A Father’s Day Tale For my father, the wizard of conundrums: The Conundrum


The man sat before the gate. He had been there a long, long time, waiting for it to open. He had knocked, he had banged, he had called out, he had waved (to no one, for no one was there, as far as he could see) and he had tried to climb over (impossible, alas, as the gate was so high, the top could not be seen). The man sat down on the ground near the gate and sighed, tired and frustrated. He cursed the gate, and threw his shoe at it. There was no sound, just the continuing wind, at times whistling through the gate.

Beyond the gate, he could see trees, and lakes, birds flying gracefully, frolicking in the water, lazy clouds drifting in a perfectly azure sky, and a huge sun floating in the sky like an orange balloon. The man looked around him. The ground was rocky, the grass coarse and brown, the trees burnt and gnarled. The sky was a continual ominous gray, thunder rumbling constantly, the wind chilly and penetrating. The man turned his collar up against the elements, and banged with his shoe against the gate once more, calling loudly. “Will someone open this damn gate?!!”  No response just made his blood boil all the more. He sat again, and buried his face in his hands.

After some time, the man heard the rustling of rocks, and looking up, noticed a figure walking towards him from behind the gnarled trees, along the rocky path, picking his way carefully among the stones and harsh grass. He was obviously cold, his clothes fairly wet. As he approached the man at the gate, the stranger smiled.

“Hello. Didn’t expect to find anyone here,” the stranger said.

“Where’d you come from?” the man said.

“Over the hill. Seems like I’ve been walking for days, or months, don’t know really. Just found myself here. Nasty rain back there. I’m afraid we’re in for a real storm pretty soon. Damn cold. Goes right through you.”

“It’s not so bad over there,” the man said, pointing to the other side of the fence.

“So it is,” said the stranger, “so it is.”  He walked toward the gate and peered through the shiny, golden bars towards the other side. “Seems like it’s a different world over there, really. Damn nice gate, this is too.”

“Damn annoying gate, if you ask me,” the man said. “Can’t get it open. Nothing will. We’re stuck here, that’s what.”

“Well, I can’t believe there isn’t a way over there. There must be. Have you looked around?  Thought of anything?”

“Well, I’ve hung around this gate for it seems like eons already. Doesn’t budge, not one bit. No one around either.”

The stranger looked around. He could see the gate itself was quite high, so high he couldn’t see the top. He stood back and just looked straight up. “Fascinating isn’t it? Who could’ve built such a marvelous gate?”

“Marvelous?  I wouldn’t call it that. So marvelous no one can get in. How marvelous is that?”  The man made a rude noise at the gate.

“Well, I suppose that’s its purpose, of course – to keep people out. So, from that standpoint, it is marvelous, isn’t it?  So high and mighty, no one could even dream about climbing over or breaking in through this gate.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re so interested in praising the thing that is standing between you and what looks like a very pleasant other side!”

“Yes, well, I’m just admiring someone’s handiwork. But, I suppose someone who had the talent to build this amazing obstacle, must have designed a way for people he’d want to get in to pass through.”

“Why would you say that?  Maybe the purpose of this damn gate in the first place is to just keep everyone out, period!!”

“Well, certainly could be true. But, I still think there’s an answer here, if only we were to look for it.”

The man looked at the stranger. “Well, suit yourself. I’m not wasting my time trying to figure out how to get past that gate. I’ll just keep pounding on it with my shoe until someone answers the damn thing!”

The stranger looked at the man, and shook his head. “Well, I’m going to give it a try.” He turned and walked away, down along the fence that led away from the gate towards their right. The fence extended to the horizon, seemingly for endless miles, until it faded into the distance, merely a faint line. Soon, the stranger came to a part of the fence that appeared a little different. The fence there seemed to dip a little bit, and wasn’t as high, though it was too high to climb. But there was some artwork near the top, and some vines creeping down the fence at that point.

