November 8

At 6AM we mobilize in Kruftman Hall, shaking our heart spears, faces painted blue, dancing the Good Dance. Then out into the neighborhoods of West Eastwood to roust sleepyheads out to the polls. Hillary! Hillary! Hillary! Our chant rings like choir bells, like grapeshot fired over the treetops. Then it weakens, drifts into silence as we come together, huddled in fear, trembling, one or two of us racing off to the Rite-Aid to vomit in the bathroom.

Outside the Voting Center you can hear the crack of quasitrooper whips. Heads held high, cortex-manacles jangling, tattooed children dragging behind them, the Trumpsters parade forth, too many of them, identifiable by the steamjets discharging sporadically from their ears, by their red-white-and-blue intestinal gas clouds, their fisted hands. No matter. We prod our liberals past the steely gazes of the quasitroopers standing guard on the lookout for illegals. A red-faced bludgerman shouts at my friend Constanze,

“Hey you! I remember you from Baghdad! Your hair is on fire now, but you can’t fool me!”

“You’re mistaken, senor,” Constanze counters. “I snuck over the border from Taos just this morning.”

The bludgerman raises his hackle and tries to pull off a shot, but he’s left the safety on and he slams it to the ground, where it bubbles redly. We all fall to the pavement convulsed in laughter, heads held high. I feel that clenching in my anus subside just a little.

“Where’s Professor Kravitz?” Megan Fauntleroy shouts. “He hasn’t voted yet!” It’s around mid-afternoon by then.

Megan and I race across the street to the Kravitz residence and bang on the door with our hard sense of moral outrage. Nothing. We try my calipers of history. There is a shuffling sound.

“What is it,” Kravitz whispers through the keyhole.

“Remember the pussy video!” I murmur huskily through the hole.

“What are you, with the NSA? My private time is my own!”

“No not those, the one with the Big Shmuck and Baby Bush – you know, on the bus.”

“You’re right. That was nauseating. I’m coming out. Wait a second.”

Five minutes later Kravitz comes out in his Hermann Goering costume. He strides like a tank across the street to the polling place as the quasitroopers shrink back in awe, then burst into cheers. When he comes back out he begins running in circles in the middle of the street shouting “Hillary! Hillary! and Don’t you realize for every job lost to China we’re losing 8 to automation? Hell, 47% of our jobs – 70% of Chinese jobs – are going to disappear. Meanwhile production skyrockets? The whole human race has to rethink things.”  

How do we know all this? How does anyone know anything these days? It could be fake news. But the part about the Goering suit is true. Trust me.

When Professor Kravitz makes it back safely, we feel the earth move under our feet, we feel the sky come tumbling down, a tumbling down. And then we are actually levitating, all of us, just a few inches off the ground. Our job is finished. You can feel it. Michigan accomplished, Pennsylvania a done deal, Wisconsin our home turf, is a state reborn spiritually in every way.

Back at the dorm, we float into the dining room, where Montana Mike is rustling up dinner. Just some quick chow before the good news from Florida comes in.

“What’s this?” we ask.

“I guess you could call it blackbird soup, ladies,” he drawls.

“What are these dark brown potatoes?”

“Them’s ain’t potatoes.”

He sees me gag. “Sometimes, he smiles, “you just got to eat that stuff.”

That’s when Bismarcke Blondelle and her cheerleaders crash into the cafeteria dressed up as bag ladies. They jump up on the tables doing the shug-a-lug.

Fear trumps hope!

War trumps peace!

Donald’s in the White House

With a brand new lease.

Hate trumps love

Lies trump truth

Dumb trumps brains

In the voting booths!

 

We decide to skip dinner. Outside, the fraternity boys – the Cravens and the Ravens and the Missouri Mavens – are honking horns and waving flags. The stench is indescribable.

I look up at the stars, thinking about the poet Robert Bly. The stars are same as they were 8,000 years ago, he said. So this is just another little moment in history. Just a medium sized meteor, not an extinction-level event. I’m only 19,

We’ll kick his ass in 2020. I’ll spit on his grave someday….

And so the strong man comes again, the ubermensch, the hurdy gurdy man singing songs of war. The 80-year cycle is complete. We men are ready again. Herr Putin says Donald does not have in his lexicon words like democracy and human rights. So yes, maybe Herr Trump can solve our problems without them. Maybe things are not so complicated. Let’s stop barking in the wrong forest and we take the horns by the bull, yes?  In the mind of the Fueher, things are really quite simple.

 

Posted in EXODUS, STAGE LEFT, Parts 1-5 | Leave a comment

“Exodus, Stage Left,” Part 1

Watch an audio/video sampler of EXODUS, STAGE LEFT at

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NexUrDbn528&feature=youtu.be 

The Sands of Time

And the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river;and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags, she sent her maid to fetch it.  And when she had opened it, she saw the child: and, behold, the babe wept.  And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children.

I’d missed my Insertion again.  If I’d landed one foot lower, I wouldn’t be here to tell you the story.  And it was hot.  That was the first thing that struck me.  I looked up at a scorching sun you could fry an egg on, though actually you can’t fry eggs on the sun, you couldn’t even get eggs close to the sun.  But that’s another story.

I look around, everything is white.  White sand.  Lots of it.  Just my damn head sticking out, the rest of me encased underneath.  And there wasn’t any running water down there, because my legs would have been cooler, and I could’ve moved my legs, kicked my legs around if there was water, right?  But then how could sand be on top of water?  That’s impossible, except on Esophagus 9 in Galaxy 334A, where all that Styro-sand has been floating on the petroleum oceans ever since the Great Unsuccessful Cleanup of 2487.

But let me introduce myself.  My name is Legion.  Legion Ayers of the Trans-temporal Corrections Agency (or TCA) a 26th century agency whose mission is preventing horrendous crimes throughout history, which is not a walk in the park with a piece of cake.  No, it’s more like a run through the jungle with a bomb, and I’m not talking Credence Clearwater or Chris Brown.  I’m talking about really terrible things like the sinking of the Titanic, or the Black Plague or Celine Dion’s first vocal lesson.  I’ve been in this TCA operation for a 200 years or so and now, at 282, I’m close to retirement age.  But I still love the work.  Always a new challenge, a new adventure, and a new story to tell my great-great-great-great-great-great grandkids.

But let’s get back to the sand.  I couldn’t move my arms.  Nothing to do but shout for help.  Sure, I could have Withdrawn back to 2542, but Quantum Regnum, my boss, would have had a fit.  I needed to tough it out.

!!”  I yelled.   (What the hell was that?)   “ !!”   There it was again!  Was that me?  It was me!  Then it hit me.  My assignment!  Ancient Egypt.  Long before Cleopatra and her erotic seal, thank God.  I must be shouting “Help!” in ancient Egyptian.  Now I remembered more: I’d been installed with a C.L.C. unit – a Cognitive Linguistic Converter.  But what was the gig all about?  The Insertion had screwed up my memory again.  My temporal lobes would come around soon, I hoped.  Pretty soon I should be able to remember.  But where the hell was everyone?  I was gonna drown in my own sweat.  I gave it another try.  “ !!”

Suddenly, I heard footsteps on the sand.  Well, more like scrunches, really.  Someone was approaching from behind the sand dune on my left.  It was a woman, stunning in a vivid green sheath dress, her legs like the Pillars of Xerxes, her skin the color of a Starbucks Caramel Macchiato.

Hey, will you get me out of here!!”  I screamed in ancient Egyptian with my last ounce of strength.  She ran to me, knelt down, and began scrabbling at the sand.  It was hard work, but soon my arms were free and we began scrabbling together, and I don’t mean we were playing a board game with little wooden squares that make words.  No, we were digging me out of the desert sands.

At last, I was free.  We stared into each other’s eyes, lost in the mystery of the moment.  “Need water,” I rasped, brushing the sand from my clothes.   I was wearing a white robe with a knitted belt and tassels, with a finely-made leather pouch strapped around my waist.  The woman pointed behind her, beyond a sand dune, and headed that way.  We labored up the incline, our feet sinking into the loose sand at every step, until at last atop the dune, an unimaginable panorama spread out before me.  There across a huge green river a city of white and ochre buildings stretched to the horizon.  Imposing temples and obelisks rose up in its midst, and in the distance, three monumental pyramids stood against the azure sky.  Pi-Rameses!  A segment of my memory clicked in.  This city that would not be called Cairo for another two thousand years.  The name rang in my head.  Pi-Rameses, filled with monuments, for this was where great Ramses II had caused his new capital to be founded.

And the Nile, the eternal Nile was close at hand.  I staggered down a sandy incline to her shore and waded in, falling to my knees, cupping my hands to bring the waters to my parched lips.  Sated, I sat there in the shallows, exulting in the cool current lapping at my body.  Out on the river, scores of small fishing boats moved unhurriedly about, and larger ones too, with billowed sails, pleasure boats of the rich, I supposed.   The woman’s voice came from just behind me.

“Who are you, strange wayfarer, and who was it buried you thus?”

“I am called Awshalim,” popped up from my installed memory.  My brain’s contents seemed to be on a need-to-know basis.

‘“One who helps others,”’ the woman said, smiling, her teeth as brilliantly white as the sands, but less granular.

“And you are…?”

“I am called Suhad.”

“Insomnia. Your name means insomnia.”  It felt like they’d loaded a whole Metapedia in my cranium.  “Why are you called that?”

The beautiful woman laughed shyly, but her eyes flashed.  “That, good sir, is a mystery, but mysterious also is why I found you buried in the hot sands?  Are you pursued by enemies?”

I had to think fast.  “Let’s just say it was a spiritual exercise that got out of hand.  I was reaching for great knowledge through suffering and was not worthy of my quest.  But great Amun-Ra smiled on me this day and caused you to save me.  For this I can never repay you.”

“You speak of our Amun-Ra, who gives life to all things, but your clothing tells me you are of the Assyrian people.  I wonder why have you come to our land?”

So I was an Assyrian!  I racked my brain trying to remember the details of my assignment.  Nothing.  I had to think fast – again.   “Why am I here?”  I looked down at my side.  “Perhaps the contents of my finely-made leather pouch will explain better than my own poor words.”  You’re probably thinking I was being too open with someone I didn’t know, but there was something about her I felt I could trust.  I raised the flap of the pouch and pulled out a yellow parchment covered with strange symbols.  It was Greek to me, but what with the desert and the Nile and the pyramids, that just didn’t add up.  I figured it must be Egyptian.

“To tell the truth, I cannot read your script,” I said, and handed it to her.  She looked it over and seemed impressed.  Her face reddened and she performed a ceremonious bow before me.  I liked that.

Awshalim, limmu, you are come from Assur to treat with our Great King Whose Name I Cannot Speak.”  I tried to remember.  Assur was the Assyrian capital and limmu was an official of some kind, a very high one.  “I am in your service,” she said.  “But where are your servants, your supplies, your camels?”

“We were, uh, waylaid by Habesha bandits in the desert as we made our way here.  I had brought tribute from our king, precious jewels and objects of the purest gold.  They are gone, and only I survived.  I buried myself in the sand as an act of repentance.”  But she looked strangely at me, probably because she’d never heard of the Habesha.  They  would not emerge for another 1,000 years or so, but that was the best I could come up with.  And then, how the hell do you bury yourself in the sand up to your head?  Still, she seemed to accept my story.

“Great limmu, destiny has certainly joined us this day.  I am a courtier before the Great King Whose Name I Cannot Speak.  If it is your wish, I will take you there.”  Destiny indeed.

“And you were wandering of the shore of the Nile because…”

“Because I bade the pilot of my sailboat leave me here for a time, as I wanted solitude.  A strange mood had swept over me.  But these are the ways of destiny.”

“You speak truly, Suhad,” I said.  Yet inside I was a bundle of nerves.  If only I knew what my purpose should be before Ramses.  But there’s only one direction for a man of action, and that’s straight ahead.  Something from that old religious document the Bible crossed my mind.  A prophet God was sending somewhere, complaining he wouldn’t know what to say, but God telling him he’d know what to say when he got there.  That was me all over.

“For this weary traveller, Suhad, you are both the sun and the moon.  I beg you to light the way forward on my journey.”

“It will be my honor, kind sir.  You have suffered greatly.” You might not believe it, but I was getting used to speaking ancient Egyptian.  It had a nice feel on the tongue, sort of a cross between Russian, Hebrew, and Bklopsk, which is spoken on the fourth planet from Flopnosh 9.  But that’s another story.

Suddenly, a rapid, rhythmic splashing sound came from my left.  Before I could even think, two crocodiles were on me.  Still on my knees, I stopped the first with a hard left jab to his snout, then followed it with an uppercut that nearly flipped him over backward, but his huge tail flexed off the riverbed and he was in my face again.  “More?  You want more?” I shouted, battle lust now coursing through my veins.  He opened his big mouth and I gave him my right cross.  It cost him a few teeth.  He was done, turning tail, so to speak, and slithering back into the Nile.  I looked at the other croc and saw fear in his eyes.  “You want a piece of me too?” I asked.  The big guy seemed to shrug his shoulders, not an easy thing for a crocodile, and slipped back toward deeper waters and easier prey.

Suhad, impressed, reached out to help me to my feet, then took out a small mirror from the sheer garment she wore.  She seemed to be directing the sun’s rays toward one of the boats gliding along the river, and I watched as it change its course toward us.  It was quite beautiful, made of cedarwood, not the papyrus bundles typical of the smaller boats. I wondered if Egyptian arsonists could be called papyromaniacs, but quickly dismissed the idea.  The boat was approaching.  Its crimson canopy was decorated with figures of birds and other classic figures we know from archaeological excavations.  The craft entered the shallows and dropped its sail.  Suhad gestured me forward and we splashed up to some little stairs that the men extended toward us and boarded the boat.  There were four dark, smooth-skinned men managing the ship, all of them bare-chested, and mystified by my sudden appearance.  “Take me home,” Suhad ordered, and they immediately obeyed.  Clearly, she was a woman to be respected.  And admired, I thought, stealing glances at her lissome figure.  She gestured for me to recline on a cushioned bench under the canopy and gracefully positioned herself next to me.  One of the men approached with a palm-leaf fan, but she waved him away, for the winds now gently caressing us on the Nile were cool enough.

The sails of Suhad’s schooner whipped above us in the breeze as we made for the far shore.  The city grew closer, and its many monuments loomed against the sky.  A huge statue of the Great King bestrode the near shore as we approached.  “His palace is like another city entirely,” Suhad said in a low voice, “enormous beyond belief.”  I gazed up at the giant figure as we passed  by.  Enormous beyond belief.  Yeah, you could say that.  Behind his sculptured stone skirt Ramses’ schlong would have been the size of my personal jet cruiser.

That’s when these Egyptian fighters showed up out of nowhere, leaping aboard and flashing spears.  They got one oarsman right away, right through the heart.  But the other boys were up to the challenge, like they’d been through this before.  Of course I joined in, ripping a spear out of the hands of one of the attackers as he thrust it at me, whacking him upside his head and off into the water.  One of Suhad’s men grabbed a length rope and whipped it around another fighter to immobilize him, then delivered a devastating kick to the groin.  Then I turned to see Suhad simply staring at one of the attackers.  He was frozen in his tracks, a bizarre smile on his face.  As I watched him I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The guy’s skin was shrinking up before my eyes.  I heard crackling sounds, as his skin turned gray and dried up, adhering to his bones.  He shrank into a folded-up shell of a human, toppled into the water and floated there like a tree branch.  Indeed, Suhad was not someone to take lightly.  That’s when it struck me.  If I could get her back to the future, we could do a “Mummies ‘r Us” start-up.  But wait – we’d need bodies, lots of bodies, hundreds of them.  I shelved the idea and got back to whacking attackers in the head with an oar.  Whacking Attackers – good name for a rock band.  But I had to shelve that idea too, as the fight was about over.  Which was too bad.  I do some of my best thinking in brawls.   Isaac Newton, on the other hand, he needed a tree.

By this time we’d somehow made our way to the dock.  Suhad’s retinue was waiting there with an elegant litter carried by four more men.  We leapt from the boat into the conveyance and the bearers took off, sprinting onto a huge, thickly-peopled thoroughfare lined with giant palm trees shading the avenue on each side and within, a verdant central divide.  Here they slowed to a brisk walk.  The full heat of the Egyptian summer had enveloped us like an out-of-control sauna.  We passed great sandstone temples and magnificent public buildings, then turned into an area of smaller streets where private estates hid behind tan walls.  The calls of strange birds filled my ears, avian cries I’d never heard before.

“What was all that ruckus at the docks about, sweetheart?” I finally asked.  I realized my communication skills were becoming more nuanced.  I was slipping into my normal style, that of a hard-nosed but subtly elegant man of the world, the kind that can handle himself in a tough spot and whom women find irresistible.  A guy who’s up to speed, yet has that weathered look.  You might call me a wabi-sabi technorati.  But you don’t have to.  I’m easy that way.

“There are those,” Suhad sighed, “who seek my life.  The court of the Great King is a place of ruthless intrigue.  You must watch what you say and to whom you speak, limmu.”

“Call me Awshalim,” I said.  “Or just Awsh.  My friends call me Awsh, and that’s what I hope you and I will be.  But why would anyone be out to kill someone as lovely as you?”

Suhad blushed, hard to see, given her maple-syrup complexion.  “Thank you, but for me appearances mean little.  It is the heart I most care about.  But in our land there is a man, a good man, who has fallen into disfavor before the King Whose Name I Cannot Speak.  My admiration of him is known, and so my life has become cheap to those seeking to curry favor before the King Whose Name I Cannot Speak.”

“Well, your life just increased in value, as long as I’m around, anyway.  By the way, isn’t there some way we can shorten that name?  Couldn’t we call him Mr. Big, or the R-Man?  I mean, do you really think he’s a god?”

“Well, he is…goddish.  But yes, Mr. Big is acceptable to me – just between you and I.”

“Great.”

“But limmu –  you must be in shock.  You have lost your companions and have been attacked twice this day.  You must rest and recover.  We are coming to the home of my family, where you will be our guest and safe.  Put all other thoughts out of your mind for now.”

“I will try, and thank you, Suhad, but I must ask a question of you.  We just fought together – I couldn’t help but notice your, uh, technique.  How did you…?

“Technique?  I don’t know what…oh you mean that poor man.  He seemed to have some disease that attacked him, didn’t he?”  She smiled a distant smile that told me what I’d seen was not a fit topic for discussion.  I let it drop.  For the time being.

Chapter 2: Perusing The Palace

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I whispered to Suhad as her litter approached the entrance to Ramses’ colossal palace.  “Are you sure Mr. Big knows I’m coming?”

“Yes, of course.  Otherwise we couldn’t get in.”

“Do you really think he’ll like the Assyrian figs.”

“He will most certainly be delighted.”

“But they’re really Hittite figs.  What if he notices the difference?”

“It’s a chance we have to take.  Such gifts are simply put to one side.  Of course the tribute sent by your king, the gold and jewels, were taken by thieves.  I hope he will understand your situation.”

“All these engraved stone slabs around here, do they say he’s an understanding guy?”

“No, they say he crushed the Libyans, fought the Nubians single-handedly, and slaughtered the Hittites in their entirety.”

“It doesn’t say ‘understanding guy’ anywhere?”

“Not really.”

But then our doors were opened and we stepped out before the gateway to the palace.  Two colossal seated statues towered ten stories over us, staring out toward the desert.  I’m a man of action, I kept telling myself.  I’m a man of action.  An older guy in a golden skirt came out of a barely-visible side door, greeted us formally, and guided us up a majestic flight of stairs and through the massive portal beyond.  I didn’t like his looks, and I didn’t like the way he was eying Suhad.  Within the palace, servants and functionaries moved about smoothly and silently, carrying scrolls or stone tablets of various sizes.  We made our way along one magnificently painted corridor after another, then through an expansive plaza.  A great central pool played host to snowy ibises and pink flamingoes.  We climbed another set of marble stairs to a portico overlooking the plaza and then Mr. Gold Skirt led us through gilded doors into an inner sanctum.  At the far end of it, I saw the throne and upon it, none other than Mr. Big.

Ramses II, son of Seti I.  There he was.  Even though he was wearing a skirt, he looked like a hard case, that was for sure.  Like he could spear you in the neck and eat a ham sandwich at the same time, if they had sandwiches.  I wasn’t sure.  I thought about ordering one to find out, but dropped the idea quick.  Mr. Gold Skirt led us slowly toward another guy in a flowing blue tunic and fancy headdress and introduced him as Hatiay, the Vizier, right-hand man to the Pharaoh.  I didn’t like the look of him either.  But I greeted him and apologized for my poor Egyptian.

“Please don’t apologize, limmu, and let me welcome you into the presence of The Great King Whose Name I Cannot Speak.  He has heard of your misfortune and sends his consolations.  You must be a great warrior to have survived.”

“On the contrary, Vizier, my camel panicked, the cowardly beast, and took me far from the battle.  When I could coax him back and found my compatriots dead, I choked him to death with my own hands.  A titanic struggle it was, but when my fury subsided and the camel had breathed his last, I realized I had lost my means of escape from the desert.  Then began a long and blistering trek.  But Amun-Ra sustained me, and here I am before you.  Surely then, the gods wish our nations to be at peace.”

“Well and truly spoken, limmu”

“Call me Awsh.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“OK, limmu is good.  We’ll go with that.”

“Let us approach the throne, then.  The Great King Whose Name I Cannot Speak awaits you.”  So Suhad and I followed Mr. Hatiay toward the throne, where the Pharaoh sat in all his splendor.  He had gotten himself a big mango and with one hand he was taking bites from it, the juice dripping from his chin and down his arms.  In the other hand he held his golden scepter with a falcon’s head on it.  He wore one of those shiny blue and gold striped headdresses, like King Tut’s, had the long skinny beard that dropped from his chin.  He looked all right, if you were into Pharaohs.  But I wasn’t.  I was still trying to figure out why I was here in the first place.  I followed Suhad’s lead and prostrated myself before the king.  He spoke.

“We welcome you, limmu, noble leader of our Assyrian neighbors.  We wish you well, and safer journeys than the one you have just taken.  You may rise.”

Which we did.

“We have sent soldiers to search for these bandits.  Perhaps they will recover the gifts you lost.  But it is no great matter, limmu.  You can see the unparalleled glory which surrounds me.  All the same, tell your king, upon your return to Assur, to send me twice as much gold as he did this time.”

“It will be done, Great King.”  I bowed low and reminded myself to stay the hell out of Assyria.  Now Ramses turned to my beautiful companion.  “Suhad, We thank you for rescuing our visitor from the sands.  Amun-Ra placed you there in his wisdom.”

“It was my good fortune, Great King.  He is very brave and fought both river beasts and attacking bandits in my presence.”

“Yes, We know of his bravery.”  Then Ramses turned back to me with an unsmiling face.  “And yet it is said,” he paused for a long moment, “that you refer to me as ‘Mr. Big?”  A chill ran down my spine.  I felt like I’d gone over Victoria Falls in a papyrus bucket, or like the crocodile had come back with twelve of his buddies.  Ramses seemed to swell in size and loom over me like Horus the Falcon-God himself.

“Well…your majesty, that is, I…I can’t imagine who reported such a thing…”

“Silence!”  Ramses voice became low and harsh and rasping.  “Do you not know that The Eye of the Pharaoh is everywhere, that nothing is unseen to me?  All things are visible to Horus, Lord of the Skies.  Tremble before my infinite power, lowly ant!”  I felt the best thing at that point was more prostration.  I hoped all the prostration wouldn’t damage my prostate but I had to take the chance.  Suhad bowed too, but I don’t think women have those anyway.  At any time, of course, I had the option to save my butt by Withdrawing, but how could I leave Suhad in such a tight spot?  The two of us said nothing.  Silence fell over the room.

“Mr. Big, you say?”  Ramses growled.  “Mr. Big?”  He paused for another endless moment.  “You know, I kind of like it.  After all, I am big, I’m the biggest.  How about ‘Mr. Biggest?’  No, that doesn’t have the same ring.  Mr. Big.  That’s the one.  Rise again to your feet, my vassals, and fear not the wrath of your King.”  He stood up from his throne and raised his scepter.

“Hear now my words,” he roared.  “I grow tired of hearing ‘Great King Whose Name I Cannot Speak’ every day.  I mean, if you say that, that’s my name, right?  So you’re saying my name anyway.  What’s the point?  And it’s too long!  It makes me crazy.  Let it be known throughout the palace that all shall henceforth call me…Mr. Big!  Mr. Big!  Much easier.  But write not this appellation in stone, for it is not befitting that future generations know of it.  It’s just for around the palace, OK?  So, let it not be written, but let it be done!”  He returned to his marble throne and turned to us.

