The Quiet Before the Storm
Premiered 9/9/9 (9 September 2009)
The continuation of The Myth and Legend of D'PTah, an original novel by Dan Sewell Ward.
The Quiet Before the Storm
It was on the second night after arriving on site that Pete continued his shamanic duties of dreaming outside his body. Vivid dreams had always been one of Pete's favorite activities... in large part because they were both the epitome of a laid back exercise and because they simultaneously allowed for all manner of adventure... the latter in an utterly safe environment with the proverbial "back door" always available. In effect, all Pete had to do to escape any virtual bad news bears was for Pete to simply wake up! There was the added appeal that dreams (vivid and otherwise) had long been recognized by the enlightened intelligentsia as wonderful fodder for poets, philosophers, psychologists, and dream analysts to ponder, analyze, meditate upon, and otherwise mine for hidden gold. This latter characteristic gave the stuff of dreams added meaning, weight, and awesome implications -- making them by logical extension, wonderfully important. Of course, Pete's latest installment may have been, perhaps, a bit less profoundly philosophical. But it must be noted that it clearly had its climatic moments.
The executive summary of the dream was that Pete had been visited by the antithesis of Pinocchio's helpful fairy. Instead of converting wood into flesh, however, it was in fact quite the opposite. An alternative description was that a particular, a very particular appendage of Pete's body had followed the path of a deceitful Pinocchio -- ostensibly in all of its alleged glory. The dream had been sufficient for Pete to reach fulfillment, encounter an astounding relief level he could never remember having encountered before, and simultaneously reach a state where he was quite literally drained. The dream had in fact been so all encompassing, he had barely let out a whimper.
This latter fact was unusual because Pete had always believed that lots of oohs and aahs, groans and grunts of the Tarzan genre -- as well as audible pleadings and acknowledgments of divine intervention – vastly improved the experience of sexually close encounters of virtually any kind [pardon the pun]. But this particular nocturnal event was one of those where the experience left him breathless for what was seemingly the entire, rather glorious twenty minutes (but who's counting, right?). Keep in mind that Pete was an aficionado of Tantra, and thus had a history of extraordinary sexual experiences. Still... this one... well... let's just say that the aftermath was a lot of heavy breathing, with Pete's body in a state of total and complete fulfillment, and with the bed sheets covered with Pete's formerly precious bodily fluids.
As a degree of left brain consciousness finally slipped an idea in between his silly grin and temporarily debased mind, Pete began to wonder what in the world had just happened. A wet dream, sure... but this one had been on a scale or level far exceeding anything he had ever experienced. So what was different? Better yet, why now?
That was when his left brain rushed in with the happy news, announcing the same with all the Pomp and Circumstance  of sudden coronations: We have a theory! We don't actually know what happened... for that matter we are not under modern scientific procedures required to know. But we do have a working theory that might explain things. Given, therefore, the simply existence of such a theory, all manner of experiences, experiments, and results can be explained... albeit often explained away... or whatever. We just need a theory; and then we can relax. And the good news is that, We have a theory!
The theory... hypothesis... went something like this: Pete, Daniel and the others were strangers in a strange land, lodging at a location or site never quite imagined, and were now being provided information and shown evidence in quantities and quality at which they could only marvel and gaze in rapt astonishment. Clearly they were well on their way to a future, that if nothing else, would make waves of the tsunami variety in more than one firmly established paradigm -- just the sort of sea change that would rock and roll mainstream scholarship. It was in fact time for the towers to come crashing down. It was Jericho on a whole new level, but without those pesky, sleep-disturbing trumpets.
Pete's left-brain-enhanced theory obviously didn't answer all of the questions, but then again this could be construed to be an advantage. Any seriously incomplete theory has the decided advantage of allowing for all manner of contributions from other observers and investigators. In this fashion, it would thereby assure the more ready acceptance of the theory by Pete's peers. The fact that Pete might be somewhat loath to (or even capable of) describing in detail the root basis of the theory, the fact remained that there was a lot of meat on which to feast and for others to share the theoretical glory [again, pardon the pun]. All viable theories in science require such largess in giving referential credit. Otherwise there are no other vested interests and the theory soon dies or is resurrected in another life by others with a penchant for failing to note the source(s) of their inspiration.
