Snapdragon

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?

It has always been the curse of our species to miss the forest for the trees.

Our ancestors’ natural tendency to demand complexity in all systems made their appreciation of simplicity well-nigh impossible—their rude science could never accept the reality of photosynthesizing single-cell organisms stretching galaxy to galaxy, producing life, consuming life, and maintaining life throughout eternity.

“But, they would cry—reactionaries and thinking men alike—“there must be a purpose, a Grand Design, some kind of wise and caring Source for the unknowable!”

When the truth hit them, many found the notion of a deaf-and-dumb genesis—the concept of life-without-meaning, and therefore life itself—to be untenable.

The ensuing surge in suicides may have done the world a backhanded favor, if only in reducing the gene pool’s incidence of low self-esteem. To these, our hysterical forebears, we can only tip our collective hat and say . . . Good Riddance.

Upon its entropic death throes, that Cell bridging the Canis Major Dwarf and Ursa Minor Dwarf galaxies produced a continuum cataclysm, a thrust deep enough to rock our own Solar System in ways formerly inexplicable.

21st Century researchers, by then aware of Cells, still clung stubbornly to this concept of universal sentience. They therefore first interpreted the spatial kick as a kind of plea for healing.

We now know that these Cell reactions are actually more akin to kneejerk plaints. Nevertheless, Cells are organic, and this particular Cell’s instinctual attempt to reach a healing source had very real consequences in the Local Group—the resultant shockwave disrupted both time and space, creating slips in the common faultline and causing anomalies on our own Earth and elsewhere; anomalies that instantly self-adjusted with bizarre and unpredictable outcomes.

The first jolt was the seam-breaker, a major rocker—the aftershocks were comparative trifles, producing erratic continuum shifts of mere hours and miles.

We have pinpointed and cross-referenced that phenomenon.

According to our most precise instruments, the initial wave occurred just outside of Jerusalem in the year 26.

 

 

And he hit the garbage face-first; dazed, disoriented, naked, emaciated. The piled material was so unfamiliar he froze on impact:  black plastic trash bags, cardboard boxes, aluminum cans. Rather than dirt or desert sand, the ground was some sort of continuous gray brickwork, smooth and cool. Just beyond, a low continuous cement ledge led onto rough asphalt. He dragged himself into a sitting slump, recoiling at the heat and blare of traffic. Rundown buildings, rusted-out vehicles, dirty raggedy people sagging in doorways . . . and a dark woman running up in clopping footwear, shamefully dressed, her face painted, her hair high. Behind her a similarly dressed woman, perhaps a friend, shouting:

“Maggie! You get your ass back here, girl!”

But the first woman ran right up to him and said breathlessly, in a tongue that made no sense at all:

“C’m’on sugar:  you can’t just lay here with your privates public!” She giggled musically, her breath fruity sweet. After a quick search she came up with a torn and stained blanket, draped it around him, pulled his arms out from under. She continued rooting, talking incessantly, at last producing a sprung bungee cord with enough play to serve as a belt.

Thus covered, he reached out and laid a hand on her shoulder. The woman trembled. When she looked back up her face was a fluid mask of remorse, the expression falling, caving, melting, tears pouring down her cheeks. He rose and the woman simply dissolved at his feet, kissing the toes and ankles, weeping uncontrollably. “Talitha cum!” he commanded, and turned at a shout and bustle.

The other woman stormed over, yelling at the top of her voice: Get away from her, you freak! I’ll call a cop. I’ll mace your nasty ass in a hurry.” She kneeled to embrace the weeping woman. “You all right, honey? What did he do to you?” She looked up with venom in her eyes, but the man was already walking along the curb, staring in amazement at the cars and stoplights.

The ground rocked, hard, as though the planet had momentarily ceased its spin. He raised himself on one elbow and blinked at his surroundings.

He was sprawled on a high cement stairway, just outside a stately steel-and-glass building alongside a much cleaner street. Other folks were frozen in similar postures of dismay, on their bellies and knees. Their expressions were identical:  startled but unsurprised.

