The Day of the Harvest
Dan looked down on the crowd from where he was raised high on the natural altar of elevated earth. Still fastened by so many windings of hard rope, Dan could not move well at all, and was beyond the point of fatigue. This would explain why the only thought he had was of food, not freedom. He asked some front-seat members of the Metro City crowd if any had anything to eat or drink. One young mother produced a bag of dried cereal from her pack, presumably for the toddler who was asleep in her arms. Dan said thank you but refused the generous offer. Another, an older man produced a bottle of water, half full, and offered it to Dan, but he refused that, too.
After a moment or two of realizing that no one had anything of substance to eat or drink, as all expected to return to the City after the execution in a timely fashion, Dan thought it wise to be cut down from the stake and assisted down off the trailer, as his legs, being bound for so long, where undoubtedly useless.
“Who among you has something to cut this rope with?” Dan asked. The rope, not exactly natural nor synthetic but a kind of plastic twine, very thickly interwoven into some natural substance, as melted at the knotted ends, thereby forging an unbreakable, or at least untie-able bond. No spoke but looked up at Dan with sheepish powerlessness.
“Wait, I’ve got something, I think,” said a young man, walking through the crowd up to the trailer. He was tall, thin, and very able looking. He gave the impression to Dan he might have been an outdoorsman of some kind, were there any outdoors to experience in the desolate desert valley. He walked up to the the trailer and produced a pocketknife of considerable size and held it up for Dan to inspect in the dying light of the evening. “Will this do the trick?” he asked. Dan looked at it squinting to see the instrument, but as he did so, it began to shimmer with a faint, orange light. All was darkening around the knife: the crowd, the trailer, even the handle of the blade, but the blade itself was bright and increasing in brightness. It looked almost enchanted or alive with light!
“Yes, I think that should do nicely,” Dan said, and signaled by his voice that the man should come up and try to release him by cutting away the ropes. As he did so, the light in the blade glimmered no more, but one in the crowd cried out, “Look! Someone’s coming!” Out of the gloom of the east like a burning lamp ever increasing in brilliancy as it approached was what appeared to be a spirwing! And it was fast approaching from Metro City.
The crowd started to murmur and shift about in nervousness. Dan was not nervous but curious who it could be. Before he had time to formulate any ideas about it, the spirwing had started its landing pattern by circling round and round the summit. The crowd spread out in a very wide circle from where Dan’s trailer was, to allow the spirwing to land. As it did so, the great humming of the jet engines was heard, and the heat was felt on Dan’s cool, dewy face, which was not unpleasant, and which evaporated the moisture almost immediately. As it landed the engines died down and the propellers ceased in their invisible revolution, and a man stepped out of the passenger door, a tall man, of rose-gold garment from the look of it as the spirwing light flooded out onto the summit floor and bathed him in light. Yes, quite sure now, a beautiful pink and sparkling vestment of an elaborate floral design, and crowning himself as he stepped away from the spirwing propellers with a tall headdress was Viceroy Guth himself!
The Viceroy was accompanied by two men, Dome officials who wielded blasters. As he approached, one of the men handed Guth a megaphone. Stepping up to about ten feet from Dan’s trailer, Viceroy Guth turned toward the crowd who had closed the circle after the spirwing was made safe, and started to surround Dan again.
“Ladies and gentlemen of Metro City!” the Viceroy said in thunderous voice. “I have condemned this criminal to death by fire! And so by fire he shall die!” The impression the Viceroy made on the crowd would have been considered comedic were it not for the solemnity of the matter. As it was, it could only be considered pathetic, as the crowd just stood there, still as statues and gawked and blinked at the Viceroy. He went on. “I have received word from my Dome officers on the ground that this Daniel Goodman is a showman as well as a murderer, and has by some clever art deceived you all into thinking himself a kind of prophet and worker of miracles!” This much at least stirred the crowd a little like a pot of stew, heads bobbing about like so many potatoes or carrots in a pot.
