Cara Michaels’ Picture Choice: 2
Title: A Different Path
Some say fates aren’t written in the stars. While long before we walk the earth our paths are laid out, it’s our mortal decisions determining the ultimate outcome. Sometimes we learn from the histories our souls build, sometimes we don’t. They go on about God, rebirth, free will, faith; insubstantial things that pale in the face of science and the tangible trail of history.
The rest know we can’t change who and what we are. Those who think otherwise are smart to keep such ideas silent and move unnoticed through the world. Most of the time, it’s easy enough to go with the flow. Then abruptly I feel like a salmon fighting the current to make my way upstream.
And likely to get eaten by a bear.
I fight the hardest each summer. I tag along when we go to the carnival, keeping my peace as they mock the gypsy fortune teller. Every year I see her, and every year I wonder if she truly sees anything or just bilks the willing with false prophecy.
Deep down, a part of me feels her dark, knowing gaze… and believes.
This time, when those lovely gypsy eyes lock on me, when her finger crooks and beckons me forward, I shuffle into her tent. I laugh with the others, but the façade falls away behind the safety of thick canvas walls. The summer heat should make the space oppressive, but somehow her haven is cool and welcoming. The aroma of smoldering incense tickles my nose.
“Why do you walk with them?” she asks me. “The ones with no thoughts in their head and no eyes to see the potential surrounding them.”
I can pretend I don’t know what she means, but the way she stares at me—I don’t want to lie, yet I don’t know how to answer. Every thought I have seems weak. Something they would expect me to say.
“They are sheep,” she says, “knowing nothing more than to follow the flock to the next meal or slaughter.”
“Yeah, I suppose,” I say.
“You’re different, you know.”
I roll my eyes. “Everybody says that. I’m normal. Just like everyone else.”
She laughs. “And everyone is normal? If such a thing can be defined?”
“They seem to think it can be,” I mutter.
“And there is always a ‘they.’ No matter which side of the coin you’re standing on.”
“I seem to be the only one standing on the other side around here.”
“And you’re the quiet one, aren’t you, girl?” She smiles, her painted red lips curving at the corners. Eyes as black as her hair shine with gentle humor. “Never rocking the boat?”
“I guess.” I stub my toe against the dirt floor, grooving the surface covered in shoe prints. “Maybe.”
“I can always spot them,” she says, seeming pleased. “It’s there in your eyes, carefully banked so the average onlooker won’t spot it. But you’re curious, yes? You want to know about the world, about your place in it.”
“It’s silly, I know.” I shrug. “I know you can’t really tell me.”
“Are you certain? Or are you afraid to hope?”
I blush, embarrassed and uncertain.
“Hope is a powerful thing, I know.”
“What if there’s nothing to hope for?” I ask.
“I can only show you the path,” she says. “It’s up to you what to do with the knowledge.”
I know every boring, lifeless step of the rest of my existence if I follow the stream; an endless winter with no hope for spring.
“Sit now. And see.” She gestures to a round table covered in aged velvet. On the table, a glass ball sits. “If you can.”
“Aren’t you supposed to do the looking and prognosticating here?” I frown. She’s suggesting I can see something in the glass? “What if I can’t see anything?”
She purses her lips. “Then you can go back to your friends and feel you truly belong.”
Swallowing hard, I take the seat opposite her. She lifts the glass into my line of sight.
“And if I can?”
“Look, child,” she says. “Just tell me what you see and then decide. The choice is and always will be yours.”
Cara Michaels is the author of the Gaea’s Chosen sci-fi romance series and host of the #MenageMonday flash fiction challenge.