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At the End of the Path to Nowhere

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Deep in the woods, far from the village, there is a path that leads to nowhere. At the end of the path is a run-down little house, not much more than a pile of old, broken logs. Maybe it's haunted, the rumours say, or maybe it was just abandoned, forgotten as the years went by until the wood rotted out and the weeds grew up through the holes in the old floorboards.

But when you look at it, you see something different.

***

When you are ten years old, your mother laughs when you tell her about the four strangers living in the little house. "Don't be silly," she says, her eyes crinkling at the corners as she ruffles your hair affectionately. "No one has lived there since my father was a young boy. Now run along and play, and stay away from there."

She loves you very much, you've always known that, but she almost never listens.

***

When you are fourteen years old, she presses her lips in a tight line when you tell stories of the two men and women, smiling and laughing as they go about their lives in the little house. "You're far too old for such childish nonsense," she says as she scrubs the floor. Her tone is authoritative, but her hands shake as she dips the brush in the bucket and you know she's frightened.

She almost never smiles at you anymore.

***

When you are seventeen years old, you don't talk about them anymore. Long ago you learned that you're different, and it's better when you keep things to yourself, especially when it comes to people only you can see. Your mother looks at you closely when you come home after spending all day by the little house, but she never asks where you were.

Deep inside you know she still loves you, but all you see anymore on her face is fear. Whether it's fear for you or fear of you, you're not sure. She doesn't tell you and you don't ask.

***

No one ever goes down the path to nowhere. No one, that is, but you.

At the end of the path, the dense trees give way to a tiny meadow, full of heather and tall grasses. Just beyond the meadow is the little house, modest and rustic, but obviously well cared for.

Here is where you hide from the people who whisper behind your back. Here is where you watch the four strangers go about their simple lives. And here is where the man finds you one day, stretched on your stomach in the heather underneath the bright sun. His footsteps don't make a sound as he approaches, but you hear him anyway, just like you hear every word the villagers say about you, no matter how quietly they speak.

"I know you," he says, and you twist your head to look up at him. His face is so familiar after watching for so many years that it doesn't feel strange that he's finally acknowledged your presence. You lift up onto your elbows, resting your chin in your hands and he sinks down beside you in the soft grass.

"No one is supposed to see," he says when you don't answer.

"I can see."

"You're different than other people." He says it simply, without judgment, so unlike the mocking, hateful words of the villagers.

"So are you." It's just something you know, something you've always known since you first discovered the little house all those years ago.

"Indeed I am."

You glance up at him and then back to the house. Only two of the three are there: the other man and one of the women. The man kneels at the edge of the fence, hammering a new board in place. He's focused intently on the job, his golden hair shining brighter than should be possible in the sun. The woman with the long, dark hair sits at the base of a tree reading a book, her legs tucked elegantly beneath her. She glances up from time to time to say something to the man working on the fence, and she's so beautiful it takes your breath away.

The other woman, the one with the deep, brown ringlets, appears from behind the house, her apron dusted with fresh dirt, hands full of flowers. She sits down beside the woman with the book, dropping the flowers into her lap, her soft, delicate features lit up with a smile. Beautiful, you hear the woman with the book say as she reaches out and tucks a stray curl behind the other woman's ear, and you're not convinced she's talking about the flowers.

You glance over at the man beside you. He's watching the others fondly, devotion evident on his face.

"Why are you here?" you ask him finally.

He pulls his gaze away and turns to face you. "Destiny."

You can't help but scoff. Destiny is something grand and momentous, like legends written in the stars. This place, this life, it's all so very small.

"This?" You say incredulously, waving your hand at the house and the meadow and the woods beyond. "This is your destiny?"

He's quiet for a long stretch, and you both watch as the blond man, now finished with the fence, stands before the women. He bows and reaches out his hands, offering one to each of them with a tilt of his head. It's such a formal gesture, and it seems so out of place here in the middle of nowhere. The women laugh together, a bright, tinkling sound that carries across the meadow, and it's so full of pure, unfettered joy that your heart aches.

He pulls them both to their feet easily and leads them through the front door of the house. A few minutes later, a plume of smoke rises from the chimney.

The man beside you smiles softly, and you don't think you've ever seen anyone so peacefully content. "No. This is not my destiny at all."

With that, he rises to his feet and dusts off his trousers. "You have to decide for yourself what you want," he says, answering a question you never asked, and then he turns and crosses the meadow, disappearing into the house.

You stay there for a long time, watching the little house, and thinking about the people inside. It's perfect in its utter simplicity: the four of them living out their lives tucked away inside a bubble, hidden from the world.

You close your eyes and breathe deeply as a hot rush of sparks burns beneath your skin. When you open them again, all you see is a broken down old house, cold and empty, at the edge of the woods.

You don't belong here, and never have. You weren't supposed to see.

***

The next morning before dawn, you kiss your mother on the cheek while she sleeps and place a note on the table. It doesn't say much, but then you're not really sure what you're doing anyway.

You leave without looking back, in search of your own way, whatever that means. Maybe it's fate, or maybe it's destiny, or maybe it's just a little house deep in the woods at the end of a path to nowhere.