“It’s true! He is! They couldn’t burn him!” one youngster shouted out, much to the dismay of his mother who presently held his mouth closed with her palm.
“He’s at least deceived the children, I see. I trust you adults of Metro know better than to believe a murderer to be anything so exalted and divinely assisted! Daniel Goodman is a fake and no prophet!” Viceroy Guth said.
“We saw it with our own eyes! They couldn’t get him with those blasters! We saw!” another one said, only a voice, but the body was inferable therefrom, a middle-aged manual worker, one accustomed to shouting: probably a steel-mill worker of Turner’s.
“You saw what Daniel Goodman the Murderer wanted you to see!” Guth shot back. “It is easily explained if one understands the science involved. The blasters operate upon a power source like the energy which produces lightning. Just as lightning destroys things like trees, houses, and people, it is also absorbed by certain kinds of matter, like metal. See him? See how Daniel Goodman the Fake glitters like a gaudy little girl?” and motioned toward Dan who looked back helpless and small and tired, tied to the pole. “That silly garment absorbs blaster fire. See! It isn’t a miracle at all!”
This last piece of evidence made a great wave of voices in the crowd. Many were outright irate for being taken in by the false miracle. Others were upset that the real prophets brought back from the dead by this Viceroy Guth were gone, and the murderer remained, many of whom had clean forgotten that Rutherford and Johnny dissolved themselves without Dan’s help. But almost all agreed that Dan must meet justice and at the hands of the Viceroy if possible. Soon the voices swelled into a wave of shouts:
“Incinerate him! Incinerate him! Incinerate him,” shouted the crowd, much to the joy of Viceroy Guth who beamed from ear to ear in a sickening evil grin. And turning toward Dan amidst the shouts, and walking up to the trailer, he spoke to Dan in a hushed tone through his grin:
“See? Hear how the tide of public opinion turns so easily? Who needs the Moon or your wretched Lady on it when one has cold logic and rhetoric, hey glitter-boy?” and as Guth finished his taunt he began to turn toward the crowd, and as he did so, a slithering and wet forked tongue caught the gleams of a the spirwing, and Dan shuttered at sight of it. “Of course he is,” Dan said quietly to himself, and lowered his head to pray. Viceroy Guth had his two officials quiet down the crowd so he could address them again.
“You shall have your execution!” and the crowd cheered loudly. Guth motioned for quiet. “You shall have your execution, though you must witness it from afar. Descend the mountainside. My officials shall accompany you all with light and food and drink on the path down. Those who need rest on the way down may do so, but understand that all must be off the mountainside by midnight. There at the bottom you shall witness the death of Daniel Goodman,” and with that the crowd began to disperse with the officials who were handing out provisions from the spirwing and flashlights were directing traffic down the path. Soon, very soon, Dan was left alone with Viceroy Guth and his two armed guards. He walked back up to Dan’s trailer and looked at Dan intently, then spoke after a moment.
“This is my flock, fool!” he said in a snaky tone. “My Master has worked too hard to let them loose from His grasp.”
“Fly fiend! Enjoy your freedom while it last. Soon to the pit with your Master forever. Fly fiend!” Dan said, and tortured with fatigue and pain as he said it. The Viceroy just snarled and hissed at him but spoke not another word, and returned to the spirwing, and starting back up the engines and propellers, he lifted off the ground and flew away down the mountain.
Dan remained now alone. He could hear faint voices from the great crowd of Metro City citizens passing down the path, and see flashlight beams every so often. They must have been making merry with the light and food and drink the Viceroy provided, and with livelier and revived spirits were laughing and heartily talking with one another as they descended the path. Dan’s chin dropped on his chest, and he wept himself to sleep.
