Then God said to one of his angels, “Go ye down below the firmament and spread harmony amongst men.”
But the Angel answered saying, “Surely you jest, Lord. Down there ain’t no place for an angel. They’ll take one look at my fine pair of wings, and if I’m not shot by some trigger-happy cop, I’ll likely end up in a zoo!”
God frowned, “You angels are so vain. You care more about your silly wings, than you do about peace and love.”
“Forsooth,” spluttered the Angel, “You’re hardly a paragon of virtue yourself. Consider all the hurricanes, tsunamis and pestilence you visited upon the earth, wiping out thousands of innocent people on every occasion. Wasn’t it you that said, ‘thou shalt not kill’?”
“I might have known you’d throw that back in my face. We can’t all be perfect. Which reminds me, what happened to my ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ commandment? Hardly anyone bothered to obey it.”
“They understood the ‘love thyself’ bit, Lord,” replied the angel, “but, ‘love thy neighbour’, got lost in the small print.”
“And the other commandments, what about them? There were ten if I remember correctly? You may have to remind me what some of them said, that pushy Moses character carried off the only hard copy.”
The angel almost shed a feather laughing, “Clay-tablet writing went out long before my time Lord. No disrespect, but we’re now living in the digital age.”
“So then, please explain why everyone is shuffling around like a zombie, staring at their hands. Is this a new religion I haven’t caught up with yet?”
“You could call it that,” answered the angel, “They are receiving constant streams of messages from prophets, rendering them unable to exercise rational thought. The prophets in turn gain reward for the number of followers they command. This system is overseen by a small number of oligarchs with almost unlimited power. A lot like that wielded by the Popes and Bishops of yesteryear.”
“I sorely miss those good old days. Gallant knights in shining armour marching off to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before. Someone should put that to music, it would make a good song. By the way what became of that Jesus fellow? He used to wander around claiming to be my son? How could that be possible?”
“Virgin birth, Lord. A difficult one to dispute. And his fate? Well, he became another victim of crucifixion.”
“Don’t see much of that anymore; it’s surprising how quickly fashions change. Even my lightning bolts are almost redundant since people fitted lightening conductors to their houses. I was once feared, now I’m mostly ignored.”
“The winds of change blow cold amongst the stones, Lord. Passing time waits for no one, not even you.”
“Well at least I still have some creations to be proud of. Vast oceans, blue sky, lush green forests harbouring creatures great and small. Beauty in all its natural glory. Those were the gifts I bestowed upon mankind, to delight in and cherish for eternity.”
The angel grimaced, “Look again Lord, if you can see through the haze. There’s not a whole lot of natural beauty left. The masses are breeding out of control, destroying your handiwork in their haste to acquire as much for their greedy selves as possible. Forests are cleared, the earth is mined, noxious vapours pollute the atmosphere and the sea is used as a dumping ground for all manner of waste.”
God lowered his weary head, an expression of sad resignation in his eyes.
“Wherefore then the Kingdom of Heaven? The people no longer fear me, and their leaders believe they are me.”
With a heavy heart, he spake these final words:
“Throw closed the gates of Heaven. My work is done!”
“Would you like me to wrap them for you?” the sales assistant asked.
“I’ll keep them on thanks,” replied Julie, dropping her old pair into the bag with the rest of her shopping. She should have noticed a look of concern on the face of the assistant, but was so excited with her latest purchase, she chose to ignore it.
The assistant however felt duty-bound to pursue the matter, and made one final attempt, “Are you quite certain they’re the correct size? You did say you were an eight, and these are seven.”
What did size matter when shoes looked this good? “No, they fit like a glove, and I love them!”
“Will that be cash or credit?”
Julie offered her card. To discuss money matters at a time like this would have appeared vulgar.
She floated from the shop in an enhanced state of elation. The train station was less than five minutes’ walk away, and for the first of these minutes, she was buoyed on a fluffy white cloud, convinced all eyes were upon her gleaming new shoes. Rapidly though the cloud transformed, changing to an angry storm-surge, firing bolts of jagged lightening into her tender feet. Her happy smile melted, to be replaced by a furrowed brow and increasingly alarmed eyes.
She reached the station, but the platform was one level above the street, and facing her was a flight of stairs resembling a wide-open mouth bearing a set of sharp white teeth. She began the perilous ascent. “One, two, three . . . Why am I counting,” she thought. “It won’t get me up any easier. If I hear the train there’s no way I can run for it!”
