THE TRANSFIGURATION OF WHAT'S-HIS-NAME
John W. Cowart
The three demons who ruled First Century Caesarea Philippi, a city of lascivious sexual passions where the dims thought they worshiped the great horny god Pan, swooped in listless arcs above the city -- bickering loudly among themselves as usual.
The demons, of course, could scarcely fly as honest birds or bats do; instead, each sunset the trio crawled out of their cave beneath the city, climbed up the cliff and to the top of a high building, and launched themselves on an updraft. Then they tilted their leathery wings to a steep angle and spiraled to catch a stronger thermal to gain height over their domain.
This evening, as usual, they had launched from their favorite spot, a fluted column rising in front of the great temple which that old reprobate Herod had built to honor Augustus Caesar and Pan.
As usual the three had clawed their way out of the cave in the cliff a thousand feet beneath the temple and scrambled to the top of the column scratching and gouging each other in their nightly race to be first. Like crabs in a bucket, when one seemed to be getting to the top stepping on the upturned faces of the others, those others would drag him down.
This evening, their scrap did not last long because Stud and Gaylord ganged up on Longdong. One biting his tail, the other scratching his face because he had launched first for three consecutive evenings and they rebelled at his lording it over them. Of course, their team work was short lived because although, Gaylord had promised to let Stud launch first if he helped discomfort Longdong, naturally, Gaylord himself had launched as soon as he topped the pinnacle of the temple leaving the other two fighting.
"Sloppy seconds to you both," he screeched as he flung himself from the column his wings opening with a whomp.
The others stopped clawing each other long enough to spit venom at him.
At any rate, all three finally got airborne and like hunting buzzards sniffing for carrion, they circled the city savoring the stench from the squalid night sins of the dims below them.
A few sparse stars glimmered in the murky sky smudged with smoke from thousands of kitchen fires as people in the city cooked their evening meals over dried camel dung, charcoal or wood depending on the financial status of the household.
From the air, the city appeared as an oasis of gentile culture set in a barren Jewish setting; unlike other drab Jewish communities in the area, this Roman outpost sported statues, baths, race-tracks -- exotic color against a plain Judean backdrop. The last few rays of sunset reflected off the white marble columns of Pan's temple. A smattering of torches outlined the stadium where a crowd was gathering for an animal fight. There, in only a few years Romans would feed both Jews and Christians alike to the unprejudiced lions.
As the demons sailed over, none of the still waters in the 82 pools and public baths of the city reflected their images. Demons cast no shadows. They reflect no light. And they speak and live outside the scope of human perception. Outside the city limits, day's dying heat still shimmered upward from the desert's darkening rocks on the lower slopes of Mount Hermon.
The white tile roof of the Roman governor's lavish palace -- presently occupied by one Pontius Pilate whose vanity encouraged him to engrave his name on a plaque at the other Caesarea (found by archaeologists centuries later) as though he owned the place instead of being merely one in a long string of transient official tenants -- created a thermal and the demons spiraled upward from its heat.
At the top of the thermal draft, the air mushroomed out and the demons broke free to soar over Theata Alley and gaze down at the rows of multicolored banners flying in front of the brothels lined up in ranks like the legionaries who patronized them enthusiastically.
Caesarea Philippi boasted the area's finest R&R facilities for the Roman occupational troops and tonight just happened to be a payday, so this section of the city resembled a house to house orgy -- much to the disgust of the city's three invisible rulers.
"Bleah, I loath these vermin," Longdong said glaring at the unaware people far below him. "Look at them rut. Pleasuring in rubbing against each other. I'd line the females' insides with stinging thistles if I had my way."
"I'd leave the females but give the all the males organs as flexible as live eels," Stud said. "Look, there's one at it now; let's try to make him soft, spoil his pleasure, make him think about that promotion in rank he missed getting. That ought to soften him up. Yuch, but I hate dims."
"Dims ain't much. At least they're pretty sure to fade to black," Gaylord said. "It's the flickers I hate. You never can tell when one of them is going to blaze on you. "I wish they'd all stay the way they're born instead of brightening on us."
"That's a stupid thing to say, you puke," sneered Stud. "If they stayed sparks like when they're born, we never get to see them blacken. No, if we just keep them dim long enough, they're food -- Oh, hell and damnation, here comes trouble."
From far away, across the foothills south of Mount Hermon, a blacker shadow flapped clumsily, lumbering through the air, propelling itself laboriously across the dark sky.
"Greetings, Tock, what the hell do you think you're doing. This is our territory," Gaylord shouted.
Ignoring his challenge, Toxicity swooped straight in scattering the other demons in his haste to gain the thermal.
"Get the hell out of here; this is our air and you can't have any," snarled Longdong.
"In your eye, if you was a human you'd be a priest or a pansy -- maybe both," Toxicity panted, clinging to the thermal as the others pushed him away toward dead air. "Don't do that, Damn you! I got a special mission from Capernaum. I got just as much right to be here as you guys."
"Special mission, Hell. Who'd trust you with stealing toilet sponges? Get out of my face," snapped Stud.
"Got orders straight from Capernaum Council and there ain't nothing you can do about it. So there! Nah, nah, nah."
"The CC ain't diddle over here. No jurisdiction," Longdong said, "You got no right coming into our space."
"I got the right to fart in your face, you slimy afterbirth. My orders come from lower down, if you take my meaning -- and you'd damn sure better. There's some light creeping in under the blanket and you'd damn sure better help me squash it or there'll, be Hell to pay."
"No need to get nasty, Tock. We was just asking," Stud said with a wink at his fellows. "You got a different situation there in Capernaum, here we just ... Hey, a dim bitch just snuffed out! Lets get her. Damn it, wait for me. I saw her first!”
When they'd finished with the woman's screaming residue, the four demons resumed their patrol and their argument.
"Damn! But I love it when they squirm like that," Tock said licking his bloated lips. "The look in her eyes when she died and saw us swooping in, the way she pleaded when Stud clapped that first nursing worm to her tit, the way she screamed for her husband to run rescue her when her feet hit the fire and then cursed him when he couldn't hear her even though she could see him standing there weeping his eyes out right there beside the bed and whimpering for What's-his-name to bless the dear departed little woman -- that's gonna be one eternally miserable bitch -- it all makes me want to sing."
"Makes you want to piss," Stud said. "Look, you're dribbling already."
"So I am., So I am. Here, let me cruise a little over to the left there, I see an evening garden party and the stupid dims ought to have a chance to curse. Bet they blame it on seagulls," Tock said.
Longdong deliberately bumped Tock's wing as he passed and knocked him into a steep dive on his back. Tock recovered scant inches above the ground and flapped back toward the others screeching.
Gaining altitude, he yelled, "You gonna pay for that. I'm here on an official mission for the CC and you flutters had better respect my position. I ain't about to forget this. I'll laugh while you roast in Hell."
"He's on an official mission. We'd better respect him," Gaylord said. "Else, he might piss on his own leg some more."
"Now, cut that out. You just better hope you live long enough to get prostate trouble -- you deserve it," Tock replied.
"What's this official mission for Capernaum? You three sots over there loosing control of your dims again? Too many flickers? More incompetence?," Longdong said with a loud belch in Tock's face.
They all knew about the recent trouble in Capernaum.