Dan awoke to the sound of a faint humming far above his head, almost like the hum of a power line, but only more intense and deeper in pitch. He tried to look up but his neck strained him and the pain of stiffness was so strong in his body that he could only manage to arc his chin just higher than the horizon and turn his eyes up. He could not believe what he saw! A big, black disc hovered not a thousand feet above him, the outline of which was clearly marked out by illuminated clouds just higher than it. Dan could not see, but the disc was as flat as a coin and was hardly more visible than a coin to those below on the desert floor. The disc appeared to be turning rapidly and increasing in intensity, judging by how it reflected the light, dull in some areas of its surface, while others were only slightly less black. These lighter areas were turning faster and faster around a center which did not move. Dan got the distinct impression that this was how he was going to be put to death, by this mysterious hovering black disc.
The humming increased to an audible low rumbling roar, like the sound of a train across town. The people of Metro City who had gathered to witness the execution from down below on the desert floor would have heard no more than what sounded like the distant rumblings of thunder. Dan’s chin dropped down again, now in prayer for courage. As he did so a faint light, pale green like the phosphorescence of sea creatures spilled down over the land, casting more shadows than light. Everything was bathed in a sickly green pall of pale light, but Dan’s eyes were closed in prayer and saw nothing. The roaring increased to an intensely high pitch and all at once a boom and whirlwind of cool air was felt on Dan’s head and face, like the cool gale of a storm pregnant with power and woe. He dared not open his eyes for fear, but something inside made him do so. The summit was all alight with an atmosphere of reflected light. The rocks were reflecting an electric blue-white light, like lightning but not devastating in the least. Everything was as calm as a night. Even the little pebbles and dust on the summit floor were only barely disturbed, and this by the rushing wind, not the light. There was no heat, no pain, only feeble blue-green light falling on everything in his field of vision, save for the cave across the way, which the light did not touch nor shine into. Dan’s vestment reflected nothing of the light, but the ropes which held him did.
This is the summary of what Dan saw. Those below saw something completely different. For starters, though faint like distant thunder, the humming and roaring of the machine or whatever it was was heard as it increased in intensity, but not as Dan heard it. It did not sound like some clunky machine, but like the grumblings of an angry god about to cast judgment. This, anyway, is what the crowd was made to believe at the suggestions of Viceroy Guth who had descended to the crowd on the spirwing, and joined them in their midnight feasting just a few hours prior to the spectacle.
“Hear and behold the judgment of your God!” he shouted out from a temporary platform some Dome officials made with crates from the food and drink provisions. “Your God speaks and executes His judgment on the condemned!” the Viceroy’s megaphone about as loud as the roaring whirlwind from the disc, of which the crowd saw nothing. Then, the the tip of the mountain was all ablaze in a blue fire emanating from a column of light extending down from a cloud. The light was impressive and brilliant in the darkness of the desert floor, but, as was already mentioned, quite feeble from where Dan was on the summit.
Soon the insipid blue-green light dissipated into a mere glow then returned the summit landscape to dark shades of night. Dan remained fixed to the stake, slightly glancing up and wondering if anything more was to be expected, but concluded not, since the black disc had disappeared, and the clouds had moved on, revealing now a star-studded sky of tranquility and celestial calm. Dan sighed, and looked out again about the grounds, and strained his eyes to see but could only make out where the cave opening was, as it did not reflect the starlight.
Presently a light emerged from the mouth of the cave, a wholesome light like candlelight, orangish red warmth which bathed the entry way and threw its soft beams out onto the summit floor toward where Dan looked intently upon it.
“Now what’s this?” Dan asked himself in utter amazement wholly devoid of fear. A light like that somehow was incapable of inspiring fear or anything other than thoughts of autumn evenings or merry hearths or tables full of pies and ham and mash potatoes and gravy and dinner rolls with butter and laughter.
The candlelight increased and emerged from the cave with a tall, old man holding it, a man who would have looked like Saint Nicolas himself but for the fact he wasn’t so pleasantly rounded, nor so old. As he approached Dan began to recognize him. It was his father! At least the man in his dream who said he was. Dan’s heart began to beat hard in his chest, and his mouth became even more dry than he thought possible.
