Creven of the Crossroads

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

After her home is decimated by a natural disaster, she must choose to either stay put and rebuild, or head out into the unknown. Luckily, the crossroad demon Creven is there to help her decide.

The moon cast its long shadows across a dirt path that twisted like water snakes in a river. Nothing stirred in the tall grass, and all around the earth was muted into unnatural silence. She couldn’t remember how long she had been walking. Only that her feet ached, and her nose had begun to run, and that the ruined village must be far, far behind her.

There was a faint orange glow behind the arched trees. When she stepped toward it, she found a crossroad and a small, lone fire in the center of it.

 A man stood up from the other side of the small pit, veiled by the smoke and the flying embers. “You must be exhausted. Please, sit and be warm.” 

“I know you,” she said when he stepped from behind the veil of smoke.

He was dressed in dirty traveling clothes and whenever she tried to make out the features of his face, they would shift and blur. It was his smell that she recognized - like cold fur and damp earth, and it was his eyes. They were a strange yellow, luminescent like honey held up to the light.  At once he was a wolf, an elk, a fox peering out from his den.

Still, she knew him.

 “You’re Creven. My father met you once. He was lost in the mountains. You appeared to him as a snow fox with yellow eyes and led him home.”

There, a smile both welcome and warning.

“You could have easily led him deeper into the mountains.”

“I only led him to where he knew he belonged. I only lead astray those who try and escape fate.”  

Creven motioned her to the fireside and she was sore and exhausted enough to accept. She, after all, had no idea what her fate held and so couldn’t challenge what was already written. No matter how badly she ached to change what had already been done.

 It was a cool night, and the fire burned the numbness from her nose and the tips of her fingers. A pot hung over the flames. Creven ladled some porridge into a familiar chipped green bowl.  She turned it over in her hand.

“This is my mother’s?”

Un-answering, he took his seat opposite the low flames.

She ran her thumb along a new wound in the clay. “There’s a crack.”

Her father had gotten it for her mother in the days before they married. He bought it off a ship captain who traveled to far off lands. Lands where Gods roamed like people on the earth.

“It’s for the time when the earth rumbled and cracked,” Creven said and the earth let out a grating roar that set the pebbles on the path to trembling. She held her breath until it stilled, the day returning to her in a flash of fear and pain as the ordinary day was broken by a mighty crack and the shifting ground. She was in the kitchen with her mother, her siblings playing in the dirt under the table when the roof fell in on them.

She looked at her numb hands. Her nails were chipped and caked with dark earth from digging through the rubble, searching in vain for her mother, her brothers, and baby sister. Everything - not a single one. All she found was the polished chipped bowl and her favorite silk robe, ruined. She started to shake all over - shake like the earth and the town. Creven crouched in the firelight, his eyes unblinking as a stray cat.

She set the bowl down.  “Everything is gone.”

“Gone or changed? It might be best to turn back the way you came and begin anew.”

It was foolish to argue with a demon – everyone knew, but her stomach churned at the thought of the ruined village. The stench of death still clung to her hands. She had not a single thing of worth to trade on the road or a single skill to help her survive the wilderness. Even still, after the terrified shouts had abated, and the wailing cries went dry, she sat alone on the rubble, a blessed stillness replacing the consuming grief and a cosmic knowing that the past and future had collapsed, leaving the pages of her existence empty as the day she was born.

“My father believed an old home was what gave the family roots like old trees. If the roots were deep enough then even if the tree was struck by lightning, it could always grow again.”

“A wise man. Turn back and rebuild. The uncertain road is not a road for you.”  

She picked up the clay bowl. The green wasn’t as bright as she remembered. “The uncertain road…” She brushed her thumb on the new crack. “Is anything certain?”

“I’ve helped many travelers find their fortunes. If you press ahead nothing awaits you but pain and regret. This, I am certain of.” Strange that he could talk but she couldn’t tell from where the voice came. “Turn back. Go home and live your peaceful life.”

She hugged her knees tight to her chest and gazed deep into the crackling fire. After some time, Creven crawled up beside her and placed a warm hand on her shoulder.

“Sleep for now. In the morning you’ll see how foolish you’re being.”

She slept.

When she woke the fire was lit though it was weak, smothered by the ashes. The forest was still silent. Creven was nowhere to be found, but she felt eyes on her from the forest at the edge of the road. Animal eyes. Inhuman eyes.

She built up the fire and washed the dirt from her hands and face in a nearby stream. It was a clear day, the sun bright and the air crisp in her lungs. She took mouthfuls of the cold water and combed the tangles and dirt out of her hair.

As the sun raised to its peak, and as it dropped toward the horizon she thought about collecting her things and heading off. But when it came time for her feet to move they would not. Perhaps she should go back.  The villagers would help her re-build and see that she was taken care of. She would marry and live her days on land that was her family’s but a house that was not. However, she knew, as she always would, there was nothing left for her there.

If she pressed forward, Creven would only follow and whisper in her ear the entire way. She didn’t know if she had the strength to shoulder the questioning weight of that gaze or the cleverness to outwit his misdirection.

Once the last fiery rays of sunlight became a thread on the horizon, Creven stepped from the brush on the roadside, different but the same.

“I’m afraid to go forward,” she said when he took his seat across from her.

“Because it’s foolish.”

“I’m afraid to go back too." It was a deeper fear than the heart-stopping terror or going toward the unknown.

"If I turn around my life will feel empty.” She would be surrounded by the ghosts of her mother and father. Even if she built the house into something new, she would hear the laughter of her siblings and the bickering of her parents in the kitchen.

“I remember, every time my father packed his cart and rode away, my mother would look after him and wave until he was gone. Even after he was, she would stand there, looking out over the mountains.”

“She was worried for his safe return.”

“I used to think that too.”

She laid the chipped bowl in her lap, her thumb stroking the smooth glaze and the crack in its perfection. “I think she always wanted to get into the wagon with him and see the world with her own two eyes, but she didn’t believe she could.”

Look at me, she’d say. I’m fat and old. All I know how to do is cook and clean. The world would chew me up and spit me on the road side. 

“You’re young and healthy,” Creven said, bringing her back to the cold, lonely night. “Turn back to where it’s safe. Where you’ll live the life she wanted for you.”

She rubbed her wet cheeks and laughed. “How can you convince me the village is safe after what happened? No matter what I chose I might not wake up the next morning, but if I go back I’ll live my entire life like my mother did, looking out toward the mountains and filled with regret over never having tried.”

All at once the fire died into a bed of embers, and on the other side, Creven’s shifting form was still before it vanished into shadowed mist.

When she woke the next morning, the fire pit was cold and the birds chirped loud. A thick fog raised from the stream and while the forest teemed with life, she no longer felt eyes watching her from the brush.

She collected the few things she’d salvaged from the wreckage and swung it all onto her back. Of her mother's bowl, she left it by the ashes. Eventually, another traveler would wonder to the crossroads and she, too, would meet Creven. With any luck, the traveler would have the courage to turn him aside as she did.

Her legs light, she began toward the distant mountains. She was no further than the next hill when a white fox stepped out in her path. He stared at her with translucent honey eyes before he turned away and trotted up the road ahead.

Perhaps Creven would be waiting to turn her back at the next crossroad. Or maybe he would be there to set her right whenever she tried to turn back.  

Submitted: November 09, 2016

© Copyright 2021 M. R. Boisclair. All rights reserved.

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