Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Prophet

A story
“It’s sort of spooky how when you’re caught talking to God nowadays everybody thinks you’re nuts. They used to call you a prophet.”

~The Pigman, page 81

I’m a black man on the street corner, a grizzled old man with my short white beard. I wear my tattered clothes and I watch the streets of New York light up, lying on my cardboard box. I watch the people hurry past, each of them returning to their own lives and their own worlds, sending pitying glances my way. I see them all. They don’t see me. I see them walk by, the man with the hat trying to tug it further down on his head to protect him from the rain, the girl with the light brown hair who never once looks in my direction. And then there are the do-gooders, the ones who come over to me with their faintly rancid McDonalds meals and hand them over to me. They always walk away with a self-satisfied smirk on their faces and I take out the burger and chomp away on it, a great grin breaking over my face. Those are the sort who give me food only so that they feel better about it. I don’t begrudge them. I only want to look at them.

They don’t know what I see. They think I see them the way they present themselves. Those successful businessmen with their strut, walking proudly down the streets, their hand curved over the shoulder of a tall blonde girl dressed in a black close-fitting suit; they think I see them just as they present themselves. They’ve taught themselves how to walk and how to act, how to strut down the street; they’ve read the books and the manuals and the self-help guides but they can’t hide from me. I see them for who they really are because you see, I am a wizard.

Oh, don’t you laugh now! I know what you’re thinking. He’s some homeless fellow who is giving himself airs; he’s crazy upstairs, a lunatic; he’s lost his marbles. Of course that’s what you’d think; you can’t give credence to the fact that there’s something beyond the norm in this world, something beyond what you can see. But the truth is that I see you, and that’s the fact. I see you and I know you better than you know yourself. I know your insecurities, your flaws, what you did to your mother last night that you regret. I know what you’re tearing yourself up about, what’s on your mind. I lie stretched out on my cardboard box in my half-drunken stupor and you pass me by in disgust, spit on me, but I see you and I know all your weaknesses.

I know exactly how to blackmail you if I wanted money from you. I know that you, with the chestnut hair and the newly done nails, are cheating on your husband. I even know who you’re cheating on him with, and despite the advertisements and discussions in magazines like Cosmopolitan or Elle, it’s not someone who’s handsomer, sexier and better than he is. It’s simply someone who cares a little more, who pays you a little more mind, who sees you when you walk into a room and remembers to compliment you on the new perfume. You don’t want to leave your husband; you have a relatively good life as creature comforts go and hey, I see that, I respect it; I can certainly respect it from my perspective, lying on a street corner and watching the people go by.

So I don’t judge you. You walk by me and you judge me, but I don’t judge you. I don’t have to. Because I see you, I really see you. If you knew you were so exposed, so vulnerable before me, would you dare to look down on me like you do? Would you dare to think, as you pass me, that I’m nothing but a drunken beggar, lying here and asking for your money, a failure at life, someone you can spit on and look down on?

Ah! I don’t think you would. You have no idea who I am. You only know who you are, or more particularly, who you’d like to be. But that’s not who you are. You’re only what you present yourself to be, the mask of the moment. You’re smart, you’re powerful, you’re rich, you’re a pauper- all by the grace of God and man, powerful man. But you’re also an actor upon the vast stage that is our world. You walk down the streets of New York City and I see you, you teenage punks or rockers or even the sweet little children sucking on their red cherry lollipops, you tourists with your cell phones and cameras, snapping pictures at every possible moment, you foreigners who have come here illegally. I see your clothes, your artfully ripped jeans or your casually muddied sneakers, your soft white blouse or your ripped hose and I know the story behind all of them. I know that you think you’ll look tougher in those jeans or that you don’t want anyone to know you don’t actually go running in those sneakers, that you want to impress him in that blouse and that you spent the night at his place, which is why you don’t have fresh hose. Yes, I see it all. But you don’t see me. You pass me right by. You haven’t got time for anyone.

Just the other day a professional violinist played here, someone who usually earns thousands a night to perform in front of a crowd of individuals who all see themselves as being musically-savvy. He decided to play a trick on the crowd and begin to play, classical music that wafted over the hustle and bustle of New York City, the guys hawking their wares, selling their track jackets for “Fi-i-ive dollars! Just five dollars!” the girls who are busy standing in front of a caricaturist, the man who is snapping pictures of the skyline. He played godly music and you didn’t listen because you didn’t have time. But I, a drunk, knew him for who he was, and sprawled out on my cardboard box, I listened to him. He didn’t know I was listening. I slouched lower, pulled my checkered shirt a bit closer around myself, made sure to close my eyes. But I heard every note, every whisper of a sound. I knew him, you see, but you did not.

So who am I, you ask? Who am I, this homeless drunk who dodges about odd places in New York City, who begs in subway stations or sleeps on benches in Central Park or lies sprawled out under a storefront until the police come to bother me and force me to move?

I’ll tell you who I am.

I am a prophet, the last prophet of God.
And you are the ones who need to listen.


I was a young boy, just nine years old. My father raised me to be kind and good, to believe in God and keep his laws. We were religious, but not overly so. You know the kind of people. Good people, the kind who focus on community over God, who are more interested in people than in lofty high concepts beyond our understanding. I was excited; it was my birthday and my Grandma was coming. She always baked the best cakes, chocolate with a hint of rum and lots of sprinkles.