The dims of Capernaum, unlike those of Caesarea Philippi, were not given to the common sins of the flesh. No, Capernaum sported an ancient -- even for Israel -- synagogue. It was a hotbed of pious activity with its own colony of dim religious writers, religious lawyers and religious insurance agents. No hanky-panky in Capernaum, the dims there refrained from fleshgrunting. They were too proud.
This character trait delighted that city's own triumvirate of demon rulers, Toxicity, Rancid and Cynthia.
"I love religious dims. Double the guilt, none of the pleasure," Rancid always said.
Oh, of course, a few sneak dims now and then played two-back in secret with like-minded folk; but they didn't even acknowledge each other in public. They had to consider their dignity; most preferred other sins.
The varied thought atmospheres in these two rival cities called for different administrative technique and the two competing demon triumvirates stayed at each other's throats boasting about how hard their own city was to rule and gripping about how any fool could control the other city.
Their argument had raged for centuries.
"You can keep the pride and resentment of a flicker scholar in Capernaum seething for years till he finally dims out and fades to black," Longdong often complained, "But once a man's gone soft, he goes to sleep! How the hell are we supposed to keep the vermin sinning if they go to sleep? Now Caesarea, this place takes top demons to make it go on sinning; any gut with a goose quill can keep religious writers at it."
"Nonsense, you twit," Cynthia always said whenever they met. "All dims worship their own bellies. Everyone of them has an oozing slime god between their legs. It's a cinch to use that god to trap them. When they're young intrigue them with it; when they're mature make them cheat the ones they love most with it; when they're too old to get stiff or slick, make them long for what they're missing. You can keep them dissatisfied all their feeble lives -- even when sex is at its best. Then when they fade to black, the first thing I always remind them of is that the soft body parts rot first!
"So, with a city given to sins of the flesh like your's is, no wonder Boss can let boobs rule it," she always said.
"On the other hand, the dims we deal with in Capernaum ... Scripture, scripture, scripture. It takes real skill to make them ignore what that stuff says and think it's written for somebody else. We labor under a cruel disadvantage. In Capernaum recently we've even had this bright young rabbi who has the audacity to try to twist scripture so that it seems to make sense. He's a pain. Unsettles the whole place. Gets the dim scholars thinking naughty thoughts. His time is coming, you'd better believe it," she said.
"Fortunately, we are the world's foremost experts in pride. Of course, we ought to be. We are the best. Although, of course, Rancid and Tock are being trained by me. Apprentices, you understand," she said.
At annual Triumvirate Of Cities conferences for centuries she had said essentially this same thing.
"Ruddy parrot," Longdong always yelled above the other catcalls.
The Caesarea Philippi Authority (CPAs) naturally hated the Capernaum Council (CCs); so, when the CPA triumvirate learned the nature of Tock's official mission, they screeched, whined and griped so loudly their caterwauling stirred up a dust storm which coated Caesarea Philippi with yellow grit and drove the dims indoors.
Having people curse the dust brought the demons little pleasure.
Like great ungainly vultures bloated with carrion, the four demons glided down to thump into the ground breaking branches and crushing tender plants. Once on the ground, they waddled into Pan's cave and burrowed down into crevasses to think things over.
The Jordan River runs in an almost straight north-south line. In the south, at its mouth, the Jordan empties into the Dead Sea, lowest and most salty of all earth's bodies of water. From there the land rises steadily northward to lofty Mount Hermon 11,000 feet above sea level.
At the river's mid-point, it flows through the fresh water Sea of Galilee on the northeastern shore of which, right by the Jordan, sits the city of Capernaum. About ten miles north of Capernaum, the river widens to form a smaller fresh water lake called in biblical times, Lake Merom.
About 15 miles north of the reedy marshes of Merom, the city of Caesarea Philippi was built in the highlands at the source of the river.
When Alexander the Great conquered the land, his soldiers discovered that the source of the Jordan River ran out from a great cave beneath a thousand-foot-high cliff on the western side of Mount Hermon. Caesarea Philippi sits on top of this cliff. Alexander named the area Panias in honor of Pan, god of sexual excess and cruel laughter.
Years later, Herod the Great built a lavish temple to Caesar Augustus and Pan at the top of the cliff above the cave.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus described the place saying, "At this spot a mountain rears its summit to an immense height aloft; at the base of the cliff is an opening into an overgrown cavern; within this, enclosing a volume of still water, the bottom of which no sounding-line has been found long enough to reach, is the pool".
Half the pool of still water lies inside the cave; the other half extends out from the base of the cliff. This water pools inside a deep crevice on the floor of the cave, but part of the cave floor, while damp and dank, remains dry enough for exploration though it is cluttered with rocks and boulders fallen from the soaring vaulted ceiling.
Alexander's soldiers used to throw victims off the top of cliff down into the pool as a sacrifice to Pan. If the victim sank, the soldiers assumed the god was pleased; if the victim floated to the surface, archers on the cliff used the unaccepted girl for target practice.
Centuries ago when they were young, Stud, Gaylord and Longdong used to lurk beneath the dark water and use their tails to push live victims to the surface. The ones who hit the water dead from the fall, they let sink. The dim soldiers never did figure out the game and wasted many an arrow better used in battle.
But now a better game was afoot and because he was bigger, stronger and meaner than the resident demon triumvirate of Caesarea Philippi, only Tock of Capernaum would get to play.
"Big bully," Gaylord whimpered in his crevice in the cave wall, "Comes barging in here like he belongs."
"Quiet, he might hear you. Sound carries in here," Longdong whispered.
"Don't care if he does," Gaylord said, lowering his voice to whisper his reply. "I hope he fails. You know how Boss feels about failing."
"Shut up, Losers," Tock's voice boomed in the cavern, "Someone's coming. Aw, look. Young Love. Ain't that sweet!"
Sprawling Mount Hermon boasts three peaks rising above undulating foothills. The two highest peaks stay mostly snow-covered all year but the runoff from snow which does melt seeps into the ground only to gush forth in springs around the mountain-- the Bible's Lower Springs of the Jordan -- making the area one of the most lush and fertile in Israel. The steep valley of the Jordan channels moisture into a narrow band along the river while outside that verdant band dry rocky desert lies envying the valley.
Unlike the land to the south where porous thirsty limestone drinks up even the rain of heaven, here to the north, dark basalt rock keeps moisture near the surface. Wheat grows well and pear trees outnumber the olive. Honeysuckle, clematis and wild rose thrive among the huge basalt boulders and oleanders with red, white and pink -- but poisonous -- flowers grow in forest-sized clumps.
Ancient people entering the cave -- where a marble plaque found by modern archaeologists still says, "Sacred to the God Pan and His Nymphs" -- brought votive offerings to cast into the recesses of the dark pool. Some brought incense; some, spices; some coins. No one since the Greeks left threw living women into the pool anymore. But from time immemorial, virtually every visitor cast a hand-picked and handwoven garland of oleander onto the water.
Lydia, Marcus, and Flavius all cast garlands in the water; Benjamin, being Hebrew, did not.
Of course, strictly speaking, Benjamin should not have even been playing with the Gentile children and certainly the watery cavern beneath the thousand foot cliff of Mount Hermon was no place for children of any kind to play. But in the way of children everywhere, the four disregarded the scruples and warnings of their stodgy elders and scampered together near and far over the mountain side and in their playing they blundered down the easy southern slope then back around to the foot of the high cliff on the western side where the pool oozed out of Pan's grotto.