Nevertheless... a lifetime of investigation suggested to Pete that his theory needed additional data input and analysis. He would personally have to do a lot more research on this one. With luck, he could follow the time honored scientific discipline that demanded that all such noteworthy datum be replicated! Again and again... and again, if at all possible. Or at the very least, enough evidence garnered to ensure that Pete had attained an ample supply of fringe benefits from his research efforts.
Such attention to scholarship, its care and feeding, and every so often its manipulation was the sort of thing that had been bred genetically and environmentally into Pete. I kid you not.
Consider, for example, Pete's history in brief format:
As a matter of emphasis for those less exposed to the lessons of history, “the Che-ka is reported to have practiced many and varied forms of torture. Victims were skinned alive, scalped, "crowned" with barbed wire, impaled, crucified, hanged, water-boarded, stoned to death, tied to planks and pushed slowly into furnaces or tanks of boiling water. They were also rolled around naked in internally nail-studded barrels while other Chekists poured water on naked prisoners in the winter-bound streets until they became living ice statues. Still others beheaded their victims by twisting their necks until their heads could be torn off. In addition, the Chinese Che-ka detachments stationed in Kiev reportedly would attach an iron tube to the torso of a bound victim and insert a rat into the other end which was then closed off with wire netting. The tube was then held over a flame until the rat began gnawing through the victim's guts in an effort to escape [the flames of human-imposed hell]. Denikin's investigation discovered corpses whose lungs, throats, and mouths had been packed with earth.” 
Suffice it to say that the practices of lawyers and sociologists, and the occasional inquisitional theologian, all have a notable kinship with the Chekist philosophy of life... as well as, we might hasten to add, its own peculiar philosophy of death. And it was this which constituted by osmosis Pete's earliest years.
Curiously, the end result was that Pete had been in a word (or a phrase) ideally suited for the propaganda slash public information wing of the Israeli Army. As this newly minted mind-thought entrepreneur later phrased it:
“It was really one of those lucky accidental cases where the Army actually placed the right man in the right job. Of course I only got there through knowing the right people; a law partner wanting to be a mentor and who knew and who had defended in a paternity suit the historian heading that section. But curiously -- though I doubt if anyone would ever believe this --our unit was composed of some of the most liberal-minded leftists I've ever encountered in my life... pacifists even. It was really weird.”
Pete had clearly been ideally suited for the Public Information Office job. All he had been required to do was read and analyze everything in sight, swarm through reports in order to find the hidden clues and/or flaws, discover the potential for misconception and taken-out-of-context facts for use in inconsequential conclusions, and then spin it all back via Public Information press releases and/or proclamations of absolute truths. These were the talents, skills, leanings, and natural inclinations fostered into Pytor Alexanderovich throughout his four and a half decades. It also got him out of having to drive an armored personnel carrier in the Southern Negev Desert... obviously a significant fringe benefit!
It takes a unique mind to become the resident expert on manipulation – said manipulation being accomplished by intimidation, threats, deception, lies, torturous paths, and all the tricks of the legal trade – and then find that such manipulations are insufficiently exciting to even bother to continue in one's life. Okay, one can see how the world works, how understudies to demonic forces can wield their powers to persuade the morally adept to yield their powers without further ado. But given the ability to do so... one encounters the challenge of justifying any good reason for actually participating in the whole affair.
Clearly, if one is scared to death of the evils that can be foisted upon one, by the unknown and unimagined forces of the most cruel and demented beings in the galaxy, then it makes perfect sense to develop the shields, defenses, and counter offenses to foist upon others in return for their troubles, and thereby survive any and all onslaughts.
On the other hand, if one has an inexplicable faith in the underlying goodness of the universe... can in fact discern the fun parts, view everything from a distance of time and/or space – and thereby laugh at the sheer comic nature of... well... nature – then (and only then) can all the techniques, technologies, technobabble, tectrices, tectonics, and technetiums that ultimately count for very little, be easily dismissed. Except, of course, for the latter, which has a half life of roughly a million and a half years.
Pete's life had long been one of fast forwarding through a host of perplexing and mind boggling experiences including service in three different national armed forces. Of course, he left at least two of them with less than the standard bon voyage and good wishes typically extended to veterans. Some organizations of the military persuasion have simply no appreciation for the necessity of chemical enhancements as a means of ensuring survival in the throes of smothering military discipline. Legal complications arose as well when attempts by his law colleagues to rip off clients were met with at first wonderment and later I-don't-think-so reactions. Crooks posing as legal beacons of justice seldom appreciate being informed of the massive evidence demonstrating beyond a reasonable doubt that said lawyers are swine and should be routinely slaughtered as a means of improving the species.