“Now you two get lost before I change my mind.  Oh yes, and limmu – thanks for the Hittite figs.”

“I uh, that is, actually, I…”

Will you get out of here?!  Scram!  It’s time for my dancing girls.”

Scramming was no problem.  We headed out to the portico, but stopped there, afraid to leave the palace without an escort.  Suhad said to wait for the guy with the gold skirt, but after ten minutes I was ready to make a break for it.  That’s when this other guy came out and stood looking out at the plaza with a faraway look on his face.

He looked like a major player.  Very fancy get-up.  But there was something about him I couldn’t put my finger on.  High forehead, angled features.  Pretty light complexion too.  I’d seen that face somewhere before.  Was it in an old movie back in the 20th century?  The name Charles popped into my mind.  Charles Manson?  No, he was a psychotic killer. Charles Lindbergh?  No, not him.  Charlton!  Charlton something… now Suhad drew close and whispered to me.  “That is the man of whom I spoke.  You can see who he is now.  He is a prince of all Egypt!  A son of Queen Tuya, as is Ramses.”

That’s when it hit me.  Now I remembered why I’d been sent to ancient Egypt.  It wasn’t about Ramses, it was about this guy.  This was the young Moses in front of me!  The founder of Judaism as we know it.  Back in the 26th century, our alien overlords the Grolnathians wanted more data on the history of humanity and the effects of religion.  What was with all the violence, they were wondering?  The Crusades and the religious wars in Europe and India and the Aztecs and, well, just about everywhere?  No wonder I’d repressed the memory.  This was too big for anyone.  But here I was, and I’ve never run from a job – except that time they assigned me to try to make Wayne Newton sing with soulful.  I admit I bailed on that one.  I wound up feeding $500 into the slots and headed back to 2510.

“Would you like me to introduce you?”  Suhad finally asked.  I snapped out of my reverie. “Sure, why not,” I said, trying to appear casual.  Moses seemed startled when we walked over, then, recognizing Suhad, he accepted her introduction of me.  “So, limmu,” he said, letting out a chuckle,  “you are the creator of Mr. Big!  That was quite a coup.  You must be likeable – and certainly fortunate.  But you must realize now that the king’s spies are everywhere.”

“Yes, great prince,” I said.  “Thank you for your friendly greeting after our awkward exodus – that is, I mean…exit from the imperial presence.”

“Oh, I’ve experienced such things before.  How can you satisfy the expectations of someone with supreme power.  He is, after all, a god, and knows all things.”  I sensed something mocking, even sardonic in his tone.  I liked that.  “What, may I ask, interests you most in this life, great prince?”

“A deep question, certainly.  I take little pride in my military achievements.  The shedding of Ethiopian blood by my soldiers only saddened me.  These days I often pass my time with common people, not courtiers, pardon my honesty Suhad.  You are different from most, your heart is open and compassionate.”

Suhad smiled. “Compassion is not a virtue much praised in palaces.”

“That is an understatement.”

“I am new to PiRameses,” I said.  “I know nothing of the common people.”

Moses brightened.  “Then you will come with me now!  Let us walk the streets and feel the pulse of Egypt’s capital together.”  He had already taken my arm in friendly, supremely confident way.  “Come, Suhad, please join us.  Let us leave this place.”

I had mixed feelings, knowing what happened to people who followed Moses around, but I figured he had more like a day tour in mind than a forty-year march, so I went for it.  Plus we had the escort that we needed to get out of the palace, and it was Moses himself. Imagine!  I was walking around with the prophet Moses.  This is why I got into this business.  Who wants to sit around in an office all day when you can tour an ancient Egyptian city with Moses?  As long as he stays away from the desert, I thought, what could go wrong?  And talk about transportation!  We get outside the gates and here’s a completely enclosed litter the size of two limos.  A limo for a limmu, I thought.  He’s got eight big guys carrying the thing.  Inside, a couple of, compartments dark and cool, with cushions everywhere.  Moses gave the lead bearer instructions, then excused himself and ducked into the second room.  Suhad and I sat down as the thing took off down the boulevard.  But I was not ready for Suhad turning to me with a longing look, the kind of look a man knows is asking for a kiss, a dramatic and passionate one.  It wasn’t the first time this has happened to me, but it was a first inside the chariot of a major Biblical figure.  But what if our host came back to see us embracing and started throwing stone tablets around?  You never know with a guy like Moses.  So I pretended not to notice her passionate look.  When Moses did return, he was wearing what looked like common peasant clothing, and a had change of attire for us too.  “Where we are going, we do not wish to attract attention,” he explained, gesturing for Suhad to retire into the other room with a plain linen robe.  “Your own clothes will be safe here and you may reclaim them after our little tour.”  Soon we were both clothed anonymously, in the most ordinary manner.

After a ride of thirty minutes, the litter stopped and we stepped out into the dazzling sunshine.   A narrow street extended to one side, and Moses immediately strode down it, forcing us to catch up to him.  He went unrecognized, his cloak hiding most of his features.  The alleyway was filled with merchants selling fish, fruit, spices and various handcrafted items, and we found him examining some ripe figs.  “How much for a basket?” he asked the old merchant who stood behind his stand.

“Well, these are the best figs in all Pi-Rameses, my friend.  One bite and you will find the happiness you’ve longed for all your life.  Another bite and you may rise up into the heavens and dance with Amun-Ra himself.  Such a fig.  Who can put a price on it?”

“You can, of course,”  Moses smiled.  “They’re yours.”

“Really?  Yet in a way, one might say I am theirs.  I must raise them, serve them, and I could not live without their blessings, the nourishment they give, the joy they extend to my customers.  They possess me, I am theirs.  They must decide their price, not me.  Why don’t you,” he smiled mischievously, “make them an offer?”

Moses reached a hand in a pocket of his tunic.  “I have a few silver deben rings in here,” he said.  “How about one of them for a basketful of these beautiful figs?”  The man looked shocked.  “A silver deben?”  He leaned down as if to communicate with the figs.  “Did you hear that, my friends?  What say you?”  He pretended to listen to their response then raised his head.  “They cannot accept, kind sir, it is too much.  But they will gladly exchange two basketfuls for such a ring.”

“A deal it is,” Moses said, and they made the exchange.  Moses handed the figs to me and the three of us continued down the narrow, crowded street.  “Life is terribly hard for these people,” Moses said, “but they treat each other fairly and pray fervently to the strangest of gods – one they cannot see.  He is not a bird or the sun or a river – I don’t know what he is supposed to be.  And he seems powerless to help them.  They sweat in the brick pits or waste away hauling great stones to build our temples.”  His words had been directed mainly towards Suhad.  There was a strange expression on her face as she looked at Moses, a questioning, doubtful look.  Finally, Moses stopped in mid-stride and turned to her.

“All right, already.  Enough.  Do you think I cannot see in your eyes what you think, Suhad?  The rumors that I am kinsman to these people, the Jews.  All right.  I shall tell you the truth: I am certain it is true.  The story about me being picked out of the river, of my being the child of slaves?  It’s true.  In fact, I have found the basket in which the queen found me.  She kept it all these years.  I took it to the court alchemist, who examined it closely and found remnants of gefilte fish and cream cheese among its strands.  These foods are popular among the Jews.  I now enjoy them myself, in secret, with a nice cup of tea in a glass.  It must be that I am one of them.  And so I spend time at their encampments in Goshen.  I asked Pharaoh to respect their holy day, and he did.  But all this is why I have enemies in court.”

Suhad’s eyes were glowing.  “That you can tell us this openly only makes me admire you even more, Great Prince.  You bear in your heart a kindness never seen in court.  I would that more were like you.  Of course we shall never speak of this to others, is that not right, limmu?

“My lips are seals – I mean my lips are sealed,” I said, cursing the memory of Cleopatra’s maidservant and her lover Thoth.[1]

Moses sighed.  “Thank you my friends. Of course, I am mainly Egyptian.  I am not really one of these unfortunates, I have been given another destiny, but this question of my origins clouds my vision and I often wonder what my future may hold.  But come – let us wander farther through these quarters.”  And so we moved on, munching figs, under the hot sun.  As good as they were, I longed for a icy cool Coca-Cola, but Cokes were outlawed in 2417 by the Grolnathians, when research showed they were linked to sarcasm, and anyway this was 4,000 years before they were invented.  Now, as we approached the end of the street, we heard coarse shouts, the voice of an angered man, incensed and threatening.  Moses walked faster, and we had to hurry to follow.  The backstreet opened into a small square, where a new building was under construction.  Moses pushed his way through the crowd of onlookers, Suhad and I following in his wake, and we saw an Egyptian foreman standing over a prostrate Hebrew on his knees who crouched before him.  Another worker held his arms to the ground.  He was about to be whipped.  The Egyptian held his lash high, studded with metal, and unleashed his first stroke just as we broke through the encircling throng.  Blood sprang from the man’s back as he cried out.  From the gathered people came a gasping wail of anguish and pleas for mercy.  Again, the lash came down, with a report that seemed to echo through the square.

Suddenly, Moses stepped forward and walked deliberately toward the raging Egyptian.  I watched as he withdrew a metal sheath from his cloak and with a lightening movement, plunged it upward, deep into the aggressor’s chest.  The man collapsed immediately, the dark red blood quickly spreading across his tunic.  Moses turned toward us with a look that was easy to read: leave this place, tell no one what you have seen.  Then with the same purposeful, calm demeanor, he strode away into the crowd.  The people fearfully made way for him, but an undisturbed escape was not to be his.  There were shouts now from our right and two soldiers appeared, surveyed the bloody scene and, aided by pointed gestures from one or two men, took off at a trot in the direction Moses had fled.

“Come quickly, limmu, Suhad whispered, we cannot stay here.”  This I didn’t need to be told.  We instinctively held hands as we made our way back along the street where Moses had bought the figs.  Moses’ litter was still waiting at the intersection where we had first alit.  Suhad spoke to the lead bearer and explained Moses had met a friend with whom he wanted to spend time and that they should return home without him.  They offered to take us where we wished, but of course it was best to distance ourselves from anything associated with Moses at this point.  We found a small teashop and quickly entered it.  The place was pleasantly dim within, and after the host unceremoniously served us a dark brew, unrecognized by anyone, we began to talk.

“What do you make of this shocking act,” I asked.

“I am speechless.  But…it seems Moses has two faces.  One is kind and moderate and without passion.  The other I have never seen before.  I am stunned.  But his people are fearfully encumbered, they are slaves.  And Moses himself is a military leader.  Perhaps The King Whose…uh, Mr. Big, does have reason to fear him.  But how foolish Moses would be to challenge the most powerful empire the world has seen.  What he did today he may not understand himself.”

“We are lucky not to have been drawn into this trouble.”

“Indeed!  And I thank the gods you were with me.”  Suhad snuggled closer on our cushion.  Her hand strayed to my thigh and clung to it, seeking security, but there was more than simple fear in her touch.

That night I dined again with Suhad and her family.  Much later, in the wet heat of the Egyptian night, she came to me.  I had been restless, hoping for her to come, yet fearing her, for I had not forgotten the deadly powers she had displayed in our battle against our enemies on the Nile.  I lay upon my expansive couch, a soft night breeze wafting in through the open window above me.  Who was she, anyway?  How and why had she been there to rescue me from the desert sands?  Could she possibly suspect who I was?  But these worries vanished when I heard the rustle of my curtains and saw her lithe, unmistakable shadow approach my cushioned divan.  I rose quickly and parted the inner curtains to welcome her and save her any embarrassment.  Her fiery glance as she passed under my arm aroused me instantly.  I longed for a pair of tight jeans, rather than the loose fitting night clothes I’d been given.  Turning my back, I sank to the cushions trying to conceal the tent-like protrusion that had appeared below my stomach.  She gazed down at my hands folded upon my lap, and arranged herself deliciously next to me.  In the semi-darkness, her breasts pushed out against a gauzy lavender sheath that passed for her nightwear.  Nothing was left to the imagination. Her scent, like a gardenful of sweet flowers, permeated the room and my senses as well.

“I’m so sorry to disturb you, limmu, but after today’s shocking events, I could not sleep.  Can you keep me company for a while?”  Again, she rested her delicate hand on my thigh, letting one forefinger trace lazy circles on it.  I struggled to repress a gasp, but with gasps you have, like, maybe a microsecond to take control, and in this case I failed.  She leaned her head on my stout shoulder and sighed.

“Why do you gasp thus, limmu, are you in pain?”

It was time to clutch the alligator by the snout, as they say in ancient Egypt.  “In truth, Suhad, oh incomparable flower of the Nile, I longed for your visit,” I whispered.  “Your touch excites me beyond words.  But you are also a great mystery.  What happened by the river…you seem to possess remarkable powers, fantastical skills that I cannot comprehend.”  Suhad twisted her body toward me so that one buoyant breast pressed against my right arm.  “There are secrets one does not speak of.  You must accept this.  Why not live for the moment?  Trust that I have your best interests at heart.”

“I do trust you.”  The words emerged easily from my lips.

“Then let us enjoy this time together.  Why do you hide the natural reaction of your body?  Would you really rather be painfully locked in tight-fitting jeans?”  I stared into her eyes, stunned.  She laughed mischievously.  “Yes, I can read your mind, Legion Ayers.  There is little about you I do not know, except perhaps where you got that silly name.  But this night is not as long as I want it to be, and we may not have another like it.  Come, let us play the eternal game.”  Then she took my hand and put it upon her exquisite breast and moved her own fingers, centimeter by aching centimeter toward the center of my rampant ardor.  Indeed, my ardor was definitely ramping.  But I retained enough sanity to realize my cover was completely blown.  She knew who I was!  She could even read my mind!  There were secrets here beyond my 26th century understanding.  Could she possess me, control me as well?  She was certainly controlling the raging center of my passion now, with astonishing skill, and these thoughts pulsing through my mind gradually faded.  I  succumbed to her ministrations, and I did trust her, strangely.  “We need to talk,” I mumbled, as our bodies cleaved together and my fingers finally found the syrupy fig newton between her limbs.

“What’s with you and figs?” she whispered into my ear, her breath quickening.  This was beyond belief.  She knew every thought that crossed my mind.  “Figs are the fruit of the gods,” I ad-libbed, “and so, in my arms, are you.”

“You see me as a fruit?” she panted, her fingernails digging into my back.

“No, no,” I said.  “It’s just a figure of speech.”  I probed her inner sweetness and she thrust against me like a wild panther.

“Panthers don’t thrust,” she moaned.  “They creep, they pounce, bite.  I’ve never heard of them thrusting.  I suppose the male must do some thrusting – but are you saying I’m acting as a male?”

“Oh, no, your thrusting, it’s very feminine, I just…”

“Look, you need to stop this inner narrative you have going on.  It sounds like you’re writing a book.  This time-travel business must be throwing you off.  Just relax and look into my eyes.”

And I did.  That’s the last thing I remember, except for an experience of physical ecstasy beyond anything I’d ever known.  When I awoke at dawn, my entire being still tingling from pleasure, I was alone again.

Chapter 3:  The Deported

Events would probably move quickly now.  The Torah tells that the slaying of the taskmaster was the basis for Moses’ expulsion from Egypt. But what was I supposed to do, follow him into the wastelands of the Negev?  I’d have to figure that one as I went along.  The next morning, determined to get away, I excused myself from Suhad’s matchless hospitality and told her I needed to walk the streets of Pi-Rameses on my own for a few hours.  She just smiled knowingly and nodded her assent.  Chills ran down my spine as I turned away from her and headed out of her father’s courtyard.

I could feel excitement in the air, as if people knew something big was up.  They all seemed to be going in one direction, so I followed.  Sure enough, they were heading for the Great Palace of Ramses.  I arrived at the back of a great throng gathered around those titanic statues guarding the main entrance.  A big rectangular wooden contraption had been set up between the statues, with a ladder on one side and a bench near the top of it.  People all around me were murmuring the name of Moses and The Great King Whose Name I Cannot Not Speak.”  A ragged man next to me spoke to his friend.  They seemed to have developed a nickname as well.  “GREKWINICS is doing the right thing.  Moses has slain a fellow Egyptian.  He must pay the price.”  His friend seemed unconvinced.

“But Moses is a great prince himself.  He can kill a man if he wishes.  Many say GREKWINICS is envious of Moses’ popularity.”

“Nonsense!  GREKWINICS has conquered the world!  Who can be compared to him?  He is like the sun!”

“Yes, this is true.  Moses may get a bad sunburn today!”  They both laughed and craned their heads to see what would happen next.  Moments later, four men appeared carrying a giant bound crocodile, which they lifted high over their heads and dropped into the wooden structure.  A great splash of water revealed what lay within.  As quickly as I guessed Moses’ fate, he now appeared, his hands bound behind him, led by two soldiers.  A great shout went up from the crowd.  He was led up the ladder and placed on the bench above the crocodile tank.  Now a high priest arose and stood before the crowd.

“Hear me, people of Pi-Ramses,” he shouted.  “Moses has slain a loyal soldier of the Great King.  He is friend to the Israelites.  He has been called a prince of Egypt, but it is the King’s will that his divinity now be tested.  If he lives, he is free.  If he dies, we shall know he is an imposter.  Such is the will of The Great King Whose Name I Cannot Speak!”  The crowd cheered.

I saw now there was a kind of target-and-spring device connected to the bench.  The priest called up a few children from the crowd and handed each one a little sack, probably filled with sand, to hurl at Moses.  He lined them up and they began to hurl their bags at the target.  Moses sat impassively on the bench.  The sixth bag struck the target, and the prince plunged into the water.  I figured that was the last I’d see of him.  Aware that string theory had finally been confirmed in 2073, I theorized that I’d crossed over into an alternative universe, one where the Jews never escape Egypt at all.

My conclusion was premature.  There was a great thrashing and commotion in the tank.  I assumed it was Moses’ death throes.  I pictured his body clamped and ripped in the sharp teeth of the great beast.  But it continued long past when he should have been subdued.  Water was still being ejected from the enclosure, and the whole contraption began to wobble and lean from side to side until it finally collapsed and its contents gushed out, the water, the crocodile and a still-active Moses, who now sprang onto the reptile, spun him onto his back and began hurling hard rights and lefts onto the animal’s white throat.  The crowd roared its approval.  The crocodile tried to wriggle away, but Moses dove atop its long snout and began pulling the jaws open, farther and farther apart until with an audible crack the beast’s jaw snapped out of joint and it was finished.

Then with the same purposeful, calm demeanor, he began to stride away into the crowd.  But an undisturbed escape was not to be his.  Three soldiers rushed after him and put him in chains and led him away.  The crowd booed lustily.

So much for Ramses promises, I thought.  The soldiers were leading Moses to a cage with carrying poles, and they pushed him into it.  The cage door slammed shut and there he was for all Pi-Ramses to see, locked up like a wild animal.  Then they took off toward the river.  I looked around desperately for a way to keep them in sight and spotted a litter that looked like it might be for hire.  A couple of guys were leaning against it.  I rushed up to them and offered to pay them for a ride.

“Yes, we will take you where you wish, my friend.”  I pushed two deben rings into his hand.  “For this, we can take you across the great desert.”

“That might be helpful actually,” I said.  “What is your name?”

“I am called Shleppa.”

“Follow that chariot, Shleppa,” I instructed, “but keep out of sight.”  The two men did a good job, weaving in and out, avoiding street stands and traversing the narrow alleys until we reached the great river.  I bade Shleppa farewell and stepped into the shadows to watch what came next.  The soldiers had a boat ready and shoved Moses on board.  I had to think fast.  I moved stealthily toward a boat tied up next to Moses’ and plucked some long papyrus reeds from its hull.  I spied a length of woven rope there too and grabbed it.  Now all I needed were some heavy stones.  Maybe beneath the dock.  I slipped into the water behind the second boat and stroked toward the bottom.  Yes!  Plenty of rocks.  I tucked several into my white robe and knotted it so they would weigh me down.  Now I rose toward the surface just enough to poke the papyrus reeds out for a breath of air.  I was still deep enough, and the odds were no one would notice me in the murky Nile waters.  I eased myself around toward Moses’ boat.  I needed one more thing and I got lucky again.  At the stern was a protrusion I could tie my rope around – and did.  That was when the vessel started to move away from shore.  All I had to do was hold on to my rope and breathe through my reed.

The journey was short, just a few miles upstream I guessed, and uneventful, except once, when I used one of the rocks to bonk a curious crocodile on the head.  Curious Crocodiles.  Good name for a band.

They pulled the boat into shallow water, then beached it against the gently sloping sands.  I let go the rope as we approached shore – but too late.  That was when they saw me.  What the hell, I thought, and rose to my feet, standing before them in two feet of water.  “Slay him,” shouted one of the four soldiers.  How foolish I looked, desperately untying the heavy stones from my robe.  A spear flew toward my head, but I looked up and dodged it at the last moment.  I picked up the spear from the water and advanced on the soldiers as Moses watched helplessly, his hands bound behind his back.  Suddenly I remembered my days as drum major in the University of Minnesota marching band, way back in the 23rd century.  Spinning the spear skillfully, I whirled it over my head, then executed the high toss.  The soldiers all looked up to follow its flight, and as they did, I pulled my TCA combat knife from the finely-made leather pouch (yes, still slung around my neck) plunged it into the chest of the closest soldier, then slashed open the jugular of the one standing next to him.  In the next instant, the spear fell into my hands and in one motion I whipped it at the third fellow, impaling him onto the boat.  All this had taken maybe five seconds.  The fourth man looked at his suddenly dead companions and tried to flee, but I wrenched the spear out of the third soldier and hurled it at him, skewering him through the neck, much as Achilles did to Hector in the Iliad.  A classic performance, if I say so myself.

Moses gazed at me, impressed.  “You are a fearsome warrior, Awshalim.  I am forever in your debt.  They were surely going to kill me.”

“You did OK yourself with the crocodile, Moses.”

“Thank you, but I fought them for years as a boy.  I’m surprised Ramses did not remember.  But how did you find me here?”  When I described my tactics, he smiled. “Ah, the old papyrus-breathing-rope-hauling-stone-ballast trick!  I know it well.  But you should be going now.  If they find you with me your life will not be worth a broken brick.”

“And where will you go now, great prince?”

“I am prince no longer.  I am a man without a country.  But it is said the Jews came long ago from a land across this desert.  I will walk there.  Goodbye and fare thee well, comrade and savior.”

“Don’t call me savior – that guy comes later.  But look, Moses, no man can pass this desert.  You have no water, no food.  This is suicide.  Don’t you wish to live?”

“The God of my people will help me,” he said.  “I shall put my life into his hands.”  He turned and walked away into the burning sands, yanking the spear out of the last soldier’s neck to use as a cane.  I didn’t like it.  I don’t mean using the spear, that was a good idea.  But walking like a nut into the desert?  I hate hot weather.

“Moses, wait!” I shouted.  He turned and looked at me with raised eyebrows.  “Let’s take the boat!  We can wear the soldiers’ clothes.  Sail down the Nile, hang a right at the Great Sea, and next thing you know, we’re in ….”

“Canaan, it’s called Canaan.”

“Fine.  We do a little fishing, stop somewhere and get water, maybe some bananas, some figs.  What’s not to like?”

“The Egyptians will certainly stop us.”

“We’ll travel by night!  We can do this.  I just saved your life Moses, be flexible.”

“Can you sail this boat?”

“Is Egypt a big sand trap?”

“What’s a sand trap?”

“Never mind.  Of course I can sail a boat like this.” Moses turned and made his way back to the boat.

“All right, my new friend,” he said, grasping my shoulder.  “Let us journey together to a more peaceful land.”  I began wrestling the military garb off one of the dead men and Moses did the same.  We changed into Egyptian military clothes, stowing our own onboard.  “Let’s bring their spears,” I said. “We’ll catch some fish for dinner.”  But it was a grisly scene we left behind us, four soldiers lying dead, two of them naked, their blood still flowing into the Nile.  “Look at them,” Moses observed.  “They nearly turn the Nile red with their blood.”

“So do you think that kind of thing is possible?”

“What?”

“Turning the whole Nile into blood.”

“Of course not.  Who could do something like that?”

“I was just wondering.”

And so my new course was set.  As I struggled with the sail, my mind drifted back to beautiful Suhad.  She had no idea where I had gone.  Would she long for me?  Would she be safe, or seen as complicit in Moses’ escape and my disappearance?  I realized I would probably never see her again, nor solve the mystery of her tremendous psychic powers.  As the Nile winds caressed me, I trembled slightly, longing for another night in her arms and the unsurpassed pleasures she had given me.  But my better judgment told me sleeping with a woman who read my mind and knew my true identity was ill-advised.  Here I was with Moses by my side, and the narrative, as fiction writers say, was moving forward.  I turned to the task at hand.

