It all started on a wild night in China. My son, Jared, and I were just out in the town, drinking and having a good night together. It was late and we were very drunk. The man was very convincing. We didn’t even know how we found him. One minute we were walking back to our hotel alone, the next he is there, chatting to us about ancient myths and legends of monsters and treasures. Glorious stories of such intricacy that no writer I have ever heard of could match, all of them seeming so believable despite how insane their concepts were now that I think back. He talked to us about dragons, the four fiends, the monkey king, the concept of chi, and so much more. But what really struck us was a tale of a treasure that was hidden deep in the Himalayas. A secret cave hidden within the mountains, filled with all kinds of riches. Gold, rubies, diamonds, you name it and it was there. The only catch was the guardian. You could have as much time as you wanted to look through the treasure and decide what you wanted to take, but the moment you picked something up, the moment it even touched your skin, the guardian would awaken. It would emit a beam of light over its hoard, and you really didn’t want to be caught by this beam. He told us that anybody who was seen by the guardian’s light would be turned into a monster that even the beasts of legend would be afraid of. Now Jared and I aren’t exactly wealthy at this point. We only managed to fly to China because he got insanely lucky on a scratch card, so we were more than happy to attempt this trial. Being believers of science, we don’t really think this so-called guardian exists anyway. We think it is a tale to scare people away from the treasure. Our mysterious friend gives us a map that will lead us to the stash, and after some preparations, we were on our way!
Having sobered up, our journey was nowhere near as fun as our drunken souls had imagined. Though we were reasonably fit, mountaineering wasn’t exactly one of our better skills, which became apparent far sooner than we would have liked. We worked our feet so hard that they bled, got so cold that we could hardly breath, we both even nearly died on several occasions from slipping on the ice-covered rocks that obscured our path. Yet we never turned back. We knew we had to keep pressing on no matter how painful it was. This was our one shot to fix our lives. The chance to become rich enough to be able to do whatever we wanted to do. Our time to become truly free. If only we could make it just that little bit further. That’s what we had to keep telling ourselves every day. The cave will appear soon. Just that little bit further. Just around this next corner, it has to be! It never was. We lost track of how long we were lost out there. Days, weeks, months, we had no idea. It felt like an eternity. Hope was quickly dying, as were we. We set up camp in a cave for what we thought would be our final night of life. We only had enough food to last for one more day, and we had just used our last bit of fuel for fiery warmth. We both had the exact same thought running through our minds. How would we die? Starvation? Hypothermia? Perhaps killed for our supplies by other travellers. All we could do was sleep and hope that something happened the next day to save us. We were both surprised to find each other alive that morning. And we were even more surprised when we looked outside of our cave.
There in the distance, lit up by the sun, was our destination, just as the stranger described it to us. A small hole in the side of a mountain, barely big enough for a fully grown man to walk through, guarded by two bronze statues of boar, each standing at the sides of the entrance. Oh how fast we ran towards it, as if all of our pain and our misery just flooded away at its mere sight. Nothing else mattered in that moment. It didn’t matter that there was no logical way we could make it back home, it didn’t matter that we had no way of getting warm that night, it didn’t even matter that our skin was literally falling apart from the frostbite. All that mattered was that we finally had our chance. Our moment for glory. We shimmied our way through the narrow gap and found ourselves in the most beautiful room we had ever seen. Golden decorations filled with carvings from all cultures hung from the walls, all kinds of pottery sat beside them, and the floors. Covered completely in every form of treasure you could think of. Gold, silver, diamonds, rubies, pearls, all made into either coins or jewellery of such exquisite craftsmanship. But in the middle of it all sat something that was remarkably daunting. A golden statue of a demon sat atop a giant golden chalice, upon which a phrase was inscribed.
“Riches you seek, greed in your soul, when touched by our light, you will no longer be whole”.
Neither of us were discouraged of our disbeliefs of supernatural activity, yet that still shook us. It made us think that we should perhaps take the warning to heart and be as quick as possible. We agreed to just take one bag each and run as fast as we could. Even that much would be enough to set us up for life after all. The moment we touched just one gold coin, the demon’s eyes violently glowed red. The scarlet light began radiating out of it in a sphere, as if slowly exploding. We had to be fast. Even we could tell that being hit by that light could only be bad, even if it wasn’t supernatural. We each loaded our bag as quickly as we could and ran out immediately. As it turned out, one bag was all we would have time for anyway, as the light was right at our backs as we left. Breathing heavily, we each looked at our bags outside with more delight than either of us had ever felt before. Even if we hadn’t retrieved as much as we had initially intended, this was more than we would ever need. And it was the last sight Jared would see. That was, before he changed at least.
He must have been too slow. The light must have grazed his back as we escaped the tomb. His body. His mind. His soul. It all changed in an instant. I saw all emotion leave my son’s face as his eyes became completely black. His skin turned green and thickened into plates of scaley armour. His body grew to over twice its original length, with multiple arms sprouting out of both sides with horrifying cracking sounds. I fell over in shock, unable to comprehend what was going on.
“Jared… my son…” I gasp, staring into his cold, dead eyes.