The room was decorated; shiny tinsel letters that wished me a “HAPPY BIRTHDAY” strung across the ceiling. I leaped up and down, trying to touch them, then stopped when my sister shot me a look. My sister’s name was Ruby; she was older than me and was already interested in boys by then. She put on lipstick and brushed out her shining black hair, she’d sit in front of the mirror in our room and I’d watch her in awe. She found me annoying and would tell me to go away but it was my room, too, I’d insist, and of course our parents would take my side. So I’d watch her and see her put on her red slippers and her flowing skirts and walk outside, as beautiful as I had ever seen. I was secretly proud of my sister, though I’d never tell her so, proud that someone so beautiful and accomplished was part of my family. She played the piano too, you see, and it was that music that I loved so much because it was her.

But my Grandma was coming and today was my birthday and Pop was home, so I went over to him, tugging at my red tie. I was all dressed up in a vest and crisp black trousers; my shoes were shined and my hair neatly combed. I always had to get dressed up before Grandma came because she’d look me over and inspect me to make sure I was up to snuff. I always felt choked in that white shirt and would give anything to get out of those uncomfortable shoes, but it was worth it, because when Grandma came, she’d always slip me a fifty dollar bill and I felt rich. I never noticed the way she’d smile up at my parents after she’d given it to me; I figured it was our own little secret and I felt lucky.

So I stared longingly out the window into the crisp June weather, saw the leaves waving in the breeze and the squirrels tumbling around and about each other, chasing one another around. One of them had a berry in her mouth and I saw someone else try to grab at it; I frowned and my mother came to stand near me. The other one didn’t make it and I was glad; then she put her hand on me and I turned.

“Son,” she said, very formally and very seriously, and for a moment I was scared because Ma’s a teacher and whenever she says “Son” in that tone of voice I worry that I’ve done something wrong. But today was my birthday so surely I couldn’t have done anything wrong, or if I did, I didn’t know what it was.

“Today’s a very special birthday,” she said, and I could hear a sort of choke in her voice. I was frightened for a moment but then I just smiled up at her; there was a gap between my first two teeth where I’d lost one of them, and I said, “What Ma, what’s the matter?”

She choked up a bit more and made a kind of hiss through her teeth and I knew that something was wrong. “What- what’s wrong, Ma?” I asked and now I was puzzled so my brow crinkled up.
“Today’s a special birthday,” she repeated, repeatedly smoothing her hands across her pleated blue dress, even though it was already clean. She tried to smile a little. “You know how old you’re going to be today?”

“Ten!” I said proudly and smiled again. I looked down at my squeaky new black patent leather shoes and my cuffed crisp trousers, smoothed my hands over my black vest, took in the correctly buttoned white shirt and the red satiny tie and looked back up at her. There was nothing wrong that I could see and I didn’t understand why she was so worried.

“I want you to know,” she said, “how much I love you” and she bent over me to give me a hug. I grimaced and tried to push her back a bit; I would take hugs from Grandma because I didn’t see her that often, but why was my Ma acting so strange?

“Now, now,” my father said, stepping to attention. He put his large hand on my shoulder and I felt a bit safer; with Pa here, everything was going to be all right. We all looked out the window and I tried to see whether I could find any more squirrels but they were gone. There was only the sun and the grass and the green leaves swaying, the buds opening up to the sun. I hoped I’d see Grandma’s car soon. It was a gold car and it caught the sunlight beautifully.

“Pa,” I said, and looked anxiously up at him, then looked meaningfully at Ma. He caught my look and smiled at me, patted my hand. “It’ll be all right,” he said, then spoke to Ma in a low voice. She had a kind of catch in her voice, then looked at me and I thought I saw tears shining in her eyes. That scared me. Ma never cried. There was no reason to. We were a happy family; we had everything we really needed. So I avoided her and uncomfortably looked down at the waxed wood floor, shining with a rough brownish hue, hoping to avoid her. I walked into the dining room, beneath the tinsel “HAPPY BIRTHDAY,” looked at the food lying on the table. Sloppy Joes, that’s what I’d asked for and that’s what I’d got. My mom had made me Sloppy Joes and there were buns lying open on the table; there were lots of toppings in different containers, onions, pickles, mustard and other kinds of good stuff. And of course there were pop bottles everywhere. And confetti. Ruby had decided the table didn’t look good without the confetti, and secretly, I agreed that it made everything more festive.

I heard the spurt and sputter as a car rolled to a stop. “Grandma!” I shouted and ran outside to meet her. She came almost all the way up; she was wearing a pant-suit, a purple one, Grandma always wore the loudest colors. Her hair was white but she still had lavender eye-shadow on; I had already learned that the color on her eyes would always be as wild as the suits she wore. Pa loved her; Ma was embarrassed by her. But then, Ma was her daughter and a very different kind of daughter.

“Well how’s my young man doing?” she asked, bending over a bit as she caught me up in a hug and slipped the fifty dollars into my hand. I beamed up at her and quickly hid the money in my pants-pocket. My father looked away; I didn’t realize then that he was giving me a moment.
“So tall and handsome and strong” Grandma continued as we helped her into the house. She sat down on one of the brown couches, always a little discomfited by the fact that she sank into the cushions instead of having them firmly bear up under her weight. We kids loved the fact that the cushions were squashy; we could jump on them to our heart’s delight and they wouldn’t break. Ruby and I would play together, throw pillows at one another across the living room, even uproot the cushions and pile them up on the floor.