A man tumbled down the steps and helped him to his feet. “Are you okay, sir? Wow! That had to be it:  that was the Big One for sure.”

It was a surreal scene:  cars, their motion sensors triggered, honking repetitively nearby and in the tapering distance, like calling prairie dogs. Drivers hunching outside paused vehicles, men and women spilling from buildings.

The man looked him up and down. “Do you need medical attention, sir? Can you walk?” He blinked. “Como esta? Por favor?” His fingers did a pantomime of a body walking. The answering stare was intense, but of no assistance. The blanketed figure opened his mouth and spoke something that struck the helpful man as merely intelligent gibberish. He shook his head and said with exaggerated clarity. “I am Mister Edmond. Mister John Edmond.” The man nodded, intensifying his stare. At last Edmond ran an arm around his waist and sat him back down. He flipped open his cell, thumbed a number, and said excitedly, “Larry? John here. Yes, of course I felt it. Who didn’t. Look, I’ve got some guy here in shock. He’s not mute; he just spoke a dialect I’ve never heard, but definitely Semitic. Not modern at all. No, I can’t leave him here; there’ll be aftersho—” And on that abbreviated syllable a tremor ran right up his back, shaking out the glass left standing in the bank. “Did you feel that? Okay, then. Meet you at Giggles? Good enough. Bring something this poor fellow can wear; he’s just draped in an old blanket. Get going before traffic freaks. Right.” Edmond led him down the steps, smiling vigorously. “Don’t be frightened. I’m going to introduce you to Professor Baling. He’s a linguist at Pepperdine. Practically famous. We’ll get you nice and fixed up, and once we’re all in communication mode we can learn who you are and maybe get you a job or something.” There was another rumble, long and low. Edmond’s brows furrowed and he tugged gently, but with urgency. “Please trust me, sir. This is your lucky day.”

 

 

The lunchtime stampede:  Giggles was packed, shire to shire. The man from Nazareth now sported lime-and-purple jogging sweats, ten sizes too large, a gift from the kindly and portly Professor Darian Baling, precariously seated directly opposite and to Edmond’s left. The Giggles servers whizzed back and forth on their Star Wars roller skates with the strafing turret sparkle-hubs, wearing enormous Harry Potter eyeglasses, Princess Leia frightwigs, and their signature Jolly-Wally Grab-a-Jabba fanny packs.

At last a server responded to Edmond’s wave. She screeched to a halt at their table, the brakes on her skates emitting flurries of canned Gremlins giggles. “Hail thee, fellow Jedis, and may the farce be with you.”

“Muggles are morons,” Edmond responded. “We’re ready for menus.”

“Energizing!” She whipped two out of her jetpack. “Right Chewbacca at ya!”

“I think maybe I’ll go for a Filet O’ Flipper, or else just a Silly Salad with Chuckling Chicken, or maybe, um . . .”

“Oh, yoda, yoda, yoda.”

“You’re right. I’ll have a Bilbo Burger, hold the Magic Mustard, with a side of Funny Fries and a Shimmy-Shimmy Shake.”

“Just coffee,” said the professor. “How about our friend? He can’t have eaten for days.”

The server straightened. “Friend? Friend? Where’s Waldo! Where’s Waldo?” Then, appearing to notice the little party’s third member, she moved her twisting face in close, a hollow Keebler countenance of psychotic glee. “And who’s this happy hobbit?” The man from Nazareth recoiled, not sure what to make of it all.

Edmond danced his menu side to side, much to their server’s delight. Finally he said, “Let’s go for the Golly Burger with plenty of Gee Whiz, a Jumbo Jelly Sundae, and a Stupid Soda to wash it all down. StuporDooper.” It struck him that the stranger’s table etiquette might be less than punctilious. “And please make sure that cup is spielberg-proof.” Edmond raised his eyes. “You’re not like a vegetarian or anything?” The answering stare was cryptic.

