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“So those stuffed shirts gave you a choice, did they?”  Azazel said, holding his chin in thought.  “And you chose Hell.  I didn’t think you were a masochist, Ethan.”  This seemed to amuse him.

            I simply stood silent, trying to gauge what his intentions were.  Why he was trying to hold me here.

            “It’s funny that they would let you choose.  I mean, after all, angels never make choices.  Their very nature requires that they obey God.  The poor fools.”  Azazel laughed.  “Yet he gave humans free will.”

            I decided to see if I could unbalance him, throw him off his game.

            “Isn’t that true of you, though?  I mean, don’t you do whatever Satan wants?  Isn’t he your king?”

            Azazel glared at me, his fingers digging into the armrests of his chair.  I could feel his hatred like a palpable thing, a strong wave of force buffeting my face.  I gathered all my willpower and it was barely enough to keep me from taking a step back.

            “I SERVE NO ONE,” Azazel said, his voice booming like thunder.  Then he smiled and broke into amiable laughter, as if I had made a harmless yet mildly foolish comment.

            “I do love how that misconception has grown.”  He chuckled, then read confusion on my face.

            “Misconception?” I asked.

            “If you’re here, then you’ve already met Satan, at your Judgement.”  Azazel pointed out.  I thought back.  Raphael had reminded me that Satan meant Adversary, and carried many connotations.  I remembered one from Torah class:  in the Old Testament, Satan was seen as a Prosecuting Attorney in God’s court of judgement.  He wasn’t seen as much of an enemy until later.  That was more a Christian motif, the Dragon in St. John’s Revelation called the Satan, the Enemy.

            “I remember someone trying to convict me for my rage.”  I agreed.  “He looked like Freud.  He was there as part of the judging, part of the system…”

            I had a sudden realization startling in its clarity.  “He works for God.  He’s not the Enemy, just the Adversary.  Like an opponent in chess, there’s no malice.  Even in the book of Job, he is in God’s court.  He tests faith, but doesn’t fight with God.”

            “Yet everyone throws his name around, blaming him for the corruption in the world.”  Azazel smiled.  “I even convinced Raphael of that, just by letting him lock me in a cave for a few centuries.  Wasn’t that clever?”

            I felt a sudden deep chill rock me to my foundations.  The world had come to believe in a lie, mud had been drawn across the waters of the pool of truth to cloud our thinking and create room for doubt.  No one took the Devil seriously because no one believed he was real.  And no one believed because all along we’d mixed up the prosecuting angel of the Old Testament with the real Enemy.

            “It was you.  It’s been you all along!”  I cried out, drawing my sword and crashing forward, rushing at the greatest of Adversaries, a knight out to vanquish the Dragon.

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“There now, that’s better,” Azazel said, and I opened my eyes.  He had moved us, though I had felt no displacement.  We had left that endless cavern for a sumptuous hall, gilded with gold and swathed with rich red carpet.  Tapestries hung on the walls, lit by fiery coals in braziers on pillars.  Azazel sat on an ornate throne, and I realized that this room was a dark reflection of Neal’s Hall of Elders.

            “Why have you brought me here?” I asked.

            “Here we can talk without distractions.” He grinned.  “I guessed that you found Jason a trifle upsetting.”

            “I have no desire to talk to you.”  I said.  “I don’t keep company with demons.”

            Azazel barked a laugh, draping himself across his chair in his amusement. 

            “Really?  And yet, most of your life you carried Rage within you.  You seemed comfortable with him in your life, and then even let him out to play in your world while you withdrew into the realms of the Spirit.”

            I bristled at his words.

            “Be that as it may, I have no business with you,” I declared.

            “Ah, but that’s what I wanted to discuss.  Your business here.  Why are you in Hell, Ethan?  It arouses the curiosity.  Particularly when you have that.”  He gestured with disdain at the sword in my possession.  “It doesn’t belong here.”

            “Why are you here?” I countered.  “Where are all the other demons?”

            “How rude.  A guest in my home and you won’t answer a simple question.  Well, allow me to show better manners.  I am here because I sensed your arrival.  The others have begun the war with Heaven.”

            “Don’t let me keep you from the fun,” I said.

            “Oh believe me, I find this much more interesting.  Here you are, a veritable Orpheus in the underworld.  And I have to wonder how a man of such obvious faith could end up here.  Surely you can appreciate an interest in paradoxes?”

