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The Sleeper




I donned work gloves and started the chain saw. To my delight it cut through the briar like a hot knife through margarine. To avoid the thorns I carved an opening more than large enough for me to pass through without making contact with the deadly plant's thorns. The hedge was thick as the width of my room at Uncle Bruno's. As I made progress, it surrounded me like a tunnel. After I had cut into it for a few feet, I noticed a white object a couple of meters to my left. Because of the hedge’s density, it was difficult to see exactly what it was. Curious, I turned the passage I was forming at an angle that would intercept whatever was there. When I was close enough to see what dangled in the awful foliage, I turned off the saw and gaped.

Entangled in the hedge so that it was suspended upright like a ghastly marionette was a human skeleton. Empty eye sockets and a wide grin mocked me. It was as though it were saying, "Another foolish enough to brave the venomous thorns." A few moldy strips of cloth clung to the yellowed bones which were bare of flesh. Its bony fingers were wrapped around a rusty sickle. A crucifix and another piece of metal hung by a chain around the spinal column where the skull joined the shoulder blades. Its boots were of ancient design, which made me wonder how long it had been moldering there. How long does it take for a skeleton to turn to dust? Ten years? A hundred years?

Whoever the person was must've died from thorn inflicted wounds before he could disentangle himself from the hedge. Afterwards, the briar had grown around the corpse. I shuddered with horror at my gruesome discovery. I thought of the agony that poor soul had suffered. As I stared with revulsion, my eyes fastened on what was attached to the chain on the skeleton’s neck. Squinting, I realized that it was a key, a key that similar to the one in my pocket.

I removed the chain from around the skeleton's neck and compared them. They matched exactly. Good God, whoever this person was had come here with the same goal as I had. I recalled what Uncle Bruno had said about the inscription on the ornate box -- that it was about the fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty. I recalled the part of the legend about the many men who died trying to broach the enchanted bramble to reach her. I went a little mad and laughed wildly. For a few minutes I felt as though I was living in a fairy tale. My whole sense of reality went out of whack. If the legend of Sleeping Beauty was true, all the fairy tales with their wicked witches, elves, giants, magic beans, seven league boots and so forth must also be true. Isn't this what I had dreamed about my whole life. Perhaps this was what the psychic had meant when she talked about the key leading me to my destiny. .

When I regained my sanity, my first impulse was to report my find. But I thought the better of it. If I returned to the village and reported the existence of the skeleton, my uncle would never allow me to return, and I would never get to see what was in the castle. Besides, how would I explain my presence by the hedge and why I was tunneling through it with the chain saw I had borrowed without permission.

I pressed on. The skeleton had been standing there a long, long time; a few additional hours would not make any difference to it. I doubted whether anyone alive even knew who that person was.

I saluted my predecessor and sliced through two more meters of bramble until I had made it. I was through. A steep grassy slope lay before me. I stowed the chain saw and gas can under a birch and climbed the rise. At the top was a meadow; beyond it, a twelve-foot stone wall. At first my heart sank -- another barrier. But I realized that this was the castle's outer wall. There had to be a gate. I walked around the structure until I found it. On its ancient, rotted wood was an old, old sign that I could not read. I assumed it was a no trespassing warning. With a few ax strokes I broke through the barrier and lifted the bar that latched it. Although the huge gate was heavy, I was able to shove it open with my shoulder.


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