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Today's Story by Nina Shepardson

Someone had to have built this here for some reason.

Red Leaves and Angels

Alex was lost.

He fished the map of the trails out of his pocket and unfolded it. He found the spot on the map where he thought he was, realized that the position of the fork in the trail at that intersection didn’t match up with what he saw in front of him, and turned the map ninety degrees. Maybe he was just holding it wrong. Still nothing matched up, so he turned it again.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t the map.

He remembered the old stereotype about men not being willing to ask for directions when they were lost. “No, honey, we’re not lost, I know exactly where we are,” men would tell their wives in sitcoms, usually right before they discovered that they were in an entirely different state from where they were supposed to be. “Why did the Israelites wander in the desert for forty years? Because Moses wouldn’t stop to ask for directions,” his mother had sometimes joked. He was perfectly willing to get help from a passerby, but there wasn’t anyone around to ask.

After turning the map a couple more times and still not figuring out where he actually was, he stuffed it back in his pocket, picked a path at random, and started walking. Sooner or later he would run into someone or reach the station at the end of one of the trails.

He had to admit, the forest was pretty spectacular at this time of year. The leaves were turning brilliant shades of red, orange, and yellow, with an occasional clump that remained defiantly green. Through gaps in the leaves, patches of vibrant blue sky were visible. His surroundings looked like one of those modern paintings where the artist had splashed various bright colors around the canvas seemingly at random. For a while, he just took in the scenery as he ambled down the path, not particularly concerned about how lost he was.

Then he turned a corner and gasped.

Where the forest along the path had been a riot of various colors, the leaves on every tree in this clearing had turned uniformly red. Many of the leaves had already fallen, making the ground look like the carpet of rose petals that a suitor would scatter before a fairy-tale princess.


Even more remarkable than the leaves was the structure that stood among a clump of still-green holly bushes. Aside from the trails themselves, it was the only sign of human habitation he’d seen since he started walking. Under a white marble dome held up by a few pillars was a statue of an angel, also marble. Moving closer, he could see that the elements had taken their toll on it–there were a few cracks in the marble and numerous dirt smudges.

Alex crouched down to see if there was any inscription on the statue’s pedestal. Someone had to have built this here for some reason. Maybe it was a marker for someone who’d died here? There were traces of writing carved into the pedestal, but he couldn’t make out what it said.

Scratching his head at the mystery, he straightened up and gazed around at the clearing again. He wondered if he should take a picture. It was a beautiful sight, but he didn’t think the camera on his cell phone would quite do it justice.

“Hey, you lost, kid?” Alex jumped; he hadn’t realized there was anyone nearby. Turning around, he saw a man in a truly hideous sky-blue jogging suit. At first, he wondered why the man thought he was lost, then realized that this was a perfectly reasonable conclusion to draw when you saw someone turning in circles and staring apparently aimlessly at their surroundings.

“Uh…yeah, kind of.”

“Well, there’s a station at the end of this trail,” the man said, pointing back the way he’d come. “About a quarter-mile, maybe a little less than that.”

“Great! Thanks.”

“No problem.” The man jogged off, following the trail Alex had taken to get here.

Alex didn’t start down the path the man had indicated immediately. Something about the encounter seemed indefinably strange, and it took him a few moments to realize what it was. The other man had paid no attention at all to the remarkable scenery. It was like he hadn’t even seen it.

Alex looked around, checking that everything really was as amazing as it had seemed at first glance. Yes, there was still the profusion of red leaves on the trees and carpeting the ground. Yes, the incongruous little gazebo-thing with its statue was still there.

Then again, maybe it was better that the other man hadn’t noticed it. It made the little clearing feel like a secret place, something that belonged to Alex and Alex alone.

He stared for a little while longer, then reluctantly turned his back on the clearing and started walking along the path that should lead to the end of the trail.


 Nina Shepardson lives in the northeastern US with her husband.  She is a biologist and has been published in scientific journals, but this is her first fiction publication.


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