            “They gave me a choice,” I told him.  “Because I was split in two.  I could take Heaven or Hell.”

            “So Rage did bring you here after all.  How exhilarating!  That boy rarely fails.  After all, every sin ends in Rage.”

            “What do you mean?” I asked.

            “Think about it.  Oh, films and novels go on about vanity as the Devil’s favourite sin:  it dropped Lucifer from Heaven for Milton, caused Adam and Eve to eat that fruit.  Everyone wanting to play God.  But, for all its press, vanity is the favourite sin of vain writers and directors.  The greatest sin of all is Rage.”

            “Why?”

            “Take lust.”  Azazel gestured and suddenly Daniel was in the room, approaching some young woman.  They were kissing, then fondling.  I averted my eyes as they fell to a bed, naked, but Azazel insisted I watch the proceedings by snapping his fingers and causing the bed to appear wherever I moved my gaze.  At some point, the girl laughed at Daniel for some reason, and he grabbed hold of her neck, throttling her.

            “How many frustrated Casanovas have hurt the object of their desire?  How many turn into stalkers, murderers?  Passion drives them from one sin to the next, from lust to rage.”  Azazel smiled.

            “Pride drives the ambitious to destroy their competition, the greedy and envious fight to get what they want.  The glutton will rage at anyone who stops them from their feeding, and the slothful grow angry when they are roused.  All fuel Rage, and Rage awakens the Destroyer.”

            “That’s why Donovan killed the others,” I said.

            “He was so perfect.” Azazel sighed.  “He helped end the world.  Sadly, however, he failed to damn you, for all his other successes.  Which is why I’m fascinated to discover that you are here.”

            I stood in silence.  I could tell that it bothered the demon greatly that I was so impassive.  After all, he probably instilled terror into everyone he met.  But I had begun to realize something.

            He had no power over me.

            If Azazel did, he would have used it.  To make me talk, or for the sheer sadistic thrill of it.  He could have tortured me with unimaginable horrors.  Something or someone was protecting me.  Perhaps it was my faith, perhaps it was the fact that I was already dead.  Perhaps it was because I had accepted that my Saviour had died for me and conquered Death.  Whatever the reason, Azazel could not touch me.

            Which meant that all of this was a delaying tactic.  He was trying to waste time.  But for what?

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I do not remember falling.  There was only the briefest sense of transition.  I was in Heaven, and then I was surrounded by pitch-black darkness.  There was an immense smell of ash inundating everything, but the place was cold, like a fireplace in summer.  The flames were long gone.

            The depth of darkness was tremendous, beyond black.  Most people fear true darkness, I remember a professor saying.  Being shut away from light was generally unnerving.  It was supposed to be instinct, he said, based on survival and coded into our genes:  the fear of the unknown.

            “I’m not afraid of the dark,” I told him.

            “I don’t mean just night-time, where there is still some ambient light, night-vision.  I mean like being in a coffin, sealed away.  It can make men mad,” he said.

            I proceeded to tell him how as a child I had forced myself to sit in the dark after having been afraid of a sweater I thought was a monster.  I turned on the lights, saw the room was normal, and turned them off, telling myself the room was still normal, just dark.  It got to the point that, playing hide and seek with my cousins, I would hide in cupboards and toy boxes, almost totally lightless, and fear nothing.

            “I learned early that darkness is nothing,” I said.  “It is not a thing.  All that’s there are the same things as when the lights are on.”

            He laughed and suggested trying out a sensory deprivation tank if I ever had the opportunity. 

            “Most people become claustrophobic, after they’ve been in there long enough.  I suspect you might just fall asleep,” he told me.

            Now, in the darkest of darks, I remembered his words and those of the dreamscape.  Darkness was but the space between lights.  Perhaps I had been designed to be the one person who could stand the terror of this desolate place.

            I walked forward slowly, straining to hear any sound, feeling only the chill air and smelling char.  The dark seemed endless and empty.  I began to find Hell boring, and wondered if spending too much time here was the worst kind of torture.  Monotony for eternity:  no stimulation, nothing, not even pain to break the routine.  It was crueller than physical punishment.

            I wished for light, praying to God for a break in this dreadful void.  I was startled when my sword burst to fiery life in my hand, manifested by my faith into brightness.  I marvelled, realizing I might be the only person in Hell with faith in God.

