I used to think reality was made up of choices. A hundred little choices made every day in a row, strung up like a necklace of pearls. You probably think reality is something like this too, each thing that you do could go a hundred different ways, and the only way it goes is the way that you choose for it to go…but that’s not how it works at all. That’s not how anything works. Reality is manipulative, just like people are and it’s manipulating all of us. It’s even manipulating you. You might not think so. Choices are only binary. Yes or no. True or false. There’s no great big gray areas like they tell you.
Do you think we should have just one more beer Jeremy? Yes.
You probably think I’m wrong for believing that, but, for instance, let’s take your closet: let’s say you had 20 shirts to choose from. You might say, Jeremy that’s 20 different ways to choose. But it’s not. Your only choices were ever “yes” or “no” and for 19 of those shirts, your choice was “no.”
Will Jeremy tip better if I can keep him drinking? Yes.
Sorry, stay with me, I promise I’ve got a point and it’s this: what if you didn’t have any choices at all? What if you only think you do. What if everything has already been decided and there’s nothing you can do to change it. What if the shirt was chosen for you and you only believed it were the other way around? We can say we choose yes or no, but that never mattered because it was always an illusion. The pearls are already strung on your string for you from the moment you’re born.
What if there’d only been two instead of three of them? Would it have mattered more or mattered less? What if one of them was going to grow up to be the next Hitler? Stalin? The next Kellyanne Conway? Wouldn’t that make it all okay?
I think so.
The thing about pearl necklaces is that they’re not like in the movies. Those are fake, dramatic things that come apart everywhere. The ones with real pearls don’t do that. Pearls are expensive. They put little knots between each one so they don’t wear out rubbing against each other but also so if the string breaks they stay together. They don’t scatter in a hundred hopeless directions. They’re each knotted individually so they can’t.
What if my phone was dead and I couldn’t have looked at it? But it wasn’t. It was never supposed to be dead because I charged it. I didn’t choose to charge it. I had to. I charged it because that was part of the design… part of the reality last night. I just did it because I was supposed to do it. What if the kids looked before walking into the goddamn street? But they didn’t. What if I chose not to put gas in last Tuesday and the tank ran empty before this all happened? What if, what if, and what if?
What you have to understand is that I didn’t choose to hit those kids with my car just as much as they didn’t choose to be hit by my car. There’s no choices at all. True or false. He loves me, he loves me not. Yes or no. Life is just events tied up together on a string.
It doesn’t matter because you can’t pull them apart and watch them scatter and rearrange them from what they were to the way you want them to be.
When I didn’t stop. When I drove away… it wasn’t a choice. I didn’t have a choice. I just did it because I was always going to. I see that now.
It was predetermined. That’s just how it is and you can’t argue with reality.
The Greeks believed there were three. Three witches, high on mount Olympus, creeping in a damp cave just beneath Zeus’s castle in the clouds. They determined all things that would come to pass. A young adventurer might defy the odds and climb to them–if that adventurer were brave enough, and if they’d predetermined to let them.
The Greeks understood the illusion of choice in those epic poems far better than we ever will.
I woke up thinking about my choices–or more accurately–the events of the night before.
Those goddamn kids choosing not to look both ways before stepping off the goddamn curb and into the goddamn street in their goddamn costumes.
I’m going to jail. I thought. Fuck. I am. I know I am.
I poured myself a bowl of cereal, but I couldn’t eat it. It just stared at me, a hundred little cheerio eyes glaring wide with shock. Fuck you! I thought, sweeping the bowl to the floor. It crashed there in a puddle of milk and shards of glass, judging me still. Collecting myself, I sighed heavily and placed my head into my hands and slowed my ragged breathing until I was calm. I’d left the pantry open and when I looked up from the table that stupid man on the tube of oatmeal was staring out at me with judgement as well. He of the stupid frilly shirt and dumb white hair and quiet knowing smirk.
Fuck him in his fucking Quaker ass. And fuck his hat. It wasn’t my fault!
I got up and slunk away from the table wondering if I hadn’t dreamed it all to begin with. I could have. I didn’t think so, but I could have. Please God.
Please God, if you’re out there, make this all a bad dream.
I saw nothing on the morning news. I watched it for hours in a stupor until my phone broke me from the rotten headspace I’d been floating in and back to Earth.
Before the call, so far there hadn’t been anything on the local news about a hit and run.
“Where the fuck are you Bailey?” a small voice demanded. I hadn’t even realized I’d picked the phone up before the voice of Gary Turner began screaming through the speaker. The corpulence of his jowls, like the drooping cheeks of a basset hound, could be heard smacking as he screamed at me through the phone.
I didn’t respond.
“Jeremy Bailey, the BCU is a huge fucking client and you were supposed to be meeting with their advisory board almost an hour ago. You better have a real fucking good reason to–“
“My grandmother died,” I lied.
