The Lamb in the Bonfire (The Scapegoat in the Sack)

A moment went by, or weeks.

In the distance, I saw the three horsemen respond to the sound of my voice. They began to ride toward the woman from the direction of a second turreted city gate. They were still far away, though—mirages on the horizon. As I watched them materializing in the ether, I said,

“This will be fun. It’s rare that I have a lucid dream these days. I had them almost every night when I was a kid. A boy, I mean, and not a little goat. Given your obvious penchant for sheep, I thought it was a distinction worth mentioning.”

The woman began to cry again.

“Don’t be afraid,” I said. “This will be biblical! For a while, I’ll get to be like God in this place, wherever we are, so long as I remember who I am, and that I’m in a dream.”

“I’m the one who must be dreaming,” said the girl between involuntary hiccoughs. “This is like a nightmare.”

“My imagination is constructing a fine plot—its characters speak so realistically,” I congratulated myself out loud. Then I added for good measure, “You’re a phantom image. Some sort of Freudian symbol or Jungian archetype or something like that. I’m the only true consciousness in this dialogue.”

“How do you know?”

Cogito ergo sum. I’m David Vincent Kimel. I was born in Israel in a hospital called Tel Ha Shomer, in a city called Ramat Gan.”

“Where are your ancestors buried?”

“That’s a funny question! Well, my mother is descended from Italians, I guess—an old Neapolitan family, the Buonocores. The King of Naples executed an ancestor of mine, and Napoleon eventually inherited the estate.  I remember reading that he gave it to his mother as a kind of summer home. My father is a Jew of Romanian ancestry. His mother, Malka, was the daughter of a man named David, a peddler who sold bread. I’m named after him. Her mother was descended from Avtalion, the famous rabbi who was a relative of the Assyrian King who scattered the tribes of Israel, or so says the Talmud. And according to National Geographic, which can now trace our most distant ancestors using cheek swabs…”

“What’s National Geographic, and what are cheek swabs?”

“Never mind what those are. Let’s just say that I have it on good authority that my father’s father’s distant father came from Babylonia. And my mother’s mother’s distant mother from Carthage…”

“I suppose you’re going to say next,” said the woman, “that your stepfather was a carpenter, and that you grew up outside of a place called New Haven. And that you went camping in the Galilee every year with your father, where you’d swim in the Jordan River.”

“How did you know all that?”

The galloping of the horsemen became louder.

“Oh God,” cried the woman. “Those three old priests are coming back! And they’re on the hunt for a scapegoat.“

“I told you, goats have nothing to do with this…”

The horsemen had by now surrounded the woman. One rode a red horse and sported a ridiculously large mustache. The second was on the back of a black horse and had shaggy silver hair. The third was bald and sat on a pale horse of no distinct color. They all seemed to speak in Latin, or German. I couldn’t tell.

Ecce homines, was gibt es hier? I called. “We’re all characters in my dream, and I could wake up at any moment, so we haven’t got much time. Listen up. We’re going to play a game. We’ll hold a debate competition between all the ghosts of this place. We’ll ask True or False questions about the meaning of life—one side will defend True, and the other side False. And then, we four can be the judges until a single winner is left standing, the messiah of this place. The woman can break any ties. It will be a brilliant literary exercise, part Alice in Wonderland and part Plato’s Symposium. What do you say?”

“There’s no question what must be done here,” said the red horseman. Ignoring everything that I’d said, he grabbed hold of the lamb and heaved it into a sack.

“You mustn’t touch him!” screamed the woman. “It’s some sort of portent. And besides, he’s a black sheep, not a white one. He wouldn’t be appropriate for the rite.”

“Actually, the pelt was white originally,” I chirped stupidly. “It was your blood that made it so black.”

“But it doesn’t matter; the pelt is black now!”

“Actually, it’s very dark red.”

The three horsemen cackled. Over the sound of their laughter, she cried,

“It belongs to me and you can’t have it—the poor little black sheep! I beg you, don’t kill it.”

They heaved the sack into a great bonfire which had either just materialized or escaped my notice.

The last thing that I heard was a voice that muttered, “Now, stone the girl.”

I complained long and hard about this turn of events to an audience of air. At the end of my oration, I heard a voice intone, “You’re fired.”

I felt as if a giant held me in cupped hands. I was humble, and bowed to necessity. So I wasn’t dropped.

Then I woke up for the first time.

April 19, 2011

Next Chapter April 20, 2011


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