            Have you ever noticed that an empty house feels empty?  You know upon entering that there’s no one occupying the building.  It just feels flat, lifeless.  Hell felt like that in that it was devoid of the presence of God, the happy hum I had begun to feel ever since the day I was baptized.  The background murmur that told me God was watching out for me.  In Hell, that hum was suspiciously absent until my sword appeared.

            The light showed me very little.  The floor (ground?) was cold rock, and if this place had walls, they were beyond the limit of my light source.  It was unnerving, this sense that I was alone in this immense sepulchre.  I walked further into the darkness and continued like that for an unmeasured time. 

            I was weary of this ongoing pilgrimage, reflecting that the vast majority of my life had been based on trudging from one waypoint to the next, never staying in one place for very long.  I had spent all my time walking towards things for God, but never resting anywhere.  Never really living.

             As if in answer to my bored annoyance, I heard a faint sound.  This caused me to stop in my tracks, to pinpoint its source.  For a moment, I had a thought:  “Why do things start happing just as I’m wondering why nothing’s happening?”  But the moment passed as I felt the need to search for the maker of the sound.

            I turned toward the direction it had come from, and discerned the faint cries of someone moaning in fear.  Moving closer, holding my sword up like a torch, I began to make out the mutterings of a man driven mad with terror.

            “So dark, so alone, they’re out there, they’re gonna get me, can’t move, gotta hide, nowhere to run, safer to stay here, leave me alone, all alone…”  He was chattering like a monkey, an ongoing spiel about his terrors.

            I stepped closer and made out a naked form cowering on the ground, a pale troglodyte shivering against the rock.  This pathetic figure moved its head from side to side again and again, as if seeking for sights and sounds.  It seemed oblivious of my approach, or my light, though my sword should have been a rather conspicuous sign of my arrival.

            As I got closer I felt a cold shiver of fear grip me, and with such a force that the shock almost caused me to drop my sword.  I stopped in my tracks, utterly stupefied.

            The cringing, cowering thing on the ground was Jason, twisted into a dim shadow of himself by his captivity.

            I gathered my will and found the strength to move.  Kneeling, I shone my light in his eyes.  He continued to mutter, unaware of my presence, going on and on about imagined monsters in the dark.  His eyes were so wide and dilated that they seemed to be cavernous black orbs.

            “Jason, can you hear me?”  I asked.

            “It’s so dark, so lonely…” He went on, as if I didn’t exist.

            “He can’t hear you,” a voice said from the darkness, dripping with smug satisfaction and delight.

            I whirled, my sword up for defence, and beheld a dark figure melting out of the shadows.  Though visible because of my sword, somehow he seemed darker than the void from which he came.

            “Azazel.”  I said, recognizing Mara’s antagonist from the snowy plain by the mountains in the wilderness.

            He smiled.  “It is good to see you here, Ethan.  I wondered if Rage would ever lead you home.  Sloth has certainly found Jason a place in Hell.”

            Azazel took a long look at my sword, and something flashed across his features.  Some emotion that he quickly concealed.  Fear?  Loathing?  I couldn’t tell, but I knew that the sword’s presence here discomfited him.

            “What have you done to my friend?” I demanded.  “Why can’t he hear me?”

            “I have done nothing.  Jason’s imprisonment is his own doing.”  Azazel looked down on him with mock sympathy.  He even started to pet Jason’s head like a dog, though he didn’t notice.  “Poor thing, he’s so afraid of the dark he won’t venture out.  He’s too scared to even call for help, fearing that his cries might draw something menacing.”

            “But he should see me, know that I’m here to help…”

            “Alas, Jason is unable to perceive your light.  It comes from God, and were he able to accept such a gift, he never would have ended up here in the first place.  People in Hell have rejected God.”  Azazel seemed pleased by this.

            “You mean he chooses not to see?  Not to believe?”

            “They all do.”  Azazel waved his hand and we were immediately surrounded.  Innumerable naked, writhing bodies, a teeming mass of the damned stretched as far as I could see.  Each of them was blind and deaf to their neighbours, each of them so lost in their own suffering that they could not reach out to comfort those around them.

            I collapsed to my knees, screaming in sorrow and agony for these lost souls, trapped in darkness because they were unwilling to see the light.

