Category Archives: Short Fiction

Coming Attractions

Airplane_on_sky

I missed my flight, and it was my fault.  I am not going to tell you where I was coming from, because I don’t want you trying to find where I wound up. I could tell you not to try, but I know you would not listen. A year from now I’d read about some American tourists  (I’m staring at you) who got in trouble looking for Shang Ri La, like in that sorry De Caprio movie.

Well, back to the story, The lovely young lady at the ticket desk explained in passable English that they could get me home to America, but that I would have to take a round about way to get there, with several intermediate stops in small, unfamiliar (to me that is) airports. I agreed and boarded the plane, and gingerly negotiated the stairs to the cabin after having made friends with the little bar in the passenger lounge.

The first leg of the flight was long and boring, and the stewardess introduced me to a few more friends from her food and beverage cart. We had to stay on the plane at the first stop, as a few souls got on and off. I was in a solitary seat by a window, and was in solitary confinement for all intents and purposes, not knowing the languages of any of my fellow passengers. I made a few more friends on the second leg, and realized I was dozing off as we began our descent into the next step. Well, they’ll wake me if they need to, I thought.

But they didn’t. I woke to humming sound, one that seemed to be approaching me. When I opened my eyes I saw a man in a blue work uniform running a vacuum. He turned it off when he saw me looking at him. I asked him where everyone was, but he did not speak English, and pointed to the jet way. I was not feeling that well, and a little panicked that I might have missed a change in my connection. I squeezed by him, patting my pockets as I went to make sure I did not leave behind my phone, tickets or wallet.

When I got into the terminal, I went straight to the ticket desk.  My sole piece of luggage was right next to it. The kind young man explained in fluent English that there was a mechanical problem with the flight, and that it would not leave till tomorrow morning. The small city had several nearby hotels, and the other passengers had already dispersed to them. He gave me directions and wished me a good night.

The hotel was a few blocks away, and I decided to walk. The little city was exceptionally picturesque, but I can’t really describe it to you, and I never thought to snap any pictures. I was still a little boozy, and not sure I followed the directions correctly. I arrived at the hotel,  or at least, a hotel. A beautiful young woman at the desk checked me in, but told me it would be a few hours before my room was ready. She suggested a few restaurants and cultural sights to keep me busy. I thanked her and walked back out into a sunny, blue sky afternoon.

On my way to a restaurant I came across a grand looking museum, a combination of Beaux Arts and some other style I could not place. It was open, and I ducked in, not quite catching the name on the door. I realized it was an art museum once I stepped into the grand foyer. A tour group of elderly people was gathered around a guide, and I learned that they were just about to enter an exhibit. Miracle of miracles, it was a group of American and English tourists, and I decided to stow away with the group. I grabbed a program and held it in from of my face, trying to blend in as best I could near the back. The sign over the exhibit entrance said: The Fullness of Time.

We made our way into the first gallery, and the guide described the very large painting on the main wall:

“This is The Repentance of Judas, which was jointly painted by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci during their early, collaborative period.”

I did a double take.  While I was no art historian, I knew Michelangelo and Da Vinci hated each other, and could not imagine that they had ever worked together. Was this some kind of alternative art show?

“Michelangelo modeled himself for Judas, and Leonardo painted himself as Peter” the guide droned on. The painting was of the Last Supper, in particular the scene where Christ was washing feet of the Apostles. Jesus was as stripped to the waist, and kneeling on the floor. Judas was on the floor too, crouched down, and his arms about Jesus’ waist. His faced was buried in Jesus’ abdomen, and you could only see the back of the head.

“The bowl of water has been tipped over, and has soaked Judas’ robe, perhaps suggesting a second baptism,” the guide continued. The expression on Jesus face was ineffable joy.

After a few minutes, the guide led us over to the next painting on the opposite wall.

“Here we have The Prayer in the Garden. This was painted by Donatello. It shows the Lord,  Peter, James and John seated in a square, each holding the hand of the person  on each side of them,” the guide stated.   The four men looked completely at peace, and there was a faint smile about Jesus’ mouth.

It got stranger after that. The next one was called The Honor Guard, by Titian, and showed a group of Roman soldiers and Temple guards escorting Jesus and the Apostles from the Garden of Gethsemane. I looked about, waiting for someone to laugh, ask a question or object. Were they just too polite?

The group moved on from room to room. I’ll only describe two more of the sequence of paintings. The most memorable the guide called, The Coronation in the Temple. It depicts Jesus in Herod’s Temple, standing outside the Holy of Holies. The Temple Veil billows out around him, as if a strong wind from within the Holy of Holies has issued from it. The High Priest and the Sanhedrin kneel before him.

The last was the The Two Crowns, allegedly by Rembrandt. It showed Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas, at the Antonia Fortress, kneeling before Jesus. Their laurel and gold crowns are at his feet. Roman soldiers salute Christ with raised palm leaves.

I could take no more of this, and raised my hand.

“Yes?” the guide asked.

“All right, I was a late addition to the tour, but what exactly is going on here.  None of these events actually happened in the Bible. And Michelangelo and Da Vinci certainly never painted a picture together.   I’m no stranger to experimental art, but you cannot completely make things up. These other tourists may not get whatever joke you are playing here.”

“They are not tourists. This is their new home. But I think you may be a tourist. And perhaps with the wrong tour at that.” He walked towards me.

“What?”

He stood before me, and looked into my eyes.

“You have been misplaced, haven’t you?” He looked over my shoulder, as if summoning someone.

“Just where am I then?” I asked.

