First of all, before we begin let me point you to my first post on BayArt, which is the first step in a very long journey for me personally.
This is a short story I wrote from a writing prompt about the effects of turning your back on the gifts the universe provides for you, as well as a tale of courage and redemption.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed sharing it with you here.
Bob admittedly felt strange as he awoke on that Sunday morning, staring at the blue sky from his bed in his tiny one bedroom apartment, the bright sunlight forcing his eyes and his mind under the covers to try and regroup.
It felt like he got no rest at all, even though he had gotten into the habit of sleeping as much as possible, because it was better to be blissfully asleep rather than think about how lonely and isolated he was every single day of his life.
His eyes burned and his body ached as if he had been on a bender and then proceeded to start a fight in which the odds must have plainly been against him. Bob had vague recollections of a strange dream, of hands, reaching out and a voice that kept telling him he had one last chance.
Like most times a soundtrack for these thoughts popped up in Bob’s head. It was the chorus of an old George Harrison tune called Crackerbox Palace:
“While you’re a part of Cracerbox Palace
Do what the rest all do…
Or face the fact that Crackerbox Palace
May have no other choice than to deport you.”
Bob used to think that this ‘skill’ was cute and showed just how deeply connected he was to the sounds and the emotions of music. Of course today, broken back, broken will and closer to forty than thirty, it was just another reminder of how his life was anything but what he thought it might have been, and this was not even a consolation prize.
Anger rose in his chest like it had a thousand times before, but much like any tears that might well up in his dry eyes he knew it would pass in a moment or two, the thought would come to him that either way tears or anger it would change nothing and so what was the point of either emotion?
Pushing the blankets off in a violent panic at these new thoughts, Bob made his way to the tiny bathroom down the hall, and proceeded to relieve his bladder. From here Bob could squint and make out his reflection in the bathroom mirror.
Usually Bob would avoid his reflection like the plague, but there was something not quite right in what he was seeing. There was the man himself, his hands just out of view as they handled their business, there was the undone laundry in it’s basket, there was the shower curtain and there, right above his head, was a bright red rope like object that seemed to be tied to the ceiling.
Bob recoiled in surprise and made a small mess on the bathroom floor. Thoughts raced through his head, was there an intruder in his home, what was this rope doing here and more importantly what was it’s purpose?
A newspaper headline appeared in Bob’s head along with the headline: “Local man found Dead in Apartment, Foul Play Suspected.” There would be some random quote from one of his neighbors and it would be that classic snippet that usually gets said about isolated people and mass shooting suspects the world forgot about until their death or their explosion:
“He was a quiet man, never any trouble, he mostly kept to himself. He never really talked and I don’t know much about him, he never seemed like he wanted to be bothered.”
Bob made himself stop this train of thought as he looked up at this strange red object that had just appeared in his bathroom. It was not tied to the ceiling really, in fact, it went straight through the ceiling and into the apartment above it seemed, but there was no damage or hole in the ceiling itself.
The red rope held there like it was designed to be there as if it had always been there.
That’s when he noticed another bright red rope attached to his stomach right at the belly button. He took about four steps back in fear and found himself out in the hallway when he noticed also that the rope attached to the ceiling seemed to actually be attached to his head and when he moved, it moved as well.
The rope again made no damage to the ceiling as it followed him and more terrifying it seemed to almost glide or just change location rather than actual movement, as if it just was, as if the rope itself was on a mission to prove it was an indisputable fact in the universe, physics be damned.
Bob turned his attention to the red rope that seemed to originate from inside his belly and noticed that is only extended to a foot or so outwards and the far end of it was frayed and blackened as if the other end had been cut or burned off.
In a rush Bob went back to the bedroom and threw on some clothes, the red rope attached to his head followed, moving yet not moving as it hurried to catch up with him. He winced once when he bumped into the one attached to his stomach, it felt cold or like something missing or absent, like the way you used to feel after you lost a tooth as a kid.
Throwing on shoes (forget socks, that would mean even more bending over and then that rope on his stomach might move and touch him and he would have to feel it again), Bob went out his front door and down the stairs, making his way to the bottom floor.
At the entrance to the building by the mailboxes was Mrs. McCarthy, who was pushing seventy now and might not see eighty with the way she threw down those cheap forty ounce beers from the corner store six times a day.
Usually Bob would wait a minute and judge just how many Mrs. McCarthy might had been indulging in that morning as it usually meant the difference between her being pleasant or her being a drunk woman on wheels, trapped between the anger and the pain.