“On me,” the professor beamed.

Their server yanked an imaginary handle on her forehead, tittered, “Back in a flush!” and zipped away.

The professor smiled encouragingly, clasped his hands on the table, and spoke a line or two of what Edmond recognized as simple Hebrew. Their guest narrowed his eyes. The professor tried again, then began branching out. After a few minutes of this Edmond felt superfluous to the proceedings. A temblor rang cutlery in the Giggles kitchen. Edmond’s eyes were naturally drawn to the in-house television monitor, its frame painted to blend seamlessly with the Frodo’s Playground mural over the registers. Ordinarily the broadcast news was enhanced by the Giggles digital FunnyVision program, so that the anchors’ hair and facial features automatically received magnetic treatments of superimposed rainbow wigs and rubber noses, but today’s news was so important, and so sobering, that the man-oh-manager felt compelled to temporarily squelch the FunnyVision program altogether. Employees all stopped what they were doing, their painted smiles and hobbit hoods surreal in contrast to the sudden mood shift.

Film clips moved by almost too rapidly for the mind to assimilate:  a Turkish neighborhood buried in rubble, thousands of Pakistani survivors marching out of a smoking valley, Japanese tsunami victims dragging their belongings down a ragged coastline, aerial films of a Detroit neighborhood consumed by flames.

But the real shocker came from a sweating seismologist at a lonely podium, surrounded by microphones, lights, and anxious faces, speaking in a monotone so contrived it inadvertently raised blood pressure all over the nation. No foci could be located, this man stated; no hypocenters, no epicenters. It appeared that the planet Earth itself was in “sporadic seismic arrest.” He had absolutely no idea what those data meant, knew of no protocol for dealing with such a profound phenomenon, and hadn’t the foggiest notion of what steps to take. He knew only one thing for sure, and that was that there was absolutely no cause for alarm.

Edmond dazedly turned back to the table. The very act of avoiding the set somehow made it all a dream; there was a palpable reality in these known faces, something down to earth, something almost comical.

Baling seemed to feel Edmond’s eyes on him. He lowered his head and studied his clasped hands.

“Well?”

The professor looked up, grinning wryly. “The dialect is ancient Aramaic, and it’s flawless. Says he grew up in Galilee as a carpenter. Says he was tried in the court of Pontius Pilate. Says the last thing he remembers was being prepared for crucifixion at Golgotha outside of Jerusalem. Says he felt like his whole body exploded, and that the next thing he knew he was sprawled out in the garbage—by his description the eastside ghetto over on Fourth and Military.”

“O-o-o . . . kay.” Edmond wiped the tabletop. “Look, Larry, I’m really sorry I rousted you for nothing. I don’t know what it is—I just had the feeling there was something more than meets the eye to this guy.”

The professor leaned back. “Oh, you may have been right.” Baling clasped his hands behind his head and spoke ruminatively. “It takes a great deal of dedication to create and maintain a messianic delusion at this level. I’ll give him credit:  he certainly does his homework. He doesn’t believe he’s Jesus; he’s way beyond that. He knows it—in a matter-of-fact way that goes without ego gratification or any self-interest whatsoever. He’s lived the illusion so long it’s modified his personality. He’s Jesus, John; so get used to it. He certainly has.”

Their server wobbled back to the table, obviously subdued by the news, her Gandalf’s staff limp as a sobered lover. She laid out the gaily patterned platters like a woman packing her final bags. Her Darth Vadar cloak appeared to have lost its gleam, her Spock ears looked wilted and pale. Still she gave it her professional best, duly tapping her light saber on the tabletop while performing a truly Tolkienian full-fairy curtsy. But somehow it just wasn’t the same. She looked at the professor and her particolored face scrunched and drained. “I’m—I’m just so, so sorry,” she tried. “My children, my children . . .”

