Hello, all! I hope you have enjoyed the first half of “Paths Unfollowed” so far this month. If you have missed it, please click here to read Part One, and click here to read Part Two. Otherwise, enjoy Part Three of Four. The conclusion will be released December 29th.
“Paths Unfollowed: Part Three”
A chill crept down Ellen’s spine, and Death suddenly floated above her, his cloak blowing in a mysterious wind. He looked down at her, very tired of her games. She knew that it was inevitable, but she was not dying without a fight.
As she began to protest him, trying to find yet another point to argue, the door flew open, and the nurse brought a weeping Grace into the hospital room.
Ellen looked up, but Death was gone, and in his place was the blank ceiling she had seen when she first awoke.
Grace came close to her mother, and Ellen reached out to console her, but she could not move. She struggled against her paralyzed body, trying to call out for help, but she could not speak either. She realized that she must not have really been awake. Grace took Ellen’s hand and pressed it to her tiny lips, and she began to mumble something under her breath, but Ellen could not hear what little Grace was saying.
Finally, Grace stood up from the side of the bed, kissed Ellen on the forehead, and whispered in her ear, “I want you to wake up, Mommy.” The nurse quickly ushered her out, and Ellen’s heart began to sink deep into her chest.
There was a still quiet for only a moment before Death was suddenly back, and he lounged lazily on the couch again, “Ellen, we don’t have all day. Let’s get going.”
“No,” Ellen replied harshly, “Grace doesn’t want me to go, and what kind of awful mother would I be if I did not obey her wishes?”
“She will understand someday,” Death said simply. He walked to the bed and extended his hand to her again, but Ellen turned away, letting some tears slip down her cheek.
Death did not say anything as he stood there. He watched her patiently, waiting for her to concede, but Ellen thought deeply about how to get out of this, some other way he might let her stay.
How might she stay, at least for Grace’s sake? Death was trying to tell her that she would have died no matter what choices she had made, but she knew there was a way she could escape. It was not possible that every choice she made throughout her life had brought her to this conclusion. There must be an alternate ending!
Suddenly, Ellen sat straight up and looked at Death, and he just stared right back at her, knowing there would be another retort, and Ellen did not budge.
“If I hadn’t gone to school at all, neither of those scenarios would have happened,” she said sternly.
“What do you mean?” Death asked.
“I mean, that I never wanted to go to college in the first place. While I do enjoy being a nurse, I never wanted to go to college. My old friends and I were going to move to New York to become actors, and that was what I really wanted to do, but my parents would never let me! So, none of this would have happened if I had been able to follow my dream.”
Death seemed tired of arguing, so instead of saying anything, he simply turned on the vision for Ellen to see, and she was sucked into that black and white world around her once more.
Ellen had been given a full-ride scholarship into the pre-nursing program at the university, and though her parents were not too thrilled about Ellen’s choice to go to New York, they did send her a bit of money to help her get started. She and her two girlfriends were setting up in a studio apartment to save money until they got their first jobs.
It was only a month in before they started getting auditions. Ellen was frustrated that her girlfriends had already been cast in shows, but Ellen had not received any callbacks.
Ellen then auditioned for a very cringe-worthy, off-Broadway show, and she got a weird feeling in her belly as she walked into the theater. The director gave her strange looks during her audition, and at the end of it, instead of clapping or asking her to leave, as had been every audition she had during her time in New York thus far, the man took a long puff of his cigarette and said, “Let me see what your body looks like.”
“Excuse me?” Ellen asked, suddenly self-conscious about her outfit, pulling the bottom of her skirt lower on her hips.
The director gave her a filthy smile, “In one of the scenes, you would need to be naked, and I need to see what you look like.”
Ellen looked at him skeptically, and just as she was about to refuse, he said, “Guess you won’t be getting a job then.”
Ellen felt the heat in her cheeks as she hesitantly undressed, and she tried to avoid looking at the director as she did so, but he only smiled and stared her body down.
She was completely naked and trying to cover herself up when the director stood up and clapped. “Very beautiful, darling; you are stunning. Rehearsals start tomorrow,” he said and did not even give her enough time to get fully dressed before rushing her out into the busy street.
Ellen felt humiliated that she had done such a thing, that what got her the part was her looks and not her talent, but she soon forgot as she realized that she had gotten her first role. She did not dare tell her roommates about what had happened, but they congratulated her on her new job.
The next day, she came to rehearsal prepared, wearing the most modest clothing she could find. When she showed up to the theater again, the other actors seemed incompetent. As the rehearsal progressed, she was tempted to quit, as she felt disgusted just by being around them, but she carried on since she needed the money desperately, and experience for her resume, of course.
After rehearsal, the director called after her, “Ellen, can I see you in my office for a moment?”
Ellen worried about talking to him, but she agreed and followed him up the stairs above the theater.
When they got to his office, he instantly lit a cigarette and invited her to sit down on his couch, which was almost too small for her and had a funny smell. When she took a seat, he sat right next to her, not even giving her enough room to breathe.
“You’re a beautiful girl, you know?” he said, blowing smoke into her face as he spoke, “I would really love to give you the lead role, Ellen.”
“Really?” she asked, trying to ignore the smoky, polluted air seeping into her lungs.
“Oh yes, I would,” he said slowly, and with his cigarette-free hand, he slid his hand up her thigh, higher than any man had before, “and I think you know what you need to do to get it.”
Ellen looked at him, fear creeping up her throat.
She thought about it for a moment, wondering how she ended up in this situation to begin with. She was not even nineteen yet; how could she?
Ellen ended up with the lead role. She let her director take her to his office throughout the duration of the show, and by the end of it, she grew immune to the stale, lusty kisses he gave her every day. Later, she found out she never needed to be naked for the show at all; it was just another lie the director said in between puffs of smoke.
Only one year later, she had finally landed a big role, and though she and her girlfriends were ecstatic to move into a real apartment, one that had more than just four walls, Ellen did not feel the same.
Before she had moved to New York, she felt happy and full of life, and it seemed that her first director took more than what he had asked for. Each day, she felt emptier, but the other actors she met told that this was show biz, so she followed their lead, spending her Friday nights at parties and her Saturdays hungover.
At one particular party, the night of her twentieth birthday, in between margaritas and cigarettes, one man took her away, and she landed in the bedroom of a stranger’s house.
She did not think twice as the man prepared a white powder on the nightstand, gesturing for her to join him.
That was the last thing she could remember before the high hit, and it was the next morning that they found her body, bruised and naked with signs of overdosing.
“I would never do drugs,” Ellen sneered at Death, “Nor would I ever sleep with someone just to get a job.”
“You might not, but she would,” Death replied, gesturing to the black and white vision that was fading away.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Ellen said.
Death sighed, sitting down on the hospital bed beside her, “It doesn’t matter, Ellen. The point is your visions are showing that you would have died sooner and more horridly than what has happened.
“Either way, you already made your decisions, and there is no going back. So instead of blaming your death on others, instead of trying to come up with a solution, just accept all the choices you have made and enjoy the blessings you were given.”
Ellen scoffed, “Like what, dying at thirty-nine?”
Death shook his head, “Like living for thirty-nine years. Not everyone gets that long. Despite marrying a man who was not your soulmate, he gave you a daughter that you love dearly. For making choices that made your life more worthwhile. There are always things that could be better, but they could always be worse, too. So, recognize your privilege, and enjoy your last few minutes of life acknowledging them for what they are.”
To Be Continued…
To read Part Four, please click here.