John Smith was a man who never lived. That is not to say he wasn’t alive, he was. When John was a young man he allowed a concept to burrow itself into his soul. As this concept grew to obsession it filled every fiber of his being, pushing all the life out of him. Eventually, the obsession was all that remained.
The obsession became all-encompassing in John’s life. He never knew love, never enjoyed a meal, never watched a movie and never took a vacation. He became nothing more than his obsession.
By his early 30’s John’s research bore fruit. He began to find writings that referenced a Golden Hawk in a cave in the Himalayan mountains. As he pushed forward in his research he narrowed the cave to the Tibetan Plateau. Then to a small village outside of Gyantse.
The flight to Shigatse was long. From there he arranged transport to Gyantse. He bounced along the highway in the old flatbed. If he had lived he might have enjoyed the beauty of the country or the rich mix of cultures.In the city, John searched for a man who could take him to the unnamed mountain village to the southeast. Then another who could translate the village’s unique dialect.
The small village was in a valley surrounded by fields of wheat, turnips and broad beans on three sides. Rocky, icy mountains towered to the west. There were a dozen small stone houses situated in a half-moon around a large monastery.
A small path led into the mountains. John would have missed it had it not been for the tall poles lining the path. There were strips of crimson cloth nailed to the peak of each poll. The cloth flowed in the light wind blowing through the valley. Villagers scurried about attending to animals and crops. Several bald monks in golden robes sat still. Upon seeing John one of the monks rose to his feet and approached.
“Welcome to our village.” He said through the translator, “What brings you this far out?”
“Tell him I’m looking for the Golden Hawk,” John said as he swayed back and forth.
A smile crossed the monk's face, his teeth were yellow and damaged. As he spoke the translator scrunched his brow, “I’m not sure I understand him correctly,” the translator said, “He’s asking if you want to live forever.”
John’s fidgeting increased as he leaned into the Monk, “The stories are real? The Hawk holds the secrets?”
“Is that what you want?” The Monk asked.
“Yes.” John’s eyes glistened.
The monk’s smile broadened as he motioned for John to follow him. He took John and his translator to one of the stone buildings and flicked his wrist to a straw bed on the floor. “Rest,” He said through the translator, “We will get you when it’s time to eat.”
The monks served food in a large hall inside the monastery. It seemed the entire village was present for the feast. Had John lived he may have recognized some of the food. He did recognize the Cincinnati Reds hat on the head of the man seated next to him. “American?” John asked wide-eyed.
“I’m Ron” the man bellowed “From Ohio.”
John asked in near whisper, “Are you here for the Hawk too?”
Ron laughed a deep belly laugh, “Man, I’ve got no idea what you are talking about.”
The rest of the attendees ate in silence. Ron tried to chat with John but John only responded with single words.
After dinner the same monk that John had met earlier beckoned John to follow him. As John obeyed he asked. “Isn’t Ron coming?”
The monk only shook his head in reply.
John found himself in a round room in the center of the monastery with three other monks. His translator remained outside the large wooden door. In the center of the room there was a fire pit and over it smooth grey rocks set in a stone bowl.
Sprinkled on top of the rocks was some kind of weed. The monks began to chant as they took turns pouring water into the bowl. Steam began to fill the chamber. Then the monks took bundles of plants from their robs and lit the ends on fire. Walking around John they chanted the same melodic chant. John felt truly relaxed for the first time in his life.
At some point, John must have dozed off, because the shriek startled him awake. The loud bellowing of a hawk echoed through the valley like thunder on the planes.
The monks continued their ritual, adding more water to the stones. John hadn’t completely gathered his wits when he heard a man scream. The sound was close, somewhere in the village. Then a second scream only further way, followed by another screech. John stood up and tried to go to the door, but the monks blocked his path shaking their heads.
The next morning John was lead to the base of the mountain path where his translator was waiting for him. The wind whipped the strips of crimson cloth push the chill deeper into John’s body. The translator spoke without prompting, “They say there is a cave at the top of this path. It is a long hike, but inside you will find what you are looking for. You will go alone.”
John set out on the mountain path I had taken so long ago. The road was slick with ice but well kept. The wind pushed back on his every step. After hiking for most of the day John came to a long extension bridge. It looked old and rickety, hovering above the clouds. John didn’t hesitate to cross the long expanse.
On the other side, he found a large cave. An elaborate temple had been carved out of the rock around it. Had John Smith lived, he may have seen the writing that covered this temple. He may have even recognized it as something older than time itself. At least he would have awed at the beauty of the ancient workmanship.