The guide smiled, talking slowly and clearly, as if I was a child, “You are where the fullness of time meets all things new. But it is not your time yet. See you later,” he said, tilting his head ever so slightly, and I fell asleep.

When I woke, I was back on the plane, descending for my final connection before home. Everyone about me acted as if things were normal, and no one mentioned an extended layover at the last stop. I even asked the stewardess about the mechanical failure, but she did not understand me.

As we landed and taxied, I talked myself into accepting that I had experienced a bizarre dream.  As I rose from my seat to deplane, I went through my ritual of patting my pockets, making sure I had lost nothing. I felt something in my shirt pocket I did not recognize, and pulled out a piece of paper. It was a museum ticket, a little rectangle of heavy, pure white, paper, on which was written, “The Fullness of Time.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Seven Nights of Man

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At the time that had been allowed to them, a council of the great and wise gathered, arriving from far and wide on their black chargers. They ascended the ancient tower that had been built over the centuries by those who they neither honored nor remembered. Seven men in ash grey robes sat at a table and looked out over the world, contemplating their power and its limits. After an indeterminate period, one spoke.

“Are we not like gods?” the mightiest asked.

“We are,” the others replied.

“Then let us make our own creation,” he said.

“But what of the original? We are a fly in amber,” the least of them asked.

“We must destroy the old to create the new,” the leader mused. “We will work backwards.”

“And we will work at night by our own light.”

They chanted:

By our own light,

We work at night.

 

The First Night

During the first night, that very night, they delivered a dream to man.

You are free. You do not need to remember the Sabbath or keep it holy. Do as you will.

And the people accepted the dream, and did not remember the Sabbath. They worked hard, and built much.

But they had no rest.

The people cried out in their sleep from weariness, and they seven took up a soothing chant to keep them asleep.

By our own light,

We work at night.

And you will have no rest.

 

The Second Night

On the second night the great ones enjoyed a feeling of satisfaction as they admired what had been built.

What now?, they asked the strongest.

He spoke: “Woman, the pinnacle of creation. Let us remake her in man’s image. Her desire will be as ours and we will have harmony.”

“Agreed, let us remake her in man’s image,” they replied.

And so they put Woman into a deep sleep during the second night.

They knelt and crouched around her. The leader opened her side, and pulled piece after piece from her, all her differences, and laid them on the ground.

Where is the rib?” the others asked, looking down at the bloody mess.

“I cannot find it. But she has been changed,” the leader replied.

They closed her up and woke her.

“Sister! You are like us now. Come away from your hearth and the well. Join us in our councils.”

And the woman joined them, donning a grey robe.

But they had no help. Because no water was drawn, they had no wine. The weakest of them took ill and died from thirst in the night.

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” the Woman asked, looking down at him. “You are not,” they replied.

They took his body and threw it down from the tower, and the dogs feasted on his flesh.

The people cried out in the dream from their thirst and cold.

The council began a new chant:

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

 

The Third Night

Before the third night, they convened again. Their leader spoke, “Man holds himself above all other living things of the world. Let us heal this wound by abolishing this division. Let man know that he is just another animal.”

And so they sent a dream to man, that he was just another animal. And the people believed and began to take on the form of beasts like pigs, hyenas and wolves, and even more fantastic creatures such as satyrs, nymphs, and trolls.

Many moaned in fear in their dreams, but the council spoke soothingly to them, reminding them that they were just animals, and to do what felt natural. And so they did, and beasts walked the earth on two legs and preyed on each other to satisfy their appetites. But they had no joy, and the dreaming people cried in sadness.

A new chant came down from the tower.

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

You will have no joy.

 

The Fourth Night

At the dusk of the fourth night, the leader looked up at the night sky from the top of the tower, taking in the setting sun, the rising moon and the emerging stars.

“Man looks up he sees a marvelous tapestry that he is a part of. This rootedness make him inflexible. We must teach him that this is an illusion, and that he must never ask why there is something instead of nothing. It just is.”

And so they sent man a dream that robbed him of the rhythm of time and a feeling of place in the universe. The sun, moon and stars were there by chance, and no hand held the tiller of the universe.

And they had no hope. The great ones chanted anew, almost cruelly that night.

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

You will have no joy.

You will have no hope.

 

The Fifth Night

At the beginning of the fifth night, the council surveyed the lands that surrounded the tower. Over many years man had brought the land under this dominion, and made it fruitful.

The leader spoke: “Let us build a wall between man and the land. He ruins and degrades it. At the same time, its beauty distracts him from our designs. His  toil makes him hardy and contrary to our purpose.

And so they built a wall between the land and man in the dream. Man never lingered in the wild places and wondered at the whisper on the wind or the faces in the clouds. He never toiled to bring forth a harvest from the land, and forget how to gather in the harvest in his home.

And so he bore no fruit. And the people cried out in their dream as their lives became dull and empty.

The council chanted long that night until the people slept once more.

By our own light,

We work at night.

You will have no rest.

You will have no help

You will have no joy.

You will have no hope.

You will bear no fruit.

 

The Sixth Night

The sixth night arrived, and the leader of the council was uneasy. He sensed the others chafed under his rule. But was he not a god, and the greatest among them? So secure in his power was he that he spoke the fatal words before they were even written on the wall.

“Why must the sky be above and the waters below? This hierarchy frustrates our plans and deprives man of his potential. Let us send man a dream to banish all law and distinction. When the last firmament has fallen we will build our new utopia.”

The rest of the council agreed, and they sent men a dream of chaos.

And they had no peace.

The people cried out in their sleep, and began to stir in fright.

The leader waited, but no chant began.