They all knew they should not be there.
But Lydia, older by two years than the three boys, lured them on with a promise -- not stated outright but hinted -- that she knew a new game she just might let them play.
Sensing a provocative wonder, the boys would have followed her anywhere. But once they gathered garlands -- Lydia wove an extra one for her hair -- and entered the cave, she turned coy, while they, with hot but unfamiliar yearnings, pressed her.
In the way of all mankind, the louder their passions grew, the softer their voices.
"Come on; no body can see us here," Marcus said.
"There's too much light. We have to get back further in," she said.
"This is a good place right here," Flavius said.
"The ground's too wet. We have to get back away from the water where it's dryer," she said.
Misty blue light filtered from the cavern's huge entrance. Green lichen coated boulders dropped in ancient days from the cave's high ceiling. Black shadows loomed far back in the cave as the children skirted the edge of the still silent pool.
"This is back far enough, isn't it," Benjamin said.
"No it isn't," Lydia said. "What if someone -- like one of our dads -- followed us down the hill from town. If they came in the front there, they could see what we're going to do. We have to go back just a little bit more. What's the matter, scared of ghosts?"
"I ain't ascared of no ghost," Benjamin said.
The boys followed Lydia's pale figure deeper and deeper, darker and darker, into the cave.
That was the whole point of the older girl's strategy: she intended to lead them down deep into the dark, then flit way leaving them to find their own way out. She had played this game before with other boys and thought it great -- after all, Pan is the god of fun and games, and somebody has to be his goat.
Feeling her way to the rock ledge she recognized as her turn-around point, she began to pout, confusing the boys more.
"I don't want you to watch," she said toying with the bronze pin fastening on her robe.
"We won't," they said in course.
"You'd peek," she accused. "I'll tell you what. Marcus, you go behind that rock, the one that looks like a kneeling camel. Flavius, you go on along the path. No more than ten paces, mind you. Ben, you stay right here. I'm going to go over there behind that clump of cave fern and take something off. When I'm ready, I'll come out and come to each of you in turn. Be real quiet and no peeking. I'm nervous about this already."
The three boys separated.
They were real still.
They were real quiet.
Ben could hear the girl moving around in the darkness.
He thought he could hear her breathe.
Ben felt something soft and smooth press against his arm. The aroma of oleander flowers floated softly in the darkness.
"Wow! She picked me first," he thought.
He opened his arms to receive his visitor and drew the warm flesh close to his own.
Hot moist breath pulsated against his neck.
"Do you want me," someone whispered.
Ben nodded rapidly.
"Do you really want me," the voice asked.
"Yes! Yes, you know I want you," Ben cried. He felt a soft tongue nuzzling and probing his ear -- deeper and deeper, probing for his very brain.
Ben shuttered groping in the dark for some familiar texture of flesh. "Do you think we should? I don't want to hurt you," he whispered.
"Don't you worry about hurting me, little boy. Don't listen to anyone but me. Hush. Not another word. Ever," Tock softly cackled in the dark.
Lydia sat on a rock outside the cave combing her hair and laughing at the clumsy sounds the boys made scrambling out. When Marcus and Flavius broke out into full sunlight, she tossed a pebble in their direction.
"What's the matter, Get lonely in there," she teased.
"You cheated. That's not fair," Flavius yelled.
"Tough. What are you going to do about it," she said.
"We'll show you!" Marcus yelled. And the three began a chase in and out among the strewn boulders in front of the cave until at last they collapsed exhausted and breathless on a grassy bank. Lydia dipped the hem of her tunic into a pool of water trapped in a shallow hollow atop a rock and pressed it to her sweaty forehead. Marcus and Flavius scooped up handsfull of water and drank greedily.
"Where's Ben?" Flavius asked idly stirring the water.
"Bet he's still waiting in the dark with his horn up, dumber than you guys," Lydia said.
"Probably playing with himself," Marcus said.
"And wishing they hadn't clipped his foreskin. He's going to need every inch he can get," Lydia laughed.
"Hey, Ben! Come on Out!" Flavius shouted. "She tricked us! Come home free!"
No sound came from the cave.
Marcus walked back just inside the entrance. "Hey, Heb. Everybody in. I'm the only one she let do it."
"Liar!" Lydia screamed. "You never touched me and you never will," she shouted.
And the chase began again. Up and down ravine sides, splashing across little brooks, round and round trees -- and back to the cave entrance.
"Ben," Flavius yelled. "Time to head home. Come on out."
The afternoon sun sank lower in the west. Long slanting beams probed further back into the cavern illuminating places which never saw light except for two hours on late summer afternoons.
The three children ventured back into the cave. Skirting the pool. Calling Ben's name. Growing apprehensive.
Marcus saw him first.
On a ledge in the cavern wall high above the dark pool of Pan, Benjamin stood silently gazing down at the water. He did not move. When they called, he did not appear to hear them.
"What's the matter with him?" Lydia whispered.
"Bet the sissy got scared out of his wits," Marcus said. "Hey, Ben. Nothing to be scared of. It was only a joke. Come on down."
"Don't be a baby. Come on down from there," Flavius called.
Ben took no notice of his friends. He only stared off into space.
"He's froze up there. We'd better get help," Lydia said. "You two stay and keep an eye on him in case he falls. I'll run get his dad. Look, we were down her playing. Got that. Playing. If anybody tells, I'll... You better not tell! You'd just better not."
She turned and ran.
She ran from the cave entrance, along the bank of the pool, and across a wooden bridge that crossed the infant Jordan. She picked her way over the shale fallen from the cliff's heights in ages past, then panted up the southern slope of Hermon's spur.
An exhausting climb. But she did not pause for breath. She ran as though a demon snapped at her heels. Racing through the closest city gate, she pounded to the Jewish quarter where Ben's father worked in a foundry.
"Sir! Sir. come quick," she panted. "Ben's down in Pan's cave and he won't answer. There's something wrong with him."
"God, help us," Ezra said dropping a ladle of molten bronze right on top of the sand mold where he had been pouring the two matching parts of an ornate door hinge.
Stripping off his leather apron, he yelled to the foreman and the other two molders still in the shop that late, "Help! My boy's trapped down in the cave. Help me rescue him. Help. Hurry.
The slender Roman girl and the four burly Jewish men dashed back down the path to the cave.
Marcus and Flavius met them at the entrance. Flavius was crying.
"He's still up there and he won't come down," Marcus said. "He acts like he can't hear us and he won't say anything."
"What the hell were you kids doing down here. You know you ain't supposed to be down here. There's rock falls and snakes. I'll swear," the foreman grumbled.
"Stay out here. We don't need any more kids to get hurt in there," Ezra said as he and the other men entered the cave picking their way and stumbling over rocks on the littered cavern floor.
"Look, there he is. How the hell did he get way up there," the foreman said. "We gonna need ropes to get him down and some lamps to see by if it gets much darker. Sun's setting. Obed, go tell them kids out there to run get rope and lamps from the shop."
"Ben," Ezra called, "Ben, can you hear me. Don't be afraid. Hang on. I'll get you down. Hang on, I'm coming. Hold tight."