Luck however was on her side and conquest of this barrier coincided with the arrival of the train. Thoroughly drained, she flopped onto a vacant seat beside the window. Her feet were killing her. This new pair of shoes that had looked so appealing in the shop, now conspired to squeeze the last drop of blood from her throbbing toes. The doors closed automatically and the train pulled slowly out of the station. “This is your guard speaking,” came a hollow voice from the speaker above her head. “Will passengers please report any unaccompanied packages or anything else suspicious to me. I can be found . . . “
“Yea-yea, heard it all before.”
Julie dropped her bag onto the floor, pushing it partway under the seat in front. “Now to get these shoes off!” She leaned back, digging the toe of one shoe into the heel of the other. The pain was excruciating, but it yielded. One down, one to go. With similar painful action, the second was also removed. During this operation, both her shoes and shopping bag were pushed even further out of sight under the seat in front.
Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. “Trains don’t make that noise anymore,” thought Julie, “Such a pity; it’s a comforting sound.” Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. The rhythm played in her brain as she screwed up, then unfurled her toes in an attempt to encourage life back into them. As the feeling returned, the toes of her left foot began to explore a soft object on the floor beside them. Idly, she caressed it, then prodded it, but either way received no positive feedback as to what it was. She peeped through the gap between the two seats in front of her. Both were empty. Whatever it was couldn’t belong to someone who wasn’t even there. She shut her eyes. Clickety-clack, mind the gap. Her toes continued their unconscious examination of the mysterious object.
It wasn’t an alarm bell, but alarming enough to cause her eyes to snap back open. “What was that he said, ‘unaccompanied’, ‘suspicious’? Surely not this ‘thing’!” She glanced desperately around for reassurance from fellow passengers. No help here. Her pleading eyes were met by the expressionless stares of people hypnotized by little glowing screens held in their hands.
As thoughts of ‘suspicious’ swirled through her head, the train rounded a corner and the carriage lurched sideways. The object shifted, coming to rest against her foot. She froze. “I’m trapped!” she thought, sitting dead still and hardly daring to breathe. Seconds passed, then minutes, but nothing happened. Even the vibration of the train had not provoked the object any further. “If there was anything dangerous in that packet it would surely have exploded by now.” Cautiously, she withdrew her foot and took a deep breath.
The immediate crisis having passed, her paralyzed brain kicked back into action. “I’ll go find the guard. Where’d he say he was? Middle of the train. Which way is that?” She made as if to stand up, then stopped, “This is stupid. What will I say? My foot’s been attacked by a rogue package! He’ll think I’m demented!” She remained seated, trying unsuccessfully to relax.
There was no one sitting next to her, so she leaned sideways for a better view beneath the seat in front. “Ah-ha,” she thought, “Just as I suspected; what a cunning plan. The package has been disguised to look exactly like my shopping bag. This might fool someone else, but not me.” She sat up feeling very pleased with herself, but now what? This time she definitely must tell the guard. The moment he learns of a suspicious package masquerading as her shopping bag, he’ll be spurred to action. She’ll be declared a heroin for saving the train and her photo will feature on the front page of all the newspapers! She jumped up, but with such enthusiasm that she hit her head on the overhead luggage rack. Stars burst before her eyes as day changed to night. Dazed, she fell back onto her seat.
A sore head and an interval of calm, before the sound of a distant police siren reminded Julie of her hazardous predicament. “Suppose this thing has a timing device, set to go off when . . . . . . ? In the movies, you see numbers counting back towards zero, at least you then know how long you have. This package is not only hidden under the seat, but worse still, it’s playing footsie with my tootsies!” The only thing now preventing the package from exploding, was Julie’s formidable willpower.
She was panic-stricken. A race against time. A nightmare. She cried silently for help, certain she could hear it ticking. “Where does a girl find a big strong fireman when she needs one?” Rivulets of fear trickled down her face, whilst beneath her armpits, clammy fingers of perspiration played a wild concerto. Which one should she have used this morning, deodorant or anti-perspirant? How could that matter when she was involved in this life-or-death situation? Time to consider the children! What would happen to them if their mother didn’t make it home tonight? Who’d be there to feed them, tuck them up in bed, read them a story?
“OK, so maybe I don’t have any children, but what if I did?”
She stood up, marched purposefully to the end of the corridor and passed through the interleading door into the adjoining carriage. It was empty, totally empty; not a soul to be seen! Where is everyone; my saviour, a knight in shining armour? They must have heard about the bomb and abandoned the train. An anguished cry stuck in her throat, changing moments later to a self-conscious giggle as she noticed the sign on the window, ‘First Class Only’. “Silly me, first class passengers don’t travel at this time of day,” she thought. She skulked back to her seat, desperate for an encouraging sign.