He was quiet for a moment and when he began to mutter a half-hearted apology, I interrupted him again and told him I was taking a personal day and hung up before he could say another word.
It wasn’t nice, but I hoped he had some sort of stroke later. It would serve you right, Gary Turner.
One witch is Clotho, she’s the Spinner. She weaves the threads.
It’s 8:59. Stay tuned after this short word from our sponsors for the latest headlines and Weather-on-the-Ones
Her sister Lachesis, was the Allotter. She chose the lengths of each.
It’s gonna be a cold wet one today for Braden County and the surrounding areas. You can expect highs in the mid 40°s with an 80% chance of precipitation around 4pm. The low for this evening–
Atropos, the Inflexible one, was the third. She was the one who cuts it. The three old crones share one eye passed between them, examining every strand they made in turn, like a jeweler, looking for flaws. They do it because they’re compelled to, but they never find anything during inspection. The Greeks called them The Fates and they were the cause of every last thing.
The tragic news of the death of loved ones struck three families overnight.
The television provided my second undesired jolt back to reality that morning. I held my breath. This was it. I’d really done it. I killed those kids. They were looking for me. I could hear my heart rattling in my chest as though it had come loose. This was the story. Here she was, Avon Sugowski standing on the street in front of an apartment building as cars rushed past. She was about to tell the world about those kids and their last Halloween. About what I’d done.
In the heart of Bradenville this morning, three were found dead in a tragedy that could have been easily avoided.
She held something in her hand. Round and white and the size of her palm.
Emergency services reported the deaths of the residents who lived in the number 8 building of Bluegrass Ridge, the apartment building just behind be. Tenants are blaming the deaths on the negligence of apartment management and this particular model of carbon monoxide detector which is still installed in every unit here. Recalled by the manufacturer nearly 6 years ago due to mechanical flaws.
The camera cut to show an older woman. She’s angry and her lips are pursed into a wrinkled scowl. She began speaking and I turned the volume up to hear her better. I bit my lip, still only hearing the part about 3 dead and irrationally expecting the story to suddenly change direction and be about me. I attempted to stifle anxious tears that I could feel coming.
“I’ve been living here for ’bout 13, 14 years or so. Not once did they ever schedule any kind of maintenance or check on those damn things in my place. Too cheap is what they are. The makers said in the recall they’d replace the faulty ones for free, but who pays to install them? Nobody if you live in Bluegrass Ridge, that’s who. That’s how cheap these people are. Oughtta be ashamed.”
Avon returned, this time boxed to the right of her was an infographic:
“Carbon monoxide is a deadly colorless, odorless gas…”
I began to laugh. It wasn’t funny, but I was relieved the story was about something other than my accident. Her voice trailed off and I went back to thinking about The Fates once more.
“…filled four apartments, one of which was unoccupied at the time before a working carbon monoxide detector alerted residents in the rest of the building.”
I turned the television off and breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe I’d imagined it all and there was one sure way to tell. I went outside and looked at my car.
The sun was bright for 9:15. It could have been brighter than usual or it may have been the hangover. The birds were far too loud and as I walked around my car, their lighthearted singing died. A dozen crows on the telephone wires, where I hadn’t initially seen them began to drown them out with their awful dirge.
It was probably just their standard squawking sounds, but all I heard from their beaks was the word “murderer” over and over again.
My knees felt weak as I examined the damage. The hood was cratered and where it wasn’t covered with dried smears of blood, the paint was scraped down to the metal.
How many of my neighbors had seen this? What had I done? What should I do?
This brings me back to choices and why choices aren’t real. There’s not a handful of things to do. There’s not a dozen options I had available to consider. There was just one. It was the only thing I could do. It was done. I didn’t think there was any way to undo the damage I’d caused or the hurt…or bring them back.
I put the car into the garage.
Listen, I know you think I’m an awful person but you’re missing the point really. You don’t even know the rest. It’s not that I didn’t feel bad. Of course I felt bad. I threw a whole bowl of cheerios onto the floor I felt so bad. The point is that this was part of a design. It wasn’t up to me. It was fate.
Choices aren’t real. Everything happens because it’s meant to. I parked the car where it belonged and decided to take my breakfast after all: a bowl of Jack Daniels. 86 the Cheerios and their judgement. After, I went back to bed.
When I woke again the world outside should have been midday and perhaps a bit gray to match the cold weather the newsman promised.
I opened my eyes. Normally, I might have taken the time to wake slowly, stretching my arms above my head, gaping my jaw with a wide, dramatic air. This time, instead of yawning, I felt myself releasing a scream that found its way out from the depths of my gut.
