Seeing Red

– I –

Okay, Frank, get ready. I think I see him. Bright red, moving from lane to lane. He’s coming fast.”

Yeah, I see him. Camera’s ready. When he goes by I’ll start shooting.”

A red flash shot past the truck. Frank pressed the record buttons; in less than a moment the red car was a speck in the camera’s viewfinder.

I don’t know if this will work, Jim. I don’t think there’s ten seconds.”

Don’t worry. A few more days like this and we’ll have him. We’re not making a movie, just recording a jerk.”

Frank wondered about his friend. Jim had been preoccupied with a flamboyant red Honda S2000 and its driver for about two weeks. They usually saw it on Memorial Boulevard, weaving in and out of traffic at high speed. The red Honda had almost caused a wreck. Frank had listened several times to Jim’s moment-by-moment description of how this poor lady driving a Buick had almost been rear-ended by a Volvo. He would go on and on about that incident, even though Frank had been in the truck with him when it happened. Once he got started he kept talking about how he had to walk the lady to a nearby Denny’s, buy her coffee and phone a relative. Then he’d go back to talking about the red car. He would describe the driver, a wiry young man with straight black hair, medium height, who usually wore an Atlanta Falcons ball cap and, as if to purposely infuriate Jim, a rather large golden earring.

Apparently, Jim had a plan; however, he had not revealed all of it to Frank. It involved a video of the car driving recklessly down the road. Frank had known Jim for a long time. Jim was a good Christian man; an elder in their church. But this red car seemed to be an obsession. Frank didn’t think Jim would do anything illegal; but this already seemed crazy. All Frank knew to do was hope—and pray.

– II –

See ya Thursday!” Kevin hollered to a classmate. He put his books on the seat and glanced back at the college with a grin. Here it was October and he was looking at a “B” average. His friends had laughed and laughed when they heard he was going to college. They even pretended to bet on what day he would flunk out. No one had even picked a day in October. The popular bet was Labor Day. He laughed regretfully. He should have taken their bets. He was making it. He might not become a brain surgeon, but he wasn’t going to put up drywall for the rest of his life either. With any luck, he could manage an auto parts store. Anything that was a steady job with a steady income. He never wanted to live job to job the way his father did.

He glanced around the parking lot as the students’ vehicles were moving into position to exit. The tree leaves, he noticed, were just beginning to turn color. The line of cars waiting to merge into traffic began to shrink. It was nice of God, he thought, to let the leaves change color instead of just dropping to the ground to quickly turn brown. As the last car moved into the street Kevin opened his car door, slipped into the seat, buckled the safety belt and turned the key. The sound of mechanical power fueled by gasoline was music to his ears. He moved the car to his spot: the point at the far end of the parking lot where he could see past the trees and into the street. It was time to head across town and today Vera would be waiting for him. He looked at his watch, set the timer and started the car. He felt “game mode” commence, much like when he turned on his X-Box. Muscles tensed, senses quickened, nerves steeled. Checking the street for traffic and seeing none, he pressed the timer button on his watch and launched the car from its parking space. It shot across the parking lot, reaching 35 MPH before it hit the street. Like a small red space ship racing around other ships, meteors and space debris, the little red Honda flew down University Avenue. His eyes racing, seeking the enemy, spotting hazards, moving back and forth, in and out, feeling the machine roar with the power he controlled. Driving: the greatest game in the world.

The stoplight at University and Springer forced a tire squealing halt. Just as the light turned green, he accelerated over the railroad tracks with a nice bounce. At the intersection of Springer and Memorial Boulevard he tried a new trick. Pulling into the right turn lane on Springer, he arched right onto the paved shoulder of Memorial Boulevard, and checked for traffic in the mirror. He had split seconds to merge, but it was great! He gained at least seven seconds, maybe ten over a green light, and minutes over a red one. Memorial Boulevard was always easy. The traffic wasn’t too bad at this hour, and he could just fly. He was there in a flash. He steered a tight arc into the parking lot and gently rolled into his special space. He switched the ignition key to off and then pressed the button on his watch. 11 minutes, 16 seconds was the time on the dial. It was just average. His best time was 10 minutes 18 seconds. He guessed the stoplight had slowed him down.

He got out and started walking toward the restaurant. Vera always teased him about parking so far out in the lot. But he needed the same space every time and he wanted to make sure no one banged his car with their doors. He looked back at the car gleaming in the afternoon sun. Every day he said a thank you to his grandfather for giving him the car for his high school graduation present. It was a gift beyond his wildest dreams: an old Honda S2000 in need of a little restoration. Even if his grandfather could have afforded a new one, Kevin preferred one he could fix. Not only had he restored the body and the upholstery, he had rebuilt the engine. And not just rebuilt; he had tweaked it to perfection. It ran better than Honda ever dreamed. It was now a true show car, and he was proud of it.

– III –

Idiot!” Jim hollered as he quickly pumped the brake pedal, swerving his truck a little to the right to avoid hitting the car that had just pulled in front of him. Frank looked hard at Jim. They had been riding to work together for several years. He had never seen Jim this frantic; he didn’t recall ever seeing anyone so stressed for such a long time. Jim used to be a very careful driver. He called it “watchful driving” and said he was watching out for the idiots the government licensed; then he’d laugh and say, “Like me.” Too bad, he didn’t see himself that way now.

You know, Frank, sometimes I think the morning drivers are the worst. That guy just now, seems like he’s trying to get in an accident. Maybe the bum just doesn’t want to go to work.”

Frank murmured agreement. Anything less would bring Jim’s wrath on him. He’d tried once to point out that maybe the other driver was another human being with worried and cares. The tirade Jim delivered almost caused Frank to drive alone. But later Jim apologized, and Frank decided to continue riding with him. However, he didn’t stop praying every time he got in Jim’s truck.

You’re lucky, Frank. Six more months of this stupidity and you’re done. I’ve got two years before retirement. Two years, one month and thirteen days before I can ditch these idiot rush hour drivers.” He wished Jim wouldn’t talk about retirement. Frank was still a little bitter about the way the recent reorganization had forced retirement on him. Those two years would mean a lot in terms of retirement pay. Still, that was better than Jim’s new job supervising a herd of college kids. He had almost laughed out loud when Jim told him of his new position.

It’s like they’re brainless!” Jim was yelling about the traffic again, “Look at that! No turn signal. Just jump around from one lane to the other. It’s not faster to drive like that. I’ve proved it.”

Unless you’re that red car.” As soon as Frank said it, he regretted it.

Jim was silent for a moment. It was almost exactly like the moment when they launch the space shuttle. A brief silence as ignition takes place, and then the rockets start blasting. It only took moments for Jim to go into orbit, circling round and round the same old stuff. The accidents the red car almost caused, the way it surprised other drivers when the red Honda slipped in front of them from out of nowhere, other drivers that tried to emulate the red car, where were the police, what good is government, punk kids with no respect for themselves or anyone else and that damn earring.

Maybe Frank would start driving by himself. At least he wouldn’t have to watch every word. Could he risk Jim’s friendship for six months of peace?

– IV –

Martha looked at the clock: 11:30 pm. She sighed, realizing she’d missed the TV news. Jim was still talking about that kid in the red car. It was way past bedtime and he was still wound up. She had to force him into the shower. Now, sitting on the edge of the bed, she started to cry. How, she wondered, could she get Jim into counseling?

Focusing mindlessly on his dresser, she began to notice the items on it: the car keys, the cologne, the little frog dish their son had made where Jim kept his tie-bar, his college beer mug which now functioned as a coin bank, the old hair brush that she so disliked but he refused to throw away. They were familiar items, each reflecting a small part of him. Even though it seemed like none of these things could help, she had stopped crying.

She couldn’t help but ponder her husband’s words. Apparently, Frank had joined him to try to make a video of the red car speeding down the street. Today, they had recorded several cars slamming on brakes, surprised by the movement of the red car. Jim was overjoyed. “It was,” he kept saying, “the icing on the cake.” He never did tell her why he wanted a video of the car.

However, he did tell her about what he called a stroke of luck. They were able to follow the kid into an Italian restaurant in a shopping plaza over in Clifton Terrace. It seemed the kid was very friendly with one of the waitresses. Jim’s focus was so narrow that he couldn’t even describe the restaurant to her, but he told her almost everything the kid had done.

She gathered that there was a counter in the restaurant and the kid sat on a stool at the far end of it. Jim told her that he and Frank sat at a table right behind him, where they could hear much of what was said. They learned that the kid’s name was Kevin and the waitress was named Vera.

Jim was incensed that the kid drove fast and reckless just to see a girl. She watched her husband get angry, raising his voice to nearly a shout, telling her how the fool kid wasn’t rushing to work, or anything that might offer a rationalization: he was just a careless, reckless kid endangering others for no reason at all. She had rarely seen her husband so upset and angry. Even the time Jim Jr. sneaked out when he was grounded, went to a party and came home drunk, she didn’t remember that Jim was this upset.

Thinking of their oldest son made her look at the frog dish again. Could this have something to do with Jim Jr.? When the news came that the plane he was flying had crashed in a training exercise they both felt that more than just their son had died. Could something about this kid remind Jim of their son? All she knew was to listen, love him and pray. She did not remember the last time they had prayed together. He just talks about the kid and the car. At least he was talking about it. It would be worse if he kept it bottled up inside. Maybe one day soon he would say something that would help her understand.

Her thoughts were interrupted by Jim, invigorated from his shower, enthusiastically jabbering about the plan he developed while in the shower.

Honey, slow down! I don’t have the foggiest notion what you’re talking about. Now come over here, lay down on the bed and tell me what you figured out.” And, she hoped, go to sleep.

He walked over toward the bed, but stood in front of her to explain his plan. “Well, I’ll just take a copy of the video to that restaurant and give it to him. I can get him talking about rude drivers and people who don’t know how to drive–jerks never think they drive like that–and then I’ll give him the disk. That’ll teach him.”

She said nothing, but looked at him as if he’d just asked her to sleep on the roof. “Well?” He was very uncomfortable with her silence, but knew from experience not to push her.

Finally, she made her statement, “You get in a fight and get arrested for brawling with that kid and I’ll let you rot. And then I’ll get up in front of the entire Church on Sunday morning and tell them you couldn’t be there because you’re a damned fool.”

Jim was stunned. “Martha, Honey, there’s not going to be a fight. I just want to stop that fool kid from causing an accident. I’m not going to tell him what’s on the disk, I’m going to make up some story about having a disk of some inconsiderate driver and maybe he might help me figure out what to do and then I’ll go to the truck and get it, and give it to him, and leave. I’m going to be a friend, and he’s going to help me find this rude driver. No confrontation. No fight. Just a friendly conversation anda parting gift. He’ll never see me again. And if he keeps endangering people, I’ll sen d a copy to the police. If he drives safely, well, all’s well that ends well.”

She looked up at him, “I don’t know. You’ve been acting so crazy lately. Nothing but that fool kid. You don’t talk about anything else. I don’t know why he bothers you so much. You’ve quit reading. You quit watching C-span. You don’t know anything about football this year. You don’t even know what I fixed for dinner.” She paused a moment. He wanted to say “Chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, broccoli, biscuits and ice cream for dessert,” but he knew better.

It’s been weeks since we prayed together,” she continued. “I don’t think you’ve prayed at all lately. You do nothing but fret over that kid. Nothing. Nothing but that kid. Now don’t say another word, just get in bed and go to sleep.”

He lay down on the bed, reached over and turned off the light, and whispered, “Martha, I love you. I love you very much.”

– V –

It was one of those cool, wet autumn days when a cold front was washing away the last vestiges of summer. Kevin loved the weather. Rain, snow, sunshine, any weather was wonderful. Today he loved the way the cool damp rain had cleaned the air and left it fresh and sharp. He had even dressed for the rain because he would need to walk in it between classes. As he sped down the street, the S2000 created a wonderful cloud of water that sprayed everywhere. He wished he could turn around and watch the spray, but he had to keep his eyes on the road. The rain had been extremely heavy and there were puddles on the pavement that could make the car hydroplane. The puddles were one more obstacle for him to avoid and they added to the challenge. There was little traffic, and he was able to really fly down the center of Memorial Boulevard.

He spun the car into his special parking space and tapped the button on his watch. 10 minutes and 12 seconds was the reading. He looked at it again, gave out a loud joyful yell. A new record time! He just set a new record time and he did it in the rain! He hardly remembered the drive; everything went so smoothly. He sat there for a few minutes, celebrating. There was a great old Rolling Stones song on the radio and he could sing along with the chorus, “Jumping Jack Flash is a g-g-gas!” He wanted to do something special to celebrate, and decided to give Vera a flower. So he put the car into gear and headed across the street to the florist’s. The radio began reporting an accident on Memorial Boulevard. Traffic had stopped in both westbound lands. He looked down the street and noticed that there was no traffic in front of the plaza, so they must be right. He could drive straight across with no problem. It occurred to him that he could be caught in that traffic jam. He said a thank-you to whatever gods watched over the traffic.

Kevin bought Vera a red carnation. He didn’t have enough money for a rose. The florist was nice and wrapped it up with some tiny white flowers. As he returned to his special parking space, he noticed the girls under an awning outside the restaurant, pointing at him and laughing. At first he was puzzled by their laughter. Then he stared in amazement as he realized why they were laughing and pointing at him. The parking lot had filled with water up to the curb.

The rain had tapered off to a drizzle. If the girls weren’t watching, it wouldn’t be a problem, but how, he wondered, does one wade through a parking lot with your girlfriend and her friends watching you? Should he move the car up closer to the curb? That seemed like wimping out, and he’d still have to wade through the water. He decided to ignore the water. His black boots were laced up over his jeans, and he had his leather jacket for the drizzle. He held the flower carefully in his left hand, stepped out of the car and tried to walk nonchalantly toward the restaurant.

It dawned on him when he was halfway there that he was in a no-win situation. The girls would laugh no matter what he did. Seemed like it was always that way. No matter what, the world laughed at you. It set you up and laughed. Unconsciously, he looked up to the sky. It was very low, dark and ominous. For a moment, it seemed that the whole world was out to get him.

Then he saw the smile on Vera’s face. Something in her look was warming and loving. Just for a second he saw how sexy he must look to her; but he let it slip by, thinking himself looking foolish wading through the parking lot. It had started raining a little bit harder as soon as he closed the car door. But he couldn’t run in water that deep. Because of the splashing he made wading to curb and the sound of the girls giggling, he felt like a real fool. He had no idea that the girls might be giggling because the tall, beefy young man with long dark hair, leather jacket and his jeans tucked into his boots striding vigorously toward them through the rain looked dark, handsome and very sexy.

As he stepped up on the curb Vera ran up, accepted the flower and kissed him as though she were reaffirming her claim on him. When she loosened her hold on him, Kevin found himself facing her girlfriends. He wanted to melt away like cotton candy in the rain, but he could only think to greet the girls properly. He took off his cap and made a bow, like a knight or duke might make, and sauntered into the restaurant. The girls giggled some more and clapped nervously. He felt extremely foolish, in spite of Vera’s kiss, and buried himself on the stool at the far end of the counter.

The restaurant was completely empty, which explained the girls being outside. It wasn’t empty very long. The rain stopped, the parking lot drained quickly and customers who had been sitting patiently in their cars wandered in. Kevin felt even more foolish, realizing that almost everyone in the restaurant saw him wade through the parking lot and make a fool of himself.

– VI –

Jim left work a few minutes early: Frank had found another ride home. It was odd how Frank suddenly developed some excuse to do something at the house and couldn’t join him this afternoon. Jim wished he could leave early every day, since the traffic was so light. The rain eased into drizzle and driving was relatively easy. He was coasting to avoid hydroplaning in a large puddle when a wall of water suddenly covered his truck. Instinctively, he hit the brake, and fright made him hit it too hard. He hydroplaned to the shoulder. Fortunately, no one was behind him. In the distance, he could see a red Honda S2000 straddling both lanes.

Anger does strange things. Sometimes it makes you act hotheaded and irrational. Sometimes it makes you act in a cold, calculated manner. Jim, shook up by the near accident, sat quietly for a moment. A couple of deep, angry breaths and he put the truck in gear and checked the traffic. It was clear, so he pulled back onto the right lane and continued toward the restaurant. He couldn’t think. All he could do was drive.

The red S2000 wasn’t in the parking lot. Unfortunately, the parking lot was full of water. He would have to wait for it to drain. He parked his truck a short distance away from the restaurant. The entire parking lot and the restaurant were visible from his vantage point.

Jim began thinking about how he was going to handle things. How, for example, would he get to talk to the kid? Then, could he get the conversation turned to inconsiderate drivers? Finally, what would the kid do?

Lightning struck close by, followed by a peal of extremely loud thunder. The rain dropped from the sky like someone pouring out a huge bucket of water.

Staring at the downpour, Jim wondered what the kid’s face would look like when he saw the video. Then a thought jarred him like thunder: he would not be there when the kid looked at the video. He would not get to see the kid’s face! Jim felt robbed. He stared at the clouds and the rain blowing across the parking lot and could not understand why he had not seen this flaw in his plan. What good was it if you couldn’t see the look on the guy’s face when you get him? It made him think of an old movie, The Sting. He had always wondered why the heroes went to such an elaborate scheme when they couldn’t tell the villain that they had beat him. For Robert Redford’s character it wasn’t the money; it was the revenge. He got everything but seeing the guy’s face.