Ezra worked his way toward the cave wall. The cold of the cave after the heat of the foundry and the run down the mountain caused goosebumps to rise on his sweaty back, shoulders and arms.
Reaching the side wall of the cave, the father groped here and there on the surface for some toehold he could use to climb up to the ledge his son stood on. When he found it, the irregularity in the stone wall proved too narrow to afford him purchase. He unlaced his sandals and inched along the crevice barefooted. He faced the wall and groped above his head with calloused fingers, pulling and straining and feeling his way up the unyielding stone. The men below shouted useless directions and encouragement.
Thirty feet up, the ledge widened enough so the man could turn his face from the wall to look up at his son. Ben appeared unconcerned with his father's progress.
"Son? Ben? What are you doing here? What's the matter? Reach over this way. Take my hand. Try not to look down."
Benjamin turned slowly, then spit at his father's outstretched hand.
The boy scooted sidewise along the ledge, stuck his tongue out at his shocked father, then deliberately stepped off into empty air.
The falling boy's tunic caught on a projection of rock for a moment twisting him in the air. His head, elbow, hip, knee -- banged against the wall as he bounced down the hard rock from spur to spur.
He did not make a sound as he tumbled. Nor when he smashed into the dark water.
His body disappeared beneath the pool and the water swirled from some mighty subterranean force swallowing him.
Without hesitation, Ezra leaped from the rock ledge to save his son. In a flat clean dive, he arched far out from the stone wall and plunged into Pan's pool. Forging through the water with powerful strokes, he swam toward the place where he'd seen his son sink.
Ezra dove deep beneath the cold stagnant water groping franticly for the boy. Lack of air forced him to the surface. He gasped then dove again. And again. And again.
"For God's sake! He's drowning. Help me," he shouted breaking the surface.
"To the right more. He's more to your right!" someone shouted from the dark poolside.
The father moved right and dove again. His hand brushed hair in the water and he clung to it. Kicking toward the surface, he pulled the boy up after him.
Ben twisted and kicked and clawed. He wrapped his legs around his father's. He gouged his father's eyes. He bit.
"Help! He's got me," Ezra screamed as the foreman and Obed swam to join the thrashing. "Stop struggling, Ben; you'll drown us both."
The three men pulled the little boy up on the poolside where without making a single sound, he hit and clawed and scratched and bit.
The three men tried to restrain him without hurting him.
The ten-year-old, small for his age, boy frazzled them.
When helpers arrived with lamps and rope, they had to use the rope to bind Ben hand and foot. Even then, he fought them all the way up the mountain back into the city.
Ezra and Sarah had called a Greek doctor to see their son. The former slave picked and probed at the boy, looking in his ears, forcing his mouth open with a stick and peering down his throat, examining his urine, palpitating his liver, asking questions. Ben struggled and writhed and snapped at the doctor's ankles as the man edged out of reach around the boy's straw pallet.
Motioning the worried parents outside the hut, the doctor made his pronouncement.
"A mad dog has bitten him sometime in the past few weeks, I'm afraid he has rabies. Or perhaps, he has inhaled bad air and malarial humors have settled in his brain. On the other hand, this could be the early stages of encephalitis or perhaps the final stages of syphilis. I'll need to run some tests to be sure. Sometimes polio strikes like this or... Or -- well, never mind."
"Or what, Doctor," Sarah said wringing her hands as though she had not already heard enough bad news, "We want to know everything."
"Well, perhaps it is not a disease at all; perhaps the god has claimed your son as his own."
"Never!" Ezra snapped. "My son is a good boy. He keeps the Sabbath. He'd have no traffic with heathen gods -- no disrespect intended, Doctor -- Ben's as smart as can be. He makes good grades in school. He's tops in his class. He helps me in the shop. He reads the Torah and is just about ready for his manhood ceremony. Wouldn't surprise me if he grows up to be a rabbi or gets a good government job, Maybe steward in a rich house. It can't be Pan. Decent people like us aren't subject to the superstitions of the heathen."
The physician sighed.
Why is it people will call in expert medical help then deny the expert's diagnosis?
"Yes. Yes, I know you folks are Jews," the doctor said. "Perhaps, if it comforts you, just think of it as just rabies. There's little difference in the outcome. But there are some therapeutic steps you can take: I want you to keep him tied and don't let him bite anyone. Keep him quiet and I want you to dose him down good with witchbane and oil -- fish, not olive. We'll know more in a few hours. Now, about my bill..."
The foreman had let Ezra off work for the time it took to see the doctor but he had to go back as soon as the doctor left, leaving Benjamin still tied and snapping at his mother's hand when she tried to bathe his head with a cool damp cloth.
Thus, Ezra was working at the foundry, a few hundred yards down the street from his home, when Ben snapped his ropes and broke free.
Heat shimmered in the air above the three huge charcoal pits where the molders melted bronze or sometimes even iron. Vast piles of slag -- waste metal fused with burned charcoal and sand into glassy sharp-edged rock-like chunks -- surrounded the work yard. A bricked-in spring formed a small pool of dirty water, where hot metal pieces could be dipped for tempering; a vat of oil stood beside that for tempering finer tools which would need to hold a sharp edge.
In a lean-to shed in back, four old slaves polished finished metal products on sparking grindstones. A more substantial shed at the front of the yard housed the foreman's desk cluttered with papyrus rolls containing the business's financial records. Another shed to the side housed the pattern shop where two Syrian artists shaped wooden or clay patterns in the form of whatever needed to be made of metal.
Today's job was a huge bronze bell destined to hang in the hilltop fort near Abila to call Roman soldiers to muster.
Ezra muscled the two halfs of the wooden bell pattern into place in two identical large wooden boxes called a flasks. His helper shoveled fine sand into the hollow insides of the wooden bell halves while Ezra inserted small cone-shaped cores made of sand and glue at strategic places in the wooden form.
High above the workers, cruising unseen on the thermal created by the furnaces, Longdong, Gaylord and Stud, watched the dims sweat.
"Is that all he's going to do; pester little boys. I could do better than that," Longdong said.
"Can he hear us while he's in the dim?" Gaylord said.
"I've never actually been inside one. I don't know. But we'd better be quiet just in case he can," Stud said.
Like vultures waiting in the sky for some sick beast to die, the three circled on silent, near motionless, wings.
Once the wooden patterns were wedged in place with the sand cores, Ezra and his apprentice, packed the heavy wooden flasks with damp sand using heavy mallets to tamp the sand tight over the wood bell patterns.
That done, they called other workmen over to help them separate the two flasks and turn them over. Heaving together, they lifted the wooden patterns free and removed the patterns and cores. This left the exact imprint of the bell inverted in the sand. Ezra cut gates and risers into the sand of the flask; the gates formed holes where the molten metal would be poured into the hollow mold, the risers formed holes which allowed the liquid metal to flow all the way around the bell shape and out the other side. When the metal cooled, the gates and risers would be cut off and their scars polished smooth.
Ezra dusted the inside of the mold with talc to glaze the metal's surface, gave the mold one final check for imperfections, then called the other men to help him gently move the two flasks together again using pins to line the halves up exactly.
Now came the most exacting and dangerous part of the process.