“Well, begin!” he commanded.

There is no order anymore brother, we do not take orders from you. We will make our own chant.”

“I am the greatest!” he roared.

No, you are alone,” they replied. They dragged him down and killed him with their own hands. Then they threw his bloody body from the tower into the rocks below.

The great ones offered no soothing chant that night. They could not agree on one, and squabbled among themselves, sometimes even coming to blows. The people grew restless in their sleep, and began to thrash about. A new chant came unbidden from their lips.

We have no rest

We have no help

We have no joy

We have no hope

We bear no fruit

We have no peace

Where is the light?

 

The Seventh Night

The last night had arrived. The moon rose, and the great ones howled at it. Clouds blocked the moon, and the remaining starlight marooned them in a grey and dreary nightscape.  One of them would stir from time to time as if to speak, but said nothing.

One, it was hard to tell them apart now, finally spoke with great effort: “Is it not better this way?  I can no longer see our brother’s blood on our robes. Nor can I see his body on the rocks below.”

Another said: “Without the light to see by, man will need us even more. How can one tell blood from water in the dark? The chant is all they will know.”

They agreed, and prepared a dream to banish the light forever. The began to work. It was hard, as their riot of thought struggled to form the new and final dream, but finally a terrible vortex began to swirl around them.

At that moment, a strong voice broke in, coming from everywhere it seemed. It spoke to the great ones and sleepers alike.

“These seven nights have all been a dream. It is not good, true or beautiful. Therefore it is not real. And it is time to wake, once and for all. LET THERE BE LIGHT!

The people woke from their dream and sang a very different song from the chant that had troubled their sleep. It cannot be truly conveyed in words, but and they best I can write is this:

By your holy light,

There is no more night.

We may rest from our labors

We have help for every need

We have joy overflowing

Our every hope is fulfilled

The fruit has ripened and the harvest has been gathered

We have peace forevermore 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

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Sadie Hawkins Dance

Public domain image, royalty free stock photo from www.public-domain-image.com

 

Scene 1 

A woman walks down a sidewalk at dusk. She recites the ditty in her head: St. Anne, St. Anne, send me a man. Her red hair is pulled back in a ponytail, and it bounces to the beat of  her long legged stride.

 

Scene 2

“Here we are, doing the same thing we do every Friday night,” Bill said. He looked over his friends, munching on party mix and measuring the last of the beer before them. They looked around the bar for the 100th time, weighing their options, and finding their feet too heavy to move every time.

“I’m done,” Steve said as he put his empty glass down.

Bill signaled for the check, it was his turn to pay.

“Off to my fortress of solitude,” Chris said as he zipped up his jacket.

“Well, maybe some chick will show up and sweep you off your feet on your way home,” Bill said.

“From your lips to God’s ear,” Chris snorted as he made his way past Bill and to the door.

A few fist bumps later, Bill was by himself. He watched the ESPN highlights one more time, signed the check, and tucked a tip under his beer glass.

At the other end of the bar, two women sat watching him. “I can’t believe you are wearing that,” the petite one said to her companion while sipping her Chardonnay.

“It beats spelling it.”  Her friend was wearing a name necklace that announced S C H O L A S T I C A in gold letters.

“I think he’s about to go,” she said, sliding the baseball cap onto her head.

“Nope, its just about to rain. Got your umbrella?”

“Check. Thanks for the assist.”

“What are wingmen for? Go get him, J-girl.”

“Do not call me that!” she replied,  flinging up one hand as she strode away.

 

Bill stopped at the door as the rain came down. He rubbed his eyes, and thought about sitting down at the bar for one more drink. He felt a tap at his elbow, and turned to look.

“Forget your umbrella?” a woman asked.  Her blue eyes looked up at him from under the brim of a baseball cap. She was wearing a bomber jacket and jeans.

“I did.”

“I have a deal for you. I’m leaving, but I’d rather not walk alone. You can share my very large umbrella if you tag along.”

“I must look trustworthy,” Bill said.

“You were hanging out with a bunch of normal looking guys, and I saw you pay the check. So I don’t think you’re a sociopath. I’m Jay by the way.”

He laughed. “That’s the best line I heard all night. I’m Bill.” He nodded and opened the door for her.

They walked down the sidewalk in the steady rain, chit chatting about sports and weather. Bill held the large umbrella over them, and it kept them dry for the most part. At a don’t walk signal they ducked into a bus shelter to wait out the cycle. Bill pulled a pack out of his coat, and before he lit the cigarette, looked at her. “Do you mind the smoke?”

“Go ahead, it doesn’t bother me.”

Bill lit the cigarette.

“Where did you serve?” Jay asked him.

He turned his head to look at her, “Does it show?”

“I’m a veteran. I can tell.”

“I was all over. You?”

“Europe,” she replied.  By unspoken agreement, they allowed that thread of the conversation to die a natural death.

“I saw you and your crew check us out a few times. How come no one came over?” Jay asked.  The walk light came on, and they crossed the street.

Bill turned to look at her as they walked, and turned forward again.

“I can’t speak for my friends, but I think its the bachelor’s life for me.”

“Really?”

“My parents are divorced …  half my friends are divorced. Irreconcilable differences, I have become familiar with the phrase second and third hand, and I’ve decided never first hand either.”

“Irreconcilable differences,” Jay enunciated, with a certain distaste.  “I hate that the lawyers stole that. Aren’t the differences between men and women meant to be irreconcilable? If there weren’t any differences, physical and otherwise, would you still want a woman?”

