One relates a legend the other responds with a poem.
|Strange thoughts formed like bubbles rising from the deep. An unbearable itch crawled under his skin. He fell to the ground and rolled. Thick fur fell off in clumps to litter the ground and a breeze sent chills. His snout flattened and his jaws weakened. He looked down at where his hands should have been, but they remained as paws. Digging the claws into the ground, he thrashed the dead leaves, and howled. The metamorphosis, always occurring at the full moon, lasted just one night. He often wondered which was intended to be the greater punishment this one night or all the days and nights he existed as a monster.
He loped through the forest to the stream and found a pool of still water. Bending down, he looked at his reflection. All he needed to look as he did two hundred years ago was some soap. Although he had none, he washed his face and hair as best as he could in the cold water. He shivered for he had no clothing to ward away the chill of dusk, but through the many years of his existence he had learned to build a shelter with what he could find in the forest.
It was when he had just finished building it when he heard the tap tap of a cane approaching on the trail. The full moon was high, so he clearly saw a man in the grab of a blind storyteller. He shouted, “Poet, it’s a welcome sight to see you. Won’t you spend the night with me in this shelter I have built?”
The storyteller paused with fear, for he had heard tales of a monster lurking in the mountains who preyed on humans. He considered fleeing, but realized he would be no match for such a creature. Resigned to what fate had in store, he answered, “Thank you, I will gladly take your kind offer.”
Flow replied, “I would come out and help you enter, but my limbs are not what they used to be. I am sorry to be so unhelpful.”
“The darkness is no impediment to me. Please remain seated.” The poet advanced with his cane and paused at the entrance. “Before I intrude, I wish to introduce myself.”
Flow answered, “I’ve forgotten my manners. My name is Flow.”
“An unusual and beautiful name. I’m afraid mine is quite simple. It’s Annin.”
“Annin, please take a seat to your right.”
Squatting on the ground covered with dry leaves, the poet asked, “Do you live in these parts?”
“My home is a day’s walk away. I decided to spend the night here, for a night at an inn would be a foolish luxury for one as bereft of coins as I. Where do you call home, Annin?”
“Nowhere and everywhere, for I’ve been traveling nearly all my life. Yet, sad to say, despite my experience I lost my way. My intension was to spend the night at Shaoli Temple. I think I missed the correct turn after crossing the bridge.”
“Ah, I see. Come morning I can accompany you back to where you made the wrong turn. Until then, I would appreciate the time spent with my tale.”
“I am always glad to listen to a tale, however, shouldn’t we first light a fire to ward off any vile creatures that may lurk in these woods?”
“If only I had a flint, I would have already done so.”
“I have one in my pocket.”
“Though my limbs are old, I will collect some tinder. Could you arrange the rocks I heaped as I constructed this shelter in a circle? I will put the twigs and branches there for you to light.”
Later, as they sat in the shelter with a fire outside the entrance, Flow wet his lips and began.
Long ago when magic was not uncommon and spirits had not lost all interest in mankind there was a beast who preyed upon travelers in the mountains between the cities of Aran and Otoyk. This beast was not born with fangs and claws, but hairless with skin as pink as cherry blossoms.
Though my name is Flow, at birth I was given the name Oike. From a young age I excelled at all subjects so that my parents were the envy of all in our village. When I finished primary school my teachers recommended further studies in Aran. They even agreed to help pay my tuition.
My parents could not dishonor my teachers by refusing their offer, though I was needed on the farm. As for myself, I eagerly accepted the chance to escape from the drudgery of farming.
I graduated at the top of my class and qualified for the scholarship to attend the acclaimed university in Otoyk. There I met my equals, and though I failed to graduate at the top of my class, I easily passed the exams for civil service and was made Senior Assistant Chief of a province in the east.
Soon, I rebelled against the restrictions and scorned the duties I felt ignored my talents. Most of all, I detested my unworthy superiors. Within a year I resigned and decided to pursue my dream of becoming a poet whose name would be known throughout the land.
Alas, my poems failed to provide a sufficient source of income, and I soon exhausted my savings. I returned to my birthplace with shame at my failure and impatient to achieve fame.
For years I worked on the farm while writing poetry and raising a family. Behind my back I knew the villagers grinned and speculated on how a former employee of the Civil Service fell so low. This scorn, with the grinding work and extreme poverty, overcame my pride. Once again, I applied for a post in the Civil Service.