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Ethan stared at the Pearly Gates for a long time.  I stood quietly to one side, using my wings like a cloak, seeking comfort from them as I crossed my arms on my chest.  I had never felt so desolate since losing Hannah, and wondered how Ethan could bear what he must be feeling.  Thinking that way, it was easy to give him time to compose himself.

            “I can’t go in without her,” he said finally.  “How could I say I loved her if I was willing to let her be damned alone?”

            How indeed, I wondered, marvelling at simple human devotion.  At how much he loved my daughter.

            “What am I to do?”  He asked, his eyes brimming with tears he refused to shed.

            “I need you to find her and bring her out,” I said.  “You opened the door in both directions, remember?  Once she is in the world again, perhaps she can have a second chance.”

            “So far as I know, only Christ could conquer Death,” Ethan said, his voice and face unreadable.  I could not tell if he was refusing me, or refusing hope.

            “God alone can save,” I agreed, “So, if it works, perhaps we can trust that it is His will.”

            Ethan shrugged.  “I only know that I have to go to her.  Bringing her out… Well, I’ll worry about that when I get there.”

            He stepped to the edge of the cloud, ready to descend.  Resolute as ever.

            “Watch out for Lucifer.”  I cautioned him.  “Don’t let him mislead you.  This isn’t going to be easy.”

            Ethan looked at me sharply.

            “Lucifer?  Have you even read the Bible?  That name is only in one chapter, and it refers to Nebuchudnezzar, the king of Babylon.  John Milton gave it to the Devil.  That’s fiction, Raphael.  You speak like a character in a book.”

            He shook his head.

            “If you are incapable of choices, then perhaps you should consider who is letting you provide me with this choice.  Who has set all these things in motion.  And who provided you with such an out of date script to work from.”

            Leaving those words ringing in my ears, he was gone.

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And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.

Revelation 9:11

 

I nearly wept with relief when I saw Ethan emerge out of a bank of clouds, blinking with confusion and rubbing his eyes.

            “Ethan!  Over here!”  I called to him, waving, and he looked up at me.

            “Raphael?” He asked in the perplexed tone of one who has just awakened from a mysterious dream.  Ethan approached me where I stood by the gold and ivory gates of the Kingdom of Heaven.

            “What’s going on?”  He queried.

            “You’ve been through the Judgement.”  I told him.  “And now you’re standing at Heaven’s Gate.  You have but to knock and Simon Peter will let you in.”

            He stepped forward eagerly, raising his right hand.

            “Fantastic!  I can’t wait to see Mara…”

            I put my hand on his shoulder.  He turned and looked at my face.  Immediately his brow furrowed with concern.

            “Something’s wrong.”  He said.  It wasn’t a question.  He knew.

            “I’m afraid so.”  I admitted. 

            “What is it?” 

            “She isn’t here.”  I said quietly, feeling limitless sorrow ripple through me again at the thought.  The same pain was reflected in Ethan’s eyes.  He gripped my shoulders.

            “What do you mean she isn’t here?  She’s an angel!”  He was angry with worry and shock, and took it out on me, the only available person to blame.

            “No, she isn’t.  She took human form, and the risks that go with it.  She killed Simon Lamb and her last thoughts were hateful.  There was no way for her to come back here under those conditions.”  I found the strength to tell him, but the entire time I was weeping.

            “What?”  He asked again, unbelieving. 

            “The Drake was a demon, and Mara had an inborn duty to destroy them, as an angel.  But Simon Lamb was a man whom the demon possessed, and murder is a mortal sin.  Unrepentant, Mara’s Judgement was a foregone conclusion.”

            Ethan sank to his knees, crying bitterly, cradling his head in his hands.  Having all eternity, and nowhere to go, I waited until his sobbing ceased before speaking again.

            “There is more.”

            “What?” He asked, his voice choked with emotion, strained by his cries.  His face was streaked with tears, and his eyes had gone red around the edges.

            “Your Judgement was not so easy to conclude.”

            “I don’t understand what you mean.”

            “Most people are easy to place.  They’re meant to be here.  Or, they’re not.  It’s based on the choices they made in life.  But you presented a unique case.”

            Ethan stood up weakly.  He didn’t seem to care, but asked anyway.

            “How so?”

