The mountain was called the Sleeping Giant. I stood at the peak, the prostrate Giant’s clifftop shoulder, admiring the vista of leafy crowns, the rugged ravines, and slow sailing of herculean clouds, when something tapped my shoulder.
I swiveled around. I thought I was alone on this hiking trail.
A gnarly, white man, with long gray hair and beard resembling a fallen bird’s nest, grinned at me, his teeth crooked and stained. “Hey man, how are ya?” He leaned in, wrapped me in a hug, and clapped me on the back. A mulchy smell.
My arms stiffened by my side.
“I’m good.” I gently extricated myself. “How about you?”
He raised his wooly eyebrows. “Completely lost. I’m looking for the sun, but can’t find it.”
I analyzed him. He scratched one of many holes in his ragged T-shirt; it seemed he’d taken a drunken joyride through fields of bramble.
“It’s gonna rain in about two hours,” I said. “And it’s gonna keep pouring all night. Your best bet to find some sunshine is tomorrow morning.” August and its mood swings; dog days broken up by fierce summer storms and sunshowery cool after.
“No, no, no.” He clicked his tongue and wagged a finger. “I can tell, you know where the sun is.”
Paranoia seeped into my thoughts: all the things that could happen in dark forests with no witnesses. But I dismissed my imagination, he was no threat. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said in a boundary-setting voice.
“You’re gonna take me to the sun.” He watched me with eyes wide in anticipation
“Sir, that’s not true. I’m gonna respectfully leave now, so—”
He grabbed my hand and ran for the unmarked woods, the incline dangerously steep, dragging me along in a mad, downward dash. I tried to prise myself away, but his grip was like a tourniquet. We pummeled through bushes. Skidded over loose rocks. Branches lashed us all the way.
“What the hell?” I screamed.
He laughed. “Show me the sun!”
“Tell me when you see the sun!”
“It’s cloudy! We’re gonna fucking die! Let me go!”
But he locked me in a death grip, in an avalanche towards our mutual demise.
I had no choice. “I see the sun!”
“Yeah?” He stopped instantly, immune to momentum. “Where?”
I crashed into his back, then kicked him with a vengeance. He sprawled facedown on the rocks with a crack. Bone or branch, I didn’t know. I didn’t care.
The trail was far but not too far. I climbed back as fast as I could.
He called after me. “Thank you for taking me to the sun, but you shouldn’t leave before the show starts.”
I continued on my way and didn’t look.
“The sun’s coming, the sun’s coming,” he sang. “You’ll regret missing it.”
Still ignored him.
“Look,” he said. “Look. It’s beautiful.” His voice broke, raw with feeling, and that compelled me to turn around.
The clouds had parted neatly. He stood, crying, arms outstretched, within a perfect beam of light.
Nathan Xie is a business analyst who lives in Connecticut, USA. He enjoys building aesthetic data visualizations and inventing original Asian-fusion dishes.