real lj idol | week 34, prompt 2 | 997 words
I could tell you I predicted the great flood or the plague of rats, but the fact is that anybody can make those claims after a thing has already happened. Who can prove otherwise?
There is no gain in boasting about such things and they do not matter, so I will not bother. It is not the larger fortellings that haunt me anyway, it is the torment of small, irreversible details. Many of those are simply too terrible to discuss.
The first time, when I was four, I did not even understand the implications of what I was saying. It all came to me in a blur of words and images: "Mistress Andrews will lose her baby."
I thought, as any child would, of things misplaced that are later found. I was shocked when my mother slapped me across the face, and still more confused a few days later when she eyed me fearfully and would not let me leave our home. We never spoke of it again.
The second time, I was six, and just beginning to join my cousins at school. Most of the children were from the village, and I knew them well, but there were a few students from across the river whom I had not met. One of them came up to me after afterwards, a boy my own age called Adam. "Do you like horses?" he asked. "We have a red one. Would you like to meet her?"
My head filled with pictures of a beautiful animal, impossibly large with a rich, glossy coat. I wanted very much to go and see her, but what I said instead was, "The hayrick is on fire!"
The boy ran off then, and was bitterly angry when next I saw him: "The whole pen burned down, and we nearly lost the house as well. Our lovely Rosewind ran off into the woods, and we have not seen her since. Why did you do it?"
I wondered the same thing myself. Had I caused that fire to happen? Why would I conjure such a wicked thing?
The other children thought Adam strange, and a few weeks later he stopped coming to school altogether. I decided that it had all been mere chance, until my mother and I happened to meet the Reverend Welton at the miller's shop later that year. He greeted me warmly, and clasped my hand. "Are you a good boy for your mother then, Robert?"
I glimpsed a cottage with an open door, a destroyed room with the Reverend himself lying bloodied on the floor. "Mind the wolves," I said, before I could think better of it.
The Reverend drew back his hands as if he had been stung. "Really, Mistress Penbrook!" he said. "That boy wants considerably more attention to prayer."
My mother turned scarlet, and curtsied for the Reverend. When we returned home, she beat me soundly. I was made to kneel until nightfall, praying for forgiveness, and when father returned from the fields she told him I had the very Devil inside me. He thrashed me again and sent me to bed without supper. I heard two of them talking for hours, no doubt deciding my fate.
The Reverend was attacked by robbers two nights hence, and very nearly died in the struggle. After that, I was sent to the city to live with the Rector Samuels and his wife, who had no children of their own.
I spent my days toiling in the churchyard and rectory, with mornings and evenings devoted to religious lessons and prayer. Try as I might, I continued to envision things before they happened. I sought better ways to warn people of impending danger, often resorting to vague conversations about the dangers of swift rivers or pestilence or fire. I prayed desperately for the Lord to spare His people, and begged that He not punish them for my sins. My misery was unending, and to what avail? Nothing I did had the slightest effect on the misfortunes I so wished to prevent.
As soon as I came of age, I left the city and its scores of good people with unhappy fates. I went to one of the sea villages, hoping to find employment as a fisherman. Once I had worked long enough to have a boat of my own, I spent long, quiet days out at sea surrounded by the blessed silence of the deep. Visitors were rare, and the village folk hardy. Still, I knew those people so well that any tragedy that befell them cut me deeper than anything had before.
Now I live here, in the rocky hills of the Western reach. I gather herbs and roots to sell at the monthly market beyond the far crossroads, and I keep a few sheep and chickens and a garden of my own. The living is lean, but my heart is lighter without the burden that comes of knowing what ill luck other people must soon experience.
You, my traveler, have journeyed here to find me, and for what purpose? If I tell you that a bridge will someday betray you, how will that help? Will you attempt to ford all streams in the future, only to be killed by a falling scaffold some twenty years hence?
Go away now, please, and trouble me no more with your questions. No one has ever been spared his destiny, no matter how strongly he schemed and bargained to avoid its wrath.
What was that you said? Do I mislead you now, when I have somehow managed to live this long without trouble of my own?
Trouble comes in many forms, be it banishment, or loneliness, or a history of disasters and hardships wished undone. I tell you truly now that I am as much victim of this curse as anyone. No, I have not foreseen the manner of my own death.
If I had, I would be doing everything possible to hasten that event.
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