01 Feb The Left Right Game: Part 10
Well then… here we are.
I have to be honest; when I posted the first of these logs from my bedroom in North London, I didn’t think it would go very far. After all, why would it? I wasn’t a regular contributor to this site, nor a seasoned veteran of the paranormal. I was just a man who missed his friend, seeking a few words of wisdom from an online message board, open to the idea that it wouldn’t lead anywhere.
Suffice to say I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Over the past two months, the incredible advice I’ve received from this forum, and the amazing leads you’ve sent my way, have opened up entire worlds of possibility. It’s thanks to all of you that I’m where I am now; sitting in a rental car on a quiet street in Phoenix, Arizona, posting the last of Alice’s records.
I realise I’ve written more than usual for my part. Apologies for this. If you want to skip straight to Alice’s section, that’s fine.
Otherwise, please consider this the prologue to the epilogue.
It’s very, very early in the morning over here, with only the gravest of the graveyard shift out on the streets. By all rights I should be in bed, and not wasting petrol on an aimless drive through the city. The ritual helps me think however, and I’d recently been given a lot to think about, courtesy of a young woman at a local bar.
She was a forum member, who’d contacted me over Direct Message. When we met up earlier in the night, it was clear she’d done a great deal of research; charting every mirror shop in Phoenix in an attempt to reconstruct the route Alice took on February 7th 2017.
We spoke for quite a while; about the game, about Alice, and about life in general. Once closing time rolled around, she handed me a printout of the most likely route, with all the key locations circled. Then, in the final minutes before we parted ways, she nervously asked me two questions. The first put me in a rather sour mood. The second provided the fuel for my 3am drive.
Question One; Are you sure she wants you to find her?
I’ve been hearing the same query from a few of you recently, especially since Part 9 was posted. People commenting that Alice made a clear choice when she left Rob behind in the silent city. That I was searching for someone who wasn’t seeking return.
I’d like to take a moment to respond to this, as I responded to it earlier tonight. To be clear, the Alice I know wouldn’t do that. She was planning to come back, she’d told us as much. I’m not going to waste your time with my theories, but we’ve seen what the road can do to people’s minds, how it can carry them away against their better judgement. I understand why it’s being asked but if those sorts of questions are all you have to offer, I’d kindly ask you find another way to help.
Question Two was less clear cut; what are you going to do now?
It’s something you guys have also been asking me, but that was the first time I’d heard the question out loud. In the awkward silence that followed it became obvious to her, and in some ways to me, that I didn’t yet have an answer.
I decided to take a drive while I figured it out… I’ve been in my car for the rest of the night,
After an hour of aimless meandering, I realised I was close to one of the marked locations; the alleyway where Alice first entered the underpass, the point at which she first disappeared into the road. Turning into the side street, just after a large intersection, I was briefly relieved to see no sign of the tunnel. The part of me that still hoped this game was a fiction swelled at the sudden lack of evidence. My reaction was short lived of course, as I quickly realised that the tunnel wouldn’t have shown itself to me anyway. Even if the game were real, I’d hardly been sticking to the rules on my way here.
There was no denying that the place resembled Alice’s descriptions however, and with a long time to go until I’d feel remotely tired, I decided to work my way back along the route, retracing Alice’s steps towards Rob Guthard’s street.
OK so I have to admit at this point, I suffered from a momentary lapse in intelligence. In a fog of distraction, residual jetlag and general dullardry, I drove for longer than I’d care to admit under the misconception that I wasn’t playing the game. I thought this because I was heading in the opposite direction, and had started my run with a right hand turn, when the rules explicitly state that you begin by turning left. Of course, as I’m sure all of you would have realised immediately, that didn’t mean I was out of the game, it just meant I started playing with my first left turn, one road later.
Alice was always the smart one.
What I’m trying to say is that, due to this fairly mindless oversight, I wasn’t exactly looking out for the Woman in Grey as I drove past what should have been her corner. There wasn’t a mirror shop this time of course, that’s only the 34th turn when you’re coming the other way, in fact I’m not sure which of the many passing streets it was. It is strange though, as I think back through my journey, I feel like I would have noticed her. The streets were practically deserted, so much so that any pedestrians stood out immediately. I know I should’ve been looking more closely but, if you asked my honest opinion… I don’t think she was there at all.
