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Keeper of the Beast
I could never fully accept the life I was living. Something which separated me from the people that made up this monotonously predictable and repetitious society that I seemed to clash with. I appeared to be the only one to wonder, to think, and to feel. The only one who couldn’t accept that life was just a structured fabrication, complete with undeniable order, never shifting or changing, always the same.
I looked out into the valley just like I had everyday. The familiar, forbidden scenery which overlooked my world and seemed to call to me. Night after night I had dreamed of that valley, the small mountains, the clouded sky, the mysteries which were beyond it. I had often stayed up at night, imagining what could exist apart from what I knew. The dangers which kept us locked in. Though I never dared to do more than imagine--- or even ask, our lives were overtly simple and systematic, a question like that would have them speculate me again.
I kept walking to my destination, to the house of my mentor, and my only friend, Alden. From what I was told, as young children we had been assigned mentors, elders who would train us for our future positions. My mentor was the only man in the entire city who was like me, and I was convinced that wasn’t by chance. Unlike my classmates, who’s mentors worked them and tested them constantly, Alden’s relationship and mine was a friendship, rather than scholarly. He never talked about the future, or pressured me. Most of the time we just chatted, he allowed me to be myself, but he also taught me how to appear more like them without giving up my identity. We would meet almost daily, sometimes he’d have a specific question written in front of me to prompt my discussion, other times he’d tell me stories, or let me say what I want.
It wasn’t for lack of subject nor lack of ability that he didn’t dictate such teachings, as the job I was given was important---and mysterious as well. It was called “The keeper of the beast” , the person who held our society, and protected it from evil of the outside world. When I was younger, I dreaded this title, but now I was merely anxious to uncover the secrets that it held. Perhaps then, would I understand, and be more like Alden, who had so much influence and wisdom.
The beast was the foundation of our community, allegedly what made them what they were. The beast was all the evil in the world that had been captured. When the beast had been overcome, all “imperfections” had went with it. It lay in a large metal box made of pure silver, that was fixed in the center of the city. No one dared go near it, no one was even permitted to speak of it.
Monthly, a special night, where the celestial sphere grew full and was in a specific position, we spared someone. One member, one person, one being, of our perfect lifestyle who no longer fit. Whether their term was done, or there was “imperfection” , they were sent to the beast. These people were chosen by our council, and usually the chosen did not protest. Everyone was eventually given, and by living in our world, you accepted this, but I had always been scared. It didn’t make sense that we could contain such power, or if we could, why would we have to give up our own people? I hated the moment The Chosen walked in front of us, head down and hands back, but what I hated most of all was that no one knew what happened once they entered that box, no one but the keeper.
I rushed into Alden’s house, the warm air brushing against my face. He was sitting in a chair, just staring at the wall.
“Chilly this afternoon, huh?” he asked, beckoning the chair laid out for me. I only nodded, and sat down.
“Alden.” I said, “I’m sick of these games, I want to know.” I had decided, today I would tell him how I feel. He wasn’t like the others where I had to mask my emotions, Alden was real.
He shook his head with a slight smirk, “You’re growing impatient, I see.” He said. “I was hoping you had forgotten.” His eyes had a taunting gleam to them, “Have I not taught you enough?” he asked, only teasing me.
I saw he wasn’t going to budge, but I was becoming frustrated, “You haven’t taught me anything.” I stammered, regretful as soon as it had come out.
The gleam left his eye, and for a moment he seemed unaware of his own surroundings. He laid back in his chair, “With that, you’re wrong.“ He said. “You come closer and closer each day, you’ll have to make a choice.” He said, giving me a look that dismissed the topic entirely. Friend or no friend, he was still a mentor, I had to listen.
“Do you not trust me?” I asked, getting a little irked with his indirectness. I always felt like everything he said had more than one meaning.
“Tarif, I’m not arguing with you.“ He paused, briefly going back into that state of disorientation, and then continued “Tell me about your day” he said, officially transitioning the conversation. I sighed and began telling him about the trivial points of my day, though he seemed distracted, and I could tell this slight confrontation had unsettled him.
