Ξ April 6th, 2012 | → 5 Comments | ∇ Creativity, The Mysterious, Sacred, and Profane, UNBOUND, BOUND, and my other creations |
UNBOUND is set in the weeks surrounding Easter, and as such I thought that this excerpt might prove timely for those who appreciate the story of Jesus, whether as a religious, political, or historical figure, or just a benevolent but tortured individual. Especially so on this Good Friday. What I believe only matters to me, but I would rather the Reader make their own decisions about not only this event but about the greater (and lesser) implications without any “outside” influences. Like mine. Or dogma from a “church”. This is just a Story. We will take you there, to where you can Choose…
A brief explanation about this Post: I prepared it as a new Page which’ll be permanently linked at the (near-invisible) top left drop-down menu. Unfortunately I’m having permission issues that won’t allow me to post new Pages; something happened with the database when transferring servers. My considerate webmistress is looking into it, and I’m so thankful for her help But in case that fix doesn’t work out I thought I’d try this as a new Post which I can put up. But it is a seven-page excerpt from the novel and so rather lengthy for a Post (even mine). AND THEN I FOUND THE “MORE” TAB :-O
Anyway, we’ll give this a shot. You may want a few by the time you finish reading it (And please forgive any formatting errors; I’m hurrying this out!)
A little warning, of sorts: this excerpt is atypical of the novel, and is used as an expository flashback device that is essential to understanding one of UNBOUND’s secondary characters, Ahasuerus. He’s someone you’ve likely heard of, though not likely by that name. Let’s go back in time with him, or without him, to that fateful Good Friday afternoon…
[SETUP/SCENE: Sitting on a bench in San Francisco’s Washington Square, two curious characters perch for a moment to discuss and address certain current events occurring in the Story, prompting one of them to re-live a memory that he will never forget. This is his very personal flashback excerpted from the middle of their discussion. His name is Ahasuerus, and he is quite damned...]
an excerpt from UNBOUND’s Book One: “Earth”
Part Two: “Bound”; Chapter 2.5: Alastor
He has heard the crowd growing all morning. Having closed his shoe-making business for the day, he now gathers several loaves of flat bread and flasks of water to bring outside to sell to the spectators. Satisfied with the quality of his wife’s preparations, he exits their dwelling and enters the sultriness of this particular Friday’s reluctant sun. It smolders down on Jerusalem, peeking through a gathering of huge, slow-moving black clouds. The firmament is a dark slate blue, and cold looking despite the heat.
From the nearby bazaar, the din and the smells comfort him with their attendant memories of his youth. Just as then, his senses are overwhelmed with pleasure at the diverse fragrances wafting through today’s noisy throng, spreading the promise of this market’s bounty: cooked lamb and fish, olives and dates, sweet pastries and fresh produce. All of these scents mingle with the baser odors of the countless unwashed bodies and the sweat and dust they generate. To Ahasuerus, this is life, all of it.
The familiar, insistent voices of dozens of merchants hawk their wines and apples, scented oils and incense, and spices from beyond Jericho. These sounds and aromas come to him as if a perfumed song. This is the last pleasant moment that this man will know.
Situated right on the road between the Judgment Hall and the place of execution, this route oftentimes has multitudes of people lining it to watch the condemned march out of the city and on to their final fate, through the northern gate to Golgotha. But today! The narrow steep street is wall to wall with them, and they are hungry; and not so much for food, but for the one approaching…
He hears a commotion from the bottom of the street. The crowd below parts like a living sea as a slow, awkward procession approaches. Above all their heads, a large wooden cross sways from one side of the avenue to the other, as if balanced on a precarious perch. Ah, he observes, the passage of the condemned.
The heralds who precede the condemned man proclaim the list of his crimes. The merchant scowls upon hearing the charges, taking account of them: Treason, and blasphemy! The King of the Jews he says! He mulls in anger at the perceived insult, and the man’s heresy. Oh, the Son of God as well? So he did not give tribute to Caesar? Then no wonder his deserved fate. What does he expect?