Then even his face changed. It split in half, with teeth growing at either end, appearing much like a venus fly trap that had fused with the leathery scales of a lizard. Two more heads like that sprouted, one on either side of the original, all snapping aggressively in unison. Then came the tail, fitted with what I can only assume was a poisonous spike, heading straight towards my head. In a purely instinctual reaction, I rolled away and began tumbling down the mountainside, my bag of riches still clutched firmly to my chest. I quickly leapt back to my feet, heart pounding, body aching, and I ran. I ran as fast as my exhausted body could carry me. All three of my son’s heads scream like wailing banshees, spiralling an intense pain directly through my head, as if the sound were drilling through my brain. It’s too much to take. I drop the bag and raise my hands to my ears to block it out. It’s not enough. The pain overwhelming every last one of my senses, I crumble to the ground and just lie there, shaking more violently than I had ever shook before. The screaming stops, yet still I can’t move. Not because of the pain, but because of fear. I hear my son stalking his way towards me, his heads hissing like snakes. It almost sounds like he is laughing. Whatever this thing is, it is no longer my son. It is a monster now, and it is thrilled by the hunt. It wants my blood. It wants my life. For the memory of the child I raised, I had to do what was right. I had to try to kill it, no matter what it took. I couldn’t let him exist inside that beast forever, not after all we had been through. I see a light reflecting from within my bag. A golden dagger, calling to me as if it knows what I desire. I know what has to be done now. I hear the monster’s movements stop. It is about to attack. I need to time this perfectly or I will die. The monster screeches, the tail flies towards me, I roll away and grab the dagger. Embedded in the rocks it struck, this is my one chance to remove the tail. I cut straight through in one swipe, enticing it to bleed a thick, green blood that smelled of rotten meat. The monster screeches in agony and swipes me away with three of its arms, knocking me to the ground and knocking the dagger out of my hand. I scramble to get it back, but I just can’t move fast enough. The monster has me in its grip, holding me with most of its hands. It turns me around to face its heads. They all open wide, revealing countless rows of teeth within each one. It is going to eat me alive. The stench of death wafting over my face, I close my eyes and brace myself. This is the end. And I have so many regrets… BANG! I fall to the floor and hit my head against a rock. Through blurry vision I see my own blood pooling beneath me. But I also see help. Three men, perhaps more explorers seeking the treasure, one of which just shot one of the monster’s heads. The monster turns to them, each head harmonising their demonic growls in a way that vibrated through what little left I could feel of my body. Before any of the travellers can react, it scuttles towards them, half of its arms moving the body, the other half picking up rocks to throw. The men keep firing their weapons, piercing through the monster’s scales and drenching the ground in its blood. Yet still it fights. It throws all of its rocks at one man, cracking his skull and breaking most of his bones. It turns to another and picks it up with all of its hands, easily ripping him in half, his guts and the two pieces of his broken body falling heavily to the ground as the monster throws them down. Then was the final man. He desperately continued firing his shotgun as the monster slowly crawled towards him. BANG! BANG! BANG! Click, click. All out. Despite being drenched in its own foul-smelling blood, the monster hissed delightfully. Now it was its turn. All three heads descended on the man, ripping him apart limb from limb and devouring his flesh until he was nothing but bone. My vision blurry and my body on the verge of giving up on me, I slowly try to climb my way up to my feet. The world spins faster and faster the higher I go, my insides are trying their hardest to get out. I have to keep together just long enough to finish this. Dagger in hand, I use all of my remaining strength to limp towards the monster. Towards my son. I have to put him out of his misery. But he is not so willing. He turns towards me. He looks at me. He almost looks regretful of his actions, yet he too knows what must be done. The monster that has taken over his soul compels him to kill me, so that is what he has to do. I stop. I hold a hand out and gesture him to come to me. His three heads screech louder than ever before, my ears ring with more pain than I can bear. But I have to bear it. At least until it is done. I take all of my willpower and I hold it tight. I can do this. The monster, my son, charges towards me at full speed. I brace myself for the impact. We both strike at the same time. It’s over. I wake up for a few brief moments. I’m cold. Everything hurts. I feel a great weight pushing down on me. It’s him. My son, dead on top of me, with my dagger piercing through his heart. I did it. No matter how many times I failed in life, I can at least die without having to regret my son being stuck in the body of that monster forever.
I close my eyes and feel my life draining away. I feel cold. I feel… Nothing… Darkness consumes me. My time is over. I see a light in front of me. A bright light that overwhelms all that it covers. Am I dead? Is this the gateway to heaven calling to me? I try to open my eyes. There’s a woman beside me dressed in blue. She tells me to go back to sleep. She tells me everything will be fine. I shoot up as the memories and the pain all come flooding back. My son… He died… Yet here I am, alive and well in a hospital, surrounded by people trying to fix my broken body. I feel guilt. It should have been the other way around. He should be here, not me. The next few months go by in a blur. People hear about my story and they never stop asking questions. They never stop repeating what others have asked before them. They want to know exactly how it happened, none of them giving a damn about how much it hurts me to relive the memory. I finally give in and accept some tv interviews so that I can just get it all out in the open. I tell them everything, in every excruciating detail. It hurts my soul to do it, yet it’s easier than being hounded by the same questions every day of my life. While all of this is going on, I still have my bag of treasure. I never sold a single coin. I never even considered it. There was only one thing I wanted now, and that bag couldn’t bring him back. Yet still I hold onto it for some reason. Perhaps the guilt makes it too hard to let go. Maybe I have it for a purpose. One day I could see somebody who is as desperate as we were back then. I’m sure they will appreciate our sacrifice. And I’m sure with help, they will be the ones who make the right decision.
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