The Free Wheel
Once upon a path rolled a wheel. With nothing to speed it up, slow it down, or turn it around, it understood that it was free.
“Ah, it’s good to be free”, it spoke.
It imagined being a normal wheel, one of many parts of a larger, decision-making apparatus , and what a terrible fate it seemed. It was certain that if those wheels knew what it was like to be unattached, and were able, they would choose it. So, it must be good.
One day the wheel came across a two-wheeled contraption it recognized as a bike. On it was a strange mustacheoed man mumbling something about being “overwhelmed by the tribe.” The man had dismounted to take a whiz in the bushes, and thus spoke the bike.
“Good day.” It said to the wheel. “Where are you headed?”
“Wherever I want,” said the wheel.
“And where do you want?”
“I – hmm…” The wheel thought about this hard, and as it did, it felt some air leaving its tire from the pressure of it all. “I guess I’ll see when I get there.”
“Get where?” asked the bike.
“To wherever I am.” It had no idea what it was talking about now, but obtained some air of self-satisfaction nonetheless.
“Well, good luck then!”
And on it rolled, glad to be out of that conversation
Some time later, the wheel came across a plank set atop two sets of small, sturdy wheels. A longboard. The person on it had stopped to chat with a friend, something about how “you can do what you decide to do but you can’t decide what you will decide to do”, one foot on the plank to keep it from rolling away. A sad sight indeed.
“Hey there,” said the longboard.
“Hi,” said the wheel, keeping its pace.
“How do you roll?”
“I – fine?” It stopped to understand the question.
“No, I mean, how do you move all alone like that? What’s controlling you?”
“No one. I’m free.” And took in a little puff of air.
“Is it?” said the wheel. And on it rolled.
A while later down the path, at the bottom of a steep hill, the wheel came across a pair of boots with rows of four wheels attached. The wheel had always thought that if it were absolutely forced to become part of some contraption, it would be rollerblades. Just seemed fun. The wheels, faced outward because of the positioning of their mover, who was presently clutching her leg and moaning about how “she who has overcome her fears will truly be free”, were chattering to each other about how she ought to really invest in some kneepads
“Hi there,” said the wheel. “Everything OK?”
“Yeah, just a bit scratched up because of this dummy up here,” said one set of wheels.
“Eh, we’re used to it by now. It’s a small price to pay.” Said the other set.
“Adventure!” said the two sets in unison.
“As long as it’s on concrete.”
“Nothing!” said the wheel. And on it rolled.
It was a tough climb up that hill, but thanks to some conveniently directed gusts of wind it managed to make it to the top. With an inflated sense of premeditation, it approached a fork in the road. A sign post in front indicated arrows to the left and right but it couldn’t read the words. The wheel remained there for a long time, frustration building.
“Well this is stupid.” The wheel muttered to itself. “Why is it even called a fork, anyhow? Should be called a wishbone.”
“What about a tuning fork?” said a voice from behind. Wheel turned around to see a heavy-duty tire that, judging from its metal webbing, looked like it was made for snow.
“Oh yeah. Or that.”
“Or a fondue fork”
“Yeah, I guess.” And turned back around.
Snow tire laughed; a booming laugh.
“So, you’re free too, huh?” said the wheel.
“And everywhere in chains, am I right?” It laughed again.
“Well, I guess I am now. I came from the mountains. A spare that came loose – how about that! It’s been downhill ever since!”
“It’s fun, right?”
“Is that what it’s called? I have no idea where I’m going! You neither, huh?”
The wheel suddenly felt insecure. “Well, I just can’t read the signs.”
“Ah, let me help.” The tire positioned himself between the prong. “The left one says ‘Trail of Nails’ and the right one says ‘Tire Fire’”
Booming laughter. “I’m just shittin’ ya. But maybe. I can’t read.”
“I…can’t decide.” Wheel deflated a little.
“Well, you can always come back if you chose wrong. That’s why it’s not a wishbone.”
“I guess. But how will I know it’s wrong? Wrong means worse, worse implies basis for comparison!”
“You’re losin’ me now. Anyway, you’ve been at this longer than I have. I’m gonna go this way. Happy travels!” And the snow tire rolled on down path to the right.
The wheel remained for a long time looking down one path and then the other, deflating all the while. Things had been so easy for so long. It had to pick one before it became unable to move at all. Why was it so hard to decide? It realized it’s never had to before. There was only ever one path.
It simply couldn’t choose on its own. Wheels of all kinds came and went left or right with hardly a pause. Day and night cycled on, and option paralysis eventually transformed into actual paralysis as the wheel realized it couldn’t even move if it wanted to. It was now totally depleted, autonomous no more.
“Fuck,” said the wheel, and fell to its side in surrender to its cruel self-imposed fate.
Some time later, a crafty old lady whose hobby it was to re-purpose things for garden decoration naturally picked up wheel and leaned it against the sign post, planting flowers in front of it as one does. Flora and rust overtook wheel and it served the rest of its time as a poignant reminder to other ostensibly adventuresome free wheels that when the time comes to depart from the path that has been set, you better choose or die wondering.