The artwork was too high up to see, but he could faintly make out words – some kind of inscription. He looked at the vines, and put his foot on one to test whether it would support his weight. It did, easily. He began to climb towards the top of the fence so he could see the writing there. As he climbed, he noticed that as high as he climbed, he came no nearer to the top. It seemed to loom high above him as far away as when he was on the ground. The vines did not go all the way up, and he saw as he went up that he could not climb over the fence here. Still, the stranger wanted to know what the writing said. As he rose high above the ground, the stranger felt close enough to the artwork to now see it more clearly. Towards the top of the fence, which bore pointed spears sharp enough to thread a needle, there was a white marble sign, carved in intricate script, the letters virtually etched into a floral design of incredible beauty. Two exquisite white unicorns held the sign aloft on either side. He stopped climbing and read it.

“To All Who May Come This Way – Curiosity and the Quest for Knowledge May Be Your Guide. While Others May Not See What Hidden Value Lies Within A Conundrum’s Supple Walls, You Need Only Inquire, and an Answer May Appear”.

The man thought to himself, what a curious message to carve into artwork truly too high up to see from the ground below. He looked down, and realized he was quite high up. He looked around to see if there was any other writing, and finding none, he quickly descended to the ground. He thought about the message, and searched his mind for what the clues hidden there might mean. Something about the sign seemed familiar to him. He turned back to the way he had come, and retraced his steps to the massive gate. When he arrived there, he found the man asleep near a pillar of the gate.

The stranger stood back and looked at the gate again, trying to see if there was any message engraved in it. The gate bore only the shiny golden finish, and some very beautiful etched carvings. He searched each bar, each cross strut, and the ground around the gate. No solution suggested itself. He began to think of other possibilities. He stood back and looked at the fence, and then at the pillars themselves, massive stone columns.

It was then he noticed for the first time that the pillars had shape to them. He stepped back a bit more, and saw that each was the massive leg of an even more massive unicorn, partly etched, partly in bas-relief across the gate, and along the fence. The stranger walked slowly towards the gate, glancing at the pillars, up and down, bringing his face close to first one, then the other. He stood considering them. Then, abruptly, his face twisted, his eye twitching into a wink, as he had a sudden realization.

He laughed to himself, and then walked to the left column, and ran his hand along the smooth surface feeling the minute indentations. His fingers traced along an intricate design, and came to rest just at the juncture of what appeared to be the etching of two small unicorns. First he stroked the etching, and when nothing happened, he pushed it.

A voice cascaded from the direction of the gate, though no one was there.

“May I help you?” the voice intoned.

“May I come through?” the stranger asked.

“Certainly,” the voice replied, and the gate swung open. The stranger strode through the gate, and it closed behind him. He smelled the freshness of the air, and felt the sunlight on his skin, which was already losing its chill. He followed a marble path towards a hillside, and found himself standing in the center of a great hallway. A tall man with a white robe stood against a unicorn statue.

“Any questions?” the tall man asked.

“Many,” the stranger replied, “and none,” he finished. The tall man smiled.

“Your favorites were Sunday Times?” the tall man asked.

“Definitely, but the London Sunday Times were the hardest” he replied, not sure why he understood so clearly. “This one was particularly interesting.”

“It is the inquiring mind which brought you through” the tall man said. “You were trained to think creatively, look for solutions, not pine about obstacles. This was just another great puzzle for you.”

The stranger paused, thinking. “Why hasn’t that poor man outside come through?” the stranger said.

“Oh, him. He’s been there for ages. Just keeps banging that damn shoe on the gate.”

The stranger shuddered. It was so simple, and yet so powerful. He looked at the azure sky, and the perfect, blue sea. Behind him, back through the gate, crawled the mist and fog, the thunder and storms. He glanced at the man curled against the column, huddled and shivering, and turned back to the birds and butterflies frolicking along the green arbor, and walked on.

The man sat before the gate. He had been there a long, long time, waiting for it to open. He had knocked, he had banged, he had called out, he had waved and he had tried to climb over. The man sat down on the ground near the gate and sighed, tired and frustrated. He cursed the gate, and threw his shoe at it. There was no sound, just the continuing wind, at times whistling through the gate.

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