Jim wanted more. He wanted more than revenge. He wanted more than to see the kid’s face. He wanted to hurt the kid. He wanted to hurt the kid and he really wanted to hurt that car. He imagined a rifle. A .22 caliber rifle. He could almost feel the rifle in his hands aiming at where he imagined the red car would park. He was trying to decide whether to shoot the car with the kid in it, or let the kid get out, then shoot the car while the kid watched. He took a practice shot. His anger was so great that he could feel the recoil of the rifle. He laid the rifle on the dashboard. Looking across the parking lot, he could see water pouring into the lot from the street. Near where he thought the red car would park, he could see the kid lying in the water, blood pouring from a single hole in the side of his head.

Jim blinked. The parking lot was empty except for a blue Volkswagen and a black Civic. The rain had once again reverted to a light drizzle. Three more cars pulled into the parking lot. Then the enemy appeared.

The red S2000 seemed to glide into its parking place. Jim watched Kevin fiddling with something. Slowly, he reached for the rifle. His anger was so great that he could feel it. Solid, cold, wicked: and very comfortable in his hands.

He fired a round into the rear window. The second round went through the left rear window and the right front window. Kevin got out of the car. He put the third round through the trunk, aiming down so the bullet would pass through the gas tank. The explosion was beautiful.

Kevin didn’t seem to notice. He was holding something in his hands, something precious. He was walking, almost strutting, and splashing through the water as if it were not there. Jim aimed at the precious thing in Kevin’s hands, fired, and saw the red blood. He aimed at Kevin’s head and fired again. As he fired, he saw the precious object and recognized something very familiar in the way Kevin was strutting toward the restaurant.

As Kevin fell to the ground, the sky immediately turned blue, the sun was shining and Jim was working in the flower bed in his front yard. His son, Jim Jr. was strutting up the walk, carrying a red carnation to his mother for her birthday. Instead of a shovel, the tool in his hand was a .22 caliber rifle. Jim Jr. was dead on the sidewalk.

Lightning flashed, thunder roared, and Jim saw Vera kiss Kevin as he gave her the red carnation.

– VII –

It was a good ten minutes before Jim began to realize his surroundings. He had been crying, sobbing, weeping, unable to cope with the emotional pain. As he began to comprehend his situation, the sobbing started again.

He had committed murder. Not actually, but in his heart. He knew that if there had been a rifle in his truck, he would have used it. He wanted revenge, but he had no idea why. Revenge, vengeance, retribution, justice. In his mind he could hear the words, “’Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord,” and, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” Here he was supposed to be a leader in his church setting an example for others, and he was down here seeking to murder a kid.

Jim sat in his truck staring at the rain and finally he did something he had not done in weeks. He bowed his head. “Oh Lord, forgive me,” was all he could say. He sat there for a few minutes, head bowed, repenting. It all came up, like eating something rotten, only this was spiritual food: the attitudes and thoughts he had feasted upon. The traffic, the red car, the kid, the reorganization at work, the young men and women he was supervising, his age and retirement, even his anger at God over the death of his son, all were elements of his life that he had tried to manage himself. He was trying to manage a whirlwind, a tornado that had ripped up his life, spreading confusion and anger. It was so easy to get sucked in and blown away. Nothing in any of this was for the glory of God. He had to drop all of it. Just let it go. Just do his job for the glory of God. Just drive the truck for the glory of God. Just let God have it all, the kids at work, the jerks on the highway, his son, everything. It wasn’t going to be easy to give all that stuff to God.

He suddenly realized that he was sitting in his truck with the windows rolled up and fogged over. Thankfully, no one had seen him. That was good. He wiped the inside of the windshield. The rain had stopped. The water in the parking lot was down to less than an inch at most. Many of the restaurant’s customers were splashing through it in anticipation of a steaming plate of spaghetti. Their splashing reminded him of Kevin strutting through the water carrying that flower.

Foolish kid. He was amazed that the kid got out and walked to the restaurant. The kid had guts. He could never have done that. Walking through water, even with good sturdy boots, was a risky thing to do with those girls watching, but it seemed a normal thing for him to do. How he handled the girls was another matter. If Martha had kissed him like that in front of her girlfriends, Jim would have turned around and fled into the darkest part of the restaurant. All those girls laughing and giggling would have been too much. Kevin, Jim guessed, must be what they called “cool.”

His son was like that. Jim Jr. would have splashed through the water to give a girl a flower. He would not have worn an earring; but he would have kissed a girl like that. Jim had seen it happen. He was grateful that Martha had never done that to him. Kissing should be done in private. Martha’s kisses were wonderful. Private and wonderful.

Martha! How could he tell her about this? Should he? How could he keep it from her? He didn’t know what she would think, but he had to tell her. She was upset with him last night. She didn’t say anything to him this morning. Remembering her tirade last night, he realized how idiotic he had been. She was right; there would have been a fight.

He sat quietly. The rain stopped. The remaining water drained out of the parking lot as the wind blew the clouds away. The calmness that now strengthened him was a welcome relief. He sat in prayer, asking God what he should do. If he left now Kevin just might cause an accident and kill someone. However, he couldn’t just walk in and give the video to the kid. He prayed patiently, honestly listening to God. It wasn’t long before he had his answer.

When he opened the restaurant door, he saw Kevin sitting at the far end of the counter. Jim looked back at the red car in the parking lot, then up toward Heaven. “Thank you,” he said quietly, and entered the restaurant.

Vera was delivering four plates of spaghetti to a booth by the window. He walked up to the counter. One of the other girls greeted him with a smile. Jim smiled back and pointed to Vera, “I need to see her.”

Vera appeared behind the counter.

Handing the DVD to her, Jim said, “Hello. You have a friend who doesn’t understand what he is doing. Perhaps this will help him understand his situation. I hope, for his sake, that it does.” He turned around and walked out the door.

 

The photo of the Honda S2000 I found on Flickr…Google marked it as “Labeled for Reuse”. I found it at https://www.flickr.com/photos/vivekjena/9167263841. I altered the license plate so that the actual number is unreadable.

The Inheritance Cycle

 

First, let me say that these books are fun. “A boy and his dragon” always has potential for a fun romp through fantasy land. These books keep that promise, for the most part. They are not “perfect” but they are really fun to read. That’s why I recently picked them up to read them again. I was in the mood for reading an adventure tale that was loads of fun.

The fun begins quite early. But it quickly enters the realm of human reality. I don’t want to subject you to “spoilers” so I won’t say much about the plot. I do want you to know just what these books are. So, without popping ‘spoilers’ on you by discussing the plot, I will tell you why this cycle is great writing. To start, this boy and his dragon go for a romp that equals the ideas of the hero which Joseph Campbell outlines. We have the evil king, the training of the novice knight, dragons, elves, dwarves and evil monsters: most of the elements we enjoy in our fantasy-fairy tales. But it’s all rolled into a world that is cohesive and logical. As we read we experience joy and heartbreak. We are subjected to puns and jokes and other sorts of humor as well as heroism, loyalty, integrity, unbroken friendship and, of course, death of loved ones, betrayal, humiliation and the agony of defeat.

When I first read Eragon I had no idea that this book was written by a teenager. Of the hero tales I have read, none of them deal with “teenage angst” the way this story does. The character, Eragon, sometimes does things that are quite immature. He is a flawed human who tries to overcome his deficiencies, and, to the character’s credit, he does a decent job of it. It is to Christopher Paolini’s credit that the way in which Eragon acts is believable. It is also to Paolini’s credit that nothing seems “contrived”. There is no fake suspense as a character enters a house where the evil monster lurks. The characters in the story and the readers both know what’s going on. We suspect that, when the hero enters the house the monster will be destroyed, but we don’t know that. The suspense here is long-term. The description of the fighting is realistic. The characters feel the stress of their quest and so do we, the readers.

In addition, the world that Paolini creates reflects the reality of our world, and Paolini uses the reality of his imaginary world to comment on our world. As the story flows, we readers are asked to consider for ourselves the meaning of war, evil, religion, and other human cultural characteristics. Not in a barrage or a sermon, but as Eragon explores his world, he asks questions. In the first novel the boy turns 16. For many of my ancestors, 16 was the age one married and began to live as an adult. I and my friends were getting our driver license at 16. However, Eragon is charged with a quest, not one that he chose, but one that was thrust upon him. With the quest thrust upon him, Eragon must quickly enter the ‘adult’ world. Yet he is still a youth, and some of those he meets will do their best to remind him of this.

In order to deal with this, Eragon asks questions about the “meaning of life” and so we, the readers, are confronted with the reality of immortality, the true nature of magic, the existence of God and other philosophical and ethical questions. For example, one of the elves that help train Eragon asks him, “Why do you fight?” This is not so Paolini can preach his opinion of war. It is essential to the plot that Eragon understands why he fights against the empire. But, in Eragon’s pondering and his dialog with others, we, the readers, are given a chance to think about the necessity of war. Eragon makes the choice the plot demands…but…we are not forced to agree with him.

Much later in the story I found a section that discussed war in a different sort of way. It reminded me a little bit of C. S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet and a discussion that occurs that story. In Out of the Silent Planet Lewis describes a world that is not “fallen”. The inhabitants of this world are not “bent” toward Sin the way humans are. However, they enjoy certain activities that provide for heroic effort and courage. And that is, as I recall, one of Joseph Campbell’s themes. Humans need to prove themselves through heroic effort and courageous acts. He offers, I think, that religion provides a framework for this type of endeavor. 

The concept of privacy is examined through the mechanism of mental telepathy. Moral responsibility is examined in all sorts of ways. The racism of Humans, Elves, Dwarves and Urgals permeates the story. Paolini does seem to address much of this directly. That is because his main character is always asking questions, meeting new & different “races” such as dwarves and elves, and goes into an intensive training. As this main character, Eragon, learns about the world beyond his little village, we also must deal with the same questions he has.

There is a scene in the third novel that comments on much of this ethical pondering in a way that is most typical of Paolini. Eragon and a Kull (a giant Urgal humans and dwarves mistrust, mostly because they are a very warlike race, like the Klingons of Star Trek) are on a mission together. They are camped in the mountains when a giant wolf native to the mountains wanders by their camp. Eragon, through telepathy, talks to the wolf. At this point, Eragon accepts the wolf and invites it to eat the entrails of the deer they have cleaned and is currently roasting on a spit. The Kull, not being a telepath, does not know what has transpired. He accepts Eragon’s warning not to attack the wolf, but he displays his distrust of the animal. Paolini does not delve into the racial comparisons of Human, Kull and Wolf. Instead, he just tells us the story and we, the reader, can bring into the scene our understanding of how the Kull frequently battle these wolves and dislike them. But Eragon, with no history of fighting these wolves, befriends it. Paolini does not preach, he describes the situations his characters play out. The rest is up to the reader.

Again, I’m commenting on on the non-plot aspects of these tales because I hope you will be able to enjoy these books as much as I do. As I re-read this tale, I remember that the plot was the main point for me on first reading. I was astounded by the twists and turns that Paolini implements on his characters. But I sometimes am astounded by the events my characters find themselves facing.

The magic that is practiced in Eragon’s world is much more believable than that of the Harry Potter books. Using magic in Harry Potter’s world does not ‘cost’ him anything. Harry has the ability to flick his wand chanting some words and thus he can bring forth a cup of tea. A magician in Eragon’s world can say words that will produce a cup of tea, but he will expend the same amount of energy that it would take to produce it without using magic. In Harry Potter’s world those who use magic do not normally interact with those who do not. In Eragon’s world the magicians and other humans live together, and work together. Not that the “non-magic” fully accept magic. For the most part they seem to tolerate it, but they do not actually like it. That magic is the industrial technology of Eragon’s world is emphasized by the fact that, at one point, magic is used to manufacture a product that can be sold to raise money.

For us, on Earth, the equivalent could be the Industrial Revolution. We like the products of industry, but we dislike the way industry dehumanizes us. We like the way industry has removed the pollution of animal feces which resulted in typhoid and other horrid illnesses. But we dislike the way industry produces water and air pollution that could end up making water undrinkable and air unbreathable.

Now that I’ve said all the above, you’re probably wondering how in the world this story could be fun to read. Well, I give Christopher Paolini credit for telling a wild, crazy tale. And…I have skipped over the plot. This is written without ‘spoilers’ so that you can enjoy the books as I and other readers have. As I have said, there is very little preaching. Instead, the writing here is very action oriented. It is through the dialog and actions of the characters as the story progresses that these philosophic concepts are encountered. But that’s the fun part. These stories as marketed as “Teen” stories. But they truly are, in my opinion, written for both teens and adults. (Personally, I think the publishing industry labels books “Teen” if they do not contain lurid sexual encounters and plenty of English curse words. That Paolini chose the ‘high ground’ and avoided lurid sex and English curse words makes these books more enjoyable.) We encounter these concepts, but we are left to draw our own conclusions. I bring them up because I want you to understand that these books are not simple fairy tales with little else to recommend them.

All this, in my opinion, makes The Inheritance Cycle more than fantasy genre, it moves the book into “literature”. Not that the story is as refined and polished as Lord of the Rings, but that it can sit on the same shelf.

The Fantasy Tale: An Observation

 

I love fantasy tales. This section of Always Rejoicing contains my thought on some of my favorite fantasy tales. Consider that, for most of us, the first literature we encounter is commonly called a Fairy Tale such as Cinderella. This site is about Joy. It’s about the things that point to Joy and to Heaven. Fairy Tales and Fantasy have a way of pointing to Joy. They have a way of helping us understand Heaven.

That’s because Heaven is, for many, a fantasy. However, Fantasy has its roots firmly planted in Reality. There are many qualities that make a story a Fantasy. But any story that has talking animals is, basically, indulging in a fantasy. So, by that definition, Animal Farm is a fantasy. Yet Animal Farm helps us understand the Reality of our world.

Another element of fantasy is the wondrous machine. Included in this would be the famous time machine. Space ships are also included—but they will be fantasy for not too many more years. What you might not realize is that Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged also contains wondrous machines, including the steel alloy that one of her characters invents. Those who have read it should now realize other elements of that story that are wondrous machines. ‘Nuff said…I don’t want any spoilers for those who have not read it.

The use of magic is probably the most frequent quality that identifies a fantasy story. Diana Gabeldon’s Outlander stories include a sort of magic. She structures it in such a way that it almost appears to be a real scientific quality. The Harry Potter stories are probably some of the best know magic tales. What we don’t often recognize is that the fantasy story does not work well if the magic or wondrous machine or talking animals are the focus of the story. There must be something else for the story to work.

That quality is called the “plot”. The fantasy stories that are best are the ones that employ the “quest” as the foundation of the plot. If you read my story about the Stone Circle you’ll see that the protagonist experiences events, but he does not actually do anything. However, if I told you that the story was chapter one of a novel, you would immediately see that there are many options for a quest plot. That’s why we love stories like The Oddessy. We enjoy reading about the hero and his quest.

That brings me to the first point of this essay. I have read many critics of the fantasy tale which complain bitterly that the author has ‘borrowed’ from stories like Lord of the Rings to tell his/her tale. They say that these ‘borrowed’ elements detract from the story. The critic wants a new story with new elements. Or the critic complains because vampires don’t work the way the author portrays them. Or the story contains elves that look exactly like elves in LOTR. Or—worst of all—they are upset because the hero meets a mentor who teaches the hero the things needed to accomplish the quest, just like in Star Wars.

What I think these critics do not understand is the foundation of the fantasy quest story. That’s in spite of the fact that Joseph Campbell’s works, including The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth tell us exactly why these stories seem to be similar. They also explain why vampires in one story are different from vampires in another story or that the dwarves or elves seem the same. (What qualities must a creature have vs. an author’s concept of how that creature might work.) Or why the protagonist meets a mentor who teaches him how to accomplish his quest.

What I’m actually saying is that a genre of fiction must produce certain qualities to satisfy the requirements of that genre. And when a critic complains because a story does not meet his/her criteria my first question is, “Do you understand the genre?” Complaining because a dragon can or cannot fly, because the hero meets a mentor, because the elves look like elves in another story, et cetera, reveals that the critic does not know what he/she is talking about. Would you complain because the hero in a “Western” rides a horse or uses a pistol or seems to be much like John Wayne?

Please do not misunderstand me here. I do not subscribe to all the nonsense that Joseph Campbell offers in terms of theology and religion. I do think he has a valid and very useful point about how the concept of the hero on a quest works. Shakespeare employs these ideas in many of his plays. Some of the best King Arthur stories follow these ideas. I think these hero concept ideas work even in the detective mystery story, the straightforward drama, even romance novels.

Finally, I’d like to address the idea that stories that involve magic are inherently evil and Christians should avoid them. To understand this, one needs to understand exactly what “magic” really is: it is the manipulation of the elements of this world in order to achieve a personal goal. For example, if I employ a magic carpet to carry me from my home to the store then I have used magic to accomplish a personal goal.

But,” you say, “the Bible tells us that sorcery is a sin.” And I must agree. It does say that. My answer starts with a question: “What’s the difference between using an automobile to go to the store and using a magic carpet to go to the store?”

Magic is a technology. By saying the right combination of words one can manipulate the environment. We, in the ‘modern world’ use what we call Science and Technology to manipulate our environment. What, I must ask, is the difference between a crystal ball and using Skype?

In these fantasy stories we can easily see how magic is extremely difficult to use “for good only”. In fact, that’s one of the main ideas of LOTR: many want to use the ring for good, but we see that it would only end up being used for evil. While that idea is not so clear in the Harry Potter stories, we easily see it in the King Arthur stories.

