26. Mark of the Beast

Drea came to him in dreams. He wanted to be angry at her. To curse her and cut her down for what she had done. But as she approached she held him fast in her icy stare, as she had always done. The dark, deep, abysmally empty eyes sucked the strength from his will, causing him to crash to his knees and bury his head in his chest.

She knelt over him and pulled his head up to face her. She kissed his lips and he tried to turn away, but his body was under her control alone. Then he felt a slap on his face, and he blinked his eyes and watched as Drea's face turned into Barek's.

"Yes," Barek snarled. I sent her to snare you. Even you needed persuasion to carry out such a horrendous mission. Even you would have been sickened by its decimating conclusion. Only love could blind you enough into thinking it was right. But you didn't think I could let you live once you touched her, did you?" Barek jabbed at Krayer's face, and pushed him backwards onto the ground.

Barek lifted his hands up to black stormy skies and laughed hideously.

Krayer watched in horror as Barek grew upward towards the sky, and the hideous laughter shook him as Barek turned into a huge Beast whose eyes burned with icy fire.

For some reason he felt he knew this creature, and it filled him with fear.

The Beast writhed and raged and reached out a flaming paw that singed Krayer's skin, smoldering it in unbearable pain. Krayer to tried to move, but his body was paralyzed.

The Beast laughed, and continued its devastating caresses. "You have done well. I was wise to choose you."

"I am not your chosen one," Krayer moaned in defiance. It seemed so important that he make this clear.

"Of course you are. Is that not my mark upon your breast?"

"You lie!" Krayer screamed. But the small black case above his heart reminded him that it was true. "What have I done?" Krayer cried.

The Beast roared in laughter, and the flames licked Krayer's body, teasingly.

Krayer clamped his eyes closed tighter and tighter, until slowly he began to notice there was music flowing from somewhere. It was getting louder and louder and it seemed to flow through him like electrochemical jolts, pulsing into his muscles, invigorating them with a warm burst of power.

He could move. He leaped to his feet and turned away from the Beast, and ran toward the music. The sharp brambles seemed to part as he plunged ahead into the dark forest. And in a clearing, rays of moonlight were peeking through the clouds, falling down upon a minstrel who played his lute and motioned with his eyes for Krayer to follow him.

As the minstrel moved across the clearing, the moonlight followed him like a spotlight.

Krayer could not help himself. He followed obediently. The minstrel motioned with his head, and the beam of moonlight moved away from him and landed on a vision of angelic beauty, a woman who stood not quite on the ground and not quite in the air.

Krayer walked towards her and looked into her eyes. They were alive and full, and life seemed to flow from them, asking for nothing in return, filling him with their warmth, and hope and promise. He felt the gentleness washing over his soul and his heart was stirring, and she held out her hand, and he reached up to touch it...

He bit his lip and thrashed at his body. "I will never reach out to anyone again!" he swore, and he threw himself back into the brambles. They tore at his body and ripped away the comfort the vision had brought him.

The Beast was there laughing. Krayer clenched his teeth, and held his breath, and turned away from both the light and the dark, denying his heart, denying his soul, denying his very existence.

He flung whatever was left of himself into the earth, and dug deeper inside, covering his body with a warm blanket of soil.

When he awoke he was staring into darkness. He tried to move, but there was something holding him down. It was pressing on his chest. And then he noticed he wasn't breathing. With the strength of blind fear he leaped up, flinging the dirt from his body, coughing the filth from his lungs.

Dazed and confused he wandered through the thickets, stumbling and falling, again and again. Finally he found a stream, and he washed the dirt from his eyes and his face and his hands. But he couldn't wash away the haze that filled his head.

He listened to the sound of the water as he sat on the rocks, and he stared at the trees and the grey sky and he had no idea where he was. As he looked down at his dirty, bleeding hands in the light of the moon, he realized he didn't know who he was either.

The emptiness inside him grew and as it did, light and sound could no longer reach his brain. And yet there remained the remnant of a whisper drifting through the emptiness.

He tried to listen. He strained to hear.

"You know who I am," the voice urged.

Slowly, ever so slowly, an angel faded into view. I could see her. I could feel her warmth and love bathing my soul. "You know who I am," she whispered again. "You know who you are."

I stared and I saw Drea's eyes gazing lovingly back at me. I saw Maya's face smiling at me. I saw Ling Su and Melnor, the Duke and the Wizard all smiling at me. I saw a face staring at me in a mirror. Ward's face. Krayer's face. Chen Tang. Captain Rogetto's face.

I remembered peeking out of the closet watching the Queen flower Captain Rogetto with gratitude. I remembered Barek's face as it turned into the burning eyes of the Beast and I began shaking uncontrollably. But each vision of hope or desolation disappeared as fast as it came to me, and I could hold on to nothing. I could not remember who I was. And the emptiness swallowed me once again, but that whispering hush was still there beyond my reach, breathing hope.



©: 1992-2015 Robert Alan Silverstein

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