I wrote this short story a long time ago, probably as far back as high school. I didn't even remember writing it until I started re-reading it recently. It's extremely clichéd in places, and definitely shows signs of an inexperienced writer, but I'm not terribly embarrassed of it in general. I corrected my own grammar in a few places and updated some of my original word choices, but overall it's the same piece I wrote over 15 years ago. Enjoy!
The streets seemed endless on that muggy November morning. The man felt like he'd been walking for years, but it had only been a few hours. The man could not remember when or why he had started walking. He just knew – or felt – he was running away from something or someone.
He sought shelter in a secluded alley near 35th Street, and his once-agile body collapsed in a near-lifeless heap. Exhaustion had set in, and he knew he could not go on. It didn't take long for sleep to come. And with sleep, dreams.
Behind closed eyelids, the man saw himself as a child. He watched himself storming off, spouting obscenities at his mother as she stood there, resentful teardrops streaming down her cheeks. He couldn't remember what he had done to her, but he knew that it was the first time he had ever seen her cry. And it hurt him that he'd hurt her.
Then the man envisioned himself once again; this time he was older, but not by much. He was standing beside a beautiful young woman at the altar of a grand cathedral, as hundreds of friends and family looked on. They had come to witness the joining of these two young people who by all appearances seemed to be the epitome of happiness, innocence, and everything that was good in life. Six months later, when their child was born, the shock had been so great for the man's mother that she would spend the remainder of her days in a rest home, though she was only 47 when she was admitted.
Then the man saw himself in more recent years, behind steel bars, sharing his troubles with his 300-pound cellmate, a convicted ax murderer. The man was telling his "friend" about how he'd abandoned his wife and child, traveled across the country, robbing grocery stores and convenient stores along the way, and had finally been caught red-handed standing over the dead body of a decrepit old woman who'd refused to give him her purse.
This startling vision jolted him out of his reverie. The man looked around him. The secluded alley was still secluded. Then seemingly out of nowhere, a hooded figure appeared before him. The face was obscured in shadows, but the eyes were vividly visible. These were the eyes of his heartbroken mother.
He stared deep into the eyes again. This time they were the eyes of his young bride, innocently mirroring his own appearance. He turned away from the figure, but curiosity compelled to turn back and take one last glance.
With great surprise, he found himself peering into his own eyes. The hooded figure, it seemed, was now none other than himself.
"Why?" he eagerly asked the hooded figure, frowning in disbelief. The eyes spoke to him, without words. Suddenly, he understood everything.
He realized that the person now standing before him was the person he might have been. If he'd only turned away when he'd first confronted temptation. If he'd only chosen right instead of wrong. He could have been someone else. Instead, he'd lived each day acting out someone else's life.
The man bowed his head in shame, yielding to the despair that had quickly consumed his entire being. He looked up to find that he was alone again. He knew that he would always be alone now. Because this was the life he had chosen.
And with a deep sigh of utter regret, he breathed his last breath.