As I was beginning to grow bored with the conversation, a familiar bell rang and I rose to leave. As I headed for the door, I could hear him whisper my name, his head was lowered. He looked up at me, not saying anything, as though still making a decision, and then finally opened his mouth.
“Do you know what tomorrow is?” he asked, though he knew I already did. I nodded, realizing the importance of this question.
“When the….” he paused as if searching for the right word, “ritual… is over, I want you to stay after everyone has gone.”
My eyes opened, and my stomach sank down my body. “You’ll be late if you don’t leave now.” he said, trying to look away from me. As I headed for the door, my head slightly spinning, he stopped me again. “Don’t mention it to anyone.” He said.
I could barely breath as I walked back from his house to mine and was so astonished about what happened, the emotional aloofness of my guardians did not even bother me. My time had indeed come, and the steady beating of my heart was a reminder throughout the night.
We sat down in the same spot we did every time, only the feelings that ran through me were unbelievable. I began looking for Alden, expecting to see him, only to remember he was never at these events. My female guardian looked at me suspiciously but didn’t say anything, and everyone rose as the ceremony commenced. Today, The Chosen was Elita, a teacher at the primary school, which the younger children attended while just beginning their mentorship. I had noticed a pattern in those chosen, Elita’s skin was no longer smooth, but almost stretched out, and her hair was a bright white. She looked kind, though you could never tell. Her apprentice, a young girl I knew from school, stood proudly with a smug, anticipating expression, and a sensation of hatred flashed through me.
This woman did not deserve to have to this happen, everyone just staring and waiting for her to be consumed. I suddenly didn’t want to know about the beast, didn’t want to know what happened in the metal box, or why people were like this, I wanted to run away into the valley. I clenched my fists, trying to control myself, Elita kept walking. Could I save her? Could I run out, and grab her hand, leading her away? She was now standing two feet from the box, and Barr, a fairly young man whose job was to open it reached out his hands. The door faced the other direction, so no one could see what lay inside. Elita walked in, and the door was shut behind her. There was silence, a member of the council rose.
“Elita, teacher of the primary school, spouse to Caster, guardian to Alaina and Fantine, has been chosen.” he said, a stern and emotionless face matched his words. “Replacing Elita was her apprentice, Lara.” The girl who had caused me so much anger stood up and walked forward, the same expression on her face. “Elita will be forgotten.” he said, waiting for the response.
“Elita will be forgotten.” everyone repeated in synchronization, still standing. They began to file out the same way as they had entered, and I wanted to go with them. When I remained where I was, my guardians did not look back or even beckon me, they only kept going.
It was extremely dark as I waited and stared into the sky, my legs had begun to shake. Alden’s footsteps surprised me from behind and I turned around to face him. “I’m not ready to know yet.” I said, possibly giving up everything I had looked forward to. “I could barely manage today, just watching. I donâ€˜t think I could do this.” While waiting for him, I had reflected on all the events. What if once he told me, Alden would be chosen? What if I couldn’t bear the truth? What if I let him down? These things were running through my mind, new worries coming every second. He nodded with a look of compassion and understanding which comforted me. “I will tell you what you are ready for.” He said, leading me away from the dreaded box. He brought me back to his house and sat me down.
“It is time for the truth.” he said solemnly. “There is no real beast. It is us that creates the evil and only us. We must only fear ourselves.”
My jaw fell open, and I was entirely confused. “It’s us who has created this society, and we are merely playing along. When a person enters that box, they enter darkness, and it is me who ends their life, not a beast. You canâ€˜t capture the evil, and you canâ€˜t achieve perfection” his voice became a whisper. “ That is a mistake that as humans, we always do.” I shook my head unable to listen and ran out the door. I headed for the valley which I had always dreamed of, ignoring the cold air. We couldn’t be the mistake. I only kept running.