(c) Robert D. Wilson, Feb. 23rd, 2009
STATUE OF LIMITATIONS
Darkness filled the space. Only two tiny, flickering, oil-fed flames dared to challenge the gloom that, like a fog, seemed to permeate the very air of this place. Left unattended, the five other flames had sputtered and coughed and then died as the fragrant spiced fluid that nurtured them had been consumed. The weak yellow light of the remaining flames reflected darkly in shades of red and orange from the polished brass of the ornate seven-armed lampstand that lifted them up into the dark like an offering to the heavens. This ceremonial vestige was the only visible reminder of what had once been here.
The Temple of Peace stood deserted. No living thing remained here, except for the hulking metallic and stone form of the Statue on its raised dais. It, too, remained visible only because its highly polished golden breastplate and crown reflected dimly the light of the dying lampstand.
The spirit within the Image of Man brooded. He knew that a fierce battle raged in the ancient city just outside these enclosing walls. He knew that they who fought purposed to once and for all eliminate from the face of the earth those enemies of mankind who called themselves "Chosen". He knew that the timing for this action was critical, that now was the time to crush all earthly opposition before the Threat from Space, that accursed City, a glowing cube the size of earth’s moon, could arrive and take up orbit. All had agreed that it would be better to fight on only one front at a time. And so he knew that overwhelming forces had been gathered against the remnants of that earthly enemy, driving them here to make their final stand; here in this ancient city they called their home. And he also knew that the battle could have only one possible conclusion: how could any of the people of that single small country hope to survive against such overwhelming odds? All the power and might of all the nations of the world moved, as a mighty surgeon’s hand, to remove this cancer from their midst. And yet….
It had been long hours since his devotees had left their posts at his side. When the battle had briefly drawn close to this ancient site, he had willingly given his blessing for them to take up arms and join in the "sacrifice" of their enemies. But time had passed, and the sound of the battle had drifted away, and no one had returned. That had been in the early morning and it was now well past sunset.
For days he had hungered for the liberation that this destruction of these accursed people promised to bring him. Anticipation had filled him; an intense yearning for the freedom of spirit that would again allow him to project his thoughts anywhere he chose; to fly in spirit over the earth and through the heavens; to dominate by overwhelming force of will and destructive power any and all he chose!
Growing pent-up anguish tore at him and escaped into the darkened temple though his stone lips as a hate-filled growl, more fierce than the roar of a hundred hungry lions. But threatening sound remained his only weapon: because of them he had no more real power than the weakest newborn kitten. The combined effect of their cursed prayers focused against him had been increasingly debilitating, devastating his freedom, limiting his previously almost immeasurable strength, and crumbling away his ancient dignity. The spirit being wondered how the magnificent golden body he had been given had slowly turned into a prison, marked more and more by it limits instead of being the limitless fear-inducing platform of world-conquering dominance it had been so recently.
He had supposed that with each death, with each of the Chosen that fell, he would sense a renewal of his power and a lessening of theirs. It had only seemed logical: if there were less of them acting as channels for the Oppressor, then there must be less power focused against him. And the Image of Man had felt them dying, sensing each spark of life as it passed through the veil between the worlds. One by one, and then by tens, and hundreds, he had felt them die. He also knew the tremendous price that had been exacted to accomplish this. Hundreds and thousands of those who had pledged their lives and bowed their knees to him had this day also made the ultimate sacrifice in their attempt to cleanse the earth. He had felt their passing as well and could distinguish between the deaths of those who were loyal and those who were not. The cost had been very high.
But the force that had increasingly bound him these past weeks had not lessened. On the contrary, it had increased, geometrically. Now, instead of being able to watch the slaughter of the Enemies of Mankind, instead of being able to soar in his spirit above the victorious troops, the Statue was now more a prisoner than ever. He sensed nothing beyond the darkened tapestries that covered the four golden walls around him.
The Image of Man reached out with his life force yet again attempting to touch one of his own, those beings mankind called the Teachers, the immortal spirits that had been his mighty companions before the first man took his first breath. Again he met with only silence in his mind. That oppressive force continued to press on him, binding his power, blinding his spiritual sight. The eternal being that dwelt within the Statue felt fear such as he had not known since his original banishment from the physical universe millennia before. What was happening? What had gone wrong?