And that brings me back to my question about the magic carpet and the automobile. What the fantasy story can do is show us how a technology, magic, is very very dangerous. The problem is that sorcery is sinful, not because of what it is, but because of what we are.

So, yes I do enjoy Fantasy. An author can make racial comments about elves and dwarves without sounding ‘politically incorrect’. And magic can be a comment on science and technology. But mostly, it’s just fun to read about imaginary worlds–or our world with imaginary elements added. It’s fun to read about how the ‘farm boy’ struggles with impossible obstacles to rescue the damsel in distress. We cheer for Luke Skywalker, just as the ancient Greeks cheered for Jason.

And, no, I have not really dealt with the question of the Bible and Magic. That’s far beyond my intention here. I do intend to discuss it in my comments on my favorite fantasy tales. For now, let me ask this question: Should one read or watch a story about lust and adultery; is a story about a swindler or murder sinful in and of itself? Be careful how you answer this…for the Bible contains these types of stories.

Alternity

When I was twelve, thirteen maybe, I saw alternity.

Perhaps it is a dream,

a vision,

a peek into the future.

Whatever it is, it is vivid.

Reality vivid.

I am strong.

I am agile.

I am fearless.

I run fast through the city.

I leap fences, jump walls, climb buildings: bounding from rooftop to rooftop, almost flying.

No one is chasing me.

I run alone.

It is imperative that I run.

Ahead, a large concrete wall.

I jump, my hands reach the top, legs swing up and around, half a spin and I am over the wall; then Splash!

I land solid in a puddle. Water spraying everywhere.

I sprint.

Forward.

Movement everywhere.

Fellow runners surround me. I don’t know where they come from, but they are here, jumping the wall, splashing the puddle, sprinting away.

We move.

Cheetahs, ghosts of motion, we move.

A Wolf-pack, a blur speeding through the streets, we move.

The Joy of running, jumping, practically flying

over walls and fences, leaping up steps, jumping rooftops.

Immaculate movement for the joy of movement.

Simple action for the love of action.

Pure speed for the thrill of speed.

Joy unbounded.

Joy surrounded.

Joy uncounted.

He is there.

Leading the way.

I am not sure who he is. Just the leader.

We follow him.

Sometimes he leads the way. Sometimes I lead the way. Sometimes others lead the way. Sometimes I am alone. Yet even when I am alone, he is near.

We run day and night, never stopping, never resting, never pausing.

Constantly running.

Then it ends.

He disappears.

Everyone walks.

Wanders.

Seeks direction.

There is no direction.

Halt.

Wait.

Rest.

Others wander close by.

Someone knows where he is.

I hear a shout, “Follow me!” Many go.

I hear it again, “Follow me!” Some go.

Again, “Follow me!” A few more go.

Others make a different choice. I am one of them. I chose my own direction.

No direction.

I just run.

Alone.

I run.

over fences I jump,

over walls I leap,

up steps I bound,

across rooftops I fly,

movement for the desire of movement,

action for the avarice of action,

speed for the lust of speed,

pushing hard against the wind, feeling—almost—complete.

I am awake, in the ‘real world’ of my bed, looking at the alarm clock. I have five minutes before it rings.

Occasionally, randomly, unpredictably, I had this dream, this vision, this glance into another reality, this peek into alternity. Eventually, I began to run. It was good exercise. I found a parkour squad. Self-fulfilling prophecy? Inner desire becoming reality? I did not think much about it, I just ran. The squad taught me; I learned quickly. Soon I ran, jumped, leaped, flew, over fences, up walls, across steps, rooftop to rooftop, like a wild animal. I grew. My youthful body grew strong, muscles matured into rope, bones tempered into steel, senses sharpened, reflexes quickened. Years of training. Years of running. Years of pushing, pushing hard.

I could do it! I did do it! I would not be stopped!

I was Batman, I was Spiderman, I was Superman.

I run: Therefore I Am!

A friend of mine. A ‘couch-potato’ nerd. He knew computers. He knew computer games. He knew technology. He could run, jump, leap, fly, over the barriers of technology.

He was invincible playing his game.

I was invincible playing mine.

One day I told him about my dream. He told me about his. It was the same, except he dreamed technology while I dreamed parkour. We had turned our dreams into our reality. We were alone in our dreams, alone in our reality.

And just as someone in my dream seemed to lead the way, there was a person in his dream that led the way. And just as my leader disappeared, so did his. And just as I did not bother to follow when called, neither did my friend. And just as I had chosen to go it alone, he had chosen to go it alone. We would do it our way. We would follow no one.

Love entered my life. Well, maybe it was lust. Eventually we married. Eventually there were children. Eventually we divorced. Nothing is permanent. Nothing is solid. Nothing remains the same. Entropy.

And then I had another dream,

or vision,

or peek into alternity.

I paddle my canoe in the creek near my house.

The canoe moves

quietly and swiftly through the water.

Overcome with Angst

I want to see more.

To do more.

To be more.

I paddle.

Then,

I see the world through another’s eyes.

I see the world as a beautiful creation.

I see the world as it is meant to be.

All is beautiful.

All is peaceful.

All works together toward the desired end.

But it is not my desired end.

It is another’s.

Someone I do not know.

I wake up five minutes before the alarm rings.

I pondered this dream, or vision, or peek into another reality. It was not another reality. It was the only reality. The world was beautiful. I decided to enjoy it. I started running again. I bought a canoe and began to paddle around the creek. I celebrated the beauty of the world with anyone who would enjoy it with me. Everything, if seen in the proper perspective, was beautiful.

Rich was beautiful.

Poor was beautiful.

Luxury was beautiful.

Squalor was beautiful.

Health was beautiful.

Sickness was beautiful.

The whole world was beautiful.

Everyone could be happy.

Everyone could be beautiful.

Everyone could have joy.

Everyone could decide to see the beauty and enjoy it.

Alternity returned.

This time I start in the creek, paddle downstream, enter the river.

This time the river is a flood.

This time

city streets fill with water rushing,

water urgently, horrendously speeding through the streets.

Everything not secured is washed away.

Moving water,

incredible power,

beautiful power.

I see beauty as water rips through buildings.

I see beauty as water cleans the streets.

I see beauty as water washes away the city.

Beauty is a Joy to behold!

This time from my canoe I watch the incredible.

This time I see the amazing.

This time I see people caught in the flood.

Trapped on rooftops.

Trapped in cars.

Trapped in fear.

The flood swallowing people and washing them away.

From my canoe I see the beauty of the flood.

I see beauty in the faces of people.

Their fear is beautiful.

Their screams

a sort of catastrophic music accompanying the roar of the water.

It is the beauty of death.

Suddenly there are others

in canoes and rowboats rushing downstream

carried by the raging flood. In our boats we talk

about the beauty of the flood.

We share the joy of the moment with each other.

We watch people in the city

cascading down streets

drowning

as we share how beautiful the world is.

Again I wake up five minutes before the alarm sounds.

I got dressed and went to work. Later, I told my friend, the technology couch-potato, about my dream. He, too, had dreamed a dream like that. And, like me, he did not know what to make of it.

Haunted by the dream, the vision, the peek into alternity, I worked harder. I ran more. I paddled more. I jumped, leaped, hopped, ran, climbed, sprinted for my self. I could do nothing for others. I did not know how. I knew how to save myself. Was that not the way of the world? You can only save yourself, you can’t save another, can you?

The peek into alternity came again.

In a vision.

In a dream.

In a canoe.

No paddle.

The current swift and strong.

The beauty of the water splashing on the rocks.

The beauty of the rainbows in the spray.

The beauty of the canoe as it splinters on the rocks.

The beauty of the red blood flowing from my head

turning the water a delicate pink.

The alarm is ringing. I shut it off.

I know that no matter what I do I cannot save myself.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.” John 3:16

The Magic Fruit

Adam had forgotten about the tree. Yahweh had told him not to eat the fruit, so he had avoided it. In fact, he had avoided the whole section of the valley where the tree grew. It was not an interesting place, just a few trees and some flowering shrubs in a meadow.

The area around the cave, however, was fascinating. There were several waterfalls, each falling into a small pond. Two of the ponds had small islands in them. Small streams carried the overflow of water from the ponds to a creek which meandered through a long flat meadow. The vegetable garden was in this meadow, where he spent most of his time tending the vegetables. An orchard grew on the far side of the creek. Flowers grew along the borders of the various patches of vegetables and along the side of the creek. Back in the orchard some bees had a hive and from time to time they would let him get some honey.

The cave was in a mountain. When he had time, he would climb up the mountain and enjoy the view of the creek valley. Farther downstream there were even more waterfalls. He could see great rivers off in the distance. On really clear days he could see what must be extremely tall mountains and thought that one day he would make the journey to them. But just now he and Eve were busy with the gardens and the orchard.

Eve was marvelous. It was fascinating to watch her with the animals. There were always at least a few animals following her, offering to help with some task. Moles and gophers dug in the garden to help prepare the soil for planting. If she dropped something a dog would fetch it and carry it back to her. Squirrels and birds would bring her ripe fruits and nuts from the high branches of the orchard. She was always willing to assist with any task he might be attempting, such as moving stones out of the vegetable patch or weaving a basket. And the way she prepared their food was wonderful. One of his favorite things was the way she put little nuts or fruits or savory leaves in the bread. The cave was much cleaner since she arrived. He had to admit that he was much more ordered in his lifestyle too.

But it was conversation with her that was the best. While the animals would talk to him, their point of view was limited. Squirrels would talk about fruits, nuts and the best way to build a nest, sheep and goats would have marvelous discourses on the best grasses. No matter which animal it was, the conversation centered on the animal’s world view. Beavers, for example, concentrated on the functionality and practicality of dam building. Beauty and craftsmanship were outside their comprehension. With Eve it was different. She appreciated beauty. Bees could only appreciate flowers for their pollen. Eve appreciated how different flowers looked planted next to each other. Geese saw the stars as an aid to navigation, but Eve could pick out designs in the stars and together they made up stories about the pictures in the sky.

It was no surprise when she began to spend some time with a new animal. New animals wandered into their valley periodically. And they normally followed Eve. This latest animal was a long, thick, wormlike creature. He figured it was about the length of two cows, but because it was so thin, probably weighed about as much as a dog. It had very short, stubby legs and, on its back, leathery wings. The head was most fascinating. It had a long snout like a crocodile, but its tongue was forked and it fluttered around as if it were sensing something. The eyes seemed to be made of water, they were round black balls that appeared to flow without moving. The beast would escort Eve to distant places. They would walk and talk the way Eve used to walk and talk with him. He felt lonely and began to follow them. For many days they would go to the big meadow where that tree grew. They talked about the tree and its fruit. They talked about what would happen when someone ate the fruit.

Most nights Eve would want to talk about what the beast had said. It bothered him that she would only talk about things that beast discussed. But he was intrigued by what she was saying. The concept of death was very strange. He knew that seeds would die and be put in the ground. Then they would sprout and live again. Animals would die and they did not come back when they were planted in the ground. The new beast said it was Yahweh’s magic. It said that there was magic in the plants, but not in the animals. He knew he should ask Yahweh about it, but he never did.

It was the idea that magic was contained in the plants. For some reason he didn’t want to talk to Yahweh about it. The seeds would die but come to life when buried. Eating plants would satisfy hunger. That was magic, also. The magic in the plants kept him, and Eve, alive. He had never thought this way before. Magic was intriguing. The new beast seemed very wise.

As he listened in on their conversation, it became clear that the beast thought that there was something that happened after death. It was also strange that the beast would say that eating the fruit would not make a person die, but would make that person like Yahweh. He remembered that Yahweh had said that he and Eve were created in the image of Yahweh. But Yahweh was different. Yahweh had created both of them and the place they lived. He did not know how to create people or beautiful lands. It was very confusing. The beast was saying that eating the fruit would open Eve’s eyes and give her the knowledge of good and evil and she would be like one of the gods.

He could not decide what to do. He knew he should ask Yahweh about all of this. However, the idea of eating something that was magic, that would impart special knowledge, was very compelling. Deep down in the depths of his soul he knew it was wrong.

Like the time he tried to dig a ditch to bring water from the creek to the vegetable patch. The ditch needed the water to flow in the reverse direction. He finally figured out that he needed to dig the ditch from upstream and it would flow down into the vegetables. He had tried to force the water to flow against its nature. Or when he planted potatoes in the soggy marsh near the creek. The potatoes rotted because it was not their nature to grow in the marsh.

But this was different. He had a choice. And the choice he wanted to make was the one that made him feel giddy. He felt the same way the time he moved the giant boulder. This was a little different—well maybe a lot different. The boulder he wanted to move this time was not a physical boulder. This boulder, if he moved it, would make him like a god. It would make him the equal of Yahweh.

He stepped out from the bushes like he had just walked up. He said hello to Eve, but she didn’t seem to hear him. The beast didn’t seem to notice him either. The beast was wrapped around a large lower branch looking intently at Eve. Its tail section drooped down to the ground. She was standing next to the forbidden tree with some of the fruit in her hands. He stood there for a moment with a myriad of emotions flowing through his veins. Fear, jealousy, envy and anger were mixed with elation, excitement, anticipation and a new sense of self.

Once, climbing on the mountain above the cave he saw a beautiful flower. In order to reach the flower he had to carefully pick his way across a narrow ledge. One false step and he would fall. He remembered that when he reached to flower he saw another way he could have gone. There was an easy, safe path to the flower. He glanced around, as if to look for another path.

The beast spoke, “See, you did not die when you touched the fruit, neither did you die when you picked it.”

He thought that he should say something. He knew that Yahweh had not said anything about touching the fruit or the tree. Yahweh had said that if they ate the fruit they would die. He said, “Eve,” and wanted to say more. But she did not look at him. So he called her name again, “Eve,” yet she still did not look at him. A third time he called to her, “Eve,” and still she did not look at him. She was looking at the beast with what seemed to be adoration. He felt jealousy rage within his soul. If she ate the fruit she would die. So be it.

She turned to him and smiled a wicked smile, perhaps the most wicked smile there ever was, then bit into one of the fruits. He could see the amazement on her face. She shoved the rest of the fruit into her mouth and chewed greedily, spitting out the seed with mild contempt. She shoved a second fruit into her mouth; it hardly fit and the juices ran down her face. She mumbled something about “delicious” and reached up to pick more fruit. This she gave to him.

The fruit felt no different from any of the fruit in the orchard. He looked hard at it and was going to put it down when the beast spoke, “So, my dear, you did not die.” And he understood that the fruit was more than just delicious, it was magic. It would make him a god, perhaps like Yahweh. He stared at the fruit. He wanted the magic. He looked at Eve. She was still eating the fruit. She was not dead. He bit into the fruit and felt the whole world spin, just like he was falling. It was the most delicious thing he had ever tasted. He ate the rest of the fruit and spit out the seed. He took another fruit from Eve and bit into it. It was not as good as the first one. Eve was now biting a fruit, spitting, tossing the damaged fruit to the ground and trying another.

For quite some time they tried to find a fruit that tasted as good as the first. They never did. But they did find something else. They discovered that they were naked. Embarrassment was a brand new emotion. Quickly they hid in a fig bush and fashioned a sort of apron with the leaves. They discussed their situation with anger and frustration. Surely a god did not feel naked and embarrassed.

Certainly they knew good and evil now, because they knew what they had done was evil. The fruit was not magic. It had not imparted any special knowledge. But disobeying Yahweh had. They had fallen outside the protection of Yahweh. This was the worst part. Had he chosen to obey Yahweh that act would also have imparted the knowledge of good and evil. Adam now knew good and evil, but he knew it in a self-conscious way. It made him feel naked. Plus, he was painfully aware that he was mortal and one day he would die.

He looked at Eve and was ashamed of his cowardice. He was willing that she might die just so he could find out about the fruit. He had betrayed her. The fruit was not magic. There was no magic. Magic was a lie told by the beast. The thing he had really wanted, to be like God, was not achieved by magic. It was achieved by obedience. It was wisdom. And now he had acquired some wisdom. But it was tainted, skewed wisdom. He knew good and evil, but he did not have the wisdom to judge good from evil. Before the beast came, before he ate the fruit, things were always good. Things might not work the way he wanted, but then he would learn how things worked. Now he… Now everything was bent, crooked, askew. He could still learn, but it was not the joyful learning he once knew.

Even worse, when Yahweh came walking in the evening like usual, seeking to talk with him, he had tried to blame her and Yahweh for his poor choice. He was afraid of Yahweh! How could he be afraid of the kind, loving Creator who had made him? He couldn’t talk to Yahweh like he did before. Disobedience was there, Sin was there. They were a barrier, a wall, between himself and Yahweh. And, because he didn’t understand the nature of the wall, he couldn’t get past it. He was trapped in Sin!

Yahweh’s reaction to their sin was much different than he expected. The serpent was cursed. The ground was cursed. He would have to deal with thorns and thistles. Childbearing was made painful. But they were not cursed. In this Yahweh showed that knowing good and evil was not enough. Yahweh showed mercy to them.

Banishment from the valley was also imposed. The garden in the valley could not bear their sin. An angel came and escorted them to the edge of the valley. As they looked downstream toward the far distant mountains, they realized that they now knew more about good and evil than they really wanted to know.