While Ezra had been preparing the molds, the furnace tenders had been feeding bronze ingots into heavy ceramic pots blazing red in the midst of the charcoal fires. Four slaves pumped frantically at the huge leather bellows that forced air over the coals. The metal smoked, then glowed, then pooled, ran and melted in the pots.
A lattice work of stubby posts, timbers, chains and pulleys filled the air above the workyard. The workers swung a metal hook over the flames and latched into the clasps of the first melting pot. The men threw their weight against the chains lifting the sizzling red potful of metal free from its bed in the charcoal. One man guided, while every free worker in the yard strained at the chains.
The crew moved the steaming metal over the empty flasks.
Ezra tilted the pot with a long pole tipping it gently so that the liquid metal could poor from the lip slowly enough for him to skim off the slag to keep the bell free from impurities. The metal needed to be poured fast enough to keep if flowing into every hollow space inside the mold, but slowly enough to keep it from clogging in some narrow place and ruining the pour.
As soon as one pot of metal emptied, the crew raced for another; if one layer of metal had a chance to cool before the next was poured in hot, the two would not fuse into a single piece.
"This is getting boring," Stud said.
"Industrious little vermin. Like dung beetles in a warm pile," Longdong said.
"Dims don't have any idea what hot is -- not until they fade to black," Gaylord said. "Speaking of which, that old slave in the pattern shop. Don't look at him too close. He's a flicker now but he's thinking about going bright on us. See if you can't take his mind off that. Remind him of his granddaughter's boyfriend, that ought to keep him from thinking about What's-His-Name."
"There. That worked for now," Stud said. "But if we don't keep an eye on him, he's going to be eternally lost."
"Don't you just hate it when they flare bright. I remember an old dim whore once who... Well, well, well. What have we here? Here comes Tock riding on his dim; let's see what happens now."
At Ezra's home, Ben snapped his ropes, shoved his mother aside and lumbered out into the street. Without a sound, he paused and sniffed the air. An animal seeking prey. He began running toward the foundry.
A block down the street, he knocked over a little girl herding a flock of geese to market. He kicked the child then charged through the squawking flock of birds stirring up a cloud of gray feathers.
Entering the workyard, the silent boy spied the crew straining at the chains. A pot of steaming liquid death bobbed in the air above their heads.
He crouched down on all fours and started creeping toward the sweating men.
Weaving in and out among barrels.
In the finishing shed, Omar shifted the flat bronze oval to his left hand. His arthritis was cramping his right but he had to polish his daily quota or there would be no supper. He grasped the mirror blank by its vine ornamented handle and held it up to the light.
The old man ignored the ordered confusion of the metal pour; his gnarled fingers would be no good on the chains. His hands circled and circled in his routine work, done so long that he performed it without paying attention. He thought about his own problems.
I hope she doesn't fool around and get pregnant, he thought picking up another hand full of grit and rubbing it on the surface of the oval, scrubbing it in with a thick leather glove. Once polished to a gleaming finish, the hand mirror would grace some lady's dressing table where she could brush her hair, apply ointment to her eyes and indulge her vanity.
She's so pretty and so smart except when it comes to boys, Omar thought. But how can you tell a young girl about the traps of life. He has no trade. He has no ambition. He has no honor. I wish...
The old slave rinsed the muddy grit off the mirror and lifted it to the light once more checking for imperfections or irregularities on the shiny surface.
A low shadow moved on the polished bronze.
The old slave, still clutching the mirror, turned from his workbench. A person, silent, menacing, sinister, evil, crept up behind the preoccupied work crew.
"Danger! Danger!" Omar screamed just as Ben launched his attack.
The boy leaped clawing and biting onto the naked back of a man right in the middle of the chain-pulling crew. The workman shrieked in surprise and let go of the chain reaching back over his head to pry off his small attacker. His action knocked away the hands of the man behind him.
The men remaining could not hang onto the pot of 800 pounds of boiling metal in the air.
"Ease it down! Ease it down," the foreman screamed. But as the weight of the swinging pot tugged the work crew toward it, the men let go and ran for safety.
The ceramic pot smashed into the ground showering the workers with glowing droplets. The rim of the pot hit a corner of the wooden flask and cracked. Scalding metal poured from the pot casting up smoke and clouds of steam from the ground. Searing metal droplets spattered the flask and the leather-booted feet of men. Rivulets of red hot metal seemed to chase men through the dust, filling in footprints almost before a man's foot left his track.
Like actors high stepping in a comic frantic dance the workmen ran screaming on smoking feet toward the bricked-in tempering spring. Strong men cried as they stood crowded shoulder to sweaty shoulder huddled together in the little puddle. Their tears cut tracks of white down their smoke-grimed dirty faces.
They looked back in horror at Ben.
"Don't do it, Son! Don't do it," Ezra screamed from his place in the crowd.
Ben had let go of the man he'd first attacked and was now walking slowly, purposely, deliberately toward the pool of scalding metal puddled at the broken pot.
He skirted the edge of the red pulsing puddle and climbed to the top of the big wooden flask where he stood amid the swirling steam and smoke.
Above the pool of liquid metal, Benjamin poised to dive.
"For God's sake. Stop," old Omar shouted, hobbling forward from the polishing shed. "For God's sake, little boy, don't jump."
Maddened at the old man, he turned his steed and glared venom at the interfering old fool scurrying across the work yard towards him.
Omar hurried forward with his gnarled hands outstretched pleading. He still clutched the bronze mirror he had been polishing. "Don't move! Don't move. I'll help you down," he shouted.
The metal on the ground was beginning to set; a red and black crust smoked over the liquid heart of smaller puddles. The bigger pools still quivered and jelled, then moved and flowed again from internal heat.
Ezra and the wok crew moved cautiously out of the water and edged toward where Omar confronted Ben atop the flask. The old man stood to one side below the boy with his arms outstretched. "Come this way. Come this way, little boy. Take my hand. I'll help you down."
Ben glared down at him with a soundless snarl.
Ezra and the work crew surrounded the pile of metal, charred wood, sand, slag and rubble where Ben perched, still poised to dive into the glowing mass at his feet.
A military police patrol, Unit XII of the Roman Occupational Peacekeepers, known locally as the Bulls of Bashan, burst into the work yard. The commotion at the foundry had drawn a crowd and the patrol, ever alert to civil disturbance, had responded immediately.
"Out of the way, slave. I'll take charge here," shouted the officer.
"What's the matter with you people? Can't you even whip a little boy causing trouble?" He stomped up to the place Omar had stood and commanded, "Get down from there right now, boy."
Without a word, Ben clenched his hand into a fist and slammed the Roman on top of the helmet.
The Roman staggered back dazed.
His men drew swords. Some faced Ben on his smoking mountain; most faced the crowd of civilian workmen, slaves and bystanders.
With the violent act accomplished, the boy's face grew calm. He surveyed the tense scene with a pleased smirk on his face.
Ezra pushed to the forefront and called to the scowling officer, "Thank you, Sir. Thank you for rescuing my little boy. We just didn't know what to do. The doctor says he has rabies."
The Romans dropped back a step. Quick glances darted from man to man.
Shaking his ringing head and taking in the size of the little boy who poled him -- and thinking of how a report on this incident would read --the officer said, "The kid's sick? Why don't you people get him down from there then? He could get hurt. Move back men. Let these citizens get their child."