I saw Grandma was carrying a box under one arm. “My cake, Grandma! My cake!” My eyes were shining.

“No, you can’t look at it yet,” she said but her eyes were twinkling. I made a move to take it from her but my father stopped me with a firm look in his eyes. He reached for the cakebox and I couldn’t stop him; he took it into the kitchen and left me with Grandma.

“So how’s school?” she asked and I felt bad. Grandma was best at music and literature, you see, and I wasn’t good at either of those. Ruby’s the one who got all the musical talent; she’s the pianist in the family, you see. As for me, I’m better at numbers than at any of that book stuff; I mean, I think it’s interesting but only if you tell it to me. I’m not good at sitting down and reading from a book; I’d rather someone summed it up and told me the meaning behind it. So I wasn’t doing too good in those subjects.

“Well, it’s okay” I half-answered, then tried to evade her by drawing her attention to the dining room table. “Sloppy Joes!” I exclaimed as though presenting a feast. “Grandma, Ma made Sloppy Joes!”

“So she did,” Grandma answered and sniffed, I think a little disapprovingly. Obviously Grandma didn’t like the fact that I was getting Sloppy Joes for my birthday.

I was brought up too polite to actually ask for my gift but I was dying to know whether she’d bought me anything. I was a full ten years old, after all, and I deserved a gift, I thought. But what? I hoped it wasn’t something bad that Grandmas usually give, like socks or clothes or gifts that your two-year-old brother would like. I wanted something kind of unusual, something interesting that I could show at the kids of school so that they’d all exclaim in envy, “You have such a cool Grandma!”

“Dinner!” my Ma cried and we all sat at the table; all of us, that is, but Ruby. Ruby was outside licking the ice cream in her ice-cream cone, smiling and laughing and talking to one of her beaus. I was the one who had decided to call them beaus; I heard it in class sometime when we were talking about one of those real old-time books and decided I liked it and it suited. She would kick up her feet and lean against the old white fence and smile while licking her ice cream cone the whole time.

“Don’t you want Ruby to come in?” Grandma asked, giving my Ma a kind of look.

“Oh, she’ll come in a little later,” my Ma answered, setting out the places and taking out a package. “Here,” she said, “your first present.”
I opened it up, so excited. And then I stopped. It was a necklace. A stuffy old necklace, a girl’s necklace. “Ma, are you sure you wrapped the right thing?” I asked tentatively. “You might have meant this for Ruby or something…” I stood, holding the gold chain in my hand as though it were a viper about to bite me.

“No,” she laughed, and put it around my neck. “No, it’s for you. It was mine and I want you to have it to always remember me.”

“Remember you?” I asked, confused. “Why shouldn’t I remember you? I’ll see you tomorrow!”

My Ma turned quickly away to help my Pa put a steaming pot of stew on the table so I didn’t get to see her face. I soon forgot about the necklace of interlocking gold links as I dug into my stew and my sloppy joe bun. I had to tuck a napkin into my collar first, though, so that I wouldn’t spill it all over myself.

My Ma took out her bun and shook out her hair. That was a rare treat. We never got to see Ma with her hair down. I loved it when she did that; it meant that she was relaxed, calm, happy. It took a lot of work to prepare her hair to wear it down; it was so long.

Ruby came inside, having finished her ice-cream cone. She smiled at all of us, then flounced over to the piano where she sat down and began to perform. We ate our sloppy joes and she played all her classical songs. I didn’t really like those too much. I wanted some of the rollicking songs, the ones that made me clap and laugh and kick up my heels. She played some of those, too, and soon I’d gotten up from the table and was capering around the room. Someone handed me a harmonica and I started blowing away at it, making awful noises but just having fun.

My Ma and Pa cleared the table and then we all settled down, because they were going to bring the cake out. I really wanted a slice of the cake but Ma and Pa insisted that we have a proper family get-together before I got to taste it.

“Here’s what I want you to know,” Pa said. “We are very proud of our son and glad that he has reached this age. Double digits, young man” and he winked at me, “are something to be proud of. In fact, I want you to have this” and he reached in his pocket and pulled out an old pipe. A stuffy old pipe! Who wanted a pipe? Nobody smoked pipes anymore!

“This was my father’s,” Pa explained, “and I want you to keep it with you, always.”

It was at this point that I remembered Ma’s gold necklace and I touched it inadvertently as I took the pipe. I wasn’t getting any good presents this year. Couldn’t anyone give me something I actually wanted like a scooter or a Nintendo game or some CD I wanted? Everyone was giving me things I didn’t actually want.

Apparently Ruby thought so, too. She stuck up her nose in the air and pulled out her present for me. “I know you wanted this,” she said, handing it to me, “it’s the newest songs by Beast; I figured you’d want them.”

“Beast!” I exclaimed and jumped up and down. Beast was a pop icon my parents didn’t approve of but whom I loved, the man I wanted to grow up to be. He looked dangerous and scary on his album covers and sang about a lot of stuff I didn’t understand but I bet he didn’t have to wear satiny red ties to his birthday parties and that was the kind of power I wanted.

She bent down a bit and I allowed her to kiss me; it was my birthday, after all. I wouldn’t have let her touch me any other day of the year, though, or at least I sure wouldn’t admit it. We’re supposed to fight, you know, at least that’s what the kids in my class say, but we don’t fight half as often as we should.