The darkness deepened as one of the two final flames, finding the last drop of oil in its bowl, slowly and fitfully died….
A door opened and closed.
The brief moving touch of the warm semi-tropical night made the single remaining flame burst into sudden glory, short-lived and almost tragic when contrasted with the darkness that too soon descended so completely. Miraculously the flame sputtered and rose again, flickering so feebly that it gave virtually no light at all. The breeze carried with it from outside the smell of burning: burning buildings, burning trees, and burning flesh. It carried the smell of war.
The Image of Man felt a total bankruptcy within his spirit. Instead of being a living example of all that Man could become, of the potential god-hood that each soul could claim; instead of this lofty ideal, he was now more closely akin to finite Man than he had ever been before. Limited and defined by just five feeble, mortal senses, his psyche, which had known infinite horizons, could not now see more than forty feet in any direction, even if there had been any light. His universe had shrunk to this. He knew nothing beyond the physical sensations provided him by this stationary pseudo body of gold, stone, and jewels that the Liberator had summoned him into. Bitter thoughts filled his mind, "Curse the Chosen and their bloody link with the Master! Curse them for focusing their power against me! Curse this prison! If that light had gone out I would have been left blinded in darkness…."
A solitary figure approached and stood unbowing before him.
Tense silence filled the Temple of Peace like a sleeping dragon. The occasional, remote, muffled boom of a mortar falling in the city behind and below seemed to be but the audible heartbeat of this terrible monster that neither of the room’s occupants wished to wake.
The Statue strove to somehow pierce the flickering darkness to discover by any means who stood so boldly in his presence. Frustration at last forced him to speak. His voice, though hushed, tore through the gloom like a thunder bolt; "Who are you?"
The answer was immediate. The male voice that confronted him through the blackness sounded young, but full of confidence. "You once foretold the future of the world and consumed kings and priests with your power. Prophesy my name, O great all-knowing one!"
Silence again filled the room. A small eternity passed by, the distant dull explosions marking time on its clock.
Suddenly, and with no small trace of anger in his voice, the Statue broke through the calm, “I can not! Tell me your name!"
Quietly the man responded, "I am a solitary lamp in whom the oil of the Eternal still burns." As if by some supernatural cue, the single flame brightened and solidified, casting light and wavering shadows throughout the room.
The Statue could at last see the one who stood before him. The man wore the white linen robes and mitre of a priest of the Chosen. On his chest twelve multi-colored gem stones caught and held the dancing image of the brightening flame. Dark side curls and a short sparse black beard acted like a monk’s cowl to hide the face in shadows, but he sensed that this one dressed as a priest had not yet reached his full manhood. He was a mere youth! In one of his hands the figure before him carefully cradled a silvery metallic bowl and in the other he gripped what appeared to be a small branch covered with tiny green leaves.
Rage burned within the living marble and gold form of the Image of Man: rage at this accursed child who dared to come this way before him, and rage because of his own helplessness to do anything about it. He struggled for control so that he could find words to express the outrage that he felt. With contempt that dripped like poison, he suddenly and vehemently uncoiled his words on the youth; "Mortal! The last one who dared stand before me dressed as you are died a death that no man but a FOOL would willingly face! With the power of my mind I crushed each separate individual cell in his body. In agonizing screams he died from the total overwhelming pain that I inflicted on him! The entire world knows this for all the world watched it happen!
"I know he died," came the hushed response, "he was my Father." Then louder with more force, "My name is Ezra Cohen. I am now High Priest to the Master of the Chosen."
"Why are you here, child?" rumbled the Statue with something that sounded like a laugh. "What can a single boy hope to accomplish, when armies of men fell before my power?"
"Did you know that the earth has a new moon tonight?" countered Ezra, "a new bright and shining jewel to illuminate its evening skies and dispel the darkness of the night. It shines so brightly that nothing else can be seen in the heavens. It rose rapidly from the East earlier this evening during the worst of the battle. It seems to be stationary in space now, directly above your head!"
"So He’s come already!" murmured the Statue.
The young man continued, his voice gaining strength and depth so that now he sounded more like some veteran orator and not an unseasoned youth; "You offered no word of prophecy to me, so now you shall hear the true words of prophecy written over twenty five hundred years ago about today, yes, about this very day. Tell me, have you, with your life span of millennia, never heard what was written in the Book of the Chosen?"
