The citizens of the small village of J- were known throughout the mountain kingdom for their wretchedness. A feud between two families had ravaged the village for centuries and much blood had been spilled. Stories circulated through other mountain villages of travelers who had themselves been killed in the crossfire between the two warring families. As a result of the endless violence merchants and travelers rarely came to J-. In fact, the villagers were so bloodthirsty and inhospitable that the exact whereabouts of the town are now lost.
One afternoon, only hours after a bloody skirmish ended with the death of the first born sons of both families, an old man came to J-. He walked slowly, leading a tired donkey that carried his provisions and wares. The villagers, bleary eyed, were mechanically cleaning the blood from the cobblestones that lined the ground in the town square where the deadly skirmish had occurred. The old man passed by unnoticed; however he noticed that the villagers wiping the blood away from the cobblestones said nothing to one another. When they did look up, and their eyes met, each scowled and went promptly back to his gruesome deed.
The old man stopped in the middle of the town square where there was a tremendous puddle of blood. He began to feed his donkey some oats from a burlap sack. The villagers began to take notice of the old man, for nobody came to J- except to briskly pass through.
A villager, adorned with a lavish crown, grabbed the old man’s shoulder, startling him.
“See here, can’t you tell you’re standing in a pool of blood?”
The old man looked down at his dirty feet, now dripping with blood.
“I can see where I am standing” said the old man.
“That is my son’s blood! Shed but hours ago!”
“Shed by whom?” inquired the old man softly.
“A blood feud has ravaged this village for centuries. It has pitted family against family. Neighbor against neighbor. And we know not what to do about it. We know not how to end it. And now my son, and my enemy’s son, are dead.”
The old man scratched his long beard and lifted the bag of oats closer to his donkey’s mouth. Out from one of the houses ran another villager, himself also adorned in a lavish crown.
“First you murder my son, now you bring spies into the village to plot against me! I should strike you down right here!” the second man screamed before growing silent upon realizing his feet were dripping in blood.
“Do you want to know how to end this feud?” the old man asked.
Both men exasperatingly, and simultaneously, exclaimed “Yes!”
“You must look into each other’s hearts.”
The two men looked at each other and laughed as heartily they were able given the circumstances. Negotiators had, time and time again, tried to bring the two families together, and this suggestion, that they ‘look into each others hearts’, was one of the most absurd they had ever heard. So they paid no heed to the old man’s suggestion, parted ways, and headed back to their homes, which stood on opposing sides of the town square.
As they were walking, the old man gave a warning “If you will not look into your neighbors heart, your neighbors heart will look into you.” Each of the men heard, but thought nothing of it. The old man pulled his donkey from the pool of blood, and the two shuffled out of the village as slowly and quietly as they had arrived.
The next morning the men and women of J- woke up with their bodies turned inside out, yet they were not dead. They gathered in the town square running about frantically, supporting their hearts and lungs haphazardly with their bloody hands. Some even had carts and wheel barrows to push about their intestines. And for a moment, in that frantic rushing, the town forgot about the feud that had, since time immemorial, been a curse upon them. The villagers could not tell one another apart. They could speak, that was certain, however each voice, while clearly marked as male or female, was uttered with the same grotesque whistle.
Suddenly one of the villagers dropped to the ground dead; his stomach, unsupported all morning, had slipped out of his abdomen and crashed onto the cobblestone ground. Next, his intestines followed with a disgusting gurgle. The town began to check their own stomachs, which, they realized, were also coming apart. But they could not see properly into their own abdomens.
More importantly than the ability to check their stomachs, their heads could not bend downward enough to see into their chests and check on their own slipping hearts. Each member of the town looked into his neighbour’s chest, and, without hesitation, began firming up the organs that were slipping away. Nobody’s hands were fast enough. If, even for a moment, one of the villagers let up, they all would die. And each realized that he could be pushing in his enemy’s entrails, and continuing the beating of his enemy’s heart. And the villagers knew that they were cursed, having not paid heed to the wise old man. So, they wept.
A great bellowing cry arose from the villagers, yet nobody came. The citizens of N-, over the mountain, and all the other mountain villages, assumed another chapter of the blood feud was transpiring and forbade their citizens, for their own safety, to ever again cross the mountain. There are rumors that to this day, the grotesque villagers still stand weeping, while frantically supporting each other’s lungs, livers and hearts, in the cursed town square of the mountain village of J-.