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THE SCAPEGOAT

    Once the scapegoat was hunted nearly to extinction.
    Everybody wanted the head of a scapegoat to mount on the wall, it seemed. Homes, private clubs, corporate headquarters, civic organizations, military camps, government offices had all taken to displaying one or more. The demand had become so great that even faded skulls and moth-eaten tatters of old hide dragged out of the nation’s attics and basements were fetching unheard-of prices. But while dead scapegoats were common enough, live specimens were rarely seen anymore as they withdrew farther and higher into the wilderness.
    Up here among the barren crags and moraines, here where the chill air sharpened every sense, a lone scapegoat stood at the cliff’s edge and surveyed the great peaks rolling away before it. Their crests glowed in the late sun and cast shadows across the glaciered valleys, deepening each dark crevasse, while from distant overhangs the rumble of avalanching snow and rock leapt the wind. 
    Life at such a moment and in such a place was good, the scapegoat thought to itself, despite the constant danger posed by those willing to go to great lengths to bag it as a trophy. Hardly a day passed that it didn’t look down from these stony heights on some gang of panting scapegoat-hunters pushing themselves beyond their natural limits to claim they’d finally found what they’d been long seeking in vain. 
    So determined a search for a scapegoat might have flattered it but instead brought only a sense of depressed bewilderment. Why this fixation on finding a scapegoat? There must be better uses of one’s time and energy. And once you’d found one, finding yet more appeared to take on the character of a mania. A single scapegoat nailed up on view was never enough. Even a whole row might not suffice when the obsession took hold. While to have no scapegoats at all seemed guaranteed to bring on the severest of traumas.
    More depressing and more bewildering, though, was the suspicion that none of those after its hide really cared about the scapegoat in itself. They were indifferent to its ancient and respected pedigree, its long history of serving their wish for ritual cleansing and rebirth in the blood of its sacrifice. They were more interested now in merely using the scapegoat’s skin to save their own, waving it like a banner overhead while reeling their way through a private dance rather than acknowledging the bonds that come of common rites.
    Would its true nature ever draw the smallest recognition from them, or would they always chase their own purpose, projecting their own deficiencies upon the scapegoat until reality yielded to their persistence? How long would there be enough scapegoats to go around? Would a day come when all of the desperation to find one was focused on a single survivor?
    And when that final scapegoat had been tracked to someplace like this far cliff, would it be torn apart in a vicious brawl over who had best claim to the prize? Would those lifeless shreds be carried down to a thousand paltry quarters in triumph? And what then? Such urgency had been placed on the hunt for scapegoats that their eventual demise must have dire repercussions. With none to be found anymore, what would its pursuers do? 
    Turn on each other in their need?