The Night Terrors II

The Prophet 001


At my question an ancient-looking man pushed his way to me through the crowd. His beard was of a shocking white in contrast with the nut-brown wrinkle of his face. His robe was of rough homespun, woven throughout and seamless. His eyes were blue and clear as the desert sky as he planted his staff upon the ground between us and spoke.

“This is a day of reckoning,” he croaked. “A day of darkness and not of light; a day of sorrow and not of rejoicing.”

Then, when he had produced chains and shackles from the voluminous folds of his mantle, I was swiftly bound hand and foot. Like an implacable and relentless shepherd he drove me with his staff at the head of that silent multitude, up a massively paved road that led straight from the quay to a city set upon a hill. All along that road, larger than life, stood marble statues of the apostles, saints, and martyrs: Peter, head-downward on the cross; Paul, bowing before the sword; Stephen, Antipas, and James the brother of John; Hus and Cranmer and George Eagles called Trudgeover-the-World. They all stood still and watched me pass, and regarded my going with troubled looks.

At the foot of the hill we began to climb a marble stair that rose by twelve flights of seven steps each to the level of the shining city above. The irons on my arms and legs chafed and cut me and grew heavier with each successive step. At the very top of the stair I saw, when I raised my eyes, a church of many spires and towers looming above me, dignified, forbidding, reverend.

At length we reached the top and stood within the twisted and fluted columns of the church’s portico. At last, a fresh breath of sea air reached me there and ruffled my hair and cooled my sweating head. Then the doors were swung open and I was led inside.

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