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May 16, 2018

21. A Sight for Blind Eyes

We all believe that illumination would give us pleasure. But none of us dares look straight into the noonday sun.
—Vikram Paralkar

* * *

His skin crawled and his spine tingled. He could feel it approaching from deep within himself and quickly—very quickly—it would control him. This was not new, however. Linus felt the affliction every full moon: a fathomless feeling of being overtaken and waking up the next morning with no recollection of his destruction or corruption. But it was his responsibility to be in the safety of his home and his bed. His mother warned him of these nights. If he were calm, resting, or perhaps in the wake of sleep, the affliction would overpass.

But now, he stumbled in the night streets shaking from fear, kicking up dust with his sandals. Fear of himself and fear of other’s awareness of his transformation. How could he let himself be this far from home? He should have known.

Several village priests and witchdoctors turned the corner just ahead of him.

—There he is!
—Linus, we can help!
—Stay right there!

How did they know? His insides turned to feeling like cold stone and he ran. Mindless escape into the dark of a full moon night. The old men in their robes and beards could not outrun Linus. The transformation granted him a certain physical prowess. In moments, Linus was settled back in his unconscious, unaware while his body ran through alleys of mud homes and sun dried structures. Like lightning he was out of sight of his pursuers and quickly moving beyond the village gates.

—Let him go, one said to the others.

 * * *

Beyond the outskirts of the village, where few wander, Linus found himself by the waters. A small part of him, the fear within him, crept up and Linus could feel himself within the body of the beast—his eyes showed it. Now the village knows, he thought. My name is associated with this scourge.

—You lost boy?

Linus, the creature he was, spun around.

At the sight of Linus, the man gasped loudly—I know you! Been tracking you down and here you walk into my backyard on a full moon! You’re gonna pay for all the damage you’ve caused…the man raised some bludgeoning club high above his head.

Linus melted away and his body regained control. Deftly he swept under the frame of the man and in a frozen moment of time Linus landed a fist in the man’s belly. The upright form of the man went limp and his eyes bulged. The club dropped. Another fist landed perfectly between the man’s jaw and cheekbone. Linus’s swing was exact. The man’s face spun an spittle threw ten feet out of his mouth. Knocked out, he dropped.

Fear again crept up inside Linus. He would never bring violence. He fought hard against the agony inside and despite the disorder he began to regain control of himself, feel compassion for the man.

Linus decided to lay near the man and keep watch over him. What else would bother him through this night? Beyond the village walls would be safe.

* * *

As the sun crept over the horizon it spilled a clean yellow across the man’s face. His eyes fluttered. Pain washed over his whole frame and then settled more precisely on his jaw. Another second later he remembered his belly and the impossible force of being punched by that monster. He opened his eyes fully and sat up, taking a deep, painful breathe.

There was a body lying nearby. I wonder if the monster got to this poor boy after he knocked me cold. Did he kill him? Ruthless thing. He approached and saw a calm over the boy’s face, his shoulders moving up and down in rest and peace. Only sleeping. Spared by the thing, he thought.

The boy stirred.

—Take it easy, kid. Don’t move too much.
Before Linus could sit up he began to apologize, I’m sorry about last night. I’m sorry I hit you.
—You? Boy, that monster had a good swing at my face but we’re alive yet. Where did you come from?
—I... I, Linus stuttered. Did he not know? It must have been too dark for the man to recognize him as the monster. Or perhaps he looked so grotesquely different... I was the monster, he blurted.

The man collected his face and his thoughts. You, he said slowly. You have got a mean punch, kid. Where did you learn that? And how are you like this now? Ah, forget it—my name is Jan, and he swung out a hand.

Hesitation melted away into extreme relief as Jan seemed to overlook his malady and see him as a boy, for who he was. He reached out and met his hand, shaking.

—That monster. Ah, sorry, that thing last night... that you were... you have been bothering the village quite a bit now. Do they know who you are? I mean, who the beast is? Jan was still perplexed but understanding.

