As an aspiring writer with numerous projects started and zero finished, I set a goal to actually finish something. I also figured the easiest way to do that was to start small. Initially, I tinkered with the idea of completing a 6 issue comic series but then I happened across an advertisement for a short story competition offered by Writer's Digest. The premise was simple: 1500 words or less and make it good. Last year there were 6,805 submissions and the best 25 will receive some type of prize. Without further ado, here is my submission. I hope you enjoy it.
The Path of Substitution
The crisp morning air filled Javier’s lungs as he began his daily ritual. He entered the pathway at the opening marked by the green forestry sign “Substitution Trail.” The daily jog through the heavily wooded park had become such a defining part of who Javier was. Having spent many years overweight, Javier was quickly approaching his 3rd anniversary as “born again thin.” The soft thuds of his shoes echoed off the highly traveled path leading into the lush forest. The tall awkward runner paid no attention to the small animals scurrying through the bushes lining both sides of the two-foot wide dirt path.
Javier wondered why he continued to pursue this wild-goose chase. The mysterious gentleman said this was the trail that would show him his purpose in life. However, he had been traversing this very same path for the last thirty-one months, with only Sundays as his rest period. Javier realized, yet again, that he still had not experienced a life-changing epiphany, or even a newly discovered reason for living. He questioned if it was simply a ploy to maintain the constant vigil of exercise but quickly dismissed that notion as poppycock. The man in the shiny silver suit certainly did not have a vested interest in my sustained fitness, thought Javier.
Meanwhile, the pre-dawn darkness had painted the immediate forestry. Into the distance dawn had appeared to break on a far distant section of the trail. A smile appeared as he imagined himself in a magical tunnel of shrubbery. What would he find when he arrived at the light? A royal feast of kingly proportions? That’s just what ‘Fat Javier’ would say, he thought to himself. How about a leprechaun and his pot of gold? ‘The love of money is the root of all evil,’ the words of his childhood pastor strangely rang into memory. Oh, even better, he lustfully mused, what if it is a fountain of youth populated by a personal harem of nymphomaniac mermaids?
The fore distant light had grown brighter and snapped him out of his debauched daydream. How was the light even entering into there? Javier had never seen that much light in that section of the trail. Maybe the forestry service had cut down a few trees and the light was now a welcomed guest into the dark forest section of the trail. He would know in a few minutes time. Javier set into jogging stride and without effort his mind drifted back to the night he met the bald man in the sparkling suit.
Javier remembered opening his eyes in the recovery room following his successful gastro-bypass surgery. His doctor had told him that without the surgery it would only be a matter of time. His internal organs simply could not sustain the weight and pressures being put upon them. Comfortably resting in recovery, Javier contemplated what new adventures awaited him and his new body. He could do all of those things he had dreamed about as a child and teenager but could not do as an adult. Javier promised himself right then and there that he would always be in control of his life from this point forward.
A loud snapping twig broke Javier out of the recollection. He was about halfway to the light now and would be there in a matter of minutes. He let his body focus back into the routine of jogging and allowed his mind to again summon up the memory of that night. He remembered that his nurse was asking about liquid and food. She was very pretty and as she exited the room Javier wondered if he would have opportunities with women of her caliber now that he had a new body.
He struggled to push his weight up by his elbows into a sitting position, wipep away the sleep from his eyes, and is startled by a sleek stunningly dressed man standing beside his neighbor’s bed with an unlit cigarette in his mouth. “Hello Javier. My name is Trent Lane. Would you like to hear a story?”
Trent Lane proceeded to repeat the same lines, without variance, for nearly ten minutes and responded to no questioning. Javier had no choice but to listen. He snapped out of the reminiscence and was back on the trail. He could not forget those lines if he tried. They had led him to this path but had not yet yielded the promised answers. In almost melodic tune, the memorized words now audibly escaped the jogger’s lips:
“Knowing where to stand and when to fly
Are invented axioms that bind.
Righteous opposition is a lie
But faith can betray the heart and mind.
“A man who uses his feet to run
Insures the protection of his mind.
Follow the path of substitution;
Destiny and purpose will he find.”
The moment Javier finished the words, a beam of light shot from the source ahead and moved down the trail toward him with such blinding speed he could not even muster a scream of fear. It collided with him and knocked him off his feet. His back arched, the scream finally escaped his vocal box but Javier realized he was not in pain. Instinctively, he ran his hands quickly over his body to check for wounds to no avail. The realization hit him that he was not touching the ground. He tried not to let panic overcome him as the beam was slowly transporting him towards the spring of light.
The closer Javier got to the light source; a shape began to take form. The brightness began to fade and the figure gained contours. “Trent Lane?” asked Javier, “Is that you?” The sharply dressed man in a three button suit stepped forward, tipped his hat and said, “Hello Javier. It’s been awhile, has it not?”
“What is this? What are you doing here?”
“I am here to reveal your destiny.”
“My destiny? I have been coming here for almost three years because of your damn poem. It took me some time to figure it out but I did. I have been running this trail for so long I almost forgot why I was doing it.”
“Today was the first time you triggered the lock by vocalizing the password.”
“The poem, as you say. It unlocks a door.”
“A door to what? Why have you sent me here? What is this place?”
“Javier, I do not have much time. Please listen carefully. You are dead and I am here to send you back.”
Javier fell to his knees in unbelief. How does one respond to that?
Trent Lane continued, “You do not belong here. Not yet. This is a station of transition. You still have a purpose to accomplish. You have unlocked the door that will allow you to return and fulfill your purpose.”
“What is my purpose?”
A blinding explosion of light crashed over Javier and he immediately felt the pains of life wash over him. His eyes blinked open as an oxygen mask was forced onto his face. He was on a gurney and could see hospital walls whizzing by as travel scenery. Javier vaguely made out the conversation around him. “What the deal here?” “Massive heart attack. The fat bastard’s heart probably couldn’t take it anymore.”
Doors parted and he was transferred to a different gurney. Javier saw himself in the mirror above, obese and aged. “That’s not me,” Javier mentally screamed. “I am past this stage, that’s not me.” In the mirror, Javier saw a calm well-dressed man enter into view amongst the chaotic organization of the doctors prepping the room.
With a hint of panic, Javier pleaded, “Trent, what is this? You said you were sending me back. This isn’t me.”
No one seemed able to hear Javier except Trent Lane. The rest of the room paid no attention to the visitor. Trent Lane’s bald figure bent his lanky frame, his mouth near Javier’s ear and whispered, “Destiny is in the hands of the individual. One can either accept their version of reality or they can choose to see things for what they really are.”
“My destiny is mine to choose? I do not choose this,” Javier emphatically stated.
“Then you have made your choice.”
“I don’t understand what the hell you are talking about!”
“See that’s the thing about destiny. Destiny is the path but once you enter that path you cannot control the destination. You were dead Javier but you were cheating Death.”
“You said I was dead, how is that cheating?”
“The purpose of life is not only to die but to experience Death.”
A nurse yelled out, “He’s flat-lining.” Javier vaguely heard a doctor call “Clear” and tried to shock him back into mortality. Trent Lane lit his cigarette, turned and walked away. Euphoria began coating Javier’s senses as reality faded and illusory nirvana settled in.
Javier, nearly three years thin, smiles while jogging on the Substitution Trail.