Twilight had shrouded the forest beneath her gray mantle, and under the shadows of the trees night had fallen. Through the whispering boughs far above, the first stars were twinkling into existence. The three travelers stood in weary silence on the trail, letting the ripple and splash of a nearby creek soothe their nerves. It had been a long day, and it was long since time to go home.
“Let’s just check it out,” one of them said. He looked at the others and saw his own exhaustion reflected back at him. To challenge the will of the nearly impassible rain forest one more time that day seemed unthinkable. And yet . . . .
To their left, a faint trail veered off the main path and disappeared into the growing darkness. They had followed many like this before; inevitably the trails faded into oblivion after a short space, leaving the disappointed explorers to press on into thick underbrush taller than a man, or give up and turn back. But this time might be different. One of the travelers had spotted a giant at the far end of a clearing. Could this be it?
“We have to. We have to know,” agreed a second voice.
The third explorer nodded resignedly. “Fine.”
Setting his will against aching knees and feet, the oldest of the trio led the way into the deepening gloom. The little trail, hardly to be seen, seemed to flicker in and out of existence like a candle next to an open window. But it never died. It led them through fern and briar right to the giant they had spotted earlier.
A wall of wood rose up out of the earth, as wide as a small house. With a gentle kiss of the night breeze, a thrill ran down their spines. This tree was larger than it had appeared from the trail. Awe rooting them to the spot, the travelers looked up, and in unison their mouths opened.
Twilight can play tricks on the eyes, but this was too much. Forty feet up this mountainous pillar of wood, a vast claw was reaching down to them, three man-sized fingers frozen in the act of grasping. An inarticulate shout escaped one of their lips, a primal expression of joy.
None of them had been here before, and yet they had seen that claw, many times. They knew this place.