Hi All - Here's a short story I wrote entitled "The Fear Beast". I'm posting it just for fun. Please feel free to pass it on to anyone you want, post it on your Facebook, Twitter, whatever. Hope you like it!
The Fear Beast
Cole and Rena were more than twins. They were best friends. Since birth they strolled along the Path of Life together, enjoying the simple things: a sunset setting the sky ablaze with color, the scent of spring blossoms on the breeze, the sweet coldness of an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. Cole and Rena radiated joy.
One day, the Path led Cole and Rena to the entrance of a cave. Off to the right stood a crudely-made, hand-lettered sign that read “Beware the Beast Within. The Soul power over Fear is Love. Each must choose.”
“I don't want to go in there,” Cole said, back-stepping so fast that pebbles scattered everywhere.
“Why not? We just follow the path through to the other side.”
“But what about that warning?”
“That sign said that love conquers fear.”
“Can't we just go around instead?”
“There is no other way.” Rena pointed to the forest on one side of the Path, and the sheer rock wall on the other. “When you walk the Path of Life, you must face what occurs along the way. You know that.”
“Well...” Reluctantly, Cole followed her into the dim recesses of the cave, dragging his feet as he went.
Finally the twins found themselves at the edge of a deep, dark pit. Here the path narrowed and became a flimsy rope bridge which spanned the pit at its widest point. It offered the sole passage to the far side. Cole grabbed one of the ropes and shook the bridge. Tiny pieces of rotted wood slat tumbled into the pit and were instantly swallowed by the blackness.
“Uh, Rena? You see that?” Cole pointed to the gaps in the bridge where the slats used to be. “This is too dangerous. Let’s go back.”
But Rena focused on something entirely different. “Look there.” She pointed to a pinprick of light shining through the cave wall on the far side of the pit. Distance made it seem tiny, but it was definitely light flickering warmly in the darkness. “All we have to do is cross this bridge. Then we’ll be in the light again.”
But Cole did not seem to hear her. He peered down into the pit, mumbling, “What is that creepy sound?”
“I don’t hear anything. The light is pulling at me. It wants us to go into it. Come Cole, let’s hurry across. See, it’s easy.”
Rena released Cole’s hand and started across, balancing herself by holding the hand ropes and stepping carefully over the gaps. When she reached the middle she turned, expecting Cole to be right behind her.
But he was not there. Cole hadn’t stirred from his place at the edge of the pit. He swayed from side to side, a bemused expression on his face as he stared down into the blackness.
“Cole? Are you okay?” Gingerly, Rena turned and started back to help him.
But she never made it.
A violent gust of icy wind swooshed up from the depths of the pit, shaking the flimsy bridge so wildly that Rena almost pitched over the ropes. Luckily she managed to weave one arm about a hand rope just before her foot fell through the rotted wood slats. She hung there by a thread, fighting madly to hoist herself up and regain her footing…
…while the thing that caused the updraft rose up from the pit.
It glided up from below on vast, leathery wings that pounded the air so hard that Rena's long hair blew straight back. Her face felt frozen as if she were being bombarded by microscopic ice chips. Yet, the creature did not even glance her way.
Instead, the thing hovered over Cole, its fierce red eyes focused on him like lasers. A bewitching sound as rhythmic as its wingbeat emanated from its throat.
“Cole! Heed the warning!” Rena gasped out through frozen lips.
Never unlocking its gaze from Cole, the Beast reached out with one clawed talon and swatted the rope bridge, sending it into a wild spin. Rena somehow managed to hang on.
“Cole, please don’t listen! It’s a monster!” Rena begged as the rope bridge finally slowed. But he didn’t answer her, or even look at her, as his eyes glazed over and he sank into the quicksand of the fearsome dreams created for him by the Fear Beast.
Cole sagged to his knees, dangerously close to the edge of the pit. Horrified, Rena realized that Cole had allowed the Fear Beast to gain control over his mind.
Worse still, she was powerless to help him. Every time she moved toward Cole, the Beast tried to knock the bridge out from under her. It left her alone only when she moved away, toward the light on the far side of the Beast’s lair.
She didn’t give up. She begged, sobbed, and threatened to no avail. Finally, her throat burning as if she had swallowed broken glass, Rena faced the horrifying truth.
Cole was lost to her.
Rena sat with her legs dangling through the slats, clutching the ropes, weeping helplessly. What should she do? Cole couldn't hear her calling and the Beast whacked at her every time she tried to get close to him. Worst of all, Cole was lying at the very edge of the pit, curled up in a tight little ball, his hands covering his face, unseeing, and not hearing anything but the siren song of the Fear Beast.
Rena stood finally, took a step toward the light, then turned back one last time. “Cole,” she cried out, “please hear me.”