“Now let’s see.  Where’s the jib?”

“What’s a jib?”  Moses asked.

“It’s one of the sails, I think.”

“You’ve been going in a circle for five minutes, Awshalim. You have no skill at sailing,” he said.

“That is because the winds of the Tigris are different from those of the Nile.”

“How?”

“In my country, they blow straight down from above, not from the sides.”

“That’s unbelievable.  That’s as impossible as, say, a bush that is on fire and yet is not consumed.”  Moses took over and skillfully held the boat to lee or starboard or port or one of those places.  After another two hours, we headed for a spot on the shore enclosed by trees and hid ourselves until nightfall.  Moses speared two fish there and we cleaned and ate them raw.  When it had grown dark enough, we headed down the Nile.

I know what you’re thinking.  I’m changing history.  If I rescue Moses from the soldiers and give him a free ride to Canaan, instead of him tramping through the desert alone like a nut case, everything gets thrown off, causing repercussions that echo down the centuries.  Maybe the Jews become a nation of sailors or they all wind up eating raw fish like the Japanese.  What you don’t understand is that a phenomenon was discovered in the 25th century, when time-travel began, similar to what was called fuzzy logic in the 21st.  It’s called fuzzy history.  MIT historian and time-traveler Karyn Klondike discovered there’s a lot of leeway interacting with the past.  When she went back to Las Vegas in 1973, she accidentally struck and killed Joan Rivers crossing Las Vegas Boulevard.  After returning to 2435, she checked the history books and found no changes in River’s life story.  At first it was thought, well, this was Joan Rivers, she was indestructible, but further research by Klondike showed the past was quite flexible, sort of like a rubber band that springs back into shape.  So I figured Moses could skip the Negev and we could take another route and relax aboard ship under the Mediterranean moon.  The night was warm and only gentle swells rocked our boat.  A few lights twinkled on the shore.  “So Moses,” I asked, when our craft had left the Nile delta, turned east and begun following the Mediterranean coastline, “A great change has befallen you.  What are your plans now?”

“Honestly, Awshalim, I hoped your country might offer me asylum.  I have heard Assur is a great and beautiful city.”

“Well, Moses, that might be possible, but a man of your stature…perhaps hunted by Ramses II…that is a delicate matter, needing careful diplomacy.  I will do what I can, but Canaan might be your best choice.  I hear it’s lovely this time of year.”

“But I was a great general and a prince of my people.  What could I do in that desolate land?”

“It’s not so desolate, really.  They have a lot of nice dairy farms there with friendly goats.  And beekeeping is very big.  Some call it the land of milk and honey.  Perhaps a rustic setting would do you good after this trauma.  Have you ever thought of getting into sheparding?”

“Are you joking, Awshalim?  Me?  A prince of Egypt?  Sleeping in the fields with sheep?”

“Starry skies above you…silent nights…the gentle lowing of the flocks…”

“Sheep don’ t low.  They go ‘baaaah!”

“Is that so?  I don’t know much about them.  They have soft wool though, right?”

“You may seek intimacy with sheep, sir.  I do not.”

“Hey, I didn’t mean…”

“There are many beautiful women in Pi-Rameses who weep and tear their hair for me tonight, Awshalim.”

“I’m sure that’s true, Moses.  You must have been beloved by many fair princesses.  But they have some cuties in Canaan as well, Moses.  Robust, meaty goddesses who can smother you with their enormous…”

“No, no, Awshalim, this is not to our Egyptian taste.  We prefer our women to have slender hips, lean and sinewy, their gentle valleys giving way to sweetly swelling breasts.”  He looked nostalgically toward the dark horizon.  “For me there is nothing like a bare collarbone to gnaw on.”

“Ah yes, I understand. ”

“But I am a military man, a leader, a man of action.  How can I recline on a hillside and do nothing?”

“Moses, this will not be your fate.  Take the advice of the man who cared enough to follow you and fight for you.  You will find your destiny in Canaan.”

“Well, maybe I’ll try it.  Awshalim, if I’m to be a Canaanite, do you think I should grow a beard?”

“Terrific idea.”

As the night progressed, my eyelids grew heavy. Many times I nodded off but whenever I looked up, Moses was at the rudder, his steely gaze fixed on the horizon.  By morning we had reached the place where the eastern shore of the Great Sea, as the Mediterranean was called, begins to slant to the northwest.  In the light of dawn, we saw rudimentary dwellings along the shore.  It was Gaza, in the early days of its existence.  It was already a center of trade and travel and was to become one of the five main cities of the Philistines, but now it was still subservient to Ramses.

“Runners will be sent this way telling of my escape. We must move quickly and somehow find refuge farther inland,” Moses reasoned.  “Let us pass by Gaza and alight upon the shore in some less populated spot.”  This we did.  In that land there was no cover.  Only the desert come to the sea along an endless, barren beach bereft of coves or complexities.  We had changed back into everyday clothes, and as we approached the beach, we saw fishermen casting their nets in the early morning light.  I spoke first.

“My friends, we became lost in the night.  Where is this place and where can we find food and water?”  They glanced at each other doubtfully, then one of them asked, “Where do you come from, sirs?”

Moses now spoke, in a voice of quiet authority.  “We would be honest with you.  We have escaped from Egypt and may be pursued, though we have done no evil there.  Give us but a little water and food and we will be on our way.”

The man looked troubled.  “It is our rule to help strangers, but…”  He looked at the others, then seemed to reach a decision.  “Well, we have caught enough fish for our morning meal.  You can join us now and recover your strength.”  Once again, Moses had found good fortune.  The men asked no more questions, but led us back toward the outskirts of Gaza and a simple brick dwelling and introduced us to the leader of their clan, a wizened old man named Yassib.  There we ate and drank, but talked little.

Finally, Yassib spoke.  “If you would hide from the eyes of the Great King, it is best to go to the south, toward Aqaba, perhaps.  It is a long journey to the land of people called Midians.  They are good people, and perhaps you may start a new life.  There is a caravan that leaves Gaza for there tomorrow.  I can arrange passage for you both, and we will give you clothes in which no Egyptian will recognize you.”

Moses glanced at me.  “Awshalim, you have a faraway look in your eyes.  What troubles you?”

Troubled I wasn’t.  When the old man said Midian, I remembered: that’s where Moses was supposed to go!  The Midian well.  Jethro and his 12 daughters, Zipporah, the daughter who would become his wife.  What was I thinking?  Well, Canaan, Midian, Egypt, who can remember it all?  It was a memory glitch.  I was 282 years old – 18 more years till I retired.  Give me a break.  But now this old Canaanite was directing us right there!  You see what I mean about fuzzy history?  These things work out.  Destiny’s rubber band was snapping Moses back where he needed to be.

“Moses,” I answered, “the words of our host Yassib are wise.  But for myself, I must return to Assur and fulfill my duties there, much as I have enjoyed this passage with you and been honored by your presence.”

Moses nodded understandingly.  “I assumed as much, Awshalim.”  He turned back to Yassib.  “Tell me, my benefactor, these Midians, what are their women like?”

The old man grew serious.  “That is a difficult matter, my friend.  Sadly, they are not full-bodied and stout like our Canaanite women, but rather have narrow hips and tend to be lean and sinewy, with prominent collarbones.”

“Then this is my fate,” Moses grunted sensuously.  I shall leave for Midian tomorrow.  But I am forever in your debt, Yassib.”

So that was it.  I saw Moses off the next morning, gratified to see him seated high atop a camel rather than plodding on foot through an endless wasteland, beaten down by the scorching sun.  I had no doubt he would find the well where he would rescue Jethro’s daughters from the raiders who were about to drive them away.  He would spend the next forty years married to Zipporah, tending Jethro’s flocks, an entire career for a modern man, but for him, just a warm-up.

The Bible has him living to be 120.

Interlude No. 32 in B Sharp

But I needed a break.  And I needed to get Suhad out of my head.  She was still swishing around up there, her green eyes and golden brown skin, the yielding pendants of her breasts and her incomparable Venus flytrap.  Wait, that’s not very romantic is it, even if there’s something profoundly true in it.  I mean, it’s like they used to say in the 1970’s, “Women are from Venus, Men are like Flies.”  Anyway, I needed a break, another world, a lighter place.  Suddenly it hit me.  California in the early 1970’s!  Maybe I could even track down Feral O’Farrell, my crazy New York cop companion from the Manny Perril caper.[2]  I’d relocated him there from 2045 so he could reunite with his dream girl – what was her name?  Moon Crystal?  Yeah, that was it.

But he’d be hard to track down.  Forget that guy.  The simplest approach was to use my Ultronic Mood-Based Relocation Transporter.  You place the UMBRT sensor against your neck and it makes a site-choice targeting your optimum psychic serenity.  So I just set the time period, crouched down, and pressed Enter.  It’s best to crouch, so you don’t get hit by random bits, which can be physical or mental.  You can wind up with a primeval frog in your pocket or even get the idea lodged in your head that Newt Gingrich was an intellectual.

In a few seconds, my desert environs faded into a fog and I spun through time-space, emerging into a sun-drenched landscape of light-brown hills and clear, wind-blown skies.  California!  From the look of the cypress trees, I appeared to be somewhere north of San Francisco.  I stood up and found myself on a path leading up and over a rise, and when I had ascended the incline, I was gazing down at a cool blue-green lake, a pond, really, only several meters across, surrounded by reeds and grass.  But on one side was a sandy mini-beach, and on the sand lay three young girls basking in the sun, completely naked except for a few decorative trimmings – colored beads around their necks, flowers in their hair, sparkling rings on their fingers.  Right away, I relaxed.

The girl in the middle, her blonde hair radiant in the sun, saw me first.  She leaned upward on her elbows.  “Hey!” she called out, but not in fear, more out of curiosity.

“ !!” I said.

She looked confused.  “Huh?”

Damn!  I was still in Egyptian mode.  I tried to snap back into Early Seventies English.

“Peace, man,” I said.

“Yeah, really, man.”

“Far out,” I added.”

“Everything is everything, man.”

“Capricorn, Legion.”

“Very cool.  Lilac, Aries.”

“Wow.”

“This is Heather, Saj.  And Water Lily.  She’s Saj too!”

“Unreal.”

“Really.”

We were all nodding and smiling.

“Wow,” Lilac added.  “I dig your robe.  Is that Indian?”

“It’s Assyrian, actually.  Very old.”

“Syria is like, in Africa?”

Assyria – Middle East.  It was maybe 3,000 years ago.”

“Is that like your thing?”

Concerned, I looked down at my loins.  Then I remembered the expression.

“Oh, wow, yeah, it’s my thing.  I’m really into ancient societies.  Assyria, Egypt, the Republican Party…”  Luckily, they laughed.

Water Lily spoke up.  “So, you got any weed?”

“Don’t hassle, him, WaWa,” Heather scolded.  Just cause he has a finely-made leather pouch doesn’t mean he’s dealing.”

“Aren’t you hot in that robe thing, Legion?”  She scooted to her left and patted the sand between her and Lilac.

“Uh, no, I’m OK, I uh…”

“Hey, relax, man.  Take a load off.”  Now Lilac was smiling too.  They were all smiling.  I didn’t need my UMBRT to relocate in their direction.  I shuffled down off the path, through the green shallows of the lake onto a beach from heaven and reclined between the love children, hoping my 280 years didn’t show.  As I did, sounds of music filtered down from somewhere behind me.

“Sunshine came softly, through my window today,

Could have tripped out easy but I, changed my ways.

It’ll take time, I know it, but in a while

You’re gonna be mine and know it, we’ll do it in style…”

“So what brings you to Spoonful Ranch, Legion?” Water Lily asked, rolling herself onto her side, caressing her flat tummy lazily in the sun.  Spoonful Ranch?  The old blues song rumbled through my brain …that spoon, that spoon, that spoonful… Her long tawny hair fell lightly onto the sweet bounty beneath it.

“I heard this was a place to relax and find inner peace.”

“Yeah, but you have to free your mind.  Is your mind free?”

“Well,” I began, “Capricorns are naturally very free, and I’m into meditation too and I dig the Beatles a lot and Dylan and I’m against the war and stuff and I stopped eating meat and I do a colonic every three weeks and…”  My words faded to silence as I saw their looks of disapproval.  They sensed I was faking it.  Suddenly I was borderline uncool.  So I figured I should just level with them.

“OK, I’m sorry, I was making a lot of that up.  The reality is, I’m 280 years old and a time-traveler from the future.  I’m taking a break from hanging out with Moses.  You know, the prophet?  The exodus from Egypt and all that?”

They looked really confused now.  “But I really do dig Dylan, though.”  They looked worried.  A sense of rebellion swept over me and I rose to my feet and pulled off my robe, revealing the robust physique a 280 year-old man, a time-travelin’ man, is capable of.  Then I turned and strode into the lake and dove in.  What ecstasy.  I rolled over on my back and floated there, reveling in the cold water, the yellow-brown hills and the azure California sky.  Who cared what they thought.  This was what I needed.  I’d be back in the desert soon enough.  My UMBRT knew what it was doing.  Non-resistance, self-restraint, that was the ticket.  After a while I stood up in the little lake and looked back.  Water Lily and Heather, their hair waving in the breeze, were making their way up the path toward a ranch house on the crest of the hill.  But Lilac was standing at the shore staring at me.  She smiled and walked slowly toward me, her feet splashing softly, as the water rose up her legs to her sleek thighs, to her waist, closer, closer she came, until we were face to face.  She tilted her head and threw one arm around my neck, her long black hair blowing against my chest and tickling it just a little.

“I like you, Legion,” she said in a low voice, “I liked you the minute I saw you.  It’s OK if you’re tripping.  You know what you need?”

“What?”

She began to sing softly to me.  “All you need is love…all you need is love…”  She tightened her arm gently and pulled her lips closer to mine.  “All you need is love, love…”  Every time she said ‘love,’ she gave me a little kiss. “Love is all you need, love is all you need, love is all you need… and the song became her kisses and her kisses became the song.  Her waist was like velvet and she had soft peach-fuzz in the small of her back.

That was when I heard a man shouting.

“Legion?  Legion?  Hey, Legion you son of a gun!  How the hell did you find me?”  And another voice behind him, a woman’s voice.  “Feral!  Feral!  What’s wrong?  Are you OK?”

Sure enough, it was Feral O’Farrell, the drug-addled psychedelic cop from the future.  Well, their future and my past.  His hair was way past his shoulders, he had some Navajo beads around his forehead and wore a pair of sandals.  That was it.

“Wow, look, man, we’re both naked!”

“Yeah, O’Farrell, times have changed.”

“Hah!  ‘Times have changed.’  That’s rich, coming from you!”  Now a frolicsome young woman arrived breathlessly, as birthday-suited as the three I’d already met.

“Hey, man, meet Moon Crystal.  She’s my…uh…”

“…goddess,” Ms. Crystal finished.  “We’re all goddesses here at the Spoonful, aren’t we, Feralalicious?”

“Yeah, this is the planet of the gods and goddesses for sure, but we pretty much let the ladies call the shots.  And now here comes Luke Timewalker for a visit!”

Water Lily and Heather were racing back down the hill too.  Lilac and I stood there with our arms around each other.  “Fast worker, man,”  Feral laughed.  “Watch out, Lilac, he’s a heart-breaker.”

“Do you think so?  He seems so lost.  He thinks he’s a time-traveler.”

O’Farrell laughed.  “Well, actually…”

“I was just joking, Lilac,” I cut in.  “I’m just another escapee from the East Coast.  Used to hang out with Feral back in New York.  I’m no heartbreaker, that’s for sure.”

“Hearts that are free are never broken,” Lilac postulated, then left me in the water and sidled up to the big Irishman.  She pulled him in close and drew him into the hottest three-second kiss imaginable.  Then she broke away and slapped his ass, and the four women fell into peals of laughter.  It was going to be a good day.  In fact, it turned out to be a good week, and I could have stayed longer.  After all, Moses wouldn’t need me for another forty years, but then, time for us TCA agents is a very flexible thing.

Spoonful Ranch was in the hills about 30 miles north of Santa Rosa, not far from Lake Sonoma.  It was a commune of hippie refugees, and the chemistry lab Feral had set up in the barn was keeping everyone in a beatific place.  Me, I shunned his psychedelic concoctions mainly because, given the Biblical realm I was about to return to, I didn’t really want to see God at that point.  I figured I was already on a pretty far out trip.  But I enjoyed the little community there, the ranch’s home grown vegetables and clean water and cool nights, and most of all Lilac.

One night we lay together in a sleeping bag out on the hillside, gazing at the dazzling starry firmament.  My lovely Lilac was a creature of the 20th century, but though this scene was three millennia after the age of the pharaohs, it was still a historical scene for me, 500 years before my time.  I knew this to be an age of innocence, a last summer of love, soon to be followed by more cynicism and divisiveness and war.  There would be other peaceful times to come, as in the 2080’s, when the Second Chinese Revolution spawned a permissive counterculture featuring electronic guzhengs and amazing hyperpunk bands like the Sweet And Sour Saucers and the Great Walls Of Sound and the gay band, Dim Sum Dragons in Drag.  And the return of Aerosmith in 2170, after 150 years in cryogenic limbo, especially given the superb reconstruction of Stephen Tyler’s face, launched a huge hippie retrospective that lasted nearly two decades.  But all these movements soon faded.  It was not until the arrival of the Grolnathians, who imposed peace on the planet from outer space, that the terrible cruelties and atrocities humans had inflicted on each other finally came to an end.

Lilac stirred next to me in the sleeping bag.  “Why can’t we have peace in the world, Legion?  Look how beautiful everything is, look at the stars, how perfect creation is.  Why can’t they just look at the sky in Vietnam like we are now and stop killing each other?  How did it all start?”

It was a good question.  Just 72 hours before this (in my chronology) I had slain four Egyptian soldiers in cold blood.  Yeah, they were bad guys, I guess, but I did it because I had an agenda, to get Moses out of Egypt.

“Maybe it’s about selfishness, Lilac.  Maybe it’s about the distance each of us has from everyone else.  You know, you’re close to some people, your family, your friends, but it’s like there’s always these outsiders trying to take away what’s yours.”

“But Meher Baba said we’re all one.  He was the avatar of the age, he said he was God!”

“Wasn’t he supposed to speak the Word when he died and fix everything?”

“Yes,” Lilac sighed.  “But then he just died and no one heard anything.”  We lay in silence for a while longer.  “I just wish I knew why we can’t make love and not war.”

When it was finally time for me to head back to Egypt, all of us were heartbroken, especially Lilac and Feral.  I told them I was going north to raise a crop of marijuana with a pal up in Oregon, though by then, Feral knew about my real assignment.  I lied to Lilac, telling her I’d get in touch and maybe she could come visit in the Spring.  For all her free love talk, she had a hard time letting me go, but then, I was Legion Ayers, and she wasn’t, which was good, because if we were both me, we would have been the same person and we couldn’t have gotten it on.

“I don’t know how to thank you for sending me back in time, man,” Feral said.  “I’m really happy here.  Hope you can drop by again sometime.”

“Yeah.  Sometime.  Whatever that means.”  It was “time” to head back.  We all embraced, and said “peace, man,” then I turned and made my way over the hill to the spot where I’d arrived.  When I was well out of sight, I initiated my return to ancient times.


Posted in EXODUS, STAGE LEFT, Parts 1-5 | Leave a comment

Dust In The Wind

Alone above the city, in an office the size of three average Tokyo apartments, sits Mr. Keimatsu.  His view encompasses the big new buildings rising everywhere just east of Shinagawa Station: Sony, Citibank, Seafort Square.  Along the harbor canals below pass seagoing barges and corporate luxury yachts.  Faultlessly dressed secretaries are at his beck and call, and from his desk it is a long walk  to the leather couches where he receives his clients and guests.

Keimatsu is an impeccable, dignified man in his early fifties, fatherly in manner.  A kindly sobriety can be seen in his eyes.  He is the president of IMS, a company which issues reports on pharmaceutical firms in Japan.  IMS is a Dun and Bradstreet company occupying four floors of this building and other offices elsewhere in Tokyo.  Keimatsu also oversees six other Dun and Bradstreet operations in Japan, companies like Nielson Rating Japan, and Moody’s Financial Reports.  About once a month he flies to New York and reports in to the President of D&B.  There he sees incomprehensible things such as the CEO personally stepping to the mike to give people directions to the post-conference  restaurant.

Mr. Keimatsu’s English is nearly perfect, but he wants to learn more American-style English, so into his office I come, a Berkeley exile with briefcase and beard.  The first session went fairly well.  I didn’t bring up my old Ford pick-up truck or how I used to drive it to the Berkeley dumps to unload yard clippings.  I made subdued inquiries about his corporate responsibilities.  Keimatsu responded, then gazed out a window, reflecting on how bad business was in Tokyo, how hotels were half-empty and his favorite restaurant was empty, period.  He began to looked a little drained, and halfway through the session he let me know why.  It involved an old school friend who had retired and moved north to Aomori to spend his days relaxing and enjoying his wealth.

“Friday morning at about five o’clock,” Keimatsu began, “my friend’s wife called.  She said he died during the night.  He got out of a bath and fell down.  She said  he looked up at her and said this is the end of my life.  He turned white and that was it.

“My wife is close friend of his wife,” he explained, “so by 9AM we were on the bullet train north to Morioka.  When we arrived at the house, my friend was lying in the center of the room being dressed for burial in a kimono,  white tabi and straw sandals.  I had to grab his legs to help lift the body onto the stretcher.  The man’s wife was crying.

“I tried to get back to Tokyo early,” he explained, “but I could not avoid the cremation ceremony.”  He pointed to a low black table in front of us, as if to help me visualize things clearly.  “In Japan, we sit watching as the body is placed on a long tray and rolled into the uh….”

“Oven?” I offered.

“Yes, the oven.  And then you hear the fire begin and all the different noises.  You sit for two hours and then they roll it back out.  There are a few bones left and a great amount of ashes.  After the ashes, each bone must be picked up by two people together, using hashi (chopsticks) and placed in the urn.  The, uh, throat bone…?”

“Adam’s apple?”

“Is that what it’s called?  Yes, that must be placed on top, right above the skull.”

At this point I suddenly remembered the pop tune that had floated out of the loudspeakers in Shinagawa Station on my way to IMS that day.  I had hummed along with it:  “Dust in the Wind…all we are is Dust in the Wind.”  Some dark thing poked its way into the room.  “He was just my age,” Keimatsu emphasized, “and then I started having chest pains myself.”

I appreciated that he was sharing all this with me.  I asked if he had any spiritual resources to fall back on.  “There’s a young Buddhist monk I play tennis with once a week.  He said my wife should not pray to the dead man for his widow recover her strength.  This only prevents him from detaching from the world.”

I agreed, but also pointed out, diplomatically, an advantage of monotheism: you can  ask God to give the woman strength instead.  In my mind’s eye, though, I kept seeing Keimatsu’s monk as he sprinted around a tennis court in flowing white robes:  “Your wife” – plunk! – “really shouldn’t be praying” – thonk! – “to the husband’s spirit” – thwack! – “in that way…Oops!   Damn this robe!… Fifteen-love!!”

Keimatsu was not unfamiliar with the paranormal.  In boyhood, after his grandmother’s death, a relative had seen her ghost walking with his own aunt and uncle, who were the grandmother’s children.  This relative predicted the death of these two, and that came to pass within a year.  But he returned to the current case: the deceased man’s widow in Morioka was still distraught.  It seems the urn, which according to Buddhist law must be kept in the home for 49 days, kept waking her up at night.  She claimed to hear the ashes settling and her husband’s bones sinking deeper inside.

It was a month or so before I saw Keimatsu again.  The week before had been pleasant, he observed.  His company holds a yearly seminar for customers at a beautiful hotel on an island at the end of Izu peninsula.  He just speaks at the opening and closing ceremonies, leaving the details to others.  They hold the seminar in Izu because it’s near a home he built there by the sea.  On Sunday everyone took a boat cruise across the bay, and then helicopters came to whisk everyone to a nearby golf course and return them to the hotel afterwards.

But Sunday was hard. The 49 days had passed, and his old friend’s ashes were buried in the family plot in Tokyo.  Keimatsu had had to attend the ceremony.  I asked after the widow, and he said she had received another shock: she was destitute.

Three years ago Keimatsu’s friend had told him, “I’m going to die at 60.”

“How do you know,” Keimatsu had asked.

