Tense and motionless, he stared up into the gray sky that overshadowed the river. Submerged in a covering of mud, only his eyes and nose remained above the surface. The sounds of thunderous footfalls and splintering branches jiggled the sloppy mess around his head. Still, he waited.
When he could no longer feel the vibrations, he forced himself into a sitting position. Golden leaves which had fallen onto his hiding spot now covered his body like feathers. He wiped the tarry goop from his face the best he could and flicked it from his fingers into a swirling pool at the edge of the water. The movement made his legs sink further into the muck, so thick around him that it felt like he was sinking into a sodden grave. He turned onto his side to free one leg, then, getting onto a knee, pulled the other leg free as he crawled out of the mud and into the flowing river.
With barely a sound, he swam around a half-submerged log and entered the dark pool next to it. He paused to study the fiery trees and red-painted vines near the bank. Nothing. The creature was gone.
He sucked in a deep breath and ducked into the frigid pool. Keeping himself underwater, he scrubbed the mud from his scalp, then came up for air. Again he went under, and then a third time. Satisfied that his hair was as clean as possible, he turned his attention to his clothing, vigorously rubbing every part he could reach. He then moved toward a rock-speckled sandbar so he could avoid the mud where he had hidden, and crawled out onto the dry finger of land. He stood, wary.
A raven called out, its voice a stark intrusion into the general quiet around him. Nothing moved along the riverbank. He relaxed. His hair dripped, rivulets of water coursing down his severely stained waistcoat. He brushed at it with wet hands, but it made no difference. The soiled cloth would need a real washing. He peered down at his boots. Only a little of the black mud remained.
Eager to reach the bank, he took a few steps. He felt water squish between his toes. Surveying the tree line once more, he saw no signs of the creature. He moved over to a large boulder which had been exposed by the low-running river, sat, removed his boots, and drained them. He looked at the distant bank and realized he had never seen the mighty waterway so low. After wringing his stockings, he put them back on and slipped into his boots.
His gaze caught prints at the river’s edge―wider than the torso of a man, five huge toes on each foot, and deep gashes made by sharp claws. These, if they truly were bear tracks, had to be the largest he had ever seen. The tracks disappeared in the direction of the quarry.
Stuffy and oppressive, the air was hot for this time of year. It made his already damp shirt stick to his back. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he climbed up the slope that led from the river bottom. When the tracks broke to the left, a line heading straight for the recently drained quarry, he chose to leave the trail and avoid the massive hole in the limestone bed of rock. He trudged upward, ignoring the slight limp of his left leg, uncomfortable in his soggy boots.
Then he heard it―a rumbling, echoing growl.
The beast is in the pit.
He crested the hill. Thick underbrush pushed him closer to the edge of the old quarry. He set his feet on a new trail and ran to where the quarry ended, the pit at its deepest point. But he was still not close enough to the edge that he could peer over and see the awful creature he could hear scrabbling in the rocks below.
At his feet, he found a large chunk of stone. The shape and cut of the pale, gray fragment clearly announced what its intended purpose had been before it was discarded. It was a foundation stone, intended to hold up a massive structure.
A stone cut with hands, he mused.
He picked it up, his arms bulging with effort, and went to the precipice. There, he hoisted the stone above his head and got his first good look at the entire creature―hind and front quarters like a bear, a scarlet-and-black-spotted body like a leopard, wings like an eagle, seven necks like serpents, each ending with the face of a lion, and all heads but one bearing a single horn. The central head had four horns of obsidian and teeth of iron; spikes used to chew on a boulder, crushing it to dust. The other heads looked back to the entrance of the pit.
He aimed. He let the stone fall.
The foul creature screamed in pain as the central head took the direct blow. Three of the horns sheared away with the hit, and a deep indentation appeared where the stone had crushed the skull. The beast’s neck slammed to the ground, flailing.
He watched for only a moment as the injured creature roared and scratched at the ground. Desperate for a new projectile, he searched the ground and took up another rock he could barely heft, then went again to the edge and prepared to attack. But the beast was now looking up. Six frightening faces stared back, razor teeth bared. Each of the six heads roared in protest.
And the injured head began to move.
It lifted from the ground, bleeding and wounded. But the depression in the skull was nearly gone. New horns sprouted from the back of its skull. The neck trembled, then stilled. It roared again, this time sending a shock through the ground upon which he stood.
He hurled the stone and ran.
Branches of drying leaves slapped him in the face as he ran between trees, racing for the river. When he gained the bank, he headed south with as much speed as he could muster. Strong and fit, his limp barely affected him. When the water came too close to the bank and left little room to run on dry ground, he left the bank and headed inland. It did not take him long to find the familiar streets of the old city, and he passed many of them before he had to slow, his breath now ragged from effort. As he went, he occasionally cast a wary eye behind, but caught no sight of the monster as he passed streets called White, Hotchkiss, Munson, and Kimball. The names called up memories of friends who had lived there so many years ago, but the images surfaced only briefly. These streets were completely deserted, just like all the others. Not a single soul stirred. He pressed on.
