The Beautiful Life & Perfect Death of Father Davidson: Chapter 15

The next morning Josh scoured the area, looking for a clue that would explain Richard’s surprising disappearance the previous night. But he could find nothing; there was definitely no path leading into the ravine that he could see. And there was no way up into the trees overhead. How had Richard vanished last night? He was certain this was the spot where he lost sight of him, there was no doubt about that. He sat at the base of a Big-Leaf Maple and looked up into the sky above—just windowed views of pale blue, dancing behind soft green foliage, which fluttered gently in the wind. A small bird jumped within the underbrush at the corner of his vision, and he turned to watch it hop from twig to vine, and then out of sight behind the tree.

The vegetation was very dense all along this stretch of the road, and it was forbidding of any passage into the ravine below: with nootka and rugosa roses—thorny and uninviting—intertwined with blackberry vines, mahonia and other native shrubs which formed a bulwark against any human entry. But then something rather strange, just behind the maple tree, woven into the fabric of these natural defenses; Josh noticed a very different pattern within the foliage here, imperceptible at first and easy to miss, but upon closer inspection it was clearly the work of human engineering. Blackberry vines had been woven into a rudimentary framework, with branches and twigs of neighboring shrubs forming a dense outer skin for some type of doorway—a flap really—like that of a tent, which Josh pulled up and towards him, revealing a small opening at ground level behind it. Again, the hole was difficult at first to perceive, and was the result of human manipulation of the native vegetation—vines woven to form the walls of a small tunnel, which ran into the underbrush, and vanished someplace farther down the ravine.

Josh smiled as he peered into the tunnel, “very clever, Richard, now I see what you’ve done.” He was impressed with the idea of the tunnel itself, but even more by the execution of it—so carefully made, and so skillfully hidden in plain sight. It suddenly occurred to Josh that he needed to be very respectful of Richard’s secret; he quickly lowered the flap over the tunnel entrance, and looked cautiously from side to side to make sure nobody saw him. He was well hidden behind the trunk of the large maple tree, so he lifted the flap again and climbed into the tunnel, letting the foliage close behind him.

Meanwhile, as Josh was discovering the secret of Richard’s disappearance, Richard himself was in his home at the other end of the tunnel. His morning had started out unpleasantly because he awoke with a pain in his stomach; he was very hungry. Unfortunately, his efforts to gather food the previous night had been interrupted, and he returned home empty-handed. His hunger was made worse by the memory of what could have been; he had found a box of donuts, and was just pulling it out of the garbage bag when Josh had startled him and made him drop the bag. In his haste to flee for home, he had forgotten to pick the box up again, and only remembered it after he had made it back to his scrape under the cedar trees. He pictured the donuts in his mind now, and groaned because of the gaping hole that image left in his stomach, only making his hunger more profound.

At first, Josh was excited by the aspect of crawling his way along this unusual tunnel, but then his excitement turned to claustrophobia as the daylight waned, and twigs and vines caught at his clothing. The grade began to get steeper too, and he felt the blood rush to his head, making him feel a little dizzy. He never did well in tight spaces, so an urgent panic began to take control of him. He tried to fight it down by concentrating on his breathing and by focusing on the sweet, loamy smell, and the cool sensation of the earth against his body. This helped; as he continued to inch his way forward, pulling himself slowly across the ground. Eventually the grade leveled off and he could see the tunnel brightening up ahead. His hopes rose, as he believed that he must be getting close to the end.

Richard rose from his bed. The birds had begun to make a racket; calling down from the trees, chirping from their places amongst the shrubs—and of those who had been huddling together in the open—scurrying for shelter. It was unusual. Richard glanced at his friends inquisitively, wondering what this all meant. He sat on a cedar stump and looked further down into the ravine where the stream flowed. Very seldom, one or two people might be seen walking through the water down there, and this could rouse his companions; but nobody ever tried to climb up to Richard’s location, the ravine was too steep between the water and him. It never occurred to him that someone might be approaching from the tunnel, so he was thoroughly startled once again by Josh, when he fell out of the brush into a heap on the ground, not far from where Richard was sitting.

Many things flitted through Richard’s mind in quick succession: fear that his home had been found, surprise that Josh found the tunnel and had made it all the way through, concern about what would happen next, and then humor that Josh was once again sprawled out upon the ground before him. Why did he always do that? Richard wondered, then he laughed. It worried him greatly that his secret home had been discovered, but the spectacle of Josh lying on the ground made him forget this for the moment. Josh hadn’t intended to make such an entrance, but he accepted the wisdom of it when he saw Richard’s reaction. Fate, or something, had willed it and had made provision for their meeting by thoroughly disarming Richard by this ridiculous impromptu entrance, and it allowed Josh to endear himself in a way that he never could have done intentionally.

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