“I just know.  I’m going to enjoy my life between now and then.”  The man proceeded to make a very large inheritance disappear – it’s not clear how.  Having spent all, he died.  His widow found only empty bank accounts.  They had no children, they owned no property, and now her rent will take half the meager widow’s pension from the Japanese government.  It’s not clear how she will get along.  Keimatsu looked somber.  He and his wife had called the old woman many times during the month.

“I’m afraid,” he said, “to see my telephone bill this month.”

I cleared my throat and glanced out of the window.

Springing from their conception of the laws of karma, Japanese people maintain a definite distance from the misfortune of others, the idea being not to create reciprocal obligations.  I’ve seen a woman fall hard on an icy Tokyo street; the man walking five feet behind her stopped and stared embarrassedly but did nothing to assist her.  Now, Mr. Keimatsu, fresh from helicoptering about to his golf courses, was talking about his telephone bill, perhaps desirous of, but unable to help the wife of his assinine best friend.  I sat quietly on his black couch, looking at his black table.  You never know.  Maybe he would find a way.

I never found out.  With no explanation, inscrutably, we might say, he called my company and cancelled further classes, and our apparently cordial relationship dissolved into, well, dust in the wind.

Posted in Japannings | Leave a comment

Email To A Speculative Poet

Dear B –

You were right to totally ignore those messages from me asking about how to get published. I googled “using Goodreads to promote your work” and there’s a big instructional section.  My publication problems are a thing of the past! – I probably just need one of those algorithm-software thingies.  Anyway, I’ve been reading my Hemingway lately.   I think it’s called… Islands in the Steam?

 

I served with Hemingway.  I knew Earnest Hemingway.  Hemingway was a friend of mine.  You’re no Hemingway.

Yeah, right. But compadre, in your last email I looked for a kind word from you, maybe about my son’s chicken pox or my wife’s skillful illustrations for my comic novels.  Instead, I get just more announcements of your latest poetry awards and regarding my work, a ninja shiriken in my left eye with the word “silly” incised on it. 

Old man, don’t start with your griping. We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

You’re uncivil, B.  And what do you know about funny anyway?     

So: I have aroused you. Good. Anger is a good and true thing. Have I stirred in you any aspiration to quality? In your first novel there were traces of seriousness. Must I yell, Don’t be a fucking hack!!?

Don’t shout in the Floridita. What are you drinking?

Another double frozen daiquiri without sugar. It is a good drink. An honest drink.

Pour it up your nose. I bring some levity into the world, as opposed to your bleak landscapes of horror and despair, and you insult me.

You’re lying. I never said you were a hack. You  wrote that just now. Liquor disorients you, my friend. I said your Legion Ayers character wasn’t my cup of tea.

You called it silly. Don’t try to walk it back. You know what’s silly? Your ‘Chrononaut Inductees’ poem. And not funny either. EXODUS, STAGE LEFT is funny. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NexUrDbn528  Sentence after sentence is funny. It moves. It careens. You and every 30-something agent in New York are fucking funny-deaf. Bunch of goddam Wasps is what you are.

You are wrong. I understand funny. Sometimes I put the barrel of a shotgun in my mouth, just for laughs.

And you didn’t say word one about my voices in the audio sampler: the Shakespearean intro, Legion as a Jewish P.I., Moses, the British fop, Suhad the Arabian goddess, Ramses II, the old Mississippi black dude. I’m doing all the voices and the mixing too.

It’s not about praise from me. It’s about artistic integrity, about endless suffering under the whip of creativity’s unforgiving lash.

I’m fucking Mel Brooks, and I’m going to die unknown.  B, you deserve Florida. Wait – you deserve Japan, I deserve Florida. Japan is dark, the Japanese are depressed. The grimacing nightmare people on the subways, you’d love them. I should be on Miami Beach with wealthy retired Jews who dig my stuff and offer to represent me.  

You’re drunk and out of control my friend. Rico! Another daiquiri for Arnolfo el Sensitivo.

The audacity. Did you ever watch yourself go by? You’ve been consumed by the dark things you spawned on the page and become an encrusted relic, a self-preoccupied flatulence.

I would rather be a fart than, like you, wallow in farce. But we must take this dispute outside now, man-to man. Finish your drink and follow me out to the dock.

I’ll dance circles around you until you collapse in a heap, old man, even if I am 70. Fly here to Tokyo. I’ll skewer you with a single yakitori stick. I loved writing my Legion Ayers novels. Legion flowed out of my fingers like honey. Now you have been instrumental in my losing the desire to write!! And what about my new, more serious novel about Barack Obama’s multiple personality disorder and the Iranian terrorist who’s into Marvin Gaye? I was 165 pages in and I can’t even open the Word file any more.

Well, the sun also rises…

Wait – my hand! Look at the back of it, aged and shrunken. The tendons protruding from withered skin as purpled veins worm their way across a desiccated landscape of sere flesh. It’s all so…so Bostonian!  Anyway, what were we talking about?  

You’re talking. I stopped reading this drek after the third paragraph.

I hate you, I hate you, I hate you.

Still not funny.  

You ready for another daiquiri?

No. I’m done. And you must stop drinking as well. I will pour seawater over the back of your neck now. It has been 20 minutes since the marlin sounded and he will surface again soon.

No he won’t. Marlin aren’t dolphins. They don’t have air holes.

I thought they did.

No, they’re like fish or something.  But pour the seawater on me anyway.

I will. The sun is very hot.

Posted in Other Writings | Leave a comment

Androids Over New York, Part 1

FOR AN AUDIO VERSION SAMPLER, GO TO:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OA46R4R7RHw

Chapter 1: The Plot Thins

When Laurie Lucid stumbled over the rigid body of Manny Perril lying in her darkened apartment, she shut her eyes and screeched like a peregrine falcon. Concerned, she touched her nose, feeling for a beak, then felt her forearms for feathers.  Nothing.  Opening her eyes, she saw Manny’s saxophone lying at his feet.  Laurie looked closer: traces of an onion bagel were clinging to the reed.  Most women in her shoes, or even their own, wouldn’t have noticed that.

But Laurie did.   Scanning toward her left, she saw Manny’s wide open sax case near the door, several dollar bills scattered within its velveteen interior.  Her mind reeled.  Had Perril been busking in the hallway?  Had her neighbors in the posh 55th floor Manhattan condo been dropping cash into his sax case?  But now he was dead.  Maybe it was something he played.  She recalled wanting to choke him more than once when he was mangling Misty.

But let’s get back to the body.  After all, that’s what American culture was all about on this hot day in July, 2094: violence, spectacle sports, and a fad involving dressing up your pet ferret in pink underwear.  Looking back from 2540 A.D., long after the Intercession of the Grolnathians and the Great Transformation, it’s easy to judge them, but wait: I’m getting ahead of myself.

There he is, Laurie thought.  She lit a Phillies Cheroot and took a long drag on it, but her mind was unable to focus, her synapses sautéed.  What was she supposed to do without Manny?  It seemed he’d always been a part of her life, guiding her, directing her, making choices for her.  She tried to recall life without him and couldn’t.  Whatever.  The body.  She had to get rid of Perril.

Suddenly, inches behind her willowy neck, a gently soothing whisper, “Got a problem, lady?” 

Laurie whirled around.  Then whirled again.  And again!  That crazy music in her head – West Side Story!

“I like to be in A-me-ri-ca,

OK by me in A-me-ri-ca,

Everything free in A-me-ri-ca

For a small fee in A-me-ri-ca…”

Whirling about the apartment like a mad thing she was now, unbridled and free, her arms spread wide, doing little Latin pirouettes over Perril’s body.  But I have that effect on women, especially during Insertion, the instant when I download myself from the future. So let me introduce myself.  My name is Legion.  Legion Ayers of the Trans-temporal Corrections Agency.  TCA’s mission is preventing horrendous crimes throughout history, which is a tall order, and I’m not talking about those Mile-high McDonalds Macro-Macs topped with ice cream and banana shards. They stopped selling those in 2465, when all 229,308 McDonalds restaurants worldwide were vaporized by order of the Grolnathians.  No, I’m talking about really horrendous crimes, like what had happened to Perril.  Or World War II.   Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination.   Justin Bieber’s first record date.

But let’s get back to Laurie, whirling like a mad thing.  I tried to bring her down, joining her dance, exchanging energies, melding auras.  We wound up face-to-face, pulsating, pumping, snapping our fingers. It was cool.  Real cool.  Laurie was staring into my eyes with a dazed look, the attraction between us skyrocketing.  She slipped her arms around my vigorous waist and drew me into a long, passionate kiss, a kiss so deep I was afraid I’d get the bends if I pushed her away too fast.  I could feel the nitrogen bubbles forming in my saliva.  Finally, our mouths rejoined their respective faces with a loud popping sound.  I took her by the hand and led her into the bedroom, sat her down on the bed.

“Look, lady, you been through a lot.  I want to help.”

“Who are you?  Where did you come from?”

“That’s a long story.  You have to trust me for now.”

“Did you see Manny?  Did you see that awful…”

“Don’t worry about it.  Maybe it was a bad dream.”

“What do you mean?”

“Look, he’s like, gone.  He’s out of here.”  She looked at me disbelievingly, leaped up and sprinted into the living room.  I whipped out a stopwatch and timed her – 1.3 seconds.  Impressive.

“He is gone,” she exclaimed.  “The sax, the blood, it’s all gone!  What did you do?”

I ambled out of the bedroom.  “Are you sure it really happened, Miss…?”

“Lucid! Call me Lucid.”

“I’m sure you are, but are you sure about…”

“Manny? Of course I am.  There’s his case, open, with the cash inside!”

Oops. I’d forgotten to time-transfer the sax case.  No matter.  Nothing special there.  But Laurie was suddenly frantic.  “Where’s the sax?  I need it!”

“You do?  Why exactly?”

“For a…for a remembrance?”  For the first time since my insertion, something didn’t add up.  Something smelled fishy, and it wasn’t a wine-poached salmon with asparagus and black truffles in Dijon butter sauce, which was too bad.  I couldn’t tell Laurie now, but I’d sent Perril’s head and body and the saxophone back a few hundred years.  Some Native Americans of the Lenape tribe might be looking up and wondering what that grisly apparition was floating 500 feet in the air over their teepees, but their arrows couldn’t reach that high and there were no helicopters back in the 15th century.  They came later, during the French Revolution.  Or was that guillotines?  Too much time-travel, I thought.  I needed a drink.

“Forget the sax,” I told her.  “You got any Dom Pérignon?” I lowered myself carefully onto her French provincial sofa.  There were times I’ve sat down through a sofa, being not fully solidified.  It makes a terrible impression.  Not on the sofa, on people.  You lose their confidence when your molecules merge with the furniture.  Tonight, no problems.

“What’s a Dom Pérignon?” Laurie asked. That was when the entire Folies Bergère from a 2160’s Dom Pérignon cybercommercial came hurtling through the wall, plaster flying everywhere.  I sent them back where they came from.  I have to watch what I say sometimes.  Laurie passed out when she saw the dancers, so I went into the kitchen and got two Miller’s out of the refrigerator.  So much for posh.  When I popped the tops she started to come around.

“What happened?”

“You had a relapse.”

“What was your name again?”

“Legion.  Legion Ayers.  Here, have a sip of this.”

“Wait, why did you – why are you in my apartment?  And where’s Manny?”

“Who’s Manny?  I came by, your door was open and you were in here calling for help.”

“I was?”

“Yeah, you was, but you seem OK now.”

I got her going on the Miller’s and after a while she relaxed.  By the third one she was more interested in the beer’s head than in Perril’s.  “It’s got a rich, creamy body that tickles my upper lip,” she murmured.

“So do you,” I said, moving in for another kiss.  The Perril caper could wait.

“What was your name again?” she murmured.

“Lonnie Donavan.  I was with the Yogurt Hurlers.  Played lead guitar on our album, Hey Mama, Mama Wow, I’m Drunk.  But things have been tough lately.  Now I order pizzas for a living.  You want a pizza?”

“Yah, gee, excellent.”

She had no idea what she wanted anymore, at least that was my impression. I had a lot to learn. But I figured it was time to move on.  I went to the phone and dialed a random number.  “Leaning Tower of Pizza?  This is Lonnie.  Send a pepperoni-minestrone-Welsh pony pizza to my current GPS location. Yeah, large.  Cool.  Bye.”  Twenty minutes later I was headed across the bridge in Laurie’s 2042 BMW for a visit with Perril’s mother.

Chapter 2: The Perril Variations

I had a bad feeling about the way things were going.  I’d googled “Perril + Brooklyn on Laurie’s on-board computer and there were thousands of them in Flatbush, not to mention all the trees.

But more important, I’d forgotten my mission. That happens to me a lot at my age. Frontal lobes just weren’t designed to go zipping across five centuries at light speed. I knew it would all come back to me, but for now I was running on empty, like that old rocker Jackson Pollack.

As I drove, I could feel the hard Brooklyn streets closing in on me like the lips of a giant sea clam.   I turned right at Central and drove past the YMCA.   They say it’s fun to live at the YMCA.  I hear young men can do what they want. But I’m not a young man, I’m 280 years old.  So it might not be that much fun, even though I’m in pretty good shape.  I do a lot of jogging, about 10 miles on foot and another 5 miles on my hands.  It’s not fun, but it’s better than hitting myself in the head with a hammer.  I used to do that to toughen myself up.  That was the first time they took me away, but that’s another story, and not a pretty one.

So there I was, cruising up Central, when a motorcycle pulls up alongside, someone slaps a magnetic device onto my passenger-side door, then speeds off with a roar.  I knew I had to get out of the Beemer fast.  I slammed on the brakes, shoved open the door and rolled out into the street.  I kept rolling, rolling fast, rolling under the car in the next lane, luckily missed by his onrushing wheels, rolling all the way to the curb.  That’s when I heard the crash and raised my head to look.  The big gasoline truck behind me had crunched into Laurie’s car, crushing it like an aluminum BMW, like a car made from Pepsi cans, if there was such a thing – not a bad idea, you could market it on eBay and make a killing.  But

I knew more trouble was on its way, big trouble, so I leaped up and ran over to a guy on a BMW chopper – God, that company is doing well – gave him an elbow in the face, jumped on and gunned the motor and got the hell out of there.  In my rear-view mirror I saw the explosion, cars flying everywhere, end-over-end like in those 50 million dollar action movies they had back in the 21st century.  Wait!  This was the 21st century, and I was in it.

I had to catch that bomber on his motorcycle.  I weaved left and right around cars until – there he was up ahead!  “Hey, slow down,” I shouted, “I can’t catch up!”  but the guy ignored me and kept going.  Luckily, my last assignment had been in the Old West and I’d developed some skills there.  I pulled out the lariat I keep in my backpack.  (I told you I had a backpack, right?  No, don’t leaf back through the book, the part about the backpack is probably gone.  This book is written in Ephemeralscript, from Ephemertech, a 26th century firm, and the contents are constantly changing, morphing as you read it.  Picture the primordial nothingness just before the Big Bang.  What you’re holding is a lot like that.)

Back to the lariat:  I whipped it out and hurled it unerringly at the biker.  It dropped over his head and I pulled hard, jerking him off his, yes – another BMW bike!  I’d strongly recommend BMW at its current valuation and anticipate robust growth in earnings in the next quarter, except who knows what quarter you’re in.  Down he went on the pavement, and I flew past to drag him behind me for a few blocks to teach him a lesson, but I could see in my rear-view he had kept his feet and was actually running behind me, holding on to the rope!   This was impossible.  Now he was pulling back on my bike, slowing me down.  Who was this guy?  When he got me slowed way down, I jumped off the bike to face him, tying the rope to my bike handle.

That was when he started whirling my motorcycle around in the air in big circles as oncoming traffic veered off or screeched to a stop.  This was turning into a hell of an assignment.  Ever feel nostalgic for the future?  That was me.  But I couldn’t cut and run.  There was too much at stake:  Laurie, Manny Perril, my BMW shares, and the Starbucks coffee shop behind me.  That whirling bike was getting too close to the cappuccinos for my taste.  That’s when it hit me!  I needed a cup of coffee right now!  I turned and headed for the door.  That’s when it hit me!  The bike, that is.  He was good.  He just grazed my temple with the front tire.  I went out like a light.

Chapter 3: Oh Captain, My Captain

New York City Police Detective Feral O’Farrell was dog tired.  He was finishing up an 18-hour shift during which he’d had to race on foot from 41st Street to the Bowery to run down and pummel into submission a white-trash meth dealer, then he’d gotten into a bloody 45-minute firefight with a firefighter, had wild kinky sex with a Romanian hooker while trying to get the story on her Russian gangster boss, then used his rock-climbing skills to scale the first 28 floors of the Empire State Building to pluck a buck-naked hippie exhibitionist off a ledge and clamber back down with the guy on his back.  What with all the running and screwing and hippie-hoisting, well, he smelled awful.

But now here was his police radio springing to life with the hated voice of Captain Quartz, his boss.  “Get off your butt, O’Farrell, you lazy Mick, and get over to 23rd and Central in Flatbush.  We got a gasoline truck explosion and some street-fighting bikers in front of a Starbucks.”

“I’m off duty in ten minutes, sir.”

“And I’ll be off the can in thirty.  Time and a half, O’Farrell.  You can buy a lot of Guinness Stout with that.”

Feral bared his teeth at the cloudy Manhattan skies, fired up the engine of his cruiser and headed toward the bridge, sprinkling a big pile of cocaine from a salt shaker onto the back of his left hand and snorting it up.  Damn.  The meth was wearing off.  By the time he reached Central and 21st, he was back in control, except for when he plowed into the burnt hulk of the gasoline truck.  No problem.  He gunned into reverse before his wheels could catch fire.  Where was that damn Starbucks anyway?  He found it two blocks farther down.  Central and 23rd, that sounded familiar.  Lots of police cruisers with flashing lights too.  Something must have happened here.  Something bad.  He needed a cup of coffee to deal with it.  Inside, waiting on his Caramel Macchiato, a cop approached him.

“We’ve got one of the bikers over in a booth, Detective.”

“Bikers?  What’s this about bikers?”

“Didn’t Captain Quartz tell you?”

“No, he just said something about a fight between some bikers.”

The cop looked confused.  “Maybe you ought to talk to this guy.”

“Why?  We can’t kick his ass here.  Let’s take him downtown.”

“Don’t you want to ask him a couple questions first?”

“Ask who a couple of questions?”

“The guy in the booth.”

“Good idea.”  They called him for his Macchiato.  He downed half of it in one gulp.  By the time he reached the booth, he was back in control.  The suspect looked like he’d been through a grinder, but tough enough to break some of its gears.  He looked like he could take care of himself, maybe even handle a bizarre fictional narrative in the first-person.  Feral could care less.  He took out his coke shaker, unscrewed the top, emptied its contents into his Macchiato, tilted his head back and poured the rest of the coffee up his nose.

Chapter 4: Legion Meets His Match

I looked up at the brawny detective.  I’d never seen someone intentionally pour coffee up his nose.  My kind of guy, a risk-taker.  But his voice was blurred by the sudden expansion of his adenoids, and I had to strain to make out what he was saying.

“So, shmart guy, whatsh your bike doing shticking out of a window in da shird floor of shish building?”

I smiled at him.  “Must have been the gas truck going up.”

“Hell, that wash two blocksh back, on 21sht.”

“It was a hell of an explosion.”

“Maybe sho.  Sho what’sh wisha lariat around shyour neck?”

“Beats me.  I used to be a cowboy in the 19th century, but…”

“So you’re a wise guy, huh?”  His voice was clearing up.  I liked that.  “Got any other cute ideas?”

“I anticipate robust growth in the next quarter for BMW shares.”  The guy took out his notebook and wrote the information down.  “How about Apple?” he asked.

“Come on, an antiquated record label?  The Beatles are dead, O’Farrell.  Wake up and smell the New Millennium.”

“No, I mean Apple the compu – hey, how’d you know my name?”

“It’s your I’m Feral O’Farrell And You’re Not baseball cap.  But I know a lot more about you than that.  I do some gumshoe work myself.  I know you’re a rock climber.  Look at your fingernails, all splintered and filled with concrete.  I know you got a little issue with the white powder.  And I know you smell awful.  But I can overlook that.  Look, let’s forget about this little gasoline truck explosion thing.  Help me track down a couple of people.  I have a feeling we could work together.”

“So who you looking for?”

“Just the guy who clamped an explosive device on my car.  And I’m trying to find out more about a guy named Manny Perril.”

“Manny Perril the international jewel smug – I mean sax player?”

“That might be the guy, yeah.”

“Never heard of him, punk.  And why don’t I think you’re really a gumshoe?”

“Hey, lighten up, pal.  We could team up on this.”

“OK, I’ll give you a chance.  But no funny business.  Now what about your friend on the motorcycle?”

“I have a feeling he’ll show up again.  I’ll let you know when he does.”

“This is getting too complicated, Mr. – what was your name again?”

“It’s Ayers,” I said.  “Legion Ayers. And yeah, I know you been through a lot today O’Farrell.  Maybe you should try one of these.”  I reached into my backpack and pulled out a vial with some yellow pills from which a strange glow radiated and handed one to O’Farrell.

The police detective looked around to see if they were alone.  “I’ll try anything once,” he murmured and popped it into his mouth.  “Wait a minute,” he mumbled.   “I hear a pulsing, exotic melody in my ears.  Everything is fading around me.  Only a tunnel of light, and look!   A shadowy figure approaching the door.  Now the door itself is dissolving.  Look!  A radiant, robed figure, bathed in lavender glow.  Hey, I know this guy.  It’s Lord Krishna, the Vedic godhead, Divine Prince of the entire universe! What’s that you say, your Divine Majesty?   We we need to talk?”

Chapter 5: Getting Lucid With Laurie

The dazed look in O’Farrell’s eyes told me my interrogation was over.  I slipped out of the booth and made my way back through the kitchen and out the back door, taking a couple of blueberry scones along for the ride.  I looked down the darkened alley and wondered what my next move should be.   Now I had an angle on Manny.  An international jewel smuggler!  Well, not any more.  Now he was in a holding pattern over pre-Columbian Manhattan.  He’d been there a while now, and I realized the crows would be working him over up there.  That would look really weird, flocks of birds congregating in the sky, ripping at the flesh of a human body floating in mid-air.  Eventually there would be nothing left but the saxophone, sunlight glinting off its varnished brass, visible from miles away at sunset.  That would look pretty cool.

Wait, I had to snap out of it.  Get to the bottom of the case.  Of course – the case!  That must be where the jewels were!  I had to get back to Laurie’s place.  Of course, she’d be pissed as hell her BMW exploded, but a world-class collection of jewels can buy a lot of Beemers.  I headed down the alley toward the side street leading to Central.  That was when I heard the footsteps behind me.  I stopped, they stopped.  Just like in the movies, except this wasn’t a movie.  I made sure, checking right and left for cameras or a director in one of those big director’s cranes that go up in the air.  Nothing.  I started walking again and the footsteps were closer now.  I began skipping along like a little girl, and heard the same pattern echoing behind me.  I tried a John Cleese silly walk, leaning back and sticking my legs way out in front.  When I stopped, silence; then, very softly, a Woody Woodpecker call.  This was getting ridiculous.  I executed a couple Olympic floor-exercise moves, including an acro line and two different saltos, finishing with a triple-reverse overhead flip.  I hit the ground perfectly in balance, but I couldn’t move.  Must have pulled something.  That was when I sensed someone caressing my back and felt a wet tongue in my ear and heard the whispered words, “You’re fine, so fine, let me tell the world that you’re mine, mine, mine.”  It was Jerry Lee Lewis!  Except it couldn’t have been Jerry.  He was into pre-adolescent girls, not 280 year-old men.  But that voice – I knew that voice.  It was…

“Hey, tiger, why’d you ditch me like that when our little party was just getting started?”

“Laurie!  How the hell did you get here?”

“Oh, I get around.  I wasn’t that drunk.  And I’m not as stupid as those pink elves looking down at me from that tree think I am.”

“What?”

“Never mind, tight-buns.  I followed you down to the parking lot and slipped secretly into the trunk of my own car.  I was with you all the way to Brooklyn.”

“Hey, I’m sorry about the car.  How’d you escape the explosion?”

“I know a couple things about locks.”

“I suppose Perril taught you that, right?”  I was starting to put apples and oranges together but they didn’t add up.  And it was hard to concentrate: she had changed into tight leather short-shorts and a red, see-through camisole.