Walking On Oil

The blue sky and the blue sea melted into a luminescent white mist, obscuring the horizon. The Aegean Sea was an undulating pool of glass with the waves splashing softly. Above, the sky was a bright, deep blue, streaked with some high white clouds. John was standing on the eastern edge of a small peninsula. Everywhere he looked he saw blue or white; everywhere except the island behind him. The sea always made him think of Lake Tiberius. Even in Ephesus, when he went down to the shore he would look at the sea and long for the lake. Sometimes, when the commander was away, the soldiers would take him fishing. But it was never the same. The sea was nothing like the lake. The water was salt, the fish were different. And sitting in the boat with your gaoler was nothing like fishing with James and Peter.

Turning around he could see the hill rising up in a vain effort to assert itself over the island. For some reason he always thought of the transfiguration mount when he looked at the hill. Mount Tabor rose up out of the plain where it dominated the skyline for miles and miles; this mount rose out of the sea to become the highest place on a tiny, hilly island. There were some mountains near Ephesus. They towered over the river valley like towers in a mighty fortress. And the Temple Mount always gave one pause to see it—or it used to.

A tear came to his eye as he thought about the Temple. It and much of Jerusalem had been destroyed. But that was not enough. The Romans had to vanquish Masada too. Some god this emperor’s brother had been. A devil was more like it. He had all but said so to the emperor’s face.

Libel was the charge. And through a series of strange events the accusation had brought him to this lonely island. Patmos. It could have been worse. Domitian could have had his way. Instead, the governor sent him here, with a warning from the emperor that the only way off the island was to walk across the water. Apparently Domitian thought that was funny.

John turned back to the sea. He stepped carefully. His foot went straight through the water to the sand below. Every day he tried, knowing that it was nearly twice as far to the nearest island as it was across Lake Tiberius. And while ten Roman miles might not seem far, he kept thinking about Peter. John could not help but remember that night and Peter’s account of it.

Peter stood up and looked at his friends. The eyes of his friends were full of fear, all that is, except for John. Not that John wasn’t afraid, but that John had heard and, in spite of his fear, was looking at him with encouragement. Had the apparition called him?

The wind howled, blew spray on him and seemed to suck the breath out of him. He almost sat down, but caught John’s eye. “He did call you,” John mouthed, or maybe said, but the wind blew the words away. How, then, did either of them hear the call? Peter glanced out at the approaching apparition. Had it called him? It wasn’t a ghost was it? Then he really looked at it.

Once again, it called him. Fear vanished. It was, it really was their friend. Joy filled his soul. He looked at the apparition, stepped up over the gunwale, then down. The surface held. He took another step. Still firm. His courage grew. Another step. It was solid! He could walk, just like…

A gust of wind blew hard against him, his cloak flapping. He pulled it around him and lifted his right foot. As he stepped the fury of the wind nearly blew him over. Fear welled up inside him and he looked at the wind. Fear overcame him. He actually saw the wind. It was just air, but he could see it.

Instantly, he was soaked, trying to swim in the fury of the storm. Frantically, he searched for Jesus, hollering, “Lord, save me!”

Jesus reached out, took his hand and pulled him up. Standing on the surface of the lake they stepped into the boat together.

Peter did walk on the water; but he also sank into the sea. John knew he couldn’t walk across the sea: he really was afraid that, just like Peter, he might sink. Besides, where would he go? Jerusalem was gone. The governor of Asia had sent him here, he could not go back to Ephesus. It may have been the governor’s orders, but it was with the emperor’s approval.

Nero had been crazy, John thought, but these Flavian emperors were tyrants. Vespasian had been a relief at first, then he sent his son, Titus, to Jerusalem. This Domitian, however, was a shrewd tyrant. But it was worshiping the emperor and his family that really angered John. Domitian’s first act as emperor was to proclaim the dead emperor, his brother Titus, a god. And John had expressed his doubts as to Domitian’s ability to make a man a god. “God became man once, but man can never become God,” he preached. That was twelve or thirteen years ago. Still, people remembered.

It really was a poor charge against him, but the emperor was paranoid. He had begun a purge all of those who opposed him. The purge was not religious, it was political. Many Patricians and Equestrians had been exiled and some had been executed. And Christians, by refusing to even pretend to worship Jupiter and Minerva, much less Domitian himself, had been caught up in the purge.

John had answered the emperor simply, but truthfully. At one point he thought Domitian might just whip him. But the emperor would not tolerate what he called libel and the death sentence had been proclaimed. Then John had done a very stupid thing. He called out to the emperor, asking, “So you say that Titus is a god? Did he walk on water? I saw Jesus walk across Lake Tiberius. Where is Titus now? Jesus I saw rise again after you Romans crucified him. And later I saw him ascend into heaven. Where are your brother’s bones? They’re still in your mausoleum. What kind of god did you make him, that he is still in the grave?”

Silence filled the court like a heavy, oppressive fog. John almost laughed as Domitian began to turn purple. “Fill a cauldron!” the emperor ordered, choking with rage on the words, “fill it with oil and make the fire blue hot. Strip him and parade him naked through the streets to the cauldron. Build steps. He can step up to the rim and walk across the boiling oil. Then we will know who is a god.”

It wasn’t huge. Maybe four feet in diameter. A big black iron tub mounted on stones over a roaring fire. Just off to the side were the steps, newly made, and ready for his ascent.

“If you get to the other side, just jump down. I didn’t build any steps for that side.” The centurion laughed.

John grinned, “Well, the emperor told you to build one set of steps. Why make jokes about following orders? The God of Heaven will take care of me no matter what happens, but who will take care of you?”

The centurion growled, “The fire is not hot enough. You, Archelus, guard him. Send for me when the flames turn blue.”

It took several minutes for the blue flames to begin licking the sides of the cauldron. The heat forced everyone back a couple of feet. A messenger took off after the centurion and John began to feel fear.

John began to pray. In the middle of his prayer he had a vision. It was a memory of the twelve in a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Jesus was walking toward them over the water. Peter stepped out of the boat and walked a couple of steps, then sank. Jesus reached down, pulled Peter up to the surface and they stepped into the boat. Afterward, Peter had described it to all of them. “It was because I was afraid,” he said, “if I had trusted Jesus I would not have sunk. I took my eyes off of Him. I looked at and saw the wind and fear overcame me.” John had not forgotten those words.

Then a second vision came to John. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were standing before the fiery furnace. John could see them being cast into the furnace and Jesus walking in the furnace with them.

His third vision was Paul before Nero. It was much like his appearance before Domitian. Paul was preaching. He tried hard to convert Nero, but Nero was lost. Then John saw something amazing. Nero was lost because he wanted to be lost. And John knew that this Domitian would not believe even if John did walk across the boiling oil.

He kept at his prayers even when he heard the noise of the emperor approaching. The centurion barked orders at him. He stood up and walked toward the cauldron. Heat blasted from under it. Some soldiers shoved the steps up against the cauldron. He climbed up and stood at the edge. Domitian was saying something, but he paid no attention.

The surface of the oil was smooth. Odd, he thought, the oil should be boiling. Maybe, just maybe, the Lord was going to give him this unwanted miracle. But no, it wasn’t about him, it was about Domitian. The emperor wanted to see this miracle. He would make a plaything of John. Somehow claim that he, Domitian, had made the miracle. No, John thought, there would be no miracle today.

“Domitian!” The emperor looked up, shocked that this prisoner should address him as an equal. “The Lord has given you today, Domitian, to know that He loves you. He wants you to repent and be saved. He has cleared your schedule. You will get no petitioners today. No generals will seek audience. Today you will be in solitude, to pray and to repent. You will see no miracle here. The Lord loves you, Domitian, he knows your heart. He will not give you this fancy. You will not make a show of me. I will sink into the oil, but it is you who will burn.”

Before Domitian could speak, he jumped feet first into the cauldron. The oil was hot, but not hot enough to kill him quickly. He would be in the oil for a long time before it finally burned him enough to kill him.

Eventually the soldiers pulled him out of the oil. Domitian and the crowd had left immediately after he had jumped into the cauldron. He did have some burns, which the soldiers treated. The soldiers who pulled him out of the oil were excited. They reminded him of children telling their parents about the games. “Who is this Jesus?” they asked, “what kind of god is he?” “Is he equal to Jupiter or is he more like Neptune or Apollo?” “How did he keep the oil from burning you?” John was amazed at the comments about the emperor. They whispered, “Did you hear the emperor yell when you jumped into the cauldron?” and “You were right, he did burn!” and “You could see fear in his eyes.”

There were five or six soldiers coming and going while his burns were treated. They transferred him to a prison cell. There he told them about Jesus. They came when they were off duty, sometimes late at night, bringing their friends with them. He told them about Adam and Eve, explaining sin to them. He told them how Jesus was born and how he died as payment for their sin, too. He explained repentance and being born from above. And he told them to love one another. Then one night they brought pitchers of water and asked to be baptized. So he reached through the bars of the cell and poured water over each one in turn. Later, he learned from them that the governor was unhappy about this. “He will turn all my soldiers into Christians!” and so it was decided to send him to Patmos.

The sun was up above the mist that still obscured the horizon. The wispy clouds had drifted away leaving the sky the same crystal blue as the sea. Waves gently splashed at his feet. It was going to be another hot day. He headed back to the cave he used for shelter wondering what his Lord had prepared for him to do this day.

 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

John was exiled on Patmos for eighteen months. During that time he was given the visions that became The Revelation to John, the last book in the New Testament. Domitian’s paranoia ended with a successful assassination conspiracy and the Senate proclaiming Nerva the new emperor. One of Nerva’s first acts was to pardon the exiles and permit them to come home. It would be another two centuries before the Roman emperor accepted Christ Jesus.

This story is adapted from an old legend. Many years ago I read that St. John had tortured by being boiled in oil, but that he survived.

The Three Little Pigs

 

Many, many years before Goldilocks had her big adventure with the Bruin family, there was a family of pigs that lived in a grove in the middle of a wood near a village by a lake. These three pigs were named Kenan, Jared and Javan. Now most pigs were excellent plumbers, although a few were very courageous and fierce soldiers. If you know someone who has ever hunted boar, then they can tell you about just how fierce a boar, or a pig, can be.

Kenan was a ruddy little pig who was the first one to call when your drain was clogged. He was very efficient: sometimes it seemed like the drain was open before he got to your house, but that was just a joke to praise him. Jared was a white pig with a pink tail. He did everything to perfection. Jared was the one to call when you needed to have a sink or bathtub installed. When Jared installed a sink or bathtub it was a beautiful job. And Javan was the best plumber for connecting a pump to a well. Javan was a gray and black pig who tended to overdo things. For example, he would unstop all the drains, not just the one that was plugged, “Just in case,” he would say. And if Javan installed a bathtub it would be decorated, usually with stones, but he would use jewels if he could get them. There was, however, little he could overdo when connecting a well to a pump. What he did overdo made the pump work better, so everyone liked it when he installed a pump.

They had moved to the village after the plumber that lived there had passed away. He had been a very good plumber and had done excellent work, so no one needed plumbing repairs. And few residents clogged their drains because the former plumber had taught the villagers how to keep their drains open. Still, new construction and the antics of children gave the pigs enough work to feed themselves. But Kenan, Jared and Javan dreamed of being more than poor plumbers. They wanted to work hard and build a house.

Kenan wanted to build an adobe house. He listened to stories his Uncle Joab told about the wars. His uncle’s comments about adobe houses fascinated Kenan. When he learned that adobe could be colored he was sure an adobe house would be beautiful. He would top it with a thatch roof. He knew that some did not like thatch because it could burn, but thatch was watertight and, he thought, it would make a very pretty roof for his adobe house.

Jared wanted a pretty white house. He thought he could build it out of pine and oak. He would paint it white on the outside, but stain the inside to preserve the natural color of the wood. He liked the idea of wood so much that he thought he would make the roof of multicolored wooden tiles. His house would be white with a rainbow roof. Nothing would be prettier.

Javan liked the idea of a stone house. He had listened to his Grandmother tell stories, and in some of the stories the hero lived in a stone house with a tile roof. He imagined his stone house with a big fireplace. When it was cold and snowy or rainy he thought his fireplace would keep his house warm and dry.

But it was just dreams. The three pigs began to wonder if maybe they should take a hint from their Uncle Joab and become soldiers. To do that, they would have to go to the castle. Unfortunately, they were not sure where to find the king’s castle. Uncle Joab had not talked much about the castle. It was many leagues distant, that was for sure. It would be easy to get lost trying to find it. Returning to their original town was not wise, either. There were too many cousins, all plumbers. That was why they had moved to this village. So they just stayed in their grove and did the little plumbing the village needed. At least they had food to eat. And they were safe.

One day the village was buzzing with excitement. The King was going to build a summer castle on the lake. This meant lots of work for stone masons, carpenters and plumbers, not to mention bakers and fishermen and taverns. Everyone was happy. Happiest was Haman the banker.

Haman howled for joy when he learned the news. He also howled because he was a wolf. Most bankers were wolves. Who would rob a bank if the banker was a wolf?

He was happy for two reasons. First, everyone would deposit all their money in his bank. But more important, Haman owned all the land near the place where the new summer castle would be built. He would build houses on the land and rent the houses to the King’s servants and soldiers. And he would get rich.

There was one thing that was a huge annoyance. The land that the three little pigs owned was right in the middle of the land he had purchased. See, Haman had learned about the King’s plans from a cousin who was a banker for the King. When Haman tried to purchase the land, only the pigs would not sell. Haman would not offer them a decent price and they had no other place to go. Finally, Haman decided that he would just build all around the little pig’s woods.

Still, Haman brooded over the woods. The surveyor he had hired pointed out that the grove in the woods would make a wonderful park. Haman could charge a higher rent with that park next to his houses. But there was nothing he could do. He didn’t have enough money to pay the price the pigs needed so they could buy another place to live. Anyway, he realized that the pigs were not going to build houses. They seemed to enjoy living in the grove. So, he could rent his houses and say nothing about the woods. His renters would just assume it was not going to be developed. That was true enough: it would not be developed by him.

But Haman was wrong. The people living in his houses did not like it when the pigs washed their clothes and hung them up in the trees to dry. Plus, the pigs had gotten used to living away from everyone. They didn’t always wear all their clothes. And they piled up plumbing supplies. The place looked like pigs lived there. It was a messy place; just exactly what you would expect if three plumbers lived in a grove of trees, only these were pigs, so it was even more so.

Now Kenan, Jared and Javan didn’t know any of this. The banker had offered to buy their property, but they couldn’t afford to sell it. Later, when the news of the King’s new summer castle spread through the village, the pigs figured out why Haman had wanted to buy their land.

And then they were too busy to think about it. They were the only plumbers in the village and they were working hard. First, they had to work on the houses Haman was building. Then they had to work in the castle. Then they had to do both. There was little time to wash clothes or cook; so they hired a maid and a chef. The wall they built to hide their growing store of plumbing supplies proved inadequate. Instead of cutting down more trees, they built a warehouse up the hill behind the castle. Then they hired a gardener. He expanded their flower garden, planted vegetables, pruned the fruit trees and built a trail through the woods. All the residents of the houses Haman was renting were very happy.

Finally, the work of building the summer castle came to an end. All the sinks, bathtubs and toilets were installed. But the building was far from done. All the land on the far side of the castle had been purchased by the knights and noblemen. These dukes and earls wanted to build their summer palaces too. Eventually the building was done.

Kenan, Jared and Javan looked at their grove and sighed. Everybody in the village had a nice place to live. Everyone but them. Kenan was the first one to pull out the old drawings he had made of the little adobe house he had wanted. He looked at it and, thinking of the wonderful palaces that the barons and knights had, he sighed wistfully. Then he looked at his brothers and said, “I don’t care what the knights and dukes live in. I still want my little adobe house.”

Jared turned and looked at him, “Yeah, and I still want my little white house.” Javan agreed. He still wanted his little stone house. So they stayed up all night discussing the situation.

The next day Jared hired a surveyor, Javan engaged an architect and Kenan directed the gardener to help clear the land. And the tenants of Haman’s houses called on him to complain about the loss of the grove.

But it’s our land!” the three little pigs shouted in unison. They were so dismayed to see the villagers carrying signs that read, “Save Our Grove!” and “Protect Our Trees!” and “Save The Spotted Wren!” and even “The Pigs Hate Nature!” and other signs with similar slogans.

Kenan said, “They didn’t care about the rest of the woods when their houses were built.”

Javan said, “They didn’t care about the environment when the King built his summer castle.”

Jared said, “Yeah, but now they see what they lost.”

Haman offered to buy the woods and make it a park. It would be named in their honor. But he offered them even less than before. “Well,” he said, “I’m doing this to keep the peace. It’s going to cost me and I can’t make any money on the grove. And it will get you out of trouble with the villagers.”

You old coot!” Javan hollered at him. “You stirred up the whole village. You want the grove. You’ve always wanted the grove. Well, we’re not selling.”

Jared and Kenan agreed.

The banker was even more shrewd than the pigs realized. He chained himself to a tree. The three pigs realized that the villagers saw them as the bad guys and the wolf as the good guy. People who had been reluctant to put their money in Haman’s bank now did so. No one would call on the pigs to do any plumbing.

The three little pigs were not stupid. They did not want to destroy the grove, just build their houses in it. They knew that Haman had everyone so upset that no one would listen to them. It took a week for the villagers to calm down. The place they wanted to build their houses was the place they had stored their plumbing supplies. A wall had been built around it to keep unwanted visitors out and to hide the supplies. To silence the protests they moved all the construction equipment inside the wall and began to build their houses.

Not everyone was against the pigs. There were many residents who had sold their property to the banker and later regretted it. They knew what Haman was doing. Some of the carpenters and stone masons were more than happy to work for the three pigs. So it wasn’t too long before the houses were built. And then they took the wall down.

