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THE BEAST-WITHIN

    Once a beast-within spent a lot of time licking its wounds.
    That wasn’t surprising; it had suffered one wound after another over the years. The life of a beast-within struck it at times like a walk through a bramble patch, with every step a courting of new thorns. On all sides were sharp weeds that tore at the skin and brought fresh pain to the surface. 
    This pain the beast nursed in private for the most part. Experience had taught it there were fewer complications that way, at least in one’s day-to-day contacts with the outside world. You had to be careful not to show too much of the inner you or to expect too much sympathy from others. They had their own secrets to shield from sight.
    The beast-within could tell that this was true as it rode the 6:15 into town each morning. All the seats were occupied by outwardly self-confident riders, intent upon their newspapers or checking their voice mail before they reached the office. To look at them, you’d never guess they’d spent the night struggling with their own beast-within or were still adjusting themselves to hide the telltale evidence before the train came to a stop.
    Strange, that after all this time, they still fought so hard to vanquish, bind, cripple or simply repudiate the inner companion that had stood by them for so long and had received nothing but ingratitude in return. 
    Their beast-within was always there when they needed its help with some detour from the straight and narrow, some depravity or cruelty or betrayal that might have to be denied or explained away later. In return, it asked for only the slightest sign of gratitude. 
    Yet what did it receive in exchange for its good will? Whenever things went wrong, who got the sticks and stones? Instead of doing the right thing, standing by their beast-within and taking on themselves at least part of the blame, those who’d been more than happy to benefit from its selfless devotion sought to divorce themselves from it as quickly as possible. 
    They turned away as from a pariah, cursing it and accusing it of having driven them to these regrettable lapses. Soon they’d convinced themselves it was their inner beast that was to blame for every misstep they’d ever made. Casting the full guilt upon it, they sought forgiveness for themselves alone, pledging to shun it forevermore. Was it any surprise that the beast felt betrayed and lashed back in self-defense at times? In its view, it had only acted out of loyalty to their deepest desires. 
    The results of these painful disputes were predictable. The train car was full of them: seemingly composed ticket holders who were inwardly counting the wounds they’d given and received, feeling themselves deeply wronged and wishing they could creep away somewhere to lick clean the worst of what they’d suffered. 
    For it was, without doubt, a wound-licking age.