The River Crosser: A Short Story

Christopher H. was a young man. He was very tall, very strong, and possessed an uncanny sense of direction. He was often hired as a guide, by those who knew the passwords and secret hymns, especially since he knew secret entrances and passageways.

One day, Christopher was walking near the River when he saw an elderly woman standing alone upon the shore. “Pardon me, sir,” she began, as she cleared her throat and tried to steady herself. “Would you help me cross the river? I am sorry for I have nothing to offer you, no food, drink, or coin.”

Christopher was not otherwise occupied and felt great tenderness for the stranger all alone upon the banks of the River. “Yes, I will help you. Let me take your arm and guide you across. Try not to look down and keep your eyes on the opposite shore.” She nodded her assent and he gently took her arm as they stepped into the River.

The water was deep, cold, and swift. She briefly looked down and saw faces and figures swirling about her. She noticed that she was slowly sinking into the muddy bottom. Catching herself, she focused on her destination and soon she was steadily walking across, buoyant and unperturbed by the strong current. Christopher’s firm but gentle grasp was comforting.

Christopher and the woman did not speak until they reached the other side. Once they climbed out of the water, she spoke first. “Thank you, young man for your aid and mercy.” The pair embraced and then went their separate ways. Christopher looked up to see that in the distance, the woman had been joined by several others who seemed to know her well.

Several days later, Christopher was walking near where he had met the woman and noticed there were now half a dozen new strangers upon the shore of the River. Half of the newcomers seemed confused and disoriented, the other half gazed longingly at the other side of the River. This time, Christopher stopped and asked them if they needed assistance. The confused ones drew closer to the strong and capable young man, one of the others spoke for the group and welcomed his aid to cross the River.

He guided them to interlock their arms, and gently placing his hand at the elbow of the most frail and disoriented. steered them to the shore. Christopher repeated the instruction to keep their eyes upon the opposite shore and not look down. He then took them all across the River.

Over the following weeks and days, and in between errands and jobs, Christopher would pass by the place by the River where strangers seemed to gather. Christopher would always stop to help yet another group cross the River. On some days, he guided several groups of strangers.

One day, Christopher spotted a dog amongst the newest gathering of people. It was curious to see a dog for they were his colleagues – easily navigating the places beyond the River – and Christopher occasionally shared their face. He loved dogs and was happy to lend his aid to a friend – hoisting the animal onto his shoulders like a lamb, he carried the dog across the River while guiding yet another group.

Soon, the crowds swelled to great numbers and Christopher was taking large groups of strangers across the River several times a day. He met all sorts of new strangers, though most were quiet and didn’t say much if anything.

It was late in the afternoon one spring day – a little past 3PM on a Friday, for he remembered checking his pocket watch – when he spotted a young boy in the crowds at the place near the River. The sweet child didn’t seem to be accompanied by anyone, which made him sad. Infants were often with their mothers, crossing the River together, but this child was all alone. Feeling a strong sense of protectiveness, Christopher approached the very young boy and asked if he was with family. The boy smiled at him and told him no, he was by himself, except for this crowd of strangers.

Christopher asked the young boy if he could carry him across the River on his shoulders while he guided a large group of the others across. The boy, barely older than a toddler, smiled and clapped and said yes. Christopher bent down to lift the young boy and was surprised at how heavy he seemed to be.

Surprised by the weight of this small child, Christopher decided to do something new – take only the child across the River and come back for a group. He lifted the boy onto his shoulders and grateful for his staff, set off across the River. The current seemed more swift and treacherous, the muddy bottom seemed eager to swallow them whole, and the child seemed to weigh much more than Christopher could imagine.

Slowly Christopher crossed the River, leaning heavily on his staff for balance. He struggled to keep his eyes on the shore, avoiding looking down. The weight of the child on his shoulder was crushing – every step a struggle. The child calmly sat upon Christopher’s shoulders and said nothing.

After what seemed like an eternity, Christopher finally reached the opposite shore and set the very young boy down. The child beamed a great smile at Christopher and touched his staff with his hand. “Thank you, Christopher.” Christopher was perplexed – he did not tell the child his name. “You struggled mightily to bring me to this shore while you carried the weight of the world on your shoulders and emerged victorious. When you return to guide more people across the River, plant your staff in the ground there and leave it.” Then the child turned and walked off, slightly waving as he went.

Christopher then turned and crossed back over the River, no longer feeling the struggle of the earlier crossing. As he walked onto the shore, Christopher did as he was instructed by the strange boy and planted his staff into the ground near the River. He continued to lead several groups of people across the River until dusk.

The next day, Christopher returned to the place near the River where strangers gathered. In the spot where he had planted his staff now stood in its place a great, robust date palm tree loaded with fruit. He offered the fruit to the crowds gathered in the place near the River as a payment for the ferryman, should they wish to travel by another path.

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