“Henry! Wait up!”
I turned from the carving as the rest of the group emerged stumbling through the thickets. The sun was setting and mosquitos hummed while the wood pecker drummed beats that hung in the breeze. The trees permitted only a little light to pass through the foliage, but even so, I could make out another note. This one had been etched in the bark of a pine. It was oddly entreating, and equally fleeting, for as I turned back, the message was gone.
“What up?” Thomas had caught up, leading on the rest. Looking back to the tree one last time, I shook my head to clear my thoughts. I patted my pocket to make sure that the first note was still there; it was.
“Nothing,” I murmured, still distracted by the phantom prose, “Let’s keep moving.”
“Where are we going, Henry?” Thomas hollered, as the rest of them struggled with my pace. It was a challenge for them in the fading light, but they made their way well enough. Pulling aside some thorns with a gloved hand, I bellowed over my shoulder:
“Just come on and you’ll see. It’s right up ahead.”
A few minutes longer we trudged through the dense brush, until at long last we hit the clearing I’d sought. The leaves, the trees, all the branches and the thorns, they opened to reveal a small lake surrounded by walls of rock and stone. It was a quarry; one that reached unknown, though apparently profound, depths. Its surface, a sheet of smooth glass, reflected a rich, late-summer’s light; the sun was setting over the horizon line opposite our shore, casting an array of deep autumn hues across the lake. With our group fanned out behind me, I turned to address them.
“Here it is, my friends, your graduation present. From me to you.”
And then, I fell from the cliffside.