In spite of her grandfather’s repeated warnings, Jessie finds herself compelled to step into the doomed forest. Her desperate search for her puppy, Fluffy, leads her to a hut in the middle of nowhere. Reluctantly, she walks inside, only to find her whelp whimpering and bleeding.
“What are you doing?” she exclaimed as Fluffy raised its head at the sight of Jessie. However, the poor animal made no attempt whatsoever to move. It stayed on the floor while the hooded figure appeared to study the dog’s leg.
He extended his hand to reach for Fluffy’s paw, and Jessie could not help but notice that the hand was full of ugly, red scars.
“Fluffy! Are you okay?” she managed to ask in a hushed whisper.
The man seemed lost in thought. As he turned to face Jessie, his hood slipped from his head to reveal his face and body. She barely managed to stifle a scream.
He was an old man, but with an athletic build. His face was obscured with scars. A terrifying scar ran down from his forehead to his left cheek, one through his nose, as if a wild beast had clawed through his face. His gray hair was long and hung loosely around his head. However, the feature that startled Jessie the most about him were his eyes. They were devoid of any emotion, as though nobody could ever read them and understand the storm that raged within them.
He looked at her and said, “your dog is okay. I found it lying in a thorny bush. Its paws were entangled with vines.”
She blinked and looked at Fluffy again. The puppy struggled to get up and reached for the man to lick his hand. Jessie was momentarily relieved, but could not figure out if what she saw was a reality or an illusion.
She thanked the man profusely and asked him if he was the outcast people talked about. He looked at her with blank eyes and gave an imperceptible nod. With a poker-face expression, he thrust the ball into her hand and asked her to leave with her pet dog.
Jessie had a thousand questions raging through her mind.
Why did the man live here? How did he get so many wounds if he stayed alone? Why did the people shun him if he was so kind and helpful?
Jessie returned home but did not mention her visit to the forest to her grandmother. She was afraid that Martha would tell her off for crossing the town’s border. Moreover, she doubted if the old lady would buy into her description of the mysterious man. She was glad that Fluffy was fine.
Days passed by and Jessie soon forgot about the incident. Her summer vacation was about to come to an end. She would soon have to go back to the city to live with her parents.
One day, Charlie Campbell was heading back home when he accidentally stepped on a snake that was gliding through the street in the other direction. The venomous snake bit Charlie viciously, causing him to fall down. Jessie shrieked and ran for her beloved grandpa. Meanwhile, Charlie was beginning to lose consciousness. Jessie’s squeal drew Martha out of the kitchen. The poor little girl barely managed to gibber between her sobs.
Martha rushed to the neighbors and inquired about the local healer. To her dismay, she was told that the curer was out of town. Desperate in that mad race against time, Jessie suddenly recalled her meeting with the old man in the woods. Instinctively, she ran into the forest while Martha was busy discussing the situation with the neighbors.
Having ventured into the forest only once, Jessie was almost certain that she had forgotten the path. However, she was surprised to find that she remembered the route fairly well.
It did not take her long to reach the hut. She called for the man, who was leaning over a table, apparently working on different types of herbs.
“Excuse me, we have an emergency.”
The man’s ears twitched, but he showed no signs of acknowledging her presence.
Jessie wailed, “I know that you’re a healer. My grandpa, he needs you. He is hurt and…”
She did not have to complete her sentence. The herbalist gathered his stuff and marched toward her house. She would wonder later as to how this man knew where she lived. At that time, all she could do was follow him as they both rushed out of the forest, en route to Jessie’s house.
The man soon reached the gate and faltered at the entrance. By then, the onlookers had arrived at the spot, trying to console a disconsolate Martha. Her teary eyes instantly filled with rage as she spotted the old healer.
“What are you doing here? Haven’t we made it clear that you’re not allowed into the town?” she asked furiously.
Jessie turned up, panting, and screamed at her grandmother, “let him heal grandpa. He can do it.”
Martha was shocked, “how do you know him?”
“Let’s talk about that later, grandma. You got to believe me. Let him see grandpa once, please.” Martha looked daggers at the pariah. Jessie, who had never seen her grandma so incensed, was taken aback.
The curer bent forward and took Charlie in his lap. He cut out his sleeve and tied the fabric of his shirt tightly around Charlie leg. His eyes glistened with tears as he cradled the unconscious man in his arms.
What he did next took everyone by surprise. The shaman held out his hand, which revealed his hideous scars and bruises. He then placed it on Charlie’s ankle, where the snake had bitten, and closed his eyes.
Martha could hardly hold back her emotions any longer and asked the healer if Charlie would be fine.
“Yes,” the outcast replied.
A cut appeared on his forearm. The words of the Goddess rang through his ears.
As you have single-handedly brought this curse upon your land, you shall suffer the most.
“He will be alright,” the healer almost screamed. An abominable gash appeared on the herbalist’s head as he uttered these words.
You will be able to lie, but with every lie you would feel the pain caused by your words.
“No, I won’t let you die. You’ll be fine.”
The back of the healer’s shirt ripped open as an appalling wound sliced its way up from his lower back to his neck. Meanwhile, Charlie, who had been lying unconscious until then, moved slightly.
“No, Charlie, you’re going to live. You’ll be fine,” the healer cried out loud as numerous other scars showed up on his body.
You shall feel pain to a greater extent than others, absorbing the sadness and hurt of those around you.
The venom flowing through Charlie’s blood began to subside and he began to breathe evenly. On the other hand, the shaman’s body went stiff and he collapsed on the floor. He had absorbed too much of Charlie’s pain and suffering. Apparently, more than what he was capable of.
You shall pay the price for your deeds, which will come back to haunt you.
Charlie regained consciousness and slowly came back to his senses to find himself lying on the ground beside a dead old man.
“Father…” Charlie cried over the healer’s lifeless body.
The crowd was stunned when they realized that the healer’s son, who had become a merchant and brought the curse upon the town, was Charlie’s father. It was a closely guarded secret of the Campbell family, which was now out in the open.
Back then, Alexander had been overcome by grief and repentance after he was cursed by the Goddess for having taken the life of Nakir’s brother with the poisonous fruits. Even though he had never been fond of healing and tending to the sick, he spent the rest of his life nursing injured wild animals.
At least, Alexander had managed to free himself from the curse by saving his son, who had abandoned him.
He had now paid the price in equal.
…now that you’re here
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