The Beast Along the Way

My child, you are old enough now that I can tell you the fire is getting closer. Soon, our village will be completely consumed. You, no doubt, feel it. The young are intuitive in that way although they do not really understand what it is they feel.

So you have come to me because you want to know about the Golden City? Perhaps you are right. There is no hope for us here, but they say that the light of that pure place will cleanse the world if only one can attain it.

You were smart in coming to me. It’s not so much that the old know better. There is not a living soul who has seen the City and I am no exception. Yet we are closer to the legends and have failed longer than you. It is more from our failure than anything else that you can learn. The young are foolish to think that because they have not yet failed they have some special insight. Good then, with the time we have left together, let me tell you about the time I tried to reach the Golden City.

As it happens, I was about your age and there was a famine in the entire world. It is a wonder anyone survived at all. Like you, I had grown up with the stories. I knew that at the edge of the world there was a chasm so vast and so deep that even an eagle could fly all its life and not even see to the other side. It is a vast sea of nothingness and there is no way around it. The wise ones have concluded that there are only two ways across it. One must either ride the Beast one meets along the way or one must raise one’s own Beast.

Now, as a youth, I certainly tried to raise my own Beast. At that time it was quite fashionable. But you understand they get so hungry so very quickly and I spent my time dreaming of its great powerful wings and what the wind would feel like as we lifted up. I could hear the cheer of not just our village but every village everywhere as the shadow of my great Beast engulfed them all. As I dreamed, my Beast quickly starved to death. It did not occur to me that perhaps I needed help.

But raising Beasts was a mere childish hobby. It was not until the famine took hold that I realize I had no choice. I set out to go meet the Beast along the way. I had barely left the village when I could already hear its breathing miles away. I shuddered at the thought it. My child, there are only two types of people who ever go to see the Beast along the way: those who are desperate and those clever and sly devils who believe they can turn it to their ends. As it happens, I was both.

The journey was long but the path was clear. I sometimes forgot my hunger to marvel at all the places where people used to live. The closer I got the stronger the walls of the towns seemed to get. One seemed ravaged by the famine. Another seemed ravaged by those Creatures that come from the woods, or perhaps it was the Beast along the way, or perhaps it was both. The Beast has an odd way, you know, of sometimes protecting us and sometimes destroying us.

Days and nights passed before I reached it. At first, I could see it from far away as just a heaving mass. Its sheer enormity made me weak. As I came closer, with slower and slower steps, more and more details became apparent, though these details did more to obscure the Beast and the way than to reveal either to me. One day, I finally reached it.

I looked at it, unsure of what to do next. It looked at me too. Well in a way it looked at me. You see it has more eyes than I could ever count. Some were dozing, some were grinning, others seemed to be fixed on a point in the distance in every direction, still others looked at me suspiciously.

I stood there for a little while like a fool. I could hear the sound of a thousand voices, barking orders to birds, musing calmly with foxes, laughing and singing to an audience I could not see. Somehow, through this cacophony of voices, I heard one that seemed to be directed towards me. Since the Beast had more mouths than it had even eyes, I could not be sure at all where the voice was coming from or where I should address myself. Since I could not seem to pair most of the voices with most of the mouths many of the voices seemed to come from nowhere. The voice said as follows, “What have you brought me?”

You understand, my child, Beasts are always hungry. One must know precisely what to feed a Beast if one is to have any hope of getting anywhere with it. Yet when I asked, none of the elders in our village seemed to know what the Beast along the way actually eats. I made my best guess and brought along what I like to eat, which is a special dish of our people. I took it out from my bag to show the Beast but could not understand if there was any response at all.

I summoned all of my courage and began to approach it. What was to stop it from eating me, I wondered. As I got closer, I began to notice under its thick glossy coat of fur, how many legs it had. And what strange legs they were– almost human with feet pointed every which way. It was a wonder the Beast moved at all. And though it may have just been the light, it seemed to me it was growing more feet by the second. I did not know what to make of any of this my child at the time, and even now all I have are theories that you do not need to hear.