Today that did not matter though because besides her usual baggy dress with no bra and these ancient flip-flops that made sounds like dying frogs as they clopped down the halls, Mrs. McCarthy was sporting three red ropes of her own, all frayed and cut as the one that was attached to Bob’s stomach.
He stood there mouth agape until Mrs. McCarthy stopped talking to the mailbox and focused her attention on him. “What are you looking at you pervert?”
“Mrs. McCarthy, can you see…” Bob started but was cut off as Mrs. McCarthy waggled a dirty finger in his direction.
“I see perfectly well thank you very much! I know what men are like, you’re all the same! Worthless, cheap, cheating men! I had three husbands all cheap worthless nobodies who never really loved me…if they loved me they would’ve stayed.”
She chuckled and almost fell over into the outer doorway to the small mail room. “But in the end what does it matter eh? The lord giveth and the lord taketh away.”
Mrs. McCarthy started a deep laugh that shook her bones and made her damaged lungs cough from the three packs of poison she put into them daily, and the frayed red ropes began to sway to and fro, like branches before a storm.
The image scared Bob so much that he almost ran to the door that leads to the street, but once he looked out the glass at the world outside, he stopped dead in his tracks.
On the sidewalk in front of him was a young couple, who Bob only knew as the new tenants from the third floor that moved in six months ago. They had these same red ropes emanating from their bellies but theirs were attached, and much like the one above Bob’s head, it seemed to just exist with no regard for any object that got in between the pair.
They were unloading groceries from their car and when the man went back to the driver’s side door as he seemed to have forgotten to open the trunk when he got out of the vehicle, the red rope passed right through the car itself. When she began to bring the groceries in and he was still at the back of the car the rope almost seemed to extend and grow, as if no matter what that rope would never become separated from its two hosts.
Bob stood watching this and noticed that everyone seemed to have these ropes and they were attached to partners or friends, lovers, and family. Some of them were attached from mother to daughter, father to son. One child, who was being badly scolded by what appeared to be his father for ‘being lazy’ as they passed by the apartment building had one of those frayed ropes connected right to his chest.
The woman from the grocery shopping couple excused herself and moved past Bob with her bags, followed closely by her male counterpart. He nodded as he passed Bob but as he did his ‘rope’ seemed to retract and a small bit of it touched Bob’s arm as he passed.
Unlike the cold void of the frayed rope that was on Bob’s stomach this one felt like sunshine, the smell of rain after a storm or that content feeling you get when something goes right or you’ve met someone you truly like and the glow that soon follows. The feeling actually propelled him into the street with some kind of force as if that feeling was protected and no voyeurs were allowed to see it’s amazing secrets.
Bob looked up at the rope extending from his head and saw it reached out to the sky itself, it seemed to reach towards the sun but it was hard to tell if it actually touched the star as Bob could not see well enough in the glare it created.
Rage encircled him again, this was ridiculous didn’t he have enough misery without actually going crazy? Hadn’t life beaten him down enough by giving him no loves and no friendships, all his dreams splayed out across the road of life like an animal that wandered too close to the highway and was crushed by oncoming traffic?
Bob grabbed the rope above his head and was flooded by thoughts of his wasted potential, his wasted life and a few special people he had once thought were there with a purpose to help each other achieve both of their dreams.
These thoughts only made the anger and rage worse not better and so he pulled hard on the bright red rope extending into the sky and it fell like a cascading ribbon, stretching not across but through everything in its path. Like the rope connecting the young couple it could not be broken, it just was.
Bob stood panting, sweat beading across his face and ignoring for once the looks he got from passers by. He grabbed the end of the rope, despite the feelings of misery that arose in him as he did so and started to follow it through the streets. Even if he really was going crazy he might as well see who or what his rope is connected to, it might even help the doctors figure out what happened to him later on if he got the full picture of this delusion.
That, and he was desperately curious…what was on the end of his rope?
The clearing was not much because the wildlife preserve was not much, just a tiny island of green inside a vast ocean of concrete, but it was where the rope ended, and was connected to, of all things, a large tree at the far end of the clearing.
Bob stood staring at the tree and despite himself started to laugh. “So this is it? This is my great connection, my love? A tree? You’d think I’d dream up a better ending than this, although it is apt and par for the course.”
From nowhere and everywhere, from the outside and also within, a voice spoke. Not a great booming voice but quieter, like someone who is telling you great secrets or whispering sweet nothings in your ear: “I am not your great love, although I have love for you.”
“OK, now I’m talking to a tree.”
“You’re talking to the tree of life, which can also be called fate, higher purpose, true and unbiased love and occasionally a kick up the backside although I never did care for that one.”
