At the Crossroads
By James Hold
[Copyright 2017 James Roy Hold
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This is a sequel to STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN and HIGHWAY TO HELL.
Please read those stories first.
AT THE CROSSROADS
“Leaving you girl for the very last time” —— Doug Sahm
There is a place in downtown Houston where three roads come together to form a square. Among the buildings occupying this square is a branch of the Public Library presided over by an Ancient Librarian, a lady of snow-white hair and indeterminate age, whose fine parchment-like skin retains the indicators of a profound beauty and whose untroubled brow bears witness to a deep and abiding wisdom. To this particular building come people from different walks of life in search of answers and understanding. Not all who come are human. Sometimes a multicolored cat will worm its way through a partially opened door and find comfort in a soft cushioned chair. Other times different forms of existence drop by. But be it day or night, the Ancient Librarian is there to welcome them all.
“Don’t be afraid,” the Librarian called to the dim figure waiting in the dark. “It’s after hours and there’s no one here but you me and the cat.”
“The cat?” Out of the shadows stepped the figure of a small-boned girl, no longer a child but not yet an adult, clad in a hooded sweatshirt. “Oh, tis the same cat that has followed me all this time. Or has it been leading? Oh, help me Mother, for I do not know.”
“Nonsense, Child,” the Ancient Librarian addressed the slender shadowy shape softly. “Tis naught but a cat, and like any cat comes and goes as it pleases. As may you, if you wish.”
“If only it were so.” The girl came to the Librarian’s desk. “But there is much I need to know first. Confusion holds me back, and I came here seeking answers.”
“Then tarry awhile at my side,” the Ancient Librarian invited, “and perhaps together we may find what you seek.”
The girl did as the old woman bid, pulling up a chair and cradling her head on the wooden surface of the desk. The curious cat came forward and sniffed the girl’s wet hair——odd that it be damp on a warm night such as this——but the Librarian reached out and pulled the hood over the child’s head so she would not be disturbed. The animal retreated to the opposite side, purring softly as it curled up to listen.
No word passed between them. None seemed necessary. Yet soon the girl stirred as the first unpleasant memory flashed across her vision. An unfortunate bad score followed by a professor’s indecent proposal. A naive girl taught to respect authority, she closed her eyes and told herself it wasn’t happening.
“Is this the answer you sought?” asked the Librarian gently.
“Only one, Mother,” the tired girl replied. “Only one. There is yet more I would know.”
“Then be still, and let it come.”
Come it did. A second vision. Three girls together in a college dorm, their faces drawn and tense. “I warned you nothing good could come from this,” the dusky one expressed herself bitterly. “We were fools to even attempt it.” “And what if the police should question us?” asked the blonde, fearfully. “They’re sure to drop by eventually.” The Asian girl buried her face in a pillow, the cushion receiving her tears. “I meant well,” she told the others, “after I learned what happened to her. How was I to know she’d remember?” There the vision ended, three girls filled with bitterness, fear, and tearful regret.
“Enough now?” inquired the Librarian. “I would think it sufficient.”
“One last time, please, Mother,” the troubled girl begged. “One last time and then I’ll know.”
“Very well,” the old woman stroked the girl’s head kindly. “One last time.”
The third vision appeared swiftly. A car, a bridge, a river rushing upward, then darkness.
“Oh, Mother!” the girl startled upward. “Say it isn’t so. Tell me I didn’t.”
But the Librarian was incapable of lying. As were the visions. All the old woman could do was push the girl’s head back down on the desk and calm her best she could.
“My poor, poor child.” She addressed the tortured soul with soothing tones. “A wicked man wronged you with evil intent, only for a friend to wrong you meaning good. And to this you responded by doing wickedness unto yourself. Such is the cycle. And now you judge yourself evil for making a mistake.”
“Hush, Child. It is all right. Mistakes alone do not add up to evil.”
“Then there is still a chance?”
“There is always One who grants forgiveness…and peace. You need only ask for it to be given.”
Then the Librarian uttered a string of words in a voice too low to be heard, and when she finished the girl lifted her head no more. The cat rose from its resting place and nudged the hood covering the girl’s head. It fell back momentarily to reveal a fragile skull of bone-white purity which in the selfsame instant became a fine dust that spread itself over the desktop. The cat drew back in wonder, a hiss upon its lips, but the Ancient Librarian shooed it away, telling it to return to the house where it belonged. Then taking a small jar from a drawer, she swept the remains into it and carried it to a darkened shelf where she placed it alongside a collection of others. A day would come when body and soul would be reunited, and the Librarian would make certain it was available when the time was right.
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