Linus only shook his head. The priesthood is after me. They recently found out but I don’t know how. They want to heal me.

—Which means kill, interrupted Jan.

Linus did not look surprised. He knew their intent but could not bring himself to think about it.

—Listen, kid—
—My name is Linus.
—Linus. Look at me. We’re outside the walls of the village, we’re beyond their edge. This is nowhere. This is a wasteland to them. You’re affliction. I have something similar. Different but similar. I used to be a member of the witchdoctors, a shaman of medicine and healing craft. But my skill was inborn, a certain magic, and inexorable, my hands near a sickness and it disappeared.

Linus’s eyes lit up. Visibly optimistic. Maybe he could heal me, he though.

—But, Jan continued. The Brotherhood disapproved of my abilities. It made them look bad, feel uncomfortable. It seemed heretical. They beat me, used medicines, unspeakable methods… and wiped my skill clean of my spirit. I could not heal myself. They threw me out. I’ve been an exile every since.
—Do you have family? asked Jan.
—My mother. No siblings. Father left when I was too young to remember. When he found out about my disorder, he abandoned us. I’ve never known him.
—Well, anyway. Why don’t you stay here a while. Lay low.

Linus complied and a fortnight he stayed with Jan, eating scavenged food and sleeping in the Bedouin slums beyond the village walls.

—Do you plan on ever going back? Linus asked.
—Jan dropped his head. They won’t have me. And soon enough they’ll come for me here anyway. I won’t need to go in.
—I think I’m ready to go back, Linus said.
—You should stay. A little while longer. Until this blows over. The priesthood and witchdoctors have not forgotten you yet.
—I don’t want to be forgotten in the desert like this. I’m going back. I’ll face this and move on. Do whatever it takes to start over.
—If you step back into that life I cannot guarantee any safety. They will be ruthless. Merciless in the name of healing.
—You two, there! Stand still! Arms where we can see them! This is the priesthood speaking! Five men barreled toward Linus and Jan.

A junior priest announced, We are here on behalf of a mission to destroy a beast and arrest a fugitive.

—Jan? Jan Olark? a gruff man exclaimed, confounded. I…I thought you were dead!
—Sir, do you know this man? The junior priest was ignored.
—Flynn, you damned soul! And you would have had me dead out here! Linus, this is the man that tried to cure my illness. This is the hypocrite leader of the illustrious priesthood. Be careful and he’ll do the same to you, Jan warned scornfully.
—I’ve already tried, Jan. Linus wouldn’t have it, Flynn said with a stone look of spite. I left him long ago.
—Meet your son, Flynn. Linus, here is the father that abandoned you!

Linus had been feeling it all along. His skin crawled in chills, his stomached hardened, the back of his head went numb, his ears went distant.

—No, Linus! Not now—not like this! His Jan pleaded. His eyes widened.

In a moment the transformation was complete. The witchdoctors clutched their nightsticks and popfires with white knuckles. This was the fabled beast! Linus lunged at the four of them and quickly silenced them in a flash. Their limp forms now scattered in the sand. He turned quickly to his father. Their eyes met.

Flynn’s hair pricked and time stood still. Here again was the shame of his family and scourge of his respectable life—his only son.

He raised and arm level with Linus’ heart and bore his popfire, loaded and aimed. There was no quiver in his intent, no hesitation in his assertion: kill the beast, kill the boy.

A shot flew. It cut through a palpable silence. The popfire smoked and Jan dropped.

—Is this what you wanted, boy? Only you and I left now, father and son.

Without thought and only the urgency of life, Linus—the beast—swirled around Flynn and clawed him through. Quickly and efficiently Flynn was final and fell in the dust.

The monster—Linus, now—fell to the ground in exhaustion. Surrounded by death and alone. Broken and dazed, Linus began making his burdened journey into the village. His mother was waiting on him.