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by JD DeHart

“It is easy to get lost in the ‘begat’ sections,” the professor said with a half-smile, paging through the Bible. The subject was holy texts in comparative literature.

The class sat silent on this early spring afternoon. The last dried leaves of winter rattled dully in unison with chirping birds. Heat was a promise, but a few more snowflakes might soon appear. The art of prediction was fuzzy.

The students were all busy transcribing the lecture. The good ones had learned to notice in the first few weeks of class where one area of concentration began and where another ended.

Sometimes the lecture would deviate from the study of ancient texts to discussions of current technology. Narrative history was a concern of the professor’s, and he would regularly mention how social media evolved from a place of complaining and ranting to a pin-up spot for pictures. Devolution of literacy, he would suggest, to the occasional disagreement of an especially comfortable student.

Today they were studying the book of Revelation in contrast to the laundry lists of names in the Old Testament and, occasionally, in the New Testament. A hand rose in the air with the promise of an insight or probing inquiry.

“Do you believe the beast is Russia?” the student asked.

Great, thought the professor, another one of those sessions. The literary discussion would swiftly erode into a conversation on current politics.

He tried desperately to get back to the subject. “I believe the central message of the book is one of good and evil,” he stated. “Regardless of the politics of the day, we will always have systems that work and those that don’t.”

“Do you think we’ll literally hear trumpets when the end begins?” another student asked, blinking furiously, as if he had been smacked one too many times. Another kind of question the professor liked to avoid.

“I think the metaphors in the text are metaphors. If or when an ‘end’ begins, we will all be surprised by the literal expression of those metaphors. All of us.”

This answer never seemed satisfactory; students and people in general seemed to like simple affirmations of their beliefs and interpretations. To muddy the water with discussions of metaphors always struck dissonant chords.

After a few more statements about the text and its origin, the class ended. The rest of the afternoon promised an interesting discussion of the prophets in one of the professor’s favorite classes and then an early trip home to rest for the next day, when three more class sessions would focus on eschatology.

The drive home was a nice one. The professor passed several old manses in the inner core of town and then sloppier places on the way into the recesses of the county. His home was a simple one, for he lived alone, but there were a few neighbors nearby to create enough human noise to make him feel connected.

A small cup of chamomile tea helped soothe him. There were some papers to go over, and then the middle-aged pedagogue settled in for a night’s sleep.

Sometime in the night, there was a crashing noise, as if a row of cabinets had fallen off a wall. He grumbled out of bed to see what was the matter.

There was no Saint Nick on the roof, and no thief stealing about outside. Instead, it appeared that humanoid forms were swimming in the night air, uncomfortably suspended. They looked at him with pleading eyes. Bits of wood and other fragments of the neighborhood went undulating by in a collage of human detritus.

Some forms starting zipping up into the air while others remained stationary. It was impossible not to watch, and the professor wondered why he was left rooted to the earth while everyone else seemed to be hovering or flying in the air.

A creature that looked like a lion with wings sped past and paused briefly, considering the onlooker in the supposed safety of the window. “It’s okay, dude,” the creature said, “it’s just the end.” Then the creature shrugged and, its wings working feverishly, spun away.

Well, that’s obvious enough, thought the professor. In his religious symbolism class, he always explained how the lion had come to be the emblem of the gospel of Mark.

There was a knock at the door, and he ambled down to answer it. Perhaps this was another person like him, chained to the ground while the rest of the world spun.

When the professor opened the door, he faced a man who looked like him but was not him. The face was familiar but darker, and the body was like his, but leaner. Something told him that while he suppressed his bleaker insights, this person would exploit them, hang them up in public, and dance to their tune.

“Greetings,” the like-man said. “May I come in?”

“S-sure,” the professor answered, opening the door wider. The guest bristled past, igniting sparks between them.

“May I have some tea?” the like-man asked, and the kettle started on its own. “My name is Scratch, although some call me Lucifer, which really sounds more elegant. Let us begin plans for what happens next.”

The two of them took a stroll amid the chaos, discussing their favorite passages and quotations, while the like-man sipped his herbs. They headed up a hill toward what appeared to be a judgment seat. It was cold bronze, but the crimson cushion was bare and appeared to invite a sitter.

“What’s that in your hand?” the professor asked, noticing the teacup had been replaced by another object.

“My, my, it appears to be a gavel.” He let it twirl in his grip.

A voice behind them spoke up. “I believe that’s mine.”

“Finders, keepers,” the like-man replied coyly.

The lion roared a little in the back of his throat. It was an interesting exchange to watch. The professor briefly considered writing a paper about it but then wondered who would be left to read it.

“He never lets me have any fun,” Scratch said, extending the gavel to the outstretched paw.

Copyright © 2014 by JD DeHart

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