The sign arrived sooner than expected. A piercing scream! Not human, but metallic. She froze. A voice inside her head wailed pathetically, “You’ve got to get me out of here. I’ll be good, never swear again, give up smoking, anything!” The screaming noise faded as pressure on the brakes was reduced and the train slowed to a stop. The carriage doors slid open and Julie ducked under the seat. She made a frantic grab for her shoes and shopping bag, and sprang barefoot from the train!
“Damn this PMT !”
Awakened by the warming sun,
Shy crowns of blue have just begun
To frolic and to entertain;
Roused by drops of quenching rain.
All season long they slumbered low,
Hiding from the frost and snow.
Waiting for their chance to bloom,
When light dispelled the Winter gloom.
An azure blaze of colour spreads,
As Bluebells raise their lovely heads
Amongst the trees, along the street,
Rhythm-of-life pulsates to their beat.
They cast a spell upon my shoes
To wash away those winter blues
And dance in breezes soft and warm,
Uplifting soul. . . A new Spring born!
In dead of night, a little mouse
Strayed a long way from its house.
This creature small, a tiny ball,
Had dared to climb a stem so tall.
But ghostly shadow in the gloom,
Alerts it to approaching doom,
As hunting owl from darkened sky
Swoops low, emits a frightening cry.
The mouse to peril is no stranger,
Acutely it perceives the danger.
Terrified, it turns to run,
The owl draws near, the race is on.
Claws spread wide, with open beak,
It dives upon its prey to keep.
The mouse speeds down towards its nest;
Safe at home is always best.
From many such encounters past
It has escaped, but luck can’t last.
This time too slow; the night has come
For mouse to end, in owl’s fat tum!
Cappuccino, large or small,
Chocolate muffin, Latte tall.
Hot Panini oozing cheese,
Orange juice, freshly squeezed.
Small round table, leather chair,
Americano, poured with care.
Barista turning up the steam,
Patrons staring at small screens.
Pain au raisin looks so good,
Can’t resist but know I should.
Espresso in a tiny cup,
Not enough to get revs up.
Girl alone, empty plate,
Invite her for a twilight date.
Body language said she might,
But all she wanted, was Flat White!
Phantom spirit, ‘neath shroud of green
tangled ivy, wrapped in strangle-hold
around your form unseen.
What lurks hidden until the light
of fading day is by the earth consumed
to welcome spectres of the night?
Can your dark visage be so vile
that you should cower like some clandestine soul
condemned to haunt this vault with artful guile?
Furtive form, reveal yourself so
eyes might see the nature of your being,
or skulk forever with them that passed below.
A gentle breeze brushed through her hair,
Lifting it with jaunty flair.
She raised a hand to pat it down,
Causing me a puzzled frown,
For I mistook it for a wave,
And cheerfully waved back.
She seemed surprised;
Enchanting me with glowing eyes.
Upon her face a radiant smile
That did me so beguile,
I cast aside my shy reserve
And eagerly smiled back.
Then panic struck. I turned away
Like someone fleeing from its prey.
Perplexed by my reluctant stance,
She fixed me with an anxious glance
That caused me to reverse my turn,
And nervously glance back.
Perceiving that I harboured fear,
She bid me softly to draw near,
But I, unsettled by her grace,
Blushed and took a backward pace.
Then in a daze did I submit,
And timidly pace back.
Overpowered by her scent;
Her body moved in close to mine;
Souls together tight entwined.
She placed her hand upon my shoulder,
. . . and stabbed me in the back!
Damn the dawn that stole from me, sweet visions of the night.
Oh heartless sun, could you not wait until my dream was done?
Like a knife you cut the cord that bound me to her breast.
Reverse at once your climb, cruel thief, so I might slumber on.
Spiteful light, do not allow this precious picture fade.
I grasp her hand, it will not stay; pleading eyes, forlorn, dismay.
Allow I beg, one final chance to plunge back into sleep,
Before this dying dream of love is torn from me away.
(A narrative poem based on Greek mythology)
With backward glance they slipped from his hand.
Like tears they fell, and lay on the sand
Piled in a mound above your head,
Over a coffin containing the dead.
He walks away, you are left alone,
Tender words on a cross made of stone;
Never again to see the sky,
Your body in its grave does lie.
So to The Underworld your soul must go
And be judged by The Three, who wait below.
Hermes is your guide appointed;
On wingèd feet you’ll be escorted
Swiftly from this mortal state,
Your transition he’ll facilitate.
But first, before he bears your soul in haste,
A coin upon your lips is placed,
Ensuring you can pay the toll
To the man with eyes as black as coal.
No returning is there now,
No final message be allowed.
Down winding paths and tunnels deep,
Along the way, you hear men weep.
