This month has been an amazing trip.
Three weeks ago, I introduced you to Michael Carnell. Michael tagged Kate Shrewsday, who has passed the pen to Idiosyncractic Eye, who entrusted the finale of this story to Alexandra, who blogs at Gone for A Walk. I know her as Lexy from her linkups around the blogosphere, and I am thrilled to host her here.
A Line Runs Round the World, Finale:
(Parts One, Two, and Three.)
Sometimes life gets rough, rocky and steep. Other times it’s easy and clear, a broad path down which you can see for miles and miles. Every choice you make is a small twist in your path – a crossroads down which you chose to go left or right. If every choice you make is a turning point in your own life, then starting down the line that runs round the world is the last choice you will ever make. If choices are what make up a life’s path, then what is a life without them?
Some who travel it have been aware of its presence their entire lives. Like me, they pass it by and think, not this way, not yet. Hopefully, not ever.
Others only discover it when it is time for them to make a terrible choice. Will I remove myself from all choice, past and future? Or will I live with my past choices and carry on with living?
My father always said that a man’s choices define him. The choice is neither good nor bad, it is the intention of the man that decides which side of the scales it lands on. It is you, he would say, as a person, who can shape things for the better or for the worst, with your choices.
He laid down the law about certain things, about certain choices I should definitely not make, not while I lived under his roof, but for the rest of it, he only urged me to make choices for good.
The summer of my sixteenth year, he repeated this speech more often than ever before.
His voice was laden with disappointment the night I came home drunk from a party. He told me I could never take back the harm I did in this life, never make up for the bad.
He was bursting with unexpected pride, the day I called him to help a friend who, when presented with some harmless looking pills, made a different choice than I did. Choices, he said. It’s all about intent.
He brought up choices again, with a solemn air of mystery, when I, blushing, revealed my crush on the girl down the road, her long brown hair and sparkling gray eyes. I remember assuming that, in that case, he was encouraging me to turn down the right branches to get the girl. Now that my entire world consists of my final choice of path, I suspect he was more hopeful that I’d just make the right choices.
She was the kind of person who caught people up in her wake.
I would have followed her down any path she chose to lead us down, and so would the rest of them. I liked to think, though, that it was only me she flashed challenging eyes at when we came to particularly frightening crossroads.
At the old farm out by the highway, the one she had decreed to be haunted and in need of exorcism by fire, I found out how completely I had let go of the reins of my own life.
She pulling the tank of petrol from the back of my car. I asked if this was really such a good idea.
She laughed, leaned over and kissed me.
One kiss and I was lost. If ever there is a turning point in a life, a point that could lead to riches or ruin depending on the choices made, that kiss was mine.
It was harmless, I figured.
I willingly followed her in a laughing lap around the house, air laden with the smell of sloshed fuel.
She led us in chanting an exorcism and passed me the matches. I, the puppet, obliged her.
The fire ran a path around the house before beginning its ascent of the walls, ravenous.
I only just heard the frightened cry over our whoops of excitement. In the flickering light of the fire, I saw with brutal clarity the old pickup truck parked in the shadow of the barn. The random scattering of toys on the grass.
I’d always tried to do good with my choices.
I found myself in the woods, on a trail not of my own choosing, and darkness was closing in.
She led us in a mad rush towards the cars, helpless and terrified of what we’d done.
My father’s words rang in my ears as I came to an abrupt stop beside my car, heat blistering my back. I was rusty at making choices.
She leapt to join one of the other vehicles, decisive in choosing her own path.
I found out that night that making the right choice doesn’t fix the wrong choices. There is no set of scales to balance, no magic to undo what has been done.
I ran back toward the inferno.
It could have been the right path, if I had taken it even an hour earlier. It could have been good. I could have been good.
After that, the other path seemed more appealing somehow. I stayed for a time, but in the end, I chose no choice at all, a straight and endless path with no offshoots. Anything’s better than a life of potentially bad decisions and what-ifs.
I feel as though I’m coming back into focus. I had intended to write of the line, and my time on it, but even starting this brought me further from the darkness. There was a woman. Her eyes pierced the veil, saw right into my own as I walked the path. Familiar. She reminded me of things. Life. I feel more like myself today than I have for years. It’s easier to walk the path without keeping hold of a life that was lost not long after deciding against choice. I prefer to let the past slip backwards in the stream, tumble the sharp edges away into foggy oblivion. The path is all there is, the last choice I ever have to make.
Ella couldn’t remember when friendship blossomed into love. Only that it was one-sided. He looked at her the same, while she saw him in a new light
Cheerful, playful Mio.
He held her hand at the hospital when she’d stupidly tried to impress him with drugs.
He spent that summer chasing after the love of his life. The girl who sparkled with life and excitement, who swept them along in the thrill of being part of it all.
They all followed her, but Ella followed Mio.
Until she didn’t. Just once, she didn’t.
She watched him run as they fled, leaving him.
The old man who’d always lived there, had they bothered to check their facts, died. Smoke inhalation, asthma and a weak heart.
Mio saved the visiting grandson, but that didn’t save him. Not with petrol on his hands, an empty can on the lawn, matches in his pocket. Not with his silence.
It could have been her.
He took all the blame, though it was clear the villagers suspected there was more to the tale.
Ella researched the impossible, now, finding ways to see paths that only some could see. Dowsing rods and shaman magic. If nothing else, this search for elusive truths distracted her from the memories of what could have been, what should have been.
Ella and her family had moved away shortly after the incident. She’d never guessed that he would have gone away too, on another path entirely, one too elusive to be seen with the naked eye.
It should have been her.