The Road Travelled

The Duolok strode through the city gates, given a wide berth by the traders and travelers near it. It’s mane of leaf-like hair poured over his shoulder, forming a scratching sound as it rubbed against the rough skin of his naked back. Scholars believed Duoloks could tell the identity the own kind simply by this sound, but no one had ever gotten a Duolok to reveal this secret to outsiders. The creatures could be found throughout the Kingdom, usually in forests or along streams. Neither aggressive or territorial they were accepted, if not embraced, by the general population.

Often Duoloks, which possessed excellent memories, were employed as couriers. They were inexpensive to hire, reliable, and rarely rested until a message was delivered. One such message was what brought the Duolok to the city on this day. It didn’t care for the place – the mixed smells of roasting meat, sewage, and animals didn’t appeal to its sensitive nostrils. It would have much rather been back by its stream – wading amongst the fish and caring for its flocks. It had accepted a contract to deliver a message, however, and so did its best to block out the worst of the smells.

It wove its way through the crowded streets near the gate until the traffic of people began fade away. As it progressed houses got larger, and manicured lawns emerged to encircle the buildings. Further in the lawns themselves were closed in by low walls and gates. The Duolok walked slowly as it wandered through the wide avenues between the mansions. By the time it had reached its destination the Sun had already passed noon and was beginning to descend toward the horizon. Being mid-summer there were many hours of daylight left, plenty of time for the Duolok to depart the city before the gates were closed for the night. It didn’t want spend the night in the city.

As the Duolok approached the gate in front of its destination a helmeted man blocked its path and issued a challenge, “You, Duolok, state your business.”

The Duolok shook its head in annoyance, causing the natural noise of his movement to echo off the nearby wall. The guard stepped back a step in alarm, but the Duolok quickly regained its composure, “I have a message to deliver.”

The guard held out his hand, “Very well, please hand it to me and tell me who it is for.”

Instead of holding out the message, the Duolok crossed its branch-like arms. “I will not. The message is to be delivered to Lady Margaret and none other. This is the contract, this I will do.”

The guard knew better than to argue with a Duolok’s contract. Instead, he summoned another nearby guard and instructed him, “George, please inform her Ladyship that a Duolok messenger has arrived with a message to be delivered only to her.” The second guard nodded and bounded off to the house. The Duolok rustled its head again, it really didn’t want to spend the night in the city and it had no idea how long this delay would be.

To the creature’s surprise, a woman soon emerged from the house and approached the gate at a run. As the woman approached she held out her hand, shoved it through the gate, and between gasping breathes demanded, “I am Lady Margaret, give me the message.”

Wordlessly, the Duolok reached into the pouch on its side, pulled out a sealed envelope, and placed it in the woman’s open hand. Breaking the seal with trembling fingers, she pulled out a folded sheet of paper and began to read. As she read tears began to fall from her widening eyes, until at last she crumpled to the ground with a wail. The paper landed on the ground next to her, words facing up to the world. Duoloks didn’t normally care about the contents of the messages they carried, only that they be delivered. There was something about this message, which drew an unusual curiosity from its heart. It peered at the note and read the words.

Dearest Margaret,

We knew when I left for this particular scholarly pursuit it could be dangerous. I am afraid our fears of danger were not unfounded. Several days ago, while studying the Duoloks deep in the Cindara Forest, I began to feel ill. Within hours I was bed-ridden with a fever and chills. No food or water will stay with me, and I begin to fear, my dearest, that I will not see you again in this life.

I have commissioned this Duolok to carry this message in the event of my death, along with my wishes for the estate. I leave everything to you, Margaret. We have no children, and my relatives would ruin the beauty you have done so much to create. I free you from your bond to me. Live well, love again, and use your wonderful gifts to make our city the place of which you dream.

With my deepest love and regret,

Peter

While it couldn’t understand why the letter would leave the woman crumpled on the ground, the Duolok did recognize the woman was in deep pain. Reaching its hand through the gate, the Duolok placed its hand lightly on the woman’s shoulder and said, “I am sorry.” With that, it turned and strode away from the gate, thinking only to get out of the city before nightfall.

As it departed, the entity formerly known as Peter experienced a moment of regret for abandoning his wife. Sometimes, to pursue one’s passion meant making sacrifices, and Peter’s deepest scholarly desire had always been to know how Duoloks perceived the world – and now he did. The regret quickly passed. The message had been delivered, the contract it had given itself was fulfilled, and the dream of it’s old life was quickly fading. By the time it left the city, what it once had been had faded away forever.

Thoughts

I don’t normally write thoughts out about my fiction pieces, but I think this one bears some meditation.

Dark fiction pieces aren’t typically “my thing.” It’s my reflections on “real life” which take on the dark aspects of my writing, usually in the form of, “The light at the end of the tunnel really is an oncoming train.” My fiction is usually more whimsical, but with a satirical bite 1. This one is just plain dark.

When I first dreamed up the story my first thought was to have Peter sending his brother a message.  Rather than revealing his transformation, I had Peter consciously bring a note to his brother describing a heroic demise, rather than forcing him to acknowledge his brother had become a monster 2. It didn’t feel right, so I quickly reworked the story in to the form presented above, a willful act of transformation which leaves broken relationships in its wake. This rings more true to me.

I have always been amazed at how quickly people change when they commit to traveling a particular path. Often times these transformations can be healthy, such as when a drug-addict commits to getting clean, or a person has a religious conversion 3. Decisions like these change the entire framework of a person’s life – rewriting relationships and behaviors in a relatively short period of time. My own conversion experience at 17 completely rewrote my relational world – and much for the better.

Yet, there are destructive decisions are just as pervasive and equally as transformative. When a husband leaves his wife for a younger woman, they change. When a person makes the decision to take drugs, they change. When a spouse is caught in an extra-marital affair, they change 4. The person who is changed may feel fulfilled, and even relieved have been discovered, but in their wake is grief and pain and loss. I’m sure the changed people feel these things as well, nor is every such transformation terribly traumatic, but at least the one who does the changing gets to be on their “new adventure.” It’s always the people who are left behind who suffer the most.


  1. And, really, I’ve published all of nothing – so the phrase “my fiction” is a bit of an overstatement. 
  2. In my first thoughts the Duoloks were not as accepted as in the final draft. 
  3. Though, yes, these can be co-opted for nefarious ends. 
  4. You might ask why I focus on these particular examples when there are many more. It’s because these are the experiences through which I have walked with people. 
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