The procession grows closer…
Now he can see the bloody and battered criminal beneath the tall tottering cross, struggling to balance it on his shoulder. Ahasuerus strains against the growing press of the crowd to get a better look at the prisoner surrounded by his guardsmen. So, that is my king? He doesn’t look much like one to me. Even from here, he can see that this man has sustained a terrible beating, and most likely much worse yet to come. If he were truly the Son of God, he wouldn’t let himself endure such an ordeal!
Behind the heralds, he can now make out the soldiers as they approach, their spears held upwards, leading the main procession. Romans, he thought with contempt. If this man does have a Kingdom, let them issue an army to claim him, and send the Romans back to Rome as well!
He regards the screaming, taunting crowd around him and the unit of determined armored guards, and knows that there would be no army, or anyone else, coming to rescue this naked, bleeding, and doomed man. Where are his followers, he wonders, and his family?
Closer they come…
Many in the boisterous crowd shout obscenities at the doomed man as he approaches. They surge forward even in the face of the weapons wielded by Pilate’s soldiers, yelling ugly threats and curses at him as he hobbles toward them up the hill beneath his heavy wooden burden.
The procession is nearly upon them.
Anticipation crackles like electrical energy toward Ahasuerus from down the street. He grows more agitated with the increasing furor of the rabid mob’s condemnations. Under their influence, and much of his own, the merchant makes up his mind: He’s just another criminal, just another fraud; and a sinner as the rest of us, a Son of God as we are sons…
They are almost here.
As the first grim-faced guard passes, Ahasuerus sees in his features the resolute commitment to his task. He is righteous, as are the rest; they are soldiers, on assignment. The procession follows behind; armor clatters and feet shuffle, escorting one man and his stifled, labored breathing. A whip snaps with a loud crack, startling the merchant.
The battered and bleeding prisoner bows under the weight of the huge wooden cross, as he plods up the steep street. He tries to balance it on his bare back as it trails along behind him; it thumps a hollow, wooden drumbeat as it drags along the cobbled ground. The uneven surface induces the tail of the cross to bounce at every crack and crevice, digging into the man’s shoulder, scraping it raw.
His face bleeds incessantly, dripping from a crude crown of long, wicked thorns imbedded in his scalp. His long red hair hangs lank, and falls over his shoulders in thick, gory ropes. Tears of pain etch his face in streams, mingling with his blood, falling to the earth. He is not weeping; he is in torment.
At one time, his loincloth must have been white; now, sopping and stained with his sweat and blood, mud covers it. Two soldiers follow the condemned man; they goad him on, flaying him with barbed whips. Behind these come the rear guardsmen; and then falling in behind, that surging, raucous sea of people, following like vengeful lemmings.
Ahasuerus can’t sense anything other than the all-encompassing anger and chaos that permeates this environment. This is what it brings him:
It is here.
A large, swift-moving shadow distracts him; it looks like the shape of a mighty, winged dove. Then a huge blow to his shoulder knocks him off his feet and sends him sprawling. His goods fly scattered across the cobblestones, the flasks breaking on the ground. Stunned and disoriented, he rolls over, grunting in shock, trying to focus on his immediate surroundings. Peals of harsh laughter burst out all around him.
Anger and embarrassment rouse him with a feverish rush of prickling heat. He gets to his knees, and turns quickly to face his attacker. The large cross had struck him as it fell; having slipped out of the condemned’s bloody hands. It lies on the ground here with the crucifer as well, who kneels nearby, hands splayed out before him, trying not to go down.
One of the rear guard roughly pushes Ahasuerus aside and then picks a loaf of his bread off the ground, giving the merchant an imperious look that implies he isn’t asking for it. He lifts the fallen prisoner by one arm, walks him off the street, and plops him down on the shoemaker’s stoop in the shade.
The huge guard ignores the booing mob as he hands the bread to him, and then rejoins the other soldiers to wait for their charge to regain his strength so they can take him to his death. The surrounding crowd closes in, and taunts and spits at the doomed man with glee. Their frenzied jeers are deafening, and the shoemaker feels emboldened by them, all of them; he is one of them, a part of their hateful herd.