As he spoke one of the dead lamps suddenly sparked to blinding flame, and then another. "Hear the words of Him you call the Great Restrictor, ‘Behold, the day of the Master cometh, and thy treasures shall be divided in the midst of thee. And I will gather all nations against the City of Peace to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses plundered, and the women ravished, and half the city will go out into captivity; but the remnant of the people will not be cut off out of the city…. And it shall come to pass on that day, I will make the City of Peace a burden-stone to all nations: all who lift it up will tear themselves, though all the peoples of the earth be gathered together against it…. Then shall the Master go forth, and fight against those nations, as He used to fight in the day of battle…. It shall be one day which shall be known to the Master, not day, nor night: but it shall come to pass, that at evening time it shall be light.’ Do you hear that, mighty Statue? On the day that my Master comes back to earth it will be light in the middle of the night! Too bad you can’t take a friendly stroll with me, look up into the evening sky, AND SEE YOUR DOOM HANGING THERE!" Having finished, the young man bowed his head and looked at the artifacts in his hands.
One by one, as the young priest spoke, the oil lamps on the ceremonial Temple lampstand started burning, the seventh and final one bursting to life just as he shouted the word "DOOM". Now the unattended lampstand, that moments before was all but extinguished for lack of fuel, was burning with an intensity totally beyond the limits of normal flame. Ignoring the light, the Statue began his verbal defense against his enemy.
"Quite a pretty speech, my little man. Did your mommy teach you all those big words?" said the Image of Man, mocking the priest. "What makes you so sure that your Master is going to come out on top in all of this? When has history ever been on the side of a despot? And make no mistake about it, He is a Despot to a degree beyond the scope of your finite mind. He is the one who replaces freedom with law, creativity with restriction, and personality with mindless obedience. You know this to be true for your own people have been known through all history as ‘the People of the Law’!
"So then, puny man-child, hear a word of prophecy from the mouth of the Image of Man. All that the Great Restrictor could accomplish long ago at the time of the original conflict was to banish us from this physical universe of yours. But that event took place thousands of years ago; and we have grown in that time; even as mankind has also grown, throwing off the shackles He imposed on them, reaching out and possessing that potential deity and power that is in each of them. And now, at this point in history, we have, by our own strength, broken that barrier He imposed and returned in force to this world. United with the liberated peoples of this planet WE SHALL HAVE THE STRENGTH to stand at last and crush HIS head beneath OUR heel! Even though He brings a thousand new planetoids to circle the earth, we will snatch His pretty baubles from His hands and make them our own. This one shall not rule over us! By the power of our united strength and by the right of all beings everywhere to determine their own destinies and be free, WE WILL PREVAIL!
"And now you come, emboldened by a phantom in the sky, to act out an ancient myth taught to you as a child from that poisonous Book. Where are your five smooth stones, little David?" The Image of Man laughed so loud and long that it seemed that the walls of the Temple would shake.
Silence again returned to the room before the now clearly visible, white-robed figure of the priest raised his head to look once more at his adversary. Quietly, as before, he began to speak; "I bring neither stone nor sling to fight you, Goliath. I am armed only with my faith in the Master and the contents of this bowl. It contains blood… the blood of a young, spotless, male lamb. I sacrificed it myself on the steps of this Temple, aided by the radiant light falling from His Celestial City above!"
"You always were a barbaric, bloody people!" growled the Statue.
"Do you understand what I plan to do with this?" asked the priest as he first dipped the hyssop branch into the bowl and then held it out toward the Image of Man. The seven lamps sparked and spitted like a welder’s torch, filling the entire Temple with light as bright as the sun. "I plan to cleanse this house. My Master has need of it! I command you in the Master’s name and by the power of HIS blood, ‘Depart from here, unclean spirit! Go meet your final destiny!’"