The clock on my nightstand read 3:14pm. That small end-table and my bed itself were all that remained of my room. The rest was gone, swallowed up by swirls of restless darkness. The walls had fallen away, replaced by nebulas of nearly impenetrable fog. It moved around me, consuming the world beyond my bed in an irregular circle. Nearly solid, but not quite, it was peppered through as though blasted by a shotgun with birdshot from every angle possible. Light, the powerful, atomic white of pure energy lay just beyond that opaque wall of tenebrous shadow. The brightness of it filtered through like a hundred spinning lights in a club, each directed onto me where I lay while the thick dark mist fluctuated, moving like something alive.
I was trying to take this all in when I saw them. One of them might have grown up to be a serial killer–the next Elizabeth Bathory–and I might have done the world a favor with my car the night before. At the time I was willing to bet money that none of them seemed to share that line of thinking.
They hovered shoulder to shoulder at the end of my footboard. Each of their faces twisted into dark scowls. The one at the center wore a light blue dress that might have been an Elsa costume once, except the gossamer snowflaked sleeves were now stained red entirely. Her neck was bent unnaturally to one side. The one to her right was dressed in a cat jumpsuit. The tail that was attached to the back of it seemed to be alive, swaying with cobraesque charm. Her features were dark, and smears of makeup stained her cheeks in patterns that had once been whiskers. One black and pointy ear, broken halfway up, dangled pathetic from her kitty-cat headband. It flopped onto and off from her slick, wine-dark, and blood-matted hair as she moved. The final, the one to the left, held a basket in one hand, the straw broken nearly into kindling. her face was obscured by a red hood. It hung down to her chin until she slowly began to pull it back and away. Most of her face appeared to be untouched like the smooth white of a china figurine, but as she continued, she revealed the destruction of an entire side of her skull. What remained there was the deviating void of the indentation made by my tire.
The first two had only darkness in the spaces where their eyes should have been. The eyes were gone. There was nothing there. The third with the basket, Little Red Riding Hood–as I realized her costume then–was missing one of her’s in the vacuous space where her skull should have been intact. The other eye, which still existed hung limply halfway down her cheek in the side of her skull that wasn’t crushed. It dangled there, suspended by a knot of nerves.
Their empty eyes were fixed upon me, unseeing. Red plucked the dangling eye she retained from her skull and pointed it to stare at me.
When they spoke, they spoke in unison, their mouths hanging open like endless screams, speaking the words through unmoving lips as they passed the single eye between them.
“Jeremy Bailey, son of Katie Eckhart and Richard Bailey. You have been chosen.” They said.
“I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it! I didn’t mean–“
“SILENCE!” they screamed and I would have chosen to listen but they didn’t give me a choice of whether or not I should comply. My mouth slammed shut on its own and I felt something horrible moving inside of my gums, burrowing through them, pressing out of them. Four holes made their way through my lips as though drawn by four unseen needles and something white and tapeworm-thin began to slither out of my clenched jaw as I thrashed in bed.
“BE STILL!” they demanded and my body went rigid as though each limb had been tied to the posts.
The tapeworms slid their way back and forth, in and out in a haphazard and gruesome stitch until my lips were sealed with rugged white x-patterns of tapeworm yarn. I felt every molecule in my body begin to burn then. My blood was boiling.
Tears ran down my cheeks.
“You have been chosen.” They began again. “This is by no choice you’ve made, not by omission of choices you might have made. Your choices do not matter. Your fate has been preordained.”
“We are those who they have named The Fates.” they continued. Elsa held the eye now and though it had no face or lids of its own to convey itself, I could feel its gaze upon me widen and intensify.
“We appear before you in these forms to resolve you of your sin. You shall perform a task for us and these faces, though not our true faces, have been chosen to help you understand what is required. We, the daughters of Nyx the Unending Night have no true faces of our own.”
I could hear myself whimpering beneath my stitches and any leverage I managed to gain against my invisible bindings was immediately overpowered. Lifting my left arm 8 inches from the mattress caused it to violently be slammed down again. I began to cry, too shocked to react before that moment, and squeezed my eyes shut.
“OPEN YOUR EYES” they wailed, “OR THEY SHALL BE LIDLESS–AS EYES THAT WERE FORCED OPEN FOR YOU–FOREVER. THERE ARE NO CHOICES TO BE MADE HERE, JEREMY BAILEY. THIS IS YOUR FATE, SO DETERMINED AT YOUR BIRTH.”
Terrified by the threat, I opened my eyes again, wide. Kitty had the eye now. A whip-like smile snapped across her face, much wider than the smiles of her sisters.
“We are the ones who work the wheel to spin the threads. We are the ones to measure them. We are the ones to cut them at their ends.”
“Last night, another took this task upon herself.” They continued, their lips still unmoving, “the threads of the three children who appear before you were ordained to be cut Halloween night at 8:17 as they went door-to-door in search of sweet things.”