The clarity of Pete's thoughts in seeing the path of ultimate self-destruction can be attributed in large part to his only child, Anah Spasopeskovskaya. Somehow her innate innocence (up until the age of roughly six) and her blossoming beauty had somehow contradicted the life Pete was living, and it was this which had accordingly motivated him toward change. Anah's beauty was in fact a complete and perplexing mystery. The question of how Pete could have produced such a beauty had at one point puzzled him (a puzzlement with shades of bewilderment), even as he conveniently managed to forget that she might have had something to do with her beauty without the aid of genetics. Also overlooked by Pete was the fact that Anah's mother and grandmother had been exceptional beauties as well. But when one is undergoing an epiphany, there is really no need for inconvenient truths.
Then there were the post army / post legal / radically new career style treks through the wasteland known as the Middle East. These experiences came to represent a radical departure from Pete's past.
All in all, the first of these treks – and the most epiphanic – quite literally lived up to Pete's greatest expectations. Solo time in the Israeli version of a desert wilderness – a fad of some notoriety created by one of Pete's predecessors – was intended to eliminate distractions and allow Pete to concentrate on more important matters than the routine of constantly encountering strangers. The key was to be the total absence of other people, including those who were highly suspicious of any wandering Peter -- or eager to ignore whoever or whatever the hell the ratty dressed derelict was pretending to be.
Such a trick would have been easy in the Southern Negev Desert -- except for Bedouins, Israeli army patrols, and other less friendly sources. There was also a horrific lack of water there -- unless one (literally) trucked it in. Pete had instinctively dismissed such a locale on environmentally-unfriendly grounds [pardon the pun]. This left the mountains and forests around Jerusalem. Here, the loneliest hermit was never further than 10 miles from a settlement, was continually encountering picnickers and Park Pork Rangers, and was constrained to camp each night near a working water faucet or an open well. Such oases were seldom deserted... even in the desert [sic]. Still... on some nights, one could find themselves hunkered around a less-frequented water faucet.
It was in one such location that Pete was able to reach the point of allowing silence to be the ruling dictator of his thoughts. The call of the wild, or simply the presence of night creatures with the singular purpose of surviving in a man's world, did require a degree of alertness on Pete's part. Such alertness, however, was notably unlike the mundane cares, that in perspective seemed so pointless. True survival is a wonderful focusing device, whereas the idiocies of hundreds of vested interests demanding a person's attention, discipline, pound of flesh, and/or his wealth are distracting, detrimental, and really have very little to recommend them toward any beneficial focus.
Trekking alone, on the other hand, allows the trekker the time and space to reflect upon any of the many forms of societal madness that otherwise permeate every waking (and a fair number of sleeping) moments of a person's existence. A world full of sound and fury and signifying nothing could at last have its veils removed and the men behind the curtains exposed as mere flunkies trying to survive by manipulating others to work on their behalf. The mundane condition was both sad and pathetically funny. In the wilderness, there was the possibility of far better humor, even some mingled with sheer delight.
The trek had arisen as the end result of a number of significant events – ranging from outraged clients to a decided lack of political correctness (including a paternity suit), as well as from demands for attention... to realizing the insignificance of pleas from such worthy slash questionable causes. There had in fact been a lot upon which Pete needed to reflect, and ultimately release (not to mention escape).
Keep in mind that Pete was walking a land traversed for centuries – and in large measure by invaders of several dozen, established, sovereign and manifest-destiny nations. There had been millennia of human histories recorded at the local scene, and by some belief structures, left behind as an integral ingredient in various aspects of nature still located on site. Pete was accordingly able to let the stones whisper in his ear while asleep (providing their own versions of the various histories), the animals could hold up road signs warning of path construction/destruction, birds could act as scouts and/or spies, and air and dust devils could hint at all manner of esoteric and profound secrets during the day. There are sources of information and there are sources. Meanwhile, all the human traffic, Pete could safely ignore -- provided only that he shaved on a regular basis; a two day growth of beard constituting grounds for being arrested.
One of the secrets hinted at by the locals was that a life cruising just below the radar net could be one of marvelous ingenuity. It might take a bit of help from friends and family, but all things were possible when the mark one wanted to leave on the world could be stored primarily in the ether, Akashic Records, or on a severely limited number of compact discs. It was also noteworthy that said CDs could thereafter be used as coasters to prevent rings on table tops, and/or as discs to be skipped across still waters. Both of these uses provided a commentary on the importance of one's life and history in the greater scheme of things.