A few meters into the cave John removed his jacket. Further in he removed his mittens and his hat. Finally, he came to a large opening and there it was.
The Golden Hawk perched on a stone podium in the center of the room. The podium and the walls presented the same writing as the outside of the cave. The Hawk stared into the tunnel from which John had emerged. Three crimson talons on each foot, as long stilettos, yet twice as sharp. It stood taller than a man, perhaps 8'. Golden plumage covered the bird, with sporadic crimson feathers peppered throughout. It would have been beautiful had it not been for the face. This bird's body had the face of a man. With pale grey eyes with no visible pupils or scleras. It let out a screech like the one John had heard the night before. The echo seemed to go on forever.
John found himself looking up at this colossal bird. As it spoke to him its voice was crystalline. The sound came from all directions at once, “Welcome John” the Hawk said, “I know what you have come for.”
John couldn’t speak. He couldn’t even blink or swallow.
The Hawk continued, “There are only two reasons why a man comes to me. The first is because they wish to kill me. The second is because they want to know my secrete. You do not wish to kill me do you, John?”
John managed to crock out a, “N… No.”
“You want to live forever, don’t you? To be immortal. I can give you that, but you must ask.” The Hawk’s pacing was smooth and deliberate.
Finding his courage John announced, “I want to be immortal.”
At this, the human mouth smiled. Exposing a row of triangular, interlocking teeth. “Of course you do John.” The bird continued.
John was beginning to feel a tingling sensation all over his body. The Hawk pushed on, “It is a good thing you didn’t come here to hurt me, John. I am immortal. I can give it to you.”
It was then that John noticed the red ball cap in the distant shadows of the cavern. Fixating on the hat he asked, “What did you do to Ron?”
The bird smiled again and went on, “There is a price you must pay for immortality, John. There is no joy in living forever, a great loneliness. You see, John, I only have control during the day. At night it takes over. I take no pleasure in hunting, John, but when the villagers leave someone out for me I take to the sky. I’m awake and aware the entire time, John. I feel my talons tear into their flesh. I hear their screams and see their anguish as I bring them back here. I taste the disgusting sweetness of their flesh on my tongue. I feel the blood on my cheek. Believe me, John, I want to stop but I can’t. There is no anguish like mine.”
John grasped the bridge of his nose the tingling had become a burning. “They sent me here for you to eat?” he asked.
“No, John, you are here to become immortal. You feel it already, don’t you?”
John let out a small cry as he felt a razor shot through his side. Reaching to the pain he felt something soft. Gripping the object between his fingers he brought it to his vision. A single golden feather. Time seemed to slow down as John and the Hawk watched the feather float to the ground.
The Hawk smiled again, “Yes, John, you do feel it.”
John's night was long. Feather ripped through his skin, talons pushed through his nails. He felt his bones break, stretch, heal then break again as he grew fractions of a millimeter at a time.
The Hawk shrank as John grew. As feather sprouted on John’s back, the hawk’s feathers fell out exposing irritated human skin. As John’s arms became wing, arms emerged from The Hawk’s wings. John's screams echoed through the valley, but the hawk only smiled.
At sunrise, I walked out of the cave, across the bridge and into the village below.
Essentially, the story is pretty decent in terms of its premise. That's a nice take on immortality, and honestly the only sensible one at this point. An immortal that goes "Oh yeah, I like living forever in this world of emotions and physicality" just sounds hokey and bullshit.
It does need some work, you should add some filler in there to make it seem less jumpy and more reliable. If the Golden Hawk knows the story of John, he should tell it a little bit more like a human. Y'know?
Make the scenes flow better, it kind of feels like bullet points as you read through this.
This happened, then that happened, then the third thing happened, the the fourth and so on. Reads like a list, not great for a story.
I guess good forshadowing on what's to come based on the behavior of the monks, however, it's a little too obvious that the monks are in on the bad deal. Make it more sneaky, like the monk smiling after John and the translator walk away, or even better, make it seem like the monk tries to dissuade John with somewhat dramatic antics before finally giving in, and then smiling slyly after John turns his back to him.
On that note, make Johns quest for immortality and his obsession with it a little more detailed - one or two paragraph about how he got the immortality bug and how it affected his life (and perhaps ruined him which drove him to Tibet).
The monster is pretty cool and the idea of the feather being the switching factor is pretty cool too. I like how you took the idea of a Phoenix and gave it a somewhat unique dark twist. It isn't a monster that can be such thanks to endless reviving - it is being that requires monstrous actions to keep on reviving, in its own twisted way.