The professor nodded in amazement and the server slowly rolled away, the blinking Harry Potter broom between her legs mournfully swishing side to side across Cap’n Sparrow’s Deck.

The man from Nazareth grimly studied his platter. The aroma made his nostrils flare and cinch. He stared uncertainly at his benefactor.

And the whole place seemed to lift off its foundations. He dragged himself to his feet, in a dank alley surrounded by looming, broken-down tenements. Two blocks away a department store’s roof collapsed before his eyes, even as a pair of helicopters wheeled in a stark wedge of moonlight between leaning buildings. There were fires leaping here and there, and the startling sounds of the occasional smashed display window. He exited the alley with all senses perked, his eyes hungrily absorbing every new sight, each sudden motion. This side of the street carried the ghosts of the old neighborhood:  closed shops and overgrown walkways, abandoned cars and neglected yards. He noted a small group of men loitering on a street corner. Their eyes narrowed and flashed as he passed; after a minute the group began to follow as one. Presently he came across dozens of kneeling citizens outside a sealed antique building, fighting to catch the words of a gesticulating man in an Armani suit. The man from Nazareth had just halted to observe when a disturbance behind almost knocked him off his feet.

“Hey,” the offender said angrily, but with more impatience than hostility, “you wanna make a little room here, pal? Jeez.” This person then fell to his knees and beatifically raised his eyes.

He continued down the walk, pausing to stare in looted buildings. A dozen yards ahead, a group of four men stepped out of the shadows between shops. One whistled, and there came an answering whistle to the paused man’s rear. He turned to see three more striding up purposefully. Their footfalls were echoed; he turned back to find himself trapped.

There was no preamble; the post-riot condition obviated any feeling-out process—the fists clubbed his head, the shoes found his stomach, and he could only lay curled up on the sidewalk while the hands ran through his jogging sweats. But a penniless, helpless victim is just a diversion on a ripe swollen night in a city caught with its pants down; the punks got in their kicks and split.

He had to drag himself into a doorway. When he got his wind back he scraped to his feet and moved along, using the looted storefronts for support. In one display he observed a neglected, still-connected television running the disaster buffet; the orphans, the wasted homes, the collapsed freeway overpasses. But it didn’t strike home, didn’t feel real—the technology was way too strange.

A groan just off the walk got his attention. He limped over and discovered an old man trapped in an avalanche of fallen bricks. The mortal nature of the injuries was unmistakable; he reached down to place a palm on the forehead.

A very bright light struck him, followed by the urgent sound of rubber meeting curb. An amplified voice said:  “You in the sweats! Remain where you are! Keep your hands where I can see them!”

Two officers, a man and a woman, stepped around the car with flashlights aimed. The driver pulled out and leveled his gun, holding forth his other hand to indicate complete compliance. The woman, keeping her distance, crept by and crouched near the pile of bricks.

“Talk to me,” said the man.

“Unconscious,” the woman responded. She righted herself, muttered, “This one’s dead,” and swung her gun around.

The male officer immediately threw him into a combination wrist-and headlock, slammed his face up against the car’s hood. “Relax completely,” he grated. “I want you to go absolutely limp. Do we understand each other?” He leaned hard. “Are you holding anything that can hurt me?”

The woman patted him down thoroughly. “Nothing obvious. Pits and crotch clean.”

“I.D.?”

“Nothing.”

“Okay.” He kicked out the legs and pulled both wrists behind the back. The female snapped on cuffs. “I,” the driver grunted in his ear, “don’t know if you’re aware this city’s been placed under martial law. I further don’t know if you’re aware of the implications. Looters can be shot on sight. Muggers—creeps who waylay old men under cover of chaos—can receive some of the harshest sentences on the books. When you’re rotting in that cell, with only your conscience for company, I just want you to thank God it was us who got to you before some decent armed citizen.”

The woman ran her flashlight’s beam back and forth across his eyes. “What’s your name, sir?” He blinked. She shook her head. “Unresponsive.”

“So be it.”

