The long-awaited night had finally arrived: the time had come for the two protagonists to face each other in what could well become mortal combat. That one, the winner, would survive the encounter was a given. The fate of the vanquished rested in the hands of the victor, who would have it in his power to spare or dispatch his opponent, and in those of the medical attendants, whose skills would be tested this night like they had never been tested before.
To outsiders, this would have appeared no more than just another a prize-fight; just another no-holds-barred, winner-takes-all combat. To the faithful, it was the apex of their religious expression, the two pugilists representing nothing less than good and evil themselves. This was, symbolically, the ultimate struggle. Little surprise that only one was expected to walk out of the arena and even that only with the help and support of the medics.
Attendance at the event as a witness was by invitation only, the notices having been propagated during the course of the last three weekly closed gatherings. No-one who was not of the faith and of the blood was permitted to attend. Even so, it was generally known, though never fully accepted, that the ranks of the native believers had been infiltrated by individuals that were neither of the blood nor even of the faith. It was these to whom the notice pinned above the door referred in its simple words ‘NO ALIENS’.
Those adherents who chose to attend the ritual, and that meant most of them, were aware that, as a small minority of the population, their beliefs, their way of life, even the language they used – not the words themselves, as they spoke the common tongue of the area, but the form of words they chose – were held under suspicion, if not contempt by the majority. Thus were they, every one, constantly vigilant; continuously on the lookout for anyone whose appearance or sound differed from their norm. Wrong’uns was the term they used to describe them. Until the moment the doors were closed and secured, signalling the commencement of the proceedings, each entrance was guarded by at least four fit, strong and able members of the faithful; people whose sole function was to make certain that no wrong’uns entered the hallowed hall.
The seating area filled. One by one the portals slammed closed and the large, cast-iron keys turned in the locks, triggering a lamp above each entrance to turn from deepest red to a vibrant green. Conversation in the audience ceased and a deferential hush descended on the crowd. The MC entered the arena, pulled the microphone down to his mouth and, as excited whispers spread through the gathering, pronounced, “Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, your attention, please. Today is the most significant day in our calendar, and this event represents the very pinnacle of our expressions of faith. Good and evil are present with us in the persons of their respective champions and it is our solemn duty to support, in the green corner, the personification of Good. We sustain him with our cheers, our applause and our silent prayers. In the red corner is the representative of Evil. Him we must resist: in our minds, in our lives, in our words. We may not jeer, boo or hiss, but silent entreaties to the power that is Good to overcome him will give effect to our yearnings. We thank you for your attendance tonight, and I entreat every one of you to examine his or her conscience to ensure you are all worthy to support Good; and to scrutinise your neighbour, to the left and to the right, to satisfy yourselves that there is not a single wrong’un amongst us. We, the faithful, the chosen, the dispossessed must be whole and pure for the combat to be truly effective and truly representative of the eternal struggle.”
So saying, he released the microphone and left the centre of the arena. His place was taken by a pair of adjudicators, one each male and female, whose job was to ensure that the combat was carried out in accordance with the writings, that it was fair, and that Good would win. The combatants arrived and squared up. A bell sounded and the MC’s voice announced, “Round one. Commence.”
In the front row, a couple were so involved with each other – and the bag of sweets they shared – that they didn’t notice anything about the man beside them. They didn’t see that, in contravention of the prohibition, he had brought a camera into the hall aiming to reduce the ritual to a spectacle to be ogled over at leisure. The woman to his other side didn’t spot it, either. She was too concerned with the antics of her small daughter who was attending her first event.
Fifteen minutes into the round, the man with the camera turned to his neighbour with the child and asked, “How many rounds are there?”
“One,” the woman replied.
“Then why did the MC announce round one?”
“Why not? What would you expect him to announce?”
“Well, nothing. Just ‘commence’ would have done.”
The woman immediately suspected there was something wrong about this person. That he had never before attended such an event was clear from the inanity of his question. She jumped to her feet and shouted, “Wrong’un beside me!”
The man, realising that he had been found out, entered some kind of panic state; his head shaking from side to side at an impossible rate.
“He’s not of the dispossessed,” the woman yelled, “HE’S POSSESSED!”
That outburst caused the champion of Good to break his concentration for a split second, to look towards where the woman was shouting. The representation of Evil seized his opportunity and landed what proved to be a near-fatal blow on his opponent. Breaking with tradition and with the accepted rules, the crowd started to boo frantically, but to no avail. Good had been mortally wounded.
Evil stood to his full height and addressed the crowd. “What you have just seen,” he said, “is indicative of the world today. Those who claim to be good are weak. Only I can provide strong leadership. My opponents will decry my every move, but they are too easily distracted by minutiae. I am smart. I am focussed. I will prevail.”
I wrote this in response to Kreative Kue 154, issued on this site earlier this week. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.