, seen the ceremonial gates before at every single shrine they visited (which meant that she had seen dozens, if not hundreds of them), but she had never encountered so many in one place.  What did it mean?  Why were they split into two tunnel-like paths?  And, most importantly, how could they tell which one to take?

“So which of these two paths do you think we should follow?” she asked when he arrived next to her.

Theodore began his usual thorough inspection.  Abigail often wondered if he was really studying anything when he did this, or if he was merely buying time in which to develop the latest most ridiculous thing she had ever heard.

This time, though, after the investigation he returned not with a dramatic statement but with a question: “Where do you want to go?”

“Just to see more of the shrine, I guess.  Let me see that guide pamphlet.  Maybe there’s a map in there.”

“Ah, I lost the pamphlet a while ago,” he said, without any of the irritation that Abigail would have expected from a normal person.  He sounded intrigued, if anything.

“What?” she asked, fully displaying the annoyance that was appropriate to the situation.

“A sudden gust of wind snatched it from my hand,” he explained wistfully.  “The breath of the Fox God, you might say.”

Abigail refused to dignify this with a response.  At least, she refused to dignify it with a response that in any way acknowledged the possibility that there was a Fox God, that he had breath, and that he used it to harass tourists by blowing their maps away.  “Well, let’s just pick whichever one is shorter,” she said.  She tried to peer around the tunnels to see which one looked more like an inside track, but the forest surrounding them was too dense.

Theodore shook his head.  “I can see only one solution to this problem.”

Here we go, Abigail thought.  “Yes?” she asked, bracing for impact.

“There are two paths, and there are two of us,” he stated simply.

“No,” Abigail replied almost immediately.  This was her default mental reflex to any of Theo’s suggestions, but she rarely put it into words so quickly or bluntly.  “These two tunnels could lead anywhere.  What if we come out the other end and we’re nowhere near each other?  It could take hours to meet up again!”  “Or days, or weeks, or years,” the mysterious voice whispered into her brain.

“But wouldn’t it haunt you, taking the one path and never knowing where the other led?”

“Not particularly.”

“Then I can still see only one solution.”  Theodore placed himself directly in front of the two entrances and raised his arms.  Then he lowered one and pointed at the right-hand gate with the other.  “Eeny, meeny, miney, moe,” he said quite seriously.  After performing the entire rhyme he held his finger in the air significantly for a few seconds and then announced, “Take the left gate.”

“Works for me,” said Abigail.  Glad to put that decision behind her, she quickly proceeded down the left-hand path.

Once inside the tunnel, however, she began to wish that she was still outside.  It was much darker and quieter than she had expected, giving her the impression that she was the only person on Earth, or at the very least the only visitor to the shrine that day, which meant that she was receiving the full attention of the Fox . . . Abigail put such preposterous ideas out of her head.  She knew that the tunnel of gates did not actually have her trapped; there were gaps between them through which she could easily extend her arm and, if it became necessary, squeeze her entire body.  The abnormal darkness and quiet was caused by the thick forest, not by anything supernatural.

As she continued to walk down the path and the minutes ticked by, she had no choice but to wonder if they had made the wrong decision.  She really wished that she could read the writing on the walls (she knew that they weren’t actually walls, at least not physically), because there was so much of it that she was sure there had to be something that would indicate where she was going.  “Hey Theo,” she asked eventually.  “Are you sure we shouldn’t have gone the other way?”

When she got no answer, she turned around.  Her brother was nowhere to be seen.  That explained why she hadn’t even been able to hear his footsteps in the eerie silence of the orange tunnel.  She knew what had happened the moment she realized he was gone.  Theo had tricked her into taking the left tunnel so that he could explore the right one.

“Theo!” she shouted.  “Theo!”  No answer.  Peering between the gates, she could see that the other path was still right alongside, at least for the moment.  She began to run, hoping that she could catch up with him before his path split off, but the terrain became very hilly, and she had to slow to a walk.

“You have chosen . . . poorly.”

She did not even bother to ask if it was her brother that time.  “Shut up, you,” she said as she proceeded along the seemingly endless tunnel.

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