the cure

He pulled his little skiff up on the shore and shipped the oars.  It was a small island like all the others, but in the middle there was a little forest.  He walked up from the beach and found himself in a beautiful grotto.  Soft, filtered sunlight trickled through the leaves and a brook gurgled crisp and clear beneath his feet.  In the middle of the clearing there was a large rock, and seated cross-legged upon this rock was a wrinkled old man.

“Hey!” he said to the man.

“Hello,” the old man said.

“…Hey!” he said again.  The man raised a bushy white eyebrow.  “Are there any peacocks on this island?”

“Yes,” the old man said, “there’s one over there.”  He followed the man’s gaze and indeed, there was a sleek green peacock drinking from the stream across the clearing.  He strode over to the creature and gripped it by the head.

“Don’t do it,” the old man offered.  He looked at the man, then the bird, which was now looking at him.  Then the man again, then the bird.  He took out his knife.  “I’m telling you,” the old man offered again, “don’t do it.”  He cut its throat.

The peacock gurgled and went slack beneath his hand.  He pulled its slit neck to his mouth and drank as much of the gushing blood as he could, pausing for breaths.  Then he stopped and looked at the old man.  He was covered in blood.

“I don’t feel anything.”

“Of course not.”

“Are there any more peacocks?”

“That was the last one.”

“How do you know?”

“I killed the others.”

“Oh.”  He looked down and let the dead peacock fall to the grass.  “Well I need more blood, that’s the cure.”

“Who told you that?”

He scratched the back of his neck with the tip of his knife.  “You know?  I can’t remember.”

“What’s the cure for?”

“I… don’t actually know.”  He hazarded a quick glance at the dead bird.  His mouth went flat and he let go a little sigh.  “This is a dream, isn’t it.”

“What do you think?”

“Well then who am I?”

“That’s the first intelligent question you’ve asked.

“Yeah, but who am I, really?  I have to know.”

“Have you learned anything?”

“No, to be honest, I’m very confused.  All of this is very confusing.  What’s wrong with me?  Why do I need a cure?  Why did I think it was blood?”

The old man raised a bushy eyebrow, stroked his chin, and nodded.

“No, wait, please—“

He woke up and there she was.  He watched her chest rise and fall evenly in her sleep.  Outside their little house, the rising winds of a great storm blew trash across the yard.  He eased himself out of bed and looked down at her.  He saw her then as he had first seen her all those years ago, laughing, dancing, smiling—smiling at him.  Choosing him.  He should never have killed that bird.

Somewhere inside him a crack split his ball of anger. First one, then many, until spidering in all directions they covered the whole hardened mass.  Then it broke. He laid his anger down in pieces and in its place found only sadness — she was his best friend.  He reached down and brushed the hair from her eyes.  Outside it began to pour.

Who was he?  What was wrong with him?  He didn’t know.  There was work to be done, and he resolved to do it in kindness.  He stepped out into the storm.  As he walked, lightning struck the ground all around him.  Trees ripped from the earth and went flying.  He was terrified.  He stopped and looked back at the house.  He was absolutely terrified.

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