"I'll distract him." Omar said. "Grab him from behind".
Omar began moving the mirror in his hand so its surface caught the sun and reflected the light directly into Ben's eyes.
The boy twisted his head back and forth dodging the light but the slave moved the bronze mirror to keep the beam full on his face.
"It's not rabies; it's brain fever. Stupid bulls" Ezra whispered to his friends. "Help me get Ben down."
The work crew moved into position as Omar played the mirror in Ben's eyes.
"Now!" the foreman yelled.
All the men grabbed at once.
At the first touch, Ben sprang into a frenzy. He threw burly men right and left. He kicked. He prodded and shoved and wrestled before finally succumbing and being subdued beneath the pile of workers who sweated and strained and hopped to avoid his snapping jaws, his clawing, scratching nails -- and the clumps of hot metal underfoot. They finally lashed him down, arms and ankles, and stood in a panting circle.
"Child care Jewish style," muttered one of the observing policemen.
Dipping a wing to catch the current, Gaylord yawned. "A tacky display. Amusing but tacky."
"Better watch what you say. Are you sure he can't hear you while inside a dim?" Stud asked.
They gazed down far below at Tock trussed up on the ground.
Tock looked up. He winked.
The crowd of people watched the boy to see what would happen next.
Omar knelt in the dust and patted Ben on the soldier. His gnarled hand wiped grime from the boy's silent scowling face.
"Thanks for your help, old timer," Ezra said.
"It's so hard when it's a child suffering," Omar said. "I hear there's a traveling rabbi at Capernaum who can..."
"Yeah! I've heard about that guy," the Roman officer interrupted. "What's his name? One of the Centurions over there in Capernaum has this valuable slave that got real sick, took him to What's-his-name, and presto! Good as ever. You could sell him as brand new now. You take your kid over to Capernaum. That guy can fix him up in no time... Well, it looks as though you people have got things under control here..."
"Sir, I can't thank you and your brave men enough for rescuing my little boy," Ezra said. "If you'll give me the name of your commander, I'll write him a ..."
"Now. Now, none of that. Just doing our job. Keeping peace and order is what we Romans are here for." the officer said. "Hope your kid... Well, you know."
The Romans formed up and marched briskly away.
"Filthy, pig-eating..." Ezra said.
"Hush. They might hear," Omar said.
The foreman picked his way through the mess in the workyard to where Ezra and Omar tended Ben. He twisted his leather apron in his hands and cleared his throat. "Look, Ezra, I'm sorry about your son and you're a good craftsman but... I'm afraid I have to let you go. Yesterday the water. Today, the fire. Who knows what tomorrow. Omar will help you tote the boy home. But you stay there for a couple of days or a week until he... Well, stay away for as long as it takes. Then come see me. The boss doesn't want you back. It's gonna cost over a thousand dracmas just to get that bronze cut back up small enough to melt again. And the order date on that bell don't cut the shop any slack... Well, you understand. You're fired until... then we'll see," he said.
Omar carried Ben's feet; Ezra, his soldiers.
People stood well aside as they moved down the street back towards Ezra's home.
"About that traveling rabbi from Capernaum," Omar said. "I hear tell that him and his friends is moved from there and is headed up river. They was camped over towards Lake Merom. They may be coming right here to Caesarea Philippi."
"Greek doctors. Witchbane. Fish oil. What good is some itinerate rabbi going to do? I don't believe he can help. I'm afraid it's hopeless. Just hopeless," Ezra said.
After eight days of enduring their son's violence, fits and suicide attempts, Ezra and Sarah carried Ben to meet the rabbi.
Sarah cut a hole in the center of a blanket for the boy's head to fit through. They fought him into it and wound leather thongs around the outside of the restraining cocoon. They bundled Benjamin onto a protesting donkey and strapped him down.
Curious neighbors followed.
On the rolling plain between Mount Hermon and Lake Merom's marsh, they met a crowd of people traveling north from Capernaum.
They asked about the rabbi.
"Sorry," a fierce black bearded man said, "But the Rabbi is off in a conference and can't be disturbed. However, I'm his assistant and I'll be glad to cast out your son's unclean spirit."
Ezra and Sarah glanced back and forth at each other, their eyes flashing the silent semaphore of the long married. Sarah shrugged and Ezra said, "We really wanted to see the rabbi; when will he be back?"
"Should be here tomorrow or the next day; you can never tell when he'll show up. He's off up the mountain with his cadre. Praying, you know. However, he keeps a competent well-trained staff. Either I or any of the other nine assistants here have full authority to ... Well, there's just nothing we can't handle. Oh, Bartholomew, come give me a hand with these folks please; their little boy has an imp we need to chase off."
Tock chuckled in anticipation.
Only one road leads from Caesarea Philippi to Mount Hermon. It passes through vine-clad hills stocked with mulberry, apricot and fig trees. It crosses grain fields studded with pear trees and oak coppice, and delves through rocky ravines cloaked with dwarf shrubs.
Intermittent ridges of snow, lying along turfy bands, decorate the upper slopes of the mountain; gravelly slopes and broad snow patches alternate right up to the summit.
Of Mount Hermon's three peaks, the northern and southern peaks rise to 11,000 feet above sea level; the western peak, separated from the others by a narrow valley reaches 9,400 feet.
Every evening, viewed from that western summit, a glorious panorama spreads out below Hermon on all sides. To the north, the cedar forests of Lebanon lie so close that the pungent smell of the trees wafts up the mountain. The Mediterranean Sea sparkles to the west as the sun seemingly lowers itself into the blue waters. The sunset turns the shadow of Mount Hermon into a pale steel-colored shade; and that long pyramidal shadow slides down the to the eastern foot of the mountain and creeps across a great plain till it covers Damascus 70 miles to the east.
To the south, the Sea of Galilee was lit up with a delicate greenish-yellow hue between its dim walls of dun colored hills.
From the flat plateau at the summit of Mount Hermon a visitor can look down the Jordan valley, over Galilee and Samaria to the Dead Sea and on to Jerusalem.
In olden days beacon-fires burned on Hermon's flat western summit to signal Jerusalem; now a rapid post system took its place and the level stone platform where the signal fires used to burn stands deserted, silent, windswept, cold.
Four men stood on that platform looking southeast toward Jerusalem where even from this distance a gold gilt pinnacle of the Temple caught and reflected the fading sun and glittered like a tiny star back dropped against the purple mountains of Moab even further to the south.
The Rabbi pointed at that distant golden spark and said "There the Son of man must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders and priests and scribes, be slain -- and be raised the third day.
"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross every day and follow me," he said. "What is a man advantaged if he gain the whole world and lose himself or be cast away?"
His three closest friends exchanged puzzled glances. What in the world was he talking about?
The Rabbi often talked about mystical things like this when he was troubled. His friends had grown accustomed to this habit and paid scant attention.
One, James, opened his sack and broke out supper: dried fish steak filets, pita bread, fresh figs, olives and cheese. Cephus collected an armload of gnarled branches and built a fire, piling up rocks as a windbreak; John gathered thick clumps of green rock moss and lichen and piled it up as a makeshift bed. From the Rabbi's mood, it was obvious this was going to be another all night affair. They had seen him like this before.
