I loved the sound of shoes on gravel, the satisfying crunch of grit and rock underneath my tattered Converse. It kept me grounded to Earth, to reality, when the windswept field of tall grass and somber cloud-heavy sky made everything seem surreal and hazy.
I didn’t remember how long I had been on this journey. How many days had passed since that morning when I woke up, shoved some essentials in my bag and went on my way. I know it was after my path split with my family’s.
It had been a while, though, years for certain. Although it seemed a bit odd to me that I couldn’t have kept track of time, it wasn’t the strangest thing to me. Nor was the fact I always seemed to find fresh water and food when I needed it, or that towns would appear when I needed shelter.
I think it was the road that confused me.
This worn down gravel road that I kept trudging down, not even sure of its destination, but certain that this was the way to go.
Sure, there was the other road. It was barely even a path, just a couple dents in tall grass or a loose stone or two to hop over a river, not even paved with concrete or asphalt or gravel. Just a pressed aside tree branch here, a footprint in damp soil there.
So obviously, I was walking the better road. It was more sensible. And honestly, I was nothing if not pragmatic.
Besides, the roads led parallel to each other. Practically identical, except this one was easier.
I stopped for a moment, pulled out my water bottle and took a quick swig. Nearly empty, so I would need to find a town fairly soon.
I adjusted the straps of my bag, pulled my hair back into a bun, and kept walking.
Only to stop when I saw a figure, standing out in the middle of the field.
I didn’t need to look at the ground to see he was standing on the other path, the grass obscuring his hiking boots, seeds and thistles stuck to his cargo shorts. He was looking at the cloudy sky, a worried expression on his bearded face. He ran his fingers through his scruffy hair, then looked over at me.
His face broke into a smile, and he called my name.
“Looks like the storm is coming.” He said. “If you take this path, I can walk with you. No charge, as always.”
I stiffened and glared down at my shoes. “No thank you.” I called back, my voice cold.
I kept walking, faster this time.
Because that was the other difference between the two paths. My path was one I walked alone. But the other one had the Guardian.
And once you stepped onto that path, once you accepted the Guardian’s invitation, you never left it again.