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Srit and the Bitch

A Pocket Tale

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Let’s face it, dear Reader, life can be rough. World literature makes no bones about that. Folklore and historical legends — not to mention legends urbane — abound with warnings about visitations of malevolent spirits both natural and supernatural. Indeed it can be sobering to contemplate the seemingly endless array of bizarre and chaotic elements that are crouching nearby, patiently awaiting an opportune moment to pounce upon or infest or trouble us in some way. It’s more than enough to keep one awake at night, especially if one has the sort of neighbor we had until recently.

I will confess that on the street she was given the disparaging designation of Crack Whore. She was chaos incarnate and might be seen staggering about in her yard at four in the afternoon and then again at two in the morning. She had obvious health problems. Trash piled up on the front porch and then overflowed it, spilling down the driveway, drifting across the lawn. Visitors arrived in thumping cars with shaded windows. And the woman veritably shrieked, eventually, at nearly everybody who was seen to set foot on the property — be they friends, customers, "boyfriends," or meter-readers. This sort of thing was new and unsettling around here, and it was primarily the unpredictable potential of the woman that kept all her neighbors at bay; she spoke to nobody and nobody spoke to her. One could only guess from her general behavior what violent wrath even a whisper of complaint might incite, so nobody risked it. I naturally presumed that, like me, everybody on the street was well acquainted with the legend of Kay Us.

* * *

This legend comes from a fragment of the Avesta. The Avesta can be called the Zoroastrian bible. Interestingly, Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion still in practice today, although worldwide there are fewer than 100,000 adherents. Most of these families left Iran long ago and now live in India and are called Parsees, although some can also be found in Pakistan, Great Britain, Hong Kong, Zanzibar, Kenya, France, Germany, Canada and the United States. Their god — predating the god Yahweh of Judaism and the god God of Christianity — is called Ahura Mazda and he is a god of truth and order. Zoroaster, by the way, is Greek for "living star." If you’d rather have it in Persian, which many would since he was Persian, then you have Zarathustra, which means "he who seeks camels." My favorite thing about the prophet Zoroaster — who lived sometime between 600 and 1,400 BCE, scholars squabble about it — is that he was said to be born laughing. We should all have such a start in life!

So from the Avesta we have the legend of Kay Us, an Iranian king who built magical palaces of gold, silver, steel and crystal and fought constantly with the Turks. He was a vain and acquisitive little fellow, as many in his position will be. In a famous territorial dispute, involving a great ox who by divine decree kept the boundary, Kay Us calls in Srit (in some accounts, Srito), the largest and strongest of his princes, and instructs him to go kill the troublesome ox so that he might have the land beyond it.

Obediently Srit sets forth, but by turns and through circumstances the ox convinces Srit that killing him is not such a good idea and would immediately bring on the greatest catastrophe. Alarmed, Srit reports back to Kay Us and, for failing to carry out his orders, begs to be put to death himself. One must imagine with what kingly sighs of disappointment Kay Us then orders Srit to enter a forest where a spirit will appear in the guise of a Bitch (in some accounts, a Witch). Encountering the Bitch Srit proceeds to strike her down, but the infinite Bitch merely divides in two. Srit strikes again at each Bitch, and each Bitch responds by dividing in two. This continues again and again — Srit working into a frenzy against the increasing horde — until finally the countless Bitches fatally overwhelm him.

* * *

I suspect the Crack Whore was such a Bitch; and I suspect all her neighbors thought so too; and I suspect, further, that any attempt to limit her would only have served to increase her powers, bringing untold suffering to the entire neighborhood. I can say with some relief that she is no longer our neighbor. Better it sometimes is to heed legends and the lore of the folk, than to foolishly poke and prod too hard at the crazy world.

~ Peter Kohler

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