“Let’s not talk about Manny anymore,” she said.  “Let’s get out of this alley and find some birds and bees.”  I had no problem with that, except I still couldn’t move.  “I think I hurt my back a little,” I explained.  “Poor baby,” Laurie said, and put one hand on my rock-hard pecs and began rubbing them up and down.  “Wow,” she breathed, “some six-pack.”  She changed to a circular motion and moved lower, lower.  My back started feeling better fast.  I experimented with it by thrusting my loins forward, then back, then forward, then back again.  I took a couple steps.  My back was OK now, but I couldn’t stop the loins.  I tried to be casual and took her hand to lead her out of the alley, but my thrusting wouldn’t stop.  Talk about a silly walk.  It was embarrassing.  Laurie slapped me hard in the face and it stopped.  “Later, Tiger,” she said.  I liked that.  I like a woman to slap me sometimes, or choke me, or even slather lard on my face, but more about that later.

We reached the end of the alley.  “Here’s our ride, Legion,” she purred.  Parked there was a gleaming new BMW 800 GS Enduro.  This was making no sense.  The big chopper couldn’t have been stowed in her Beemer’s trunk.  But all I could think of in the moment was the cleft in her short-shorts.  Laurie climbed onto the seat, turned a key and the motor roared to life.  This baby had room for a passenger behind the driver and she motioned me aboard.  I put my hands around her waist and held on as she roared up to the corner, hung a right on Central, passed the stunned police and headed for Manhattan.

Now, I’m the kind of guy who needs emotional intimacy in relationships. I like to take things slow and find common values. I need to hear a woman share where she is on her journey and her creative life. So it was hard for me to understand what happened next. It was as if a cloud of pure sensual energy descended on me and by the time we were on the Brooklyn Bridge our bodies were joined together as one, both of us crying out in ecstasy, oblivious of the people pointing at us from passing buses.

But as we screamed off the bridge at 120 mph, I finally realized: I had seen this chopper before, and it wasn’t the one lodged in a third floor window.  In a flash, I lost my, well, sexual function.  Luckily, I always keep a cucumber in my backpack, and was able to placate her.  When we reached her apartment, on a hunch, I licked the tip.  It tasted something like pomegranates with a touch of silicon and solder.  No doubt about it now: she was a bionic woman.  It really was she who had whirled that motorcycle around like a tennis ball.  She lowered the kickstand, turned and stared at me.  My only advantage was that she didn’t suspect I knew what she was.

“I suspect you know what I am,” she said.  I scanned the dimly-lit garage.  I didn’t stand a chance against her if she went ballistic.

I had to try to humor her.

“Skeleton walks into a bar and says, ‘Give me a beer and a mop.’”

She stared at me uncomprehendingly.  Finally she rolled her eyes.

“Comedy will get you nowhere, Ayers.”

I shifted gears.

“Oh, that this too, too solid flesh would melt, or that the everlasting had not fixed His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter…”

“Tragedy won’t work either.  Look, you play your part and you won’t get hurt.  Got it?”

“Yeah, I got it.  So what’s the play?”

“There is no play.  You might thank me for getting you away from the cops.  And for our little bridge-bang too.  Stay in touch.  You know where to find me.”  She turned and slank away toward the elevators.  Believe me, that woman, or whatever she was, knew how to slank.  I breathed a sigh of relief and watched her disappear into the shadows.

It had been a long day.  I needed a place to crash.  I headed down the stairs and up 6th Avenue to Central Park.  There was a secluded spot near the Balto statue, so I pulled my 3rd millennium sleeping bag out of its flask, it expanded and I settled down.  The stars were as bright as a million stars.  I couldn’t be completely sure though, because it was totally overcast.  But stars are always like that, right?

I drowsed off trying to remember what my assignment was.  Oh yeah – this Perril guy, he was going to destroy the earth with some sort of technology he’d developed.  Bionic people, something like that.  There must be a connection somewhere, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I was so sleepy.  And now Perril was dead?  Seemed like there’d been a mix-up back at headquarters.  Whatever.  I wanted to check out that sax case.  I decided to stake out Laurie’s in the morning, wait for her to leave, then break in and case the joint.  Then case the case.  Then, my eyes closed.  I assume.

Chapter 6: Rockin’ The Warehouse

“Number 4700 said to Number 3,

You’re the cutest android I ever did see.

I sure would be delighted with your company.

Come on and do the Robot Rock with me,

Let’s rock….”

Deep in the labyrinthian bowels of a cavern under a West Side warehouse, hordes of what appeared to be beautiful young women and strikingly attractive men began to writhe to the pulse of a 1950’s rock classic.   High above, passersby stopped briefly, feeling ground tremors.  Below, on a subterranean stage, a figure that appeared to be Elvis himself joyously slithered and barked out his lyrics and strummed his Gibson guitar. Actually, they weren’t all that attractive.  A minority of the young women had parts of PC boards protruding from their bodies or CPU chips for nipples.  Some had their spleens on the outside rather than inside, and some of the guys had clumps of hair instead of hands, or eyes on their tongues or, you know, cartilage lips.

Their creator, a sociopathic computer genius named Manny Perril, had worked for Microsoft way back in the early days, long before his bionic humanoid start-up.  People forget the constant PC crashes at the turn of the Millennium, the data losses, the suicides, office workers jumping out of windows because of Windows.  People thought it was Bill Gates’ fault, but Manny Perril was the one responsible for those horrors.  Supposedly a quality control manager, he used to sneak in the building at night and insert bugs in all the programs.  Nothing in life gave him more pleasure than the words, “Oh no!  It’s gone!  All my work is gone!”  Around 2004, they discovered him, he got fired, and people noticed PCs were getting more stable.  Perril went ballistic and spent decades planning to get even, until he hit on a way to eliminate the human race itself.

Most of the androids in the cavern were enormously attractive, and in any case, the males were programmed not to objectify females.  The females, well, a woman can overlook cartilage-lips if a guy is sensitive and caring.  Yes, the androids crashed sometimes, but that was manageable, unless they were driving a car, in which case they really did crash.  But Perril figured that would just keep the android police busy. Since everybody was programmed to be honest and cool, the police would have a lot of down-time, so traffic accidents, paradoxically, would be kind of beneficial.  Perril was way deep into kind of.

His sick idea was to replace the conflict-ridden human race with a race of sensitive, New Age, dance-till-you-drop humanoids, except they never would drop.  But could they reproduce!  The little ones came out all ready to go, no special care needed.  They did video games until they were 3 months, then they could have sex, because their growth rate was 84 times faster than humans.  At three months they were full-sized.  They were multi-colored and multi-racial and free of prejudice.  Hey, you’d love these people.  Only problem was, they didn’t love you.  They weren’t really New Age.  They were set to take over the world and you were set to be toast.  As Perril liked to say, “You gotta break some eggs to make a peaceful planet.”

Now, as Elvis finished up, as the dancing frenzy subsided, as a disco ball descended and a Donna Summers clone took the stage, Number 4700 said to Number 3, “Hey, doll, let’s get some fresh air.”

She looked at him uncomprehendingly.  “Fresh air? What’s that?”  For many the androids, planetary details were on a need-to-know basis.

“I’ll show you…follow me.”  4700 took her hand and headed down some stairs and into a side tunnel off the ballroom.  They came to a big iron door, but he performed some manipulation and it creaked open.  The N Train subway tracks lay before them.

“Come on, 3,” he shouted, “we have to beat the train to Canal Street Station.”  Perril had made the androids fast.  Sprinting down the tracks, they got to Canal Street in less than a minute and quickly jumped up onto the platform without being seen.  They could run and jump too, could kick some Usain Bolt butt, no problem.  Number 3 got a few stares because of the CPU chip protruding from her chin, but most of the New Yorkers figured it was a punk thing.  When they got to the exit gate, jumping the turnstile was a piece of cake.

“Hey, you two, snapped the attendant, “Pay up or you’re looking at jail time!”  Tough guy.  4700 reached out and tore his face off.  Hard to yell without a face.  By the time stunned commuters could react, the two androids were gone.  Number 3 was upset though.  “Why did you have to do that, 4700?  That was kind of extreme.”

“Look, 3, there’s things coming up you haven’t been updated on yet.  Let’s just say I know what I’m doing.  Trust me, this is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius and pretty soon everything’s gonna be harmonious – real harmonious.  Anyway, look around you, it’s New York! The greatest city in the world.  Hey, you want to eat Italian?”

“4700! We’re not cannibals!”

“Not eat an Italian – Italian food – pasta, pizza, spumoni!”

“What’s that?”

“It’s – wait, you should be programmed to know that.”

“Yeah, I think my memory chip is chipped.”

“Really?  Where’s France?”

“In Paris.”

“Uh-oh. Where’s Africa?”

“Monday nights on NBC?”

“What’s an elephant?”

“On the kitchen counter next to your keys.”  4700 sighed.  Some date night.  Conversation was going to be tough.  Well, 3 was a very early version.  You would expect some glitches.  He escorted her down Canal Street to Mulberry and turned uptown into Little Italy.  Sophia’s was three blocks up.  “You’re going to love Sophia’s,” he said.  “They make an amazing linguini alla vongole con vino blanco.”

“Linguini and clams in white wine?  Sounds great.”  Some sectors of her memory must be OK.  4700 wondered about her sex techniques file.  Well, time would tell.  The couple reached the doorway of the small family-owned bistro and strode in.  4700 headed for a table near a small stage where a performer was plucking a mandolin.  A maître d’ soon appeared and cast a withering look at their attire.  He was a barrel-chested man whose gravelly voice was much rougher than his choice of words.

“I’m sorry, sir, this table’s reserved.  All of them are, actually,” he growled

“I want an appetizer,” 3 smiled. “Do you serve oysters al pacino?”

4700 cut in. “Let me handle this.”  He grasped the waiter’s wrist with a lightning-quick motion.  A look of shock came over the man’s face as 4700 locked his intense gaze on him.  “Two linguinis alla vongole, very good,” he mumbled submissively and shuffled away.  “Don’t forget the vino rosso and some nice pane michetta with olive oil!” 4700 shouted.  Heads turned toward the couple, then turned away.  The bread soon appeared and a Sangiovese was politely poured into their glasses, then the linguini came.

3 was delighted.  “Oh, 4700, you dance so well, you handle awkward situations with such aplomb, and 299.1 million tons of shipping passed through the Panama Canal in 2033.”

“Thanks, 3, no one’s ever told me that before.”  He felt her hand under the table stroking his thigh.  “Let’s make babies,” she whispered.  “We could live on Long Island and go to the beach in the summertime, and… it’s a bouncer toward first!  It goes through Buckner’s legs!!  Here comes Knight – he scores and the Mets win it!  I don’t believe it!”  She was out of her seat, shouting with a faraway look in her eyes.  Some of the customers were irritated, others seemed to be smiling at a long-forgotten memory.

“Sit down, 3, sit down!  Cool it.  Here, have another sip of this Sangiovese.”

“Isn’t that a crime family?”

“No, that’s Genovese.”  A large man at the next table watching them out of the corner of his eye scraped his chair back and started to get up, but his girlfriend grabbed his hand and pulled him back.

“How’s the wine, sweetheart?”  4700 inquired, with a touch of Bogart in his voice.

“Well,” commented 3,  “it’s delicious and oaky and spicy and fruity and corky and tarry and flowery and mellow and piquant and…”

“OK, OK, 3, I like it too.”  They focused in on the linguini.  It was as fabulous, as 4700 had predicted.  About halfway through, a small older man in a fedora came in with a burly compatriot.  The man looked down toward 4700 and 3 and grabbed a passing waiter.  There was an intense conversation with angry gestures.  The bigger guy headed toward the two androids and stopped in front of their table.  His voice was menacing.

“You two need to clear out in a hurry, like right now, if you know what’s good for you.  This is Mr. Scarlatti’s table.”

“Scarlatti!” 3 burst out.  “Can you play the Sonata in F Minor K. 69?”

“Please, 3, let me talk to the man.”  He smiled at the bruiser looming over their table.  “My friend, I think you might not know who I am.  In Chicago, my name is very well-known.  Mr. Scarlatti and I have some important business to discuss tonight.  Does the name Carlo D’Amato mean anything to you?”

The man’s face turned red.  “What the hell you talkin’ about?”  He lowered his voice.  “Get the fuck up and take off now, you testa di merda.”

Hearing this, 3 grabbed her t-shirt and pulled it off, revealing her totally bare, perfect pink breasts.  Then, in a motion so fast the man barely saw it, she stood up, unzipped her shorts and stepped out of them.  In another instant, she had leaped in the air and wrapped her legs around the man’s shoulders, so that her sex was pressed against his nose.  “Get the fuck up and take off now??”  she shouted.  “Testa di merda??  Oooh, Italian men really are hot!”  She was thrusting herself against his face as he struggled helplessly to pull her off.  “Oh God, I’m coming!  I’m coming!  Thank God you’re Italian!”  she shouted, lost hopelessly in her passionate ride.  The restaurant was a frozen tableau of stunned patrons.  But 4700, oblivious, had returned to his linguini, finishing it off with gusto.

That was when he heard the piercing cry of a peregrine hawk.  He looked up to see Laurie striding down the aisle, whip 3 off the man’s shoulders like she was a toy doll and slam her back into her seat.

“Put your clothes back on, 3.  What are you two doing off-campus?”  She focused on 4700.  Is this your idea of a joke?  You’re all on-screen, 24/7.  Supervision always knows where everyone is, where they go.”  She felt 4700’s anger growing, saw his breathing speed up.  “And don’t try to tear this guy’s face off.  We know about that too.  Come on, let’s go.”  The male android shrugged, got up, and Laurie followed the two of them up the aisle.  “I can’t take you anywhere, 3,” 4700 muttered.

Behind her, Laurie suddenly sensed the big Italian guy make a rush for them.  She turned and with a single shove pushed him back four tables and through a wall into the laundromat next door.  His pals at the Italian Dockworker’s Social Club would never let him live this down.  Their teasing finally led to two of them getting life-time jobs helping concrete hold up a new building on 89th Street.

“Another day at the office,” Laurie grumbled, as the three androids, to human eyes, simply vanished.

Chapter 7: Peacing Things Together

Someone was kicking me in the side.  It was morning, and I was still in Central Park.  The individual standing over me was wearing gold velveteen boots and paisley pedal-pushers.  He had a sheer, tie-dyed blousy thing on and Jesus, he was wearing beads.  And he’d blown his hair out into this Afro thing.  On his forehead was a red bandana with a peace sign.

“Wake up, Ayers, we need to talk.”  I knew that voice!  It couldn’t be, but it was.

“Feral!  What happened to you?”

“I’m Farah now, Legion.  I’m in touch with my female side.”

You never know what the effects will be when you give someone Transpsychlin.  It’s a powerful medication.  Some people see God or Lord Krishna.  Others have actually channeled Donald Trump.  O’Farrell had obviously been through some changes.  I had to handle him carefully.  I grabbed his foot and twisted it hard, spinning him to the ground.  “Oof!”  he grunted.  It’s a satisfying sound.  If I get a guy to say oof, I know I’m pretty much in control of a situation.  But this was no time for nostalgia.  O’Farrell needed help.

“You’ve broken my beads,” he whimpered.  “I strung them myself!”

“Look, O’Farrell, snap out of it.  It’s a tough world.  You have to be strong.”

“But Lord Krishna said…”

“Krishna?  The deity who told Arjuna he had to slaughter all his cousins in battle?  You must have caught him on a good day.  What else did he tell you?”

“He said to lighten up and go with the flow.”

“Well, I’m the flow now, OK?  We have to get you out of these hippie duds.  Any of your fellow-cops see you like this?

“No, I got up at 4AM and was meditating in the Ashram.”

“Wow, you went off the deep end.”  I got to my knees and started stripping the clothes off his body.  He just lay there moaning, “No, no, don’t please!”  A couple of teenagers came by, saw us and started giggling.  New York City, what a town.  “Here, crawl between these rocks and wait for me,” I told him.  “I’ll be right back.”  I grabbed his clothes and rushed through some trees onto another path.  Luckily, there was a guy in a suit there, about O’Farrell’s size.  I punched him in the stomach.  He said oof, and I dragged him behind some bushes and stripped him.  A couple of teenagers came by, saw us and started giggling.  Sometimes I hate this job.  “Put these on, buddy,” I told the guy, “and start a new life.”  I rushed back to O’Farrell and threw the business clothes at him.

“Put these on.  Now.”

“Aren’t you going to dress me?”  he asked.  I slapped him a couple of times.  He pushed me away.  I slugged him hard in the jaw.  He got to his feet and threw a haymaker I just ducked.  Then he landed a hard right that put me on my butt.  Now O’Farrell was on top of me, unloading lefts and rights to my head.  “This is more like it, O’Farrell,”  I shouted.  “You’re back now, aren’t you?”

“Goddam right I am, punk.  I’ll show you whose boss.”

“If you’re the boss, why are you sitting on a guy stark naked?”  That stopped him.

“What the hell am I doing naked?”  he asked confusedly.

“Don’t worry, Feral, just put on the suit.” Which he did. “Now why are you here, Feral? You must have a reason. How did you find me anyway?”

“Look, pal, the New York City Police Department isn’t as stupid as that advanced race of intelligent reptiles living deep in the earth thinks we are.”

“What?

“Never mind.  You think you can just take off from the scene of a crime with some broad, have sex with her on a motorcycle and lose us in the big city, the city that never sleeps?  You think you can do that in Gotham, the Big Apple, the city so nice they named it twice, the city where every dark, twisted alley leads to an unmarked grave, where only fools and lepers venture out after dark, where hookers are as cheap as cigarettes and twice as bad for you…?”

“Pull it together, Feral, what are you trying to say?”

“It’s what I’m asking, Ayers, not saying.  Who’s the dame?  What’s going on at her condo?  What’s with the motorcycle in the 3rd floor window?  What was she doing with the couple that took Sophia’s Restaurant apart last night?  And while we’re at it, who the hell are you, anyway?”

O’Farrell had just recovered from a psychic shock.  I needed his help, but he could only take so much right now.  I knew I had to handle him carefully.

“I’m a time-travelling visitor from 400 years in the future, Feral, an agent of the Trans-temporal Correction Agency.”  Bad choice.  He swung from his heels and knocked me into the bushes.  “Don’t fuck with me, Ayers, I’ll hurt you and desert you, I’ll take your soul if you let me. But don’t you let me…”

“What?”  I sat there rubbing my jaw.

“I’m a big James Taylor fan.  ‘You Got A Friend,’ Atlantic Records?”  He blinked and shook his head.  “Hey, why are you lying in the bushes?”   He obviously wasn’t all the way back yet, so I changed gears.

“You were asking about the girl.  I live in her apartment building, see?  And I found her yesterday with the door open and, well, there was a dead body her room.”

“Why didn’t you report it?”

“Well, it disappeared.  I took her into another room to calm her down, and when we came back the body was gone.”

“And two hours later, you’re screwing her at 120 mph on the Brooklyn Bridge?  You gotta do better than that, Ayers.”

“How about screwing her on top of the Empire State Building?”  Feral swung from his heels and knocked me into the bushes again.  “You’re an awful sexist who disrespects women.  You think your screwing jokes are funny?  Think again.  Lord Krishna is ambidextrous, you know.”

“Androgynous.”

“Whatever.  Don’t talk like that.  It upsets me.  Now level with me.  What the hell is going on?”  I realized there was no getting around it.  I had to give him a Demonstration.  “Hold on, Feral,” I said, “You’re going for a little ride.  You say you like James Taylor?”

“Yeah, I…”  and he was gone.  Sent him back to the Troubadour Club, Sunset Strip, summer of 1969, just for a while, while I figured out my next move.

Chapter 8: More Than Meets The Eye

O’Farrell had said something about a dustup at a restaurant.  What was my synthetic girlfriend up to now?  I had to get back in that apartment.  I found a local coffee shop and got myself some breakfast, then headed over to Laurie’s high-rise.  I skulked around the front and after an hour I got lucky.  Out of the garage Laurie zoomed on her chopper, turned uptown and sped off.  Getting into the building was no problem.  I mean, if you’ve mastered space and time, you can get through a security door, right?

I made it to the 55th floor with no trouble, threw a couple moves on Laurie’s door and waltzed in.  The sax case was shoved up against one wall.  I opened it and prowled around inside, hoping to find the treasures of an international jewel thief.  Nothing.  Hey, what did I need with jewels anyway?  Suppose Perril was a thief, what did I care?  I had to figure out…what was it?…oh yeah, a bionic threat.  I always have trouble remembering my assignments.  When they sent me to stop the attack on Pearl Harbor, I spent the whole assignment scuba diving.  I came up one day and all hell had broken loose.

So now I was muttering to myself, “Bionic threat, bionic threat, bionic threat,” and that’s when I noticed the chatter in the next apartment.  I put my ear against the wall and heard maybe four or five voices.  I picked up a few phrases, “automated speech,” “right-arm dysfunction, “misplaced left eye,” “incoming shipment.”  And then it hit me.  It wasn’t just Laurie.  There were more of them.  They were next door!  And where else were they?  Whatever Perril had set in motion was still happening.

I needed a look-see, so I got out my Walleye Paste from the backpack.  Made from the eyes of walleye pikes that, by the 26th century, had evolved the ability to actually see through walls, the paste lets you visually penetrate solid barriers.  But you have to really, really believe it’s possible.  Which I did.  Like magic, the whole scene inside unfolded before my eyes.  People with sensors for eyes, six-fingered deformities, hot numbers like Laurie, stunning, Mitt Romney-like males, all working at their computers or talking on cell phones or scratching their spleens.

It was horrific.  What were they planning?  But I needed to get out of there before Laurie came back.  Luckily, I didn’t hear her footsteps down the hall and have to hide in a closet where she’d want to hang up her coat and almost open the closet door and then the phone would ring and I’d be like “Whew!” and afterwards maybe she’d go into her bedroom and I’d sneak out while she was touching herself or maybe I’d pretend I’d just arrived and go in there and we’d have sex and it would be really good and then… But no!  I just left.

I went back to the spot in Central Park where I’d slept.  I really needed some help on this case.  I needed O’Farrell.  I decided to bring him back from 1969.  In a flash, there he was, lying on his back on the ground, eyes closed, his pants down, revealing a huge erection from which great dollops of sperm were spurting into the sky.  It was worse than the androids.  Much worse.

“Oh God!  Oh shit!  I love you, Moon Crystal!  Wait!  What the…?”  He opened his eyes and saw me.  “Where’s Moon Crystal?  Where did she go?  MOON CRYSTAL!!” he bellowed.

“Who the hell is Moon Crystal?”

“My James Taylor groupie.  We were backstage at the Troubadour and we did this really nice Orange Sunshine acid and she was so beautiful and, whoa, that tree is moving!”

“Feral, you’re too deep into drugs.  You need to clean up, go into – what do you call it? – rehab.  Pull yourself together, you’re back in the 21st century.  You got come on your pants.  Here, use this.”  I pulled a cloth out of my backpack and tossed it to him.

He stared at me.  “You really are a time-traveller.”

“Yeah, and now you are too.”

“Can we go back and get Moon Crystal?  She was moving on top of me, in total control, undulating sweetly, giving me these little mini-orgasms, her breasts swaying like oval Hostess Twinkies just inches from my mouth, until my whole body was on fire, pulsing, and…”

“Hey, you should consider writing that stuff.  It’s a lot safer than detective work.  No, we can’t get Moon Crystal.  Get over it.”

“Ooh, Legion, now you’re body is covered with little worms.  I’m scared.”  He was useless to me in this condition.  Luckily I had some antacid pills in the backpack and got him off his trip fast.  When he had gotten the goo off his pants and straightened his tie, he looked good again, like a cop, a detective, a dick, a tough guy.  “Look, Feral, that body I found was Manny Perril’s.  You said something about him being a jewel thief, but that was just a cover.  Here’s the lowdown: he was out to destroy the human race with a race of bionic androids – that’s why I was sent here – and he set the whole thing in motion before he died.  That babe on the motorcycle?  She’s an android.  She’s the one that threw the chopper up to the third floor.  And there’s a bunch more in the apartment next to hers, running some kind of operation.”

“But who killed Perril?”

“I wish I knew.  It might have been Laurie, some kind of robot revolt.  But we can’t bust in there until we know more.  Anyway, are you in with me on this thing?  I need someone I can trust.”

“When this is over, can I go back and look for Moon Crystal?”

“She was just a groupie, Feral.”

“Yeah, but she had a way of slowly descending on to my hard shaft, squirming gently, moist and tight, until…”

“Enough with the 1960’s porn, Feral – OK, maybe I can send you back, but you gotta stay clean while you’re working with me, no drugs.”

“No meth?”

“Of course not.”

“A little coke?”

“Forget it.”

“OK, I’ll just smoke weed.”

“Nothing!”