The woman got the door.

The driver pulled the cuffs up to the shoulder blades and shoved down hard on the crown. “Watch your head,” he said.

 

 

You had to squeeze and slither to reach the desk, though there was far less processing than usual for that time of night. Fact is, the place was one crisis from anarchy: just too many officers coming and going to make sense of it all. Detectives, Fire, National Guard, even Coast Guard and Parking had occupied center stage at one time or other. And each successive temblor critically wracked the nerves of these men and women, the very men and women trained to hang onto their cool under the direst of circumstances. This was bigger than law enforcement, bigger than crowd control, bigger than major disaster. The families of these officers were in some instances unaccounted for, their homes and valuables left naked to the mob, and there wasn’t a damned thing they could do about it. And still the reports came streaming in; over the radio, over the television, over the Internet. The earth was breaking up around them, brimstone was spewing high. The sky was falling, and there wasn’t a damned thing they could do about it.

The desk sergeant was in no mood to argue. “He’ll have to go straight to Old County. We can’t spare placement in this station. If you can get his prints, fine, but I can’t guarantee a file. A phone call is out of the question.” He turned to glare at the prisoner, his eyes all but bursting in his skull. The pencil gripped between his hands was bent to the breaking point. “You are hereby waiving your rights to counsel, at least temporarily. This city is in a state of martial law. We can guarantee your protection, but that’s about all. If you have family and friends worried about you, well, they’ll just have to sweat and fret like the rest of us. You have no identification, and according to these arresting officers are entirely uncooperative.” The room trembled ever so slightly and the pencil snapped. “For now you are going to be held in protective custody, Old County Jail, Downtown. Any cell we can spare. A public defender will be in contact with you at the earliest opportunity.” Another tremor ran through the station. This time the sergeant closed his eyes and controlled his breathing. After a minute he whispered, “I sincerely suggest you be compliant, and take care to not make any enemies.”

 

 

The quake first slammed them against the rail, then right up against the independent cells. The escorting officer was sweating heavily as he pulled the prisoner out of reach of scrabbling hands. He hollered back at the angry and frightened men in their orange County jumps, but his every word only served to rile them further. He released a bicep and waved the free hand. The module commander, watching closely, triggered a siren.

The prisoners went nuts. The escorting officer, grimacing, waved the arm again to signal a stop. The siren wound down and the individual voices became evident:  pleas for news, pleas for protection, pleas for transfer. The deeper they moved, the deeper became the passion, the anger, the horror-stench of trapped men who know they’re about to die. There came a jolt so fierce it almost knocked the officer off his feet. The prisoners wailed and screamed.

The last available cell was right near the end. Directly across stood a giant of a man; black, broad, and intense, the only caged animal not prepared to howl. He just watched, his eyes glinting and his mouth on the verge of a smile.

The officer waved his arm again. A harsh buzz, and the cell door rumbled open. The officer nudged him inside and waved. The door shut. “Move your back up against the door so I can get the cuffs.” The man from Nazareth stared ahead uncertainly. The officer reached in and dragged him back, held him firmly as he worked the key. The prisoner turned.

Sweat was pouring off the officer’s face. “I know you can hear me.” He rolled his eyes. “I know you can hear what’s going on around us. Now I want you to sit on your cot and face the wall. Do not allow the prisoner behind me to provoke you. Sleep, do yoga, meditate:  whatever. This will all work out somehow. I . . . I have a family to find.”

He stumbled back down the walk, and the man from Nazareth found himself eye to eye with the big man across the way.

