In the middle of nowhere, under a sky of darkness filled with unrecognizable stars, there is a crossroads.
Its roads are made of rocks and dirt, and walking along them fills the cold air with dust. Brown brittle grass covers the sides, making it difficult to see where the road ends and the battered landscape around it begins. There is silence at this crossroads. The only sounds are the ones that you bring with you.
At the northeast corner is a small cemetery. The dozen or so wooden markers have cracked and crumbled over the years, and the names that once adorned them have long since faded. Those poor souls that are buried under the dry ground have been anonymous for longer than any of us have lived, and they will remain that way long after you and I have joined them below.
On the northwest corner are the barely visible remains of what was once a path leading into a large crop field. At the center of this field are the ruins of an old farmhouse. The family that had built it had seen it as their greatest accomplishment, their reward for decades of struggle, suffering, and toil. There had been happiness in that house. Laughter and love had filled its walls.
In the end, those same walls had echoed with unanswered prayers and horrified screams. They had been covered in thick blood and sticky gore. With the family gone, the farmhouse had been left to rot, and that rotting continues still. The structure’s bones look out over the crossroads like a gaping malformed skull.
The other two sides of the crossroads are filled with fields. The color is not the cheerful gold of wheat before harvest, but is instead the yellow of dead plant matter. The fields extend far beyond the limits of human sight. They are vast seas of lifeless decay.
The roads extend off in different directions, each stretching towards a different point on the compass. These roads lead to everywhere, and they lead to nowhere.
A young woman barely out of childhood once stumbled out of a dingy apartment building in a bad part of Chicago. She had done something bad, something that she couldn’t see any way to come back from. All she could think of was escaping, fleeing into the night to leave behind what she had done. With red stains on her dress and a cocktail of narcotics pumping through her veins, she stumbled down the concrete street and under a rusting metal bridge.
Less than an hour later, she hung three feet off the ground inside the remains of the farmhouse, a broken piece of timber from the first floor ceiling shoved through her mouth and out the back of her skull. Her glassy eyes were wide, and her pale skin was covered in deep scratches. Blood dripped in thick droplets from her many wounds until her body had nothing left to give. It pooled underneath her as it soaked into the old wood.
There was a day when a lawyer in Tallahassee was feeling particularly proud of himself. He had just gotten one of his more affluent clients released from jail without the client even being officially charged. The client had been extremely grateful, and he had made sure to show that appreciation in the form of a large payment. Never mind that the client had confessed to the lawyer that he had indeed committed the crimes, and that the crimes in question had been despicable acts involving children. None of that was important to the lawyer. What was important to him was the increase in both his bank account and the bragging rights his performance gave him over his peers.
Thinking of the things he would do with his new financial windfall, the lawyer left the courthouse and walked down the sidewalk. It was a bright day, and he took a deep breath of the warm Florida air as he allowed a self-satisfied smirk to spread across his face. He turned the corner and looked down as he retrieved his cell phone from his suit jacket.
The cell phone eventually ended up deep in one of the dead fields south of the crossroads, its screen cracked and the back snapped off. It was a long way away from the lawyer, who laid face down in the middle of the path leading away from the crossroads to the west. His body was twisted and broken, and it was pushed down into the ground so far that it nearly disappeared into the earth. His left arm was torn free and had been left off to one side. In his right hand he still clutched his briefcase, inside of which were the documents that he had used to secure his client’s freedom.
Recently, a man in a small suburb of Phoenix opened his home’s front door and angrily stormed down the steps. His wife had just demanded that he leave and not come back. She had screamed at him that she was sick of his lies, sick of being humiliated as he constantly cheated on her and plunged them further into debt with his frivolous spending. She had pointed at the swelling around her eye as she informed him that she would never allow him to hurt her or their two daughters ever again.
That had been what she had insisted this eviction was about, but the man was certain that he knew better. It wasn’t about him. He hadn’t done anything wrong. Every time he had raised a hand against her or the kids, it had been because they had needed correcting. That was a husband and father’s job, right? And he bought whatever he wanted because he worked for almost half their income, damn it, and that meant it was his. The cheating? Well, it wasn’t his fault that she didn’t do it for him in bed anymore, was it?
No, she was kicking him out so that she could have the house to herself. He was sure that she was cheating on him. He didn’t have any evidence, but that was because she was careful. A husband knew when his wife wasn’t being faithful, though, and he knew that was what was going on here. Plus it would give her a chance to turn their daughters against him. She was always trying to make him out to be the bad guy.
The man wasn’t going to let that happen, though. He would go down to the bar, have a few drinks, and then he’d come back. When he did, he’d make sure that his cheating bitch of a wife wouldn’t disrespect him anymore. He’d make sure that she didn’t do anything ever again. He had just the thing in the garage, too. He’d get those drinks, come back to the house, and dig that heavy iron prybar out of his tool bench. He’d drive the respect right back into her, and when he was done maybe he’d teach the girls to respect him, too.
The man never reached the bar as planned. Instead, he spent countless days wandering through the lonely crossroads, walking up and down the roads until his legs ached and his feet bled. Each time he would leave the crossroads behind him, it would appear in front of him once again even though he was sure that he had walked in a straight line. He tried leaving the roads and going through the fields, but this had the same result. The farmhouse was empty and gave him no shelter from the cold air. Night never turned to day.
Finally, sick, dehydrated, and starving, with no sense of how long he had been trapped at the crossroads, he laid down among the markers in the small graveyard and closed his eyes to rest. His breathing was labored, and he felt it burn in his lungs as he drifted off. His eyes never opened.
I’m writing this while sitting at the desk in my study. It’s one of my favorite places in my house, mostly because of the large window that looks out onto my backyard. I live a good distance away from any neighbors. I’m far away from any prying eyes or probing questions. It allows me to enjoy my time as I wish. Often that means simply looking out my study window and enjoying the view of all the pine trees that I’ve planted over the years.
I’ve arranged the rows of trees neatly, with six trees per row and the oldest plantings the furthest from the house. There are currently three full rows, and I’m working on filling in the fourth. I make sure that they are well taken care of and that they grow strong from the combination of clean water, rich soil, and, of course, the human body buried beneath each of them. One body per tree is really all that you need. As the body breaks down, its nutrients become a very potent fertilizer.
This morning, I awoke with the musty smell of decaying grass in my nostrils. My bedroom was cold despite the hot summer day outside. When I swung my feet over the side of the bed and stood up, I could feel dirt and stone crunch underneath them.
Soon it will be my turn to stand at the crossroads. This place that is so damned it has been excised from the natural world has taken notice of my lovely trees, and it wants me to walk its roads and explore its ruins. It has chosen me to be the next to satisfy whatever it is that it hungers for. It’s an honor, in a way. My sins are great enough for the most unholy of places to take notice.
After it is finished with me and its hunger inevitably returns, I wonder who will be next. Another killer, perhaps? Maybe it will be a drug dealer whose small bags of poison have taken the lives of addicts. How about you? Are your hands clean, or do you wring those hands as you’re racked with guilt and thoughts of what you’ve done? Is your soul free of sin or stained dark with it?
Are you ready for it to be your turn at the crossroads?