Week Four Winner: The Paths Divergent by Karl A. Russell

We walked through the Doubling Woods, my Ghost Girl and I, marching in time to an inner beat, a rhythm known only to us. Matching breath for breath.

One of us raised a hand in greeting, and one of us returned it, but neither could know which was which.

We walked in companionable silence, beneath twinned boughs and mirrored blossom, to the sound of dopplered birdsong, and it seemed an endless, pleasing pathway.

Until we came to the clearing and the splitting point and the paths divergent. We stood a while, my Ghost Girl and I, and we thought on the choices ahead.

To go on, along the paths, into deeper, darker, solitary woods, where our breaths would no longer match?

Or to stay, side by side, in the clearing? No shade, no shelter, no chance of destination’s rest, yet still, together; Matching breath for breath.

She made to speak, to break the silence and to argue for or against, but all I heard was the echo of my own voice, ringing in my ears. I moved to sit, to rest and think, but found her sitting also, occupying my space.

We collided, my Ghost Girl and I, repelling each other with equal charge and we leapt apart, crying out in unified pain.

The idea took us both together and we turned like clockwork figures, hoping for the safety of retreat, but we found only greenery, lush and thick and impenetrable. There was no way back to where we had been before.

We faced each other again, my Ghost Girl and I, my tears rolling down her cheeks, hers down mine, unable to hear each other’s sorrow over the roar of our own. Matching breath for breath.

And so at last we turned again to the paths divergent, Unable to stay and to settle, barred from the unity of the past, we turned away from each other, there in that clearing beneath the sky, and we each took our first, hesitant steps apart.

I took the left and she the right, footsteps falling in perfect unison, watching each other through gaps in the foliage, longing for the paths to converge once more, to reunite us at some unknown point in the future.

But the way curved ever wider, the brush deeper, the cushioning fall of old growth deadening all sound.

And when I realised that I could hear but one voice, one footfall, one breath, I fell to my knees and I wept. And I know that she did too.

But it passed, and I rose and returned to my path, and I know that she did that too. And though I can no longer see her or hear her, I know that we are on similar journeys, my Ghost Girl and I. I know we shall not meet again, nor walk again in step to our shared rhythm, but I know that as I move on, she does too.

One step at a time.

Breath matching breath matching breath.

Karl A. Russell comes from the North West of England, where he lives with his wife and five year old daughter (his toughest critics). He’s been writing on and off for his whole life, but only started to actually finish and submit things a couple of years ago, when the spectre of turning 40 started looming in the not too distant future. He can be found most weekends posting at Flash! Friday and The Angry Hourglass.

Karl is currently working on a novel, which he might get to the end of this time, if he doesn’t waste all his spare moments on Twitter. If you want to read more of his work, his pay-what-you-want charity collection is available here.

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