The moment I realised this, I felt it again; the faint perverse, hope that I’d been misled, that the entire story was nothing more than a twisted, elaborate fabrication.
It wasn’t long until I passed an old mirror shop and, 34 turns later, arrived on what must have been Alice’s starting street. It was an inner-city neighbourhood whose residents were all fast asleep. From the moment I realised that the game was in play, I’d been thinking less and less about this particular road, and more about the one directly after it, resting just beyond the crossroads. I’d come halfway across the world on the strength of Alice’s account, but I’d seen no first hand proof of the Left/Right Game. If the whole thing was a hoax, then the next road should just be another street. If it was real, then I’d know soon enough.
I crawled up to the junction with my heart in my throat. With every inch of road that passed under my tyres, I found myself hoping more and more that it wouldn’t be true. Let someone be playing a prank on me, let the logs be counterfeit… let Alice be anywhere else but on that road.
I took the corner in a wide arc, parking myself in the centre of the crossroads, my headlights facing down the next turn.
Ahead of me was a quiet residential street; lines of neatly parked cars, rows of well-kept yards and squarely drawn windows. Yet at its centre, in utter defiance of the modest surroundings, the road sank into a deep and dimly lit corridor, cutting beneath the street, and disappearing into complete darkness.
I’d always known it was true.
In the presence of grim confirmation, the question I was asked earlier that night started to ring in my ears, as if echoing out of the tunnel itself. After an entire night’s driving, after two full months of searching, I still didn’t have a response.
In the end I just left the engine running, as if turning it off would somehow be a sign of retreat, and decided to type up the notes you’re reading now. I thought maybe the process of putting it all down on paper would bring me clarity, and leave me with either a note of farewell or a note of apology to Alice, for not having what it took to find her.
And now… here I am; still undecided, still writing, still sitting in this rental car on a quiet street in Phoenix, Arizona.
Though perhaps the street’s not as quiet as I thought.
I’ve just looked back to the previous road, down the street where Alice began her journey. As I type this very paragraph, I can see a figure standing on the sidewalk, just outside one of the houses. It isn’t the woman in grey this time.
Though it’s almost too dark to make out, I can tell the figure is an older male, well built and imposing, the rugged features of his weathered face half lit by moonlight. I’ve never seen this person before, yet he bears a striking resemblance to another man; a man whose description has been well recorded within the pages of Alice’s logs.
He watches me in silence, staring through the window of my still running car.
I wonder if he can help.
The Left/Right Game [DRAFT 1] 20/02/2017
The Left/Right Game was once nothing more than a 9-page document, peeking out of a yellow envelope, resting quietly on my desk.
I remember reading it on my lunch break.
I remember it made me laugh.
The submission had arrived with the first post, quietly making its way around the office, treated by everyone as a short-lived novelty of little journalistic value. The story was easy to dismiss, appearing all too similar to the rambling ghost stories and blurry UFO sightings that filled our mailbox on a daily basis, and which most of the senior staff had learned to instinctively ignore. Doomed by association, the document was quickly passed over, my desk merely a pit stop on its way to the rejection pile.
I was curious however and, after an uneventful few months in my new role, I had no compunctions about fishing from the scrap heap. Placing the envelope in my satchel, alongside a misfit crowd of similar rejects, I slipped away to a local coffee shop, reading it in an armchair by the window.
Somewhere around page three, between the description of the game’s rules and the exhaustive list of “Required Skills”, my mouth started to curl into an irrepressible smile.
They’d been gloriously wrong about this one. It wasn’t some paranoid diatribe, nor a sensationalist plea for attention. Within those pages lay an introductory glimpse of a man’s passionate obsession. As I read on, something about his earnest eccentricity, incredible thoroughness, and unquestioning confidence made it impossible to put down. When I turned the final page, reading the last of Rob Guthard’s charming and refreshingly well formatted submission, I knew that this was the story I wanted to tell.
