Once more I looked out over the sea to the horizon. The black speck was no longer visible, though the red star had increased in magnitude and brilliance. At my feet gray mists curled in the darkness and the surf boiled and churned over the hidden reefs. Suddenly the wind shifted round to the northeast, bringing with it great black clouds that blotted out the star and the ruddy glow of the approaching sunrise. It began to rain.
“Ah!” I exclaimed with a shiver, “how cold it has become!” But when I turned to address the three ladies they were nowhere to be seen.
I pulled the cloak closer around my shoulders and covered my head with the hood. Then I picked up the lamp and the basket of apples. Gazing at them, I suddenly recalled that these very items had been among the gifts I had seen in the sack through my window. To be sure, they represented only a small portion of the bag’s contents, and yet I was no longer separated from them by the glass. On the contrary, I held them in my own hands! And who could tell what benefits they might bring me?
“Surely this is a sign,” I thought. “Surely he is telling me that I must not stop. He is asking me to keep on following him!”
The rain was coming down hard, driving before a chill wind that went howling past my ear before plunging headlong down the sheer glassy cliff.
“But where do I go from here?” I cried out in the face of the storm. “How can I follow when nothing lies before me but a dark abyss? What must I do?”
In answer, the familiar voice at my ear spoke once again. It was very soft and still now in the midst of the wind and rain. It said, “Throw yourself into the sea.”
I turned my head. There on my shoulder sat the small gray bird with eyes of burning blue.
“Throw myself into the sea?” I shouted in disbelief.
At this moment there was neither fire nor warming glow in my wounded heart. As in my dream, it was as if everything had gone cold and empty inside me. The storm grew violent and the rain froze into cruel sleet and hail. The darkness was thick and palpable.
“Yes,” said the still, small voice. “Throw yourself into the sea.”
“What can you possibly mean?” I protested. “How can I do such a thing?”
“You must trust me,” he replied.
“Trust you!” I wailed. “And cast myself down into that darkness? That would be suicide! I can’t even see my hand in front of my face! A leap like that is not trust! It’s plain stupidity!”
“It is no leap at all,” he gently countered. “It’s simply the next step. You asked me what to do and I have told you. I told you before that your only concern is to take one step and then another. One step at a time. Nothing more. And step by step I have brought you to this place – this ridge, this cliff, this boiling ocean, this dark storm, this particular moment, unique among all others. This, for you, is the kairos. Where will you go now if you refuse to follow my instructions? This is the next step, I tell you. That is all. Throw yourself into the sea.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. I did not want to believe it. I spun around, intending to turn back. But when I saw the twinkling of the lights in the valley below and realized that all those hundreds and thousands of Watchers had their eyes fixed upon me, I hesitated. It was a good thing I did.
I could see now very clearly that there was no way back. The level crest of the mountain on which I stood was no more than six feet wide, and the drop on the side of the valley was even steeper and sharper than that which fell into the sea. The way was closed and my guides had departed. I stood motionless and horrified on the ridge as if at the top of a wall between two worlds.
I turned and spoke to the bird on my shoulder.
“Please,” I said, “all I want to do is go back home! Back to my room, my window, my candle, and all the other familiar things that I know so well. Christmas morning is coming as it has come so many times before, and I am afraid of missing it. Please take me home!”
The bird blinked his blue eyes. The tiny red flames were flickering in their depths.
“Christmas morning comes indeed,” he said. “It comes as it has never come before. And you will certainly miss it if you do not do as I say. Throw yourself into the sea.”
* * * * * * * * * *