Short Story Submission


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Tavishi Chattopadhyay

Prompt: What if the idea of beauty disappeared from humanity as a collective?

When I was younger there were stories that the wives and mothers of the village would tell us. They said it was a cautionary tale but the children often whispered to each other that it was purely fantasy. They spoke of the wilderness, the fires that hunters burned their freshly killed boars over, and harsh scrape of grass against your uncovered ankles.  The oldest woman in the village would mutter about how the hunters, the adventurers, and those with foolish hearts would seek out the gods that roamed the woods and unbeknownst to them, awaken a terrible monster. Her tone was scornful as she spoke about how their fate was preventable. I almost wondered if she had lost someone to the no-man’s land.

As the children and women gather together tonight, little feet scurried to sit with their best friend in the semi-circle that surrounded worn down wooden stools. The women bent down next to their stool to inspect it for splinters, picking out the poking wooden fibers with their nails. The women sat and the stools groaned, as if they were bothered by the nightly lectures themselves. A stern stare from the eldest woman, her pecan eyes blurred with cataracts, silenced the chatter from the children. I sat next to a boy that I had seen climbing the small fences, his lungi hung around his waist and his chest was bare, ribs protruding from the sides. His eyes always buzzed with anticipation, even when elders scolded him for being disrespectful to the beauty of the world. I could sense his carefree and restless spirit as I watched him mutter to himself about journeying afar. He often stared into the distant jungle with longing atop those small fences. Up close in these gatherings, he seemed calmer, more content.

The youngest of the mothers, still caring for her newly born, began the tale, “Children, we speak of a person known only by their fate as they stripped beauty from the world. They’re name was Nary, meaning a small beautiful bird. And like a bird they were finding the village constricted their wings.  If you asked Nary, they believed that the villagers tried to keep them there to bless the village with good fortune and beauty. Villagers often cried, ‘Nary! Nary! Bless my baby with beauty! You have some to spare, I am sure!’”

A smaller woman, clasped her hands close to her stomach, and continued. “Nary wanted so deeply to leave, to explore the vastness of the overworld. The sky beckoned them with its nightly glow and the trees whispered invitations in their rustling leaves. But they felt the constraints on their wings when villagers would call out to them. Nary grew to despise the villagers for their disrespect of the beauty they possessed and the freedom they prayed for.”

“One day, they found the village was quiet, abnormally it seemed, but Nary never stopped to consider the worst and took the chance they saw. No voices beckoned them back to the safety of the village as they approached the jungle. When they stepped into the forest, they jumped into the air, finally breathing the crisp air of greenery and liberation. They made their way through the forest, stopping to swing on vines, capture little critters to pet, and observe the local flora. As the day passed, the feeling of intrigue grew as soon the sky became a deep blue. Nary noticed that the glow of the moon and stars illuminated a strange pathway. The pathway was cleared of all growth and had luminescent footprints of a creature or being that Nary did not know. The path called for Nary to walk through it and so they did. The creatures of the forest, usually so chatty as to delight Nary with their songs, suddenly found themselves in silence. Nary found the pathway led to a pond that formed a crescent. From the darkness in the sky emerged some sort of figure. When it got closer the moon’s glow illuminated it to show the trachea of a head hanging loosely. The blood from the mouth of a woman’s head dripped down, landing on Nary’s face. The woman’s head is a Krasue, dear children. They prey on the beauty within. Tendrils from the trachea emerged and gripped the head of Nary. They felt something being sucked out of them as the tendrils pulsed. Paralyzed, they foolishly let the Krasue take its fill. Afterwards, they stumbled back into the village;  the forest seemed demonic now. The villagers emerged from their homes, faces fraught with worry. They called for Nary, ‘Nary! Nary! Where did you go? What happened to you, your beauty?’ “

“Nary responded with a groan, ‘You disrespected my beauty and my freedom as a being. I was angry, so I left and a being hunted me down and stole something from me.’ The villagers soon realized that the Karsue had stolen their beauty and noticed the way their face was grey. Unbeknownst to anyone else, the village and the forest was withering away. The villagers spent weeks trying to heal Nary, and as they tried and tried, they noticed the world around them was fading. The grass didn’t grow green, the flowers’ petals fell down, the forest slumped, and the village itself seemed dull. Why? They wondered. Then it came to them, it was because of the Krasue’s attack on Nary. The villagers were helpless to the constant drain of beauty from the world.”

The eldest woman spoke, again. “That is why we respect beauty as it is, we do not ask for more than it can give, we do not restrict it. Children, learn from this tale and never repeat the mistakes of your ancestors.”

As the woman got up to leave, I noticed how one woman addressed the eldest as Nary and how the land beneath my feet was cold and barren.