~*~ The Wrong Path ~*~
Into the night they walked, the lights of the park fading from view; the sidewalk ahead of them being highlighted every now and then, when a streetlight ushered them on by. With each passing step, Laurie could feel her body growing heavier, but it was only in the moments when a street post drew her into the light that her eyes opened to the reality of what she was doing, and the urge to turn and run back towards her chosen destination called loudly.
"Nearly there..." the woman at her side would say every now and then. But Laurie was seriously beginning to doubt it.
"We should get you a cab," Laurie exhaled, dreading what may lay ahead. She still didn't know who they were going to see, neither did she comprehend why, but the sooner they got there the better, for then she could continue on her own way.
Somewhat impatiently, Laurie released a silent, thick breath, clenching her teeth as she did. This journey was turning out to be way too long.
Laurie took the next several minutes to settle her temper, then felt it was time to introduce herself. "I'm Laurie, by the way."
"Carol..." the elderly woman returned, cringing as she used one arm to press hard against her stomach; her second arm hooked into Laurie's.
"You're ill. You shouldn't be walking." Laurie glanced about the street and all its sleepiness. "There must be a cab around here somewhere." But they were completely alone. A chill skated up and down Laurie's spine as the eeriness of the atmosphere paraded itself before her. She shook such nonsense from her head, trying to remain focused. "Perhaps we should get you to a hospital, instead."
"I've been to hospitals. Many of them. Seen a multitude of doctors and they all report the same thing: There is no hope."
Like a knife through her soul, "There is no hope" stabbed vehemently at Laurie. Not because she longed for the opposite to be true, rather, because she regretted telling someone who was obviously terminally ill that there was no hope. Inwardly kicking herself, Laurie momentarily closed the lids of her eyes over her shame, and longed for it to be washed away.
"It's ok, my dear," Carol tenderly offered, as though she had noted Laurie's reaction. "It's all part of the circle of life, is it not...?"
Circle...? thought Laurie, bitterly... More like a flippin' merry-go-round that's anything but merry and never gets you anywhere but dizzy and quite often nauseous! All Laurie could reply was, "Nearly there..." yet, she doubted that very much...
"You don't like this life, do you?"
To Carol's question, Laurie huffed. "What's there to like?"
"This," replied Carol, smiling at Laurie's arm in hers, patting the younger woman's hand as she did. "Never does an act of kindness, and the touch of another human soul, mean so much as when the one being touched is in their darkest moment." Before Laurie could respond in any way, Carol lifted weary grey eyes to her and smiled. "'...I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' The good Lord Himself said that."
Ignoring the quote that grated on her soul, Laurie sighed, walked on and willed for this part of life's journey to be over. Before another word could be spoken, a dark figure standing at the foot of a short tree came into view. It was the mumbling he echoed that drew their attention more than anything... that and the way he continually tried to get something off his bare hands.
Feeling somewhat protective, Laurie drew nearer to Carol's side and hurried on, but Carol would not be pushed. Rather, she stopped in the middle of the street, looking beyond Laurie, to where the dark figure continued his act. "We can't leave him here like this," Carol decided.
"Uh," scoffed Laurie, "yeah, we can. You need help."
"So does he."
When Carol stepped from Laurie's grip and walked towards the stranger, Laurie cursed with passion.
"Excuse me," Carol called to the man, as Laurie moved to stand beside her, just incase the man turned violent.
"Can't get it off," he was saying, more to himself than anyone else, rubbing one hand hard against the other, repeatedly. "Can't get it off... It's stained... I'm stained... Can't get it off... Can't get it off... It won't come off... I'm marked... I'm a marked man..."
"Can't get what off?" Carol dared to ask.
Continuing as he was, and obviously highly anxious with it, he said, "I'm a marked man... Blood... I've got blood on my hands... Can't get it off... Can't get it off... Can't get it off... Can't get it off..."
Laurie was mystified when Carol stepped over and reached out for the man's hand. As was he.
"No!" the man squirmed, pushing himself up against the trunk of the tree as though he feared Carol was going to harm him in some way. "Don't touch me... Please, don't touch me... Blood on my hands... I've got blood on my hands... Don't touch me... Don't... Don't touch me..."
But Carol would not listen. She stepped into the man's space and as she placed one hand on both of his, she used the other to wrap her arm about his shoulder. In an instant the man was on his knees, weeping, just as Laurie had done not so long ago.
Feeling the man's pain deep in her soul, Laurie dropped to her knees, covering her open mouth with both hands, and inhaling deeply as tears of empathy spilled forth. Right then, she knew she loved Carol as she'd never loved another living soul... The woman mesmerised her. Never in all her life had she witnessed such a generous, and selfless act of love.
"You will come with us," Carol calmly offered to the man as he sat back, drying his tears.
A tad calmer now, he shook his head, briefly making eye-contact with Carol and Laurie, revealing his shame. "I can't. I deserve to stay here."
Carol glanced about the darkened area. "My child, we all deserve to stay here, yet we're all invited to a place far more beautiful than this... far more beautiful than any of us deserve."
"I'm guilty," he tried to convince her.
Carol groaned an old lady's groan as she forced her aging body to her feet. Smiling, she offered the man her hand once more. "Aren't we all..."
"Where are you going?" he wanted to know, taking hold of Carol's hand but remaining seated on the ground.
"We're going to see the Trader. He will trade you for that blood..."
Laurie was as baffled by that statement as the man seemed to be, but said nothing other than, "We should go, Carol."
"Come," said Carol the man...and soon the three of them were on their way, with Laurie more confused than before, yet far more intrigued on discovering where Carol was leading them.
(to be continued)