Finally we got around to the Cake. Chocolate cake, of course, with sprinkles, but before I got to eat it, Grandma gave me her present. It was some kind of strange notebook, but it came with invisible ink, so that was cool. I threw some all over Ruby who got scared because of her wait dress, but then it faded away and I was happy.

They served up the cake and I took a big piece. I remember looking up at my family members, completely happy, a little confused by the weird presents I’d gotten, but enjoying my chocolate and sprinkles. I noticed that my parents weren’t eating any cake; strange, I thought, and then the room spun a bit and I couldn’t see anything any more.


Wet. Beneath me, on the floor, a kind of wetness and cold that I was unfamiliar with, that completely confused me. And above me, stalacites and stalagmites, dripping a strange liquid down on me. It must be a dream, I think, but panicked, I look down at my shirt and realize that it too is wet and stained. Oh no, I think, I’ve stained my special birthday shirt and now Ma is going to kill me! Speaking of which, where is Ma? I look around and my eyes get accustomed to the light, or rather the lack of it.

It’s then that I get scared. I seize up and turn over so I’m on my belly and I see a kind of flicker at the back of the cave so someone must be there. I’m frightened so I’m quiet. I see that I’m not hurt or anything really, just muddy, and I still have everything that was given to me; the gold chain, the pipe and the Beast album. So that’s strange. But then I start panicking and my breath comes really fast and I can’t figure out where I am and I’m alone and terrified.


A voice and an image but the light’s too bright and I can’t see. He’s framed against a doorway, an archway at the top of what I now see are stairs, carved stairs within the stone and within the cave. He has long grey tendrils of hair and he’s white; his face is rather ugly and his clothes are worse; they’re brown and look scratchy. He’s wearing sandals on his feet and he frightens me.

He softens his voice a little and I can tell he means to be kind. “You’ve had rather a shock, boy. I’d like not to make it worse.”

“Let me go!” I shout. “Let me alone! You’ve kidnapped me! You’ve brought me here; you’re evil, they’ll find you, my parents are looking for you and-“ suddenly my mind freezes up, I’ve suddenly thought of something- “you’re not going to kill me, are you?”

He takes a step closer and I shrink back into the darkness, the stalacites dripping and making a cold sound on the rough surface of the rock. “Please don’t kill me,” I say stupidly, repeating a line I’ve heard in a lot of movies, and then I look around for the weapon that’s always supposed to be at hand. But there isn’t one, of course, that’s only in movies. So I stare stupidly up at him as he comes closer.

“No, I’m not going to kill you” and his voice is guttural, gruff and harsh; his grey eyebrows bristle menacingly over his eyes. He holds a torch in his hand; I see that now and I laugh at that; why doesn’t he have a flashlight? This is all pretty ridiculous; this man is hiding out in a cave by torchlight and he’s somehow got me. Well, that part is not so funny. In fact, that part frightens me too much for me to really think about it.

“My parents are looking for me,” I say again and my voice quavers; I look down at my crisp white shirt which is now all muddy and brown.

“No,” he says, and motions me to come closer, “they aren’t.”

I’m not going to come near him of my own will. He sits down at a kind of table, also carved out of rock, and says to me, “Come sit down.”

I shake my head.

“Don’t, then,” he says, “as you wish,” and then, very strange in the midst of such an odd setting, he takes out a paper cup, walks over to a water cooler and fills it up. I also notice that he has normal pens and a normal notebook in front of him; this makes me feel like he’s not quite as crazy as I might have thought.

“I am a prophet,” he says bluntly, “the last of them, in fact. And you are my apprentice.”

I don’t know whether I should play along with him or laugh out loud. A prophet? Him? Me? I knew who prophets were and they didn’t hide out in caves in the middle of nowhere with young apprentices who hadn’t chosen to be there?

“That’s stupid,” I say flatly. “Firstly, you can’t be a prophet. Secondly, what kind of prophet lives in a cave hiding out from the rest of the world? Only a criminal would do that.”

“Elijah did,” the prophet answers and I gape at him, trying to come up with something to say. I can’t, of course. It’s too ridiculous.

“I’m a ten-year-old boy,” I say, restating that fact. “I’m a ten-year-old boy and today- or yesterday- was my birthday. And I want to go home. This is stupid. I’m not living in a stupid cave with you, away from my parents and I don’t believe you that they’re not looking for me.”

“Really?” he asks quietly. “Don’t you know your scriptures? A situation such as yours has occurred before. Hannah gave up her son.”

“Hannah told him she was giving him up! And he lived in the temple. It isn’t the same.”

“Look around you,” said the prophet, and I looked. For a moment the air seemed to shimmer in front of my eyes and suddenly I saw a room of gold, walled in gold, a man wearing the priestly vestments and a table encrusted with the most precious gems. I blinked and it was gone.

“This room is whatever you want it to be,” the prophet answered me softly. “I am whoever you want me to be,” and suddenly he seemed to acquire my father’s form at which point I cried out and protested and he returned to his frightening old man shape.

“I am a prophet,” he said to me and looked me in the eye as though I were his equal. “I am a prophet and you are my apprentice. You were chosen from birth to serve this role; your parents were informed they were only granted you to raise you and then you would be mine. Your sister did not know but she will be informed that you are gone, lost in a very tragic accident.”

“What is this, King Arthur?” I ask, trying to be brave. I know that Merlin took King Arthur away to raise secretly so that other people wouldn’t try to kill him. “It’s not like I’m in danger or anything,” I say scornfully. “I’m a ten-year old boy. Nobody wants to hurt me.

