The Iron Writer Challenge #214
500 Words, 5 Days, 4 Elements
Jennifer Worrell, Geoff Gore, Dani J. Caile
The Temple of Truth
Either a lie or a truth, you must not say which
Cross Your Fingers
“When I was in Cambodia…”
Marie droned on while Judy sipped—gulped, be honest, Judy—her wine. Wayne leaned in, chin in hand, eyes sparkling like the silver he insisted Judy put out for dinner. Marie was fresh off the plane after her tour of Asia. The boss deserved a fine meal since she graciously went on this trip in his place. It wasn’t his fault the baby arrived early, Marie had insisted. It simply couldn’t be helped.
She regaled them with whirlwind adventures, still high on the adrenaline of rushing from meeting to meeting and flight to flight, still flushed from keeping tight schedules and unwinding in the poshest hotels. Decked out in a pristine white suit of Japanese silk, red Chinese slippers, filigree earrings from who-knows-where.
Wayne Junior slept—soundly, for the first time—wrapped in a bamboo blanket that Wayne Senior would have bought himself. But he didn’t see this as a slight. He saw nothing but the luster of success. Smelled it in the form of sweet jasmine. Leaned into it when he shook her hand goodbye, as though trying to squeeze prosperity from her fingers.
He walked Marie to her cab. It somehow turned into a twenty-minute journey, extreme fatigue and a headache materializing the second he stepped back over the threshold. Judy bounced Junior on her hip, his father’s absence having stabbed a hole in his little baby dreams, and smiled through the squall.
“Yes honey,” she said, “a lie-down will do you good.” You bastard.
Thailand was Judy’s idea. The one country Marie hadn’t visited. The trip itself was Judy’s mother’s idea, pitched in a flurry of fits and starts and side-eye glances. She was overjoyed to take the baby, she said, couldn’t wait to spoil him as only a grandmother could, as Wayne retreated into his travel books and business dinners and late-night, closed-door phone calls as though he hadn’t heard.
They planned this trip while Junior was still in diapers, but Judy spent the first three days alone as Wayne tied up loose ends. Meandering through Pattaya, she came across a building with sweeping curves and intricate spires that reminded her of Cambodian architecture. Even here, Marie followed. Sanctuary of Truth, the visitor’s sign read. How fitting.
Every inch was meticulously carved. Not a single reinforcement that wasn’t solid teak. According to the literature, 250 artists were needed to carve it and it still wasn’t complete. All that work, all that time, and the entire structure would one day collapse into a pile of dust, no matter what any human did to bolster it.
Someone snatched her around her waist. She wrenched herself around, thrashing in his grip, until she recognized his face. How could I forget the way this felt?
“Expecting someone else?” He teased, without the silver sparkle. Only wooden structures here.
“You didn’t have to come so soon, I know you’re busy.”
“You said if I wanted. I’m free.”
He stared up at the ornate archway, followed the labyrinth of dragons’ tails and twisting vines, across the ceiling and back towards the entrance. “Of course. Nowhere else I’d be.”
An Exchange of Truth
Closing time encroaches on Thailand’s Sanctuary of Truth and a group tourists, harassed by their guide, hurry through the chambers. They pause beneath an ornate carving of two great statues, listening to handheld translators narrating how the scene was hand carved over several decades. The guide checks her watch and ushers the group along. In the ensuing bustle no one notices a lone individual toward the rear has strayed to the side of the atrium, where he now stands taking closer inspection of the two giant figures carved into the wall. An inscription below announces that for a coin donation any question may be answered.
“The guardians of the truth”, says a voice at his shoulder.
The straggler turns toward a man clothed in Buddhist robes.
“They say one can only speak the truth, while the other tells only lies. The problem is, which is which?”
“Personally, I find it tacky.” The tourist replies. “I don’t believe in superstition. Do you have the document?”
“I’m sure you’re aware of the importance of the information. So you will understand my reluctance to simply hand it over.”
“I thought you were on my side?”
“Which side is that exactly?”