One critical piece of help for Pete had been an advance on his anticipated inheritance for purposes of obtaining both permanent lodging as well as income producing rental property. The advance had become a tradition in Jewish circles ever since the Patriarchs of biblical fame had encountered the situation whereby the Grand Patriarch, Adam, was by all accounts still alive at the birth of Lamech, his great, great, great, great, great, great grandson. For practical and pragmatic purposes it had become essential in those very early days that inheritances were conveyed, at least in part, prior to the untimely death of one's ancestors – be the inheritrix prodigal or otherwise.
Meanwhile the purpose of the trek, the effort to commune with nature, was slightly complicated by the only real nature within range of Pete's residence being the Mediterranean Sea – which for purposes of trekking was further complicated by the fact that anyone cruising the waves locally was viewed by authorities with guns as a potential weapons conveyor. Accordingly, the gist of a trek in the Middle East was to find and hike through areas so inhospitable so as to preclude life as we know it – and in addition not accustomed to serving as an artillery and/or bombing range. (The latter, of course, included certain, select residential areas.) Trekking uninhibited could be done subject only to the condition that the necessities of life must be carried into the area, with enough provisions to allow for a return trip. The latter is akin to the necessity of any submarine vessel being able to log precisely as many surfaces as dives.
The one night that made the difference in Pete's enlightenment was the fourth and final attempt to befriend two birds who had become unaccountably curious about the strange bipedal creature trudging along the dusty and rock strewn former camel paths. Pete had risen just before dawn to find his two avian observers – they would have been GREAT as spies! -- perched next to each other on the biggest rock in the area, an object that would be able to serve as a possible windbreak in the event of a dust devil graduating to the exalted rank of dust storm. The sky was moonless, and therefore brilliant with stars -- zero cloud cover having removed the normal light reflections of civilized life that might have been evident from relatively near villages and settlements. The dark night time sky was stunning, spectacular, and primed for revelations and simultaneously, AWE (by any other name). Pete's subconscious even provided dreams that included upbeat renditions of Offenbach's Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld..
It was during Pete's repose that the two birds had begun discussing the object of their stake out. The dress of this derelict was dismal in the extreme – but also not uncommon among those who were spared from being targets for thieves and beggars (traditionally, the theory goes, you can't get shekels from a starving peasant). The backpacking equipment was ratty, but serviceable. The sleeping artifacts were of apparently higher quality, but having been carefully hidden in the backpack had kept the secret from the world at large of a possibly well educated and financially independent soul. Still... all in all... the best part was the look of a human thoroughly disgusted with mainstream society... or possibly just at his wit's end.
That was the key, of course! Had the man still possessed his wits, said wits would undoubtedly have gotten in the way of any epiphany. The normal defenses of intelligence and thinking were not easily thwarted. But at the very edge of survival -- or the imminent onset of in extremis -- mutation and/or transformation was entirely possible... if not likely. Provided of course, that one knew both the melody and the lyrics of said song – and incidentally, that the lyrics were in bird speak.
With the first hint of morning light, the birds began their discourse, not so much about Pete, but rather directed toward him. The first sounds suggested that had the birds the inclination they could easily tell Pete all about such things as:
“True leisure comes from focusing on what you're currently doing instead of what you might feel some inclination to do in the immediate, near, or distant future. Arising in the morning to celebrate the fact that you did indeed rise – as opposed to just laying there – would inevitably be less stressful than the worries of whether or not future rises need be planned for. Living in the now was the way, the Tao... and so forth and so on.”
But why dwell on such mundane matters, when life had long since left the phase of how shall we find food for the winter, even bypassed the philosophical questions of why one needs food or any nourishment for that matter, and had instead reached the level of sophistication wherein the relevant question was “where shall we do lunch?”  It was indeed the time to pursue an alternative agenda, i.e., what new entertainment would soon be forthcoming, and... very importantly... was one prepared to receive gratis the entrance ticket to the original theme park?