“This may seem cruel to you. You who’s entire life spans but mere moments. We are Endless. A hundred years are but moments for the Endless. It is our discretion how long those moments of mortal lives are meant to span.”
“These three young girls were taken by another. Then that other was led to subvert our grand design. This was forseen. Before your conception or hers, this was forseen. Your purpose in this was forseen ” They explained.
“We are The Fates. We are Endless. Though we share but one eye, nothing in this world goes unseen. We have spun and measured and cut your thread for this sole purpose.”
“You were chosen to wield the shears that deliver justice to the one who caused the death of the children standing before you. Her witchcraft violated the very laws of time and nature to shift the burden of her actions onto another.”
I don’t want this. No I don’t want this. Do I? True or False? It’s not my fault but I’m sorry still. If I take their revenge aren’t I just as wrong? Aren’t I? Yes or No?
“You were chosen to be the hand to deliver this message to the races of mortals: we will not suffer the meddling of interlopers in matters of fate.”
They finished by telling me what I was meant to do and handing me a pair of gleaming scissors, shears the size of garden loppers.
When I woke, the clock read 3:15 and the dial on the 5 was slowly turning over to 6. I felt as though I must have listened to them for hours but only a moment or two had passed in the waking world. The sky outside was a cold as dull steel. I slowly sat up, wondering if the entire event had been a wild dream brought on by guilt.
When I looked at my face in the mirror, my mouth was still fastened by their thread which had now become a part of me. Knots of skin that twisted in X-formations like puffy scars. I examined them knowing for certain then that it was all true.
Kassandra Petersen lived at 832 Cypress Lake Drive. I knew this because that was what they told me.
I was on a date at 7:30 with a man I’d met online. He was strange but nice. He refinished furniture in his spare time. He loved animals and made time for his nieces and nephews that lived a few hours away every other weekend because they were important to him. He told me beforehand online that he knew a dozen ways to preserve flowers. I thought that was endearing so I gave him one as an icebreaker for our first meeting–a yellow rose–and he told me how he planned to save it.
“Maybe forever,” he said that with stars in his eyes.
My heart melted.
While we ate dinner, Kassandra Petersen hit three girls as they crossed the street in their Halloween costumes. A Red Riding Hood, An Elsa, and A Black Cat. Because there are no choices, she did just as she was meant to. She went home and opened a book and said the words on the pages within. She made the accident shift. The dents in her car restored themselves and the blood slowly faded until it was never there at all.
Daniel and I were having drinks by 9:00
“Do you think we should have just one more beer, Jeremy?” He asked. I should have said “no,” but I didn’t because I’d said “yes” instead. It didn’t matter because the choice wasn’t mine.
The bartender wondered if I would tip better if he kept us drinking and I did. When Daniel and I parted ways, we shared our first kiss. He offered to share his Uber too, but I couldn’t do that. I had to tell him “no ” I had to tell him I was fine to drive despite knowing that I wasn’t. It wasn’t a choice. It was preordained.
I hit those girls on my way home, but I wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of doing that. That was not my fault. That was Kassandra meddling with time–pushing them forward. Passing the blame. There would never be any evidence that I’d done it because they weren’t meant to be in that place at that time…
And still, this was always meant to happen this way. It was by their design. The Fates told me themselves. Those girls existed only to fulfill that moment and to teach all of us… All of you reading this…that these things aren’t ours to meddle with. Our time here and what happens belongs to them. They send us–people like Kassandra and people like me–as reminders from time to time. She is the example to be made and I am to be their messenger.
Atropos gave me her giant scissors. I will go to her house and wait. I will remove her head. As soon as I do the stitches will dissolve and the dents in my car will rebound to their normal shape. The blood will subside on its own, just as it had from the original vehicle that took those lives.
I don’t have a choice because I want to see Daniel again and get to know him. I want to give him more flowers to preserve. I have to fix my face so we can have a second kiss. I have to fix my car so I can make it to our next date. I’ll share his Uber home this time.
I take the scissors from the bed and head out the door to punish the one who broke the rules and made her way too far out of line. And I’ll do what they said. I’ll cut off Kassandra’s head.
I understand all of this.
What I don’t understand is if there are no choices, and everything is preordained by The Fates and their all-knowing eye, that can only meet Kassandra didn’t have a choice in what she did either. She could only meddle with fate because they made her do so. She didn’t have a choice or decide to do anything. None of us control anything we do.
What I don’t understand is why they’ve set these things into motion. In my head I can only think they must get bored after so long. In my head I can hear them laughing, but I’ll do this because I’m destined to do it.
There are no choices. Choice is an illusion. The only choice I have is to accept that for what it is. This is my fate…
And Fate is a cruel, three headed bitch with a sick sense of humor that shares one eye…