Later that day, I found myself in the editor’s office making a case for it. They didn’t quite see what I saw, but I was intent to win them over regardless. I told them the story would be characterful, colourful, thought-provoking and, at the very least, that I wouldn’t be gone long.
It’s been twelve days since then; ten since I first entered the Wrangler in Phoenix, Arizona, five since I commandeered it myself, leaving Rob behind in the silent city. I haven’t updated much recently, save for a regular set of notes made for my own benefit. In all honesty, after I finished writing up my account of the city, I was struck by an overpowering sense of needlessness. There was no one left to receive these logs, no friends to proofread, no editor to hand them to. It seemed pointless to maintain the same prosaic format as before.
I still largely agree with this assessment. It’s only due to a set of exceptional circumstances that I’ve chosen to type up the following account in full.
Whoever this reaches, I want to thank you for reading up to now.
I’m quite sure this will be my final instalment.
The moon has broken, and in my entire life, I’ve never witnessed an evening so still.
The air is cool and quiet, and the Wrangler cuts cleanly through it as I glide down a stretch of even tarmac. The scene is defined by calm and absence. Not a cloud in the sky, not a solitary whisper of breeze, not a single blade of grass stirring on the dark green banks beside me.
Yet even on a night as peaceful as this, I can’t help but feel far away from home. The city had served as a turning point in that regard. Before we reached those titanic monoliths, the landscapes we passed through generally resembled the world I once knew. A few obvious exceptions aside, there was nothing about the environments that looked truly divorced from reality. That’s all changed now. The aberrant aspects of this new world are unignorable, constantly hanging at the corner of my eye, passively injecting a sense of wonder and disconcertion into the otherwise silent night.
A few days ago the moon started to crack like old porcelain. I hardly noticed at first, my eyes fixed on the road as it loomed above me, quietly splintering into three jagged pieces. As of tonight, the empty space between each fragment has significantly increased. If I focus on the sky for a little while, I can almost see them falling away from each other, charting infinite and lonesome trajectories through a barren cosmos, against a backdrop of foreign constellations.
The stars themselves fall further than they should. The night sky travels down past the horizon and continues below it, wrapping underneath the grassy bank. It’s as if the road, and the narrow plains on either side, are suspended in the middle of a vast abyss; a platform in the middle of open space.
At least that’s what I thought it was at first. It didn’t take long before I noticed the broken moon was appearing twice in the sky, both above and below me. A pair of orbiting satellites; identical and in perfect alignment. That’s when I realised that there were no stars below me. I was merely staring across a flat surface so flawlessly mirror-like as to cast a perfect reflection of the heavens above.
I was driving through the centre of a lake.
The water is impossibly still. Since leaving the shoreline proper yesterday night, I’ve seen neither a wave, nor a ripple across its placid surface. It’s also undeniably vast, reaching beyond the horizon in every direction and continuing further still. Without being sure how I know, I’m aware that the waters carry on for an unspeakable distance, that I would sooner reach the stars themselves before setting foot on its opposite shore.
I lean over and switch gears. The act of driving the Wrangler was a daunting one at first, but after the first two days I’ve managed to make do. An old scarf wrapped tightly around the steering wheel serves as a makeshift handle, allowing me to navigate corners one handed. I don’t have an elegant solution for the gearshift, but I’ve quickly grown used to the process. If I’ve learned anything from the road, it’s that grace is the first casualty in the fight for survival. Adaptability, no matter how clumsy, outlasts it at every turn.
A few minutes later, the Wrangler pulls up to a spacious verge. A large circle of land surrounded entirely by dark waters. At the far end, the grass seems to fall away, dropping sharply into the lake with a dead stop. The road continues of course, but it’s the only thing that does. With nothing on either side, it forms a narrow bridge of perfectly flat asphalt, raised on a bed of mud and rock.