Pete, mesmerized by the avian Cheshire duo, was upright, his legs still in his sleeping bag, his face grizzly, his hair unkempt in the modern early morning fashion, and his eyes sparkling from the interaction with the mysterious. That's when the bird's question seeped in, identified itself as such, and gently, oh so very gently suggested that an answer might be appropriate at this juncture... a matter of politeness, particularly in light (pardon the pun) of the birds patiently waiting until dawn to commence their brief encounter with the wayward wrangler.
Pete's answer developed in his mind as he blew out a “whew” in the form of a whistle – which the birds rightly and correctly interrupted to mean:
“I am not only willing and able to take on the manifest destiny that prior to this incarnation I planned and provided for in great detail, but I am enthusiastic and eager to do so. I hereby and forthwith renew my vows to undertake with great energy all the experiences the intervening fates might in their infinite merriment have determined to lay in my chosen path.” [Obviously, Bird speak is enormously more efficient than the English language.]
Then... the birds declared, as they lifted their wings to emphasize the point -- and thus mimicking the span of eagles auditioning for national symbols:
This discourse amounted to about three distinctive peeps, but nevertheless conveyed the entirety of the message, plus an intuitive list of references and suggestions for further reading for the interested student. In other words, Peter understood completely.
The birds were about to fly off when one turned toward Pete to let out one extra peep – thus managing to convey the message that becoming something of a self-anointed shaman would be a real boon toward being able to see realities of paradigm-shaking content come the time when the vast majority of the populace would be unable to see anything. This talent would thus aid Pete immeasurably in finding his Gilgamesh. Pete understood the message as being the classic example of the sailing ships of Europe who upon first visiting the Americas could not be seen by the Indians. Such things would require the intervention of a shaman. Ultimately Pete would have to become a shaman.
It was on Pete's return to his new abode, and after finding the rent checks in the correct amounts and ready to be dropped into his coffers, that he was able to return to one of his favorite haunts. It was there he encountered the first hints of someone who just might be the reincarnation of Gilgamesh.
Admittedly it took two years from Pete's first overture to the man he suspected of being the star to which it would be worth hitching his own wagon, until the fateful evening on the Island of Paros. And as Pete sometime reflected, all because of his taking the advice of not one but two birdbrains (who contrary to common notion maintained access to the totality of understanding of the universe, said understanding always being available upon demand to such avian mentalities).
The path, the Tao, and causality of actions had quickly led both men to the first meetings with the temple priestess and Humbaba, respectively also known as Lil and Substantial Dude (aka Hormer Volkov).
'The guy must be seven feet tall,' Pete thought.
His appraisal might have been a bit of an overstatement (or an overthought), but the man quite literally towered over anyone and everyone, including specifically... Pete. Inasmuch as all things are relative, Pete of average height had had to nevertheless constantly look up to Hormer -- and that was outside in the main square of Parikia, where things appeared relatively smaller. Once inside the church, however, the larger man seemed to fill the available interior space so much that it caused the early morning tourists with the slightest claustrophobic inclination to quickly vacate the building. Pete with no such spatial disinclinations had nevertheless wondered about his own ability to deal with such overly confining spaces. Slowly he had decided he could in fact survive the ordeal... if only just barely.
Daniel and Lil had quickly distanced themselves from their escorts, staying in a line of sight but clearly out of hearing distance... at least in terms of Pete's hearing. Seeing that everything seemed to be going as advertised, Pete began looking for alternatives on which to focus. It was then he decided to check out his companion, thinking that perhaps he should be memorizing certain features just in case he needed to provide an eyewitness description to the local authorities. (Of course, picking him out of a lineup would have been easy, if not trivial. Convincing the police of Hormer's height, on the other hand...)
Volkov, besides being very large, was dressed according to local custom in something of a working man's garb. It might have seemed that the man was attempting to blend in and remain unnoticed. If so, Pete concluded, he was failing miserably. Volkov was just too ominous not to gather the attention of anyone with even a marginally intact survival instinct. The man's rugged face suggested numerous lifetimes of conflict and rough times... and very likely a propensity for the same. He might have been considered handsome and very attractive to the opposite sex, provided of course that they were not put off by his menacing presence. Of course, many women were attracted to dangerous men, at least those women without the normally requisite instinct for avoidance of pain and emotional turmoil.
'Basically a brute,' Pete thought. 'The chicks will love him! Probably has the mental capacity of knowing forty two ways of killing someone, but otherwise somewhat limited in social graces. Still... it might be worth gathering a little information on the dude.'
Turning to the man, Pete said, “Lil forgot to introduce us. My name is Peter Spasopeskovsky.”
