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March Inspirations


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Special Holiday Short Story

by Anne Caryl

Harvey Gaius looked across the marketplace where a potter swept up shards of broken pot. His throat tightened over a breath. His muscles contorted.

"Curse you," he screamed.

The man shrugged and spat at him then went back to his pots. Gaius tried to shout at the craftsman again, but the roaring in his head drowned out his voice. It was getting louder, howling like the wind, but not a breath of air disturbed the heat waves rising from the dusty street. At least he still had the coins, snatched before the shopkeeper saw him and threw him into the street. The money would buy meat. He was tired of goat's milk and barley bread. People on the hill ate meat at every meal. They wore shoes, not bits of hide strapped to their feet. They slept in beds and didn't share their homes with goats and sheep.

Gaius stood and pain spasms hit his calf muscles. "Curse you and your mother," he hurled at the empty shop front. "Curse rich people in their rich beds. Curse the stinking latter rain that never cools the streets or settles the dust." Tears welled in his eyes and he swiped at them leaving streaks of mud on his cheeks.

The pain was getting worse, breathing more difficult, and the roar...the hideous roar. "Make it stop!" He put his hands over his ears, succeeding only in sealing the noise inside his throbbing head. He staggered through the crowded street and as he walked, the noise abated. By the time Gaius reached his father's house, he could think again. He pulled the skin flap back and bent to enter.

Inside, in the darkness, he made out his father, sitting on his haunches on the platform to the rear. Flies droned around the ewe and its lamb teetering on new legs at the door.

"Well, Old Man, what do you think of lamb for supper?"

"The lamb is to breed. Someday, Gaius Dysmas, we'll have a herd of sheep and I'll sit with them in the pastures by a stream, where it's cool and..."

"The lamb will die the way they've all died. But not today. I have our supper here."

He threw a parcel to the old man and turned to the street again where the heat sweltered but the stench wasn't as great. He tried to swallow but his mouth was dry, like the streets, and his skin, and the mud plaster of the houses. He swatted at a miserable fly exploring his ear, but his hand was too slow. It seemed to pull against a if tied down.

Gaius thought he heard voices coming toward him. It was hard to tell; the roar was now accompanied by drumming, loud and regular. He caught his breath as a new spasm shook his body, and tried to listen.

"Here, teacher. Look over here. Here I am. Touch me, make my dead arm live again."

"Rabbi. Over here. My daughter can't see."

At least fifty people thronged the man leading the procession. He stopped twice, touching one and then another, before reaching the street where Gaius stood. Each time, cries, sobs and laughter from the crowd broke through the roar and pounding in Gaius' head, and he strained to listen. They crossed the street three houses away, stepped out of the choking dust and turned onto the bricks of the lane, bound for the city's heart. Gaius found himself standing in the long afternoon shadows watching the crowd around the teacher grow bigger. He didn't remember following, but here he was. Shouting gave way to murmuring as people listened to the teacher's lessons. He thought he recognized the crippled woman who begged at the city's Mercy Gate, but his eyes must be playing tricks. The old lady danced and bounced among the women, bunched at the edge of the crowd, like a child. Gaius tried to stretch his own knotted muscles, but they had frozen in their contortions, locked him in pain.

He thought to ask the teacher to touch him, too, but the crowd scattered suddenly as cries of "Unclean...unclean.." rose around them. A figure, wrapped head-to-foot, pushed through the few remaining spectators and approached the waiting rabbi. A leper. Stillness settled on the street as though the city held its breath. The teacher stood looking at the pitiable creature, then he...stretched out his hands, invited it to approach. After wrapping his arms around the filthy cloak, the rabbi drew it away and the woman, revealed, shrank from him until she saw her hand, pink and lesion free. She dropped to his feet sobbing thanks.

Gaius pushed himself forward and the healer looked up, their eyes locked; the man said something, but the roaring drowned it out and the street seemed to quake with the pounding. If he could just get a deep breath... Gaius crouched against a wall and buried his head in his robe. When he looked again, the teacher was gone. The light fading, Gaius retreated to his father's house. The smell of roasted meat mixed with the stench of the live animals. By the glow of the olive oil lamp, he saw his father wiping greasy hands onto his stained tunic.

"So, you're finally here."

"No, Old Man, I'm still at the marketplace." His sarcasm lost on his companion, Gaius grunted, attempted to sit cross-legged on the platform, but his knees refused to bend. He slid down against the wall, looking at the old man.

" I see you've eaten."

"Waiting for you, a man might starve." His father tossed him a piece of meat and tore off another bit of bread for himself.

"I saw the Jewish rabbi today. The one they call Messiah. He's got some kind of power. I wouldn't have believed it-" Gaius struggled to take a full breath "--if I hadn't seen with my own eyes. I've heard their stories about the king who is coming. Some say this man is the one. Maybe even the son of their god."

"What have you got to do with the Jews? You're a Roman. Remember that."

Gaius's father stiffened his spine, raised his head as he spoke. "Yes, we have so much to be proud of."

Gaius stretched his lips in a thin smile. "You did me no favor by taking me from the roadside."