I press my boot onto the brake pedal, easing the Wrangler to a steady halt at the centre of the clearing. For the first time today, I open the car door and climb out of my seat. The dull tap of asphalt shifts to a soft rustling as I make my way over to the lakeside.
There’s something on the shore, a barely discernible object, almost entirely concealed by a shock of verdant undergrowth. It’s a miracle I’d managed to spy it from the road, though perhaps something about the stark uniformity of the landscape had made it stand out.
As I advance towards the water, and the object draws near, its indeterminate form solidifies in my mind.
It’s a human arm, reaching out from the water and onto the bank. I crouch down to examine the few pertinent details. The fingers are still embedded firmly into the soil. The thumbnail is broken, coloured by a peeling coat of faded varnish. There’s a pallid, emaciated quality to the skin, spreading down the arm until it disappears beneath a thick, woollen sleeve. At the point it meets the surface, the water soaks into the fabric, turning it black from the original grey.
With a sad exhalation, I rise to my feet and lean over the water’s edge.
The body of Marjorie Guthard lies against the silt, her cheek resting on the lake bed, her wide bewildered eyes staring out into the open lake. She’s been almost perfectly preserved. Save for the striking tautness of her skin and its mottled, grey pallor, she looks exactly like the woman I saw on the 34th turn, who’d tried to repel me from the road, who’d spoken of a lake drinking her wounds clean.
It seems her ramblings weren’t completely void of fact. It’s clear to see that Marjorie has been exsanguinated, so completely in fact that the only evidence that blood ever flowed through her veins, is a large dark stain across her shredded blouse.
It doesn’t take long before the perpetrator makes itself known.
As I stare into the water, a steady stream of formless whispers sink up through the depths of the lake. The softly spoken murmurings drift up to my ears, taking root in the back of my mind and instantly blooming into a flurry of deeply persuasive promises.
I find myself entirely transfixed by the still water, as a myriad of generous offerings unfold in throughout my consciousness. The whispers suggest an end to the phantom pains in my absent arm, perhaps even a completely restored limb, stronger than it had been before. Furthermore, it shows me a glimpse of its incomprehensible span, its furthest bank reaching across countless worlds, its deepest point lying below everything. I’m offered total knowledge of every league, every fathom, every inconceivable shore.
My hand reaches down as the whispers continue, every bargain steeped in sweet beneficence. A moment later, my outstretched fingers brush against the soft grass, and wrap around Marjorie’s exposed arm.
Digging my heels into the ground, I lean myself backwards and pull. The water ripples and splashes as I drag Marjorie’s lifeless body slowly onto the bank. I feel the voices in my mind grow louder, erupting in anger as I back away from the lake.
The promises had been convincing, each quiet solicitation undeniably persuasive. But after seeing Marjorie’s wretched fate and the look of eternal betrayal in her vacant eyes, I found myself aware of a subtle undercurrent behind every syllable, a sense of desperation and timeless hunger emanating from beneath the lake’s surface. I already have a clear understanding of what would have happened if I’d lost myself to those waters. I suspect it’s no coincidence, that of the countless shores it showed me, all of them appeared to be deserted.
Marjorie wouldn’t have stood a chance. She’d left the forest alone, grievously wounded and without a vehicle. She’d walked the whole way here, bleeding endlessly, the road’s rejuvenating power battling every moment against her body’s natural inclination to die. I suspect the road’s influence wasn’t strong enough, and when a whispering voice promised, ever so sweetly to mend her, she would have been in no position to refuse.
Her other sleeve brushes against dry land, her body leaving the water for the first time in decades. I keep pulling until my boots hit asphalt, laying her down on the grass just beside the Wrangler.
After a moment of sober vigil, I walk to the back of the car and fetch Rob’s foldable spade.
A long few hours follow. I’ve never dug someone’s grave before, and my injury is hardly conducive to the task. My fleece tied around my waist, pearls of sweat running down my brow, I manage to slowly chip away at the damp earth. Five hours later, my back cramping, my hand raw from gripping the shovel, I attempt to lower Marjorie into the rough pit with some semblance of grace, her legs dropping limply into the soft soil despite my best efforts.