Ghostly shapes ahead you see;
Gaunt faces stare vicariously
Through haunted eyes, abandoned years,
The endless crying of dry tears.
Dark clouds and thunder overhead;
You’ve reached the place where they greet the dead.
Your guide no further can proceed,
He’s not allowed to intercede.
Hermes leaves whilst you await
That fearful voyage your soul must take.
“You’ll receive no charity whilst down here,”
Charon the ferryman says without cheer.
With pole in hand, he stands in his boat,
“Your time has come to cross this moat.
Spit out the coin from between your lips,
If you want to be carried across the Stix,
Or wander in limbo twixt living and dead,
Forever on the banks of this riverbed.”
The toll is settled, the boat moves away;
Few are so foolish as not to pay.
The Stix is wide and uncontrolled;
Souls borne over since times of old.
Through blanketing mist and swirling fog,
You listen to Charon’s monologue . . .
“Cerberus the dog, guards the gate,
All worldly possessions he’ll confiscate.
Three heads he has but have no doubt,
He won’t be trying to keep you out.”
Charon’s face twists with a knowing grin,
“His sole intent is to keep you in!”
You disembark on a foreign shore,
The track you follow is well-worn.
Up ahead at the iron gates
Your journey briefly terminates
Whilst Cerberus sniffs the air
With all six nostrils wide aflair.
Eyes ablaze, mocking smile,
Insincere and drooling bile.
Extravagantly, he says to you,
“All are welcome, please enter through.
Many souls pass this way
But remain on the path and do not stray
Until a fork ahead you see,
Then stop to be judged, by the panel of three.”
Compliantly, you do as told;
Contorted branches crackle with cold.
Heart pounds fast as you try to stay strong,
The going is steep, twisting and long.
Abruptly you halt, as one path becomes two
And a glow on the left beckons to you.
With faltering steps you attempt to proceed
But your ankles are locked in a tight snarl of weed.
Dense black smoke descends like a screen
Too dark for the path on the right to be seen,
When a flash reveals cliffs that encase
A heaving dank chamber where souls are erased.
Out of the mist, three judges appear,
Countenance stern; no humour here.
Rhadamanthus, Minos, and Aeacus,
To begin your review, fair and judicious.
“We are charged to appraise your life above ground.
By the laws of Hades our king, we are bound
To seek honour and valour in the tales that you tell,
Or evermore in suspension you’ll dwell,
Existing in misery, your soul in disgrace,
Fading to nothing in a dark barren place.”
Aeacus raises his sceptical head,
The very sight of him fills one with dread.
Guardian of keys fixed to a chain,
Signify agony, horror and pain.
“Say what you’ve done to deserve our respect;
Answer with candour, don’t let us suspect
You are gilding the truth to disguise your fears
Or torment endure, for the rest of your years.
Dispensation was granted Persephone our queen
To leave in the spring and in meadows be seen,
But you for eternity, shall remain down here,
Accompanied by souls that do not reappear.”
In the stillness that follows, you shake with alarm,
Surely some way of avoiding this harm?
The judge on the left looks less severe,
You hope he finds your soul is sincere.
Rhadamanthus radiates an air of mystique
As you listen intently to hear him speak.
“You can be spared from that joyless hell
By avoiding the pitfall others befell,
But first convince us before end of day,
If, in the Fields of Elysium you’ll play.
Happy and blessed would be your life,
Indulging in pleasure, free from all strife,
There in a heaven of blossom and trees,
Petals are carried on soft scented breeze,
Transforming in wonder that magically grow
Into fountains of flowers where waterfalls flow.
In this world of perpetual spring,
Music plays softly and songbirds sing,
So prove now your worth in a manner concise,
And be invited to Paradise.”
Your mind spins about, recalling the past,
Desperately grasping for what was the last
Good deed that you did, kind word that you said,
To remove this Damocles sword from your head.
Impassive the eyes of the judges remain
As you stammer and stutter whilst trying to explain
How sorry you are for hurt you have caused,
When without warning, the hearing is paused
By the hand of Minos, to signify
The judge’s decision is now to apply.
Rhadamanthus looks pleased, Aeacus is stern,
If the vote goes against you, in hell you would burn.
They cannot decide; it could go either way,
No further pleading, this judgement will sway.
The balance is primed, how will this resolve.
Should entry to heaven favour the bold?
Minos, the arbiter, must finally choose.
All ears strain to hear his views.
A bell tolls on a distant hill,
The portals to Paradise are open still.
Your fate is sealed, no more can be said,
The law is clear in this realm of the dead:
To accept without question where it will be . . . .
Elysian Fields . . . .
. . . . or Purgatory.