“Well … no. But, there is still too much drama for me. The army was very ordered, I think that’s why I stayed in so long. A big difference from my home life.”

“Ah, but its supposed to be dramatic.  If you aren’t crying or angry some of the time, you aren’t trying hard enough.  A favorite actress of mine once said …  how did it go, ‘When a man and a woman see each other and like each other they ought to come together – wham! Like a couple of taxis on Broadway, not sit around analyzing each other like two specimens in a bottle,'” she said, clapping her hands on the ‘wham.’

“I’m not an actor.”

“Bill!” she said laughing, putting her arm through his as they walked, “You don’t have to be dramatic. She doesn’t have to be dramatic either, and if she is, you gotta coolly call her on it, as I’m sure you know how.  Drama is what life is going to give you, single or married. Wouldn’t you rather share the drama with someone?”

“Someone like you? Do you have a sister?” he teased.

“Oh, I have more than you would guess,” she replied. “But here’s my stop,” she said, pointing at the side entrance of a church, St. Joan of Arc. The rain was tailing off, and he handed the umbrella to her, not quite sure what to say next.

“I’m here every Sunday. Maybe will see each other?” Jay smiled, and headed up the steps.

“Maybe,” Bill replied, and after a salute (which she returned) turned and walked off into the night. Your lips to God’s ear … right, he thought to himself.

 

Scene 3

The next Sunday Bill found himself at Mass at St. Joan of Arc. He took a seat on the end of a pew, about half way to the front. A safe and unobtrusive distance, one unlikely to draw attention. The service was filling up, so he slid over to make room for others that might arrive.  He looked around, scanning for Jay in way he hoped wasn’t too obvious.

Out of the corner of his eye he felt someone slide in next to him and kneel. He looked over to see a tall red-head with her hair in a ponytail.  She turned to look, and and gave him a quick smile as she started to pray. His gaze was caught by something shiny around her neck.  It was a gold name necklace that spelled J O A N.

 

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The Finding of the Lost Sleep

ocean swells

He walked down the path that led to the sea. Every few paces he plucked the bright white wool from the rosebushes that lined the way. Each piece went into the sack, which bulged with the blazing stuff. It had been a long day, and he was ready to sleep.

At last, the sea! Would every meeting be such a thrill? The red orb had slipped under, and twilight greeted him as he arrived at the shore. He saw the man in the distance beneath a large fig tree, poking at the embers of the fire before him. The pile of kindling, which had been burning all day, had been reduced to ashes and a few branches. The man beckoned, and he stepped lightly toward him.

As he approached, he tied the end of the sack closed, and knelt.

“Did you find them all?” the man asked softly.

“Every slain hour … “the walker replied.

“… minute and second. For my time is now your time,” the man finished.

Perspective shifted, and it was I that held out the sack turned pillow to him. “You never had a place to rest your head.”

The man looked at me and smiled. “I thank you.” He placed it behind his head and leaned back against the broad trunk of the tree, and then looked out over the waters.

“We will cross tomorrow. You may look upon the foundations 0f the sea and sky if you wish.” He turned to me, “Many are waiting for you on the far shore.”

I took a turn prodding the smoldering pile. “I think my fear is nearly gone.”

“But first you must rest.”

I leaned back against him, and looked out to follow his gaze. His hand rested on my shoulder, and I was jealous of my namesake no longer. The swells arrived in time to the rising and falling of his chest, and this was right, for was he not the heart of the world?

Drifting and drifting, my eyes closed at last, and at the end of the first day I slept. It would last as long as it needed to. By the morning the last of the kindling would be gone, and the wind would have carried the ashes away.

 

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The Bride

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The makeup artist paused, brush in hand, while she looked at the bride. It was an unusual request, she thought to herself, but, whatever pays the bills.  The bride was good at keeping still, so this would be over soon.

 

“She always did have a great sense of humor,” Bill sighed.

“Wicked, you might say,” Steve replied.

They gazed at Sgt. Stephanie Smith. She had come back on her shield this time, and wore two more on each shoulder. They weren’t the red, white and blue, but the subdued green and black flags of her camouflage fatigues. Her face had been painted to match by the makeup artist, and her hair neatly tucked into a bun.

“I don’t get it. Why this?” Lisa gestured at the woman in the casket. Lisa was Steve’s new wife and Stephanie’s sister in law.

“Steph liked the old Irish saying, ‘May you be in Heaven a full hour before the Devil knows your dead.’  In her letter, Steph joked she was late for everything, but that the camo was her insurance against getting caught by the Devil. Or ‘evade and escape’ as she might say.”

Bill, her father, continued: “She also wasn’t too sure she could get into the other place either. She wrote it might help her ‘infiltrate’ heaven.”

I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. She won’t mind getting caught,” Steve said.

“She won’t. I was always here to welcome her home. Next time I see her, she’ll be welcoming me home,” Bill replied.

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The Golden Lamb

Mask_of_Agamemnon2

Rage—Goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
murderous, doomed, that cost the Achaeans countless losses,
hurling down to the House of Death so many sturdy souls,
great fighters’ souls, but made their bodies carrion,
feasts for the dogs and birds,
and the will of Zeus was moving toward its end …

“No!” He sat up, the dream chant still echoing behind his eyes. He reached to his side, but did not find her. He wiped his face and dried his hand on the bed.  He swung his legs to the floor, and tried to stand, but could not. Breathing in and out, he pulled the blanket to him and rubbed his chest and back. His feet grew warm, and he tried once more to stand, and was successful.

A full moon shone through a window, and he pulled on his tunic in its spotlight. The light dimmed, and he looked at the window. A shadow stood there, silent and still.