For the first time, the Fear Beast turned its full attention to her, aiming its red laser eyes directly at her. In a raspy voice that sounded like metal in a blender, it whispered, “Each. Must. Choose.”
Unnerved, Rena recognized that voice. It was the same voice that spoke inside her mind whenever she was faced with a major decision. It was the same sniveling voice that always recommended the safe and easy way out of any troublesome situation. It was that whiny voice that always said, “I’m too scared. Let’s run away and hide.”
The terrible truth of Free Will drove itself home like a stake through her heart. Cole had made his choice. Rena knew it was a wrong choice to submit to the Fear Beast, but only Cole could change his own mind. Rena could choose solely for herself, and right now, she knew she had to get out of here, away from the horror before her.
But oh, it was hard. Letting go of her beloved brother was the hardest thing she had ever faced. She gazed at Cole for a long time, her twin, her companion, her best friend. Tears streamed freely down her cheeks as she desperately tried to find another way to get Cole to listen.
But it was no use.
At last she turned away, moving toward the light that drew her as strongly as the Fear Beast drew Cole. One step at a time, she completed her journey across the bridge and found the crack in the wall that led to freedom. She breathed deeply of the fresh clean air that wafted in through the gap, and lifted her face to bask in the warm sunshine.
Pausing on the threshold of her new life, Rena glanced back, hoping that Cole had somehow found the strength to walk out on to the rope bridge.
But no. Cole remained a shapeless lump by the edge of the pit, the Beast cooing its terrible song to him like a mother soothing a restless child with a lullaby.
“We’ll meet again, Cole,” she murmured. “Some How, some Way, I hope you will find the strength to overcome the Beast.” And with a deep breath, Rena stepped into the light.
Alone now, Rena continued on her journey. She didn't forget the cave of the Fear Beast and what had happened there, but she slowly healed as her heart gained understanding of the warning posted on the entrance to the cave: Each Must Choose.
And so it was in the most unexpected of places that she chanced to see Cole again. She stepped around a corner and there he was, standing in front of a small bakery, staring at the display of lemon pastries dripping with sweet icing in the window.
“Rena?” Cole turned to face her. “Hey, sis, long time no see!”
“It's so good to see you.”
“Yeah, you too. Are you hungry?” Cole turned back to the window, the wanting plain on his face.
“Sure, let’s get some food.” But Cole balked.
“You have any money?” he asked. “I’m kinda broke right now.”
“No problem,” said Rena light-heartedly, “my treat.”
Sitting comfortably in the shade on the patio, the twins ordered pastries, fruit, and coffee. As they ate, they talked and laughed about their adventures until the sun dragged the shadows into night.
Finally Rena had to ask the single most burning question on her mind. “Cole? How did you get out of the cave?”
Cole’s smile slid off his face and his warm eyes frosted. “What do you care? You just left me there.”
Guilt squeezed Rena’s lungs and tears welled. “Cole,” she whispered, “I had to leave. The Fear Beast hypnotized you. Every time I tried to come back over the rope bridge, it struck out at me. I called and called, but you wouldn't hear my voice.”
Thawing slightly, Cole asked, “Then you did try to help me? I thought...”
“Of course I did! But that isn't important now. The past is behind us. We can move forward.”
Rena reached out to hug her beloved brother. As she put her arms around his neck, something sharp nipped at the bare skin of her arms. Something with barbed teeth that stung like needles.
“Ow! What’s that?” Rena swept aside Cole’s long hair to get a better look.
Abruptly, Cole shoved her hand away. “Don't touch her!”
Rena found herself staring into tiny, yet fiery red eyes peeking between strands of Cole’s sandy blonde hair. The Fear Beast. Somehow, that vile creature had shrunk to such a small size that it could ride on Cole’s shoulder, hidden under his hair, like some kind of mutant hummingbird. And worse, she could hear it singing its siren song directly into his ear.
“Oh Cole,” Rena choked out. “I thought you had overcome the Fear Beast, but you only made it a part of you.”
“She’s my friend,” Cole pouted. “I'm comfortable with her on my shoulder.” He turned and stalked away, spreading a blanket of hair protectively over the Beast.
Hurt and disillusioned, Rena paused. Pity and concern for her brother warred with anger and resentment. She was tempted to follow him and tell him off, to knock some sense into his ridiculous brain.
But she didn't. She had learned her lesson well the first time: it was his choice. The sad fact was that she could not force him to give up the Fear Beast. He had to find the strength to let go within himself.
But, she had to admit in the privacy of her own mind, she did not understand how he could cherish that loathsome creature so. It was disgusting how attached he was. She tried to imagine it riding on her own shoulder and shuddered. The idea made her feel sick to her stomach.
Once again she proceeded down the Path of Life in a direction of her own choosing. Already her grief for Cole was fading, but she couldn't help but wonder about the man he might have been without the Beast.
