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The Call of the Concealed
Note: The associated image is from Ironage.media, specifically their prompt, 'The Vennels'
The Three Roads stretched out high into the mountains before Nathan. Built so far into the past that none knew when, how, or why they were created. One might want to call them steps or stairs, but each plank was in line with the one before and after, a seemingly treacherous path that made you question every step you took as your feet threatened to slide this way and that.
But no story was ever told of a man, woman, or child who had ever slipped from them. Indeed, every story had the same end where the Three were concerned. That everyone who had walked upon them and entered the perennial clouds about them has never been seen again.
But where did they lead?
Why has no one been seen coming down?
What is their secret, assuming they have one?
These questions had plagued Nathan from the first time his mother caught him watching the Three as a young boy. He had just seen Mr. Jenkins walk over to them, pick a path, and disappear into the thick clouds, a man-shaped hole in the heavy vapour for but a moment after he passed.
She had scolded him for watching but relented against his curiosity when he asked why Mr. Jenkins had walked them if 'everyone knows it was dangerous'.
Sighing, "I can't say I know why Mr. Jenkins chose to walk them, Nathan. But his family will never see him again now. And there's no reason good enough to warrant that."
Even as a young boy, Nathan knew he wouldn't likely get a different answer if he probed further, so he left it be. It wasn't until years later, while speaking with Arabella Jenkins in the local taphouse, that he learned something of why the man had chosen to walk them.
"Thank you, Nathan. Your humour is just what I needed today." She had said, smiling after he offered his face if she was looking for something to punch.
"I don't like seeing anybody sad, but if I may ask, why is your day so sour?"
Her face fell. A different, sad smile tugged at the corners of her mouth before she answered, her eyes lost in her glass. "It's been 12 years. Since my dad got up and walked up the Three Roads. I spent the week after thinking, hoping he'd be the first to ever come back down those blasted things." She finished her drink as her shoulders sagged, looking like the world itself was dragging her into it.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize. Let me buy you a drink and keep you company if you wish?" Nathan offered, sitting beside her at the bar.
That night, Arabella and Nathan spoke until the last call and after, back at Nathan's home. He learned that Mr. Jenkins had walked the Three Roads on Arabella's 8th birthday, which was the same day her mother had died. A mother lost, a daughter gained. While she didn't cry at any point in the evening, it was clear that was from numbness to the grief and not a lack of it.
As the wee hours of the morning passed, reminiscing on school drama, Nathan offered Arabella his bed, as it was far too late to brave the sharp chill of the late autumn eve. She accepted but asked where he would be sleeping.
"On the couch. Wouldn't be right to do otherwise." He said, collecting a spare blanket from his linen closet.
"Oh. Of course." She said, wilting as he answered her.
Nathan put his palm to his head, silently rebuking himself, "You don't want to be alone tonight. Why would you, given the day? I think we can make an exception then."
Arabella slept that night peacefully, cuddled into Nathan while his mind was racing at what he had learned, with new questions burning in his head about the Three Roads.
What had Mr. Jenkins thought could be found on the Three?
Why would he leave his daughter?
Did he think his wife would be at the end of the Roads?
Did any of these questions matter in the face of the ease he felt with Arabella, here beside him? Nathan wasn't sure; beyond that, either he settled them tonight, or he would leave them behind as unimportant.
And now, in his mind, The Three Roads stretched out high into the mountains. Built so far into the past that none knew when, how, or why they were made. And Nathan chose to remain among the many who would never know, to put the taunt of the unknown deep into his memory and leave it there, for the sake of the woman who now slept so peacefully beside him.
Thank you for reading! Again, something a little different, and as always, any feedback is welcome!