It takes over an hour to shovel the soil back. It’s a sobering and ugly task. As a layer of dirt covers her face, I realise this will be the last time a living person lays their eyes on Marjorie Guthard. Burying her suddenly feels disrespectful, as if it’s an act I don’t have the right to perform.
Once it’s done, I drop onto my knees, a dull ache in my muscles as I smooth out the disturbed ground with the back of the shovel.
Even before I turn to face her, I can hear a scowl in her voice. There’s an odious depth to that one acrid syllable, a potent witch’s brew of contempt and accusation that feels like it’s been festering in her drowned lungs for decades.
Reluctantly, I rise to my feet and turn around, finding myself face to face with the woman I just buried. She looks different now, her clothes are dry, her skin clear, with nothing to be seen of the deep, dark gash in her blouse.
Unlike the empty vessel below us, the woman in front of me is by no means at peace. She shakes and wretches with the same indignant fury I witnessed when we first met. When she speaks, her words shudder under the weight of her own turbulent emotions.
MARJORIE: I chased you. I ran to you. I… I gave him up for you.
AS: I’m… I’m sorry Marjorie, I don’t know what you mean. Tell me what you mean.
MARJOIRE The things I saw, things so beautiful. And I saw her, walking alone through the new worlds. I gave everything up for you!!
I don’t know quite what to say. It’s pointless to ask her what she means, to try and understand her frenetic ramblings. In the end, I can only try to speak her language.
AS: Marjorie I… I didn’t mean you to.
Marjorie’s trembling breaths burst into a despairing fit of laughter.
MARJORIE: Oh… oh yes you did. Yes you did. And now… now you’re here.
Marjorie’s wild and volatile demeanour shifts once more, her laughter degrading further into a desperate crying panic.
MARJORIE: And what do I do now? What- What do I do?!
Marjorie cringes with the terror of the self-imposed question, placing her head in her hands and repeating it over and over again. As I watch her wrestle with despair, I’m struck by an idea I’ve never before considered. The disconcerting notion that, in death, we are not transported to a set destination by some ethereal attendant. That in fact, nothing is decided for us. Perhaps the manner in which we spend our afterlife is down to us, a decision we have to make ourselves.
Marjorie is standing over her own lifeless body, still lost, still entirely unmoored.
There’s no sign of boundless paradise, inescapable damnation or everlasting nothingness, and the common thread they share, a final release from the weight of our own agency, is similarly absent. Perhaps we never get that freedom, perhaps we continue like we always do, accompanied by all our imperfections, uncertainty and discontent.
Perhaps we must choose our eternity.
After all my time on the road, that’s possibly the most terrifying notion I’ve encountered.
AS: He never stopped looking you know.
Marjorie snaps out of her wretched despair, instantly aware of who I’m referring to, staring up at me with an expression I’ve never seen her wear before.
AS: I saw him, walking on the road. He didn’t stop. He was never going to stop. I think he was looking for you Marjorie, he still is.
Marjorie stares through me. For the first time since we met on that quiet Phoenician corner, I can see the faint spark of something other than misery and rage across her tear stained face.
I hold her gaze for a moment more, before pulling my phone from my pocket. In a single sweep of my contacts, I delete every number except for one. A number I pulled from the Nokia during our second night on the road. A number that connects to a lost wanderer of the road.
AS: I don’t know if this can help but… stranger things have happened.
As she stares up into my eyes, I feel like we’re finally meeting for the first time. Without a word, Marjorie reaches out a quivering hand and takes the phone from my outstretched fingers.
Before I can say anything more, Marjorie Guthard is gone.
A few moments later, a refreshing breeze lands against my cheek, a soft zephyr, cooling my still warm face. It’s a welcome sensation, and the first movement I’ve witnessed in the air since I set out onto the lake. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I stare quietly along the bridge, the breeze picking up around me.
It’s a subtle wind at first, brushing stray hairs across my forehead, chilling the perspiration on my neck. Yet as I reach my hand out, and feel the air slip between my fingers, I’m witness to a steady rise in both strength and magnitude.