Hormer glanced (down) at Pete, wondering why someone would bother to introduce themselves if they already knew the individual. 'Strange creature,' he thought. 'Most of them are.' Nevertheless... “I'm Hormer Volkov,” the man replied, immediately turning back to watch Lil and Daniel.
“Yes, I know,” Pete said, before thinking, 'Is there anything you'd like to add?'
Hormer had already dismissed the possibility of conversation. But Pete had his own agenda: to get to know Hormer and discover the 'commonality' that Lil has assumed they would mutually enjoy. How does one accomplish such a mission? How could he break the social ice? Perhaps by giving the other person some personal information? 'Oh yes! That's it!' With a broad smile, Pete began his mini-inquisition. “I've always been rather proud of the fact that my middle name derives from Alexander the Great. Of course, there are a lot of Alexanders running about, not to mention a whole slew of cities, libraries, and so forth.”
This gambit to engender a response failed utterly. But Pete was not disheartened. He decided to try another tactic. “Don't know about you, but there are only two military generals who I would ever consider as a mentor. One of course would be Alexander the Great.” When Hormer glanced at him, Pete took the gamble that Hormer was actually curious as to the other general's name. Pete smiled and said, “The other one is the famous Jubilation T. Cornpone  of American Civil War fame.  You may be familiar with the song dedicated to his memory.” Hormer apparently did not appreciate the humor, or even the possibility of Pete being serious, and instead turned back toward Lil. There followed a short silence, which felt to Pete like several very long, interminable periods of waiting for a verdict.
It was obviously time to try yet another tactic. “So... spend a lot of time in Greece?”
Hormer did a quick glance at Pete, apparently wondering if Pete's status was sufficient for him to be honored with an answer. Deciding in the affirmative, Hormer replied, “Yes.”
Pete was not about to concede that such a curt answer should otherwise dissuade him from attempting a two way conversation. “This lovely church we're in, the Ekatontapyliani... or however you pronounce it... is known as the 'church of the hundred doors'. But I suppose you already knew that. And that lovely artifact Daniel and Lil are standing by – and totally ignoring, I might add – is The Altar of Iconostassis. Did you know that?” When there was no answer, just a brief turning and glance at what might have been a strange insect, Pete continued blithely on. “So... ever been to Golden Beach?”
“No,” was Hormer's succinct answer. Then apparently as a matter of survival, he added, turning his full attention on Pete (an act which was disconcerting in itself), “Nor have I surfed there. I've seen far too many ships falter in the seas between Paros and Naxos. Even the local harbour has taken its toll, some quite recently. Some very dangerous rocks out there. You never know when sailing blithely into what appears to be a safe harbor, that you might inadvertently encounter some unknown and unforeseen danger. Fools rush in even when their lives might thus be put in jeopardy.”
While Pete considered the potential for a blatant, yet unstated threat in the sudden surge of conversation from Hormer, the goddess' body guard turned back to his duties, watching anyone and everything that might so much as attract his ward's attention and accordingly cause her distress. Such things were clearly not going to be allowed to happen.
Pete, meanwhile, toyed with the idea of letting sleeping, potentially bad tempered dragons lie. 'Perhaps,' he thought, 'the wiser course would be to silently observe and thereby be able to make wholly unwarranted conclusions -- the kind not plagued by having to consider contrary evidence that might challenge said conclusions.' Clearly, this idea had merit... was in fact a time honored technique in academia and legal circles... and might even represent the far wiser course of action. And Lil, after all, had called Pete wise. Q.E.D. Thus the theory is conclusively proven. Pete could now relax.
This brilliant, alternative strategy lasted for perhaps two minutes. The problem was that there was simply no real action -- threatening or otherwise -- going on between Daniel and Lil; they were just talking. Thus the vigil was not really justifying the time being devoted to it. Daniel and Lil seemed in fact to be getting along famously, occasionally laughing and seeming to share confidences. Clearly they were not about to slit one another's throat. In addition, there were no tourists or other people approaching them that might have been remotely considered to be a threat. And also, there... 'Wait a minute! Come to think of it, there were no people period.' As Pete did a quick survey of the interior of the church, he realized that the four of them were quite alone. That was a bit strange.
