“Two paths, diverging in the woods, but I have promises to break, and miles to go before I wake, and miles to go before I wake.” Such is my frosty memory of the poem Martin David references in this tale, or maybe I’m just a little hoarse. (does that sound queer?). This one’s fun! Please feel free to leave comments, but remember that voting for your favorite won’t take place till all stories have been posted. Finalists were notified they have until 6pm Moscow time to submit their entries; so far three have complied. That’s more than a quarter. Here is
By Martin A. David
I don’t consider myself thin-skinned, but I just don’t like insults. It’s not that I foam at the mouth and move into a pseudo-kung fu stance when someone disses me. What does happen is that a little dial inside of me moves toward the “fight” side of the fight-or-flight scale. I seldom act on this impulse. The last time was years ago, in a bar, when some guy ranted at me for a full minute, and then threw a punch. I sidestepped the fist, kicked his shin, blinded him for a minute by splashing my beer in his face, and then got out of there as fast as I could. But I digress.
The latest perceived insult came not from a bar drunk, but from an old lady. I mean very, very, very old. It happened while I was walking in the woods. When I’m dealing with writer’s block or a plot twist that simply won’t un-knot itself in my head, wandering in the woods usually helps. On this particular day, my favorite forest seemed strange and unfamiliar. I couldn’t pinpoint the change, but I felt it. Paths I’d walked so many times before were no longer visible. New paths appeared. I followed Robert Frost’s lead and took one of them.
I was less than fifteen minutes into my meditative meanderings when I saw her. She sat on a large, flat rock. She neither smiled nor frowned. Everything about her seemed matter-of-fact, as if running into crones sitting cross-legged in the woods were an everyday affair. She was holding a document of some kind in her scrawny hands. Her scraggly, white hair moved gently in the breeze.
“So you’ve finally come,” she said. “Now go to hell.”
My insult detector was beeping, but there was no fight here. The insult giver looked at least a hundred years old, but I still didn’t appreciate her words.
“I’ll show you the way,” she continued. “I’ve been waiting for you to come.”
Now the needle on the fight-or-flight meter began to bend in the fly away direction. This was weird. She was weird. I started to turn, but her eyes held me in place.
“What do you want from me?” My voice squeaked as it hadn’t done since puberty.
“I need a favor. I need someone to go to hell and deliver something for me. It’s a short trip and you can get out easily because you don’t belong there….yet. I’d go myself, but it’s dangerous for me. I was married to that bastard and our divorce was not what you call ‘amicable’. He’s still pissed at me.”
“You were married to the devil?”
“Yes,” she said, waving the paper in my face, “and I need you to give him this message from me.”
That was it. I was out of there. I spun around and set a personal speed record up the path. As I ran, I heard her voice behind me.
“Wait, sonny, come back. I’ll give you a quarter.”
Ahhhh! The honeymoon! Mia Copa