As the man approach, Dan was now certain that he was his father from his dream. Those bright happy eyes balanced against a sad brow, counterbalanced by so jolly cheeks he was sure the man spent most his time smiling and laughing with only short interludes of melancholic meditation. His hat, a straw and broad-brimmed sunhat, worn presumably from habit than necessity, covered his aging salt and pepper hair, but Dan was sure he’d see it if the hat were removed. As he approached he produced a pocket knife from a pocket of his overalls, and stepping up onto the trailer walked up to where Dan was tied against the stake, and placed his candle on the floor of the trailer.
“Hello, son,” he said and gave Dan a glance of fatherly love that spoke ten thousand words in moment and melted Dan’s heart.
“Fa, fa, Father?” Dan asked half ashamed of the question, asked not out of any kind of evil incredulity but like the innocent kind a child asks of something too good to be true. “Is it really you?”
“Yes, son. I am here now with you,” and the sound of reassurance reduced Dan’s melted heart to a joy of radiating heat which lighted his face with love and filial admiration.
“Oh, Father! I’m so tired!”
“I know, son. Let me get you down,” and with a few strokes of his knife, Dan was cut loose from the ropes and fell instantly into his Father’s arms who caught him.
“You have done well, son. You have done very well,” Dan’s Father said, and caressed his hair and kissed his head and, cradling him like baby boy in his arms, he carried him off down the trailer and back into the soft, homely light of the cave, leaving the candle to burn in the night.
The night drew on in the utter stillness of the mountaintop. As the stars overhead wheeled round on their course, each looked down on the flickering flame of the candle casting a tall dancing shadow of the stake against the summit floor and rocks lying about. Out of the shadows, though, there came not a dancing form but slithering Shadows, two black forms winding in and out of the candle light which burned on the trailer near the bundles of twigs and kindling fuel for the pyre. The Shadows slithered up to where the candle holder was and, after a moment’s hesitation, seemingly bumped against the candlestick, toppling it down onto the floor of the trailer, near the base of the execution pyre.
In a matter of seconds, the pyre was ignited into a magnificent inferno, engulfing the trailer and stake with it. Had there been any Metro City spectators below, the blaze would have been quite visible and impressively bright. But, all had long since returned to the quiet and comfort of their homes and beds. All that could be seen from the desert floor was a few empty wine bottles reflecting the fire glow from on high. Amidst the crackling wood trailer and roaring conflagration was heard the faint but distinct sound of some kind of creatures cackling softly to themselves.
As dawn approached, the trailer, ropes and stake and kindling twigs were but smoldering ash and plumes of grey smoke rising up into a morning sky as crystalline blue as the sea. Ascending the path was Mr. Pete and John, all the others having fled for fear or who had fallen into disbelief. The two faithful followers of Daniel Goodman said nothing as they went up the mountainside, but solemnly ascended the sacred path in silence and mourning.
Presently they passed by the rocks with the strange writing or pictures on them, the Guides of Rock, and Mr. Pete spoke. “He who does not follow Me is not worthy of Me,” he said, or else read––it was not clear where the inspiration from the words derived. John fixed his eyes on the Rock, but said nothing.
Finally they arrived at the summit, and the doleful vision made John fall to his knees and weep. “Oh, Mr. Dan! Mr. Dan!” he said between his sobs. Mr. Pete lovingly and fatherly padded him on the head with one hand, and with his other rested on what appeared to be a sword at his waist. As he stood next to him and looked upon the site of his teacher’s execution, tears welled up in his big blue eyes and rolled down his wrinkled cheeks, but he didn’t speak. He let John alone to have his cry and walked up to where Dan had been burned alive, the pile of ash still lightly smoldering.
“Now what, sir?” he asked the empty air. The sun was rising higher and was pleasantly warm on Mr. Pete’s face which had since cooled off from the heat of the climb. The air was crispy and cool like an autumn morning portending winter’s coming. He looked out over the desert valley. The skyline of Metro City was shimmering in the sunlight, as the distant railcar lines cut through the eastern peaks beyond. Mr. Pete sighed. “So many, so many there are that are lost,” he seemed softly to hear or else thought he heard. And his tears redoubled in fluency.
