A short story by Bob Sadler

It was a brisk autumn night, nothing was happening (as usual), so I decided to go check out what the Parks Department had planned for the evening. You see, I was attending a family reunion in the Southeast corner of Iowa, in a small town called Keosaqua. Just by the name, you should realize that the excitement for this town, was driving around a make believe square, in a hot rod or your fathers tractor, whichever happened to be running. The parks department had a night nature walk planned.

Well, I decided that I could use the walk, and might even enjoy
seeing Lake Keosaqua at night, I mean it had to look better than in the day. Anyway, I went on ahead to the Rangers office where everyone was supposed to meet. When I had gotten there, to my surprise, there were about twenty people waiting as I was now, to enjoy this brisk walk in the cool Autumn air. The ranger showed up about five minutes late, and checked out a fluorescent lantern to everybody, and then we
were off.

We walked for awhile, all of us undoubtedly enjoying the quiet of the evening. We came along to a fork in the path, and the ranger abruptly stopped and turned to us and said, “This is as far as I will lead you. From here on out, you must make your own choices.” He sat down on a log that had been conveniently left for him, and he began to
whistle silently, watching all the faces of the now confused and
shocked people.

I decided to check out the situation, so I took a step towards
both paths, and looking down the left side of the path I could see that this path was wide and well kept. Trees lined both sides and everywhere, for as far as you could see, people were laughing and having a good time. A few people who had come along on the walk, had already started walking down this path. As they made their way further and further down the path, I noticed that everyone on this path came running towards them and screaming at them to put out their
lights. Each time someone would dim their light, a loud cheer arose from the people who were on that path. Then I noticed something that was before hidden by the darkness, there was a large pile of lanterns
in the middle of the path, it was higher than the eye could see. I
shook my head in wonderment, and began to look down the path on the

This was a narrow path, and although it held great beauty, there
were rocks scattered throughout the way, making it difficult for the
people to walk. Unlike the people on the first path I saw, the people
on this path carried their lamps and used them to light the way, not
only for themselves, but also for others following. And as before, a
few that were on the walk, had begun down this path, and those who
were already on this path, came rushing back to greet the newcomers,
and helped them along the way.

Reflecting back on what I’d seen, I could feel a sense of unity
in those who were walking down the narrow path, and at the same time,
I could feel a sense of loneliness among those walking down the wide
path. Finally, I began my journey.

People rushed towards me and as I got closer, one reached out and
hugged me. He showed me how to properly hold my lamp so it would give
out the most light to myself and others who happened to be following
me. He helped me along, accepting no thanks, and helped me over the
first few rocks, and even picked me up when I fell, and helped brush
me off. Not only was he watching out for me, but I could also see the
ranger that had led the group to the path, was now walking down this
path. As he passed me, he looked into my eyes, and said, “I love
you.” I thought this to be a bit strange, but enjoyed the attention I
was receiving, I thanked him, and returned the saying.

A little way further down the path, was a commotion. I rushed to
see what was happening, and there, about fifty feet in front of the
group, was a pack of wild wolves. Suddenly, the ranger appeared out
of nowhere, and without caring for his own safety, he charged the
wolves screaming. Most of the pack was so startled, that they ran
off. But one, who looked as big as a lion, wasn’t too scared. He
leaped towards the ranger, and with one swipe of his large paw, he
killed the ranger. We sat still for a moment, as the wolf examined
his kill. Satisfied with what he’d done, the wolf walked off growling
assuredly. We rushed to where the ranger was, and confirmed what was
originally thought. I don’t know why, but I felt a strange sense
about this loss, maybe it was that he’d been nice to me when passing,
and all I did was just to return his niceties with words.

A group of people got together and buried the ranger, and we who
had started down the path, began our walk back. The path seemed to
get rockier and more precarious. When suddenly, the front of the
group stopped. I went ahead to see what the problem was, and before I
arrived, my lantern had gone out. I stumbled trying to find my way in
darkness, but finally reached the front of the group. As expected, I
found the reason for our stop was because everyone’s lamp had gone
out. I stood there, and began to cry, trying to reason within myself
why I had chosen this path. I could see the other path now as I
looked to my left, and even a crossway. Everyone on that path kept
walking and talking as if nothing was wrong. They seemed to be used
to the darkness. Others from the group called out to them, and
proceeded to switch paths for the lack of safety. I sat and wondered
how it could be that they, on the other path, could see without having
trouble. I looked up and saw the man that had greeted me at the first
part of the path. He smiled and said, “Have faith friend, help will
come soon.” I almost laughed out loud, but could see in his eyes that
he wasn’t joking. I wondered what could happen, what could possibly
save us. I thought if only the ranger was here, he could surely lead
us, why he must have walked this path a thousand times, he could
probably do it in his sleep.

