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Historical Fiction

What is this place!?

           The room was enormous, but John couldn’t know that by looking at it for it was filled with a deep dusk that defied registration on his senses. His eyes could not penetrate through this … stuff. Neither could listening for echoes be used to discern the largeness of the room because there were not any of those. None of the normal ways of knowing were ready to volunteer any information beyond the bare minimums of perception and any way of pushing them towards surety was ineffective. He just knew that it was a cavernous room.

           John looked around in a wonder too strongly mixed with the creeping borders of  uneasiness. Being on the floor, he sat up and peered into the mist that made up the walls of his sight. On three sides the darkness was coalescing into fog similar to what a machine at a concert would produce; the edges undefined and slowly swirling; now wisps of darkened color, now the whiteness of ethereal substance. There was an unmistakable whisper of more; beyond anything that John could see clearly.

           The fourth side was the most puzzling and wondrous, mostly because there was something with substance there, looming from that direction. John stood up and walked toward the unknown inevitability. He stopped a short distance from this large object. A great wooden structure now stood clearly before him as the vagrant mists retreated.       

           The structure was a curious old piece of architecture. The bench (for it seemed to resemble a judge’s bench and that’s what it was) was quite high and was accessed by a spiral staircase that started on the floor on the right side and twirled up until it disappeared behind the desk. The piece of furniture was of intricate detail. Ivy and oak leaves were interspersed with faces; chiseled into the wood throughout. Although the carved foliage gave an earthy feeling to the structure, the few faces that could be seen were grotesque and twisted by some unrevealed torment and made any observer feel a little off kilter, just looking at them. A small desk lamp was the only fixture on it that could be seen from the floor.

           John approached the bench before he saw the bimah in front of it. Because he was looking up, he tripped on the short step of the elevation and had to catch himself before he sprawled headlong. As he inspected it, he saw that it also was made of a dark wood and was obviously old like the bench. The surface shone with the polish penetrating deep under the ancient surface. A black line appeared to be inset and was square to the bench, straight out to the end of the bimah. The platform itself, had the same leaves of ivy and oak that were on the bench … and designs of indecipherable lettering and clefs… and faces, so many faces seemingly depicting the entire litany of human expression. John unconsciously took all this in, one detail after another, for he was a tradesman.

           The judge’s bench inexplicably filled John with dread. It was over the sharp pokes of discomfiting fear that he noticed some movement over the leading edge of the bench in the shallow glow of the small lamp. Hoping for salvation from this horror, yet unsure if this stirring signaled a friend or foe, John needed to gather what courage he had left to speak, which he did with a loud voice. “Hello! Can you help me?”   

John backed up a few steps to see over the edge of the bench. What he saw was a wizened old man with a pen in his hand, furiously writing and mumbling as he did. John noticed the shoulders of the old man hinted that he was dressed in appropriate black robes. His hair seemed to be all on one side of his skull and flipped over the crown in a flat comb-over with a single lock from the front of it all dangling in his face. His glasses perched precariously on the end of his nose and he tossed hair, head, and glasses; all back to their proper places with a sniff and a poke of his finger.

           “Excuse me, Sir.” John said with a little less patience. The man looked up and glared at John as if he was an impudent child.

           “You must wait until I am ready!” said the judge and he returned to his writing. “But—“, John began. “QUIET!” said the judge sternly. “Go over there and wait! … and I will summon you when it is your time.” The judge pointed a long finger into the distance to the left of the bench. John’s eyes followed the direction of the boney digit and, as the mist retreated, a small table took form with three chairs haphazardly placed around it.

           With a great deal of huff winning the struggle against respect for the office, John walked over and grabbed one of the chairs. He placed it hard by the table, making as much noise as he was able, and sat down. And watched, and waited, and watched….and waited. The old judge scribbled on, punctuating the movements of his pen with the signature toss of his head and the flick of his finger to put right all the accoutrements found there. Scribble, scribble, toss…scribble, scribble, toss…

           Until finally, the gnarled hand laid the pen to one side with a sigh. “I am ready for you now Mr. Cross” he said. “Please come and stand in front of the bench!” It sounded more like an order than an offer but John’s impatience was being dealt with by his mounting desperation. He complied and walked over to the bimah and stepped up the single step to the platform. He still had to tilt his head up to look the judge in the eyes but he did so with whatever courage he had left.

           The scene was set. John, dressed in a nondescript shirt and jeans, was staring up at the judge over the edge of the bench. It was as if he wore the most unimaginative clothes; clothes that would ensure a hiding place in plain sight on any street in North America. As he stood there, inexpensive slip-on running shoes could be seen at the end of an average body in the very un-average posture of a military stand-at-attention. He could have been any man, any brother or son or father or husband.

           “Where am I?” he demanded in a voice much more, brave in tenor than he felt in his heart.

           “This is a place where I ask the questions, Mr. Cross”. The judge held up a paper to catch the light better, “Mr. Johnathan Steven Cross.”. The judge laid the paper down again and continued, “My name is Judge Tremble and you have been accused, Mr. Cross, of being a Christian and are called by this court to answer to the charges. There is no plea to be tendered right now to this court until you have spoken to an advocate, a lawyer of your own choosing. Do you understand what is being demanded of you from this court, Mr. Cross?”

           “No!” said John firmly. “I think you should tell me what’s going on here!”

           “Mr. Cross, you will address me as “Sir” or “Your Honor” in the future. Do you understand?” said Judge Tremble with enough anger mixed with presumed elitist Power to cause John to reconsider a frontal verbal joust. Although an angry retort to this wrinkled face percolated unbidden in John’s mind, wanting, very much, to find its way into that countenance above him, after his reconsideration, John removed the sharpness of his voice. “Yes Sir...Uhmm Yes Your Honor”. Still needing information, John screwed up his courage a notch to continue. “Uhmmm...Sir, what is this place and why am I here?” asked John in a voice much more confident than he felt.

           “As I said, Young Man, and I am unaccustomed to having to repeat myself… Mr. Cross, you have been called to my court to answer the charge of being a Christian.” 

           A dawning of understanding was slowly beginning to glow in John’s mind. He was taken aback! Accused of being a Christian? By whom? And what is the big problem if he IS a Christian? It hasn’t made any problems for him before. “Whose court is this? What is going on here?” The sharpness had returned to John’s voice by his confusion and made louder by his fear, causing his former submissiveness to disappear. Judge Tremble cut in with a stern and final voice “I ALSO said, Mr. Cross, that I will ask the questions here! This is a high court of Law and will be respected!”. His sharp retort blocked off all discussion about the matter and John was silent. Judge Tremble took the indictment and added a bundle of papers to it in his hand, standing them on one end. He began to rap them on the desk to align them. When he was satisfied that the pile was perfectly in line and that the sharp rapping noise of their dance to his rhythm had made John’s discomfort level turn up a few more notches, he said to John. “Return to your place and wait there until the appropriate time.” The long boney finger left no chance of mistaking his directive. John turned to go to his table, silent; confused, to his table to await more information.


May 29, 2020 15:59

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