"I saved your life. That's why the law exists...families with too many children put newborns on the roadside so people will take them. Your father did you the favor by not picking you up, not claiming you. If the midwife hadn't put you out, I wouldn't have found you. Who knows, your father's family may have starved by now. I took you in, don't forget that."

"You took in an investment. Who taught me to distract merchants while you pilfered their wares? Who supports you now that you can't prowl the streets? Well? Tell me, Old Man." The roaring was cresting again. Gaius looked at his father to see if he noticed, but the old man seemed oblivious to the sound. It was getting harder and harder to breathe. Gaius loosened his belt, pulled his robe around him and sank to the sleeping mat, closing his eyes against the pain.

What if his birth father had claimed him? What if he had never been brought to this ...Jewish kennel, this Jerusalem? Maybe he would be at his marriage supper now. Maybe his new wife would be taking off her orange wedding shoes at the door of their home, a house with floors, and a bed?

The sleep which finally released him from pain was broken by a fresh spasm and he hammered his head against the wall to stop the roar that filled the house like a desert dust storm. When neither pain nor roar abated, he stumbled out into the cool night. The streets were empty. He was startled when he looked up and saw the steps to the Jewish temple rising before him. The roar and the drumming had subsided a bit and he leaned against a wall to watch the moonlight catch the curves and lines of the structure.

" Pssst. Here." A voice hissed from the shadows. As Gaius watched, two priests crossed the street and a solitary figure stepped into the moonlight to meet them. The face of the teacher flashed before him and he saw, in his mind, the man standing behind him in the crowd. This was one of the rabbi's followers. But now he was meeting the Jewish priests in secret. One of the priests dropped something into the disciple's hand.

Funny, Gaius thought, there was no love lost between the healer and the Jewish clergy. Were they donating to the teacher's cause? Were these priests secret supporters? As quickly as they had appeared, they were gone. Gaius turned his attention to the paved streets beyond his view. There was a celebration in someone's home: wine, and food and music. He shook off the sound in his head, the pain that tore at his limbs and followed the laughter to the feast. The house was bright with lamps- one for each guest, Gaius knew. The revelers were dancing, singing, clapping their hands, filling the house front, lining the stairs, spilling from the flat roof. Absorbed in their pleasure. And the rear of the house, filled with jars of ointment and silver urns and, maybe, coins, was dark.

Gaius crept to the wall and pushed at the heavy wood door. It swung open. He entered, feeling his way, trusting his experienced hands to know treasure when they touched it. He wrapped a piece of cloth around his findings and turned to the street, his eyes now accustomed to the dark. But as Gaius swung the makeshift bag over the portal, rough hands grabbed him. His treasure torn from his grasp, he heard someone call, "Look what I found. A mongrel Jew. Let's teach the cur a lesson."

Gaius wasn't sure if the pain that stabbed him was part of the roar or if it was the soldier's well-aimed kick.

"I'm not a Jew. I'm a Roman citizen. Not Jew...not..." The pounding drummed out his voice and he struggled against his wrenching muscles to keep up as the two soldiers dragged him through the streets. They rounded a corner and the blaze of torches lit the night. A crowd crammed the road, whooping and shouting. As they neared, Gaius could see a man in their midst, bound and pushed ahead. His captors pulled him aside to let the mob pass and Gaius could see the man's face in the torchlight. It was the rabbi. As the teacher looked at him, Gaius felt the pain leave his body. The roar quieted. In that moment, he knew who the man was. Though his breath still caught in his chest, he shouted to make the crowd know, too.

"Don't you even fear God?" In the stillness that followed, the dream faded. Gaius looked up to see his hands bound to a crossbeam. He felt the nails holding his feet against the splintered wood. He saw the Jewish rabbi, Messiah, stretched on the tree at his side.

"Remember me, when You come into Your kingdom," he rasped. He recognized the roaring, the wind of his tortured breath. And it subsided. The pounding, the hammering of his heart was stilled. The torchlights around him became flashes of light. His lungs filled with air and refused to expel it. The reply of the Teacher was lost in silence. There was a fleeting panic as life ebbed away. Finally, the flashes of light blazed and absorbed him, and Gaius Dysmas knew only peace.

About The Author

Anne Caryl grew up in the Denver area and now lives on Colorado's eastern plains with her husband and foster children and Michelle, the teenager they hope to adopt in January. She has three grown daughters and seven grandchildren. Her son, Chad, was murdered in September of 1995.

Anne and her husband both serve on the board of the Mile High (Denver) Chapter of Parents Of Murdered Children. POMC is a national organization for survivors of homicide, offering group support, as well as several programs to help with delaying parole of convicted murderers and researching cold cases. Anne is active in the organization and last summer sat on a roundtable discussion group of victims of violent crime, at the invitation of John Gillis, Director of the Office of Victims of Crime, Department of Justice.

She has been published in The Christian Reader, The Holyoke Enterprise and The Grasslands Anthology. Anne is a reviewer for the online newsletter I Love A Mystery under the name Caryl Harvey, and recently edited a collection of original writing by survivors of homicide for Parents Of Murdered Children.