“I suppose we should be getting to the ashes, sir?” John said, walking up beside Mr. Pete and looking down at the pile of ruin through his tears.
“Yes, John. We should be getting to,” Mr. Pete said, and wiped his eyes, and produced a small folding hand trowel from his belt he had brought. The pile of ash was more than what either John and Mr. Pete anticipated would be left by the fames, and they had a difficulty and hard go at collecting them all in a high, rounded pile.
“What next, sir?” John asked, wiping the sweat from his brow.
“We’ve got to get them all into that cave there,” Mr. Pete said, and pointed over to the mouth of the cave with the dark opening.
“Well, let’s to it, then, Mr. Pete,” John said, and started for the shovel, but Mr. Pete halted him.
“Hang on, John. Let’s first go in and see if there’s a marker or something where we should inter the Master’s remains.” John nodded his assent to the idea, and both walked away from the cool ash pile, and toward the cave and entered.
Inside the blue morning light flowed, and faintly illuminated the interior with a cool, pale glow of light. Mr. Pete and John could see that the cave receded a ways deeper in beyond their sight. They proceeded further in, and after a time, Mr. Pete looked back at the mouth of the cave getting ever smaller as they moved further in. John was noticeably disturbed by the darkness and distance into which they were traveling, but nevertheless held firmly next to the grandfatherly Mr. Pete. John himself wielded the shovel just in case.
“How much farther in, Mr. Pete, sir?” John asked with a quivering voice.
“I haven’t a clue, John,” he said, but proceeded all the same. They had went so far into the cave now that the entrance and the daylight looked no larger than a keyhole in a door a good way off. John was now shaking in his body with fear, but Mr. Pete just kept on walking deeper in. Presently he put his hand on John’s shoulder, which seemed to sooth his anxiety, for he instantly stopped shaking.
“Wait, what’s that!” John shouted in a coarse whisper,” and would have been seen pointing toward what he spoke of but for the pitch blackness of the cave.
“I see it. I see it,” Mr. Pete said. What he saw is not entirely certain for his eyes were old and bad. John’s eyes, however, were young and keen, and what he saw was an ever growing sliver of light, first a crack in the utter darkness, then wider and widening slender streak of yellow white light, increasing in size ever so slowly and softly, like an unlatched door gently swinging open in a springtime breeze. Mr. Pete and John increased their approached, such was their curiosity, that any fear of the unknown was completely annihilated. John was almost at a full run by now, that Mr. Pete had to say, “Hang on a bit, son. Just a bit,” through his labored breathing, but John was too consumed with boyish excitement to heed.
As John arrived first he turned back to Mr. Pete and shouted down the cave to him.
“It’s a door!” he said, but did not attempt to widen it anymore. John waited for Mr. Pete to come up to the door, too. John could feel a light wind falling on his panting face, cooled by sweat droplets on his temple. “Like an ocean breeze,” he said to himself, and closed his eyes to sniff the new alien air.
“You’ve got some legs, boy,” Mr. Pete said through his panting, and patted John on the back, then looked at the door and the light pouring through the opening, which appeared to be a light brown paneling, with a brass hardware latch for a doorknob, and a porthole, which quivered with light but not form. Mr. Pete looked at the opening, then at John’s excited face looking back at him, then smiled and spoke tenderly.
“This is your door, John, not mine,” and gently nudged him onward to go in, or rather out into the bright sea of light and sounds and smells of surf and brine.
Once through, Mr. Pete closed the door behind John, and the light quivering in the porthole was extinguished in a flash, and again Mr. Pete found himself staring into the pitch black of the cave.
He proceeded further in, and presently saw an outline of orange light forming a door up ahead. An icy chill air filled the passage through which he walked, making Mr. Pete rub his wrinkled hands together for warmth. Now in front of the door, He saw its construction clearly: large, strong hardware of ornate iron and thick boards of hardwood. He heard fireplace crackling within and smelled warm smells of woodsmoke, inviting him to enter. Taking a deep breath, he entered, closed the door, and returned the cave to the dark.