“Who are you, shade?”

“Father, is that you?”

A tree rustled outside, and a lick of cold air snuck in, dispersing the shadow and chilling his legs. The spotlight returned.

King Agamemnon wiped his forehead again and called for his servant. He stepped over to the window and looked out at the stars, counting them as best he could.

Achilles, Hector, Ajax, Paris, Priam,  Astyanax, Cassandra, Polyxena, Clytemnestra… The names moaned in his mind.

“My king?” His servant interrupted, bringing him back from the dream.

“Attendant, fetch my brother. Have him meet me at the shrine.” He pulled his cloak tight about his shoulders and walked off into the darkness.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

“A king is not to be fetched, brother king.” Menelaus yawned as he approached.

“Thank you for coming anyway.” Agamemnon was staring at a lump of misshapen rock in the corner of the shrine.

“Which one is that for?” his brother gestured. The rock bore neither the name nor the likeness of any of the twelve Olympians.

“Nobody we know,” Agamemnon answered softly, and finally turned to face him. “Brother, I am having second thoughts about the morning’s planned festivities.”

All sleep fled from Menelaus, and he squinted at his brother. “Are you mad?  They will kill you if you do not go through with it.”

“I may be wed to madness now. I will die anyway if we do it.”

“What?”

Agamemnon put his hands on his brother’s shoulders, and looked into his eyes. “I have been sent a dream. Whether by Morpheus, Moros, or Phobetor I know not. But I do know what is going to happen if we proceed.”

“But the oath?” You swore it.”

“I know you want your wife back. I want her back too.  You may find me mad, but you will listen to me first.  Assemble the captains and kings in the meeting room. Wake them if you have too.”

Menelaus left, and Agamemnon followed a few moments later.

 

♦ ♦ ♦

“Just what are you up to, laddybuck?” the white bearded man asked.

Agamemnon had stepped into a high ceilinged chamber when he left the shrine. Smoke wafted through the air, and his eyes watered. He looked about the strange room, and saw that there was no exit.

A large, white bearded man sat on a throne before him. Many women sat, stood or lounged about it. It was hard not to look at them, but even harder not to look at the man on the throne.

The god slapped his knee and pointed at him.  “Your father Atreus promised my daughter a golden lamb, and he weaseled out of the bargain.  Artemis has not forgiven the debt.” He gestured to the young woman sitting in the corner, holding a bow a cross her knees. She glared at Agamemnon.

“And now its time to pay?” he responded.

“The sins of the fathers are visited on the sons.” Zeus replied with a grin. “And remember, you all swore the oath about Helen. Bad things happen to those who break their promises,” he wagged his finger at him.

“Bad things?  I already know what will happen, god.  Most of us will die anyway, and the fire we start in Troy will spread around the world and come home to swallow my people.  I want no legacy of ashes.”

Zeus sat back, and raised his hand. The women about him froze. “Listen here, king. I will let you in on a secret that no one else knows.  I’m the one who started this little game.   There are too many people in the world right now. You Greeks, Trojans, Hittites, and Egyptians are all rubbing elbows. You’ve had it too good for too long, and its time to thin the herd.   There is not enough land or food to keep you all alive. War is inevitable.   You have to think about the environment after all.”

“The what?”

Zeus sighed.  “The word has not been invented  yet, wrong century.” He stood up, and stepped down from the dais to approach him. Agamemnon found himself backing up without even willing it.  He was a very tall man, but came only to the god’s shoulders.

A golden apple appeared in Zeus’s hands. He started juggling it, and there were now three apples rapidly rising and falling in front of him. The women began to move again, and whispered and smirked, sharing knowing glances that excluded him from their company.

Zeus started talking again, not even bothering to watch the apples that blurred in front of him.  “I see I have underestimated you. But I am not an unreasonable god.”

“I can make you king of the world. My Athena can teach you what you need to know.  You will not rule forever, but nobody does.  And your name will never die.” One of the apples flew to a grey eyed woman’s hands. She stepped forward, holding it out to Agamemnon.

“I find I have grown content with my little kingdom. I must decline, my lady,” Agamemnon said and bowed to her.

Zeus spoke again. “A true family man after all? A child can be replaced. Your woman is getting on in years, but Hera can make sure she conceives another.  She can even find you a fresh young concubine so you can start a whole new brood.” The second apple flew to a stern woman, and she thrust it out to him, her eyes daring him to refuse her.

“I love the pearl I already have, and would not trade it for another.” Agamemnon bowed again and backed away, but found his back brushing stone now.

Zeus was gripping the last apple.  “I see. You are jealous of your brother.  You are the elder, after all. Helen should have been yours.  But she has already been awarded to Paris, and even I cannot go back on that deal. After all, nobody would trust us if we broke that arrangement.”

“But I can offer one better.” The last apple flew to Aphrodite, who sauntered forward to stand at Agamemnon’s side. “You mortals all want to lie with a goddess. My daughter can be yours for a season or two,” Zeus leered now. She put her hand on the king’s shoulder.

Agamemnon edged away along the wall, almost tripping over his own feet. “I am most unworthy of that honor. I would not insult your daughter in such a way … I am sure she would find my touch offensive.”

Zeus closed in. “Nonsense, she’ll do what I tell her, everybody does. And I always get my way, especially with women.”

And Zeus’s arm was suddenly on his shoulders, hot, heavy and writhing. The god’s mouth was close to his ear. “You’ve impressed me laddybuck, you are a tough old nut. But I will have a yes from you, one way or another.”  Agamemnon sank to his knees, and the smoke seemed thicker now. He started to cough, and crawled towards the nearest corner.

