Each of us faces multiple futures.
When we are born, the number is infinite. As the years go by, we make decisions, some small, some large, and the number of possible futures shrinks with each choice. Each decision we make severs the branch of the choice we deny and shrinks our collection of possible fates even further.
Sometimes, the actions of others influence the futures we possess. Their choices and mistakes create possibilities for us that we may not ever have imagined. We journey forward, moved by the flow of choices made, until we reach our destination. We are left with one last future, one remaining outcome determined in small steps by all of our previous actions.
It is here, standing at the end, that we sometimes ask ourselves –
What would have happened if?
What might I have changed?
Each of us faces multiple futures. Some are good, and some are bad. We can’t predict them. We can only guess and hope that the decisions we make do not result in disaster. Sometimes, two possible futures can be as different as night and day, and the difference can be made in an instant with one small choice that changes everything.
Set back from the road where no one usually travels, high upon a rolling hill, there sits a cottage. It’s not very large. In fact, it’s actually quite small. You can just barely see it from the road below, as long as you know where to look. Most pass it by with barely a fleeting glance. Occasionally, some curious soul stops before the tiny driveway and looks up towards the cottage beyond.
At the base of the driveway, there is a mailbox with neat black stenciled lettering bearing the name of Shaw. It’s not the true name of the occupants of the cottage, it’s not even close, but they’ve lived so long now with that name that it has come to feel comfortable, almost familiar.
Mr. and Mrs. Shaw.
It is of course doubtful that there remains anyone alive who truly remembers what their real names once were. These false names are a security blanket long past needed, but still used for safety’s sake. In the privacy of their little home, they still use the names they have always called one another, though they would sound strange to unknowing ears.
The driveway meanders up to the house through brambles and bushes of over grown vegetation. The forest life encroaches over the edges of the drive, creeping in as if to shield the road from the prying eyes of others.
Once you pass this first area of disrepair, and advance closer towards the tiny structure, a strange sight greets your eyes. Near the end of the driveway, right before you reach the cottage, the road opens before you like a gift. The brambles clear, the bushes retreat to their homes in the forest, and a garden opens where there once was chaos.
This garden is lovingly tended. Rows of creeping myrtle line the edges of the drive bordered from behind by the huge blooms of fragrant hydrangeas. At the end of the drive, in a small gravel circle, a small Volkswagen is parked. It is old and rusted, of an indeterminate age, but well maintained. Small circular stones form a path leading to the door of the cottage. Along the sides of the path, beds of roses and peonies with scatterings of wildflowers in between are carefully placed and cared for with pride.
This home is small and has no real neighbors to speak of, but it is filled with love. The people who live here have fought hard to attain this peace. They suffered long and sacrificed much in a struggle to find truths long buried by evil. They almost did not escape with their lives.
But they do not dwell on these things anymore. Those are the demons of the past, horrors and sorrows best left to rest. These two people, these two survivors, are grateful that they were spared. They greet each day with the knowledge that it could have been so different, that one choice made differently might have led them to tragedy. It could have been so much worse.
Each year at Christmas, they stop to remember. They pause and honor those who were not as fortunate. They mourn for their friends and family whose lives were lost in a struggle none of them began. There are so many names to remember.
Sisters. Fathers. Friends. Co-workers. People whom in their attempt to help only ended up sacrificing their own lives. There is one man in particular - a boss, and a friend, who sacrificed his life to keep them alive. It is his memory that they honor most highly.
These two people are the last to remain.
During the rest of the year, they live quietly, enjoying the harmony they have finally found; relishing the love that neither thought would ever be possible.
In the early mornings, the old woman, hair white as the snow, eyes still clear and blue as a crystal sea, can be seen walking out among her flowers. She has lost none of the dignity she once possessed. Even as old age advanced, her strength and spirit remained. Now, in these later years, she radiates an aura of serenity and intelligence senility will never dampen. Some mornings, her husband joins her, sitting in the shade of the arbor that they constructed together, watching her work. His hair has long since faded to gray and lines of age and experiences now mark the passage of time across his face. Yet, even in his golden years, his hazel eyes dance with unsuppressed mirth. He is content with his life. Happy to be alive and safe with the woman he loves.
These two people live solitary lives, but they are never lonely. In a world where many people cannot maintain a marriage for more than a few years, these two have found a connection that will span eternity.
They have found their truth.
The church is small, built around the turn of the nineteenth century. Its simple beauty conveys an atmosphere of peace and harmony. Rustic stained glass windows glow with warmth during the evening, casting the surrounding land in colorful illumination.
Behind the church sits a cemetery.
Row upon row of headstones march from the back of the church and out into the fields beyond. Some of the graves date back over a century. They are old and crumbling with no one left to tend to their maintenance.
Hills roll softly from the back of the church, tumbling over one another covered with two centuries of life and death. The further away from the church you move, the sparser the graves become until they taper off completely, leaving you in the open peace of grassy fields.