“So you might think,” answered the prophet, “but I happen to know better.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” I ask, and I can’t keep the fear out of my voice.

“There are people in this world,” the prophet said softly, looking at me in the eyes once again- strangely, his eyes are very gentle, blue and calm and yet they have the ability to be piercing- “who would like to destroy it. They do not want to do this in the kind of stupid manner that the blundering species often attempts, through weapons and warfare. No, they want to destroy it by destroying its people from the inside out. I do not care for any particular religion,” he continued, “but I do care for the morals and ethics that they teach. There are people in this world who would like to undermine these values so that our world can be one where might truly is right, where the strong conquer and the weak lose out. There are people who do not only want their own success but the failure of anyone who could potentially rise higher than them. These are the people with the potential to destroy the world because they sacrifice their humanity for the powers that are given them. You have heard of Rasputin, yes? Rasputin dealt with the devil in return for his magical powers. There are other men who deal with the devil, though perhaps in not quite the same form. They give up their humanity and resort to brutality. You have heard of them, of course, but you have not heard of how very human they once were, how mistaken and confused. They were caught at a crossroads and they only needed one small push to choose between that which is right and that which is wrong. It is at that point that our voice is needed, our call must go out. When we are not here, terrible things happen.”

“What are you going to do to me?” I asked, still fearful.

“Why, my dear young friend,” he said, and chuckled, “I am going to teach you how to see.”


And he did teach me how to see. He taught me many things. My first brave front soon fell to pieces and I wept, grieved for the loss of my parents and family. But I understood why it was necessary. If I were truly to be a prophet, a man chosen by God to send messages to the masses, then I needed to be free of all human attachments, of any form of love, of anything that could possibly cause me to be vulnerable. I could not afford to mislead someone, to allow them to continue in their broken path, due to the fact that I loved them.

But he taught me. He taught me how to see, not what was expected, not the masks that people wore, not the ideas they projected, but the truth. What was really there. Whatever hate, whatever bitterness, whatever love, whatever foolish and secret hopes, I learned to see them all. I learned to understand.

It hurt. Learning is a painful process and this learning was of the worst kind. People were stripped naked before me, painfully exposed so that I could know everything and anything that was them. I knew their faults, their mistakes; I knew all the wrongs they had committed and all the moments that brought them joy. I knew exactly how I could change them, the words I could speak to impact them so that they would choose a certain path. And I had to fight to refrain from doing this.

If one has vision, one must contain it. If one truly sees, he cannot give this sight to all. It must be saved, stored, appreciated, kept only for those few who truly matter. I had the ability to change so much and every day I had to hold back, to refrain, to allow each person his freedom of choice.

I went walking through the world, my mentor alongside me, and I learned how to be visible or invisible as I so chose. In my clothes, my look, my act, I could be whomever you wanted to see. I could be a well-groomed businessman with an attaché case going about my business. I could be a bum on the subway. I could overhear or see anything I wished and all it took was creating the right mask, the right look, the right disguise.

My mentor helped me and explained that it was my job to save people from themselves, my job to help those who were falling, to say the words that would let them get back up. These wouldn’t always be the words I wanted to say or would have said of my own volition; they had to be the ones that they would hear, not I.

At first he showed me, a casual presence on a park bench, a man giving a speech that a particular person overhears and takes to heart, a rallier or lobbyist with a particular message. He even showed me how to use computers to my advantage, the Internet as well. It wasn’t always words, though. I had to use force; I was trained to do so. Sometimes I would physically stop people; I knew how their actions would affect and the kind of chain that they would cause. It seems small, some people gathering together to score some drugs at a stopoff point, a group of adolescents walking into a karaoke bar, but sometimes the smallest things set off the chain of events. One man at that karaoke bar who stews in his own resentment and jealousy, who gets set off because one of the kids pushes him; I wouldn’t like to detail the things that come from that. Suffice it to say that they are not pretty.

As a prophet I prevent these things. I stop them before they happen. I head off the events so that they do not develop as badly as they could. I am not one of those fire and brimstone prophets, pouring venom upon people’s heads; I only walk softly through the shards of life and pick up the pieces to form part of the picture.

And this is what I did from the time my mentor died until the time that I met my wife.


I lied to her. She thought I was a businessman. I wore that mask and pretended that pretense; I needed no money for I had more than enough provided should it prove necessary.

Why did I love her? I loved her because I saw her and knew her to be good. I knew her sins and her mistakes and all that she was but I also knew that she was good and kind and beautiful and more importantly, she made me feel alive. Can I say what it was? Perhaps it was her beauty, but I have seen more beautiful women in my time. I do not know if there was any one reason. It was all of it combined; the fact that she made me feel something when I thought I had effectively killed all feeling, only devoting myself to my job.

Perhaps it was because she brought back memories, memories I thought I had buried. The first time I saw her, she was wearing a red dress and all I could think about was the red satiny tie I had worn on my birthday. I pretended to collide with her and spilled my coffee (cold) on part of her dress at which point I insisted that she allow me to at least buy her a drink in order to apologize. So I began and so we continued. I was not the classic “man of many secrets.” The best way to prevent people from becoming suspicious or wondering about you is to tell them exactly what they want to know. I showed her “my work” on a day that I was there. She believe me to be a businessman; that’s what I showed her. Every day I lied to her.