“You seem very flippant for fate.” Bob said.
“You seem very flippant for one who dodges fate like a fly dodges the rolled up newspaper. Besides I brought you here cause I am tired of this game with you and I want my connection back.”
“So this is a repossession…of fate…from a tree, that is also true love…can you see why I am just not buying this so far?”
“If I had a head I’d shake it, oh wait, hold on.” The trees branches shook up and down a few times rapidly as if they were being pushed and the released from above by giant hands. “There that is almost better, I used to appear as a Human but it never worked out too well but you just never get the right expressions with trees.”
“I don’t see what that has to do with…” Bob began, but was cut off by a powerful wind that made the entire clearing shake.
“Never mind I was just rambling, I only need to have a head to shake because you refuse to remove yours from your behind.”
“Well as long as I’m talking to fate, for someone so special you sure as hell dealt me a crappy hand, no draws and no folding.”
“I think you learned how to fold just fine, it was the betting and the ante you never got. Bluffing perhaps, but only when you were bluffing yourself.”
“So what you’re here to tell me I have wasted your time? That I am a loser, a reject, a fool and a coward? Because I’ve heard those before and I don’t really need to hear them again.”
“No, I am here to tell you your a loser, a reject, a fool and a coward and I’m tired of trying to get you to see what cards are actually in that ‘bum hand’ I gave you and trying to lead you to people and places that will let you achieve what I hoped you would have at least started by now. Instead, you waste time being miserable, wasting away in self-hatred and pain and not giving one damn that you yourself are drowning.”
“So it’s an inspirational talk today is it?” Bob shot back.
“Such blasphemy, and such sadness and hatred behind that cynical comedy. A comedy of errors if you will. You know I remember when we gave you that skill thinking you might use it for helping others laugh at their fears or creating something to give joy, not deflecting truth and using it like an inward pointing knife.”
“Said the tree to the man who never got a break,” Bob said. “It’s not like I had a good foundation for anything great, I was hated and unloved and shown exactly what my value is.”
The tree projected a feeling that could almost be something between laughter and frustration. “And this is exactly why I am done with you to a degree. I will always be here but as you never wake up I have to focus on the awake ones, not the bears that never awaken from hibernation to hunt.”
“You were given insights into things, skills beyond belief, people that really loved you and believed in you, opportunity and everything else one could ever need, The Ace of Pentacles turned upright: “You have been given a resource use it well and be grateful.” The Tree continued. “The only thing..the only thing ever missing was you, inner love and self-belief.”
Bob searched for words but none would come, the defenses would not raise and the self-hatred was temporarily shut up by the naked and raw truth, hanging out in the open like a snare.
“You see,” The Tree continued. “It is like this. Fate exists, it is real and it happens every day. To paraphrase The Bard, every day we bump into people that will play a role in our stories. Some have just minor roles, some are just stagehands and sometimes there can be an audience. But you can avoid your role in that play the same way you can avoid a trip to the dentist or doing last night’s dishes.”
Rage built up in Bob, the same way the truth always made him angry. He was helpless in life, he had nothing and no one, his body was shot and he never seemed to be good enough to be involved in life or have anything go his way.
Bob shook a finger at the tree and was reminded briefly of old lady McCarthy and her dirty braless attire and noisy ‘frog sandals’. “You mentioned love, but what love have I been given? What people have ever wanted me around for the long haul? How many times has this heart not listened to the head your connected to and found only unrequited nonsense that only ended up hurting me more.”
“That, much like how you chose to deal with matters from the distant past is your doing. I hand out tools, I don’t build the damn boat for you. You had all of those resources given to you and you routinely tossed it away.”
“Well if it was there I was sure as hell never shown it…never.”
“With you, there is always what cannot be, what you cannot believe in, and what you will not notice. A good example is here we are, in this place, you are talking to a being hardly anyone gets to talk to and here you are not asking about the rope at your belly.”
“I kind of forgot about it honestly…it’s not very pleasant.”
“Is it cold, empty and silent?”
Bob recalled the feeling he got when he had touched it, that icy feeling of being lost and full of discomfort and nodded his head. “It feels like death.”
“Because that is what it is. It is death, but it is not the mortal death that everyone fears but the death of a great ideal, death of a partnership or a collaboration. It is the most horrible loss the universe has ever known or will know, it is taking the larger plan and ignoring it out of spite and blissfully ignorant existence.”
“But no one was ever connected to me like that. Not ever…”
“Do you want me to take you back to those days, want to revisit a ghost that haunts your heart like a stalker when you’re alone? Do you want me to speak of them? Because I know it hurts and I know you know, people always know, they just don’t want to listen or remember.”