“Look, man, I’m kind of a chemistry hobbyist.  Titration tubes, flasks, you know?  I’m not just a magnificent physical specimen.  I’m not as dumb as the guy behind you smirking at me with the two rectangular heads thinks I am.”

“No drugs.  Nothing.”

He sighed.  “Okay, it’s a deal.  I think I love her, man.  I need to go back there.”

“Let’s hope we survive long enough to let you.”  I didn’t trust him at all, but what could I do?  It was me and Feral O’Farrell now against the robot hordes.

Posted in Legion Ayers' ANDROIDS OVER NEW YORK | Leave a comment

“Exodus, Stage Left,” Part 2

Showdown On The Nile

  And the Lord said unto Moses, I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt…that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt…And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.

Negotiating the Negev

Instantly, I was on my way through space-time, back to Midian to pick up Moses’ trail.  I know what you’re thinking.  Midian was a big place, how was I supposed to track him down?  There were no Yellow Pages in those days, no search engines, just a wild land of sheepherders, sand-bandits and marauding palm trees.  Well, thank goodness for 26th century technology.  When I’d bade Moses farewell back in Canaan, I rubbed a little LocusOil on his hand.  The stuff permeates the skin and leaves an internal residue that transmits the location of the bearer on hyperflux wave lengths.  This was a big issue for married couples when it was developed in the 2400s.  If your spouse applied it to you, there was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide when it came to infidelity.  There was a lot more action in the laundry rooms of office buildings, but then your mate would inquire what you were doing in a laundry room for 30 minutes on a Friday afternoon.  The accuracy is that good.

So my finding Moses was no challenge.  But I had to appear 40 years older.  Actually, there’s not that much difference between 250 and 290 years old, given our advanced 26th century cell-renewal technologies.  We all look around 35 if we choose, and mostly we do.  But for Moses I had to look like his version of 75.  So I’d stopped off briefly in San Francisco to purchase a long, salt-and-pepper beard from a theatrical costume shop.  Donning my Assyrian garb once again, I set my coordinates within a one kilometer radius of Moses, so not to barge in on him, and WOOOSH! found myself on the outskirts of an oasis-like space enclosed in palm trees.  Moving closer, I came upon a group of large rocks accumulated into a circular shape, and saw within it a deep hole plunging into darkness below.  Here was Jethro’s legendary well, I assumed.  I could have used my LocusOil Tracker to take me directly to Moses, but instead I reclined in the shade, savoring the quiet atmosphere and waited for something to develop.  Toward sundown, two young women approached down another path, carrying clay jars

“A peaceful stranger greets you this day, good women,” I said.  They nodded to me politely, as one began lowering her jar on a rope into the well.  “I seek a man I hope is known to you, and an old friend of mine I hope he is acquainted with.”

“There are many who come to this well, sir,” spoke the older one.  “Whom do you seek?”

“The first is named Jethro, the father of many daughters, and the other man was known as Moses.”

The women gave no sign, but seemed more alert.  “We can see you have travelled far, good sir,” the younger one said, “for your attire is that of Assyria, is it not?”  I nodded seriously.  “Indeed, I am at the end of a longer journey than you can imagine.  Much depends on finding my old friend Moses.”  The woman seemed to glance quickly at her older friend, as if for approval of her next words.

“May we ask who it is that seeks these men?  Perhaps we can ask others about them.  Pray tell us your name, sir.”

“My name is Awshalim, and indeed, I come from Assyria.  But it has been 40 long years since I last saw Moses.”

“Awshalim!” the younger exclaimed, earning a sharp look from the older one.  “Pray forgive us,” the elder of the two interrupted, “but do you have any writing, sir, that can identify you to be who you claim?”

“Who are you, soldiers of the Great King to question me thus?” I bristled.  “I had heard Midianites were open and generous to strangers!”

The two women blanched but remained firm.  “Of course you must feel offended,” the older said, “but though we do open our hearts to needy strangers, we have certain customs and rules.  Sadly, not every man is innocent, and one who tells all things without care is foolish.”

“Justly spoken,” I said, with a frown.  These women must be close to Jethro.  I admired their caution.  I reached into my leather pouch and extracted the letter I had shown Suhad 40 years before by the Nile.

“This may answer your questions,” I said.  The woman took the letter and a smile slowly broke over her face.  “This is a blessed day, then, Awshalim, limmu.  We are honored!  I am Deborah, daughter of Jethro, and this is Miriam my sister.  Moses has spoken of you many times, and he still abides with us, married to our sister Zipporah.  Let us go to them now.”  The two women refused to let me help them with their water jugs, and I followed them back up their path.  It grew darker, and by the time we reached the tents of Jethro, the sounds of night had begun to encompass us.  The women quietly entered the main tent, and after some excited chatter within, the curtain was drawn aside and Moses himself emerged, bearded, white of hair, but still robust and if anything haler than when he had bid me farewell in Canaan.

“Awshalim!  Is it really you?  This is another sign, then!”

“Yes, it is me, prince,” I said.  But what do you mean, another sign?”  Moses grew serious.  “Three days ago, the God of Israel spoke to me from a burning bush and instructed me to return to Egypt to free my people!”

Impossible, I thought.  How had I nailed it like this, arriving back within three days of the legendary event?  But I’ve always been lucky that way, like the time I got to within 3 seconds of the Big Bang and was able to observe hydrogen ions and neutrons beginning to combine into atomic nuclei in the process of nuclear fusion.  Of course I could only stay for about 1-12 of a second, but just being there was a thrill.  Neutrons combining with protons to form deuterium, then deuterium fusing into helium-4.  Great stuff.  I guess after 150 years in this game, I have a sixth sense about timing, even if I get buried head-deep in desert sands now and then.

“Great news, Moses,” I said. “When are you leaving for Egypt?”

“Tomorrow morning.  Can you join me?  Yaweh promised to make a way where there is no way, I think that was how he put it.  Maybe that’s why He’s called Yaweh.”

“Such a journey with you seems to be my destiny.  Something told me to seek you out after all these years, and now I know why.”

“So I will not cross the great desert alone. You and I will make this journey after all – and after all these years.  But this time under better conditions.  My wife’s father Jethro will load our camels with water and provisions.  We will lie at night under that firmament the foundations of which God Himself laid.”

“Sounds like a plan, Moses.”

I was taken into the tent of Jethro then, introduced to his family and clan, and treated as an honored guest.  As for my attitude towards religion at that point, this might be a good time to explain: even though I’m a 26th century guy and an eye-witness to the Big Bang, I’m no atheist.  No one ever proved the existence of a Deity to me, but they never proved its non-existence either.  And there’s just something about how the positive sooner or later seems to defeat the negative.  Take the Grolnathians, for example.  The nations of the earth were on the edge of totally destroying the planet in a hellfire of Q-Bombs and advanced chemical weapons when along came these alien spacecraft into earth-orbit, neutralizing our firepower and instituting an era of permanent peace.  The Hindus said Lord Vishnu returns every 26,000 years or so to cleanse the world, and the Grolnathians sort of filled that bill.  So who knows?  Not me, not you.  But what better place to check out divine power than with Moses in Egypt?

Moses and I left Midian early the next morning.  In all, it took three weeks to cross the Negev.  What can I say.  It was hot.  We didn’t carry trail-mix.  There were no Coke machines.  The scorpions wouldn’t give you the time of day.  My camel’s name was not Sheila.  The harsh terrain, the endless expanse, the parched earth – this is what remains in my memory.  This was not San Francisco in the Summer of Love.  It wasn’t some joyous celebration like in 2251 when Leslie I, the first openly gay Pope, married his life-partner, Fabio, in the Holy See.  No, this was a grueling struggle against nature, and in a desolate place like this, I saw firsthand how the idea of a vengeful, implacable god could take root.

Was I worried about the Egyptians?  Of course.  The first encounter would be fraught with danger.  Ramses assumed Moses was long dead.  When he re-appeared, unbowed and demanding the liberation of the slaves, would the Great King really tolerate his delusions of grandeur in the almost playful way the Bible recounts?  After all, it was not just the taskmaster he killed.  With my help, he was now responsible for the bloody deaths of four of the pharaoh’s soldiers on the shores of the Nile.

Finally, on the evening of the 19th day, as we sat at our fires, we heard the sounds of desert chariots and the heavy panting of steeds.  It was a patrol of six soldiers.  They encircled us and two dismounted and stepped into the light of our fire, spears at the ready.

“Identify yourselves, strangers.  You are in the domain of The Great King Whose Name We Still Cannot Speak.”  Moses turned to me and smiled.  Then he rose to his full height and spoke in a loud voice.

“Fortunate servants of the Great King!  Though you are surely too young to remember me, nevertheless, this day you are witnesses to the return of Moses the King’s brother, from his long sojourn abroad.  I am now a prince of the Midians and have come to treat with Ramses.  Yes, ‘Ramses’ I call him, for we played together as boys and now we shall do so again as men.”  He opened his arms grandly to the soldiers.  “But I have always been a man of the people.  Come, join us by this fire.  When we have rested, you will take my companion and I to Goshen and the camps of the Israelites.  Meanwhile, send two of your men to announce me to the King.”

The leader of the squad stood speechless for a moment, then spoke in a low menacing voice.  “What a foolish act that would be, old man.  If you are not the man we have hunted these long years, my own life would not be worth that sad old wooden staff lying by your fire.”  Moses looked down at the staff thoughtfully, then reached down and picked it up.  “Sad?  Yet my staff can be quite useful at times.  Just as you will be to me.”  Then he tossed it gently to the soldier, but it seemed to move through the air in extreme slow motion, so that we could all watch its transformation into a desert viper.  The soldier had reflexively put his hand out to catch it, now he leapt back, and the snake fell to the sand, its head erect and ready to strike at his bare legs.  He inched backward out of range and stood there aghast.  Moses smiled and stepped over to the serpent, reached down and took it up.  It became his old staff again.  “You see, my friend, there is value in old and tattered things.  And danger too.  But your suspicion is right.  I am not the Moses they speak of.  I am a new Moses, one Ramses will have to deal with carefully.  Now, would you like to see more, or will you do as I courteously asked you?”

The soldier turned and ordered two others to return to the city.  “Tell the commander that a man claiming to be Moses…a magician perhaps, I cannot say…wishes to be received by the Great King.”  He turned back to us.  “That is the best I can do.  Please, no more tricks.”  Moses met his gaze and the two men glared at each other for a long moment.  Finally the man seemed to quail.  “And tell him I am escorting him to Goshen to be with his people.  For now.”  He looked toward me.  “And who is this other man?”

I started to speak but Moses cut me off.  “Just my servant.  He is of no consequence.”  That stung, until the fact I could not be Awshalim registered in my brain.  By now the Egyptians would have discovered that an Awshalim had never been sent by Assyria, that I had been an imposter.  Yet Moses had not known of my charade.  Or did he?  Another mystery.  But now the mood seemed to grow more relaxed, and the soldiers gathered around our fire.  We offered them dried fruit and water there under the stars.  “And how fares the Great King?” Moses inquired.

“He is still that, magician.  He conquers the nations, the world bows before his majesty and all fear him.  He is one with the gods.”

“And the Israelites?”

“A lazy and shiftless people, like children.  They should count themselves lucky we care for them as we do, teaching them the value of hard work.”

“At the end of a whip?”

“Or a sword, magician.”  Surely the man knew the crimes Moses was accused of and was testing his temper.  Conversation was pointless.  Moses gave no answer, only poked at the fire and said, at length, “Let us leave, whenever your men are ready.”

And so we made our way toward the fabled land of Goshen, where the Bible recounts 400 years earlier in the time of Joseph, Jewish shepherd people settled, driven there by a famine in Canaan.  Two hours after dawn the next day, we reached a point where desert sand gave way to greenery and we came to the easternmost tributary of the Nile Delta.  A road followed the river, and the soldiers took it and turned north.  Moses, against all odds, began to inquire among travelers along the road after his brother Aaron and mother, Jochebed.  The ragged men he approached were terrified by the soldiers and only shook their heads in silence.  But at last, one bold soul lifted his head and exclaimed to Moses’ astonishment, “Why Aaron, son of Jochebed?  He is our high priest in Pithom!  All men know his name.”

“My brother has done well – and still lives!”  Moses cried. Take me to his tents, I pray you.”  The Egyptian nodded grimly and spurred his chariot forward.  Around midday we passed through the ancient city known as On, where the large Jewish population had built Ramses a treasure city with great storehouses.  Here a few shepherds could be seen, their flocks looking weak and exhausted.  But mainly came troops of emaciated men and women under guard, carrying bundles of wood or stacks of brick toward construction sites.  We pressed on and late in the afternoon came to a hilly rise and from its crest looked down upon Pithom, another treasure city filled with storehouses and government buildings.  It was impossible to assess its population as we descended into the valley, but the dwellings spread nearly to the horizon.  Untold thousands lived there.  And though we entered the city unknown, many stared as we passed.  Granted, two strange travelers atop camels, escorted by soldiers was probably not a routine sight, but Moses had begun to radiate a strange magnetism, and many eyes turned toward him.  Especially in the eyes of old men, it was as if they saw the fulfillment of a legend that Moses, who had befriended and defended them, the Egyptian prince with Jewish blood who had been condemned and had mysteriously disappeared, would someday return.  A silent entourage slowly gathered behind us.  The captain of the soldiers led us toward the first real building we had seen, a solid if not an impressive one of reddish clay.  He turned his chariot back toward us, looked at Moses and informed him this was the home of the priest Aaron.  “Aaron will be responsible for your whereabouts,” he shouted.  “Believe me, magician, if we cannot find you, he and many others will pay a great price.  Wait for word from the Great King and pray to your god that your luck continues.”

At that moment, several Jewish men appeared from within the building.  “This fellow claims to be Moses – take care not to lose him, Aaron,” the captain shouted to the man who stood in front.

Aaron gazed up at Moses.  “I shall do as you instruct, soldier.  He shall make his abode here with me.”  And with that, the soldiers wheeled their chariots and rode off, scattering the crowd that had gathered.  Aaron strode over as Moses dismounted his camel.  “Take these animals and see after them,” he instructed his aides.  He placed his arms on Moses’ shoulders and stared searchingly at the white-bearded face.  Then a broad smile broke across his own weathered face and tears came to his eyes.  “Moses, my brother!” he exclaimed.  “You have come from a place beyond hope.  Welcome home!”

Moses seemed curiously impassive.  “Thank you, dear brother, but this ‘home’ is but a camp.  The time now approaches when we shall all return to our real home.”

Aaron shrugged.  “If God wills it, it will come to pass.”

“So, Aaron, you have done well.  You are a priest?”

“I am the high priest of all our people, Moses.”

“Praise be to God!

At this point, as Moses connected with his ethnic roots, the tone of the conversation, even  the sound of Moses’ voice seemed to change.  “And how fares our father?”  he inquired.

“Alas, father has left this world,” Aaron said, “after doing very well in papyrus futures.”

“Papyrus futures?”

“He read the Egyptians’ future in papyrus leaves.”

“Ah, as our forbear Joseph foretold the future to Pharaoh.”

“No, Father’s clients were small fry.  Overseers, construction foremen.  He put in 12 hours a day.  Eight years ago, he told a taskmaster his wife would soon file for divorce.  The guy hit him on the head with a rock and he died.”

“Terrible.  We must take our revenge.”

“Enough with revenge.  Just look at what’s happened to you.  My advice is, don’t make trouble.

“Normally, I wouldn’t argue,” said Moses.  “But the Lord has called me to a great task.  You and I must go to Ramses and demand that he let our people go.  The Lord will be with us.”

Aaron looked up at the sky and groaned.  “Moses, come in and rest.  You have been on a long journey.  Our mother awaits you.  She wonders why you never called.”

“What, I should yell at her from across the Negev?  I should throw a boulder?  Who am I, Samson?”

“Calm down, my brother.  Come inside, eat something.  As our mother told us when we were children, “Eat or you’ll die.”

“Mother told you.  I lived in a palace.  I had to eat mulukhiyya, a green soup made from finely chopped coriander leaves.  I couldn’t keep it down.  The kebab wasn’t bad though.”

“Whatever.  Who’s your friend?”

“Awshalim.  Lovely man.  My constant companion.  He saved my life 40 years ago.  He says he’s a big shot from Assyria, but frankly, I have my doubts.”

“Why do you doubt him?” Aaron asked.

“Forty years go by, then he shows up in just the right place at just the right time, still looking like a million deben.  Not a line in his face.  Anyone can see that’s a fake beard.”  He turned to me.  “Awshalim!  Give your camel a break and come meet my brother!”

Stunned, I dismounted.  And so we entered the house of Aaron, chief priest of the Jews.  Moses’ mother Jochebed, an old woman with fierce eyes, wailing with joy, embraced Moses passionately, then sat him down on cushions and asked after his health.

“I am fine, mother.  The Lord has been kind to me.”

“Look at you, Moses!  Eighty years old now!  So when are you going to find a nice Hebrew girl and settle down?”

“A wife was given to me by the Lord, mother, forty years ago in Midian.  Her name is Zipporah and she has borne me many children.”

Jochebed grew pale.  “You married a Midian?”

“Yes, but she studies our laws and follows our God.”

“We don’t have that many laws, Moses.  What does she do, just sit around?”

“She keeps my house and sees after my possessions in Midian as a good wife should.  As for the laws, I’m thinking of writing some more later this year.  A lot more.”

“He’s writing laws and never even went to law school!  That’s my Moses.  You were always such a creative boy.  And funny!  I used to watch him from behind the reeds when he was seven.  He used to pile up bricks into an unstable tower and call it a Wobblisk.  Then Ramses would knock it over and they’d fight, but Moses always wound up dunking his head in the river.”

She frowned suddenly.  “But why don’t you bring your wife to meet your mother?”

“We should go see her in Midian.  We Hebrews are such stick-in-the-muds.”

“You’re thinking Ramses will give us a few weeks off?”

“I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“And how do we get across the Red Sea?”

“I’ll think of something.”

Jochebed turned to Aaron and rolled her eyes.  “He’s tired and doesn’t know what he’s saying.  Come, Moses, I’ll give you a nice bowl of ibis soup.”

And so we all enjoyed a delicious meal, prepared by Aaron’s wife Elisheva and her daughters.  Moses made no further mention of his doubts about me, indeed, I was largely ignored.  I slept deeply that night, at the end of a long journey – and the beginning of an even greater adventure.

The Plague’s The Thing To Prick The Conscience Of The King

In the morning I rose to see the inhabitants of Pithom trudging off to their work in the brick pits or other brutally hard worksites.  Aaron told us many were bound for Pi-Ramses, twenty miles distant.  “How can they reach so distant a place,” I asked him.

“They get up early and jog.  We’re an active people.  But of course they go through a lot of sandals.  In my youth, I thought of getting into the business, but you need a big warehouse and who wants to sit all day fitting shoes?  ‘This one doesn’t feel right, it’s too tight, do you have a larger size?’  Listen, I wouldn’t be here at 83.  By now my heart would have attacked me.  So I’m a priest and glad of it, though I do have a small share in my cousin Caleb’s sandal emporium.”

The first day passed quietly, then another.  On the third day, in mid-morning, we heard the clatter of horses approaching and rushed outside to see Ramses’ bronze-clad soldiers glittering in the sunlight.

“Bring forth the man who calls himself Moses,” their leader, a burly, brown-skinned warrior shouted.  Emerging from Aaron’s house, we saw people had gathered to watch.  “Get back to your work, slackers,” the Egyptian barked.  “We know well how to deal with lazy Jews!”  They dispersed in seconds.  The soldier turned to us.  “Moses, or magician, or whoever you are!  Come with us now.  Bring your priest brother and the companion who travels with you.  The Great King Whose Name I Still Cannot Speak will see you at his pleasure.”  So accompanied by more soldiers, we began the journey to Pi-Rameses – on foot.  The sun beat down on us and little water was offered, but Moses and I had been hardened by our journey from Midian and before we set out Aaron had equipped us with extra sandals.  Our trek lasted all that day and half of another before I glimpsed the towers of Pi-Ramses shimmering in the distance.  At sundown, we reached the gates of the city and were led to a military encampment and a tent where we could rest until the next day.

In the morning, they brought us to the palace.  We retraced the same path I had taken with Suhad forty Egyptian years before, until we entered the great hall of the King, and I saw Ramses before me once more.  He looked much older, of course, but still fit and not someone to trifle with.  He had more military victories under his belt.  He ruled most of the world.  But suddenly Ramses rose from his throne and stepped down to stand face-to-face with Moses.  The courtiers gasped in surprise, but the Ramses let out a hearty laugh.

“Moses it is!  After all these years!  How I searched for you, you pathetic traitor.  And now you walk into my presence of your own volition!  I admire your courage – and remember your foolishness.”  Moses met his gaze, then gave the king a quick once-over.

“You’ve put on some weight, Ramses.”

“Silence!  How dare you!” the king shouted.  He drew up his chest.  “And you?  What’s with the ridiculous beard?  And you smell of sheep.  What are you now, a prince of the farmyard?”  He burst into laughter again and the gathered courtiers followed suit.  “Perhaps he uses the ewes,” someone in back called out, engendering another wave of laughter.  Moses said nothing.

“Silence!” the king cried once more.  “You are said to desire  to treat with me, Moses.  Treat with the King Whose Name Still Cannot Be Spoken?  Hah!  Where are your armies, Sheep Prince?  Or what treasures have you brought to fill my coffers?  It is clear you have gone completely mad in the desert.  But you shall suffer no more, for you have not much longer to live.  And your brother tires me as well.  You will both look well with your bodies stretched upon the forepaws of the Sphinx and crows dining on your entrails.”  A shiver of horror shot through me, but Moses seemed unimpressed.  I had fallen to my knees as befitted the servant role I was playing.  Luckily, Ramses appeared not to have recognized me.

“Great King,” Moses now proclaimed in a loud voice.  “The Lord of Hosts hereby instructs you to release my people.  If He is without power, surely I will die at your hands.  But the Lord our God rules both Heaven and Earth, and soon you will see proof.  Aaron!  Hand me my staff!”

Well, you know the story.  Moses’s staff turned into a snake again, then Ramses’ magicians threw down theirs, but Moses’ viper swallowed up the other two.  You should have seen that viper – talk about an overweight snake!  Aaron could barely pick it up, but right away it transformed back into a staff anyone could handle.  Now it was Ramses turn to be unimpressed.

“This God of yours beat my magicians, but so did a traveling trickster that blew in from the southern desert last month.  My priests couldn’t guess which of his three little pyramids didn’t have a scorpion under it.  When they picked a pyramid, they had to stick their finger under it.  It cost two of them their lives.  And this one will cost you yours, old fool.”  He signaled to his guards to have us taken away.

“Stay your hand and your judgment, Great King,” Moses intoned.  “Please understand, I only wish to protect you from the wrath of the Lord.  Come, brother, let us walk together to your portico along the Nile.  There I will show you the true power of our God.”

Ramses hard stared at Moses, then shrugged.  “You amuse me, Moses.  I haven’t been so entertained since last year, when we sank the Hittite flagship and watched them all drown trying to swim for shore.  It was a laugh riot.  So yes!  Let us go down to the Nile and see what further comedy this sad old man will produce for us!”

So we all followed the Great King through the palace to where it opened onto a great plaza along which the waters of the great river flowed.  I knew I was approaching the core of the central myth of Judeo-Christian religion, the moment when the incalculable power of Yaweh would be made manifest to the world.  Even with all my experience in time-travel, I was nearly trembling in awe.  The Prophet Moses was about to turn the Nile to blood with his staff.

But events did not occur as reported in Scripture.  Yes, Moses bade Aaron place his rod into the Nile.  Yes, the gathered courtiers gasped as a crimson color spread out from it, quickly growing wider and wider until it became a tide racing across the great river.  But something urged me to step forward and dip my hand into the stream.  As I bent down and cupped a little of the Nile into my hand, it neither looked like blood, nor was there any smell of a human fluid.  In fact, it was almost transparent.  I lifted it to my lips and tasted it, and sweet it was.  I tried to recall when I had tasted such a thing, and finally it came to me.  I had time-traveled to the fifth decade of the 20th century, where the first Afro-American baseball player, Jackie Robinson, had needed moral support to keep him from charging into a shouting, racist crowd in Cincinnati, Ohio and, in the vernacular of the day, “kicking some cracker ass.”  On assignment, I had stayed in a room in a local house and while taking dinner with the family, had enjoyed this same drink.  Kool-Aid!  Moses had turned the Nile into Cherry-flavored Kool-Aid!  I began to see ice cubes popping to the surface of the river.  What kind of deity would do this?  Had I entered some nonsensical psychic realm where my subconscious, my imagination, was interfering with “reality?”  Or had the Biblical scribes changed a sugary drink to blood centuries after the fact?  Who could say?  In the moment, I could only cup some of the liquid in my hand and bring it to Moses to taste.

