Monday, September 7, 2009

Shepherd's Campfire

Coals from the campfire glow hot and red from yellow flames recently fallen. Bright flickers still spurt here and there settling softly among the embers. Still the fire cracked, sending sparks like tiny shooting stars. The air adorned pleasantly with the smell of burning cedar. Lemuel hugged his thick wool cloak around his shoulders, his eyelids drooping with approaching sleep. Stars hung above with uncommon presence against purplish black velvet. Lemuel, however, was not thinking about stars. His head nodded with thoughts envisioning the lovely Sheililah. He thought of her eyes, her golden hair, the fullness of her lips and just as his thoughts began to consider the rest of this quean beauty, Ahiam spoke,

“Aaah!” It was loud enough to open Lemuel’s eyes and twitter his heart. The first thought of a startled shepherd is, An attack! His hand reached with automatic practice for his staff. But it was not an attack. Ahiam, who was not preoccupied with blood-surging dreams of Sheililah, was taken rather with what appeared to be an anomaly in the heavens. Ahiam's exclamation sounded as if the breath were knocked out of him. No alarm amongst the sheep, Lemuel’s second thought. An eerie incandescence enveloped them. It was not soft and glowing. It burst upon them, bright and abrasive. Gleaming. Frightening.

Young Jesse, a mere boy, emitted a high-pitched wail. Lemuel stared at him, agitated. Veteran shepherd that he was, he felt his presence of mind slipping. He thought he might urinate. The fourth member of the group, Elieazar, began to flee. Unheard of among shepherds. Shepherds were known to die protecting their flock. Elieazar suddenly stopped, confronted by an apparition which nailed him to the earth. His muscles could not work. He froze where he stood.

Lemuel had seen just about everything his calling had to offer. He had confronted and defeated predators of every description, animal and human. Lemuel was not easily awed by events around him. There was the time for example, when a drunken centurion attempted to make sport of him. The officer had drawn his short sword as if to decapitate him. Lemuel stood straight, galvanizing the man with his eyes, almost daring him to strike. When the blow came, Lemuel caught the soldier’s wrist with his hand and held it as if in a vise. Then abruptly, he laughed. The officer’s colleagues saw the humor of the event and also laughed. The embarrassed soldier desisted and lowered his sword. Lemuel was not a man of whom one easily made sport.

This light, however, jolted him. He did not rise to the moment with detached coolness. He, too, was afraid. His stomach recoiled in a wave of mild nausea. Perspiration wept through trembling, clammy skin. What he saw was totally unknown to him – indeed, unknown to all living men.

The “apparition” that had so arrested Elieazar emanated a brilliance that permeated this theater on the hillside. It was human in appearance, yet inhuman. A man. A creature. A source of unimaginable light. After a moment of silence, it spoke. “Do not be frightened.” Despite his appearance, despite the supernatural tension of the moment, his words, indeed, were soothing. If it is possible to go from intense fear to calm expectancy in an instant of time, it happened in the terror-stricken hearts of these peasant shepherds. “I bring you good news of immense joy.”

from The Carpenter Trilogy