Abruptly another thought caused Pete to swallow. Assuming that Pete would be needed to rush to Daniel's rescue, exactly where were the people who were going to be his support troops? Where was the mob that he could easily rally to action in order to save his friend? Where were the eyewitnesses for heaven's sake? Hormer, for example, did not strike Pete as a reliable ally. A formidable enemy, sure! But an ally? Of course, stranger things have happened. What was that old saying? 'The enemy of my enemy is my friend?' So perhaps Hormer and Pete were brothers under the skin.
Then the idea to resolve these concerns, slipped into the forefront of Pete's mind. 'Perhaps what was needed for insurance purposes was some kind of bonding. Aye! That's the ticket!'
“So...” Pete began fishing, “I'm Jewish. How about you?”
Hormer didn't even bother to glance at Pete, as he asked, “Are you a practicing Jew?”
“Practicing?” Pete thought about it. “Well... I'm circumcised.”
Suddenly the mountain rumbled preparatory to an eruption, and something akin to a laugh emanated from Hormer. As he bowed his head slightly, one hand was raised to his face where he put his thumb and one finger on either side of the saddleback of his nose. Then he turned his attention back to his words, saying as a throw away line, “I'm pre-Jewish.”
Pete was momentarily stymied. Mulling it over, he fought for time. “Pre-Jewish?”
“Sumerian,” Hormer answered. “From whence most of your Genesis was derived. On the other hand, I prefer a set of ethics advocating positive virtues, instead of laws prohibiting most aspects of life.”
“Really?” Pete was more amazed than interested.
“Perhaps you've heard of the Sumerian 'Me'. I prefer the laudatory qualities of principles such as your Golden Rule, instead of a whole slew of 'Thou shalt not' commandments. Moral Values as a means to live among others are infinitely preferable to enforcement of arcane and pointless rules by a dysfunctional, so-called deity.”
Pete was uncertain how to respond. The argument cried out for rebuttal, but at the same time... Pete had actually learned something about Hormer's belief system! The latter seemed to be a far more important avenue to investigate. We're talking about some serious bonding here! But before Pete could formulate a follow-on comment or question, Hormer preempted him, “Ever wonder why the Hebrews fell out of favor with the Pharaoh of Egypt?”
“Uh, yeah. Now that you mention it. Daniel and I had just been talking about...”
“Fanatics bent upon circumcision can be enormously threatening.”
Hormer's brief smile suddenly vanished as he straightened. “Quiet!”
Pete took the order as an article of faith. Something was indeed happening. Suddenly, Hormer rounded on Pete, blocking his view of Daniel and Lil and staring with an intensity which made every part of Pete's body virtually shrivel.
“What you are about to see you must never tell any one. Do you understand? Otherwise, I would be required to regretfully break your neck. I would not necessarily be required to make it as painless as possible, and I would bitterly regret dispatching you in such a manner. But I would not hesitate to do so. Is that clear?
“Very,” Pete managed to croak out.
“Then swear the oath.”
“Never to tell anyone in any form whatsoever what you are about to see until I release you.”
“Consider it done.” When this didn't seem to be enough, Pete added, “Okay, okay... I swear on all that I believe is holy that I will never tell anyone what I am about to see... until you release me from this oath.”
“Upon pain... upon excruciating pain of death.”
“Upon... excruciating pain of death.”
Hormer smiled. “We're going to get along famously.” With that he turned back to watch the proceedings, allowing Pete to see as well.
Pete was bewildered beyond the point of comprehending his bewilderment... particularly when Lil took water from apparently inside The Altar of Iconostassis, turned toward Daniel, and began to kneel...
But perhaps we should not infringe upon Pete's oath. It was, after all, an oath that Pete took very seriously. Even later when the first temptations were offered to him by his friends, and despite the fact that Pete did not believe Hormer would have found out had he confided in them. Even then Pete had remained silent. Suddenly the idea of keeping silent when the words were struggling to escape had a certain appeal to a man like Pete. The idea of remaining silent was something Pete decided he could do if only as a matter of his being obstinate and the resident contrarian.
 With apologies to Douglas Adams
 “Jubilation T. Cornpone”, a song from Li'l Abner, a musical based on the Al Capp comic strip, with book by Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, music by Gene De Paul, and lyrics by Johnny Mercer, the Broadway production, directed and choreographed by Michael Kidd, opening on November 15, 1956 at the St. James Theatre where it ran for 693 performances. [Li'l Abner (musical) by Wikipedia]
2003© Copyright Dan Sewell Ward, All Rights Reserved [Feedback]