At night, you look up at the sky. Your heart leaps out and back into your chest, aflame above the simmering, ever-present burn in your stomach. I’m so hungry, you think. This hunger will not let me rest. In the glittering sky, the stars look like jewels strewn on and over an undulating plain. There is something there on the other side, and you hear its faint whispers in the wind.
The village wise man says, there is a legend of a treasure that will cure your hunger, a fruit that will make you never again hunger, this discontent by another name.
It is in the lands far away. No one has ever seen it, no one has ever ventured so far. All those who have left the village have never been heard from again. It will be foolhardy and brash. It will be unheard of and rash to go.
But you go anyway.
You are on the road, leaving everything you’ve ever known. Along the way, there is scarce nourishment. You eat the barks off trees and live on dew. There are roots that pulse with something deep beneath the earth, which are filling when you can find them. In your mind, you dream of the fruit that will make you never hungry again. It spurs you forward.
Around the bend you startle, because before you on the bridge is a demon, the most terrifying monster you’ve ever seen, a wolf, ogre, succubus. A patrol on the bridge that you must cross. It reeks of blood and death. For a moment you startle and hesitate, your mind flickers and pulls against your heart and hunger. You’ll be torn to pieces.
And yet. What fate is worse than starving slowly to death? You will wither away, you think. Instead, you stand up straight, and in that moment’s courage the demon sees you standing there, erect. You have one way to go, and you stride with purpose, and seeing you, the demon’s menace drains. You stare it in the eyes, and it looks away and you cross the bridge unscathed.
You are growing famished and drag your feet. But ahead are the spires of a mountain city, a more glorious sight than you have ever seen. It looks prosperous and full, and surely you will find some food and shelter there. Your heart leaps in joy and your hunger is suppressed for now.
But this is not a city of warm hearths and friends. This is a city that has grown old and fat in their own abundance, and you hear insolent whispers about your skeletal appearance. Their bellies cascade with rolls as they sit around, their servants and slaves more plump than you. You, whose skin has been stretched across your jaws and your fingers, realize now that they are shaming your name, that this is a city where you will not stop, where you will not find rest or drink or shelter, that stopping here will cause you to also grow old and fat and live out the rest of your days.
Confidently now you stride, your hunger so deafening you do not hear the crowds’ titters and trifling nothings. My hunger cripples me, but it also leads the way, you think.
The city opens up to a mountain pass, bleak and forbidding. The clouds are clenched and on the verge of being black. You look up to an explosion as a storm begins to roil. With neither mercy nor malice, the winds shriek like banshees, battering you off the path, almost to your death below. You clutch yourself and crawl forward by inches. Then the hail comes, battering your head. The storm will not relent, it is terrible in its apathy, in its pure indifference, and you look back and see a sunny meadow in the distance.
You think, will I roll with these waves of indifference? Do I turn back now, because the way forward is more difficult and forbidding than I ever imagined? I will surely be forgiven, for I have proceeded further than I ever believed possible.
Or will my heart beat and hunger be the crosswise force, the thing unlike the others, the beating heart in the midst of these winds, cold and dead and terrible?
Then in the midst of the storm, another rumbling.
But you realize this is the sound of your hunger. And it, only it, spurs you forward, because you will not accept your fate.
Now your steps quicken because you see the peak, where the treasure lies. You expected angels and light, but instead it is dark and unassuming, craggy peaks with withered trees.
Could it be?
There, in the distance, you see little drops of what look like light hanging from the wizened branches. This is it.
In your excitement you do not see until you almost stumble over him, a man who sits beside the pass.
Where are you going, he asks.
You look at him, this strange man. He looks young, but his eyes shine a strange light, and his body is feeble as he leans against the rocks.
I’m going to eat this fruit, this treasure that makes you never hungry again.
The man gives you a weak smile. I recommend against it.
Thinking this is some sort of test, your mind races. If this is one of the challenges, it is the most confusing one yet.
I must. My hunger is deathly, it causes me to suffocate.
He is short of breath. You came across the plains, did you not?
Yes, I did.
You terrified the demons with your strength.
You passed through the village without dying there.
You made it through the storm.
Because I sought the fruit. To never be hungry again.
The man shakes his head.
You get impatient and take a step forward as he speaks again. The treasure you sought, did you ever have it?
The fruit? No. It’s there. You begin to scowl.
No, he shakes his head. What helped you get here was your hunger. Your hunger is the gift. It’s the treasure. Why would you want to get rid of it?
He slumps back, as if from the effort. It’s better to be hungry than full. Take it from me, he says feebly again.
You look at him. You blink and hear the abrasive winds. You look back down the mountain. You have faced your demons, you have forded wild streams, you have faced down the insolent mob of strangers, the shrieking hue and cry. You have been bold and with conviction, you have defeated plights that would cause others to succumb.
You have overcome.
Suddenly the hunger flares up again within you. It feels warm, and fills you with light. There is a path that leads past the grove and into the wider world, one you have never explored.
That’s right, you think. Your hunger is your strength. That is the gift.