The heavy footsteps followed him. “You aren’t going anywhere little king. If you don’t agree, I’ll just kill you now and your brother will do the job for me in the morning.”

Agamemnon looked up, and saw the shadowy form in the corner through his watery eyes. “Father?” He gasped for air and held out his hand to the presence.

Zeus saw it too, and stopped his pursuit. “You are too early, stranger! I am not done with my fun and games,” his voice rose, almost shrill. “I am -”

And Agamemnon found himself in the hall, alone now. He sucked cool air into his lungs, and rolled onto his back and closed his eyes.

His attendant found him there some time later, and shook his shoulder. “My King!”

Agamemnon opened his eyes, “Yes?”

“Your brother has assembled the men in the meeting room as you asked. He sent me to find you.”

“Help me up.”

The two men made their way to the meeting. They were not pleased to see him. Some were sleepy, others drunk, and many annoyed at being pulled away from their lover’s arms. Agamemnon began to talk. There was silence at first, then laughter, next angry words, and then stunned silence again. His brother had brought a few guards, and he wasn’t sure if it was their swords that kept the peace, or his voice.

 

 ♦ ♦ ♦

It was a very beautiful morning. The sky was blue, and there were just a few clouds floating in the still air. Agamemnon had not slept at all, but he was not tired. He had a cup of wine with his morning bread, and made his way to the gathering place. A crowd had formed, and it stretched up the path to the altar. He could see Calchas up there at the top.

He saw his two eldest daughters at the foot of the steps and went to them. Iphigenia was beautiful in her spotless white gown. Electra stood beside her in gray, her face ashen. He had roused Electra after last night’s meeting, and explained what was going to happen.

“Where is your mother and the rest?”

Electra spoke, “She would not come. Your son and other daughter are with her.”

There is no more time, Agamemnon thought.  “You will have to explain it to her then. Goodbye,” and he hugged her. She was the middle daughter, but the strongest, and he was not surprised by the strength which hugged him back.

Iphigenia looked at them in confusion. “Father, what is happening?  I am ready for this.”

He now pulled her to him, and gently caressed her head. She pulled back and looked up at him, a question in her eyes.

“Is this the face that stopped a thousand ships?  Dear daughter, give your old father a kiss before he goes.”

Understanding leapt from Iphigenia’s eyes. “No father, we need the wind. You and uncle must fulfill your oaths!”

“The oath will be honored, and I think we will have the wind today. I have done the gods one better I think. Your sister will explain what you need to do after.” He kissed her on the forehead and turned and went to his brother. Someone began to cry behind him, and he willed himself not to look back to see which it was.

Menelaus looked at him. He was armed today.  “Are you ready?”

“I am. Walk me up, brother.”

They started the climb, and there was a murmur from the crowd which seemed to grow with each step. Most of them were expecting something different.

He was about halfway up when a shape broke from the side of the path. He felt a warmth slide between his ribs, and he fell. Someone kicked him in the face, shattering his nose. Blood poured down his face, and he reached for the wound in his side.

There was a cacophony of shouting, and he sensed a crowd of bodies surging about him. Someone tripped and fell on Agamemnon’s back, knocking the wind from his lungs.

The noise receded, and he felt himself being rolled over, and pulled into a sitting position. He opened his eyes, wiped away the blood, and saw his brother, his sword out and face red.

“You too, Menelaus?”

“Not me, stupid, it was big Ajax,” he inclined his head to the left.

The big warrior was down on ground. Achilles knelt over him, and held a knife to Ajax’s throat.

“There is to be no killing. Tell Achilles to let him go after it is over.”

“As you wish, my king,” his voice cracked.  “Can you stand?”

“Help me up,” Agamemnon asked, and Menelaus did. Agamemnon had always been stronger, but he could not have gotten up without his brother’s help just now. As they walked up he remembered them as children, chopping the wildflowers with their little wooden swords while they were in exile.

At last they reached the top. Calchas stood there, shaking like a leaf, his lips set in a tight line. He spoke,”King Agamemnon, this is not the sacrifice that was called for.”

He was too weary to reply, and sat on the altar. Menelaus spoke for him, “You will do it, you old buzzard, or else you may find yourself stretched out.”

He lay back on the stone and looked up at the sky. There was a solitary white cloud high above him, not moving at all. A shadow blocked out the sun then, and he felt a momentary chill at his neck.  The cloud began to move, and rushed towards him as his hair was ruffled by a sudden breeze.  It is a far better thing I do … he thought as he faded away.

♦ ♦ ♦

The lone ship sailed east, pulled along by a strong wind. The embassy was gathered in the covered stern, and they watched Aulis recede in the distance. The oarsmen were hard at work, but were oddly light hearted and traded jokes as they pulled.

In addition to the oarsmen, it was decided that the embassy to the Trojans would be composed of twelve people. It seemed appropriate, given the twelve Olympians they were defying.  The odds would be even. It had fallen to Iphigenia to choose them. In addition to herself, she had selected Electra, Menelaus, Odysseus, Nestor, Diomedes, Idomeneus, Big Ajax, Little Ajax, Philoctetes, Achilles, and Calchas.

Nestor smiled and turned away from the view, “They will write a great song about this. Twelve Against Troy, perhaps?

Calchas fiddled with the hem of his robe. He had not wanted to come, and had been carried aboard by Big Ajax like a sack of grain. “Princess, how can we hope to prevail against the gods?  The wind sign is impressive, but what the gods give with one hand, they often take away with the other.”

