The Hopeful Wanderer – No Choice At All

A twinkling deep in the desert brought me to a choice. One that appeared as one light from a distance, but separated into three as I drew near. Beneath the star-splashed night sky, a lone figure stood. Cloaked in black. A bird’s face for a mask. Bone, etched with secrets and mystery.

A trio of candles sputtered upon an iron candelabra. The figure held the candles out toward me.

From beneath the mask, a deep voice reverberated with the tones of the desert. “You may choose, Wanderer.”

“What are the choices?” I asked.

“Blow out the candle that burns with your name, your path, or your past.”

All things I wanted. I considered the candles before me, but none of them showed their secrets. Closing my eyes, I hovered my palms over them, feeling for cold spots. Listening with my other senses. Nothing came to me.

Except.

The barest whisper. Replace me, replace me, replace me… Coming from inside the mask or… from the mask itself. Along with the scent of decay.

When I glanced back up at the figure’s face, the eye sockets of the mask wept tears of blood down the beak. One or two sizzled where they dripped onto hot wax.

“CHOOSE.”

In one huge breath, I blew out all three.

The desert grinned sideways at me.

From the darkness, the figure’s deep voice came. Distraught. Reproving. “That’s cheating.”

A bright flash of orange sparks and blue smoke illuminated the figure for a second. The mask had morphed into the rotting skull of a long-dead bird. The beak clacked once at me and then the figure vanished.

These desert haunts were canny foes. Annoyed at myself for falling for the usual tricks, I scuffed my toe in the sand. “Well, I think I won in the end.”


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