He didn’t like where he was headed, but he was having difficulty straying from the path. It wasn’t the noises he heard, although they were unnervingly quiet, and it wasn’t the noises he made, although they were unnervingly loud, but more that the decision to take the path was one he’d taken with no thought, and making the decision to leave would require him to start thinking again.
That she’d left him was no great surprise, but the Monk that turned up on his doorstep mere moments after she’d gone was something entirely unexpected.
The Monk wasn’t old, but all the hair on his head, from his hacked-close hair to his eyebrows to his drooping moustache were all a stormy grey. He carried a staff, which would’ve meant something before the Collision but now could’ve just meant an old war injury had the Monk requiring a crutch.
The Monk wasn’t especially talkative, in fact saying nothing at all, which made his intrusion all the more unwelcome, but when a sleek otter appeared out from under the threadbare robes the Monk wore, the man felt his curiosity being piqued.
When the otter began to speak, telling the man that he must walk through the patch of woods that surrounded his farm and locate the red path, it became clear that, whatever else the Monk and his companion wanted from him, it’d provide a welcome distraction from having to think at all.
The man packed his satchel and headed out the door, but not before one last warning from the otter.
“Try not to leave the path, eh?”
He’d been following the path for most of the morning, the repetitive motion of walking and the sun peeking through the branches and foliage allowing him to slip into a thoughtless trance; one foot in front of the other, sunlight, red path, one foot in front of the other.
Unfortunately, this quietude didn’t last very long. The walking became trudging, the trance slipped away, and he found his mind opening up to all the thoughts he didn’t particularly want to think.
That was when the otter’s words returned to him. The creature didn’t tell him he “couldn’t” leave the path. Just that he should try to not leave.
The man figured that the noises and accompanying fear were preferable to thinking about what he didn’t want to think about, and took a ginger step off the path.
The rustling from the underbrush sent a jolt up his spine, but the man forced his other foot to leave the path, and then forced himself to take one more step.
That’s when the otter snuck out from the brush.
“Oi, I told you to try not to leave the path, eh? Are yeh dumb, or just plain contrarian?”
“Well, see, I understood you just fine, but I was getting bored and thinking thoughts I’d rather not think,” the man said.
“Oh, so yeh decided to just walk off the path because yeh can’t control that fuckin’ brain in your head?” the otter asked.
“I hardly think profanity is necessary. After all, you merely showed up with your Monk friend and told me to follow a path. I was under no obligation to listen, nor was I under any obligation to do what you asked.”
“Aye, but yeh DID do what we asked, savvy?”
“Yes, but you also didn’t tell me I couldn’t leave the path, just that I ought to try not to,” the man said.
The otter sighed, or at least, the man thought it was a sigh. Talking otters are a bit difficult to understand, the man was beginning to find.
“Did yeh think I was just being clever? Mightn’t I have had a reason to tell yeh to stay on the path, yeh fuckin’ dolt?” the otter asked.
The man thought for a moment, and realizing that thinking was the last thing he wanted to do, promptly stopped thinking and said the first thing that came to his mind.
“Hold on a minute, you’re an otter. How are you talking?”
“Let’s worry less about me and more about yeh and the problem comin’ at yeh shortly,” the otter replied.
“Oh, and what problem might that be?” the man asked.
“Well, to be quite honest, I’m not entirely accurately sure of what, on a precise level, the problem is,” the otter said, “But I’m confident that whatever it is, yeh aren’t gonna want any part of it.”
The man, having given up thinking for the time being, accepted the otter’s explanation without further questioning, stepping back on the path and walking on.
“There yeh go, keep walkin’. Oh, and make sure that when yeh get to the end, you say hello to me mum.”
The man merely waved, and continued down the path, his head, for the moment, blissfully empty of thinking, thoughts and the like.