            “At the end, you called upon Christ to save you.  That brings you here.”  I gestured to indicate the Gate.  “But part of you was equally unrepentant about your rage and the destruction it caused.”

            Ethan raised an eyebrow as if to question my sanity.  Then, realization hit.

            “You mean Reza.”

            “Yes.  That half of you didn’t want to be here, rejected what it stands for.  So, now that the whole has been fused back together, you have been found simultaneously guilty and innocent.”

            Ethan ran a hand through his already dishevelled hair, trying to take it all in.  He was clearly exhausted.

            “I thought Donovan was a demon,” he began, bewildered.  “When all of us were in the desert, we were tempted.  I cast out Satan, I thought he had caused the rest…”

            He was clearly thinking out loud, and began to pace.  I could see his exasperation, but chose to interrupt.

            “Satan is a word with many connotations.  Its root lies simply in the meaning of a block, or an adversary.  You weren’t necessarily dealing with ‘the Devil.’ For the record.”  I said.

            “So we were being tempted by our own inner demons, the dark side of ourselves?”  He asked, almost immediately.  Even pushed to his limit, he was still quick on his feet.  “I became my own worst enemy.  But what about the beast?”

            “Your dark half was perfectly designed to accept its more savage impulses, and that drew the attention of the demon Rage.  It gained strength from that alliance, and so did your shadow nature.  More demons flocked to the assemblage, drawn by your friend Jason.  So much evil energy connected you to the greater demon, the Beast.  The destroyer.”

            Ethan quoted scripture.  “‘They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit: his name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon.’  The Destroyer.”

            “Your memory is as sharp as ever, I see.  But did you know that Abaddon in Hebrew could properly be pronounced ‘Avaddon,’ as B and V are the same letter in the Hebrew alphabet.”

            “Avaddon, Donovan, almost an anagram.”  Ethan mused.

            “Not quite, but close enough to amuse the demon.  A private joke, of a sort.”

            “So, I was two, and now I’m one.”  Ethan said, getting the conversation away from linguistics.

            “Yes, and back to being what every human being should be.  Split, you naturally chose good, the dark half chose evil, but no real choice was ever made.  The two sides followed the predispositions of their natures, they never actually deliberated over what was right or wrong.  A human being is a creature of dichotomies, they necessarily use free will to choose between good and evil.”

            “So I stopped being human.”  Ethan stared into the distance, and a lifetime of loneliness and isolation became apparent in his face.  There was a troubling look in his eyes, speaking of the regret and sorrow at the core of his being.  As if he had just realized a truth he had always known but never faced.

            “But you have your humanity back now.”  I reminded him.  “And I need you to make a difficult choice.”

            “Why can’t you make it for yourself?!!”  He whirled on me in anger, his eyes fierce.

            I took a step back in surprise, but kept my composure, softening my voice.

            “The principle difference between the two children of God, angel and man, is that angels have no free will.  Their nature is a life of service to God, unquestioning.”

            His eyes softened somewhat, but then he smirked.

            “You’re rather behind the times, Raphael.  It’s quite out of fashion to refer to humanity as ‘man.’  Sexist, even.”

            I looked at him, startled.  The idea had never occurred to me.

            “It seems that your lack of ability to choose has also impaired your ability to change.”  I remembered Ethan in the desert:  focused, pure in intention.  Now his tone was biting and harsh.

            I knew that he was still reeling from the news of Mara’s damnation, so I maintained my patience.  Nevertheless, his words struck me hard.  He made me sound like a cardboard cliché cut out of the past.

            Ethan stared at me in silence for a moment.

            “So, what is this big choice you need me to make?”

            “I need you to choose between Heaven and Hell.”

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Each act is an island in time, to be judged on its own.

Alan Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

 

“Light is zee constant.”  A voice speaks in my ear, vaguely Germanic.  In the distance, I see a ball of light spring into existence and slowly expand.  A rolling wave of sound strikes, a world of buffeting thunder.  When I recover, there are stars everywhere, twinkling against a black canvas.

            “Bang!”  The voice says, “Such good lights.  Zee darkness is only zee distance between zee lights.  Yet zee light is always zere.  Trillions of neutrinos flow through zee dark, invisible to zee human eyes.”

            I turn and behold, Albert Einstein stands (floats?) beside me in the cosmos, his hair a frenzied white halo exploding off his head.