“Hello, bitch.” A tremor shook the module and the prisoners cursed, screamed, bashed their cell bars with anything that would rattle nerves. “Seeing as you’re the last person I’m going to see alive, I feel it’s beholden on me to make my confession, if that’s all right with you.” The man from Nazareth stared silently and the big man smiled. “Just what I was hoping for:  a good listener.” A crack raced across the wall behind him. “I’ve always been a God-fearing man.” He raised his eyes. “Do you believe in God, bitch?” He wagged his head regretfully. “I thought not. You know, God came to see me, right in this very cell. And do you know what He told me? He told me a snitch would come and test me, and that that snitch would be an agent of the Devil. And He said if I really meant to sit at His Right Hand I had to pass that test. I had to slay that agent.” He spread his hands. “So there it is. Not much of a confession, you say? Well, you’re right. My hands are cleaner than yours.” He vigorously rubbed his palms, meaningfully clenched the fingers. “For now.” A rumble rose from the old building’s bowels. Bits of ceiling fell around them both. “Agent, meet agent.”

The man from Nazareth turned and stared at his cell, wondered at the stainless steel toilet and sink, made the mental leap to indoor plumbing. In a heartbeat the module’s east wall had collapsed. Excitement replaced fear in the air. There was a scream from the guardhouse and one by one the cell doors buzzed open. The man from Nazareth, turning at the sound, found himself staring from one wide-open cell into another.

The big man spread his arms and beamed. “Voila.”

A shotgun blast and emergency siren’s howl. Prisoners came stampeding back into the module, snapping at one another like dogs. “Snitch!” the big man called. “Snitch in the hall!” Within seconds the cell was blocked by furious prisoners. “Save some for me,” the big man said. With howls of excitement the animals in orange jumpsuits came down on the man from Nazareth, beating him with fists and feet, with elbows and knees, with any loose objects they could find. Finally he was dragged to the cell bars and secured at the wrists, ankles, and throat by bloody starched County towels. He sagged there, head fallen and knees crimped, an absolutely broken man. The prisoners filed out and huddled against the rail, grinning and high-fiving. “Leave us,” the big man said quietly. “There is important work to be done.” When the mob had moved away he turned back and lovingly removed from his butt-crack a shiv filed out of a toothbrush. He pressed his big self up against the suspended man, kissed him on the fractured skull and bloody mouth. He dropped back his head. Then, in an act of slow-motion ecstasy, he shoved in the shiv inch by inch, his moans echoing the captive’s. Now the wide black face came in until the lips were just grazing the prisoner’s ear. The voice was low, almost sultry, the breath a hot miasmic pool:  “Any last words, snitch?”

The bloody head fell, chin rolling against the chest at an awkward angle. “Eloi, Eloi,” came the glottal whisper, “lama sabachthani . . .”

The big man cocked his head quizzically, his expression rolling round to one of pouting indifference. “Cat got your tongue? Aww, that’s too bad.” He snorted to the bowel and hawked one right in the eyes, ran back to the gate and stood there holding it like an eager chauffer. A broad smile cut his face in two. “Don’t wait up for me, bitch. I’m going to Disneyland!”

 

 

This is as far as our instruments will trace in this matter, so many hundreds of years ago. The Cell was revitalized, the tremors quelled. Of the man from Nazareth, we have only speculation. All data indicate that the streetwalker, Marilyn “Maggie” Deliano, through persistent and selfless entreaty, was able to procure sums sufficient to have the body interred in a tiny mausoleum outside the city, and that she was persuasive enough to found him a cult following. This following, eventually numbering in the tens of thousands, was permitted daily services until a freak after-effect of the Cell’s initial paroxysm caused the cemetery’s landfill to shift, resulting in countless sinkholes, collapsed edifices, and sunken statuary. Bodies were exhumed for purposes of relocation, but officials were dismayed to find the man from Nazareth’s coffin vacated, although there is nil evidence of tampering. As no body existed for the sake of identification, the empty coffin was shipped, at substantial cost to the cult followers, to the man’s original homeland, where it is rumored to have been weighted and submerged in a little desert sea. With no physical traces remaining, and only unsubstantiated eyewitness reports, it is deemed meet that we seek no further vestigial evidence, and consider this record sealed.

 


Submitted: January 01, 2011

© Copyright 2021 RonSanders. All rights reserved.

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