The sound of the wind grows from a whisper to a howl, Seconds later, the hanging sleeves of my fleece begin to stream sideways. My hair lifts from my back, billowing in the throes of a developing gale.
I back up against the Wrangler’s hood as the air finally erupts into a roaring, cacophonous cyclone. My hand reflexively seeks the sturdy frame of the Wrangler, my fingers wrapping around the grille, my arm tensing as the unrelenting wind threatens to drag me from the road.
Squinting through the violent tempest, I focus on a single point in space, just above the threshold of the bridge. In the midst of the storm, a jagged line of white hot light bursts out of the ether, tearing through the night’s fabric, a crackling fissure that widens and yawns, forcing apart the curtains of reality as they frenetically struggle to recombine.
Staring through the shuddering fracture, I’m subjected to the briefest glimpse of a boundless, and impossible vista. It is a faraway place in both distance and time. An achingly beautiful and gloriously terrifying dreamscape, enduring on the majestic shores of infinity. Every moment there spans a millennium and unfolds in countless directions at once. Every passing shadow holds a darkness beyond measure, their edges burned by the glare of a waking sun which looks across every conceivable world with a hollow, rancorous intent.
In the midst of this maddening landscape, a singular entity approaches, gliding towards the portal with the clear intent to pass through. As it breaches the shuddering gateway, and the wind dies down around it, I stare up at its grand celestial form.
The being is unlike anything I’ve ever seen; composed entirely from electric arcs of brilliant, magnesic light which burst from a volatile and blinding central core. It sounds like a lightning storm, its plasmatic tendrils snapping and crackling, bursting chaotically through the night air before collapsing in on themselves. As they fall back into the creature’s centre, they emit pale clouds of vaporous fractals that fade softly into the air.
Somehow, even as my eyes barely adjust to the stark light, I realise that the entity usually burns much brighter. It’s dampened its glow for my benefit, so that it can appear before me without scorching my eyes from their sockets.
AS: It’s you… isn’t it. You’re the voice I’ve been hearing. You’re the one who brought me here.
The bristling maelstrom of light hangs in the air, crackling and shifting, its transient limbs strobing with chaotic incandescence. Part of me wants to hide, part of me wants to run, but neither are an option anymore. Releasing my hand from the Wrangler’s grille I take a single step forward, standing on my own and staring up into the entity’s smouldering core.
AS: Can I get an interview?
The creature doesn’t react. In the following silence, I feel it observing me. When it finally responds, its voice ruptures the night, echoing through my skull.
VOICE: There is little time, but you may ask what questions you have.
Each reverberating syllable forms a string of literal shockwaves in the surrounding lake, emanating outwards from the being in a perfect circle. I watch the waves roll into the distance, showing no sign of ever diminishing, and I think about what question to ask first.
In the end, it comes to me quickly; a promise is a promise after all.
AS: What happened to Marjorie? Why did she do what she did?
The being pauses, as if considering its response. When it does reply, it speaks with a calm sobriety.
VOICE: She glimpsed an echo of the future, dreamed of the road, of the things that it passes through.
AS: Like whatever’s through there?
I gesture through the gateway, which is now almost entirely blocked from view by the creature’s spiralling form.
VOICE: She dreamed of untold frontiers. She saw a lone woman walking them. Over time, the fulfilment of that vision became everything to her.
AS: But it wasn’t her… she thought she was seeing her own future… but it was-
VOICE: It was you.
Those three words, as they burst into the open air, casting three narrow waves across the boundless water, hit me with a deep and heavy force. Unbeknownst to myself, decades before I was even born, Marjorie had been driven insane by dreams of maddening grandeur, of a life of boundless possibility and true significance. She had given everything up to chase a shadow… a shadow that eventually turned out to be mine.
I hadn’t just pulled Rob into this game, I was the reason for everything. I was the cause for the tragedy that befell his entire family,
AS: She didn’t just dream those sights. You influenced her. You let her see them… the same way you made Rob see me in Aokigahara. You pushed and you prodded wherever you needed so that I’d end up here. Are you the reason Bobby got the rules in the first place?
