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The Whipping Post by Elaine Smith

The air was acrid in the room. The young man was naked above the waist, hands tied together with rope and he was hanging from a whipping post. An endless line of figures appeared. Alan recognized them. Thousands of Alan figures awaited their turn to beat the Alan hanging on the post. Baseball bats, leather belts, chains, electric cords—all were at the ready.  Alan endured hundreds of these beatings at each session.

With his back bleeding, blood dripping off the heel of his boot, Alan cried out for help. Hopeless, he wished for death. The watching Alan figures gathered to witness their victim’s misery. The Alan at the head of the line stepped forward with a golf club. Taking a wild swing, he stopped in mid stroke. A man, tall and strong, grabbed the club and ripped it from the Alan figure’s hands. Shouts of displeasure rose from the line. Alan tried to turn his head but he could not.

“Let me get you down from there.” Alan’s grandfather rose up into the air like an angel and gently removed the young man from the post. They floated to the ground where the elder cradled Alan in his arms. Stronger and far younger than Alan had ever seen him, the appearance of his deceased grandfather stunned Alan. The bonds removed, Grandpa Red helped his grandson to chair which appeared from nowhere.

“Alan, my boy. I know things went terribly wrong for you out there in the world. Sure, you brought it on yourself with the drugs, but you have done well taking responsibility for your actions. I am here to help. First, go ahead and sit back against the chair. Your wounds are healed.”

Alan trusted his Grandpa Red and did as he was told. The cool back of the chair was only that—cool. No pain or stinging or discomfort. He looked up surprised and confused.

“That’s a gift. ‘Course you have a choice, you can go back to the post…” Alan shook his head. “Right. So listen up. Stop beatin’ yourself up. You have asked God and the family for forgiveness and we have given it. Now, son, you must forgive yourself.”

“But, Grandpa Red…they haunt me. Those people, the ones he…killed…and I watched. I see them every day.”

“That’s because YOU cannot let it go. Your guilt is continually beating you up. Sure, you are guilty. We have forgiven you. Now you need to forgive yourself. Forgiving is not forgetting. The horrors that happened cannot be undone. Facts cannot be altered. But you can be. Understand me, Alan. You can do this and you can be the man you wish to be. See all those guys?”

“Yeah. They are me.”

“You got it. They and you need to forgive. All of you!” The waiting line of figures came to attention. “Get over here and drop your weapons. This man is asking for your forgiveness and I ask you to grant his request.  Stop the pain.”

One by one, the many Alan figures formed a line before the table. The items of torture were discarded into a tremendous heap. The figures merged into one who stood next to the tortured man. Grandpa Red stepped back. The table joined the giant pile. After a glance toward his grandfather for approval, Alan moved forward and took the Alan facing him into his arms and into himself.

Tears of joy streamed down Alan’s face, as he felt free from the burden he had carried for so long. He turned to embrace his grandfather, but he had risen into the air, beyond his reach.

“Take me with you, Grandpa Red! Please! I want to talk—I need you!”

The colossal pile of items and the whipping post churned in a greyish mass, melting and without shape.  “I can come and go. You must remain. Find your own peace, son.” The swirling mass took on form and became a cage around Alan. He was still in prison. But the top of the cell was open, with a cloudless blue sky far above. Alan watched as his beloved Grandpa Red flew high into that blue sky until he could no longer be seen.

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