            “In fact, zee human body is made of zee same light.  It just looks different.  Difference, and darkness, zee perception of zese things is all relative.”  He smiles.  “How much light can you see?”

            I laugh at his voice, it is reminiscent of a bad German accent I did in a school play long ago and far away.  No one really talks like that.

            “Whether he sees it or not is not zee question.  It is how much darkness is in him?”  Another voice, again vaguely Germanic, perhaps my idea of Viennese.  That old headshrinker, Freud, has appeared.

            We look out over the cosmos, and it becomes a backdrop for scenes of me, rescuing people from the middle of a battle in the snow, and at the same time Reza is killing my friends while wearing my face.

            “He unleashed his darkest impulses, lost control of the Id.  Rage, violence, destruction.  He must be held responsible,” Freud declares.

            “The gravity of this situation,” a British voice says.  I turn and see a proper English gentleman of the seventeenth century, complete with a powdered wig.  He is tossing an apple up and down in his hand.  I guess this is supposed to be Isaac Newton.  “Interesting universe you’ve created here.”

            “He was destructive,” Freud snaps.

            “Matter is neither created nor destroyed.”  Newton continues.  “Whether the discussion is theological or scientific, the conversation is about the same world.  The lights still shape each other, energy upon energy.  No matter how much darkness there is, the light is not extinguished.  It’s just spread out further, its strongest concentrations further away from each other.”

            “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  This figure might be Lao-tzu, but he shifts between looking like Gandhi and Buddha.  I have no idea what Lao should look like.

            “His internal struggle creates tension, preventing progress.”  Freud maintains.  “Every step forward, sooner or later he takes a step back.  Inertia results.  But, more important, his rage ended the journeys of others.  They could not walk towards the light in their own time because he cast them into darkness.”

            Freud is sounding less and less Germanic, and looks more and more like Perry Mason, or a district attorney from Law and Order.  I can’t make up my mind.

            “So, relative to your perspective, he has separated from zee light?”  Einstein inquires.

            “Absolutely.  Let him remain in darkness.” 

            “Well, we have heard from the Prosecuting Attorney.”  Newton says.  “In all investigations, all the facts must be assembled and logic employed to test the arguments.  Is there anyone here to speak for the Defence?”

            “I AM.”  He’s back from the riverside, wearing homespun clothes and sandals.  “He called on me in his last moments.  At the last he sought the light, no matter how much darkness existed before.  He is mine.”

            Around us the universe swirls and gavottes, a miasma of colour and light.

            “You will take his place?” Freud asks.  “In an ordinary circumstance, one might ask if you had a Messiah complex.”

            They all laugh, an inside joke I suppose.  The stars grow dim as my saviour walks up a distant hill and opens his arms so they can nail him to his tree.  I have knowledge that this is for my own good, but it seems so evil.

            “Care for a piece of fruit?”  Newton offers me the apple.  I know it must be bitter.

            “NO!”  I cry, understanding what’s going on.  I run forward to stop the piercing but it’s too late.  I am struck by blinding light, raise my hands to protect my face, and am lost once again.

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In those days came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judaea,

And saying, Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.

Matthew 3:1-3

 

For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John;

and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come.

Matthew 11:13-14

 

Waking, white fades into discernible colours, hazy but there.  Solid, tangible, real.  I’m real.

            I’m sitting.  Sitting on a grassy riverbank, my feet in the water.  Faint birdsong in the distance.  Beyond that, a soft hum, like there were singers just out of sight.

            “Shalom, cousin.”  From out of the haze appears a man, as if walking out of a mist, or just coming into focus.  He is short, swarthy, bearded.  His hands look strong, capable.  Hair tightly curled, I know him, but don’t know from where or when.

            “Remember the last time we were by a river, John?”  He asks, sitting beside me with a warm smile.  “You paved the way for me, my water bearer.  A sign of my coming, the Son of Man.  And you felt like you couldn’t even tie my sandals.”

            He’s not speaking English, but I understand him perfectly.  We sit comfortably, like old friends, or family.

            “I’m sorry if you suffered, Elijah,” he says, his eyes deep with emotion.  “It’s not quite done yet.”

            He stands, and looks at me.

            “Whatever you do, Gawain, don’t eat the fruit.”

            It all fades out again, back into oblivion.

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