“This is not blood, Prince.  It is a kind of sugar drink.”

He sampled it from my hands and groaned.  “Lord,” he cried to the heavens, “this is no time for trickery!  My people suffer.  You sent me to free them.”  But from heaven there came no answer.  By now, Ramses priests had discovered the truth and they and Ramses had filled their goblets and were drinking the beverage merrily.  The Pharaoh was ecstatic.  “We thank you, Moses, your magic is truly the best in Egypt!  But I will not let your people go.”

Moses grimaced and shouted at his mockers, “Nevertheless, I will trust in the Lord!  God will now bring locusts onto thy land, and they shall cover the face of the earth, so that one cannot see the earth.”  But when Aaron waved the staff in the air, no ravenous insects appeared.  Instead, the color of the sky seemed to change.  All at the court stared upward.  The colors became mottled and more various, a blanket of bright hues, a rainbow of tiny colored spots descending from above.  Lower and lower they fell, until, just before they hit the ground all about us, we could see: they were flowers!  A kaleidoscope of blossoms everywhere.  The air filled with their sweet fragrance.

Moses looked at Aaron, appalled.  “Why does the Lord mock me?” he mumbled in confusion.  I bent down and picked up a light-pink blossom and examined it.

“I think I understand the problem.  Do you know what this is, Moses?”

“It is a flower of some kind, of course.”

“What kind exactly?”  I handed it to Moses.  He looked at it and grew pale.  “Lord of my fathers,” he cried out.  “Crocuses?  I said locust, not crocus!  A plague of crocuses?  That’s ridiculous!”   In fact, it was an amazing synchronicity.  The Egyptian word for crocus is

Untitledwhile the word for locust is Untitled1Their sounds are as close as as can be, so it’s quite possible the Lord misunderstood.  In any case, Ramses and his priests had begun cavorting though the rainfall of bright blossoms as the Nile itself became a florescent river of light.  All Egypt, I thought, must be a riot of color.  Ramses threw out his chest and adopted his regal-announcement voice:

“Hear ye all my people!  Henceforth, today shall be called the Festival of the Crocuses.  Let all people rest and revel in the gracious bounty of Amun-Ra!”  He turned to Moses.  “What other wonders can you perform for us this day, magician brother?  For indeed, I am loath to kill you now.  A court jester worthy of Ramses II you are indeed.”

Moses stared at the flower-strewn ground.  Finally, he spoke. “I am speechless, Ramses.  Perhaps tomorrow…”

“Of course, magician,” Ramses chuckled gaily.  “Now take my jester and his party to one of my pleasure rooms.  Let them eat and drink and plan their next feat.  Perhaps tomorrow his god will cause gold to fall from the sky!”  The Egyptians laughed and their cheers rang out until Ramses held up his hand.  “Verily, it is Amun-Ra himself who this day has made his powers known, not any false god of Moses’ imagination!  The gods of Egypt are supreme upon the Earth.  Surely, in their heavenly abode, they roll in mirth at the impudence of this old snake charmer from the desert.  So let us see tomorrow if Moses can save his life for another day by entertaining us once more.  But no, I will not let his people go!  Now bring on my dancing girls!”

We were taken to a quiet corner of the palace, a luxurious place with cool baths and gold-braided cushions on which we could recline. Drinks and food were brought to us by servant girls.  But the mood was one of despair.

“What did I tell you, Moses?”  Aaron said, picking at a piece of fruit.  “Don’t make trouble, I said.  The Egyptians are a great people.  They rule the world.  We Jews are meant only to humbly serve our God.  Perhaps only in death will we find freedom.”

Moses paced the room in turmoil.  “Go to Egypt, go to Egypt,” the voice told me.  ‘Tell Pharaoh to let Israel go.’  Where did I go wrong?  Maybe we used the wrong end of the staff?  Maybe you’re supposed to put the staff in the water first and then threaten Ramses…”

“Moses,” I asked, “What are you planning for tomorrow?”

“I don’t know, Awshalim.  I was thinking maybe a plague of frogs, then some lice and fleas if that doesn’t work.”

“Forget it.  Even if you can pull it off this time, it won’t work.  Ramses is conscienceless.  He’s like a four year-old.  He’ll agree to let Israel go to get you off his back, then back out on the deal.  He’ll do it over and over.”

“How do you know this, limmu?

I took a sip of fig juice.  “I just know.  I can’t explain it.”

“Then what shall I do, give up?”

We had to roll the dice.  Put all our chips on 23 red. Take the Cubbies to win the Series in four games.  “There’s only one thing that might work.  Tell him if he doesn’t release the Israelites, Yaweh is going to kill every firstborn male of Egypt.”

Moses let out a low whistle.  “I like it,” he muttered.  Aaron threw up his hands in despair.  “Awshalim, you’re a bigger nut than my brother.  Just saying that will cause Ramses to kill our whole family – your mother too, Moses!  Have you no sanity left?”

“Why should we go on living as slaves, Aaron?  If Yaweh to whom we pray cannot help us, let us all perish.  I cannot abandon this path I am on.”  He strode over to Aaron and put a hand on his shoulder.  “Let us die as men, if we must, brother.  Remember Abraham and how God tested him!  Is this not the same?  Now our next step is revealed from the lips of Awshalim.  There is no turning backwards.”  Moses’ spirit was magnetic, it filled the room.  Aaron bowed his head in submission.  We raised our fig juice cups and swore to take the final step on the morrow.

And so it came to pass that the next day, around noon, we were again ushered into the presence of the Pharaoh of Egypt.  The great hall in which his throne stood was crowded with the elite, priests, overseers, military officers, the highest echelons of society, all buzzing over yesterday’s events and what might transpire today.  Ramses himself sat looking morose, as if he envied Moses the spotlight.  A priest had apparently been warming up the crowd – as we entered he was finishing up with, “…So Moses says, look pal, it’s Yaweh or the highway!  And then a big clump of Happy Weed falls onto the guy’s head.  Get it?  Yaweh or the high way…!””  A few boos rang out, but they turned to cheers when people saw the man of the hour approaching.

“Oh Great King Whose Name Is Sometimes Spoken!”  Moses cried out as he approached.  “Today is indeed your day of reckoning, for the Lord our God indeed will smite you and all Egypt a great blow if you do not submit to his will.”

Ramses brightened.  “I love it when you threaten me, Moses.  Tell us – what do you have planned for today?”

“Great King, the Lord of Hosts has spoken to me in the night.  You must release my people or all the firstborn males of Egypt will die, whether man or child!”  A shocked gasp shot through the assembly.  Moses was nothing if not charismatic.

“And when is your deadline, jester?  Do I have time to consider your offer?”

“No more time is permitted, oh Pharaoh.  I shall count to five and, lest you submit to the Lord, the sentence will be executed.”  And Moses began: “One…two…”

“What do you say, my people?”  Ramses cried.

“Rabbits will fall from the sky!” shouted out a high priest.

“The Great Pyramid will turn to gold!” cried another.

“The Great King will take to the air and fly like a bird!”

“Three…” said Moses.  Aaron had fallen to his knees and was bobbing his head in prayer.  I heard a knocking sound and looked down.  It was my knees again.

“The desert will turn into a verdant garden!” cried one man.  “My mother-in-law will move to Thebes!” yelled someone in back.

“Four…”  A hush fell over the throng.  Ramses put his fingers to his chin and raised his eyebrows.  Aaron looked up at the ceiling in supplication.

“Five!”

Suddenly, groans of pain sprang out through the hall.  Everywhere, there were loud thumps of bodies striking the ground.  Cries of terror rang out, the names of the fallen were shouted out in alarm.

“Seth!  What’s wrong?  Are you all right?”

“Father,  father!  Open your eyes, speak to me!”

“Osiris, my son!  Breathe!  Please breathe!”

“My brother is dying!  Someone help us!”

And so on, a chaos of screams, wails, pleas for help.  Many fled the hall in terror.  Moses stood there impassive, glowing in victory, his eyes and those of Ramses locked in psychic combat.  But Ramses face trembled ever so slightly.  He had gone a bridge too far with this specter from his past and now he was in uncharted territory.  Now warriors came running into the hall, shouting that dead men were falling in the streets of the city, for what reason no one knew.  At this, Ramses finally hung his head in defeat and perhaps in fear for his own male offspring.

“Call for me when you are ready to treat, Ramses,” Moses announced in a loud voice, over the cacophony of terror-stricken citizens.  “Fail to summon me and fear for your own life next,” he added for good measure.  He gestured to us, then turned fearlessly away toward our private quarters.  We followed, pushing our way through the crowd and stepping over lifeless bodies.  But how much more real, I wondered, was this scene of horror than the crocuses and the Kool-Aid?  In my many travels through time I had never felt such a sense of walking through a dreamscape as here in the palace of Ramses II.

Back in our quarters, Aaron began to moan.  “What have you done, Moses?  My God!  Ramses revenge will be merciless.”

“Your words are not those of a warrior,” Moses snapped impatiently.  Our task now is to organize a great exodus of our people.”  He turned to me.  “Awshalim, I am indeed blessed that you joined me in Midian.  Your instincts are sure.  Nothing can stop us now.”

“Except perhaps the Red Sea,” I mumbled.

“Except what?”

“I said I hope no one arrests me,” I improvised.

“Be serious, Awshalim.  We are untouchable henceforth.  Ramses fears for his life.  I saw it in his eyes.  He will soon sue for peace.”

“I hope so but, my God, Moses, the slaughter of all these innocents, all the little children and infants and…”  Outside our shuttered windows, the mournful wails of Egyptians echoed down the streets.  Women cried out for their husbands, their sons, their fathers, their men.  The city was in chaos.  But Moses simply looked like the general and warrior he was.  “Steel your heart, Awshalim.  Ramses and his armies have slain thousands in many lands.”

“You don’t think this will come back to haunt us, do you?”  A certain mid-20th century human extinction had crossed my mind.  Perhaps I was implicated in that now as well.

“This was the judgment of Yaweh, limmu, fear not nor be dismayed.”

And as if in answer, footsteps approached, the curtains to our chamber parted and Ramses strode in, a dark cloud of fury barely under control.  He spoke in a low, rasping voice.  “Take your heathen trash, Moses, and leave Egypt.  I will admit to your face the power of your God, but speak of this to others and, even if I must pay with my life, I will have revenge on you, you worthless traitor.  Our mother raised you out of her merciful heart and this is how you repay us?  You and your Jews are indeed the scum of the earth and wherever you wander you will be detested and reviled by men.  This is my curse on you and may it endure down the ages.”  Ramses spat on the ground before us and turned on his heel and was gone.

Aaron fell to his knees and clutched at his brother Moses’ robe.  “Oh, my brother, can I believe the words I have just heard?  Did he say we are free to go?  Have you really done this thing? Henceforth, Moses, I will be your servant in all the lands in which we dwell.  Indeed the Lord is with you, praise unto His name each day unto the ending of the world!”

Moses smiled grimly down at his brother.  “Get up, Aaron, do not kneel before me.”  He gazed at the still-moving curtains.  “But the audacity of Ramses!  He wants me to be grateful for my gentle upbringing while he kills and enslaves my people and treats them like dirt.”  He stood listening to the cacophony of mourning outside.  “Let us be on our way back to Goshen, my companions.  We must leave now, under cover of dark, before revenge takes root in their hearts.  Time is our enemy.  We have much to do!”

Instinctively, we knew he was right, and we seized our few belongings and went looking for the nearest egress.  We sought the darkest corners and narrowest hallways, hoping not to be seen.  A few recognized us, but their reaction was one of terror and they flew from our presence.  Finally, a way out appeared.  In the streets now, we were unknown.  All was bedlam.  Moses sought horses and found two unguarded, as if they had been meant for us.  I rode behind Aaron, Moses led the way, and sooner than we could have hoped, the city was behind us and we were bound for Pithom.

Flip-Flop Pharaoh

Lilac was hovering over me, her breasts grazing my chest, her lips inches from mine.  Why we can’t make love and not war?  she whispered.  Let’s make love, not war.  I snapped awake and looked around me.  Dawn was breaking, it was already heating up, and I heard Moses’ voice outside.

“Have any runners returned from On?”

“All is bedlam there, but the priests are urging our people to meet us at Succoth as you instructed.  A few gather their possessions, but most hang back, and many are slain by the Egyptians.”

“Has not Ramses sent instructions that we are to be freed?”

“No, nothing yet.  We have only the words of you and Aaron, and the sight of hundreds of dead men in the streets of Pithom.  What horror will befall us next?”

I arose and hurried outside just as Aaron himself rode up on a steed we had stolen the night before.  “The men I gathered are spreading the word though the city.  But it is useless.  We need emissaries from Ramses to announce our liberation.  We were foolish to leave so quickly last night.”

“I fear you are right, Aaron.  I am to blame.  But there was such chaos.  Who knows what Ramses does now or what he is thinking?  Should we return to the gates of his city and seek to treat further with him?”

But Aaron had turned away and was gazing up at the hills bordering the city.  “I don’t think that will be necessary, brother.  Behold a fearsome sight.  The chariots of the King approach.”  I followed Aaron’s gaze and indeed, amid great clouds of dust a multitude of cavalry was hastening down toward the city.  Transfixed, we could only watch and wait for their arrival.  Now, like a breaking thunderstorm, the rumble of their horses could be heard.  Too soon they were upon us, lashing out at anyone in their way, a mounted unit of a hundred men encircling the square adjoining Aaron’s home, and now from their midst emerged a priceless, gold-encrusted chariot bearing Great King Ramses II, Pharaoh of Egypt.  The bitter grief in his eyes made him even more fearsome than he had been.

“Moses, Moses.  Here you are before me again.  You have wounded me but not killed me.  It is best your God slays me now, and instantly, for I am come to lay you low and your brother and your mother and all your kin.  Death take me now!  For I swear I will never let your people go.  They are mine.  My army comes behind me.  Can your God kill them all?”

Moses stood resolute as a great tree before Pharaoh.  “Raise your hand against us, King, move it but to your sword, and not only you but all Egypt will be utterly destroyed.  Here we stand at the ending of the world.  Choose well, Ramses.”

They stood there, eyes locked together again, and then, just as Ramses’ fingers inched toward his weapon, I saw a shadow move across my eyes, and suddenly in our midst stood an old woman clad in black.  Her hair was completely white, but she did not stoop.  She stood erect between Pharaoh and Moses.  Both men were taken aback, but before either could speak, she raised her voice to them.

“How tired I am of you, Ramses and Moses.  Cannot you find any peace between you?”  That voice.  I knew it.  It had changed, but it was familiar.

“Stand away, old woman,” Moses cried.  “He will kill you like an fly on a table.”

The woman smiled.  “Not if I can raise up his son again, and those of his people.”  Moses, rather than scoffing at her audacity, fell strangely silent.

Then, aloud, I exclaimed, “Suhad!”  The woman looked at me.  There was both mischief and affection in her old eyes.  But Ramses seemed to fall back in fear.  “You cannot be the woman called Suhad.  She was slain in the days of…in the days…” he turned toward the man who had once been his princely brother, “the days of Moses.”

“Impossible, possible, what do you care, Great King, if you can have the lives of your people back?  You have seen the power of Moses’ God.  I can intercede for you now.  But you must let the Israelites go.  You must proclaim their freedom throughout the land.”  Ramses’ horse shuffled and whinnied complainingly.  Pharaoh seemed petulant, like a sullen boy defying his mother.  “But how can I build the monuments to my greatness without Jews?”

“You could put all those first-born males to work,” Suhad offered.  “There are hundreds of thousands of them.  A lot of them just sat around playing with their harems.  A little hard work wouldn’t kill them.  You could call it a national works program.  Call it the First-Born Brigade.  Hold brick-making contests.  Toughen them up.  It will make Egypt that much stronger.”

“That sounds good to me,” I commented.

“Awshalim, stay out of this!” Moses snapped.  We don’t even know who this creature is.”

“You remember Suhad, Moses.  Believe me, there’s more to this lady than meets the eye.”

“A national works program,”  Ramses muttered.  “Do I have to pay them?”

“No, no.  It’s like an army, but they don’t kill people.  They just work for their country, maybe for two years, then they’re through and the second-born can chip in.  You’ll want to offer them better hours though, and reasonable break times.  Work out the details with your priests.”

“I don’t know…”  Ramses sighed and fingered his spear.

“Think of your own first-born, Ramses. He will live again!”

“You mean Amun-her-khepeshef?  He was 57 and never did anything except smoke papyrus shoots and run around with my dancing girls.  I’ve got 43 other sons.  Amun-her-khepeshef I can do without.”

“But Ramses, you’ve lost thousands of sons – you are the father of this land!  Try to be positive.”

“Do you think I could really get the first-borns to do the work of the Jews?”

“Hey – they’d be happy just to be breathing.  They’re dead now!”

“Enough of this mindless babble,” Moses burst out.  “The Lord Of Hosts is God and there is no other!  We need not the intercession of some ghostly apparition from the past.  Disperse your soldiers, Ramses and proclaim our freedom throughout your lands or the Lord will smite you and your hosts!”

“Silence, Moses,” Suhad shouted.  “Have you forgotten the Kool-Aid and the crocuses?  Your relationship to Yahweh is not that stable, I think.”  She fixed her gaze on him and I feared we’d wind up with Moses the Mummy if he didn’t show some flexibility.  “Do you really want to roll the dice again?  I’m offering you both a compromise.”

“What is dice?”

“Never mind!  Decide!”

“OK, I’ll do it!”  Ramses exclaimed, with a calculating look in his eye.  He turned in his chariot and addressed his troops.  “Go ye into all the lands of Goshen and proclaim that Great King Ramses has released the people of Israel from their bondage.  They are free to go where they will!”

As he finished speaking, we felt the ground shudder, and moments later shouting began in the nearby streets and byways.

“My son has awakened!”

“Wife! What happened to me?”

“My mother, I dreamed I had died!”

“Oh, my father lives, he lives again!”

Ramses was delighted.  He beamed at his men, a king who had brought life back to his people.  His legacy was secure.  But Moses looked sullen.  “Do not betray your word, Ramses,” he shouted, as Pharaoh turned his chariot back towards his palace.  He spun around again.

“And you, Suhad, or whoever you are…”

But of course she was nowhere to be seen.   Suhad’s master stroke stunned us all.  Who was she?  She had killed with her eyes, read my mind, and now forty years on her powers had grown exponentially.  Was she a kind of parallel, feminine Moses whose existence had been suppressed by the male priests who created the Talmud over the next 1,000 years?  But Moses, into whose cosmology she did not fit, simply ignored this momentous anomaly – he did not speak of it again.

Red Sea Blues

And the children of Israel did according to the word of Moses, and they borrowed from the Egyptians jewels of silver and jewels of gold and raiment.  And the Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they lent unto them such things as they required. And they despoiled the Egyptians.  And the children of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand on foot who were men, besides children.   And a mixed multitude went up also with them, and flocks and herds, even very much cattle.

The days passed quickly now, and Ramses held true to his word.  The many tribes and divisions of the Hebrew people began to organize for the journey.  Pi-Ramses, right under the nose of the Pharaoh, was the main gathering place of the tribes of Israel.  In my pre-travel research, I’d wondered how the Lord could soften the hearts of the Egyptians after He’d killed their first-born.  Now that they had been reawakened, it all made more sense. I didn’t see that much despoiling, but some of the Hebrew women looked pretty well turned-out for slaves, sporting gold necklaces and fancy rings.  I tried to imagine the conversation.

Rachel: “Mrs. Kafele, I always admired that bracelet when you used to watch me mopping your floors.  Could I possibly borrow it for a few years?”

Mrs. Kafele: “Take it, for Amon-Ra’s sake!  Wear it in good health!”

So now I returned to Pi-Ramses to witness a monumental influx of humanity.  The bare fields outside the city were covered with people, but more came day by day.  On carts and donkeys they carried their belongings.  They drove goats and sheep before them.  Surely, the world had never seen anything like it.  “How many will gather here altogether?”  I asked Aaron.

“Quite a few,” he said.

“And quite a few would be…”

“We think 600,000 men.”

“Oh.  Men, you say?”

“Yes.”

“Isn’t that three times larger than Pharaoh’s army?”

“Yes, but the Egyptians have many weapons and chariots.”

“I guess you’re right.  So then, counting women and children, we would be…”

“About three million people.”

“Isn’t that the same as the population of Egypt?” I blurted.

“Maybe so, I don’t know.”

I tried to imagine sixty Yankee Stadiums’ full of Jews lugging overflowing carts, plus goats and sheep. Even if they marched 100 abreast, three yards between rows, the Exodus would extend for about 50 miles across the desert.  But people straggle.  Especially in a desert.  Deserts are straggle-intensive.  So, when the first Hebrews reached the Red Sea, the rear guard could be 100 miles behind.  From a military point of view, a long flank. Egyptian chariot sorties could wreak a lot of havoc.

At three miles per hour, it should take 120 hours, or about 5 days (walking continuously, day and night, as the Bible reports) to traverse the 250 miles or so to the sea.  Three million men, women, children, hiking non-stop for 5 days and nights across first a blistering, then a freezing desert.  But then, a whirling cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night was going to spur everybody on.  I visualized the scene at the Gulf of Aqaba, where many felt the crossing had taken place.[1]  There is an enormous, uncannily-suitable oval-shaped beach at Nuweiba, still visible 4,000 years later.  The sea there is about 10 miles across.

Image

Nuweiba protrudes like a great sandy blister from the western shore.  We do not know its name in ancient days, but later generations called it Nuwayba’ al Muzayyinah.  The name translates, amazingly, as “Waters of Moses Opening.”  Its area in the 21st century was a full 8 square miles, or 27 million square feet.  That would give our three million emigrants about a square yard each to stand in, with their worldly possessions shoe-horned in.  In other words, a titanic Yankee Stadium, but without seats.  Three million Jews standing calmly as Ramses’ legions approached down the wadi.  But even with Ramses held back by a big pillar of fire, it would take a while for three million people to walk ten miles across the bottom of the sea. Three miles an hour…two hundred abreast this time…the line stretches out again…10 miles is still a 24-hour process.  And would the floor of the sea, which had just been covered with a kilometer of seawater, be a bit muddy? Should we have brought papyrus boots?  Did such things exist?

It was ten days after the resurrection of the first-born.  I was trying to decide if I should actually do the march. The Children of Israel (Moses’ mother came up with the name) were ready to head for the next station of the march, Succoth, a small city and major military post fifty miles to the east.  Finally, I decided to tag along.  In places the land sloped upward, and behind us an enormous river of humanity extended as far as the eye could see.  Moses set off at dawn and after plodding through the full heat of day into evening, we arrived at Succoth under a midnight moon.  Eighteen hours.  It would be another two days before the entire three million arrived at Succoth.  The Egyptians warriors there had received their orders and restrained themselves, alternately scowling and mocking their escaping slaves.  But many regarded us with awe.  Perhaps they were the first-born, newly returned from the dead.  Or maybe it was the arrival of 600,000 male slaves who might have a bone to pick with them.  I didn’t ask.  But the three million had no sooner arrived than Moses and Aaron set out again, this time into the great desert of the Sinai Peninsula.

I was beat.  I didn’t know if I could make it.  That was when Aaron came up with our two horses and told me to take one.  He gazed at the more impressive steed.  “This is for Moses.  I have named it Koach, meaning power or strength, for it will have need of strength in the days ahead.  But this one, limmu, is for you, our honored guest.”

“Have you given a name to mine?”

“No, Awshalim, that is your decision.  Choose well.”

