Back in the early 1860s I was hiking in Montana and seen a middle-aged feller in his 50s standing on a tree stump. He had one end o’ the rope around his neck, getting’ ready to jump off.
“Hey there, friend!” I said. “Whatcha doin’ in these here parts?”
The melancholy feller stopped what he was doing and told me about his troubles.
“I have nowhere to go,” he said. “I’m wanted in several states by the law and other people who intend to hang me. But now, without my friends and family, I might as well save them all the trouble.”
“Name’s Buscrat,” I said, “and you are…?”
“Everybody calls me ‘Crooked Linc’. Name’s Lincoln. I wish I could go back and start my life all over.”
“Why dontcha git offa that rope and take a walk with me?” I said.
Linc told me about the terrible life he’d led, and we walked fer a good mile ‘til we came to a cave.
“So, how’d ya git started with this notorious life ya been leadin’, Linc?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I was a good person once, but somehow one thing led to the next, and now I’m hated by my friends and family and wanted by the law.”
When we got to the cave I told him to foller me as we walked the deep tunnel. On one side of the cave we seen groups of people going about their business. We was able to see right through ‘em, like they was ghosts. In modern terms, you might call ‘em a hologram, but back in the 1800s we called ‘em ghosts. It was like riding one of them Haunted Mansion rides at Disneyland. People were going about their business talking, laughing and fighting in different scenes as we walked deeper into the cave.
We saw Linc in every scene, interacting with folks. It was like seeing a movie of his life doing all of the rotten things he’d done. It became perty understandable why everyone called him Crooked Linc.
Eventually we came to one last scene. In it, Linc was in his 20s working in a general store, in the early 1840s.
“I remember this event,” Linc said. “After I helped that woman with her purchase I noticed I had accidentally shortchanged her a few pennies. She never noticed. I thought about how I had made a few extra cents with no effort.” (That was equal to a few dollars today.)
“Then another customer came in,” Linc recalled. “I shortchanged him too, this time on purpose. He didn’t notice. Before ya know it I was shortchanging customers or shorting the amount of flour or oats I put in their bag for what I actually charged them.
“I couldn’t help it. It was so easy, I did it to everyone. Just a little bit of shortchanging, and none of ‘em noticed. But after a while Mr. Jenkins noticed and talked to some neighbors about it. They started watching me, and before ya know it they was onto me. I got accused of being crooked. That’s how I got my nickname.
“People stopped coming to my store. I got desperate and started borrowing money from the bank and other folks. But I figgered they knew my reputation so I never bothered paying ‘em back. What’s the use? Everybody knew I was crooked. After a while I didn’t care what anybody thought anymore. Eventually I had to leave town. I stold old man Jenkins’ horses and wagon and left the state.”
Then Linc told me stories that led to him being wanted by the law in many states and despised by his own family and friends.
“I remember now,” Linc said. “It all started right here in this general store when I noticed that I shortchanged that woman.”
We both turned around in that cave, and we saw the deep tunnel from where we came and also another tunnel going to the right.
“You can go back out that way, from the direction we came in,” I said, “or you can choose that path to the right. From here, you gots a chance to re-live yer life from this point forward. You’ll have an advantage too, cuz even though you’ll be a young man in your 20s again, you’ll have the memory of the terrible life you’d led fer 30-odd years as an adult. That will remind you of the choices you made that led to misery. Not everybody has that chance.
“You decide which path to choose,” I said. “The first step you take in either will lead you to the last step of that path. You already know where the last step leads to the left. So be sure to choose the right path.”
He looked at the holograms of his past life as far as he could see down the left tunnel, which was dingy and dark. Then he looked down the right tunnel. He couldn’t see any holograms, but it was bright and cheery. He chose the right path, and off he went.
I found my way back out of the cave and returned to the 1860s. Curious what happened to Linc, I traveled to the eastern states to look him up.
I found he was living in a big white house. I went up to the door, knocked and the butler opened it.
“I’m looking fer Crooked Linc ….er, ah… Linc,” I said. I recovered from my slip of the tongue by jesting, “I used to call him that when we was boys cuz he was tall and lanky and bent over crooked sometimes. I ain’t seen him fer many years.”
“We call him ‘Honest Abe’ here,” the man said.
“Innerstin’,” I said. “How come?”
“It started when he was working at a general store and accidentally shortchanged a woman,” the butler said. “He closed the store and walked several miles to give her back the pennies he shortchanged her. There’s lots of stories about Abe who was always honest in everything he did.”
He led me to the living room, where Abe greeted me with a warm handshake. We talked and laughed fer hours that day.
Then he said, “I’m glad I had another chance and decided to choose the right.”