…are we doomed? Is this the end?
Will we ever find peace again?
When can our time of rest begin?
The question is if, but not when
Because this is the circle path
The path that we must follow
Together follow, walk the circle
Till the infernal, bitter end
Follow until it begins again
Begins anew, and never ends…
The concept of infinity had always been the hub of both his woe and fascination. From the bar parking lot the young man gazed at the stolid universe above him, full of stars and history. A beam of light could travel for centuries and the distance it covered could seem unfathomable until the sheer enormity of the universe was factored in. Even if the numbers showed the light had traveled ten-to-the-five-hundredth light years, what was that really, compared to a distance that would never end? Seventeen-year-old Lialan Adkins felt like that beam of light, racing and getting so far and yet, in the eyes of infinity, getting nowhere far at all.
His woe was planted in the naïve but, at the time, heartfelt words: “I don’t care, alright? Forever is there for us if we want it.”
A lot of the people said they went to the bar to drink and forget, to drown their sorrows. Lialan went to sit and remember. To stab himself with the memories, and drown in his sorrows. In truth they were sufficiently many and monumental to devour him. His mother said that in time he would forget the pain. Factoring the enormity of his terrible sin she calculated that it would fade from his mind when he was ninety or so, but the question remained whether he could live with himself for that long. God knew he deserved to live with himself; it was the only reason he kept from slitting his own throat or even drinking the nightmare away. Inertia and his death were too welcome, and both were mockeries of what he had done.
Sometimes he had no more tears to shed from crying all day, but on this night his young but haggard face was streaked.
It had been exactly one year, but it may as well have been that day for all the good time was doing him. His visitations to the bar—the shrine to his deepest wretchedness—were hardly regular, but on nights when the torment was too much to take he often wandered here. On this night in particular he was there solely of his own design. How could he not, on this ignoble anniversary?
The door to the bar opened. Admitted into the night air were wafts of choking cigarette smoke and an explosion of music, startling Lialan from his sordid midnight thoughts. People came and went regularly from the bar and he occasionally saw people he knew, but he was always concealed and left alone in his shadows just out of reach of the light. If not for their loud raucousness, he would have ignored the stumbling-drunk party of three that the bar vomited out of its doors. Three men, not much older than him. Maybe from the U. All had wavy blond hair: one a bleach blond, the other honey, and the last so dark it might have been brown. They were mangling an old blues song, yowling it into the night like cats perpetually being stepped on by careless feet. The door slowly closed behind them as they lurched across the parking lot. And through it all, that song…
This is the circle path
The path that we must follow
Follow till the bitter end…
They missed several words and sometimes whole lines, and the tune sounded like it had been shredded on a hot cheese grater; yet he did still recognise it. He felt like God was drowning him in arctic water; his breathing stopped, and he suddenly felt the profound chill of the night. Was it even chilly? He hadn’t been able to feel anything really, but had it been this cold? The song, the real version, swirled in his head like the waters of the River Styx: Are we doomed? Is this the end? Will we ever find peace again?
They reached their car, a lone red Audi parked in front of an LED streetlamp, seven spaces on either side of it. Despite himself, Lialan craned his neck, trying to see a driver through the windshield.
A bolt of lightning struck through him when he saw the flash of keys in the dark blonde’s uncoordinated hands. The bolt of lightning was called Ailla.
Before he knew what he was doing he had careened across the lot on legs stiff from hours of sitting in the October night; truly, he looked as maladroit as the drunk university kids. The one with the keys paused in his fumbling to unlock the door for a flailing air-guitar performance. It landed him on his rear end and his friends whooped with laughter. The keys skidded under the car but no one seemed to notice. They were still yodeling the song—the song—and didn’t hear Lialan’s shouts. He darted under the car and retrieved the keys, jingling them in the face of the blond who had fallen.
“Hey!” Lialan shouted again, into the other’s face, and this time they all stopped and turned to him. Their eyes slipped reluctantly into focus. They were only a little less drunk as they had looked, for the most part friends hamming it up for each other. The fallen blond lurched to his feet and made an ill-aimed swipe at the keys, but Lialan snatched them out of reach.
“Hey, man. Drunk driving? Not cool.”
His friends oohed mockingly. “Whew, Nate, you’re in trouble now!” leered the light blonde.
“Shut up, Sam!” Nate tried to snap, but it came out as a slur. Sam grinned lazily, hands up in surrender. “What are you, anyway? Fuzz?” Nate asked, moving his face within inches of Lialan’s nose.
“Absolutely not. So take it from someone who knows.”
“What do you know?”
“Probably more than you think. Actually, definitely. You’re quite sauced.” Lialan peered at him closely. He could see no real malice in the green eyes, only defensiveness of a wounded ego. The third one, the one with the honey colored hair, looked like he was stoned as well as drunk. Sam, on the other and, looked like he was ready to take a swing any minute, no matter how unsteady he was on his feet. Lialan moved out of range by leaning against the driver-side door of the Audi, sticking his hands in his pockets. The fisted keys disappeared out of sight. “You, then, certainly should not be driving. None of you should, really.”
“Give me the keys.” Another swipe. Nate nearly landed bottom up on the asphalt.
“Give me two minutes. You’ll see why you should listen to me.”
For a moment, everyone was silent, glaring at him, while he composed himself. Why was he even talking to these losers? He was sure that dozens of people drove home after hours of drinking, while he watched with unseeing eyes in the shadow of the bar building. Why did he care about these particular buffoons?
Because, today was the day that unspeakable anniversary. Somehow, he had gone back in time, back to when he was Sam, and Nate, and whoever the other one was. He had come full circle, and he had the feeling that this night was full of dark magic working to make a copy of that night three-hundred-sixty-five days ago. He was certain that the scenario was going to repeat itself, and the only difference in tomorrow’s headlines would be the picture beneath them – Nate’s, and not his own.
“Young drunk driver causes fatal car crash.”
“Hey!” said Sam, his murky mind having apparently produced a thought. “You’re that guy – that Nilen Adams or whatever.”
“Adkins,” the other, unnamed kid correcting, sloppily snapping his fingers. “Lialan Adkins, you were that kid who killed his girlfriend last year. Anna something.” He scratched his head, not seeing Lialan’s face pale and his whole body begin to tremble.
“Ailla,” he whispered, but nobody heard him.
“Yeah, that’s right!” agreed Nate. He squinted his eyes at Lialan. “Actually, that was probably around this time. What are you doing here, slugger?”
What are any of us doing here? Lialan wanted to ask. But he took a breath and shrugged, forcing himself to look down before he lost his nerve. “This is the circle path, man,” he confessed. “I’m just trying to straighten you guys out before you ruin your lives.”
And somehow, he felt, somehow this might be the key to restoring his own life, if not now, on this infernal day, then perhaps by the time he was ninety.