Haman was furious. With the three houses already built he knew he couldn’t force the pigs off the land. Jealousy and envy began to eat at Haman. He owned all the land around the woods. And he had made offer after offer to buy it. It was the pigs who were stubborn and greedy. They knew what the land was worth, especially since it was the only grove in the whole village. All the firewood had to be brought in from the forest, except what the pigs grew in the grove and the woods that surrounded it. Haman’s greed ate at his heart. He thought about the grove and gardens in the little wood. The gardens could be expanded. He could charge for access to the gardens. He could…he could do nothing. He had to get the pigs evicted from the grove.

The old wolf of a banker huffed and puffed around his den. He took a book from the shelf and tried to study it. Then he closed it, put it back and huffed and puffed some more. Then he took another book from the shelf. He huffed and puffed and studied his books and huffed and puffed and studied his books and soon it was three in the morning. It’s a good thing he was a banker and kept bankers hours: he was almost late in opening the bank. But he was in a dark, foul mood. He nearly bit off the heads of his tellers. His vice president, Wiley Coyote, resigned, saying he was moving to the desert. And that ruddy little Kenan withdrew the rest of his money, saying he was going to invest in the stock market. Haman stomped around the bank, huffing and puffing and that he would somehow blow those houses down.

Finally he heard himself. Well, he couldn’t blow houses down. He was a wolf, not a tornado. He sat down in the big easy chair he put clients in when he was going to trick them. He had closed many a deal plying the occupant of this chair with brandy and cigars.

He poured himself a glass of brandy and lit a nice cigar. The brandy and the cigar helped him calm down. The little white pig’s wooden house was not much of a problem. Jared had used some big steel pins to hold the four sides of his house together. All Haman had to do was pull out the big steel pins and when anything fell on it, the house would fall. Kenan’s house was different. Adobe wouldn’t blow down. But the roof would burn and that would be enough. Javan was another matter entirely. He always overdid everything. The fireplace was a prime example: the chimney was big enough, so Javan said, for three Santas to come down. The walls of the house must have been two feet thick. Not even the King’s castle was fortified like that. He could destroy two houses for sure, but he didn’t know how to get rid of the third one. Maybe there was another way.

His thoughts kept returning to the environment issue. It had almost worked before. No one realized the pigs were building their houses behind that wall. After they tore the wall down they said they were not going to do any more building, but keep the grove, gardens and the little wood just as it was. That was the key. The villagers were satisfied that the environment of the little wood was safe. He just needed to change that idea.

About a week later the pigs found out that their neighbors, Haman’s tenants, were coming into the little wood and cutting down trees for firewood. This was not a good thing, as the little wood was not big enough to supply all the firewood they needed. So the pigs called a village meeting to discuss what could be done. Haman howled for joy when he heard about it, because he had made the suggestion to his tenants that they could get firewood very easily from the pig’s woods.

The mayor called the meeting to order. Kenan and Jared reported the firewood problem and offered a solution. They would charge the going rate for imported firewood. Villagers could get their firewood from the great forest and not from the little wood, since it would be cheaper.

Haman jumped up and began to question the pigs. He twisted their words to make it look like the pigs wanted to make huge profits from the little wood. He made it sound like the pigs were not good custodians of the little wood. And he suggested that the village elders select a committee to oversee the wood and protect it. Suddenly, the pigs realized that Haman was going to be the chairman of the Council for the Protection of the Little Wood: the CPLW. Haman was asking that he be named the Warden of the Littlewood and Forest or WoLF.

The pigs panicked. They ran back to their home and started building a strong fence to protect their property. They also refused to allow anyone on their property, for firewood or any other reason.

Everyone began to be angry with the pigs. They marched around with banners that said, “Save our Little Wood” and “Pigs are pigs” and “The Grove and Garden for our Children.” The newspaper printed stories from environmentalists which told about how the Little Wood was the last refuge of the spotted wren and a haven for other small creatures.

It was Javan who came up with the idea that might save them. He called some environmentalists to come visit them. He also had the newspaper editor join them. The environmentalists looked at what the pigs were doing to preserve the Little Wood. They approved of the fence, saying it would help protect the Wood. They approved of the way the pigs were managing the grove. They also offered some advice as to how to make things work better. The pigs agreed to their ideas. The editor printed all of this in the next edition. Then the villagers stopped being so upset.

At the next village meeting the pigs reported on their activities and asked that they be named the CPLW. They did not need a WoLF. That position should be changed to the Protectors in the Grove or PIGs.

Haman had lost his battle. Haman had lost the Little Wood and the Grove. He was furious. But this time he did not go home and sit in his den and huff and puff and look at books. This time he did not yell at the bank employees. This time he did not sit in the easy chair and drink brandy. This time he went to the little pigs’ grove.

The pigs were in the village making plans with the environmentalists and the village elders. They didn’t even notice that Haman was not around. Haman climbed over the fence and went to Jared’s house. He pulled out the big steel pins that held up the walls and the roof. Then he crawled up on top of Javan’s house and waited.

When the pigs came home they didn’t suspect anything. Kenan went into his house and started to fix some supper. Haman came to his door and hollered, “Little Pig, Little Pig, let me come in!”

Kenan looked out the window and saw Haman. He also saw murder in Haman’s eyes. “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin chin” he stammered.

Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll burn your house down.” With that, Haman climbed back up on Javan’s house and began to shoot fire arrows into Kenan’s roof. It quickly caught on fire. Kenan ran to Jared’s house.

Jared!” he hollered, “Haman’s set my house on fire!”

Jared let him in just before Haman bellowed, “Little Pigs, Little Pigs, let me come in!”

This time Jared stammered, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin chin”.

Haman bellowed, “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll knock your house down!”

Jared looked up and saw that the pins had been pulled out. He grabbed Kenan and they ran to Javan’s house. Haman had climbed back up on Javan’s roof and began to throw rocks at Jared’s house. It quickly fell down. But Jared and Kenan were safe inside Javan’s stone house.

Haman again bellowed to the pigs, “Little Pigs, Little Pigs, let me come in!”

This time Javan stammered, “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin chin”.

Haman bellowed, “Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house down!” He quickly began to beat on the door.

Now the pigs were scared. Even though there were three of them, Haman was a very big wolf. He might even kill one of them before the others could stop him. So they pushed furniture up against the door.

This was part of Haman’s plan. He wanted them to block the door so they couldn’t get out. Then he would jump down the big chimney and attack the pigs.

But Haman had forgotten about Javan. Javan always overdid everything. And tonight Javan overdid building a fire to roast his beets with garlic. He had build a fire big enough to roast a beet the size of an elephant!

Now, because the chimney and the fireplace were so very big, Haman didn’t realize just how big the fire in the fireplace really was. So, when Haman jumped down the chimney to attack the pigs, he was very badly burned.

It took the pigs a good long time, but they did manage to get Haman to the village doctor. Haman was burned all over, but his left foot was severely burned. It took many weeks his burns to heal.

The village elders forced Haman to pay for rebuilding the pig’s houses. And the village sent for Wiley the Coyote to come and manage the bank until Haman got better. But Haman never did get better. He was rather quiet in the mental hospital, but if someone mentioned “pigs” he would go berserk.

Goldilocks

Long, long ago in a time way back before the great flood, some of the animals could talk. For, after the time of Paradise, much of what was in Paradise still existed. If men no longer lived forever, they still lived very long lives. As time went by, their lifespans became shorter and shorter. The same with animals’ speech. Some of the birds, like parrots, have kept their ability in a very small way; but back then almost every animal had some ability to speak in human language.

Some of the animals could even build things. Today we see the beavers building dams and birds making nests, but way back before the tragedy of Cain and Abel many of the animals had the skills to make and build things. Otters, for example, were marvelous assistants to men in the building of boats. No one had invented the printing press, so books were handwritten, mostly by chickens who were extraordinary scribes. Donkeys were highly respected in their assistance to blacksmiths. Jewelers depended on cats and dogs were excellent chefs. Why, even today, if you have a dog that lives in the house with you, if you start puttering around in the kitchen, your dog will come to see what you’re doing; for most dogs like to supervise the cooking. It’s a part of their original nature.

Some animals have always been able to provide entertainment. Nightingales are well known for their song, even though they can’t actually sing words anymore. Rabbits and squirrels used to perform wonderful little shows for children; and elephants and horses have always been a crowd-pleaser. But it was the bears, with their ability to sing and dance, as well as act, that made them famous. For the bears were the best musicians and dancers in that antediluvian age. Some bear families were very popular, attracting large crowds of their fans. Some of these bears grew a bit wealthy, as they could charge more than the average bear. Many bears were very cosmopolitan. They had nice homes just off Main Street, complete with swimming pools, fish ponds and lots of bee hives. In fact, some of the most famous bears lived in houses that were as wonderful as the houses of men.

There was, however, a small family of dancing bears that were so famous they were known by almost everyone. Their family name was Bruin. Papa Bruin was world famous for his fiddling. He danced with a group called the Ursa Majors. They were famous for their Morris and Sword dances. Mama Bruin played the harp. She was a member of the Ursa Minors, who were a famous ballet troupe. And their baby bear, Little Baby Bruin, was a marvelous tap dancer. She was pretty good on the pipes, too. In fact, she performed a special act where she played a melody that sounded very much like the song we know as “Danny Boy” and she tap danced at the same time! Every time she performed it the audience was speechless.

But fame has a price. Fans were always wanting autographs. And some would sneak up to the windows to peek in and see what the Bruin family were doing. Reporters would then publish stories about them. Everyone, it seemed, knew everything they did. But the worst of it was the haughty airs that some fans would go out of their way to put on. They would make it seem that they were better than you for they had done some special thing with the Bruin family. Most of the time it was an exaggeration, if not a complete fabrication.

The cat, for example, would wander down to the bears’ house and then prance by the cow, bragging about the wonderful tea she had just had with the wonderful dancing bears. The eagle would fly over by the horse and brag about the wonderful fishing excursion he and the Papa Bruin had just enjoyed. Even the butterfly would brag to the bumblebee about the wonderful nectar he had found in the bears’ rosebushes. It was too much! The bears did not have any privacy. Everything they said or did was the subject of much gossip. Little of it true, and some of it downright mean.

So, the Bruin family decided to retire to a house out in the country. It was a lovely ranch style house that had a swimming pool and several berry patches. There were lovely gardens with apple trees and bee hives, and a creek full of trout flowed through the property. But what made it so very wonderful was the distance from town. After the bears moved in they marveled at their privacy. They could get up in the morning and enjoy their breakfast of oatmeal and berries without having to share the morning with nosy fans. Papa Bruin could read his morning paper from front to back while his oatmeal cooled and he didn’t have anyone poke their head in the window to “just say ‘hello’”. Mama Bruin could walk through her flower garden, pick some flowers for the breakfast table and return just as her oatmeal was cool enough to eat. No one stopped to tell her the latest gossip about the goat. And Baby Bruin could rock in her rocking chair while her oatmeal cooled and no one pulled the rocking chair back as far as it would go or pull toady frogs out of their pockets and drop them in her lap. It was just wonderful.

One day Papa Bruin went shopping. While the new house was very very nice, the kitchen stove was not. It was their old stove from their old house. Mama Bruin had not wanted to part with her stove because, she said, she was used to cooking on it; and also, though she would not say it, because it was the first thing Papa Bruin had bought when they got married. Even though it was a grand stove when it was new, it was now a bit shabby; and it was no longer as hot as it used to be. In fact, if Papa Bruin read all of the paper, his oatmeal would be cold.

So he thought he would find a nice new stove at the Laban and Sons’ appliance store. Even though Laban O’Shaunassey was the second cousin of the mayor he was well known as an honest merchant. Everyone knew that his merchandise was always top quality. So, even though stores like The Big Box and Wally-World claimed low prices, Papa Bruin thought he would get a better deal at Laban and Sons.

The new stove glittered so brightly that Mama Bruin said as how they just might need to repaint the kitchen. But even better was the cooking. The new stove was very hot. Dinner that night was crispy and delicious. However breakfast the next morning was a bit of a shock. The oatmeal was so steaming hot that even after Papa Bruin had read the whole paper his oatmeal was still too hot to eat. And when Mama Bruin set her vase of fresh cut flowers on the table, the heat from the oatmeal nearly wilted them. Baby Bruin just rocked and rocked and rocked and rocked; yet the steam just kept rising from her oatmeal. Finally, it cooled enough that they could eat it.

This went on for several days, when Papa Bruin said that they should start taking a morning walk. He thought the walk would do them much good and the oatmeal would be cool when they returned. This proved to be a most satisfactory solution. Papa Bruin could read his morning paper while Mama Bruin cooked the oatmeal and Mama Bruin could cut some flowers when they returned from their walk. And Baby Bruin could rock in her rocking chair after she had eaten her oatmeal. Thus all went well with the bears.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

All did not go well in in the town, however. There was a very spoiled little girl who was the daughter of one of the sons of Laban and Sons, the merchant who sold stoves. She was a very beautiful little girl, with long curly coppery hair, green eyes and some freckles on her cheeks. Her name was Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey, but everyone knew her as Goldilocks. It was not really a very nice nickname, for most everyone called her that as a name of shame. Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey earned the name Goldilocks when she tried to out brag some of the other children. One day they were discussing Rapunzel, who had long golden hair. She was the talk of the town, having just been rescued from a wicked old witch. This made Mary Catherine very jealous. She wanted everyone to talk about how wonderful she was. Well, the bragging and silly prattle worked against Mary Catherine. Suddenly one of the boys grabbed her hair and tried to climb up her back just like she was Rapunzel. Well, Mary Catherine screamed horribly, yelling that he was pulling out all of her hair. One of the other girls said, “Well, Rapunzel had real golden locks of hair, maybe that’s how her prince could climb up.” And from that time on the only people that did not call her “Goldilocks” were her parents.

Goldilocks hated the name. But that did not teach her to stop being such a terror. Everywhere she went she demanded her way, without even asking politely. When her mother and father went to visit the mayor, she walked into his house and demanded milk and cookies almost before they had been seated. The Frog had barred her from ever returning to The Frog and Pig tavern, because the last time her parents had dined there, Goldilocks had left Miss Piggy, who was the waitress, in tears.

Children, upon being caught in childhood misbehavior, would say to their parents in desperation, “Well, at least I’m not as bad a Goldilocks!” And the parent would smile and say, “Thank God for that, but I’m still going to have to punish you to make sure you never are!”

Well, Goldilocks had pitched a royal temper tantrum and demanded that she accompany her father when he delivered the stove to the bears. She wanted to be able to walk around town and tell everyone what she had seen at the bears’ house. However, because they knew her, the bears would have none of it. Papa Bruin told her father that he could deliver the stove only if his daughter stayed in the truck. If she got out of it, he would not accept delivery nor would he pay for the stove.

Goldilocks was very sneaky. She watched and saw all of them go inside. She knew that the bears would offer some refreshment to her father and his helpers because they were kindly and it was such a hot day. So she crept out of the truck and crawled up under the window. There she could hear all the talk. But she heard nothing she could tell the people in the town. Everyone knew she had gone with her father to deliver the stove, her tantrum having been heard all over the town. So she decided to make up some stories to tell everyone.

Her stories were too fantastic: she had told how her father had to carry the stove up three flights of stairs when everyone knew it was a ranch style house. She described golden floors, silver plated walls and crystal chandeliers when everyone in town knew what the house was like, since the carpenters and masons lived in the town. “Go on, Goldilocks,” they laughed, “you never were in the house were you?” “My name is Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey and you better stop calling me that horrible name!” she would scream. But they continued to call her ‘Goldilocks’ and grin, So Goldilocks decided that she would have to return to the bears’ house and get inside. Then she could tell everyone how wonderful she was to get inside and see it.

The problem was getting inside. Thus Goldilocks was a morose little monster of a girl for the next several days. She threw temper tantrums about the color of her dress and the kind of fruit in her oatmeal. She kicked the dog and chased the cat up a tree. Finally, she decided to spy on the bears. Her first day of spying was the third day the bears took their new walk in the morning. She watched them go on their walk and noted when they returned. She did this for three days, watching to see how she could sneak into the house while they went on their walk. She returned from her spying mission to find her mother quite upset because she would disappear in the morning only to return home, starving, just in time for lunch. “I’m just going for a morning walk,” she had stated defiantly, daring anyone to question her further.

So, the next morning her father met her at the front door and said he would go with her. She was trapped: if she was going on an innocent morning walk then why couldn’t her father accompany her? So she faked a big smile, grabbed him by the hand and pulled him out the door and down the street. She made sure that they took the small back paths, climbing fences, ducking under low branches and running up a few steep hills. The next day her big brother was assigned to go with her. This time they wandered down main street stopping to admire all the pretty dresses in the shop windows. So, of course, when she got up the next morning no one greeted her at the door. She was free to pursue her schemes.

And pursue she did. She ran as fast as she could down the road toward the bears’ house. It was a very warm morning and she was hot and thirsty when she arrived, just in time to see the bears wandering down toward the creek. She checked the door. It was not locked. So she pushed it open and crept inside.

There was nothing spectacular about the place. It was just a nice home, like hers and all her friends’ homes. Except, of course, that it was designed for bears. Disappointment raged through her. How was she to impress the town?

Then she saw the large pitcher of orange juice with some ice cubes floating in it. But instead of first going to the bathroom and cleaning the dust and sweat from her face and hands, she ran to the table and grabbed at the pitcher. Intent on pouring herself a glass of juice, she failed to recognize how heavy the pitcher would be, and she spilled a lot of juice on the table. But she did manage to get a glass of juice poured and she slurped it down. It was delicious, cool and sweet. She grabbed the pitcher and poured another glass, not spilling so much this time. After drinking it, she looked around the room to see what else she could find.

