Beauty and The Devil

The boast of a man may undo me , and break that charm wished upon me , mortally and permanently.  My father , that adoring fool , in his overreaching affection , has boasted to the king, ‘her youth and  beauty is so great , that her tears alone can restore vigor and health ; It can recapture lost youth upon their drinking.’ I can only hope that the King is not a worse fool for believing it.”

Sitting upon the edge of her bed , she absentmindedly brushes out her long locks , pondering at the mirror.

Youth –  so backwards a beginning , wasted on the young and deprived of the old. The energy of flaming youth ,  struggling to make its way through this muddled existence, is dissipated squanderously through naive choices .  Its potential lost in the depths of wisdom , drowning because of its inept floundering.    Despite this , the old , regret its recession – so deeply ,  yearn to recapture it- so wistfully , that they romanticize and over-value its measure.  But this is only because we imbue it with the wisdom and knowledge we have gained. No one , truly , wants to toss this aside and revert , experienceless , intellectually regressed,  to the mind of the young.    We don’t wish it for its sole sake ; we wish it upon our current selves , with all the gifts that time has afforded us.

I look upon myself  , imagining my fading flower and my sober spirit , in a future age ; If I have no regrets , if my mind is sharp , I see no obstacle in this fixed course that nature sets before us – in fact I embrace it. I will not look back ,because that can open one up to regret and second-guesses ; I will not look so far forward,  as that could cause worry and anxiety.   We must embrace the here and the now , presently , for one cannot affect the past , we can only change its effect on the future.

The next day , to her shock , the Kings men came for her. They  brought her to the castle and locked her up , high in the tower.  “You shall shed your tears of youth into this urn. If they do not produce the result your father promised , you both shall die.”  She cries and cries , capturing some in the urn.

…….

Wailing in fright , young beauty exclaims , “oh , woe is me!  What shall I do , but cry , on the eve of my death”

Suddenly , a smell of brimstone and a flash of smoke reveals – a strange man , large bodied , with a reddish complexion , slightly-pointed ears and bulbous eyes.  Not unhandsome , but with features that are sort-of bland, in fact , after each teary blink , his face seems to blur and re-establish their blandness.

“I know why you wail. I can emancipate you from this ignominious travesty” declares the strange visitor,  in a baritone that vibrates the tear-filled urn in her hand.

“Who are you and how did you get here ?” says young beauty.

“Who I am , is no matter ; what powers I command is the better question.”

Beauty pleads “please help me …,  oh ! what is your name , dear sir …?” Sob…sniff… , “…for I am at a loss”

“I cannot disclose my name , but I can instill the power in that teary soup that the King requires , which shall extend you and your fool father’s life. I only require one attribute that you possess , one characteristic that you carry with you.  I require your ‘optimistic innocence.’  I shall relieve you of this useless trait.  You will be better dressed in this world without such sappy attire ; This sheath that enfolds and blinds you shall be removed.”  No more shall this veil of blissful ignorance protect you.  No more shall you rationalize the good of man.  You shall see things as they truly are , see the rotting , shivering , brutish core of your fellow man.

Beauty exclaims , “You are the devil!”  ,

“I may be a devil , but I am doing you a favor;  in the predicament you are in , there is no time for innocence.You must not let your ignorance of evil blind you to its existence “ I can con others into giving me their gifts , but your innocence  , my beatific sweet , is beyond measure , and worth thousands of others.  I must have it.”

Beauty cries “No ! My untainted heart is dear to me , I’ve seen men , devoid of all hope , crass and vulgar , visit harm upon themselves and others.  I wish for nothing of this kind.  My innocence is not ignorance. It is my shield , it defends me from the evils in this world , but doesn’t prevent me from awareness of such ills ; it just protects me from seeking it out  and dwelling amongst the corrupt and malicious.” Hands clasped , she exhorts “Please find some other way for me to repay you”

The devil , unmoved, states ”  `Tis is merely a premature loss , it was only a matter of time before life stripped you of this.  This is not at such great cost to you , since this is only a temporary gift.  There is no other way to repay the debt you are about to incur.  You trade this to me,  or your life to the King.”