I decided to let the animal remain nameless.  It would be better that way.  I mounted it and we set out across the last frontiers of Egypt and into the Great Desert.  Time seemed to stand still for me as the horse trudged forward through the sand.  I felt more and more disoriented in the heat.  On the first part of the journey, there were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rings.  The first thing I met was a fly with a buzz, and the sky above with no clouds.  The heat was hot and the ground was dry, but the air was full of sound.  You see, I’ve been through the desert on a horse with no name, it felt good to be out of the rain.  In the desert you can’t remember your name, ’cause…oh, never mind.  Did we turn to the south?  Did we cross at the northern tip of the Gulf of Suez and proceed to the east or continue south along the coast?  Was there really a pillar of fire to lead us, or was I hallucinating?  Where was Pi-hahiroth,?  Where was Marah?  When did we enter the Wilderness of Etham?  My memory is a blur.  Even into the 26th century, scholars dispute the true path of the Israelites, but I cannot provide the details they hunger for.  It was for me a twilight zone of terrible heat and biting cold, without rest-stops, a grueling death march.  Among the three million, did thousands of the old and weak fall by the way, leaving their scorched bones in the sands?  I cannot say.  After nine days, I let the horse run free ’cause the desert had turned to sea.  There were plants and birds and rocks and things, there was sand and hills and rings.  Wait, I already said that.  Actually, I think it was on the second day that the horse threw me and headed back for Succoth.  He wasn’t as dumb as I looked.  So mostly I was on foot, scuffling along on my papyrus sandals.  At last, we ascended into higher ground, into a terrain of parched, forbidding mountains.  We looked up and though we had not been attacked by Egyptian forces, we could see flashes of mirrored sunlight from sentries high on the peaks.  Ramses was surely being informed of our location.  Several more days passed.  Now our exhausted ranks were enclosed on every side by impassable mountains.

“Why does Moses head deeper into this wilderness,” I asked Aaron.

“It is to deceive the spies of Ramses.  To make him think we are lost.  But Moses knows this land.  We are in good hands.”

“Why would Ramses attack despite the power of God?”

“He must remember the farce on the Nile when flowers fell from the sky.  He hopes the Lord will betray Moses again.”

“Why does he not attack us here, stretched out helplessly over a hundred miles?”

“Perhaps he wants us assembled in one place so he can destroy us utterly.”

And as he said these words, a voice cried out, “The sea, we are against the sea!”  There in the distance, as we emerged from a bend in the wadi, lay a line of azure blue sea and in the haze beyond it, the mountains of Arabia.

“What does this mean, Aaron?  We will be trapped here.”

Aaron was unfazed. “I no longer question my brother, Awshalim.  Each day he speaks to the Lord and Yaweh counsels him and directs his steps.  There must be a reason for our coming to this place.”  Of course, I knew more than Aaron, but I said nothing and watched the reactions around me.  “Will ships come to carry us away?” the people wondered aloud.  “Is there a path along the shore?”  New fears were spreading among them.

So here we came out of the wadi, three million skeptical Jews crowding onto the beach.  This was not Miami.  There were no restaurants, no pools, no night clubs – and no water.  At first, everyone was so tired they were just happy to sit down, packed together on the sand.   Millennia later this traumatic moment, coded into Jewish DNA, would make Sundays at Coney Island tolerable.  But the undrinkable waters of the Gulf seemed to mock them.  For most, their water supplies were depleted.

Meanwhile, Ramses was no slouch.  Monitoring the immense expedition through the hawk-eyes of his sentries, keeping his 2,000 chariots well out of sight, he saw his opportunity.  What a fool Moses was!  There was no need to slaughter the Israelites by hand. They would destroy themselves.  It was only necessary to start a panic at the tail end of the procession as it neared Nuweiba.  The Jews would crush each other in the hundreds of thousands, in the canyon, on the beach, and drowning themselves in the waters of the Gulf.

But his plans were foiled, as we learned from the team of 160 relay-runners that Aaron created, who regularly sprinted 10 kilometers each, up and down the Exodus line, to maintain communications.  A breathless runner ran up to report that just as the hindmost Jews had glimpsed the charging chariots and begun to panic and run, a monumental, wagon-like structure mysteriously appeared behind them, filled to overflowing with the finest cushions, cushions of silk and rich linen.  Then the wagon just as mysteriously caught fire with flames shooting up to a great height.  Faced with this inexplicable conflagration, Ramses’ charioteers quailed and fell back.  The wagon continued to burn long after it should have been consumed.  Hearing of this, I realized another Biblical inaccuracy had reared its ugly head.  It was not a pillar of fire that had held Ramses back.  These were pillows of fire.  Well, it had gone from the ancient Hebrew to Greek, then Latin, finally Old English.  It was an understandable error.  And the symbolism of pillows was apparent: they were the Israelites themselves, upon which the Egyptians had reclined for centuries.  Now these flaming Hebrew cushions were unapproachable and full of danger.  It was quite poetic.  But this Pharaoh lacked a Joseph who could interpret the full import of the omen.  Luckily, you have me.  If you have other questions, speak up.

But ever since Yaweh had spoken to him and directed him to this place, Moses had suspected the cosmic feat the Lord wished to accomplish.  Across the sea lay Midian and safety.  Now indeed the Lord directed him to stand on the shore and in a loud voice call on Him to part the waters.  I knew this because he suddenly walked to the shore and in a loud voice called on God to part the waters.

“Now look ye and behold the power of The Lord!”

I mean, he wouldn’t just do that on his own.  No, it had to be Yaweh calling the shots again.  But meanwhile, the messenger who had brought news of Ramses’ approach had opened his mouth to others in the throng, so that fear, ripe and malodorous, was beginning to spread through the multitude.  “Ramses’ chariots are coming!”  “The enemy is upon us!”  “We shall all be slain!”  Like wildfire, it spread across the beach.  It was, in 20th century American football vernacular, crunch time.  Yahweh needed to part the waters right now.  Crocuses and Kool-Aid would be of no help.  We needed dark clouds, roiling seas, towering walls of water on either side of a great path through the Gulf.

But nothing.  Moses shouted again, “Look ye and behold the power of The Lord!”

Aaron stepped up and tried putting Moses’s staff into the shallows, but aside from a few bubbles, nothing.  Then (as somewhere deep inside I’d suspected she would) Suhad showed up.  But this was not the old crone.  It was the young Suhad, ravishingly beautiful and vital as the first day we met.  She smiled at me and reached out a hand tenderly, as if to touch my face.  Moses was still staring out at the sea.

“Moses,” she cried, look not upon the waters, but upon me!”

The prophet turned and saw her.  It took a moment for her identity to register, then his eyes narrowed in disbelief.  And fear.

“Why do you fear me, Moses?” Suhad asked.  “Do you not seek divine intervention?  Do you not delve into other worlds?  Did I not assist you in Pi-Ramses? Now again, your salvation stands before you.  Fear me not.”

“I only deal with Yaweh,” he growled. “Not an unexplained apparition from the past.”

“Yaweh often sleeps.  He is not perfect in his powers, as you would like.  Come, let us see what can be done.”

“He told me he would part the seas before my feet.”

“He’s thinking twice about that.  Do you know what sedimentary mud is?  Believe me, it would be a train wreck.”

“What’s a train?”

“Never mind.  There’s got to be a better way.”  Suhad closed her eyes.  “You have about a million Jews on the beach right now, with another two million on the way.  Let’s get the first group moving, then deal with the rest.”  Her voice grew austere and irresistible.

“Aaron!  Have your tribal chiefs cordon off the flow of people from the wadi.  Tell everyone we’ll be right back.”

“We’ll be right back?”

“Yes.  Go now!  Timing is critical!”  Aaron sprinted off obediently.  Moses looked morose.  As she waited for her orders to be executed, Suhad closed her eyes and fell into a meditation.  Perhaps 30 minutes passed.  I myself felt plunged into a kind of paralysis, and so, it seemed, had everyone around me.  Suddenly,  the ground beneath our feet shook and shifted so that we nearly fell.  As the rocking continued, faint cries arose from where the wadi opened onto the beach.  “The ocean comes!  We are cut off from the land.”  And as the moments passed, we grasped what Suhad had done.  The entire beach, all of eight square miles of Nuweiba, was floating upon the waters of the Gulf!  Cries of terror and astonishment rose from the immense throng.  The ocean sped past us and soon it became clear the mountains of Midian were drawing closer.

“A couple more trips and we’ll have it done,”  Suhad smiled.  “This way, everyone keeps their feet dry.  They can even sit down!  No walking needed.”

“But it’s all sand!”  Moses cried.  “Won’t it dissolve?”

“First you want Yaweh to move the ocean out of your way, now you’re worried about your sand-island dissolving.  Where’s the logic in that?  Look, don’t worry about the physics.”

“What’s physics?”

“Moses, why don’t you go write some laws.”

Moses grimaced but appeared to relax.  Suhad turned and her eyes fell softly upon mine.  “Awshalim!  How have you been?  Feel this breeze!  Does it remind you of our voyage on the Nile, you know, so long ago?  I smiled at the memory but remained speechless in her presence.  “So what are you doing this evening, after the crossing of the Red Sea?  Have you brought a tent or something?”

“No.  I had a horse but… no, there’s no tent.”

She moved closer to me.  “Maybe Moses can arrange one,” she whispered.  “Can you still…?” And there, on an eight square-mile sand-ferry plowing through the Gulf of Aqaba, something stirred sweetly within me.

“In your presence, mysterious lady, anything is possible.  Just don’t disappear on me like last time.”

“Oh, I was a mess back in Pithom.  No time to primp.”  Moses seemed oblivious of us, scanning the approaching coast as Suhad grazed seductively against me from time to time.  At first, I too worried about the sea eroding our Nuweiba ferry, but when the thought crossed my mind, Suhad dug her elbow into my ribs, and I remembered she could read my thoughts.  Now and then I looked back at our vast seaborne multitude.  Just one million, I thought.  Two extra square yards each.  The Israelites had been bumped up to business class.

We approached Midian.  Happily, the mountains did not lie close to the shore, rather a sloping, sandy incline stretched about a mile toward their foothills.  So there would be room for the multitudes, more than on the western shore.  Nuweiba began to shudder as it reached the shallows.  Instinctively, those standing fell to their knees to steady themselves.  The island lurched roughly, but drove farther onto the shore, until there was no water between it and the land, like a World War II landing craft, but one the length of Manhattan.  Efforts were made to urge an orderly disembarkation from the sand-ferry, and the great host, elated, cheering, moved ashore in an orderly way.  It only took three hours.  When the last families had departed, I looked at Suhad.

“No, Awshalim, I cannot turn this thing around.  I’ll have to back it up.”  Which she did.  Aaron remained with the first million, while Moses and many other tribal chiefs remained aboard for the next two crossings.

But the last one was not without its terrors, for Yaweh (apparently still handling Ramses Management and Control) had extinguished his Pillows of Fire, allowing the Egyptian army to clatter through the canyons and approach Nuweiba, just as the last stragglers were boarding for the final voyage.  Nuweiba was only yards from the shore when Ramses arrived, and many chariots charged into the sea trying to reach the Jews and slaughter them.  None succeeded, but many drowned, which may explain the reports of corroded chariot wheels found there three millennia later.

But don’t rely on the claims of self-promoting Biblical evangelists.  You need only look at the satellite map of the Gulf.  The huge dent where Suhad thrice crashed Nuweiba into the eastern shore is clearly visible.

 Image

It was late that night when the third crossing ended.  “It was not as dramatic as a parting of the seas,” Suhad murmured, “but it worked for me.”  As we stood on the eastern shore, she closed her eyes again and Nuweiba, now looking forlorn without its Jews, obediently tore itself away and headed back across the Red Sea to dock in its rightful place.

“And Ramses army wasn’t destroyed,” I observed.

“I hate mass slaughter.  Live and let live, I always say.  The Egyptians aren’t so bad.  Some of my best friends are Egyptians.”

“You are Egyptian, Suhad.”

“That’s right!  I forgot.  I’m so very tired.”

“You had a busy day, that’s for sure.  Now you follow me for a change.”  I led her away from the shore through the immense crowd.  Everywhere, men, women and children were quietly settling in for the night.  But one place bearing a big sign, “Jacob and Sons, Blankets and Tent Rentals,” was full of activity.  After an hour, we got to the head of the line.

“I need a tent and a blanket,” I said.

“You came to the right place.  But I don’t sell figs.”

“Tonight, I don’t need a fig.”

“You want a single or double?” he said, glancing at Suhad.

“Double please.”

“This one is very popular, sand-colored, blends well.”

“I’ll take it.  And that dark green blanket.”

“An excellent choice.  Two debens please.”

“That’s pretty steep for one night.”

“No, that’s for one decade.  I hear we could be wandering around in the desert for a while.”

“That’s a very reasonable price then.”

“I’m a reasonable man.”

I paid Jacob and we found a place to squeeze in between a tent and a sheep.  As soon as we lay down together, my body pulsed with excitement, but Suhad turned to me with a sad face.

“Could we just go to sleep, Legion?  I have a headache.”

I sighed.  “Of course.  You moved mountains today.”

“No it was a beach.”

“I know, I’m using mountain as a metaphor.”

“Good night, Legion.  We might get another chance later.”

When I awoke in the morning, of course, she was gone.


[1] The idea that the Jews simply crossed the shallow wetlands at the tip of the Gulf of Suez and turned south makes improbable the drowning of Ramses’ armies.  And the notion that Mt. Sinai lay at the southern tip of the peninsula is based on the psychic conjectures of the mother of the emperor Constantine in the 4th century and is without archaeological support.  It is however possible to infer from Biblical references that the Israelites passed directly east across the Sinai peninsula and turned south as they approached the Gulf of Aqaba.  They would have moved into mountain country then and, through its circuitous wadi (canyons) reached the sea.

Posted in EXODUS, STAGE LEFT, Parts 1-5 | Leave a comment

Here Comes The F Gang

Insomnia-ridden, Fagen comes shuffling out of the Four Seasons around 2 AM, just like I hoped.  The old guy looks like crap in a Miles Davis sweatshirt and grey jogging pants.  I ease behind him and slip my gat into his lumbar region.

“Relax, Donald, everything’s going to be fine,” I growl, suppressing the urge to make a crack about the fella in the white night gown.

“Let’s you and me take a walk.”

I could feel him surrender like a man grabbed by Saddam Hussein’s security guards. Some tough guy. I got him headed up the street towards the corner, not a soul in sight. At the back of my cab-over I clicked on the cuffs. I’d expected more of him, like offering me some cash or maybe even busting a move to get away. Nothing. Some rock star. Some hero.

“Climb inside, pal, and face forward. Like I said, it’s gonna be all right.” In another 30 seconds the door was shut and I had the blindfold on him. So far, it was according to plan. He hadn’t seen my face at all.  He flinched just a little when I slipped the blindfold over his eyes.  Then I muscled him down into the dinette and strapped on the restraints, a belt around his chest and another just below his knees. He wasn’t going on tour again any time soon.

“Open your mouth, ancient mariner,” I said. “Open your mouth or it’s curtains, your last gig, man.”

“What are you gonna do?” he squeaks, sounding like when he tries to hit those high notes.

“Just open your mouth. Now.”

“Look, I’m not into…”

“Nah, not that, Don. It’s just a little something to calm you down.”

“Calm me down? My heart’s beating like a hammer.”

“Just make like the 2000 Year-Old Man and pray it don’t attack you,” I chuckled. Donald’s not the only comic on the block. “Look, it’s not drugs and it’s not sexual, okay?” Something in my voice inspired his trust and he let his mouth fall open. I slip a brown lump past the famous vampire teeth. A look of reluctant pleasure flashed across his face .

“It’s a Raspberry Ganache Twirl,” he muttered.

“I heard somewhere you’re into Godivas. Here…try this too.”

“Banana Tangerine Crunch,” he says after swallowing. He knows his Godivas all right. “What is this, the candy quiz from hell?”

I liked that. He was showing some spunk. “The questions are about to get tougher, Don. But here, have a slug of Kahlua. It’s good for your throat.” I poured him off a fat corner of the stuff and he sucked it down. Then I clamped a rag around his mouth to gag him, made sure he was secure and left him there in the camper. Ten minutes later we were headed north out of Seattle on Highway 99.

I had him on the video monitor on my dashboard, sitting there blindfolded and gagged. A dream come true. The average guy gets victimized by his heroes, you spend your life in a hole looking up at them. You think you’re on Joe Montana’s team. You’re not. You think Obama is going out on a limb for you. He’s just playing the averages and thinking about his legacy. Me, I was through adoring the Steely prince, done rambling on about how he was the ultimate dude, the musician’s musician.

I cut over to U.S. 525, then onto Mukilteo Road and along the shore to Harborview Park. No one was in the parking lot. I’d already cased it out. I parked the pickup and came around back and slapped on the substitute license plates. Then I climbed in.

I pulled out the Roland X450 synthesizers and set them down on the dinette table, one for Don, one for me. I had his synth Velcroed down just in case he tried to throw it at me. I adjusted his cuffs so he could reach a couple octaves apart with his hands. His torso was still belted down. All the dude could do now was play his axe.

I sat down across from him and fit the stocking mask over my head. Then I pulled off his blindfold and ungagged him.

“Here’s the deal, Donald,” I said. “Chick Corea opens an on-line music workshop. He does interviews. He cares about people.  Chick is a gentle and sensitive man. You on the other hand push everyone away from you and insult your old sidemen.  Meanwhile, you toss off these funky masterpieces and leave us groping in the dark. I mean, mathematicians publish their formulas, you know? Jack Nicklaus used to give clinics. But I for one am not going to let you take all this fine shit to the grave.” I leaned up into his grizzled old face. “So look,” I said…

“SHOW ME THE CHORDS!”

Silence filled the cabover.   Fagen sat there staring at me. He cleared his throat.

“You mean you just want some chords…?”

“You got it, pal. I wanna know what the hell is going on in Planet D’Rhonda.  And in “Great Pagoda of Fun. And Pixeleen.  And what the hell are those descending chords in What A Shame About Me. 

“Yeah, well…”

“And another thing: you created your Facebook page and no one gets to post there except you! What is that all about?”

“Maybe it’s about crazy fuckers like you,” he says. I was gonna slap him when he said that, you know, it crossed my mind, but I didn’t cause I’m not a crazy fucker. I knew exactly what I was doing.

I’d come for the chords.

At that moment, Don laid down some minor stuff with his right hand, a few dribbling triads. He looked at me. “I’ll show you some stuff, man. But there’s gonna be a price to pay. You didn’t need to do this.”

“Yeah and Edward Snowden could have just called the president: ‘Hey Barack, there’s something rotten in the NSA.’ Fagen, you’re just like them. You’re all laid up there in Kafka’s castle. Inaccessible. Off limits.”

“They won’t let you get away with this.”

“Nah, I got my ass covered. Got it planned out. By the time you’re loose, I’m on my way to – let’s just call it a tropical paradise. And you, you’ve got material for your next book, not to mention three or four new songs. Your fans will eat it up. You know, like, “He came in under the radar, 
when my back was turned around…”

Donald sketched out a limpid blues line that seemed to feed his spirit. “Okay, so maybe you get away with it. It’s still wrong fucking with me like this. The shock could have killed me. Anyway, it’s not about the chords. You could get those from a lot of dudes.”

“Major dudes maybe, but us minor dudes are out here just guessing! The cats that know, that really know, they don’t tell you. Or they want big bucks. Look, I just want to play the songs, run through the changes, man.”

He was staring at me with a look somewhere between fear and contempt. “It’s all online, man,” he said softly.

“Only the basics, not all the inversions, all those polychords and unhearable voicings.”

He dropped his eyes. I could feel him sizing me up. “The pleasure is in figuring it out,” he said, almost to himself. He looked tiredly up. “So what do you play?”

“Tenor. And flute. I gigged at Monterey once.”

“You’ve come a long way from that.”

“Don’t sharp-shoot me, man.”

“That was Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman, right?”

“Yeah. Didn’t you love that joint?”

“Yeah, excellent flick. Look, you got any more of that sauce?”

“I guess so.” I put the bottle down between us with a couple of fresh glasses and poured some for both of us. I needed it, maybe something harder.

Donald puts his down and sighs.  “You ever go to UltimateGuitar.com? Or that Howard Wright guy in the UK? All the chords are there, man.” He flashed me a Humphrey Bogart grimace with those hellish canines of his that would have put Bogie to shame. Then he smiles. “Why do I get the feeling you don’t get out much?”

“Hey, I get around. I used to live in Japan. I had this gig there – solo show in a hostess bar – 6 nights a week. I covered Deacon Blues and a lot of stuff from Two Against Nature.  I was happening, man. I even wrote some originals.”

“I hear those dolls are amazing.”

“I couldn’t talk Japanese. Pretty much kept to myself.”

“And that gig lasted…”

“Five years.”

“Shit. And you didn’t get any?”

“I went out with one girl. I tried to touch her arm and she said my hands were too wrinkly.”

“That’s too bad. They are wrinkly.”

“But all your songs are about old guys who…”

“I wear custom gloves. Hand condoms. Cost a fortune.”

I felt tired. And down. I should have googled “donald fagen chords.” Now I had to go live in Brazil, which is nice, but it all seemed a little forced. I could have gone to Brazil and googled donald fagen chords and been free to come back if I wanted. But more than that, I realized what my real fear was. Suddenly there were tears in my eyes.

“What are we gonna do when you’re gone, Donald?  Nobody writes like you, even if they know the chords. The delicious, elegant humor, all your soulful grooves.  You captured the essence of New York ennui and tossed off California rock as a comic afterthought.  And there’s the unremitting homage you pay to the lost art of arranging.

He stared at me.  “Unremitting homage?  Wait, I get it.  You’re a writer!”

No, I…”

“Admit it!”

“I just have this little blog.”

“This little blog.  This is why I hate writers.  You’ve probably dreamed of interviewing me for 20 years.”

“Well, I guess if Rolling Stone had approached me…”  This was getting out of hand.  I shoved him back against the camper wall to shut him up.  I had to finish the narrative, get my feelings out.

“Your voice, Don, your voice!  You’re like a funky, fin-du-siècle Frank Sinatra with, like, a sprinkling of Jerry Lewis on top.  You start out with that sardonic sneering arrogance.  In middle age it evolves into ironic whimsy, and now gentle self-mockery. You reveal a pathos and fragility in your high notes, even as your funkiness and drollery and harmonic inspiration burn as bright as ever.  You’re the most underrated cat on Planet Music, man. You magnificent motherfucker, there’ll never be anyone like you again. I love you man, you’re the incomparable coming-together of everything I’ve ever loved in music. But it’s a fucking wasteland out there, Don. Hippety-hopping self-aggrandizing rap thugs and white drama queens, that’s all we got. What are we gonna do when you die?   You’re 67 now, man. You’re not jogging. I never read about you jogging!”

“I jog a little,” he mumbled.  “In the tour bus.”

But his accommodating manner was just a ruse.  When I hung my head in my hands and began weeping hysterically, Fagen made his move with the Kahlua bottle; he smashed it on the table and grabbed me by the neck. It all happened real fast. I don’t even remember if he was wearing his hand condoms. All I saw were the jagged edges of that Kahlua bottle four inches from my throat. Next thing I knew I was unlocking his cuffs.

“I’m gonna outlive you, peabrain,” he said, his canines glittering in the dim light of the camper. He went and got the gun and made me tie myself up. I don’t know how I did it, must have been the power of his charisma. Then he cinched me up tight and left me there. When the door slammed, I knew the jig was up. I kept thinking about how they got no Roland synths at Leavenworth.

I heard the motor turn over and next thing we were headed out of the parking lot. I figured he was headed for the nearest police station, but he kept driving, driving. I couldn’t see shit out the window. But after an hour or so, it looked like a lot of lights outside and I heard the sound of jetliners overhead. Now we were twisting around corners like we were in a parking structure. Finally he pulled to a stop. I heard him get out of the camper, then nothing.

It must have been half an hour later I heard footsteps approaching. The door swung open and Donald jumped in. Now he was cutting away the ropes with a utility knife. He got the cuffs off with one hand, training the gat right between my eyes.

“Get out, punk,” he says. He jams the rod into the waist of his jogging pants, covers it up and somehow, it stays there.

“Now walk,” he says. “I’ll tell you where to go.” I realize I’m in fucking JFK. He steers me to the Varig counter and hands me a one-way ticket to Rio.

“You’re a lucky son of a bitch. It’s leaving in 30 minutes,” he says. “You’re not on that flight, I press charges.”

“But what about my clothes? And my tenor.”

“Geez, you horn players drive me nuts. Don’t you have any friends? Tell ‘em to ship it to you in Rio. ”

“But I’m broke!”

“What, I gotta think of everything?  Call the American Embassy. Use your Visa card. You’re a musician, right?  Improvise.”

I felt him prod me in the back with my gun. “OK, Donald, you win I guess. And thanks, man. Hey– you’re the best.”

“I know that,” he says. “Now sign out, Zombie.”

Well, that’s my story. I got on the plane and wound up here in Rio. These days, I play mainly sambas and the new funk carioca stuff.  I’ve been seeing this girl from Ipanema too. Sort of tall and tan.  She looks straight ahead, not at me, so I have to walk in front of her facing backwards.  Then sometimes I see Glenn Greenwald strolling around with his life partner and we discuss politics. It’s an OK life.

I never get any calls from Donald, but I’m waiting for some credits in the next album.

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