This time, the Truth was clear in Rena's mind. Her own brother, a twin no less, wouldn’t trust her unless she accepted the Beast.
That was unacceptable.
And so she let him go.
The day finally came when Rena stood tall, strong, and silent, facing the Gates of Life. She had journeyed far, learned much, and now nourished a deep and abiding sense of peace within herself.
Now to pass through the Gates would mean the total transformation of her life. What that meant she did not know, but the spirit of great adventure was upon her and she embraced it fearlessly.
“Cole!” She kissed him lightly on his cheek, a gesture filled with genuine affection. “How did you get here?”
“Long story. Right now let’s talk,” he answered, taking her arm and guiding her to the shade of a nearby apple tree. They munched on sweet red apples from its branches while they talked.
“I’ve missed you, Rena,” Cole confessed.
Rena felt a glimmer of the love she once felt for her brother awakening in her heart like an unwilling child on a school day. Although these were words she truly wanted to hear, and even more, to believe, she knew that it was possible that the Fear Beast might rear its ugly head.
“Cole, do you know where we are?”
“Of course I do!”
“The Gates will open to us only when we have demonstrated the choice of Love over Fear in our lives. But I wonder...”
“Do you still carry the Fear Beast with you?”
For a long moment they stared at each other. Cole’s cheeks went pink and he looked away, hanging his head. Finally, he reached under his collar.
The teeny Fear Beast perched on his finger, a single drop of blood glistening on its fang. It had been nourishing itself not only on Cole’s fear, but on his very lifeblood as well.
Revulsion filled Rena, but the expression on Cole’s face was one of rapture.
Looking closer, Rena noticed something else about the Beast, something so shocking that she almost didn’t understand it.
The Beast was pregnant.
Waves of loathing washed over Rena’s soul, drowning the loving feelings she had just a moment before in a tidal wave of hate.
The Fear Beast could reproduce by sucking the blood of its victim.
“Cole, don’t you see the blood? That little Beast is sucking you dry!” Rena cried out.
“No, she’s not. She only takes enough to survive and I feel fine.”
Rena shuddered. She knew it was useless to argue, but she felt compelled to try.
“Cole,” Rena began. “You have a choice. You can let go of the Fear Beast and free yourself from its bloodsucking hold over your life. You can take my hand and pass through the Gates with me to begin a joyous new life on the other side. Please say yes.”
Cole’s eyes narrowed as suspicion warred with desperation across his face.
“How do I know what you say is true?”
Rena held out her hand. “You just have to trust.”
Miraculously, he reached out and hugged her.
In the blink of an eye, the Fear Beast swelled from two inches to a height of over nine feet. Its massive belly hung so low it scraped the ground. Fiery eyes, changed from red to acid, jealous green. It snapped its gargantuan fangs at Rena, screaming wildly, and rose into the air on wings that stretched out twenty feet.
Cole moaned, clamping his hands over his ears.
The Fear Beast circled once, laser eyes locked on Rena, and dove straight at her.
Cole leapt in front of Rena, shielding her with his body. The Fear Beast shrieked again and pulled out of her dive, circling low over their heads, spitting fire.
Rena grabbed Cole’s shoulder and turned him away from the Beast, forcing him to face her.
“Focus on me, Cole! The Fear Beast can only exist if you give it power over your life. You have the power to choose to be free, right now!”
The Fear Beast flapped its leathery wings, threw back its head, and cooed its seductive song, like a mother calling its wayward child home.
“I can’t let her die,” Cole moaned. His eyes rolled back into his head and he pulled away. “She needs me to survive. And in return she protects me from harm.”
“That is not true!” Rena dug her fingers into the soft flesh of Cole’s arms, fighting to keep him focused. “Fear does not protect you. You protect it. Fear cannot survive unless you give it power.”
“But she’s pregnant,” Cole sniveled, a note of whining coming into his voice that sounded just like the song of the Fear Beast.
Rena shook him in frustration. “Don’t you see? Fear breeds fear. It is not a living creature. It is an illusion and it’s killing you.”
Swaying as if he might collapse, Cole opened his eyes and locked his gaze on Rena.
Sorrowfully he whispered, “I don’t think I can let go.”
“If you don’t let go, you won’t be allowed to pass through the Gates.”
Cole pressed his hands into his eyes. “Are you sure the Gates will open?”
“No. But I believe that love is the right choice no matter what else happens. Either way, you will be free of the Fear Beast.”
Cole grabbed his sister’s hands and opened his eyes. Agony surfed across his face, but he whispered, “I choose to let go.”
Abruptly, the wail of the Fear Beast ceased.
Rena and Cole looked up. The Beast was gone, vanished into thin air. In the ensuing silence, the birds and crickets began to sing again.
And the Gates of Life stood wide open.