When the road he now traveled connected with Water Street, he turned right and saw the familiar red brick structure. He rushed to the front door and gripped the knob as if shaking the hand of a dear friend. Turning it gently, he pushed the door open, and entered.
Stout as it may be, the wood won’t hold that creature. Yet I doubt it will come here.
He didn’t bother to close the door, but sprinted up the stairs to the second floor. When he entered the meeting hall, he paused. Memories of the significance of what had happened there struck him deeply. His feelings were joyful and nostalgic―almost sad―at the same time. But something was not quite right. He surveyed the room and realized it was not the same place he remembered. The construction was much newer. And although made to look like it once had, he could see that the edifice had been rebuilt with much better materials than the first time.
He spotted the object he came for, and smiled.
He crossed the hardwood floor to a corner, where a large golden key lay on a writing desk. Next to the key was a basin filled to the brim with clean water, a square of cotton cloth for washing and a towel, and next to those, a bundle of dry clothing. A pair of polished boots rested under the desk.
He stripped off his damp, stained clothing, then used the cloth and towel until he was clean. When he had finished, he donned the linen shirt, trousers, and waistcoat, tied the cravat, and put on clean stockings before stepping into the dry boots. All the items fit perfectly. After tidying up the corner and placing his soiled items in a neatly folded pile on the floor, he retrieved the key and stuffed it into a pocket. Then he left the Red Brick Store in search of the terror that hunted him.
Refreshed and clean, he strode forward with purpose, fingering the golden key in his waistcoat pocket as he went. He crossed Sidney, Parley, and Kimball before he heard the creature again―its roar a challenge to him. But he held the course, sure and steady. There was no hurry now. He had the key. And he could hear that the beast was on the hill, right where he had expected it to go. It could wait for him a little longer.
When he crossed Hotchkiss, he could finally see the white spire on the hill, stark against gray skies. The sight of it made his skin tingle with excitement. Walking faster, he made his way to Mulholland and turned toward the temple. As he climbed the hill and saw the scarlet-colored beast sitting on its haunches, there on the lawn before the magnificent building, he paused. The creature noticed him and bellowed louder, challenging him.
“I am here,” he answered.
The beast silenced, all eyes glued to his person. It dug claws into the soil as it whipped its spotted tail back and forth. The central head which had healed itself bared its iron teeth.
He did not flinch. “You are not welcome here,” he said. His voice was soft, yet firm and commanding.
It did not retreat.
“You are not welcome here.”
It took a step forward, flicking its tail.
“You must leave.” He fingered the gold key in his pocket.
The beast growled and tensed as if to spring, but hesitated.
Brilliant sunshine flooded the temple grounds as the clouds instantly parted. The creature crouched lower, but did not advance. And still the light above got brighter.
Like the ripping of paper, the heavens opened to his view. He looked upon the ten thousand angels that stood above him, each with a flaming sword in their hand, and then gazed upon the one who led them―a man on a white horse, clothed and crowned with the glory of a hundred suns, hair like the driven snow, eyes as a flame of fire. The Ancient of Days rode as if down an unseen slope, then took a position between him and the monster on the lawn.
“The key!” Adam begged, a hand open.
He pulled the key from his waistcoat and laid it in Adam’s palm.
The key instantly changed. Adam drew back his arm, a javelin now aimed. The beast reared and clawed at the air. Deafening roars escaped seven gaping mouths. Adam hurled the weapon, his aim true. The javelin struck the creature in the chest, sinking deep into its heart. The monster shuddered. All seven sets of eyes glazed.
The beast fell.
He watched as Adam rode forward and yanked the javelin loose. It became a golden key in Adam’s hand once again. As if all eternity trembled, the earth beneath his feet shook, then stilled.
“Hurrah!” came the shout from the angels. They descended, one of them leading a horse without a rider. Exclamations from the grand company turned to singing.
Adam retrieved the animal, bringing it to him. “Ride with me, my son. The Bridegroom cometh! Let us go and meet him!”
* * *
Daron D. Fraley
Questions for the reader:
1. What city is this?
2. Who is the unnamed protagonist?
3. What is the key? (What does it represent?)
4. Why is the location (building) where the protagonist finds the key important?
5. What prophecy/book is this story based on?
6. How long did it take you to figure out who the protagonist is?
7. What were the clues to his identity?
8. What did you think of the story?
(This story is not meant to offend or confuse my non-LDS readers in any way; it was merely a writing exercise for me. I wanted to use a high degree of symbolism for those who would pick up on it, and wanted to provide an interesting descriptive action scene for those who would not care. I hope you liked it!)