Beauty thinks to herself , ” Retraction of my innocence will not make me guilty ; Besides ,  it is more virtuous to overcome vice than to be unaware of it.  I believe I already convinced myself that I am not so innocent as all that , if you define it as ignorance of evil.  I even explained such to this devil , just now, and he didn’t realize it. Maybe this isn’t such a great sacrifice at all. I still can find value in humanity , man has an innate value , their potential is their beauty, this cannot be taken from me as its a truth from without. I will strike this bargain,  I must save my father.

Beauty , firmly replies “Done!”

The devil plucks a hair from his head and places it in the bowl ; He bows and disappears in a puff of smoke.

The next morning the King enters her room carrying a wilting flower in a pot.  He takes the urn and pours its contents into the pot.  Within seconds , the flower springs to life , full of color and vitality.  The King is extremely excited by this miracle and says to young beauty , ” Your fathers life is spared , but yours is still mine to command.  A reinvigorated flower is a wonderful trick , but I need to see breathing life restored thus.  I will be back in three days , you must provide me more for the next test. ”

Beauty cries and cries and cries , capturing her tears in the urn.

A young soldier enters  beauty’s room , with a plate of food.  ” I’m so sorry that the King has treated you thus.  I wish there was something I can do.”

“You can.” , explains beauty , “If you can find me the name of the devil that visits me in this chamber , I believe I can then be saved”

“I don’t know how I’ll do this but I shall try” replies the young soldier , as he bows and leaves.

The devil appears once more.  “I demand the payment promised.”  She nods and he plucks a hair from her head , placing it upon his own.  She feels a brief weight on her heart but its a fleeting sensation.  The devil continues “I can save your life once again just as I have saved your fathers.  I demand as payment  – your memories.” No more shall your time be your own , it shall be mine to treasure. “Let me assure you that I only require your old memories as they pass. It will be painless. You will not be incapacitated  ; your  short term memories are all you need to function and feel joy.  I will cause them to fade into nothingness , fleeting flashes that dissipate with time , just as they do now, but without the distortion and mixed emotions that take its toll on a person.  After all , most of what you remember can’t be distinguished from reality.   You ask yourself , “Did this actually occur , or did I read it,  or did I see it on stage?”

“I cannot.”, replies young beauty , “Memory IS life , past events never completely release their control of our present.  Memory is everything ;  all that’s important in a life , loves , interactions , moments of joy and grief, all create meaning in our existence. Living in the present is good practice , dwelling on the past is not,  but having access to those memories is what brings depth to a life ; sharing memories with another,  brings depth to your character and provides interest for that partner.   Social interactions , friendships and sometimes love are absolutely essential for a full and happy life.

“Memory is the fiction of our reconstructed past , it soon becomes your reality , as you come to believe it.   I am taking this falsehood from you and replacing it with truth.” Responds the devil.

Beauty replies,”Be that as it may , without memory we lose knowledge. Memory is the receptacle of all knowledge.  We are richer for the few millennia of knowledge we have to build upon.

I could go on …..Having no memory of an occasion causes it to become a non-event. Reincarnation , for example , is more of a hell than hell.  What good is it to have multiple lives if you don’t remember them? I cannot part with this ; ask for something else.”

The devil replies, “Your memories are trifles , what of it to part with such myth.  Memories are imperfect things , there is no truth in it… be free of your personal mythology. Memory is a decaying sense filled with false feelings.  Nothing matters but your current pleasures and the anticipation of what tomorrow brings. Let all your guilt , failure and sorrow be swallowed up by me , these savory morsels , as bitter as they are for you , nourish me. Memory is a source of misery for humans (that’s why it nourishes me so) ,you carry the wounds of the past with you , holding you back from of all potential gains and positive avenues , in paranoid avoidance of similar future pain.  Memory is mans source of grudges and resentments that poison relationships and sour the soul.

I am not convinced , thinks beauty , but , “My life , this gift is precious , I cannot jeopardize it by thwarting the king.  I must part with this to save what’s important , to save the soul.  I accept.”