As the sun sank lower and lower into the Mediterranean, the land around the mountain's base turned darker and darker but light still bathed the summit. The sunset clouds above the mountain rouged from orange to red against patches of pale blue.
At last, full of good supper, wearied by the climb up the mountain, warmed by the snug bed and crackling fire, the Rabbi's assistants drew their robes tight around them and prepared to doze while the Rabbi retired to a boulder off to the side to pray like he did every night.
As he prayed, slanting rays of sunlight touched him. The fashion of his countenance was altered and his raiment became glistening white. His robe, tunic, sash and cloak became shining, exceeding white, as snow, so as no fuller on earth can white them.
The assistants propped up in bed; they had never seen anything like this before.
Something remarkable was going on. The unusual was happening right before their eyes:
Two of them.
Two lines of white steam high in the air streaking straight as two arrows in parallel flight high above the Judean desert moved from the south due north.
The two white lines in the sky were aerodynamic condensation trails caused by saturated air being cooled as it passed over the surfaces of warm, rapidly moving objects and creating water vapor.
The Rabbi, intent on his prayers, did not appear to notice this phenomena but his friends certainly did. They sat up staring -- too amazed to feel frightened -- as the white lines in the sky raced toward Mount Hermon.
At first, all the assistants could see was the majestic boil of water vapor scribing lines in the sky -- and those lines moved straight this way. Then, at the point of each line, a black dot could be discerned moving ever closer. Those two black dots in the sky suddenly defined themselves as men!
Human beings moving through air as smoothly as a ship cuts through water or a child slides across a sheet of winter ice.
None other than Moses and Elijah stepped from the air onto the mountain top!
They stopped with such control that their halting did not even raise a puff of dust. The Rabbi stepped forward to meet the prophets and they embraced, greeting each other gladly as familiar friends.
Shreds of conversation drifted from the glowing party to the stunned assistants. The dazzling trio talked about, "the way he must take and the end he must fulfill in Jerusalem".
"It is inevitable that the Son of man should suffer, be utterly repudiated at Jerusalem," someone said.
"He must suffer many things and be rejected of the elders and of the chief priests and scribes and be killed and after three days rise again," said another voice.
Utterly flustered at what was going on, Cephus blurted, "Master, it is good for us to be here. We're going to pitch three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elias..."
He didn't know what he was saying.
Things got stranger yet!
A cloud, a luminous cloud, a cloud uplit by the sun's last rays, a cloud filled with light, revealing, yet concealing the heavenly visitants -- This cloud overshadowed them and a voice came out of the cloud saying, "This is my beloved Son. He pleases me. Listen to him."
Then suddenly there was no voice, no cloud, no glowing clothes, no heavenly visitors on the mountain.
The disciples saw one person only.
“Tell no man what you have seen here”, he said, “Not yet”.
"Behold, we go up to Jerusalem and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests and unto the scribes and they shall condemn him to death and shall deliver him to the Gentiles and they shall mock him and shall scourge him and shall spit upon him and shall kill him -- and the third day, he shall rise again," he said.
How could anyone sleep after that?
The party started slowly back down the slope of Hermon to where the other assistants waited camping in a field with a crowd of other people including Ezra, Sarah and Benjamin -- with Tock still astride his soul.
And of what they had seen and heard on the mountain, Cephus, James and John never breathed a word -- not in those days.
After the tranquility of the mountain top, the scene at the foot of Mount Hermon seethed with boiling chaos.
The Rabbi's trip from Capernaum the week before had drawn a crowd of seekers; some sought spiritual enlightenment, others simply sought thrills. In addition to the people from Capernaum, a large group had come out of Caesarea Philippi. These joined a sizable contingent of people who followed the Rabbi all over the country side on a regular basis.
This latter group -- including his inner circle of assistants -- had pitched tents in an orchard of pear trees to the side of the Mount Hermon/Caesarea Philippi road. Travelers in the early days usually carried tents, a heritage of their Bedouin ancestry, to save the expense of staying in inns, which were not to be found except at main intersections anyhow. The more affluent among the travelers sported carpeted pavilions, Bedouin tents of several rooms, capped by colored banners; the poorer people draped blankets over tree branches and tied them down to break the wind and provide a little privacy.
A number of vendors from the city also had set up tents in the orchard. Knowing that the crowds would be hungry had attracted these businessmen and various hawkers yelled the virtues of their products from their tent doors. The aroma of fish frying in olive oil permeated the air around the camp.
Women strolled through the milling crowd selling sugarfigs and other candied fruit from baskets balanced on their heads. Two jugglers tossed handfuls of colored disks back and forth while a third gathered up coins the crowds threw in appreciation. Legless beggars -- army veterans mutilated in some forgotten war -- crawled about seeking alms. Children darted about among the legs of the adults chasing round and round in a game of screaming tag. Clumps of graybearded old men clustered at tent doors sipping spiced wine, munching hot pita bread and discussing Roman taxes, annoying wives, ungrateful children, sports and theology.
Permanent followers of the Rabbi circulated in the crowd giving blessings to sick and crippled pilgrims, answering questions, accepting donations, settling disputes and telling interested folks about the Rabbi's exploits.
They were followed by gaggles of scribes, religious writers, who jotted notes with iron pens on wax-covered wooden tablets. These reporters pushed into every conversation and shouted their own questions drowning out the voices of seekers in the crowd.
"What about that demon boy last night?" some shouted. "Why couldn't you cure him?"
"What about the money you collect in the baskets? That's not tax free is it?" shouted others.
"What's the real story about those pigs in Gennesaret? Is it true that you people butchered them and ate the forbidden meat?"
"Why does the Rabbi advocate tearing down the Temple and rebuilding it; that doesn't make sense?"
"Is it true that this supposed demon boy travels with your troop all the time? I heard that your Rabbi put on this same show in Bethsaida last month -- blind shills seeing, lame walking, deaf hearing, demons fleeing. How come the trick didn't work last night?"
Crowd noised drowned out the flustered replies as the harried assistants tried to answer this volley of questions.
Far above this carnival scene unseen by the dims, brights and flickers alike, Longdong, Gaylord and Stud circled relishing the discomfort of the assistants. The three demons envied Tock for the way he had thwarted the prayers, incantations and rituals of the frustrated men, yet that same envy made them want to see their rival from Capernaum get his comeuppance.
These conflicting emotions peppered their conversation as they surveyed the crowd, hovering on the thermal created by the field full of white tents.
"I almost croaked when Tock made the little boy grab that fat one's beard," Gaylord said. "Big oaf didn't expect the strength we have when we get a toehold. If it had been me riding the boy, I'd have twisted that religious prig's head off -- made him look like John the Baptist's twin brother."
"I liked it when the kid clawed his dear mother's robe," Longdong said. "Old Bartholomew's eyes almost popped out when he saw that flash of tit; couldn't keep his mind on his whine for What's-His-Name to exorcise Tock. I've noticed that a lot of pious frauds step so high that they stumble over tits all the time."
The thermal weakened as the morning sun grew hotter and the air stiller; the three demons had to flap energetically just to maintain altitude. Scalding sweat dripped from their armpits, so they maneuvered east a bit so that the drops would fall to pollute a stone cistern where most of the crowd drew water that day.