It is in one of these distant fields, over those rolling hills, that you find something strangely out of place. Set back where few marks of mankind have touched are two headstones. You must walk through patches of blue bells and violets to reach them. Wildflowers brush your ankles as you walk, creating splashes of color upon a bed of green.
These graves are new.
Set side by side with identical markers, two people rest in recently disturbed earth. If you look closely, moving up to read the inscriptions, something will shock you. These two people died on the same day of the same year, one death immediately following the other. Most shocking of all, these two people were tragically young.
Every grave tells a story. Some speak of long lives lived and filled with love. Some tell of violent and untimely deaths. These two graves speak of tragedy and sacrifice. They tell of a man and a woman whose futures ended in sorrow, of two fates who were so intertwined that not even death could separate them. The cold glossy surfaces of these headstones tell of one life taken by evil, and another taken when the thought of a life alone was too much to bear, when death by his own hand became the best alternative.
The headstones receive
few visitors, but the ones that do come are loyal.
Their most common guest is an older woman. She has dark hair sprinkled with signs of gray and silver. Harsh lines created by the loss of one too many children mar her otherwise attractive features. She visits these graves, trudging out amongst the bluebells, on a weekly basis. Spreading her cloak out before the granite slabs, she kneels upon it to speak to her children. She tells her daughter of their family and of how it still grows. She tells the man, the man who is not really her son but who always felt like he was, of the progress of his quest. She has little good news on this topic. His quest is all but forgotten.
With careful hands, she clears the weeds from the front of the stones and sweeps the dead leaves away. When the graves were still fresh, before the new dirt had even become packed down, this woman planted a tree. Digging a hole three feet deep between the two markers, she planted the sapling of a weeping willow.
Weeping willows are determined trees. They grow swiftly, spreading their branches around them as an umbrella, draping their mournful leaves towards the ground like tears. This tree has grown well since it was planted. Someday, when this woman’s grave lies beside that of her husband, this tree will remain. It will grow through the years, reaching for the sky, sheltering her children beneath its elegant arms.
At the end of each visit, she stoops down to place a kiss on the top of each headstone. With her lips touching cold stone, she whispers, “Keep each other safe.”
Making far less regular visits are a trio of unusual men. They arrive a few times each year, whenever they have some news to deliver, and always on the dead man’s birthday. They stand solemnly before the graves to revisit old memories. Sometimes they speak, sometimes they don’t. When they do speak, it is often filled with thoughts of the past, of old adventures and discoveries that once seemed thrilling. Most of these are silly things, but they make these men feel connected somehow, as if their friend can hear them and laugh along with them in fond remembrance.
They always bring flowers.
Occasionally, when the winds are rough and the sky is gray, when there is assurance that no other visitors will brave the outdoors to find this place, another man comes. He is old and haunted. His craggy features and cheerless eyes gaze on the graves with an expression of indifference. He has schooled his emotions to be indecipherable. He never speaks. Instead, he stands between the graves in silence. Once and a while, a look that resembles longing or guilt will flit across his features. It is always quickly erased. He never stays long. The only sign that he comes at all are the ashes from a spent cigarette that litter the pristine grass.
There is one last regular visitor.
He arrives every few weeks. His visits are performed out of loyalty and a sense of guilt. He is guilty because he had the power to stop this. He didn’t forbid them from taking the course that set them on this path. He feels that as their superior, he should have done more.
He has seen too much death. He has seen friends fall in battles both sanctioned and secret. On every trip he makes, he runs his fingers over the inscriptions on the two grave markers. Beneath his fingers, he feels the bumps and ridges left behind by the mason’s chisel.
Each headstone bears the same inscription –
“The truth has set them free.”
In a tiny basement office, a future is being decided. The two who are making this decision have no way of knowing the vastness of what they speak. They cannot see the events that may follow this decision.
A small woman, with fiery hair and brilliant eyes, speaks. “Mulder,” she says, watching him from her chair across the room, “I’m just not sure. I don’t feel comfortable about this case for some reason.”
Her companion looks on her with concern in his eyes. “Comfortable?”
She considers her words for a moment before answering. “Something about it feels wrong somehow.”
He answers her with the respect he has always regarded her opinions with. “You don’t think we should take it?”
She looks uncertain, some tiny part of her nagging at the back of her consciousness. “I’m not really sure.”
The man, with thick dark hair and the shadows of guilt written in his eyes, regards her for a moment. He is thinking, his lightening quick intellect pondering the possibilities. He trusts her judgement, but at the same time he cannot help being intrigued by the case file that lays open before him.
“We’ll think about it, Scully,” is all he says.
Thanks for reading. So, does anyone want to tell me their interpretation? Yes, that’s a request for feedback. I’m actually interested in seeing if this works for people the way I intended it to.
Bye. : )