The table had three places set with a bowl of steaming hot oatmeal at each place. Goldilocks jumped around to the first place and took a big spoon of oatmeal. It burned her tongue. She yelled and dropped the spoon, splattering oatmeal. The second bowl was almost as hot; she shook her head as she dropped the messy spoon down on the clean napkin. The third bowl was no cooler. But she took a few ice cubes that she had spilled out of the orange juice and put them in the third bowl, stirring it to melt the cubes. Now the oatmeal was cool enough. It was very tasty, so she ate the whole bowl.

Three rocking chairs attracted her attention. She had begun to imagine that the bears had invited her to breakfast, and were now saying that she should enjoy rocking in one of their chairs. She could hardly climb into the first chair: it was the Papa Bruin’s chair and rather large. The second chair was smaller, but her feet couldn’t reach the floor. The third chair was small, but she could squeeze her body into it. She began to rock vigorously, doing all the things her parents had said not to do. She tried to get the chair to rock all the way forward and then all the way back. She tried to make the chair jump. Then, all of a sudden, the chair pitched backward too far and fell over. She heard the wood splinter and felt the wood bounce off her skin, bruising her arms and legs. It scared her just a little, but she got up and looked at the broken chair. “Oh!” she exclaimed, for she had broken not only the chair, but also the little table that was set by the side of the chair.

Her heart pounding, she wandered down the hall toward the bedrooms. The first bedroom obviously belonged to Papa and Mama Bruin. She tried to climb into the bed, but only pulled the covers off of it. Leaving them piled in the floor she wandered into the room across the hall. This was most certainly the guest room. She managed to climb into the bed, but the mattress was very stiff and hard. So she jumped up and down on the bed like it was a trampoline. This made her rather tired, but the bed was too hard for her to sleep on. So she wandered down to the last room. This surely was the room of Baby Bruin. The bed was smaller: she could sit on it and her feet still touched the floor. And it was very soft and cozy. So she lay down and snuggled into the covers, falling fast asleep.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

The first thing the bears noticed when they returned from their walk was the front door. It was wide open. Now on this particular morning Baby Bruin had let the door slam shut, causing Mama Bruin to gently chide her baby for bad manners. So they knew it had not been left open.

Anxiously, Papa Bruin peered inside. The mess he saw caused him to growl. He entered the house cautiously, looking around and grunting angrily. Seeing no one he signaled to his family that it was safe for them to enter the house. It did not look like anything had been stolen, but their breakfast was ruined, as was the table and Baby Bruin’s chair. Mama Bruin sighed and started to clean up the mess but Papa Bruin grunted for her to wait. He thought he had heard a noise from the back of the house.

Taking care to make as little noise as possible, he took his baseball bat out of the closet and walked gingerly dawn the hall. Someone had disturbed the covers on his bed and the guest bed looked like someone had been jumping up and down on it. Shaking his head, he peered into Baby Bruin’s room. Lying in the bed was that horrible little Goldilocks girl.

He was so surprised that he just shut the door, shook his head, turned and walked back down the hall. He looked at his family and said, “Goldilocks. She’s asleep in Baby’s bed. What are we going to do?”

We?” asked Mama Bruin, “what do you mean ‘we’? She’s going to clean up this mess. After all, she made it.”

Papa Bruin’s eyes grew quite large. A big grin spread across his face. “We’ll teach her some manners.”

The three of them walked back down the hall and into Baby Bruin’s room. Mama Bruin stood on the right side of the bed, Papa Bruin stood on the left and Baby Bruin stood at the foot.

Wake up, child,” Mama Bruin said in a quiet, friendly voice.

Goldilocks woke up to see the three Bears looking intently at her. She started to scream at them for waking her up, but the look on their faces forced her to be quiet.

I sure hope the oatmeal was good,” said Papa Bruin.

I sure hope the rocking chair was fun,” said Baby Bruin.

I sure hope jumping on the guest bed was fun,” said Mama Bruin.

They were all three smiling very sweetly at her. Then Mama Bruin said, “We’re going to make some lunch now. Would you like to stay and eat with us?”

And Papa Bruin said, “And then we’re going to play all afternoon. Would you like to stay and play with us?”

And Baby Bruin said, “Nobody comes to play with me since we moved out here. I sure would like a friend. Did you come here to be my friend?”

And Goldilocks said, “Yes.”

The oatmeal was good?”

Yes.”

Jumping on the bed was loads of fun, wasn’t it?”

Yes.”

And rocking as hard as possible in the rocking chair was great fun, too?”

Yes.”

So you want to spend a day or two with us?”

Yes.”

Okay,” said Mama Bruin. “Baby Bruin, will you come out to the kitchen with me. I have an errand for you.”

Thus Goldilocks found herself sitting on a big rock next to the creek with a fishing pole in her hands. Papa Bruin was sitting next to her and Mama Bruin was in the kitchen fixing lunch. Baby Bruin was running her errand. But Goldilocks was very worried. She wanted to send word to tell her parents where she was: but she couldn’t do that without explaining why she was there in the first place. And no one in town would understand why she went into the house without an invitation; much less why she ate their food and broke the rocking chair and jumped on and slept in their beds. She thought she could think of something to explain it all while she was fishing, but Papa Bruin kept asking questions about her family and friends and school and oh, why couldn’t he just shut up. When she glanced at him to see if she could say this the way he looked made her think it would not be a good idea. She wasn’t scared, at least not yet, but she was beginning to get a little anxious.

To make matters worse, Papa Bruin had tried to give her a worm to use as bait. He even showed her how to put the worm on the hook. Soon enough she caught a fish. But it was all slimy and she refused to touch it. So Papa Bruin unhooked it. Then he gave her a worm. It, too, was slimy. She hollered, “Ewe… yuck” and dropped it.

Papa Bruin began to talk about things she didn’t want to hear. He spoke of manners. He talked about how you could tell a lot about a person by the way they fished. She did not want to listen, but his voice was very commanding. She was a very stubborn little girl and decided that no matter what he said she was not going to touch anything gross and slimy like a worm.

Soon Mama Bruin brought them some sandwiches. “I’m sorry about having to serve this out here, but someone made a mess on the dining room table and they have not had time to clean it up, yet. I’m sure they will soon, though.”

Goldilocks began to feel a little queasy. When she saw the sandwiches she realized that she was hungry, but after Mama Bruin’s little speech, she began to loose her appetite. Then she began to get angry. Did the Bears expect her to clean anything? She had never cleaned up anything in her life. Then she thought that Mama Bruin had said ‘someone’ and not specifically who. And she said they had not had time to clean up the mess. Maybe it was Baby Bruin that was supposed to clean up the mess, whatever it was. But Mary Catherine Elizabeth Carmichael O’Shaunassey was not going to clean up any mess for anyone. She looked at the sandwich and took a ferocious bite out of it.

Eventually Baby Bruin joined them. She said she ate her sandwich in the kitchen. Then she looked at Goldilocks and asked, “Papa, why didn’t you show our guest how to bait a hook. If she doesn’t catch any fish, what will she eat for supper?”

Oh, she caught a fish. Just look in her bucket.”

Baby Bruin peered into the bucket next to Goldilocks, “You must not be very hungry. I could eat three that size.”

Oh, I guess I didn’t make it clear to you,” Papa Bruin said, smiling kindly at her, “we each catch as many as we want. Then we clean them and fillet them just the way we want them. I catch some extras for Mama Bruin because she is busy fixing the rest of the meal. So, if you want more than one fish for your dinner, you’d better bait that hook.”

Goldilocks was astounded. They expected her to catch her own dinner. Then the rest of Papa Bruin’s words dawned on her. “But I don’t know how to clean a fish.” She said this, not in a whiny protest, but as a plain, dumb fact.

That’s okay,” Papa Bruin smiled, “Baby Bruin and I will show you how with the ones we catch.”

She looked at the worm still wiggling on the big rock just a couple of feet away from her. Her stubborn anger made her shudder. Nobody could really expect her to touch wiggly worms and slimy fish.

Papa Bruin and Baby Bruin tried very hard to show her how to scale and clean a fish. But she would have none of it. “You can clean it for me.” She smiled sweetly at them. When it became obvious that they were not going to clean it for her, she ordered them.

But they just smiled at her. “Well, if that’s the way you want Mama Bruin to cook your fish,” they said.

≈≈≈≈≈≈≈

The smell of fresh trout filled the kitchen. The mess was still in the dining room, so they were eating in the kitchen. There was some corn and green beans with potatoes in them, and a big round of cornbread. But the smell of the fish was incredible. Goldilocks stared at the trout on her plate, which stared back at her. She really could not believe it, but Mama Bruin had cooked the fish. There it lay on her plate. She had watched them clean their fish and she just knew that if she stuck a knife into the thing on her plate, it would bleed and the guts would spill out all over. The thought made her nauseated. But the fish’s eyes made her even more queasy.

She looked at the pretty fillets on Baby Bruin’s plate. She wanted to throw a temper tantrum and scream until they gave her some fish, but somehow she knew that they would just let her scream. They were way out in the country: no one would hear her.

Her attention was captured by the conversation. Mama Bruin was talking about the Mayor, “…well yes. The Mayor said he did enjoy a nice walk. And no, he didn’t mind eating in the kitchen. He said he understood the situation.

He gave me a lollipop.” Baby Bruin grinned at Goldilocks. She frowned, wondering why no one said he was here so she could get a lollipop. “He said it was because I did a great job of cleaning up after lunch.” She looked at Goldilocks and grinned again.

Hunger and embarrassment were fueling a great anger in Goldilocks. She felt herself turning red. But Mama Bruin said in a lovely voice, “Well, dear, you were having such a great time fishing, I didn’t want to interrupt. I can’t imagine someone giving up fishing for a lollipop. Now I made a chocolate cake for dessert. Would anyone like a piece?”

Goldilocks swallowed her anger. So far, anger was all she had had for her dinner. The fish covered almost her whole plate and there wasn’t much room for vegetables and cornbread. She accepted a piece of cake and ate it silently, while Papa Bruin talked about the ‘one that got away’ when he went fishing at the lake.

They played checkers after dinner, but no one rocked in a rocking chair. Then it was time for bed. Goldilocks was astounded that they were making her sleep in the guest room, with the bed unmade. “Well, my dear, that’s the way you left it,” Mama Bruin cooed lovingly.

So Goldilocks had to crawl into an unmade bed. What was worse, the springs in the bed were sprung. A few of them were poking through. She had not noticed this when she laid down on it before she had started jumping on it. It occurred to her that maybe her Dad was right and jumping on a bed would damage the springs. Well, she thought, they could get her a different mattress. After all, she was a guest.

But no one answered her calls. The other bedroom doors appeared to be locked. She screamed and hollered in her best temper tantrum to no avail. The floor was very hard, but it didn’t poke her, so she pulled the covers off the bed and slept on the floor.

She awoke to Mama Bruin calling lovingly to her, “Oh, my dear you fell off the bed? Are you alright? Why didn’t you call out? We would help you get back into bed. Oh! Papa, you know, I’ll bet it was when we went on our nightly walk.” Mama Bruin looked at Goldilocks, “See, dear, we bears sleep all winter, so we don’t sleep much in warm weather. After you went to bed we went for a walk. I’m so sorry you had to sleep on the floor.” She smiled kindly at Goldilocks, but Baby Bruin giggled and Papa Bruin glowered at his daughter `, who instantly became very quiet.

She dressed and went down for breakfast, to find that the only thing available for breakfast was the oatmeal left over from yesterday, still laid out on the dining room table with the spilled orange juice.

Oh, well,” Mama Bruin smiled at her in response to her inquiry, “We thought maybe you would want to finish up your oatmeal from yesterday. You can warm it up, if you want. After all, you said it was delicious. Oh, you didn’t finish you fish last night. You can have it for your lunch.”

Goldilocks glared at her. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew something was up. She opened her mouth three times. First to scream but she couldn’t scream, then to tell Mama Bruin just what she could do with the fish only she couldn’t make her voice work so finally she uttered a little cry of despair. “Maybe I’ll just go home. Mom and Dad don’t really know where I am. They might be upset if I don’t come home today.”

Oh, they know you’re here. The Mayor told them. That was Baby Bruin’s errand yesterday: to tell the Mayor where you were and have him come out and see the damage. He and your parents will be here soon. Perhaps you might want to eat your cold oatmeal, unless you want to face them on an empty stomach?” Papa Bruin was very stern. No one had ever spoken to her like that before. She was scared.

They’re… they are…come…coming here?” She stammered a bit. Then she flew into a rage, picking up things and throwing them, hollering about being tricked and how the Bears were so very mean.

But Papa Bruin just picked her up and carried her outside. “You’ll do less damage here,” he said.

She stood screaming at him, calling him all sorts of horrid names. Then she took a deep breath and heard something behind her. She turned and really screamed in fear. The whole town had seen and heard her, for they were all coming down the little road to the Bear’s house.

The town gathered around her, putting her in the middle of a big circle. Everyone seemed to be there, but no one was smiling or even grinning. Everyone looked very angry.

The charges are, first, that you did enter the house of the Bears uninvited; second that you did eat their food without it being offered to you; third, that you broke Baby Bruin’s rocking chair and the table next to it; fourth, that you messed up the covers on Papa and Mama Bruin’s bed, and then jumped up and down on the guest bed until you broke the springs and that you were found sleeping in the Baby Bruin’s bed.” The Mayor spoke in a very courtly voice. Goldilocks looked up at him and wanted to scream in his face. But she was sure it would not help her at all. For she knew that her parents had told her many many times about how to behave. She knew what she did was wrong, but she did not want to admit it.

Your punishment is first, to clean the Bear’s house from top to bottom. You will be their maid for a week. If you do not do as they wish, you will continue to be their maid until they are satisfied. Second, you are to wear rags until your parents have paid for the damages to the Bears.”

At this she did scream, calling the Mayor all sorts of bad names, and saying that no one could make her do any of it.

In a voice louder than her screams the Mayor called her father forward and said, “Do your duty, sir.”

And for the first time in her life, her father spanked her.

In the end it was her hunger that broke her. The Bruin family kept putting that horrid bowl of oatmeal and that greasy, hideous fried fish out for her to eat. She kept refusing to clean anything. Finally she asked if she could have something decent to eat if she cleaned up the dining table. It took her three hours to scrub the sticky dried up juice and oatmeal from the table, but her reward was a delicious peanut butter and blackberry jelly sandwich and a large glass of chocolate milk.

She spent a week scrubbing and cleaning the Bruin’s home. But they also showed her how to fish. She learned to clean the fish and to filet it so there were no bones. Mama Bruin shared her secret recipe for frying trout. (All I can tell you about that is that one day, when Goldilocks was a grandmother, a neighbor saw her using fresh ginger when she fried fish. But Goldilocks and her children and grandchildren say that they promised the Bruins never to reveal anything about the recipe. Probably, your best bet is to befriend a bear and see if she will share the recipe with you.)

Goldilocks survived her punishment. Her behavior improved: she quit throwing tantrums and demanding her own way. She even began to share so most of the children in the town began to enjoy playing with her. Not that her parents never had to punish her again, she was a real little girl, after all.

As for her name, well, she decided that since everyone already called her Goldilocks, she might as well call herself that. Once she started telling everyone her name was Goldilocks the person she was introduced to would say, “Well, I can see how you got that name.” and soon everyone forgot the real reason for the name.

As for the bear family, well, they became so very famous that some king somewhere made a special decree that two constellations would be named for them. You can still see these constellations, although some of the stars seem to have moved around a bit, making it difficult to see the bears in the sky anymore.

Useless

The Lord has blessed this journey. I felt it when we left and, now, we will be arriving about an hour before the evening service. That, I am sure is proof.”

Onesimus smiled. His escort and friend, Tychicus, was exuberant. The man had been unable to keep silent ever since they left Ephesus. He talked on and on, about the weather, the good time they had made, and even the wonderful quality of the food on the ship, all because, according to Tychicus, the Lord had blessed their journey.

They had left the barge and were now walking through Colossae toward Philemon’s house. Good thing Tychicus wanted to talk constantly. Because Onesimus had no desire to speak. The Lord may have blessed the journey, but that did not mean he would be accepted, even with reservations, back into the house. As Tychicus talked, Onesimus pondered his situation. They had been fortunate in that no one had asked questions about who they were or where they were going. The plan, should that happen, was to tell as much of the truth as was needed. But Tychicus did have proof that he was taking Onesimus back to Philemon, should it be necessary to prove anything.

Even then, the soldiers would most likely not let Tychicus continue on his own, but would insist that one of them accompany Onesimus to Colossae. That this drastic measure had been avoided was the real reason for Tychicus to be happy.

Onesimus checked his jacket for the letter sewn into the lining. His friend, Paul, had written it to assist in getting things straight. However, Onesimus was not certain that his master would see things as Paul saw them. One problem that he and Tychicus had not solved was what they would do if he were recognized before the matter could be settled. And this walk from the docks to Philemon’s house was the most dangerous part of the journey. Anyone might recognize him.

Onesimus woke from his deep thoughts. All was silent. Tychicus was very quiet. Ahead of them were two Roman soldiers. They seemed to be checking everyone who walked past. Tychicus began a simple prayer. When they were maybe fifty yards from the soldiers, the soldiers turned their backs and started walking in front of Onesimus and Tychicus. Almost as if they were the military escort ahead of the royal party.