The sky grows even darker now. The thickening clouds lower, and the sun retreats behind them as if in dismay, or in dread anticipation at what is about to come.
Ahasuerus elbows his way through the crush of people around his residence and shop, and beholds without compassion the man upon his stoop. How dare this convict say that he is the Son of God! And soiling my threshold as well…
The condemned can barely hold his head up; he looks sadly down at the ground. He holds the bread limply in his lap, and does not eat of it.
“You!” Ahasuerus shouts. “What is your name, dead man?”
The prisoner slowly raises his head, and this beaten man, certainly near death, turns his pained, brown eyes upon him. “I… am called Jesus,” he weakly replies. His melodious, calm voice belies the terrible agony he must be feeling; nevertheless, he holds his gaze steady through the pain.
The merchant feels a warm glow invading his heart; it threatens to calm his rampant hostility toward this low and socially unacceptable person. Is he a wizard, he wonders, and entrancing me? He demands of the man darkening his doorway, “Which of these crimes bring you to such an unfortunate end?”
“I have committed no crime,” utters the one named Jesus, with certain, yet weary conviction.
Ahasuerus regales the crowd with mock disbelief. “Yet another innocent man put to death!” The undulating crowd erupts in catcalls and jeers, a constant backdrop of hateful cacophony. Encouraged by his neighbors’ excitement, he steps in front of the tortured man and continues his final judgment: “Well then, O Mighty King of The Jews; since you will not be with us for long, have you any great decrees to leave us?”
“Only this,” Jesus says to him, sadly. “A new commandment I give unto you: That ye love one another, as I have loved you.”
The key word reverberates with that peculiar clutching sensation in his chest. Ahasuerus straightens up, indignant. His heart pounds wildly now; his temples throb with its echo. “No! You will not command nor will you spell me!”
The yammering noise of the mob grows palpable. Between the screams and the curses, the hatred and the spittle, and the spectacle of this imminent crucifixion, he can barely hear himself think anymore. “Shut up!” he yells at them, but this too is swallowed. “Get up!” he cries to the condemned man. “Do not damn my doorway with your heresy or your blood!” He reaches down and drags Jesus up with both arms, and stands him up roughly. “You’ll not rest here. Go to your destiny.”
Jesus seems more pained at these harsh words than his wounds. “You are loved too, Ahasuerus,” he quietly says, regaining his footing.
“You dare speak my name?”
“I do this for you.”
The merchant chooses not to take his meaning; his rage is more easily rewarded. He uncoils without warning and strikes Jesus across the face with the flat of his hand, snapping his head to the side. “For me,” he snorts, “a criminal. Do me no favors. Die for someone who wants your doomed love.”
Jesus does not react with hostility to this assault; he has taken far worse, and recently. He just turns away, his eyes downcast, feeling yet another ache that will only be relieved one way, and soon to come.
Ahasuerus shoves him roughly towards the cross. “Go! You’ve an appointment to keep.” He notices then with some irritation that the blood won’t come off his hand with which he struck him. He wipes it on his garment to no avail. Jesus just stands very still, halfway between him and the fallen cross, his back to him. “What are you waiting for? Go meet your Maker!” He stubbornly rubs at the smear of blood on his palm, but its persistent stain remains, as if accusing him.
Now the dissonant sounds of the impatient mob seem to distort. Erupting one moment as if the howling of monkeys and the lowing of cattle, and in the next the cackling of chickens and the hissing of snakes, but nothing that resembles anything human at all. The guards rouse themselves. They lift up the cross to await Jesus’ return.
There is nowhere else for him to go, except up the hill and out the gate to his fate on Golgotha. Every one of his brethren lining the way beckons and entreats him to come.
The firmament presses down over the land, an upside down charcoal-hued ocean. It quiets; even the crowd becomes subdued now. The clouds thicken and gather, as if waiting to fall on them all. The feeble swirling breeze gives a final rustle, and then dies.