But she loved me anyway, or at least she loved the man she thought was me. We were married; it was a small wedding- I explained that I was an orphan. We were happy for a time.

That was before.

There came a day when I looked into her and I saw a vile and ugly crime she had committed against me. She had slept with another man, not because she didn’t love me but in a fit of loneliness; in her confused thoughts she recognized that she didn’t really know me, not the way that I knew her, and this frightened her. But what she didn’t know, and what I did know, is that she was pregnant by this encounter, and this was the child I would have to raise as my own.

I went to meet the man with murder in my heart. I knocked on the door and introduced myself as a traveling salesman. I entered the house and accepted the glass of water offered me; complimented whoever had produced the foods that allowed for such good smells in the house, then turned around to face


Ruby living her life with this man as her husband, my sister Ruby whom I loved and adored. I became pale, staggered with a kind of awful shock. What to do? This child would be the son of this man, her husband and my wife. That suggested an awful kind of incest to my frenzied brain and sick, I turned to him.

“What’s your wife’s name, then?” I asked.

“Alicia,” he answered. He saw me staring at Ruby. “Oh, Ruby’s my sister-in-law,” he answered gaily. “She married my brother.”

I calmed. If I had only looked properly, I would have known that, seen it! Still, this was the man, the father of my wife’s child. I looked into his eyes and saw that he was good, that he had felt a strange attraction for my wife and felt that it was somehow right that they be together. This was wholly uncharacteristic of him; he was a kind and gentle man, a soft spirit. I was at peace. I could forgive.

I never told my wife that I knew. And I did not let Ruby know I recognized her, though I did leave my “Beast” album on the doorstep for her. Let her wonder about the memories, I thought. Perhaps she will remember me.


“But father!” he says gaily, looking up into my smiling eyes, “surely you don’t mean it!”

“Of course I do,” I say heartily, glancing at my wife. “I’ll be taking you to Great America and your mother will have a day off.”

She looks sick at heart, my wife. I am not quite sure why. Perhaps she senses what I mean to do?

I take him in the car and notice with a pang that he too is wearing red, this time a small button at the lapel of his collared polo shirt. It is a pin, more like, not a button at all. I drive him and he is silent most of the way. Once we are about to enter Great America a stumbling drunk shambles over,

“Be careful what ye’re doing” he slurs at my son, his breath strong and rank. “Your father,” and he fills the word with contempt, “means to kill you.”

“Surely he does not!” my son replies, giving the drunk a wary glance.

“Indeed?” asked the drunk, smiling at me. “Look into his soul and see what you shall see.”

I do mean to kill him. I will tell him that his death is commanded by God and he will submit, meekly and calmly. I did not want to worry his mother; I will tell her that he died in an accident on a roller coaster, a freakish accident. I will cause that accident.

Why do I do this? Because I am jealous of him. That he, who is not of my blood, already shows such potential and the ability to grow in this area, that he is clearly of the prophetic kind, the goodness that he is and demonstrates- all scars me. He is a sore, a scab, a thorn in my side. I cannot wait to be rid of him. All I want is to be free of him. He is not my son and never has been. He is not my son!

And am I not like Abraham, sacrificing his son to God? I shall sacrifice my son to God and all will be well.

My son follows me, trusting, warbling a tune on the tin harmonica I bought him. We come closer to the rollercoasters and grinning, I smile up at him. “Let’s get on,” I say and my voice is fearful, excited, taut with apprehension. We should ride a few first to loosen him up and then, then I can stage the accident and be rid of him forever. He does not deserve what I have; it is not fair. He is no prophet; he is not the son of a prophet. It is not fair.

We do and we finally come to the last one, the last rollercoaster. We enter onto it and in the middle of the ride I move to undo our seats; my son follows my movements with his eyes, mutely, quietly horrified. I struggle with him, then, trying to push him out of the rollercoaster, trying to get him to fall. People pay attention, then; I could cause them not to see if I so desired, but I know that I can hold my ground. We whirl around and I struggle with my son who is not my son, a deathly struggle as I lock my hands around his neck and mad, mad, I grant my fingers leave to do what they will. I choke and press his throat tighter; he chokes out one word, “Saul” and then I have pushed him and he is falling, falling to the ground and I scream, a high and horrified and utterly mad scream and the roller coaster plunges downward as I see the crumpled body of my only son.

“Saul,” he said, but I am not Saul; I am not Saul jealous of David. I am Abraham, offering my son to God and surely my offering will be accepted, surely I will be as I am. I, the weeping father, come and cry over the body of my crumpled son; I look different now- people come up to me and say that they saw a man push my son out of the rollercoaster but I shake my head and wipe my red eyes and refuse to believe it. I make the proper arrangements and then drive home to tell my wife that our son has died in a tragic accident.

She is dead.

If I am indeed Abraham, then my Sarah is gone; otherwise, if I am Saul, it is obvious that I must suffer for my actions. I did not love the boy because I was jealous of him but I did love her; it is clear that I am to be punished.


I am mad now, the mad prophet who wanders the streets and calls out the names of people who are dear to him, “Saul!” and “Ruby!” and those of others, who runs up to little boys and wishes to engulf them in my arms. People look warily at me and avoid me; they are frightened of me, of my cardboard box and the fact that I am homeless. But I see them, ah, I see them! I see them and I see that everyone in the world is malevolent and evil except me, me; I am the one and only good!

