Cursed Knowledge

Hayden Lanier

Many years ago, three boys teetering on the cusp of adulthood were enjoying a relaxed walk through the forest. The boys’ heads were swarming with thoughts and plans of the future. Careers, spouses, children, wealth, joy, and prosperity were on the horizon for each of these bright young men who were leaving their pasts behind and looking ahead to what was in store for each of them. 
Having recently graduated, Alden, Clay, and Briar went on a trip before parting ways. This is what brought them to the aforementioned forest. This trip was a brief respite that all three adventurers agreed was well-deserved and necessary before embarking on their own individual journeys. 
As they walked, the trio heard a sudden rustling that alarmed them. Stopping in their path, they saw a man emerge from the trees. He could not have looked more unlike the three boys whose stroll he had interrupted. He had a dirty white beard that reached his waist and long, stringy hair the same silvery color. His clothes were old and tattered and the man stalked towards them with the aid of a walking stick. He stopped when he reached them, looking the boys dead in the eyes. 
“What is it that you seek?” the man asked. Understandably, the boys were confused. Alden asked this strange man what he meant. 
“What is it that you seek?” the man repeated. Not having an answer for his question, Clay told the man they did not know. “I possess the depths of wisdom unattainable to you,” the man declared. “I see the future.” 
Still puzzled, Briar spoke up this time, asking the man for his name. “Unimportant,” the man replied. “Do you wish to know how you die?” he asked. 
Surmising this man to be an old cantankerous crackpot, the boys laughed in his face. 
The man’s expression grew grim, almost angry. “I will not be mocked!” he screeched, and as he did so, a clap of thunder roared through the region. A bolt of lightning struck the man’s cane, almost as if summoned, but he was left completely unscathed. Seconds later, the sky returned to the sunny, cloudless canvas that had been displayed moments before.
Startled by the events that just transpired before their very eyes, the boys whispered among themselves and concluded that they would hear what he had to say. Someone who commanded their attention in such a way surely deserved at least a moment of their time. 
They told him they would hear what he had to say. 
“Alden…” he commenced, despite not having been told any of the boys’ names, “you will die a young and tragic death in a few years’ time. Beset with the lures and temptations of the world, you will guiltlessly indulge in all forms of pleasure, and it will be your demise.” 
Alden pictured such a dreadful and brief future while the man continued speaking. 
“Clay,” he continued, “you will develop a disease for which there is no cure and die suddenly when you reach middle age.” 
Deeply troubled, Clay continued to listen as the strange old man predicted the third boy’s future. 
“Briar, you will live a long and affluent life, endowed with all the wealth and possessions one could possibly desire.” 
Jolted and delighted by the positive nature of his fortune, Briar smiled openly at hearing these words. 
“But please, who are you? Why are you telling us these things? Do you even know if they are true?” Alden asked the man. But he disappeared on the spot without warning, leaving no trace that he had ever been there. 
The boys continued on their walk in an eerie silence, traipsing on edge, prepared to be startled or to see the old man return at any moment; but they never saw him again. Although they told each other that they did not trust the strange man’s predictions, Alden, Clay, and Briar all surmised in their hearts that they did believe what this man had told them. His intriguing and mysterious nature both captivated and unnerved them while somehow adding validity to his prophecies. 
After this trip, the boys parted ways. They became men. Though the exact words of the old man they met in the forest that fateful day were forgotten, and the trip became a mere memory, his prognoses stuck with them and changed the way each man lived. They took his words to heart. 
Alden, determined not to succumb to the wiles of the world and allow them to steal his life, lived carefully and thoughtfully. He did not indulge his flesh but did only what was profitable and good for his emotional welfare and the betterment of others. As a result of his chosen lifestyle, Alden lived a long life filled with joy and when his end finally did come, he met it with grace and peace surrounded by a loving and caring family. 
Clay obsessed over his health and made every effort possible to avoid being overtaken by a disease. He ate all the right foods and exercised for years, regularly checking with a physician. But when he reached what the old man called middle age, Clay was diagnosed with a deadly illness. He passed away soon thereafter; his life cut short in spite of his great aims at avoiding such a tragic end. 
Briar, on the other hand, lived recklessly. He partied long and hard, holding back nothing that his heart desired. He knew he would live long and have everything he had ever wanted. If that was how it all ended, he could live however he pleased! So, he did. Notwithstanding, the decisions that Briar sowed reaped detrimental consequences and Briar died as a young adult. His existence was claimed by the sins and foolhardiness of his youth, having never attained the earthly riches he was promised.