AS: But… why? You toyed with so many lives across… across decades. Why me? Why does it matter that I travel the road?
VOICE: Because across all humanity, across every conceivable permutation, you are the one who makes it the furthest.
It speaks plainly, as if the statement were a foregone conclusion. Yet its words strike me into silence.
The creature continues.
VOICE: I’ve watched you work your way here, through skill and through tenacity… and undeniably through luck. You were brought here because of these qualities, and they will carry you further along the road than any other.
AS: Then why didn’t you just bring me here? All that influence and you didn’t lift a finger… after everything that happened-
VOICE: Events transpired as they needed to.
AS: As they… needed to?! People died! Marjorie. Bobby. Ace. Apollo. Eve. Lilith. Everyone. They’re all gone. Do you not care at all?
In response to my words, the entity remains silent for longer than usual.
VOICE: I care more than you know. There are things greater than your understanding, forces that exist beyond the realms of your comprehension that you would consider a threat to everything you hold dear. My actions were guided by a higher standard of knowledge. Your protests are predicated on false understanding.
AS: You’re saying I don’t understand death?
VOICE: You don’t.
AS: … That still doesn’t make it right.
VOICE: Regardless, my influence is necessary. That which is necessary must be.
AS: What even are you?
VOICE:: I cannot answer that question in any way you’d understand.
AS: That’s not good enough.
The creature doesn’t respond, as if it doesn’t feel it needs to. So far it’s returned my every argument with impenetrable certainty. From the domain it occupies, knowing what it knows, my arguments must seem entirely facile. Even if it did feel the need to justify itself, after seeing the place it hails from, I wonder if there’s any way I could ever comprehend its motives.
Still, that doesn’t mean my arguments are invalid, and the creature’s lofty dispassion does little more than stoke my desire to oppose it.
AS: And what if I don’t want any part of this?
VOICE: You are travelling the aberrant strand; a singularly stable flaw in the fabric of reality. As it carries you further from the world you know, you will be freed from the influence of the old laws. You have already noticed the effects in those who settled the road, those who were lost to it and in yourself; energy without consumption, knowledge without requisite experience. You are shedding entropy, and causality and in time you will reach realms of understanding you cannot currently fathom. You will find answers to questions you never thought to ask. You will discover absolute truth. For this reason, you will carry on.
AS: That’s the only reason?
VOICE: Do you need another?
It doesn’t come across as a question, but rather another blunt statement of fact. I understand the effect it’s speaking of. Ever since the city, I’ve been encountering vague notions and fragmented ideas that occur to me randomly and without announcement. New avenues of thought leading to revelations that would otherwise lie beyond my mortal reach.
I’ve started to comprehend things I could barely have conceived of back home, and though the onset of these notions had been terrifying at first, they grow less so with every passing day.
AS: No… no, I don’t trust you. I don’t-
VOICE: Your trust is immaterial. You will travel the road regardless.
The creature’s already stark glow starts to intensify.
VOICE: I’ve watched you, on every turn … across every moment of your journey.
One of the creature’s countless protrusions lashes out at the empty air, forming another harsh, glowing fissure. It wrenches itself open in a few stilted jolts, a transparent, almost crystalline membrane stretched across the gap. Through it, I can see myself, in the centre of a cornfield, examining a block of C4 explosive.
It’s as if I’m staring into the past through a jagged shard of one-way glass.
VOICE: I’ve watched you questioning.
Though we can’t be seen through the aperture, I see the glasslike membrane shake with the force of the creature’s voice. As the window collapses, I can see the rows of corn thrown into a frenzy.
A second arc lashes out at the sky, forming a second aperture. This time I’m expecting the sight before me. I see myself, crying in the forest… a silent radio by my side.
VOICE: I’ve watched you struggle.
The second window closes. The creature has made its point.
VOICE: I’ve watched you fight… to make your way here.
VOICE: You will not turn around.
AS: You make it sound like I don’t have a choice.