As I approached, I was surprised to find that there was nothing monstrous or rotting about the smell of its breath. I could only describe it as stale, as if the air had been all used up. My child, I tell you these things because many people tell stories of the Beast who have not really met it along the way and though there is more in it that is grizzly and monstrous then could ever be told in a story, yet story-tellers have a way of adding still more. Still others perhaps did take some road to it that came to an entirely different more monstrous face. For my own part, I think it is fitting that you know my small experience of it exactly as I have met it. But understand there are others.

I came right up to it when it occurred to me that I still had no clue what mouth to offer my modest offering to. Did they all go to a single stomach? I looked in one mouth on what was very much like a human head. Its tongue was dry and teeth rotted out. It seemed to lazily hang open and I wondered if it was dead. I looked in another mouth much larger than the first. It seemed to constantly gnash whether out of hunger or compulsion. Though it opened and closed rapidly, I noticed that its teeth appeared to once have been sharp yet they had been filed down by someone.

It was then I realized I wasn’t alone. A jackal whistled at me, as if to say “do you like my work?”. I began to notice all around the Beast were wolves and deer and birds of different kinds. Some suckled at its many teats. Others seemed to whisper secrets in its ears. They seemed somehow to take refuge with it. The posture of each animal was one of reverential submission. And yet, as soon as one of the Beast’s many eyes closed, a bird would steal the food right out of its mouth and a wolf would swipe at it. My child, all my life I have lived with the ordinary deceit of human beings but I have never seen anything so brazen before or since.

A friendly enough mouth opened wide and I was called back to my task. I gently tossed the food into it and waited. It seemed to be months before I saw some legs shuffle and much excrement emerge that gave me the feeling the offering was the cause. In truth though, my child, I do not really know. I wondered then how I could ride a Beast if I could not discern what my actions had to do with it.

If the excrement was indeed due to my offering, then it appeared I had made a mistake. Just because we like a dish, does not mean it will agree with the Beast’s digestive system. If you are going to feed a Beast, it is that system above all else that you must understand. So I began to experiment. I would search for different things from the woods and surrounding places and feed the different mouths at different times my various goods. Months passed and I began to discern that the wolves and birds seemed to be doing the same thing. I wondered occasionally about the famine but above all needed to find that recipe that would get the Beast to move. For now, it did not matter where so long as I could understand it. Indeed, I did not even know where I would take the Beast if I ever succeeded, but that could be figured out later.

One night, as I slept (some ways away from it), I dreamt of murdering the wolves and the birds. How much simpler it would be if it were only the Beast and me. Yet then I remembered my poor little Beast and how quickly it had died.

I awoke that morning feeling sorry for it. Surrounded as it was by traitors and hangers-on. What did they want from it? They did not seem to be on the way to any Golden City. Why torture the poor Beast with their constant prodding and feeding? This is what you must know my child, there is no creature stronger than it and no creature more fragile than it.

As I looked on the poor Beast filled with its sadness and pain, I noticed at its feet emerging out of the dust all the bones. There were Beasts before it that it had devoured and many people besides. Indeed, surely any youth with enough vigor and cunning to raise their own would have had to come this way. No doubt this Beast consumed them all.

Perhaps an eye had fixed on me and seen all these thoughts because a voice again came as if from nowhere, “Clever child. Perhaps it is time now that you join me.” And in that moment I thought two things. I wondered what the world would look like from atop the Beast and remembered our village that I had so quickly forgotten. It was winter now and the famine was surely as bad as it could be. Indeed, though I fed the Beast much, very little of what it ate was suitable for me. I realized that I could not carry this on much longer so if I planned to ever reach the Golden City, I must move now.

I ran to its side and gripped its strange oily fur. A strange look of pleasure seemed to cross each eye I stared into as the mouths around me licked their lips. The fur was warm and the Beast’s body broke the wind. Indeed, within moments it seemed I was making the right decision.

And yet, as I climbed higher, I began to notice arms of other creatures caught in the Beast’s fur. Just like me they seemed to climb with the idea of perhaps riding it somewhere, commanding it, and yet here they were. I could not stomach it and fortunately the Beast along the way seemed to lose focus. I slowly climbed down and returned to the village.

So you see my child, I do not really know how to get to the Golden City, But you know, we also have a much older tradition that the Messiah will come riding on a donkey.

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