Happily , the devil spits on his finger and twirls it in the tear-filled urn.

The next day the king returns  carrying a fat old cat in his arms.  He sets it down in front of the urn and it promptly laps up the tears.  Within minutes , the fat cat reverts to a lithe little kitten.  Thrilled , the greedy King makes a final demand of young beauty.  “After we are married , for our honeymoon , you shall spend it in here for seven days until you have enough to restore my youth.  Then I will never ask anything of you again and you shall be Queen of all the lands and have all that you wish for.”

As soon as the king leaves , the devil appears. “I have come for my payment.” , Beauty nods , the devil has her spit on his finger and places it in his mouth.  She shivers a little , her brow knits tightly and then slowly relaxes.

The devil departs without a word.

After the wedding , the King again locks up young beauty in the tower and reminds her that she has seven days to produce the tears of youth that the king will drink.

She cries and cries , and cries some more , all the while the tears fill up the urn. This continues day after day , until on the eve of the seventh day , the devil returns.

He says, “I will help you complete this final test.  I only demand from you – your free will.  Your life shall be mine to guide. I assure you , your life will be a joyous one , as a queen commands. You will be unaware that your life is predestined. Free will is just an illusion. “ I must have this from you.  These natures nourish my soul , I require them to swirl in the furnace of my being , to provide fuel for my continuance.

Beauty responds ,”I cannot imagine a life dictated beyond my control.  I must be the governor of my choices.  I must be responsible to myself.  Wailing against unknown forces that deprive me of this , is no way to live. There cannot be any master of my acts but myself , my will is my virtue , without it , I am virtue-less and cannot be happy. ”

The devil explains, “Without the knowledge that your life is pre-destined , without memory of this bargain , this becomes such a easy gift. You will still be following paths that you believe you picked.  Their will be no conscious effect on your life.  Anyway , freedom isn’t the ability to perform any such at will.  Ability to do anything has its own shadowy shackles. Consider the worm , its eyeless lead burrowing in the earth. , creating its own path, without vision to distract from its purpose ; it is fearless in its resolve.  How free is the beast that sees all other paths, many of which lead to unknown shadowy ends , free will would require one path to be chosen.  The majority would choose the path that the most light is shed upon , the safest path , regardless of the potential concealed in others.  This is not absolute free will.  There is a measurable predetermination involved.”

The devil watches young beauty contemplate , That is no argument for free will , but for determinism , which is not the same debate.  The belief that every event is causally determined by previous events and is therefore calculable.   One can believe that there is, or there is not ,a possibility to predict an outcome based on a complex computation of  environmental, genealogical, and sociological forces .  As impressive , or impossible as that sounds , it has no bearing on my decision here , since its absence or existence can apply to both free-will or predestination.

Still I must relent. “I have no choice , It is yours” , The devils nicks his finger with a nail and drips a drop of blood in the urn and departs.

The next day the king comes in , drinks from the urn , and after some minutes begins to reverse age right before her eyes:  first a middle aged man , then morphed to a younger man , to a teen , to a young child , and finally to a little baby.  She takes the baby king up in her arms and mothers him.  Her Queen-ship is unchallenged by anyone in the empire.

The young soldier , bursts into her room , startling the Queen.  ‘I have news” , exclaims the young man.  In my travels , I hiked past some caves , and I heard the echoes of a song coming from an especially deep cavern :”

My name is Mephistopheles , though she’ll never know it ,’

I cannot allow this to ever be known.

I am powerful beyond myth , can bend nature as if I own it ,

as long as my name is my own.

I don’t know what it means but I suspect it can help you.” The young soldier departs.

The  next day the devil appears , “I’m here for my payment.”

The Queen , yells ….

Mephistopheles ,

is your bloody name

And a demons name  , that’s uttered by me

this authority , can thus hold you still

I command you to ! Loose my innocence , memories and will’

And be gone

to Hell

Where you shall

belong.

And the Queen lived happily ever after.  The young baby king ,  because of his virtuous upbringing ,  grew up to become a fair and respected ruler ; he never committed a great sin in his life.

By Kevin Beary

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