We all scattered to the alcoves nearest to us, for we know not where the beast was coming from. I was with the 3 year-old, Felicia. She was whimpering, and I tried to quiet her, wishing someone would do the same for me.
Wait . . . “Purest of Heart,” great! Who could be more pure than a three-year-old?! No, I can’t think like that!
The one with the darkest heart, the most defiled, survives. Then what good is morals, if it will only get you killed?
Then the question remains: would I rather die with dignity, or survive with no soul? To die is to survive, to survive is to die. Are morals worth dying for? Are MY morals worth me dying for? If I sacrifice this child to survive, then part of me has already died.
What if Felicia isn’t the purest? What if someone else out there is more so? Would the beast, Xing, take one of the shepherd’s lambs?
Minutes pass, and silence follows.
Why isn’t the beast doing anything? Does he like to see us squirm?
If Peter was here, he would die first. But he’d think he was somewhere in the middle.
If father was here, he would die last. But he’d think he was the first.
But what of me? What of now?
I feel busts of cold air on my face. What is it? I reach out and feel smooth cool air, but how can air be smooth?
I’m touching Xing.
He moves on.
I guess robbery of food, makes one not pure anymore.
In an instance, Xing aluminates from his very body, and lights up the whole cavern to let all the refugee see what comes next. His light casts shadows on the scared, frighten, and unsure faces of my encampment. I see past the light and look at him, no scales or fur, but no skin either. He has a small – what passes for a face – with two eyes, with no ears of what I can see of, but if he can talk, there must some. No nose or mouth, but dangling jowls beneath his eyes. I am in unbelieving awe at his uncanniness.
Xing sniffs and snorts at one of the sickly patients. His tails wags, thumping the ground making the pebbles bounce. From out of the tail comes a . . . mouth? The tail looks smooth like what I touched, and has this weird opening that in no other way to describe, but a mouth. The tail must be no longer than three or four feet, the rough tongue of the mouth extends to five more feet.
“Let this be a lesson to you people, the oldest among you is the purest. The longest amount of time to sin, but does not succumb to MOST temptations. She is not perfect, no I’ve never tasted perfection, but this one will be delicious nonetheless. “
Anna Maria does not resist her impending doom, accepts it with heave of her chest, and a single silent silver teardrop. Her wavering voice of time gushes into a well-repeated verse: “‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.’ My Savior, my prayer has been answered, I will see you now.”
At the sounding of the last syllable, the tail-mouth opens and injects a venom the color of retribution. The frail old woman’s now limp carcass arches upward as a fluid enters through her eye sockets. Yellow blips seem to be called to the surface of the weathered wrinkled skin as her face twists in contortions of the purest form of agony. The blips breakthrough Anna Maria’s wan skin, as if each one symbolized a good deed committed. There were thousands of them. The blips molded into one gigantic golden glowing globe and Xing devoured it as if it was his first food in years – it probably was. He grasped the orb in his paws, clawed into the center, and sank his fangs into it. Golden ooze dripped down his chin but before it hit the ground it changed into scarlet blobs. Xing defiled Anna Maria’s pureness.
Xing seemed to be choking on laughter. Disgusting.
“I absolutely adore it when they pop! It is like what you eat – cranberries, boiling in a pot. Pop, pop, pop. Bubbling to the surface. The juices that you people suck out of yours, is the warmth that this woman has brought to the world. Pop. Pop. Pop. Although none of you have come close to her. No meal next will be as delicious or nutritious. Take a lesson from your elders, people!”
Xing peeled the benevolent energy from her flesh as one peels an orange, except he was eating the rind. He was dining fruitfully.
“I’ll give you a hint, my future feasting. The darkest of heart survives the longest. Continue to sin – continue to live. The one with the wickedest soul will put me to sleep for as many months as that person committed a foul deed when they could have committed a good one. Hold out hope for you do not know when the doors will open, or if someone will rescue you. I will be back in two days.”
“Xing,” Grandpops steps out from his alcove, “are you willing to make a deal? What if I gave you the purest ever? Will you stop doing . . . this forever?”
“Yes, but I have searched and found no avail. Who do you have in mind?”
“Tell me how do you find the purest of heart and I’ll tell you who you seek, Oh great and powerful Xing?”
“Do not appeal to my ego, others have tried and look where that ended up. All you people have energy from your previous acts, and I can smell it. There is no masking it. Tell me of this person who is the purest of heart.”
“You are. You take care of the evilest in the world, but also the purest. You are the best of both good and evil. Absorb yourself and you will find your solution and problem. You are beyond good and evil, Xing. Think over this.”
“Do you not see? I have already tried.” He began to limp away.
Xing’s paw was withered and mangled. It was blacker than the rest of him, and shriveled into almost nothingness. His limp was a characteristic he now dared to show. He showed weakness. Was there hope? As he went the light became dimmer and dimmer, until the cave was darker than before the idea of Xing had took captive of their minds.
Xing said someone might rescue us. Could Peter still be alive? Could Peter save me? No, I saw him die.
Everyone waited a few minutes before coming out of the alcoves, but Grandpops just stood there thinking.
“Everyone gather ‘round. We will go in a circle ta voice our opinions. No one interrupts. Though our situation is fearful one, doesn’t mean we should be in a panic.” Grandpops stops and looks around for someone to start and chooses Calvin.
“I know this may sound twisted, but why did Xing choose Anna Marie and not Felicia?”
May begins in almost a whisper, but Ben puts a hand on her shoulder and comforts her to go on, “Calvin, Xing said not only is it the bad acts, but also how many good stuff ye do, too. Felicia didn’t have enough time to do good acts.” Her voice breaking now, “She won’t e’er be able ta! We’re all gonna die in here . . .” She turns and sobs into her husband Ben.
“May . . . that’s just a possibility,” Grandpops soothes. “We are gonna try everythin’ we can ta keep us alive. We just gotta keep our heads. We just gotta keep our heads.”
Job is the next to speak, “What if . . . what if we did what the monster said -”
“Under no circumstances!” The power and strength behind my voice startles me. But once I say it, the more I believe it. “You either die a hero, or live long enough and become the villain, and I am no villain!”
What Liz says next surprises me, “But ye ain’t a hero either.”
“Whoa, whoa! This is what he wants, for us ta turn on each other. Do ye really think he wants the purest, or does he just tell us that so we hurt each other, and become more evil and give ‘im what he really wants? Huh? He could be lying ta us.” Grandpops levels the free-floating anger in the cavern.
A weak voice over by the stream calls out, “Do ye really think he can even sense it at all?”
“Wasn’t this suppose ta be in order?” Mary Jane says, trying to bring humor to the dark situation.
Sharp crisp movements in succession at the deeper part of the cave. Was Xing back? No, fear and hatred was back. Foom sprints across the crackled cavern, while in motion he rips the end of a stalactite clean off. With a horrifying sneer that ripples to the very soul, he impounds the stone dagger into a sickly old man by the stream. Without even hesitating, he jabs again and again, then goes over to the other wounded patient, shrieking in hysteria, and plunges the stalactite into her eye.
With crimson life-liquid streaming down his forearm, he raises his arms, climbs a nearby rock, and bellows in triumphant immorality, “I will survive!”
The cave erupts into chaos.