I am the prophet and I am the ultimate good; I am the prophet and all that I will is mine. You look down on me and think I am nothing, but I am not nothing. I am a prophet and I have saved the world several times over; against all that what is the death of one boy, of one son? Am I always to be tormented, to imagine my hands locking around his throat and choking the life out of him?

No, no! I am the prophet, I tell you; I bring you messages from God! I am here to tell you of your sins!
I am sane!

Why does nobody listen? Why does nobody hear? It was never like this before. Before, I always commanded their attention. Before, I was all they heard. Now they do not see me…now they do not know me. I see them, though! I see everything just as I always did.

But who is that young man? That white young man who moves so smoothly through the streets, who deftly places a hand on one shoulder, who smiles at another, who calmly placates the third? Who is he? Who?

It cannot be…

The blood drains from my face as I recognize that I have been replaced. This is no apprentice; this is a true prophet. I am mad, now, mad and only remembering what once was- I once saw people, but I do no longer, only what I want to see. I have lost my sight in addition to everything else; what I claim to know about the businessmen and the children that walk the streets is not truth but mere speculation. I create it in order to make myself feel better, so that I do not feel that every one of them condemns me for what I did.

And I am told, in the one true vision I ever received from God:

“You were not your father’s child, either, but he spared you and allowed you to grow up to fulfill your destiny. You killed your child, therefore you killed yourself. By choosing his death, you chose your own. You do not deserve to be a prophet. From the moment you loved another and violated the law, from the moment you chose to be vulnerable, you put yourself in a state where you would be tested. You failed the test.

“There will be no lions to stand guard over you. You will die, and you will die knowing your sin and how you could not do for your son what your father did for you.”


On June 8, 2007, a homeless black man was found half-in-the-gutter, a bottle lying open beside him. Locals knew him as a crazy but harmless fellow who talked to himself frequently and often muttered words that made no sense to others but held some biblical meaning. He claimed to be a prophet. Just another man to add to the many nameless dead in New York City.

May he rest in peace.
Credits: Bruce Almighty, The Giver, Beauty and the Beast, a man named Kenny, Batman, lots of biblical figures (David, Saul, Abraham, Isaac, the Satan, Hannah, the prophet Elijah and the prophet Ido), a girl named Ruby I met at camp and whose name I liked, Harry Potter, Burke's mom in Grey's Anatomy, Ezzie's philosophy, Joshua Bell's stunt


Anonymous said...


canadian princess said...

he musta missed you standing by the violinist. wonder what he woulda seen ...

Ezzie said...

Excellent. Very interesting.

Chana said...

Canadian Princess,
I wish.

Anonymous said...

oh my G-d! that was an awesome story!
i really really like how you based it on "just another man.......nameless in New York City".
btw- did you base the beginning on The Giver (going into the cave and detaching themselves from humanity...)?

Erachet said...

like anonymous, I also thought it sounded like The Giver! With the whole apprentice thing and really seeing what goes on and how they're the last ones. It also reminded me slightly of Neverwhere, but only because of the homeless man. Otherwise, it was amazing. Really, really splendidly written. I love your stories. :)

the only way i know said...

I'm actually gonna print this out to read with my fam over shabbos.
It looks interesting, but I'm pressed for time now.
Thanks for taking the time to type it all out!

Moshe said...


Anonymous said...

The moral of the story is:

How can you be LOVED, RESPECTED, and HONORED by your own Jewish people when your own Jewish people don't love you, don't honor you, don't respect you, ignore you, pass you by, fear you, treat you like you don't exist, think that you are primative, or think that you are some religious extremist or atheist:

Be a delusional, uneducated, homeless, black person who dies of his misery.

Enjoy the warmth of Shabbos!

smoo said...

“I had to hold back, to refrain, to allow each person his freedom of choice.”

That line brought back a memory of a story my dad shared with me when I was a young man. I guess I had mentioned something about psychology to him and he cautioned me. When he was first married and traveling in the car with another couple, the husband prodded him to use his acumen in psychology to analyze his wife. After a while he finally gave in because the husband was about to reveal somethings that he recognized in my father’s analysis. My father tried to gently indicate to her she had some gender issues at which point she attempted to jump out of the moving car onto the highway. They grabbed her and pulled over and he said he was joking (which he wasn’t) in order to stabilize her.

Often we have insights into a person’s deeper nature but it is not our place to hold a mirror in front of them unless so asked and even then with extreme caution. And even then how can we be sure our analysis is the only possible explanation? Frustrated with knowledge that can’t be shared and must be deftly handled, the role of the prophet must truly be a lonely one.

Anonymous said...

Jesus was the only Jew that could LOVE all Jews. As a result the whole world loves him. Jews who don't love other Jews: The world does not love them.

Jews who love other Jews get stoned or crucified by other Jews or by Jews who use the Gentiles to crucify other Jews.

One the Temple will be rebuilt in Jerusalem and the Jewish people will have no choice but to elevate all their corrupt Rabbis to run this Temple. They will have to institute all the barbaric practices that do exist in the Torah.

Jews who love Jews get killed, if not physically then spiritually. If Jesus ever came back, would they not kill him again?

Chana said...


A) There don't always have to be morals

B) That's not the moral

C) How in tarnation did you end up arriving at Jesus from my story? (This is rhetorical.)

D) The condemnation-compliment routine doesn't work. The whole "You are a sinner-have a nice day!" and/or "None of you love other Jews- enjoy Shabbos!" is rather strange.

Anonymous said...

