Harvest Moon

And with those words he was enlightened, almost as if the solution had depended on him giving up before it, too, would be given up.  The steady accumulation of life around the tree was the clue that had been so obvious he had constantly overlooked it.  He gave an exultant whoop and dived back into the shallow canal with a splash that startled the birds and watered the grass.  Somewhere in the distance something rumbled, and a shower of rock dust fell from the ceiling.

  The ambiguous fish was still swimming placidly in the canal, undisturbed by the unnamed man's sudden entrance, and put up no resistance at all as the man seized it.  It was scaly and rough to the touch, and surprisingly easy to grip.  Standing up and feeling his feet sink into the gravelled bottom of the canal the nameless man held the fish aloft.  He waded to the bank and laid the choking fish down while he climbed out again, dripping more water onto the grass.  Reclaiming his prize he hurried to the base of the tree, eager to see if his solution was correct.

  The soil there was soft and loamy and it was easy to dig a small hole, uncovering roots, drop the fish in, and then shovel the earth back.  Having buried the fish to feed the tree, he sat back, leaned against the trunk, and waited.

  The exit from the maze surprised him completely when it appeared: it opened in the trunk of his tree and he fell backwards, tumbling head over heels down a gritty slope in total darkness.

  He landed with a bone-jarring thump and rolled over onto his back.  He could taste blood in his mouth and his tongue hurt.  Above him spread the bare branches of a huge, dead tree, beyond which he could see the sky.  It was night-time and the stars were out as was the... no, as were the moons.  There were three of them, two of them the size of the moons he remembered from his childhood, and the third much larger and redder: a harvest moon.

  He groaned quietly, just to break the silence, and sat up wincing at countless aches and twinges.

  He was sitting on a beach of black sand a little distance from the foot of a dead tree.  There were sparkles here and there in the sand, and without quite knowing how he knew, he understood that the sand had been formed from volcanic rock.  The trunk of the tree was, unsurprisingly, whole and solid: there was never any way back through these universes.  Some way off to his left he could hear the roar of a surf, and moonlight glinted on water, but it looked like a long walk.  The beach stretched away in other directions, sparkling in the moonlight like cheap glass jewellery in candlelight.

 "Now where do I go from here?" he said, as his stomach rumbled and he felt hungry for the first time in months.

The End

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