Tychicus slowed their pace and the soldiers moved on ahead. Soon they were out of earshot. And Tychicus began to speak again; only this time in a whisper. “We will be at the gate soon. Is there some place in the front garden where you can wait unnoticed? I keep thinking that it would not be good for you to just show up unannounced.”

Onesimus nodded, thinking. He said, also in a whisper, “The gatehouse is on the right as we enter. But there’s a garden house on the left. There used to be a bench outside the door to the garden house. You don’t notice it from the path. And the gardener is not likely to be there just before the service. I can wait there.”

Tychicus nodded. The road curved to the right and the gate to Philemon’s house was just ahead, on the left. As they approached, the gatekeeper called a greeting. Fortunately, the gatekeeper was not known to Onesimus. They returned the greeting. When they told the gatekeeper they were emissaries from Paul, the man praised God. Then he turned back to his station and the two of them started down the path.

As soon as the gatekeeper was out of sight, they stepped off the path, carefully avoiding the flowers, and walked over to the bench by the garden house door. Onesimus took out his knife and cut the false hem in his jacket, pulled out the letter and gave it to Tychicus.

Probably best if I don’t make my business know to them until after the service. So you may sit here a while.” Tychicus was all smiles, but Onesimus could detect the deep concern hidden behind the smiles.

I’ll be fine. The Lord has got us this far. He will see it through. Don’t worry. It will go well. Don’t fret through the worship. Worship the Lord in joy with our brothers and sisters.” Onesimus grinned. The whole journey Tychicus had been reassuring him. Now he was reassuring Tychicus. Then, thinking of the worship service, he asked, “If it’s possible, ask the Celebrating Presbyter to hold back a portion for me.”

Tychicus smiled. “If that gatekeeper blabs that we come from Paul, I might be celebrating. Now that would be awkward!”

Onesimus hugged him, saying, “May the Lord be with you.”

Tychicus responded, “And, Onesimus, may he also be with you.”

Then Tychicus turned back to the path and headed toward the house entrance. The way Tychicus had said his name made him remember his original name. He had not thought about it for quite some time, but his Celtic name was Ollathir. Then, thinking about that, he remembered the day he was captured by the Romans and enslaved.

The crazy thoughts ran through his head like chattering squirrels. The bad news: they had lost the battle and the war. The worse news: in addition to the insult of being captured, he was judged either too small or too young or both. So he would not be enlisted in the Roman army. Instead, he was to be sold as a slave.

The slavers knew their job all too well. Ollathir had tried to find a way to escape. But they had thought of everything. A true bard, he thought, would know how to escape. But he was just a Mabinogi, a bard in training. One day he would be a priest, or Druid. One day? Not now. His people were now sharing the fate of the Gauls. Julius Caesar had defeated Vercingetorix in Gaul and hauled him to Rome as a trophy. That was a hundred years ago, but it still burned in the memories of the Celtic people. And now Suetonius Paulinus had destroyed the Druids in Mona. These Romans were amazing soldiers. From what he could tell, they knew little except war. But they knew war exceedingly well.

They were headed, so far as he knew, to Gaul. As he marched south, Ollathir felt the shame of his people. They had been beaten by uncouth savages, men without true manners or culture. And these men of war would not even let them be slaves in their own land, but they forced them into slavery in unknown lands.

Ollathir was proud of one thing: they had hurt the Romans severely. The Romans might have won, but it was a very costly win. And he was alive. He was marching toward the sea and Gaul. He prayed a prayer of thanks to Llew, his god. How Llew intended to make this slavery useful training for him was uncertain. But he began to look for opportunities to learn. For that was his job: to learn. That was the job of every Mabinogi. For he would still become a priest, some how, some way. And a Druid priest was always learning. So he would always seek to learn.

Looking around, seeing the despair on the faces of his fellow slaves, Ollathir wondered how he could help. His one true skill was singing. But he had no harp. Still, he could start singing and bring a bit of joy to those around him.

At first the Romans tried to make him stop singing. But soon they realized that it helped them, because it made their captives happier. One of the guards even tried to learn a few of the songs. And in that endeavor, Ollathir learned Latin. So the journey south was filled with singing and learning. A much less horrid journey than it might have been.

The sea was a great surprise. He had never seen the sea. And it did prove what his teachers had said: the world was round. He could see the way the ships disappeared and, when they set sail, the way the land sank beneath the horizon. He climbed up the main mast to watch for Gaul to rise up from under the sea and was rewarded with that vision, also.

Crossing the water to Gaul was exciting. He had never been on a ship, so this was another opportunity to learn. The sailors did not mind teaching him how the wind and the sails worked. He was quick to grasp the details. It was a short, stimulating voyage, but he did not learn very much about sailing.

Gaul had been the center of Celtic culture. While it had been overrun with Romans, it was still a pretty place. Gaul was also rather large. There were lots of vineyards, so there was also much wine. Ollathir was not impressed with the beverage made from grapes. He could brew an ale that was stronger and much less sweet.

It would take a little more than three weeks to reach Lugdunum. And it would be in Lugdunum that their fate would be decided. So the captives settled into a routine. Ollathir led the singing while they marched. Since the captives were forced to do all the labor, they cooked Celtic style and ate their meals in Celtic fashion. The Romans did not like this, but could not stop them without doing the work themselves.

Once, during a dispute between the Romans and the captives, Ollathir took the guard who was learning the Celtic songs aside and said, “I could sing very slow songs. Then we march very slowly.” He paused a moment and then offered, “We might march very slowly so that nothing can harm us. You would not want to try to sell damaged goods?” He smiled at the guard, who got the message. And the Romans ate Celtic food.

When they reached Lugdunum they had to wait for over a week for someone to decide what they were to do. Ollathir used the time to scavenge for the materials to make a harp. He had been very fortunate to find some properly cured oak. Unfortunately, the Romans did not know how to make the proper wire for stringing a harp, so he used gut, just like they did. The camp’s wheelwright let him make use of a few tools and shortly he had a passable harp. He would have loved to stay in the city named for his god, Llew. One of his guards even took him to a shrine that honored Llew. But even in the city named for him, Llew seemed unable to answer his prayers. Eventually they boarded a barge and floated down the Rhone to the port of Massilia. It was as they approached Valentia that he saw the mountains. Even though they were more like hills, his Roman friend told him about the real mountains. He could not imagine that the land would tower up like that. He lived in the mountains of western Britain. But, if the Romans were to be believed, they were just hills compared to the mountains that were east of them.

They were in Massilia two days, then a small ship took them to Rome. This was a much longer voyage than crossing the Sea to Gaul. It would take a week, but the winds were with them and the sea was relatively calm. He was a little seasick only for the first day, but remembering the mountains, he was glad to trade a little nausea for Winter in the Alps. He spent the week learning how to sail. And, with his new harp, he led the singing. One of his new guards taught him some Roman songs. That helped increase the comradery and made for a more pleasant voyage.

More important, although he did not know this at the time, was his interest in sailing. Because he wanted to learn how to sail, he was given the privilege of working on deck and did not have to man the oars below the main deck. As a result, he was standing on the deck as they entered the river and sailed into the Port of Rome.

The size of the city was mind-boggling. He could not comprehend how many buildings there were, nor how many people must live in this place. Nor could he comprehend why anyone would want to. It was like a thousand villages shoved up against each other. They had been greeted with the smell long before they saw the city; they had heard it too. There was a low rumble, like a soft moan that rose up from the conglomeration. And rising with that moan was a stench.

He had smelled it in Lugdunum and Massilia, but this was overpowering. He soon realized it was the river that stank. Later he would learn about the sewers. They might remove waste from the city, but it ended up in the river.

As he stared at the city, hearing the low moan and smelling the river, he was truly homesick for the first time. How he longed for the forests and moors and rainy winds of Britain.

The slavers tied them together and marched them through the streets in a victory parade. It was fascinating to see how the citizens praised and cheered the soldiers, especially the generals. The defeated were jeered. The mockery was supposed to be humiliating. But he knew he would be sold as a slave. That was not as humiliating as having your head chopped off and set on the point of a spear to be displayed for all to see. It would be a while before he understood that the point was not to humiliate the captives. Over time, he would learn that everything the Romans did was practical. The Roman motive was function. That was their true god.

Suddenly he was shoved out on a platform and realized he was being sold. A slaver asked him what skills he had. He tried to answer, but could only say he had not finished his education. It seemed not to matter. The slaver said something in the Roman tongue and there was much amusement. He had learned some Latin, but he did not comprehend the slang. He did gather that it was a very derogatory word. When the bidding was over he found himself in the company of several of his companions, all headed to the docks.

Someone told him they were going to a place called “Ephesus” wherever that was. It made him feel very homesick as he realized he would never see his homeland again. The voyage to Ephesus took two weeks. The first few days of the journey were rough seas, rain and erratic winds. Even so, he did not get seasick anymore. Then the days became relatively calm, with a good breeze. His skill at sailing improved greatly; he was almost one of the crew. He tried to compose a song, but was unable to finish the song before they reached Ephesus.

Instead of being sold at auction, Ollathir and six other slaves were quickly loaded on a wagon and carried south, in much haste, to a river where they boarded a barge. Ollathir did not know why, but for some reason they were taken upriver to Laodicea first, and then he and two others went on to Colossae. It was in Colossae that he was sold.

Apparently, he brought a good price. Which meant that he would have a hard time finding the money to buy his freedom. The man who bought him was named Philemon. But that was all he could decipher from the odd language of this new land. He learned later that it was part of the Roman Empire, but the language was Greek. His new owner spoke little Latin and struggled to communicate with Ollathir. However, he did manage to ask for his new slave’s name. He looked shocked when Ollathir ( probably pronounced “oo-thl-a-thir” ) pronounced his name. The new master’s tongue stumbled on the odd accents of the name. He tried again and then said slowly in the Roman tongue, “Well I hope you will be useful and I will name you that: you shall be “Onesimus.”

So the first thing his new master did was to change his name. That did not seem to him a good thing. And, indeed, his new life was very difficult. Communication was a problem, even though he did learn some of the basics of the Greek language rather quickly. Cultural differences proved to be an even bigger problem. His new master was not “Greek” but “Jewish”. His wife was Greek. So Ollathir had to learn both the Greek culture and the Jewish culture. It could get very confusing. He tried hard to please his new master, but always seemed to disappoint the man.

His first big disaster was in making pottery. His master needed some drinking cups. The overseer showed Onesimus (hard to get used to that name) the potter’s wheel. Onesimus nodded that he understood. The overseer showed him a cup. Onesimus nodded again. Then he marked “XII” in the clay. Onesimus said ‘Twelve” in Greek. The man nodded. Although he was not a highly skilled potter, he could make some fine plates and cups. He made a dozen cups exactly like those he had made in Britain. Yet, when Philemon saw the cups, he was quite unhappy. Later, he would understand that his work was of high quality, but the design of the cups and the images he put on the vessels were offensive. His Celtic art was not appreciated by his Jewish master. The same thing happened in the kitchen. His flavorings were not to the taste of his new master. And when he brewed some ale, they were horrified. Fermented grain was the inferior beverage of barbarians. They drank only wine.

Even his skill with the harp was faulty. They did not like his Celtic harmonies. So he tried the song the Roman soldier had taught him, only to have everyone get offended. A fellow slave finally told him that the words had a double meaning and it was actually a very lewd song. And then Ollathir was embarrassed, but it was too late.

The religions of the Greeks and his new master were also a source of confusion. The Greeks and Romans in Colossae tried to equate their gods to his. They could not understand that his gods were much different from the ones they worshiped. To confuse matters further, Philemon was Jewish. He said there was only one deity, a god whose name was unspeakable.

One day, in the course of his duties, Philemon said something that was a revelation to Ollathir. He had never understood why some people made decisions that were bad for the community; that is, why someone might steal or harm another. His Druid tutors had never explained this properly.

So, when Philemon said something about ‘Sin’, Ollathir did not understand him at all. Later, that evening, Philemon took him aside and explained how Adam and Eve had committed the first sin. He explained the concept of Original Sin. For Ollathir this was wonderful enlightenment. This story of Original Sin explained much of human behavior. He was fascinated and wanted to know more.

The next day Philemon took a few minutes to talk to him about his God. Philemon told his slave that God had revealed his name to be “I Am.” To his Celtic mind this made a lot of sense.

This gave Ollathir much to ponder. The idea of Original Sin and why people do bad things changed his whole world view. It also made sense that there was only one God. His Celtic gods almost always seemed to be manifestations of one deity. Llew and The Dagda worked in harmony. He often felt that praying to one was praying to all the gods. So, a few days later, he asked Philemon about this Jewish God.

It is as I said, there is only one deity. His name is ‘I Am’. He created the world and all that is in it.” Philemon seemed to not understand Ollathir’s questions.

Yes,” replied Ollathir, “but you said that the first people sinned. And you implied that I Am did something about it. But I don’t see that anything was done. Lots of people still sin. Most don’t know who I Am is.”

Philemon looked at his slave in wonder. None of the Greeks had ever asked him about this. So Philemon began to tell Ollathir about Jesus. But when Philemon said that Jesus had risen from the dead, Ollathir was incredulous. And when Philemon told him about meeting a man who had seen the risen Jesus, Ollathir was shocked.

To make things worse, the overseer complained to Philemon that Onesimus was spending too much time talking to Philemon about religion and not working. For many days he meditated on these things and prayed to Llew. But it did not help him do the tasks he was assigned in a way that pleased his master.

Philemon kept trying to find something Onesimus could do well. He tried to tell them that he was trained to learn all things, to know all things but not to master any one thing. Overall, he felt useless. He was, from birth, destined to be a bard or a priest, which explained his name; “Ollathir” meant “All-Father”, one of the names of The Dagda, the chief god. So he had been trained to think; to follow orders only after he had considered them carefully. New ideas were always encouraged. Not so in this new land. A slave was expected to do it as it had always been done. There was no expectation of improvement. And no one appreciated his improvements. Worst was when he developed a better way to clean the stables, but the stable master was irate and marched him back to Philemon, complaining. His name might be ‘Onesimus’ but he was still useless to his master.

The stable master said his piece and left. Philemon stood there, saying nothing, but staring into space. After a few minutes he looked at his slave and, in a rather angry tone, said, “I don’t know what to do with you. You are very smart but you act so foolish. I can’t get a good price for you without lying, which I will not do. You are young and virile. I have a friend who could use you as a prostitute. Maybe that would be suitable? Go back to the stable master, apologize, and do it right.”

He did obey his master. But it was the last time. He decided to find his way back to Britain. That evening a visitor, a Jewish Rabbi, arrived. Ollathir took a few coins and escaped while everyone was listening to the Rabbi.

Escape was easy. Because he was a devout Jew, Philemon did not tattoo his slaves. Colossae was small enough that he could not stay in town. So, if Ollathir could find a quick way out of Colossae, he would be free. He went down to the docks, looking for an idea. And he found one. A barge was moored to the pier and Ollathir watched as some men unloaded it. Nearby, a man was negotiating the shipping charge for his grain. And soon the grain was loaded. That’s when Ollathir quietly slipped aboard and crawled under one of the tarps that covered the grain.

The trip downstream was quiet. The only people on the barge were the grain merchant and the barge owner. When they reached the port, both men went ashore. One to find a buyer for the grain and the other to hire a crew to unload it. He took a chance and waited for the barge owner to return. He was hired to help unload the grain. From the other laborers he learned of a ship headed to Rome that was hiring sailors.

He was honest about his skills; he did not want to be put ashore in a remote place. His tongue got him the job. And they were blessed with good weather all the way to Rome. He wanted to thank Llew but it seemed that Llew just wasn’t around. Instead, he kept thinking about this solitary deity that Philemon worshiped. Some deity seemed to be giving him assistance, but he was not sure about it. Anyway, he was in Rome. Now he had to work out how to get to Britain. And that was when his apparent good fortune departed.

His wages from the ship were meager, but enough to last a few days. So he wandered around Rome, trying to learn about his enemy. One fascinating thing about Rome was the size of the buildings.

The insulae or apartment buildings were several stories high; some as much as seven stories. It was incredible. How, he wondered, could they stay erect? His opinion of the Romans began to change. Maybe they were not merely savage brutes who had mastered the art or war. Even so, he recognized that, even with the engineering technology to build great buildings, at their core they were a savage brutal culture who had lost touch with the earth. Why else would they live like this?

Why anyone would want to live in this place was incomprehensible to him. Why live so close together? Even with the sewers many still tossed their sewage into the street. And only the rain would clean it away. But then the breeze would shift slightly and the aroma of garlic cooking in olive oil filled the air. Frequently he could detect the additions of mussels or other seafood, lamb and other meat. And the bread! How wonderful their bread smelled. But then the breeze would switch and he would gag.

As he walked down the street he met a wagon loaded with barrels. As it passed, some of the barrels rolled off and one managed to hit him, breaking his leg. He sat in pain for a while, and then a man walked by, saw him and offered to help. The man’s name was Timothy. Timothy offered to take him to a physician he knew.

Dr. Luke seemed to be a really nice, caring man. Ollathir spent the next several evenings with him because the doctor had splinted his leg and he could not move. They had put him on a couch in the doctor’s front room where, for a week, he had very little to do. Mostly, the doctor talked about his travels with a man named Paul. He said they were servants of another, a man named Jesus. Eventually, when Ollathir figured out that the man they called Jesus was the same as the man Philemon had told him about, Ollathir felt very scared. He was trapped in this house with people who claimed that they served a man who had risen from the dead. What made it worse was his status as a runaway. So, even if he could leave, he could not go to the authorities for help.