As he spoke, Ezra Cohen shook the blood-soaked branch at the Image of Man. Crimson drops splattered on the polished multi-colored marble and gleaming gold. The living being encased within the Statue screamed as a tidal wave of burning destructive chaos swept over his mind. Filled with total searing pain such as he had never known in all of the centuries of time, the power within him surged outward with an overwhelming cry of hurt and despair. Such a cry broke through the force that bound him. It was a cry that could not be contained within the stone and metal of his earthly body; nor could four walls contain it. His mighty cry of anguish swept out past the confines of the Temple and through the embattled city beyond to send psychic shock waves through the spirits of every living thing for hundreds of miles, killing the weak and scarring for life the minds of many others. The High Priest, bearing the full brunt of the blast, staggered backward and dropped to one knee. Then, slowly, he rose and approached his enemy once more.
"YOU FAILED, MORTAL! I am still here!" Suddenly the spirit felt the presence of a kindred being; one of his own had heard his cry and now was come to his aid. Then another, and another! The spirits of the Teachers flooded into the Temple of Peace. Unseen by the man, they converged on the Statue called ‘The Image of Man’. Power flowed through his wounded spirit and vengeance filled his mind.
Now that the dam of frustrating impotency was finally swept away, cascades of hate and anger rolled out of the now liberated Statue. He spoke, and his voice rose to fill the Temple, reverberating off the walls as if all the fury of the mightiest tempest had been released within their narrow confides; "YOU INSOLENT FOOL! Now you can not win! I am FREE! I have become LEGION; a multiplied unity with power enough to split worlds apart! Now we will rise to crush you and all of your kind forever! Your father’s painful death will pale when compared with the anguish you are about to experience. What exquisite joy I will take in your death!"
"I think not," calmly whispered the young High Priest of the Chosen. The peaceful smile he beamed toward the Statue made his face look even more youthful and full of innocence.
FIRE AND ICE
Air from the outside rushed into the Temple like a mighty wind to fill the void created by the blast. The seven lamps did not even flicker, but rather grew in strength unto almost blinding intensity.
The smoke cleared, and a quiet, youthful voice calmly said, "You see, on the morning of his death my father had a vision. He told me that the Master had given him a prophecy about our family. I remember it all so clearly. Placing a hand on each of my shoulders, Father looked into my eyes for the last time and said, "Ezra, my son, today I go to meet the Master, but someday He will come to meet you. You will not die before you see Him face to face.’" As he spoke, the youth again dipped the hyssop branch into brass bowl of blood.
"NO!" screamed the spirit in disbelief. Slowly and deliberately, as though in an act of worship, the Priest sprinkled blood on the Statue once again. Buffered as he was by those of his own kind, the spirit in the Statue did not feel the full force of the pain as before, but THEY did! A hundred screams tore through his mind like jagged glass; and then in an instant he found himself utterly and hopelessly alone again. They had fled. The power and pain of the blood had been too much for their combined might to withstand.
The spirit of the Statue also tried to exit the physical body that had held him these past three and a half years, but the marble and the gold were impenetrable barriers to him. He remained a prisoner still, bound as he had been before.
He looked now with fear and something akin to respect on this young warrior standing before him, as though seeing him for the first time. Not a single sign could he detect that only moments before this priest had been in the center of a raging inferno. The Image of Man spoke, “It seems that I have underestimated you, Ezra Cohen."
"Who am I to be measured?" came the quiet reply. "It was my Master that you underestimated, as you have from the beginning!"
The power was drained from the spirit in the Statue. Only emptiness remained. Emptiness and an eternal anger and hatred which burned through him and out of the jewels that were his eyes, toward the High Priest of the Chosen. As his hatred rose, so in opposition did the strength of the light from the seven-armed lampstand. So intense had the light now become that it carried out through the massive opening in the Eastern side of the Temple where the doors had once stood. The entire gold-lined building acted like a gigantic spotlight, focusing its beam out and across the Kidron Valley to a spot on the summit of the Mountain beyond.
The last High Priest of the Chosen People stood facing his enemy and not the open doorway. Though the light struck him almost full in the face, like the three young men in the Babylonia fire millennia before, he seemed utterly unaffected by it. However, as the intensity of the supernatural flames continued to grow, the same could not be said for the Statue. The air around the Idol shimmered like a black tar road under a glowering mid-August sun and the gold on the Statue started to melt.
As the golden crown liquefied, it ran down the massive marble forehead of the Image of Man and then dropped into the fist-sized gems that were his eyes. "What is happening?!" screamed the spirit. "Why can’t I see?"