Iphigenia sighed, “There are more wonders in heaven and earth than dreamt of in your philosophies, Calchas. My father was given this knowledge before his end. We have a friend we do not know.”  Iphigenia, though only sixteen, seemed as if she had aged ten years overnight. They had accidentally addressed her as “Queen” a few times already today.

She looked down to the other end of the ship, where Big Ajax kept a lookout. His bruised face was grim, and he had avoided her eyes since the day. She would need to have a long talk with him soon.

“Spring came early this year,” Electra interrupted. The formerly stoic daughter of Agamemnon had been given to fits of laughing and crying in the last few days. She was calm now, and stared out across the sea at Aulis.

A box was at her feet, and Odysseus was carefully packing an urn inside. He stuffed straw around it to protect it from breaking.

She had already told them what it contained. “It is my dowry for King Priam. My father’s ashes are inside, and they have purchased the life of Priam’s children. No father could refuse such a gift.”

Menelaus spoke then. “Princess, if you were not my niece I would marry you myself.  But what of Paris, he is a shallow fellow. How are you going to pry him away from Helen? Priam may listen, but what of his son?”

“I have a song for him, and I think it will open his heart, if not his ears. The words have come to me from above.  I think you need to hear it too, uncle. You must forgive her after all. She will be coming back with us.”

Menelaus looked away over the sea when she said that.

“Are you ready, scribe?”

Achilles sat next to Iphigenia, holding a wax tablet, stylus in hand. “I am,” he replied.  When she told them they would take no weapons on this voyage, the son of Peleus had gaped at her, and then laughed. But what greater glory than taking a city unarmed he thought.

And as the ship sailed out of sight of land, she began to speak:

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
 therefore virgins love you.
Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers …

 

P.S. What if they gave a war, and nobody came?

And for any real writers out there who may be reading this, if you ever want to try a mash up novel, just remember that you can write about things other than zombies and the children of the night. What sweet music you might make…

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The Envelope, Please

The_Crow_and_the_Pitcher

 

Lucius and Marcellus looked up at the tiny disc of light from the bottom of the well. It was very dark down there, and the cold water was about their ankles. The sides of the well were slick, and there was no way to climb out.  They had already tried several times and failed. There was certainly no ladder to be had.

Lucius was leaning against the side of the well, his fingers threaded and resting on his head. Lucius lowered his hands and looked at his friend, “Do you remember the story of the crow and the pitcher?”

Marcellus replied, “I think so, … where are you going with this?”

“We cannot climb out, but maybe we can rise just the same. I have an idea,” Lucius replied, and snapped his fingers.

A large white envelope appeared in his hand, and Lucius opened it.

“What are you going to do with that?” Marcellus asked.

“I am going to lighten the load, so to speak. First, I’m going to enclose my complaint about being down here.” Lucius concentrated for a moment, and the envelope swelled in size, and became so big so quickly that it slipped from his hands into the water with a giant splash.  The level of the water rose up to their armpits as the envelope sank.

“Uh, Lucius, I am not so sure this is a good idea,” Marcellus said, looking down a bit nervously.

“Patience, friend.” Lucius whistled this time, and a second envelope appeared in his hand. “Now, I am going to deposit my doubts about the efficacy of the method.” Again, the envelope swelled, and Lucius cast it on the water, and it quickly sank. The water rose again, and now they were floating. They were closer, however slightly, to the light.

“Lucius, I can’t tread water forever,” Marcellus gasped. He was rather out of shape after all.

“Stop fighting it, just roll on your back and relax,” Lucius replied, taking the new position. Marcellus did, and stretched his arms away from his sides, and began to breath in and out slowly.

“Ok, your turn, Marcellus.”

Marcellus closed his eyes, and an instant later an envelope appeared between his clenched teeth.

“Mmmm, mmmf, hffmmf, mmelf, hrmm, mrmm.”

“What? Speak up Marcellus!” Lucius laughed.

He spit out the envelope, which sank like a stone. “I said, I put inside my question about why I am the way that I am. The one that’s been bugging me all my life. You know what I mean, Lucius.”

“I do. Well done, friend.  I think the water level rose a lot with that one.” And it was true, the light at the top of the well was noticeably bigger.

“Why is this working?” Marcellus asked.

“We bring a lot of self-centered questions, doubts and complaints to our contemplation of the light. Its not wrong that we do that. But after we’ve raised them,  we need to hand them over once and for all. If you don’t, its like walking around with a big armful of packages that you never set down. You can’t see where you are going.”

Lucius continued. “He will answer our questions and complaints at the time of his choosing. If we keep complaining about the same thing over and over, doesn’t that show a lack of trust? There’s nothing wrong with his hearing. And there’s lots of other things to talk about … giving thanks … other people.”

The two friends took turns after that, summoning an envelope and enclosing old questions, doubts and complaints, and then letting them go. With each one, the water rose higher, and before long they reached the top of the well. They climbed out, Lucius helping the weaker Marcellus to dry land.

The light was very bright up here, and the surroundings were beautiful.

“And we can contemplate this view for as long as we live?” Marcellus asked.

“We can. We just have to keep the weight off, or we might slip back in.”

“Remind me, Lucius, how did the story of the crow and the pitcher end?”

“When the water reached the top, the crow drank until he was full. And I’d like to think he was never thirsty again.”

 

 

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Ageless Wonder

512px-Bouguereau_The_Virgin_With_Angels

 

When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

John 19:27

She watched the sun going down through the small window of her home.  It was on the edge of a hill, and she loved the view it gifted her. She did not go outside much anymore, at least not when others were near. She had been like a mother to his followers, all of them younger than her. As time stretched out, they aged, and those that survived came to look more like her own father and uncles.