Jesus straightens as if nothing burdens him. He turns around and with his steely gaze pins the shoemaker, who sees righteous condemnation in those brown, sorrowful eyes. He speaks; he says, “Ahasuerus.”
The merchant stiffens. How does he know my name?
“I shall stand and rest,” the tortured man says, “but thou shalt go till the last day.”
Punctured by Jesus’ conviction, he feels his rage and venom dissipate. Words for any sort of rebuttal do not come to him, nor do any thoughts of movement. He knows he has just heard The Truth: It is not to set him free. He doesn’t know that yet, but he will come to, in Time.
The guard roughly turns Jesus around, and then shoves him back under the weight of the heavy timbers. The mob noisily swallows them up. Then they all proceed slowly, deliberately, trudging up the narrow street toward Golgotha.
All of them but one, who would follow, in his time…
** *** **** *** **
Ahasuerus is still stunned an hour after the passage, but the passage of time is uncertain to him now. Pinned to his damned spot, his blinking eyes are the only movement he makes. Time seems to be compressing, or else he is; he doesn’t know. He just stands there, feels it crushing him, and waits for the other shoe to drop…
The fleeting heat of the sun is only a remnant now, as if a memory of the last departing hour. The black clouds overhead seem to be lowering closer to the landscape, circling slowly and rotating only over this one spot on the Earth. Then, they cover up the remains of the sullen gray sky, as he watches the world seem to close.
Now, it is quiet as death. Darkness is thick; everywhere is in shadow.
Something is happening because of that man, he realizes with a start, and I am here to bear witness! He takes off running up the gloomy empty street, running faster than he ever has before. His sandal-slaps echo in his passing, across the cobble stones and out the gate, and up toward the low bare hills of Golgotha, not far enough away.
And there, on the mount, he sees the grisly silhouette: a trio of fresh crosses, and a body pinioned to each one. A large, raucous throng gathers at the base of them, their harsh utterances stark against the otherwise oppressive quiet. Each voice and every sound magnifies as if a glass dome sits over the garish scene.
An adversary cries out from the barren, yet crowded landscape; his coaxing call reverberates as if he stood alone. “Come down off the cross,” he tempts, “come down!” However, nothing or no one would be coming down, not until it is time…
Slight tremors shake the ground, as if giants slumbering beneath the earth were tossing in their sleep, dealing with their troubled dreams, covered in a pit. His sight bound only to the spectacle, Ahasuerus approaches cautiously, step by faltering step, his arms spread out for support should he fall, unaware that the wretched rocky landscape offers none to him at all. Still, he must move forward, toward that hanging man named Jesus, who had marked him for all time.
The temperature drops precipitously. The clouds cease their movement, expectant. Uncaring, a sarcastic voice rings out: “If thou art the Son of God, come down off your cross! Then we will believe!” Mocking laughter cackles amongst the brazen figures scattered about the base of the crucifix.
If he is the Son of God, Ahasuerus pondered, why is he doing this? Why?
Then he hears that voice again, the one he will never forget; Jesus’ resilient voice, rising to the blackening heavens: “Father,” he calls out gasping, “forgive them, for they know not what they are doing…”
There is neither a response from on high, nor one sign of forgiveness from his invisible Father. There is no apparent reaction come at all. Jesus lowers his head in his despondency. He gazes forlornly down at a woman praying on the ground past his wounded feet, one who only has eyes for him.
As if in answer from the Mother, rain begins to pour in thick, blanketing sheets. The thick, coal-colored clouds suddenly burst open with showers of hailstones that rattle and crack against the hard beaten earth. A brilliant strobe of blue-white lightning forks like electrified latticework, illuminating this stark scene, and defines what was just in darkness. Un-shadowed, the gruesome sight is terrible: three broken, bloodied men hanging in resigned and tortured agony. A boom of thunder shakes the mount, rocking everything.
Ahasuerus is close to them now. Sheets of lightning flicker and flash as if swords rending the darkness, forcing him to bear witness. Through the driving rain he can see Jesus’ mangled figure stretched out, nailed to his self-carried cross. The merchant cannot make out anyone or anything else; he feels his eyes wanting to look away, needing to close against the horror and the rain, but they will not. He can only see him.