"It seems that your fate has been taken out of my hands," said the youth, and the knowing smile returned to brighten his face.
The last thing the spirit saw clearly through the eyes of the Statue was the radiant, peaceful face of the youthful mortal who had confronted him, and that hateful, accursed smile! "What do you mean? Tell me!" he pleaded.
"I will tell you only that which is written in the Word of Prophecy, ‘And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Master of the armies, that I will cut off the name of the idols out of the Land, and they shall be remembered no more: and also I will cause those who claim to be prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the Land.’ Since you, O Image of Fallen Man, are an idol, a prophet, AND an unclean spirit, I’d say you had better get ready for an extended trip!"
The golden veined marble that formed the main body of the Statue took on a reddish glow similar to that of the molten magma found in a volcano. The priest continued, "This Temple, by acting as a literal beacon, is now fulfilling the purpose that it has always had, that of pointing my People, and all who would follow, to the coming of the Master. Before you pass from this physical world, I want you to know that you, by your actions, helped make this happen. It also seems that your glowing form will add to the strength that is right now marking the spot where my Master will soon arrive on planet earth! As it is written: ‘And His feet shall stand in that day on the Mount of Olives, which is before the City of Peace on the eastern side…."
While he spoke, the young priest changed his stance so that, though still facing the melting Statue, he had spread his legs apart, bending them slightly at the knees. He did not even flinch when suddenly the night behind him erupted into a sound like the crack of a thousand thunder claps all falling at once. And when the entire world around him began shaking and tossing as if it were a mighty storm-tossed ocean, Ezra Cohen rode the marble floor of the Temple with all the form and skill of a world class surfer.
Without losing a beat, he continued to speak, shouting now to be heard above the chaos around him: "’…and the Mount of Olives shall split in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; for half of the mountain shall move toward the north, and half of it toward the south’!"
* * * * * * *
The world again stood firm, but the earthquake had created definite changes in the Statue. The violent motion had caused the molten form of the Image of Man to collapse in on itself. Only the head, now grossly deformed, could still be distinguished from an otherwise unrecognizable glowing heap of slag. The spirit within, not fully aware of what had occurred, began pleading with the priest, "He is here! Please, I beg of you, let me go free! Send me anywhere, I will obey you, only do not make me face HIM again! No! NO! I will not….!"
But then the molten gold and rock closed over the opening that had once been the elegantly carved mouth of the Statue, called in the word of prophecy “the Image of the Beast” and its head slowly sank out of sight, silencing forever his words of protest. Undaunted and unaffected by the intense supernatural light and heat being generated just a few feet away; Ezra Cohen continued to face his enemy like a soldier standing guard over a desperate prisoner of war.
Darkness, utter and complete, suddenly filled the Temple with a blackness deeper than any night; and with it came a blast of bitter cold like that found in the depths of space in the empty voids between the universes. Air rushed violently through the room as if being sucked through a wind tunnel. The priest’s robes billowed and whipped out in front of him. There was a loud high-pitched screech as though some large metallic object were being horribly twisted and deformed. Then, in an instant, it ended, as though a door to that place of frigid darkness had been suddenly slammed shut. Calmness reigned within the Temple of the Master in the City of Peace.
The only tiny sound came from the tinkling of the small silver bells sewn into the hem of Ezra’s priestly robe. As the last breath of wind died and his garments settled, even that faded away to silence.
One lone oil-fed flame remained the only illumination in the room, but it provided sufficient light for the still stationary young priest to realize, once his eyes had adjusted, that he stood now alone. The building contained no evidence that it had ever held the Image of Man.
Tears ran down the young man’s cheeks as he whispered softly, "Master, it is written about You on this day…, ‘I will pour… upon the inhabitants of the City of Peace the Spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look on Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourns for his only Son….’" And while he spoke, the brightness of a hundred suns rose behind him, for from the East, in through the Temple doorway came streaming the brilliance of a new and different Dawn. Straight ahead of him he clearly saw the image of his own shadow being cast on the Temple’s back wall, the black contrasting sharply with the brightly lit golden stones.
Slowly, with all the dignity of a High Priest conducting solemn worship, he held out like an offering the sacred silver bowl and the blood-dipped branch. Then, with arms still raised, Ezra Cohen turned to face the LIGHT.