“The walk was long, quiet, and cool as the cave provided a much-needed breeze and shade from the desert heat. Suddenly, they came across two paths. Each path had a name on it, and, even stranger, it had their names on it. Nisha’s path was the right and Tetsu’s path was the left. He turned to Nisha and placed a hand on his shoulder. He told Nisha that this was where they part ways for a short time. That Nisha had to find the courage and resolve to walk his own path. That he knew Nisha didn’t feel like a man just yet but with time would emerge into his own. Tears dripped from his eyes because he didn’t want to part with his father.
“He hugged him and held him tight and Tetsu hugged him as well. He whispered something in Nisha’s ear and that made him let go. He knelt and wiped the tears from Nisha’s face and dug in his pocket once more. He presented a necklace and placed it around Nisha’s neck. It was his birthday gift. The necklace was hand-crafted by Tetsu himself with the words the ones you love never die so long as they’re in your heart engraved upon them. Nisha took a deep breath and wore the necklace in pride and pushed away from his father.
“He looked Tetsu in the eye and extended his arm. Tetsu recognized what his son was doing. It was the symbol of brotherhood he did with his war buddies every time they visited. Tetsu grabbed Nisha’s forearm and held it. Nisha told his father he’d never forgive him if he didn’t make it. Tetsu told his son that Nadia would never forgive him if Nisha didn’t make it. They laughed and walked their own paths.
“Tetsu’s path was unfortunate. He met with adversity after adversity and fought demon after demon. When he got to the final one, he was given a sword and they fought to the death. The demon won. Nisha’s path, however, was different. An excessive amount of climbing, almost falling to his death, running from downhill boulders, hiding from snakes and mythical creatures, and making his way through labyrinths.
“Nisha’s body grew exponentially with each adversity he managed to overcome. Every time he completed one challenge, he’d kiss the necklace his father gave him and plunge into the next. Throughout the challenges, he’d gained strength, speed, agility, but most importantly, he gained the courage and resolve he didn’t have as a kid. The same courage and resolve Tetsu had when he was a kid.
“When Nisha got to the end of his path there was a book and, behind the book, the way out. At first, he wanted to dash for the exit and reunited with his father, but a force pulled him toward the book, so he went to it. When he got to within an inch of it an image of a guru appeared. He was in the meditative position and a radiant and vibrant gold halo glowed around him. Nisha was in awe of its magnificent presence.
“The guru extended a hand and touched Nisha’s head and instilled in him the knowledge and ability to reach, interpret, and teach the book to the townspeople who so desperately needed it. When the guru retracted his hand, Nisha knew what he needed to do. He took the book and exited the cave to reunited with his father.
“Nisha waited a day, a week, maybe a month for his father to return. But he never did. During that time the dawning realization that his father had passed made its way to his mind and heart. Nisha clenched the book and looked away from the exit his father should’ve come out of and cried. He cried for what seemed like an eternity. Hot, stinging tears flowing from his cheeks like a waterfall. Suddenly, he heard a whooshing sound and looked up only to see his father standing in front of him. Nisha went up and tried to hug his father, but it turned out to be an illusion. He couldn’t touch him.
“Tetsu told his son the truth about him. That he had been dead since the day Nisha was born. That for the last twelve years he’d been with Nisha as a tangible spirit so as not to cause him pain and suffering. So, he knew what it was like to grow up with a family with people who loved and cared for him unconditionally.
“Nisha couldn’t handle this truth at first. He fell to his knees and yelled, screamed, cried, and sobbed. When he was done, his father’s spirit was still there, and he gave Nisha a simple directive. He told him to read the words on the necklace. The ones you love never die so long as they’re in your heart. Nisha looked up and his father was gone.
“Nisha ended up traversing the rest of the desert and waving down a boat which he took back to the town. He read, interpreted, and studied the book all the way through during his trip. When he got back, he went straight home to tell his mother the news, but she too was gone. Her body was nowhere to be found.
“He looked all over the house and it dawned on him, like lightning striking a specific spot on the head, that she too was dead. She died shortly after he was born and had only been with him in spirit as well. Nisha didn’t bother crying as his tears were all dried up, and after reading the book and the necklace his father gave to him over and over again, he understood that they weren’t really gone. They were always with him because they lived in his heart and that they have a bond even death couldn’t break.
“Nisha went outside and sat at the edge of the hill facing the mountain and lived the rest of his days meditating, reading the book, and traveling to town to deliver and teach the message to the people.”
Everybody around the campfire remained quiet for a moment. Tears fell from Jenny’s and Grace’s eyes and Jason, Mark, and Cory remained silent. A soft breeze blew and ruffled the fire. The leaves rustled and little ripples formed in the pond. Everyone had an expression of sadness and contemplation on their face, Jason took a sip of his Bud Light but did nothing else.
Mark looked like the story resonated with him like he too had lost his father in the exact same way and Cory was simply transfixed by it all. He felt the energy of the environment change and understood why Grace wanted Neil to tell that story in the first place…to bring everyone closer together. The silence was broken when Neil spoke.
“So, what’d you guys think?”
“I think you told it better last time!” Jason shouted and laughed, his contemplative expression reverting to how it was before. “You zipped through the details. What happened to the girls and the booze and the crazy sex?!”
“What?” Neil asked then got what Jason was talking about. “You’re talking about The Story of Twisted Fantasies.” Neil chuckled. “This is The Story of the Switching Paths. The father/son story.”
“Oh shit!” Jason laughed. “Guess I had one too many.”
Jenny and Grace wiped the tears from their eyes, and everybody laughed.
“Deep story,” Mark said. “Where’d you hear it?”
“I heard this story from a guru I met when I went down to China,” Neil said. “The story got altered and the real names of the people got lost in the mystery.”
“Did the book have a name?” Jenny asked. “Like the Bible, The Quran, or The Old Testament?”
“Kinda, but not definitely,” Neil said. “I think I heard of it being called The Book of Teachings but even that’s not certain.”
“Well, let’s hope our path stays the same on the way back,” Jason said. “I may be too drunk to notice if it changes.”
“I’ll drink to that!” Grace laughed. “We don’t have enough stuff to survive the desert.”
“I think we can all drink to that,” Neil rose his Bud Light in the air and stood up, “to a safe return!”
Everybody else stood with him as they all touched bottles, “To a safe return!”
Tell me what you think in the comments! I read and reply to all of them and welcome feedback for improving my stories, poetry, and insights. Thanks for reading!