A month later I received an appointment as Assistant Mayor for a group of villages in a rural community.
There I found himself taking orders from former classmates who had risen during my years on the farm. It was galling for they were stupid and without imagination. One day I was ordered to go to one of the mountain villages on some pointless task. In my grief at how my life was unfolding, I fell to the allure of alcohol at a local bar. I got into a rage and ran out into the street yelling to the gods to strike me dead.
I found myself lying in the mountains at dusk with no recollections of how I got there. My clothes were in tatters and my face was covered with blood and cuts. All around me were tufts of fur. Yet, this mystery soon became horrid beyond my imagination, for within a few strides from where I lay were the bloody remains of a fresh corpse.
I stood there for how long I do not know, but finally I regained my senses and searched the body and the clothes for some identification. I found a key in a pocket. All that night I roamed the forest till I came upon a hut. When I tried to open the door, I found it locked. It was then that I remembered the key. With it I was able to enter.
So, this was where the man I had slain had lived. There was a small cooking stove in the center. A single bed and a table with two chairs were all the furniture. How had I killed him? Had I pounced or had I run him down? I will never know.
The next time I regained my senses I noticed that it was the night of the full moon, and so it is each time I become a man. It was perhaps half a year later that I had the first conversation since falling into my plight.
This occurred just as the sun was dipping below the horizon. An official of the Ministry of Public Safety, his assistant, and three soldiers were on the road leading to a village. I was hidden in the bushes alongside the road when the full moon rose. Not yet completely transformed, I growled.
The official shouted in a demanding voice, “Who or what are you?”
I answered, “I am a wretched soul whose name I wish to be forgotten.”
Astonished, for he had recognized my voice, he cried out, “It is Oike, isn’t it? I am Choji.”
I was equally astonished that fate had brought my old friend and classmate here and said, “Yes, I am Oike.”
“Come out and let us reminisce our days together.”
With shame, I answered, “I am grotesquely altered in form. Just a glance at me and dread and revulsion would overcome you. Yet, if you can endure the thought of friendly discourse with a monster, I would do so from behind these bushes.”
Choji asked, “What has become of you?”
“I was sent on a derisory errand to the village near here. Feeling despondent, I went to a bar to ease my plight. I fell into a rage when the bartender refused to serve me another drink. I rushed out into the street cursing the world. It was then that I heard a voice beckoning me into the forest. I believe now it was a devil. I had not the power to resist, or perhaps, no desire to.”
“I ran into the forest. Strength flowed. I leaped and sprinted without exhaustion. Fur covered my body, my feet were paws, and thick claws extended from my hands like a tiger’s. From then on, I remain so until the full moon, when I return to human form except for my hands and feet.”
“Perhaps, I am happy when I am a beast, but I have no recollection of emotions when I retransform into a cursed man. I fear most the total dominance of instinct and the absence of humanity. Every full moon I stand on the peak over the village and scream in anguish and they in their huts cower. No one understands my despair as so it was in my human days.”
“All my life I have been most proud of my mind. So, it is for that, I have one request.”
Choji and his retinue stood aghast. Finally, Choji answered, “Granted.”
“My ambition was to become a great poet. Countless poems have I written, but perhaps all are like grains of sand on a vast beach. Ten, I think, are worthy of recital. I have memorized them and I would like you to see they are published.”
I was panting when I finished, “Heavy clouds are approaching. I fear they are covering the moon. My transformation is coming sooner than usual. If that happens, I would not hesitate to kill you all. So, I wish you farewell.”
With those last words, I dashed toward the mountains.
Flow took a drink from Annin’s water bottle and asked, “What do you think of the tale, Annin?”
“If I may, I’d like to answer with a poem.”
Annin took the silence as a yes.
Beset with pride and misfortune
Till my mind was twisted with failure
Transformed into a loathsome beast
My spirit is crushed with self pity
Once I strived for fame and fortune
Till all I had was a frame of ash
Exist! Monster and man I am
I implore for one or the other
From a mountain peak I scream
Till my throat drowns in salty tears
Flow stared at the blind poet and reluctantly said, “It’s time for me to depart. Please forgive me for breaking my promise to escort you onto the correct path.”
Annin answered, “That is one promise I’m glad is broken.”