Owen's Damascus Road
posted Sunday, 18 February 2007
As he wended his way through the endemic mists that coiled about the mountainside, the warrior thanked God that he had been able to negotiate the morasses along the upward path. His thigh boots still showed the signs of the clinging weed, like the remains of a consumptive giant’s deep cough.
Owen the Curd sweated. The higher air seared the flesh remaindered by his outfit with the slow-moving funnels of its relative cold. He’d been told to leave the Lower Lands as a representative of the Curd race because, self-evidently, the God could hear prayers more easily further up the mountain. However, nobody had dreamt that, because of the mists, the God would not be able to be seen so readily as from the villages in the valley, during such two-way conversations which, in these parts, prayers had long since become. Nevertheless, being a race particularly hard of hearing, many misconceptions had grown up concerning the God’s own responses in those interchanges. Hence, Owen’s mission.
As he squatted on a tussock to catch a breather as it passed by on the turgid air flows, Owen visualised the God he had seen so often before: a moving face in the sky timelessly forming and unforming like clouds of flesh; the deep inarticulate thunder of the voice, much as a doctor’s must seem to patients in the local hospital; the forks of lightning jabbing across the cumulus eye-sockets; the groping fingers of roiling bone lovingly reaching out to those who prayed ... Once the image was fixed in his own flittering mind, Owen spoke:
‘O God, I’ve been sent to pray for victory in the war against the Iron Men. Us Curds need your help ... Please answer our prayers ... This is the make or break of our race ... We’ve never before prayed so hard ... If you like, we’ll make it our very last prayer ... If only you would please, please answer this one prayer…’
Suddenly, out of the mist, there strode another warrior, towering above Owen, with muscles that rippled down the tightening cords of his neck and chest (bare, despite the nagging chill). The huge two-handed broadsword, actually scabbarded in the flesh and bone at the side of his body, sparkled by its own light as it was withdrawn.
‘Why should I answer you Curds, and not those prayers spoken with equal earnestness by the Iron Men?’ came the roar, plucking syllables from the thunder like seeds from a pomegranate.
Owen was disturbed. This could not be the God of the Curds, for He did not resemble in any way the visualisation of the memory in the sky. Immediately suspecting it was a mortal representative of the Iron Men themselves, on a similar mission as himself, Owen stood up, his wet-weather gear cracking and crazing over with a strange geography of Ice. He would have to undo all the toggles, before he could get to his own broadsword. So, he decided to play for time:
‘Because our cause is just.”
“The Iron Men’s cause is just too.”
It was a mystery to Owen how there could be two just causes in one war. This could not be a God in any shape or form. By now, he had disentangled his weapon, and slew the taller warrior with one fell swoop; his aim was true, slicing with consummate downward ease through the skull, the chest, and, finally, the swag of intestines hanging between the legs. There was no chronology of wounds, just the instantaneous act. The two halves split asunder, scattering a purple clotted brew in all directions. Owen thanked God that his wet-weather gear was still relatively intact, as the other warrior’s innards filled-in between the ice-limned countries on his sou’wester with the bays and gulfs of tropic spume. Owen’s face, however, was open-mouthed and, as a drowning swimmer would involuntarily gulp the bitter salt of the waves, he found himself sicking downwards with the outcome of his sword-stroke.
Eventually, in a state of utter exhaustion and choking upon the phlegmy knot of his own body’s anti-viral defences in overdrive, he staggered down the mountain, the mists left behind stained pink. Alas, he found all the Curds and Iron Men had killed each other off in even nastier ways than he could have dreamt after a lifetime of warriorhood.
As a brave man, Owen would have committed suicide, if his own body had not already done the job for him: he realised, in his garbled way of thinking, that there need not have been a war at all if both causes were indeed just. Or even unjust, for that matter.
The thunder rumbled above the unpopulated valley, as if God were moving his furniture.
(published 'Mystique' 1990)