VOICE: You do have a choice Alice, but you have already made it.
As much as I’ve grown to detest the creature’s presumption, in that moment, I know it’s right.
What it’s saying is true. I’ve done things I never would have imagined in order to get where I am now. In fact, if this being hadn’t arrived at all, I’d already be heading out over the bridge.
I’m not proud of what drives me; that same, ugly impulse that led me to refuse Rob’s offer of return, that made it so easy to leave him behind in the silent city. But there’s no denying the impulse is there. It’s been with me the whole time, long before I ever arrived in Phoenix, Arizona… and it’s buried deeper than I’ve ever wanted to admit.
AS: Can I… do I get to say goodbye?
The entity says nothing. It hangs in the air, flickering and coursing with rupturing bolts of light. The next thing I hear is a faint mechanical hum emanating from the Wrangler behind me. Turning around, I pace briskly back to the car, opening the door and reaching into the passenger seat. My notebook is booting up, seemingly of its own accord.
Picking up the laptop, I lift the lid as I march back towards the bridge. I stare up at the silent being before me. When I look down to the laptop, my email client is already displayed on the screen.
AS: How… how long do I have?
VOICE: Long enough.
The entity begins to regress, its arcs diminishing as the being at its core turns away. Its message has been delivered. There is nothing more to discuss.
As it passes through the gateway, into an unknowable world far removed from my own, I call out after it.
AS: I’m still not certain I trust you.
The being focusses on me once more, as the fracture begins to close. A final set of waves pass across the surface of the lake as it solemnly replies.
VOICE: … I remember.
A moment later, the being is gone.
I stand motionless in the middle of the road, the entity’s final remarks washing over me, its curious choice of words echoing in my head. In the renewed silence, the faint stirrings of an overwhelming and terrible revelation start to form in my mind.
It could have simply said that it knew of my mistrust, that it heard the overtones in my voice, saw the disdain across my face or otherwise sensed it in the space between us. Instead, the being spoke as if my current feelings were a memory, dwelling somewhere within its depths.
It was undeniable that my time on the road was changing me, but in all this time I’d never truly considered how those changes might evolve as my journey continues.
I’d never thought about what I might gain, what I might lose… or about what I might inevitably become.
A short while passes before I lower my eyes from the empty space above the bridge, to the screen of my notebook. Lowering myself down, I cross my legs and rest my back against the Wrangler.
If you’ve been reading from the beginning, you’ve finally caught up with me.
I hope you’ll allow me a few personal messages.
To Rob. I hope you’re able to read this someday, and I am so, so sorry for everything I’ve done; for everything I may do. I hope you understand that I didn’t know, and that none of this was your fault. You did the best you could, and the days I spent with you were the most significant of my life. It was an honour to know you and I hope that, among these pages, you find the answers, and the peace, that you deserve.
To my mum and dad, I’m sorry I won’t be sending this to you. In the end, I was carried along this road by a profound selfishness, and I just can’t bring myself to face you. I can’t imagine the pain I’ll be putting you through, and I won’t try to justify my actions. All I can say is that I love you and I’m sorry that my last act towards you was one of cowardice.
And finally to you; the person to whom this message will be addressed. I’m sorry. I always thought I’d see you again someday, that the roads I took would eventually lead me home. That doesn’t look so likely now. Though I could say a lot to you, I’m not going to.
But I wish we could have been friends for longer.
It feels like a lifetime since I first arrived at Rob Guthard’s quiet street. I remember the uncertainty as I waited for him to open his door, with no concievable idea what was about to transpire.
Like so many other things, that’s now changed. Despite being in an entirely new world, further from home than anyone’s ever been, I know exactly what’s going to happen next.
I’m going to take a drive. Take a left, then the next possible road on the right, then the next possible left. I will repeat the process ad infinitum, until I wind up somewhere new.
And from there I’ll keep driving, beyond worlds, beyond time, beyond the bounds of my imagining. To a place where the lake runs dry, where the broken moon drifts away, and the stars disappear in the rear view.
To a place where everything has fallen away, and the road is all there is.