“No I don’t, I never want to remember that useless garbage ever again if I can help it.”
“But you do don’t you? On your own, alone in depressive thought, you do remember. You recall all the people you killed, the people you pushed out because, in the end, it was easier than trying.”
“No!” Bob shouted. “It was not that it was easier than trying it was that it was easier than seeing the look on their faces when they realized who I actually am underneath. To protect them.”
“Protect yourself from ever moving you mean. You knew in the back of your head each time and you would go out of your way to self-sabotage and destroy it, anything you could do to test their love for you, push them to the limits of sanity and trying to break the unbreakable even though they actually cared because in the end that is what scared you and what you could not believe in…that anyone would actually love you. And they still do, somewhere, they just could not stand the pain of watching someone they loved die from the inside out.”
“I don’t…I can’t…” Bob mumbled as tears started to well up behind his eyes.
“Now those are two phrases we know you know well. Almost poetically ironic that you chant them in your worst moments.”
“So what can I do then? If you’re so great at providing situations and tools then tell me what to do!”
“Tell yourself what to do. With a hammer, you can build a house or you can destroy one as someone once said. You choose to build it or take it down.”
“You cannot build a house on a rotten foundation.”
“I think you’re dismissing ingenuity and resolve. A bad foundation can actually make the house stronger if it is repaired.”
“Same old inspirational claptrap. Just more words.”
“Again it is ironic to hear about words from a man who does the same as he complains about. All words, no actions. Words are always just words until someone believes in them be it the author themselves or the reader. The Bible was nothing more than a collection of stories till someone found faith inside it and faith in the words we tell ourselves is at the heart of this matter. You cannot be enlightened if you do not wish to be so.”
“I did not choose this, I would never have chosen this…”
“But you did, and that is why the extra you were given must be taken. We cannot have someone holding onto something rare if they do not appreciate its value when others could.”
The clearing started to fade and the red rope detached itself from Bob’s head and started to be retracted towards the now fading tree.
“No, you can’t leave me! Then I will be alone, really alone!”
“You always were because you chose to be. Sometimes we have to reap what we sow and if you can’t plant the right crops in your garden why should we continue to give you space to grow weeds?
Everything became awash is a hazy gray light, somewhere in between light and dark. It was this gray light that still allowed Bob to see the bright red rope, drawing ever closer to the tree. Freeing himself from the sights around him Bob threw himself forward to catch the rope as it was dragged along the ground.
He caught the very end of it, which was now frayed like the others and pulled himself closer to it so he could get a firm hold on it. Once he did he rolled over on his back and pulled up his shirt. There, still attached to his stomach was the frayed red rope, a reminder of names he would not mention and feelings he had banished forever.
Bob took the rope the Tree had taken and tied it to the one cut by his regret and his pain. The two pieces instantly fused together, as if they were always together, always will be together, something solid enough to shake worlds.
The clearing was still fading but as Bob smiled at the feat he had just accomplished, he found himself propelled forward till he was inches from the tree’s bark. He could see tons of ants crawling on the Tree’s surface and they formed eyes that seemed to be both loving and cruel, the light and the dark combined.
“I’m sorry for my little ruse, no one can take away fate but yourself.” The tree said, still ‘speaking’ in that soft voice from before but the tone had changed. The prior conversation was a friendly game of playful debate with a lesson. This was deadly serious. “But I am getting frustrated with you. Stop being so damn despondent and pick yourself up or I will have no choice but to knock you down again and again until you learn.
Because all lessons will be repeated until they are learned…”
Bob woke up drenched in sweat in his bed, the alarm going off beside him. It was nine in the morning and that had been one hell of a dream. He felt his stomach and the top of his head and indeed, no red ropes, no talking trees, and no damn fate.
“Well that is not too much of a surprise is it?”
Bob walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. Not much in there but some condiments and some beer. Deciding that the beer was probably ‘more normal’ then a breakfast of ketchup and mustard, he opted for the beer and walked over to look out the window above the kitchen sink, opening the can as he went.
There in his reflection which blended in with the view of the back lot behind the apartment building like a hazy mirage, was the red rope. It was still there, and he was still on the clock.
The beer went into the sink and the scariness of going without its crutch was replaced by a thought that in the end, it is only fear that throws fate from its throne and it is only a cold heart that cannot warm its own soul.
I hope you enjoyed this story and if you have the means to help out I am at the end of a very long marathon of financial strife and clicking on and donating to my Go Fund Me campaign here would mean a lot, thank you for reading and let me know what you think about the story and it’s lesson in the comments below.