If you really want to see the hearts and spirit of the Jewish people how they love each other and how JEWS treat PROPHETS and TRUTH tellers then read this:

Night by Elie Wiesel page 26
Elie's best work out of all his books, what is described here spoke truth to me unlike any other part of the book:

About how Jewish people treated Mrs. Schacter:

"We tried to reason with her, more to calm ourselves, to catch our breaths, than to soothe her..."
--Pure Jewish inability to love.

"A few young men forced her to sit down, then they bound and gagged her." -- Pure Jewish lack of respect for another Jewish soul.

"Once again, the young men bound and gagged her. When they actually struck her, people shouted their approval:
"Keep her quiet! Make that madwoman shut up. She's not the only one here..."
--Sounds more like an EL AL flight to Israel after the plane lands or when unruly Arab children are told to sit down than a cattle car train ride to Auschwitz.

"She received several blows to the head, blows that could have been lethal." --That demonstrates the true LOVE that Ashkenazim have for Jewish people.


Anonymous said...

D) The condemnation-compliment routine doesn't work.

It's not a condemnation. It is more like a contrast. We should keep in mind what we truly honor and value on Shabbos.

It's like the people who want to feed the world and want everyone to gift and to love on Christmas are the same cut-throats who lie, steal, and cheat the poor, etc and who segrated themselves from the poor year round, want to help people for the price of a cup of coffee in other countries but ignore their their neighbors who are meek and weak the rest of the year...if you catch that theme.

Chana said...

What the-

He was in a concentration camp, you fool! They all were! How dare you compare the way in which we treat one another to the way in which people treated one another after having been degraded, hurt, stripped of their identity? People became animals; that was the norm, only those outside that norm retained their humanity. Can you blame them? Have you been there? I think not.

The fact that you dare to speak such words about the Jews of today, you dare to compare them to men and women who suffered horribly, you dare to state that men who were half-out-of-their-minds with fright and who were trying to survive and who hurt others are similar to Ashkenazim today- that disgusts me, that utterly disgusts me.

Get the hell off my site. I suggest that you learn how to care before haughtily deciding that you can judge everyone else. I suggest that you think about how the horrible things you say about others affect you, affect about the kind of person you are that you dare compare the actions of men and women who were victimized and brutalized to some perhaps unpleasant actions, so you think, of "Ashkenazim today."

Don't talk to me, don't write to me; I don't want to see any more of your comments and I'd prefer you not to read my blog, either.

There are a lot of things I can tolerate, but comparing people today to concentration camp survivors-AND insinuating that the concentration camp victims did this because they were morally guilty rather than being put in a truly horrific situation- is not one of them.

Take a good look at yourself and the vicious things you say. The "Ashkenazim" or "Jews" about whom you make generalizations are not at fault. You are. You and your complete and utter lack of understanding, your desire only to blame.


Anonymous said...

D) The condemnation-compliment routine doesn't work.

There is no routine and there is no intended contradiction...Do I really need to spell it out?

Why don't you explain what does work?

Anonymous said...

C) How in tarnation did you end up arriving at Jesus from my story? (This is rhetorical.)

I know it's rhetorical but let me explain the thinking anyway:

Concept 1 is this:

"How can you be LOVED, RESPECTED, and HONORED by your own Jewish people... Answer:
Be a delusional, uneducated, homeless, black person who dies of his misery."

The conclusion of concept number 1 is a directly related to your story. Afterwards, it raised bigger questions in my mind an answer I came up with was:

Concept number 2
"Jesus was the only Jew that could LOVE all Jews."

"Enjoy the warmth of Shabbos!" was intended to be an independent, freestanding statement.

Anonymous said...

You have just proved to me the kind of Jewish LOVE you practice!

Anonymous said...

You are an animal yourself when your heart is tested! You are SPIRITUAL DEAD!

Anonymous said...


Chana said...

Tell me, who are you to preach about the benefits of Jewish love when Ashkenazim are so clearly excluded from your own supposed love?

Where you term your people cheats and liars and claim that they are vicious beasts, insinuating that the possible cruelty that occurred due to their being placed in concentration camps is inherent to their natures?

Claiming that people on El-Al flights are comparable to people tortured and forced into cattle cars?

And I am the one who does not love my people?


smoo said...

Anonymous is suffering from a by-product of evolution (as are most humans if we look closely enough). He apparently views you (and Jews or a particular branch of Judaism) as OTHER or the out-group.

Coalition and group dynamics has demonstrated that you view people in your own group as more exceptional and those outside your group as inferior or faulty. His comments also reflect another common feature of these dynamics which is that the actions of any given member of the out-group is taken as representative of the entire group and should such a person in any way offend Mr. anonymous the typical reaction would be for anonymous to attack (or harbor animosity) towards the entire group that said person hails from. Extrapolations of this kind are inherently flawed and upon proper reflection should be overcome to foster better relations between all of humanity.

smoo said...

BTW, I enjoyed the story.

When a person believes that he has the correct insight into a given circumstance, he easily falls victim to his ego. His actions, his preachings, rest on the unsteady foundation of his own fallible mental representations. The more he believes in his convictions, the more he stands to lose if he were proven false (or seriously challenged). People would rather alter their understanding of a situation rather than admit they made a mistake or that what they had held so dear as tried and true, was indeed farthest from the truth.

“The more important the aspect of your self image that’s challenged by the truth, the more likely you are to go into denial.” –Peter Ditto, psychologist