Jesus grunts sharply in his dying pain, and then raises his voice to the sky. It dominates even the constant, rumbling thunder. “My God,” he calls out in torment, in sorrow, and in vain.
For nothing returns from above; nothing falls down but the unsalted tears of Heaven. Troubled to the depths of his soul, Ahasuerus tries to reason through his rising terror: Why does he entreat a Voice that won’t reply, unless he believes against hope that it might?
Rapidly weakening, Jesus entreats his Father for His answer: “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?” His demand accuses the squalling clouds, which carry his words away.
The assembly hears naught in response; there is no intercession. Nothing, neither God nor his army, is coming down to save Jesus, or any of them. It has always been thus, even Now.
The despair and utter desolation in that deserted, tortured voice drives Ahasuerus down to his knees. It can’t be the Truth but it must be, he thinks in stunned astonishment. Then he begins to comprehend, much to his everlasting dismay. And if that is the Truth, then…
Damned, he is damned; and Jesus, the hanging man on his torturous cross, is lost. We are damned and forsaken… Ahasuerus sees what he now knows, and believes. He flattens himself against the ground, covers his ears with his fists, tears at his hair, and erupts in loud, racking sobs.
Only Mother Earth responds, and she rebukes them angrily: in the pouring, drenching rains and the pelting, freezing hail, the thunder and the lightning, the rumbling of the depths that pound upon their soles, shaking them with fear and trepidation.
Shouts of panic erupt from those on the ground. Many flee while they are still able. Those brave and loyal few who will not leave crouch and huddle around the base of the cross, fixed and rooted to the spot in consternation as they bear their witness to this:
Jesus’ voice rises one final time. He cries out, “It is finished!”
Ahasuerus observes the bloodied, gentle face close down. His head nods ever so slightly forward, and then finally relaxes, released of his burden. Fastened to his wooden frame, his body goes limp, and he dies.
With his last breath gone, all becomes quiet, as if every living thing on Earth has stilled. Even the rain now silently falls. Not a single sound issues; not one thing moves in this singular moment. Every being holds its breath, but for only that one last instant, which ends as he expires. Then all, save He, exhales.
Out into chaos:
All Hell breaks loose.
A squall that wails as a banshee whips up, howling and screeching, rending the clouds. The skies open and rain down in their full, drenching fury. Flurries of apple-sized hailstones drive the witnesses to shelter, but many falter and fall, pelted into submission, then unconsciousness, then death.
A violent earthquake wracks the land, and everything standing trembles, crumbles, and tumbles down. Blaring, terrible sounds come from Jerusalem. A cloud of red dust rises ominously from the Temple Mount, and the tempest beats that down as well.
Fearfully, Ahasuerus looks on the three crosses joined on the hill in silhouette, standing silent and still amid the flashing concussing commotion. He shakes his head in negation, but is unable to deny his senses that report this nightmarish event. He needs to, for his sanity, but the Truth is too terrible to brush aside. The needling rain saturates him and the somber hill of crosses and Golgotha’s grieving earth. Muddy rivulets and streams flow down the flanks, away from here and him, as everything will go, in his time.
The clatter of a dropped spear upon stone catches his attention. Beneath the center cross, a centurion stands, undoubting and upright despite the earth movements and driving precipitation. Water pours over him and drips down his tarnished armor. He looks up through the storm toward Jesus’ lifeless body. Removing his helmet, unmindful he drops it, and it too rolls down the incline toward ruined Jerusalem.
“Truly,” he exclaims, “this man was the Son of God!” He unbuckles his sheath, then drops it with his sword to the soaked earth. Then he turns and trudges down the hill, shedding his armor piece by piece, away from Jerusalem, away…
The quaking of the earth and the turbulence of the storm gradually decreases. The rains lighten, and the winds wane. The former merchant gets shakily to his feet, covered in mud from top to bottom. He pays it no heed. From the base of the cross, he can hear wailing and the rending of cloth, screams of despair, and disconsolate weeping. Darkness and ruin hang over the land like a shroud. Clouds of ochre smoke hang over the shattered city, the old Jerusalem.