"I thought Tock had had it when that nerd Thaddaeus anointed the boy with oil and laid hands on him. If I hadn't reminded Thad about that soldier who shoved him at the festival last year, I think he would have cast Tock out on his ass. Tock owes me ... Ut-Oh, get ready for the grand finale; here come's Ol' What's-His-Name's bright-eyed boy. You can bet our side is going to nail this one too."
The crowd surged forward when they spotted the Rabbi and his three friends walking down the slope of the ridge. A group of assistants ran toward him. People shouted one thing and then another.
Ezra had been watching the slope all morning hoping against hope that the main man might be able to do something his assistants had failed to do. He raced ahead of the mob, outrunning even the fleetest assistant and threw himself at the Rabbi's feet clutching the hem of his robe.
"Lord, have mercy on my son for he is a lunatic and sore vexed," Ezra panted out of breath. "He has a dumb spirit and it's tearing him up. He foams at the mouth. His jaws lock, he gnashes his teeth, he can't eat and he's pinning away. His teeth grind till they crack. Then he freezes ridged.”
"Look," Ezra cried, "We brought him to your assistants. We begged them but they couldn't do anything for him. Can you? He's our only child."
The rabbi sighed.
His shoulders sagged., "O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you?," he said.
The assistant's looked a bit sheepish at this remark and backed off a bit.
"Bring the boy to me," the Rabbi said.
Two of the assistants helped Sarah bustle Benjamin to the forefront. They began loosening the thongs from around his blanket cocoon. Benjamin looked at the Rabbi and as soon as his hands were loose he began to tear gnashes in his own face and wallowed on the ground rolling over and over, foaming at the mouth.
The crowd backed away to watch from a safe distance.
"How long has this been going on?" asked the Rabbi.
"He's just a little boy," Ezra said. "Sometimes the thing inside him throws him into fire or into deep water like it's trying to burn him or drown him...
"If you can do anything," Ezra sobbed, "Have compassion on us and help us, please. Please..."
"If I can do anything," the Rabbi mused, "Anything can be done by the person who believes. All things are possible to him that believeth.
Straightway the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!
The Rabbi glanced around, seeming for the first time to notice the thickening crowd of curious bystanders.
Speaking softly, compellingly, he rebuked the foul spirit. "Toxic spirit, dumb and deaf, I Am the one who commands thee. Come out! Enter him no more!"
Tock locked eyes with the Rabbi.
In the demon's sight the man glowed white hot. Light, glaring light unseen by the crowd but all too visible to the demon, streamed from him.
What chance has any darkness against any light?
Tock unhooked both talons from the boy's skull and swung them up to shield his own eyes. The violent motion knocked the little boy sprawling. Tock screamed and screamed as the light seared his eyes; he could not look on that face and live. The heat of the light of the world scorched Tock's wings; even if he had a high place to launch from, he would not have been able to fly.
Even his scales felt suddenly sunburned, suddenly tender.
To escape that awful light, Tock scuttered along on his belly in the dust of the ground, slithering through the unseeing crowd, fleeing for the darkness of Pan's cave. As he escaped, he yelped with his tail stinger tucked up between his legs like a stray dog kicked for foraging in a garbage heap.
No one in the crowd saw or heard the demon; all eyes were on the boy.
He twisted on the ground, snapping, foaming, contorting. Benjamin arched his back so much that at first he balanced with both the top of his head and the soles of his feet touching the ground. He began kicking in spastic circles pivoting on his head in the dust. His eyes squeezed so tight shut that drops of blood appeared on his face. Then his body locked ridged and he collapsed in a motionless, twisted heap. Totally limp. Bloodless. Pale.
Sarah began wailing.
"Did you see that?"
"My God," people whispered.
The Rabbi knelt down and took the boy's hand. He lifted him up and delivered him to Ezra and Sarah.
"Mommie, I'm hungry. Can I have some sugarfigs. Just one please," Benjamin said
The crowd were all amazed at the mighty power of God and while they were still stunned with wonder, the Rabbi said, "Let these sayings sink down into your ears: for the son of man shall yet be delivered into the hands of men."
But no one understood what he was talking about.
After the turmoil had quieted down a bit, the assistants drew the Rabbi aside and asked, "Why couldn't we do that? Why couldn't we cast the toxic spirit out?"
"Because of your unbelief," he said. "The truth is, if ye have faith even if it's as little as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place, and it shall remove. Nothing shall be impossible unto you. Howbeit usually, this kind of demon goeth out only by prayer and fasting".
The Rabbi told them to break camp; they would be marching directly from Mount Hermon to Jerusalem.
As they were packing things up for the trip that afternoon, some of the assistants began arguing about which one of them should be the top man in Jerusalem; they fully expected their Rabbi would be crowned king when they reached the capitol.
The Rabbi overheard the argument and called Benjamin, who had been playing leapfrog with some other boys, over to him.
The assistants and the crowd fell silent. What would the Rabbi do to the boy this time?
To everyone's surprise, the Rabbi hefted Ben onto his knee and began speaking about how his followers needed to become childlike, trusting as children.
" Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck and he were cast into the sea," the Rabbi said. "Into hell! Into the fire that never shall be quenched where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched!"
He turned from the crowd and began speaking privately with Sarah, suggesting that she might want to cook Ben some fresh chicken soup when she got him home, and to make him go back to school, and to not play in caves.
As soon as the disciples were ready, he steadfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem.
Gaylord, Stud and Longdong were waiting at the cave mouth when Tock tried to sneak in. They clapped him on the back, swacking his sunburn, in mock good-natured greetings.
"What's the matter, feel a little... Light-headed," Stud teased.
"Out of my way, you cretins" snarled Tock, escaping their mauling and diving into the dark pool.
Not even the swamp ooze and slime of decayed vegetation at the deep bottom of the pit cooled his burning scales. Not even the sunless quiet of the cave's depths screened out the laughter, teasing and taunts of his competitors. Not even his direct encounter with light had brightened his outlook.
Tock's hatred seethed.
Bursting from the depths and thrashing to the surface of the water, Tock howled, bared his fangs and rushed at the three. He twisted Stud's tail, bit Longdong's neck and gouged Gaylord's face.
The trio, the august Caesarea Philippi Authority, the dignified but sexual CPAs, ran screeching and cursing from his fury.
He chased them to the mouth of the cave.
"I'm gonna tell! I'm gonna tell the CCs," Gaylord shouted.
"Capernaum Council's got no say in this," Tock said. "That rabbi cheated; I wasn't expecting him to love that little boy. He doesn't fight fair. Look, I'm going to take this up with the JayCees; the Jerusalem Council has been squelching brights longer than any of the rest of us. The JayCees have experience with this sort of thing".
"You can't go to Jerusalem, you idiot," Longdong said. "Your wings are singed. It will take months to shed that skin and grow your next."
Tock gathered his shredded dignity and stamped out of the cave.
"There's the road, right down there," he said. "If I have to, I'm going to walk to Jerusalem! I'm gonna put out that guy's light!"
Tock stomped down the road beginning his journey mumbling.
Stud, Gaylord and Longdong watched him go.
"Looser!" Stud yelled after him.
"Failure!" shouted Longdong.
"On you a millstone necklace is going to look good. Most becoming even," Gaylord called.
Tock didn't even look back.
"I'm gonna see that Son of What'zit crucified!" he grumbled, "Then we'll see just how bright he is!"
-- END --
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