Without warning, a voice whispered in my ear, “Take my hand” it
said. I tried to turn and see who was talking but could not. I sat
for what seemed like a lifetime, before I decided there wasn’t much
else that I could do. I reached out, not knowing where I was
reaching, and felt a hand, strong and yet gentle. I felt this
strangers hand grasp mine, and he said, “I will lead you out of this
darkness.” And he began to walk. I walked with him, trying
desperately to see who he was, but could not. Then I noticed that
someone else was holding onto my other hand, I looked back and saw the
group connected by their hands, following the stranger as I was.

We walked for what seemed like days, and then I could feel we
were walking up a slant. It got progressively harder and harder to
walk up this unknown ground, and I could hear people giving up as we
walked. I whispered to the stranger who was leading, “Can’t we stop,
so those who are having trouble can catch up with us?” He replied in
a loving, but firm voice, “They have made their choice, and now must
live with it.” Immediately I realized that I had heard that voice
before, but it was impossible, it couldn’t have been, but it sounded
so much like that of the ranger’s.

Suddenly I looked up and saw a light shining over the mountain
that we were climbing, although, no matter how hard I tried, I still
couldn’t make out the face of the one that had taken my hand. When we
reached the top of the mountain, I looked back, and gave a hand to
those who were still behind me. When we were all at the mountain top,
with the sun blazing down on us, the man who had lead us out of the
darkness, turned and said to us, “Welcome, to my paradise.” I could
hardly believe what I saw. It was him, the ranger had somehow come
back to life, and lead us out of the danger. I just couldn’t believe
it. Then I remembered what he had said as he passed me on the path, I
began to cry. The ranger walked up to me and asked why I was crying.
I couldn’t look into his eyes, and with my face buried in my hands, I
said, “I love you too!” There was no response so I looked up and saw
the ranger crying too. He said to me, “You don’t know how long I have
waited for you to say that, and mean it in your heart.”

We all began to journey into the paradise of the ranger, when I
looked to my left. I saw those on the other path, who were being led
into what seemed to be like a roaring furnace. I called to the ranger
and said, “What is going on, why are they being lead into that thing?”

The ranger with tears in his eyes, said, “They chose to walk that
path. I made that path for someone other than they, and even along
the path gave them warning signs as to what lies ahead, but they
refused to listen, they refused to believe. The one that leads them,
he mocks me, and tells them that I will not harm them, and I was the
one who put them on that path. They couldn’t realize for themselves,
that it was not I who chose for them, but themselves. And now, it is
not I who am sending them there, but it is their own selfish desires
that have led them there. But this is not the day of sadness for
them, because they have yet to realize the beauty and love that I
beheld for them. For a day will come, when I will call all of them up
to me, and they will stand before me, and answer as to why they chose
the way they chose. Then they will see the truth in their actions.
They will no longer deny their thoughts, they will see that it was
they, not me, who chose their final resting place.”

I cried out in anguish, and started back down the mountain,
trying to make my way back to the front of the path. The ranger
stopped me, and said, “It is not up to you to force people down this
path. You can go back and help those who have been discouraged, but
you cannot make the choice for them. You must let them make that
choice for themselves. This is the only way, that I will know that
they truly love me.”

My head was pounding when I awoke, people were standing over me,
with a relived look upon their faces. A man in a Ranger’s uniform
stood over me with a wet cloth, “Sorry ’bout hitting your head with
that door, didn’t know anybody was that anxious in getting started.”
I reached up and felt the lump now growing on my head. I tried to
stand, and with the help of a couple of people was able to catch my
balance. The ranger came over to me, and looking into my eyes asked
how I was. I fought to no avail to hide the tears in my eyes. I
looked at the ranger and smiled, “Thanks,” I said, “thanks for helping
when I really needed it.” He smiled, and winked, “Anything to help a

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