Besides all that, he needed the doctor to change his bandages every few days. This was something new to him. He knew to set the broken bone and splint it. Dr. Luke explained why they changed the bandages that held the splints. He used cerate to stiffen the bandages. And changing them helped with gangrene.

Even with their odd belief, the people in the house seemed to be rational people in other ways. And very kind. Timothy showed him how to write in Greek. So most of his days were spent practicing the Greek language.

One evening he began to write down what Dr. Luke was saying. No one seemed to mind, so he continued this for several nights. Then, just as the evening was ending and they were headed to sleep, Timothy walked over and picked up Ollathir’s notes.

Dr. Luke,” he said, rather excited, “look at this.” He handed the notes to the doctor, who began to scan them.

Oh my goodness!” The doctor was quite excited, also. “This is amazing. I will show this to Paul.” Then the doctor looked at Ollathir and asked, “You don’t mind, do you?”

Ollathir looked at the man. He had no idea who ‘Paul’ was. And, due to his status, he really had no choice. “No. I just wrote down what I heard you saying.”

The upshot was that Ollathir was to record what Dr. Luke and others had to say about their travels and also to record what was said about Jesus. Then, during the day, he could re-write and organize the notes. Ollathir pondered this and agreed. He had no way to pay the man for the medicine. This could help him with that debt.

But the note-taking made his fear of these people worse. They really did believe that the man, Jesus, had risen from the dead. He also learned about a man named “Paul” who had seen the risen Jesus. He was not surprised that this Paul had been arrested and was in prison.

After a couple of weeks, Timothy came into the room one day with a crutch. Ollathir stood while Timothy marked the crutch for height. Then he looked at the patient and smiled, “Now you can move about. Dr. Luke says you need to move about. He said you can’t just sit on the couch all the time. Healing will be much faster if you move about. I’ll cut the end off and be back shortly.

Ollathir smiled. He knew all that. But he had not wanted to tell the kindly doctor his job. “Thank you,” was all he dared say.

Using the crutch, he was able to walk around the house. He took it slowly, letting his muscles get used to the exercise. The house was quite nice. There were a number of guest rooms and two main rooms, in addition to the dining parlor. He had been sleeping in the smaller of the two main rooms. As with most Roman houses, this one was built around a courtyard. That night he moved into a small guest room. It was a nice room with access to the courtyard.

The next day another man moved into the smaller main room. It seemed that he was a man of great importance, for a Roman soldier accompanied him. The soldier brought a pang of fear to Ollathir, for his presence was a reminder of his runaway status. Yet he could not leave. And no one knew his status. So he would just be careful.

Two days later he was asked to accompany Timothy to the room where the new guest was staying. As he entered the room, the sight shocked him. The new guest, sitting on a small stool, was chained to the soldier.

Paul,” Timothy began the introduction, “this is Ollathir, the man we told you about who takes notes of what we say and transcribes them. And Ollathir, this is Paul, the ambassador in chains who met Jesus on the road to Damascus.”

Not knowing Ollathir’s skepticism, Timothy had no idea how much of a shock this would be to the man. Ollathir, stunned at the revelation, turned white and almost lost his balance and fell. Only Timothy’s quick catch kept him upright.

He sat on the couch, dumbfounded. Someone gave him a cup of wine, which he sipped slowly. He had many questions, but could ask none of them, especially with the soldier standing there.

Paul saw the questions in Ollathir’s eyes. And Ollathir saw a kindness in Paul, a grace that revealed a man he could trust with his soul. “You want to ask me something?” Paul queried.

Feeling complete embarrassment, he wanted to say, “No,” and leave. Instead, he spoke haltingly, “You met…Jesus? You saw…him?”

Paul nodded in affirmation, “Yes I did.”

Ollathir really wanted to tell Paul about Philemon, but to do so would reveal his status as a runaway. He glanced quickly at the man chained to Paul. The Roman soldier looked very intimidating. So he simply nodded and said, “I am honored to meet you.”

Dr. Luke came in and announced that the midday meal was ready. He looked at Paul and said, “Demas will be bring your meal to you.” Then he glanced at the soldier, “He will also bring something for you.”

With Paul’s arrival some of the routine changed. They still gathered in the smaller front room after the evening meal, but Ollathir seldom joined them. It was not a large room and there were always visitors. Paul, Timothy, and Demas met with Paul’s evening visitors. Dr. Luke and sometimes Timothy or some others would join Ollathir in the other front room or in Ollathir’s room. In Dr. Luke Ollathir had already found a kindred spirit. The two of them discussed medicine, the Romans, and many other topics. Ollathir still took notes. But Dr. Luke wanted transcription of only the notes on Paul and Jesus.

About a week after Paul arrived another man on house arrest joined them. And this man caused Ollathir much worry. His name was Epaphras. He was from Colossae. Fortunately, he did not seem to recognize Ollathir. But Ollathir was certain the man would know the name ‘Onesimus’. That, combined with the fact that his leg was healing properly, gave Ollathir a good reason to confide in Dr. Luke.

We thought it was something like that.” Dr. Luke was smiling. “Timothy wondered why you nearly fainted when you met Paul. Someone said you eyed the soldier carefully.”

Well, that was different.” Ollathir explained his skepticism at what Philemon had told him about Jesus. “So, when Timothy introduced him, it felt like my whole world turned upside down. I still can’t believe a man rose from the dead.”

Yes. I had a difficult time with that, also.” Dr. Luke said. “But then I met Peter and the other Apostles. They knew him before he was crucified. And they saw the empty tomb. I heard this from their own lips.”

Ollathir nodded.

But now we must decide what we are to do with you.” Dr. Luke said carefully. “Your leg will be healed soon. And we can’t be seen by the Romans as to hiding runaways. We will pray about you. We will pray diligently. But, we won’t do anything before your leg is healed. As a doctor, I can’t permit that.”

After three days of prayer, it was agreed that no decision about him would be made until his leg was healed. However, he should use the name “Onesimus” because his Briton name would seem dishonest to the Romans.

In addition to his duties as a scribe, Onesimus began to assist Dr. Luke with his medical practice, even accompanying Dr. Luke to visit those home-bound.

About the time his leg healed he accepted Jesus as his savior. Timothy baptized him. It was deemed a great occasion and they had a wonderful feast. He stayed with them for three more weeks after his leg healed. Much of that time was spent taking the Eucharist to the home-bound. He usually accompanied Mark, Timothy or a man named Tychicus. He also assisted in setting up the larger front room for worship; helping with the preparation of the bread and wine.

A few days before he was due to leave, Dr. Luke said to him, “Philemon was right to name you Onesimus. You are a most useful person.” He was shocked. No one in the Roman world had said anything like that to him. But he did not feel useful. He felt hollow. Jesus was his savior, true; even so, something was missing from his life.

The day they left for Colossae Paul had given him a token of Love. It was a piece of the shackle that had broken while Paul was wearing it. The soldier had let him keep the broken pieces. And Paul had given a piece to him.

A horse whinnied and brought Onesimus out of his daydream. He looked around at the familiar scene of Philemon’s garden. Dread overcame him. It had been some time since Tychicus had left him to go into Philemon’s house. What if Philemon was sending for the Roman soldiers? Fear shook him. He really wanted to get up and walk down to the docks and find a ship back to Britain. He could bring Christ to Britain. That would truly serve God, wouldn’t it? Yes, go to Britain. Take Jesus to them. He did not need to sit here like a fool. Then he felt the little piece of curved metal that Paul had given to him. He remembered the day Paul gave it to him. It was the day his life changed. He would never forget it.

One Sunday after the Holy Meal, Paul sent for Onesimus. “Here’s someone I would like you to meet.” Paul said to him, as if he were introducing his barber. But the man standing before him was named Peter. Onesimus stared at the man, unashamed of his lack of etiquette.

Peter confirmed to Onesimus all he had heard about Jesus was true. And that was when Onesimus accepted Jesus as his savior. Later, after Peter left, Onesimus met with Paul and confessed his sins, including the details of his sin against Philemon and his hatred of the Romans. After his confession, Paul had talked with him for a while. Then he brought out a piece of a broken shackle.

Paul gave the piece of metal to him and said, “They put a worn out shackle on me. After a while it broke. I picked up the pieces and showed them to the soldier, who let me keep them. I give this piece to you, as a reminder of your slavery to sin and that you are now free to worship God.”

Onesimus was greatly moved by this gift. He thanked Paul. The next day he had a small hole drilled in it and used a leather strap as a chain so that he could wear it around his neck.

Three weeks later he and Tychicus were boarding a ship. But those three weeks were the busiest weeks of his life. On top of all his duties as scribe, medical assistant and home-bound visitor, he spent much time with Dr. Luke and Paul. This was, in part, because Dr. Luke had told Paul that Onesimus had been in training to be a Druid priest back in Britain. In that discussion, Dr. Luke had told Paul about Onesimus’ ideas on the Trinity.

So, every evening for a week, Paul and Onesimus discussed the Trinity. In one really intense discussion Onesimus use the word “manifestation” in describing how the gods he had worshiped were somehow connected. “The people might see each god as a separate person, but the Druid priests see all gods as part of the divine whole.”

Paul looked straight at Onesimus and said, “You know, I’ve never thought of God as a person. Well, I guess I always knew that he was a person. He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. And Jesus was a person. It’s my training as a Pharisee that sometimes blinds me. But what you are saying makes sense. It is not that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are manifestations, but that they are three persons making up one deity, the divine whole. And to think of the Father as a person makes calling him ‘Daddy’ meaningful. It makes the Holy Spirit real to think of Him as a person. And of course, Jesus was and is a person.”

Onesimus just smiled. He had no idea what to say. Paul kept looking at him. So Onesimus said the only thing he could think of, “Well, we will have to pray about this.”

Paul smiled and agreed. “Thank you for the most useful conversation.”

Philemon entered the garden with Tychicus at his side. Onesimus stood, head bowed. Philemon held up the letter. “You are certainly more trouble than you are worth!” Philemon said, but he was grinning. He stood close to Onesimus, looking him over. “Well, you have fared well in the house of Paul. He sends back a well fed slave.”

Onesimus looked up at Philemon. “I have wronged you. Forgive me.” Then he bowed his head again.

I forgive you. I was wrong to threaten you with a terrible fate. Will you forgive me for that?”

Onesimus looked up at Philemon, shocked. He stared at the man, then said, “Yes.”

The long silence was broken by Tychicus, who said, “If you are willing, Philemon would like you to return to Rome with me and study under Paul. Then he can lay hands on you and you can return here to lead this church. Is that something you would like to do?”

Onesimus looked back and forth between the two men. “I don’t know. I need to pray about it.” Then he sat down, stunned. He was born to be a priest. And now he was being given the opportunity to serve his new God. It was a miracle.

 

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Some Notes on “Useless”

This story is a work of fiction. It might be called “historical fiction”…There is absolutely no evidence for anything in this story except for what can be found in Holy Scripture. I used “poetic license” in order to produce what I hope is a good tale. The following explains how I derived my tale.

Outside of the Letter to Philemon, we know almost nothing about Onesimus. There was a man named Onesimus who was the Bishop of Ephesus. Assuming that these two are the same person, I wondered about a slave who became a bishop and the result you just read.

Onesimus and Philemon lived in the same time period as Boadicea, the Iceni Queen who rebelled against the Romans; as well as the time when the Romans destroyed the Druid priests in Mona. We do know that the Romans took their captives to Rome to march in the Roman victory parade. I assume they did the same for the captive British. This is also a decade or so before the Romans destroy Jerusalem and the Temple.

About place names: Lugdunum is the current city of Lyon. It was named by the Celts who lived in Gaul for their god, Llew or Lugh. Massilia is the current city of Marseilles.

I wondered why Philemon would have a slave with the name of “Useful”. There are a couple of historical persons with that name, but it is rare. I rather think Philemon had difficulty pronouncing his new slave’s name.

The name “Ollathir” comes from The Song of Albion by Stephen Lawhead. The double ‘L’ is generally pronounced almost like the ‘thl’ in the English word ‘athlete’. Same for the god, ‘Llew’. That makes pronunciation difficult. In addition, the meaning of the name fits the story very nicely.

Internet research informed me that Rome did have some sewers. It also suggests that the city of Rome could have been between a quarter of a million and a million people. https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/BACD7DF32B0B77609CD6713B8AF88882/S0003598X00085859a.pdf/population_of_ancient_rome.pdf)

A Stone Circle Story

October 5th. Our son, Andrew, was born on this day. Unfortunately, he lived only 11 days. Perhaps I will tell that story sometime. Today I tell him a story.

Link to Stone Circle Picture

Aidan took a deep breath and stepped into the stone circle. His grandparents had told him about stone circles. It was his Aunt Bridget who had told him about this one. She had said some other things, too. At any rate, this would be an adventure.  He looked around and saw that nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He walked around, touching the standing stones. They were, as most stones are, cool to the touch. And a bit rough, like heavy sandpaper. He made a final circle, touching each of the stones. Disappointed, he took off his backpack and sat down next to one of the stones. It cast enough of a shadow so that he did not have the hot sun beating down on him. He took a drink from his water bladder and then pulled out his lunch: a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich, some cheese flavored tortilla chips and some apple slices.

He was rather disapointed. It would have been wonderful to experience the power of a stone circle. But not everyone got to do that. The peanut butter sandwich was quite tasty. And the apples were better than he had remembered. The crunch of the chips was louder and crispier than he had noticed before. Even his water tasted sharper, clearer than water usually tasted. He noticed that it seemed to get a bit darker. Clouds were forming. Low clouds that looked like rain. He could see that they were some distance away, but rolling in from all sides. And he could see them so very clearly. The air felt heavy and damp. This might be a very strong storm. Quickly finishing his lunch, he started to stand up. But he could not. His legs seemed to be asleep. They were not tingling. They did not feel funny. He just could not move them.

Rain splashed his face. He was quickly soaked. Except it wasn’t rain. He was floating in a lake. Looking around, he was quite close to shore. A short swim and he was standing on a mound of tiny shells. Some of the snail-like creatures that had made the shells began to climb onto his sneakers. He tried to flick them off without hurting them, but they seemed to adhere to the leather. A big wave splashed his sneakers and some of the snails washed off. So he stepped back into the water and the remainder of the snails quickly floated away. He stepped out into deeper water. He had enjoyed his swim and thought another good swim might be fun.

A large splash attracted his attention. Then he had a weird shock: the creature that made the splash was like nothing he had ever seen before. It looked like a pony with the head of a duck and the flippers of a dolphin. It was splashing and jumping and frolicking—if one can frolic in a lake. It seemed to be laughing. Aidan stared at it for an extra long minute.

The creature moved toward him. It seemed to be smiling; offering friendship. Then it began to splash the lake surface with its flippers, splashing him with water. Aidan suddenly realized that this creature was not a happy, friendly animal. It was terrified of him. That was not a smile, but a grimace. It was not frolicking, it was frightened.

He started to turn away from the creature, then thought better of that. So, he backed up, slowly. A quick glance and he saw that he could safely back up; no mounds of snails were behind him. As he backed onto the shore, the creature seemed to calm down. It began moving back toward the center of the lake.

As the creature was no longer facing him, he took a long look around. The lake was maybe a couple of miles wide. However it stretched from horizon to horizon. Across the lake he could see cliffs rising up above the lake and something green that extended beyond his sight. Behind him, rising up over a hundred feet, was a wall of rock. He could see something on top of the cliff, but he did not recognize it. The shore beneath the cliff was an expanse of sand, dried brownish seaweed, an occasional piece of driftwood and billions of tiny shells.

He noticed something odd in one place on the rock wall. Moving closer, he realized that it was a stair: someone had carved steps into the wall of rock. About halfway up the side of the cliff he noticed a rather large platform. Climbing the stairs took much less effort than he thought it would. At the top of the stairs was a large platform built of inlaid stone of various colors. The inlaid stone formed a rather beautiful pattern. Standing on the edge of the platform, he looked out at the lake.

While he could see the objects in front of him very clearly and in sharp focus, he had difficulty recognizing exactly what he was observing. His impression that there was a cliff on the other side was apparently correct. He could see no sign of any buildings, only what now appeared to be a vast forest. There was a disturbance on the surface of the lake, maybe two or three hundred yards out. When he finally understood what he was observing, he was astounded. It was a whole herd or flock of the creatures. Some were babies. Others were much bigger than the one that chased him out of the lake. These creatures really were frolicking. He could see that their movements were now much different.

Link to the original Picture

Turning his attention to the pattern of stones in the platform floor, he was surprised that he recognized the pattern. It was a very ancient design, familiar to him because his grandparents had a rug with the design hanging on the wall in their hallway. While he had always wanted to take the rug down, lay it on the floor and walk around the pattern, he never had. Today, with the pattern on the platform before him, he would walk the design.

As he took the last step he felt the floor give way. He was dropping through space and time, it would seem. He quickly lost consciousness.

He woke up in the stone circle, sitting up against the standing stone. The sun had moved and was now beating down on him. He could move his legs and so he stood up. That’s when he realized that he had been wet. The sun had dried the front of his shirt and jeans, but his back was still damp. And his sneakers were still wet. He must have slept through the rain.

A couple of steps and he felt something in his shoes. Sitting down, he took them off. In his shoes, stuck to his socks, were a few of the tiny shells from the lake shore!