“The good guys.”
“Good, bad…if only it were that simple. Who is right, who is wrong? Sometimes the lines become so blurred I can no longer tell myself. Perhaps that’s why K chose this place for the handover. Ironic, don’t you think?”
“Two men in our line of business, sharing a common truth. Meeting as equals. A truth your government holds to be self-evident, yes? All men being created equal?”
“Some more than others.” The tourist turned from the carvings to face his counterpart. “For someone posed as a man dedicated to a life of faith, you display little trust.”
“Trust is such an emotive word. Besides, trust and faith are two different things entirely. I deal in absolute truth.”
“There is no such thing as absolute truth.” The tourist reached inside his jacket, withdrawing an envelope. “Ten thousand. Unmarked. Is that sufficient truth for you?”
The monk took the envelope, then searching between the folds of his robes handed over a single slip of paper. “This is the information your government seeks.”
The tourist took the parchment. “And no-one else knows about this meeting?”
“Just you and me.”
“We’re on the same side, remember?”
“Some say”, replied the tourist, “the way to recognise truth is to hold it against its opposite.” He took a coin from his pocket, turned and placed it in the slot of the nearest guardian. “If I were to ask the other guardian”, he said aloud, “what would he say?”
Several moments passed. There was a low whirring and a slip of paper ejected from the slot beneath the carved figure. He removed it and read it silently to himself. A thin smile stretched across his lips.
“What does it say?” Asked the man in monks clothing.
The tourist drew a silenced 9mm Sig Sauer from his coat and in a single swift movement brought the barrel to rest against the monk’s temple.
“It says I’m not on your side.”
With Love and Admiration
Alex stood under the intricately carved gateway at the main entrance of the Sanctuary of Truth. Both herself and Morgan had gone to Thailand to see its splendors and the Sanctuary was the pinnacle of their tour together. There was definitely something intrinsically fine about the building, with each whittle unleased showing the sculptor’s skill and creativity, bringing a sense of awe and respect to whomsoever looked upon its beauty. But a worrying cloud of doubt and inquiry hung over the mood inside. It was certainly a great work of achievement on the part of all involved, but was it a ‘truth’? Alex couldn’t move from the thought that this place was nothing but a copy, a rich man’s folly filled with sculptured oddities and cultural adornments of his own design. Nothing here was real except as an object of its own aesthetic pleasing.
Morgan came over and touched Alex’s shoulder for one tender moment, only to disappear once more into the shadows of a mass of mythical figures fashioned from wood. Alex went back to the Naga guards standing over by the stairs. These snake-like female forms were nothing more than an example of the excellent worksmanship of the sculptor and the depth of a pocket. There was no truth in any of it. The website said it used art and culture as a reflection, a mirror of the ancient knowledge and philosophy and there was truth in that, but Alex saw a similarity with Plato’s cave. No matter how elegant the sanctuary looked, it would never rise above the magnificence of the real world some meters away lying under the blanket of the sun.
What was this place but a recepticle to hold all that was dear of the Eastern culture laid down in the mind of one, for the greater duty of his own heritage. There was no supreme categorical imperative at work here; the walls, the carvings stank of heteronomous reason and self interest misunderstood as a semi-educated autonomous motive. This construct was as aestheically pleasing as a masquerade mask with the grotesque self-satisfying ego showing through the facade of a false pride, revealing an empty shell made from paper mountains and shallow rationale.
Alex watched Morgan step from one sculpture to the next in a silent reverence, being completely enthralled by it all. They had come, they had seen, and Morgan was happy. In this alone, Alex found integrity. There was worth in their visit, purpose in their strides. Although tempted to turn and walk away from what she considered an opulent blemish on the face of the Earth, Alex calmed her angered morality of the impurity permeating deep in every grain of wood. Maybe she’d found the truth she had been searching for.
“How do you like it?” asked Morgan.
“I’ve never seen such a place like this before. Thank you for bringing us here, it’s given me a lot to think about.” She smiled and hugged her partner with love and admiration.