They had moved away some years ago. Her unchanging image would have been a distraction, a stumbling block for some, or a cause of idolatry for others. She rarely saw them anymore, the ones who had prayed with her in the upper room on that singular night. Stephen and James had departed so soon, and the rest had dispersed in accord with their own missions. Only his best friend kept her company now.

She had returned the stolen fruit, the very apple of his Father’s eye, to the world.  And as she had been conceived without sin, and did not sin, its ravages had no claim to her flesh.  As the new Eve, she was graced with all the gifts our ultimate mother and father had been given, but lost.  Her son, the new Adam, had exercised sovereignty over the natural world as the first Adam had done. The fish, waters, storms and flesh obeyed the one who was perfectly obedient to the Father, and thus knew the true name of every created thing.

In her humility, she never actively exercised the same authority that the old Eve had lost. She honored the gifts by not using them. And she endured, cloistered in this little house, unchanging, a model for many who would follow her.

In the growing shadows she could see the friend coming up the path, slowly now. The one who raced ahead now could only walk, and he would have to abide alone for some time. It would soon be time to lay down her life, not as payment for sin, but to make way for the next phase of his mission. She turned away from the window to prepare the evening meal because, after all, her son was coming home, and a mother’s work is never done.

 

 

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Water’s Edge

Jack walked down the hill to the stream to fetch some water.  It was dark, but starlight showed him the path. As he walked along he was troubled in his heart, for the foe they faced tomorrow was strong. But he resolved to obey.  He arrived at the stream and tried to push his fear away, and turned to the task at hand. As he knelt and lowered his bucket into the cool flow, he heard a splash. He looked up, and saw a figure silhouetted against the star scape on the other side of the narrow stream.

Jack stood and raised his arm. The figure raised his arm in return.

“Who are you?” Jack asked.

“Who are you?” the stranger echoed.

“Do not mock me,” Jake answered, and set the bucket down.

“Do not mock me,” the  voice replied.

A scout perhaps. Jack thought. He clenched his fists, and stepped forward into the water, which climbed his legs with each step.

The shadow advanced towards him, until they met in the middle of the stream, the water now up to their knees. It was too dark to make out his features, and all Jack could hear know was the trickle of the stream and the sound of their breathing.

“Reveal yourself, or test your strength” Jack commanded, looking beyond the stranger to see if he had company. He saw no one.

“Reveal yourself, or test your strength,” the man ordered.

Jack lowered his head and lunged. He hoped to flip the man into the water, and force his submission. His opponent had a similar plan, and they grappled with their arms about each other. They made an awkward dance couple, stumbling a few steps forward, and then a few back.

Jack knew a few tricks, and was able to trip his foe a few times, tumbling him into the water. He was not able to pin him though, as the man proved slippery and would stand up to continue the fight.

After a while, Jack broke his hold to catch his breath. His foe did the same. The man never called for aid, and Jack knew that he was alone and not of the party of his enemy.

“Join me, and I will make you rich,” Jack offered.

“Join me, and I will make you rich,” the man replied.

Jake rushed forward again, and the wrestling continued. Time passed, and yellows and oranges began to creep above the horizon.

“I must go now, let go,” his foe spoke in his ear.

Jake grunted, and tightened his grip, and he was immediately thrown down in the water. He grabbed hold of the man’s ankle, and would not release it.

“Who are you?” his foe asked.

“I am Jacob, and I am too weak to fight you any longer.”

“This is your name:  When you are weak, then you are strong. When you obey, then you are free. When you surrender, then you will triumph.”

“Who are you?” Jacob asked him.

“What does it matter? You have my blessing. Go and triumph.” The man melted away into the darkness.

Jacob was soaked to the bone, and weary, but his mind was clear. He got up and walked back to camp, never thinking about the bucket.

 

 

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Communion for Saints

image

“Greg, do you really need to go to Mass twice a week? Surely once is enough.” She had been hoping they would go to lunch together, but Greg had a conflict.

“It’s not just for me,” he said and stopped on the way out the door. He looked at his watch, and nodded in the direction of his office. They went back in, and Greg took off his hat and gloves as they both sat down.

“Did you ever wonder if God’s plan of salvation was fair?” Greg asked. “Here I am. I can freely practice my faith in this country. I have the time to attend mass as often as I like. I have no health problems or other impediments that prevent me from doing so.”

“And others don’t, I get that. But how does going to mass more often change that?” Lisa asked.

“We have been taught that a Communion of Saints exists. The Church Triumphant in Heaven, the Church Penitent in Purgatory and the Church Militant here on earth. We are all part of the Body of Christ, and we can, in a mysterious way help each other through prayer and sacrifice. We are all responsible for all.”

Greg continued as she listened. “What about the Christian imprisoned in a hostile land who cannot receive the sacraments?  What about the disabled or frail person who cannot get out of their house very often? Through misfortune, they appear to be  deprived of some opportunity to receive grace. And I know you don’t believe in Purgatory, but I do wonder about people still undergoing purification, and what I can do to help beyond prayer. Especially those souls whose parents did not honor their baptismal promise to raise them in the faith.”

“When I go to Mass a second time in a week, I’ve started to ask  Jesus if I can offer my communion back to him for those who cannot receive it, whether here on Earth or in purgatory. The grace goes into his Heavenly treasury to be dispensed to those most in need of it.”

He looked at his watch again, and stood up. “We can go to lunch tomorrow. I don’t know who I will be sharing my food with today, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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