In disbelieving shock, Ahasuerus stumbles back toward his dwelling, knowing it will be in ruins before he gets there; knowing it will crush him nonetheless. His legs propel him forward, moving not of his volition, though he is unaware of this.
Devastation is everywhere. There is flooding in the marketplace; the Temple is on fire. He staggers slowly, thoughts spinning and spiraling like the great black clouds still roiling overhead, as if his head is in them now, though his feet stab the earth with each step.
Arriving at his bloodstained portal, he sees only dust and rubble beyond the threshold; no one stirs within. He slumps against his doorway, sliding slowly to the stoop. He touches his finger to the drying pool of Jesus’ blood there; it is cold. He heeds his sentence and its terms: No longer can he stay here, or ever know his home again. Now, he will embark upon his endless journey.
And he will always go on…
He squats there, clasps his head between his knees, and sobs his soul out to the ground; he raises back his head and cries his pleadings to the sky.
But the sky did not answer that day.
After a wretched while, he elects to stand and face his fate. Just as Jesus lived, and did. Stumbling over rubble and rock, he goes inside and uselessly looks for his wife. She is gone of course; everyone is; hiding, escaped, or dead. He is alone.
It is time for him to leave.
Ahasuerus goes to his shoemaker’s table and retrieves his hammer and fourteen nails from it, one by one, counting them carefully.
Still in a stupor, he removes his sandals and carries them back to the threshold, and then sits next to the blood of Jesus. He dips each nail in the blessed pool, and then pounds each into the leather; seven nails into each sandal’s sole: Five vertically and two horizontally, forming a crucifix.
Inspecting his handiwork critically, he is satisfied with the quality of his work. He drops the sandals in front of the stoop, and steps right into them. They will never wear or break, very much like him. He doesn’t know this yet, but he will come to, in due time…
Without closing the door or even looking back at his former home behind him, he begins his deathless journey. He will walk and wander until that last, promised day.
I will go on until then; but when will that ever be? It sounds like such a long, long time… What will become of me?
He has all the time in the world to figure it out, but he won’t until it’s too late.
** *** **** *** **
I hope that you enjoyed this very brief excerpt from UNBOUND. Since it is set during the weeks surrounding Easter, I thought it timely to put up another excerpt in this manner, at Alastor’s. Ahasuerus is only one of many secondary characters scattered throughout its 700+ pages. (FYI: It’s been broken into fourths to defeat the “oh this book has too many pages” idiocy rampant today and will be marketed instead as a series.) The Story presents the Reader with a bouquet of them, some wilted, others beauteous, and others who are out on a limb, if I may mix metaphors.
Nearly all of them are “loners” (or rather, “solitary souls”; hence Shelley’s Alastor, aka the Spirit of Solitude) who are questioning the very things that this accursed merchant is, has been, and ever will be; all of these are on a Hero’s Journey with Alastor. And some of them are equally as cursed, or worse…
Still, all these Lily-mentions and angelic musings and excerpts, hints, and teasers I’ve been leaving in my Internet tracks for so long will provide very little in the way of the Story’s true explanation, intent(s) or real purpose(s); this is by design. It’s really a Story for you to figure out, speculate on, and allow yourself to be provoked by. Because it is a story about You, and your right to choose your own destiny. Among many other things
But it’s not for me to say, or choose for you. Despite the (apparent) religious overtones, it’s not a “religious” story by any means. I’m not into dogma, proselytizing, or preaching, and Lily doesn’t like it much either. Well… there is a guy in the Story who does preach some (Fingal), but he’s crazy as hell so just humor him. When UNBOUND is published (*knocks wood*) and it’s finally in your lap, please enjoy your Journey. Remember, it is just a Story, after all!
Rather than religion, UNBOUND is a story of Spirit. Yes, you might say that. Because some things are worth Reflecting on, and that is One of them…
Thank you for Reading