Thursday, February 16, 2012


The Prophet of the Aeon

In a new-found resolve to update much more often here is a concept I created based on a prompt at for a Prophet of the Apocalypse. I decided to take a different tack. The image accompanies the short story I wrote en lieu of a formal description. 

The Prophet of the Aeon
By Adam Roth
                I saw him across a crowded intersection as he stood on the street corner singing Bob Dylan’s “Times They Are A-Changin’”.  It’s hard to say what struck me the most when I first saw him. First, he was the oldest person I had ever seen, a thin rail of a man, sinews standing out against thinly muscled limbs. Next, his voice was a sonorous wailing that was unearthly but somehow heart-breakingly beautiful. Then, He held an instrument I had never seen or heard before, like a lute of some sort, but more robust and with many more strings. He saw me staring, and at the end of a chorus, said “Well, do you want a picture with the oldest man in the world?”
                I looked around. He was talking to me. I nodded and came over to his side. At first I thought he might be Tibetan or Asian, but as I drew closer I was less certain of that initial guess. He was old, but in spite of his clearly advanced age, he was unbent in his stature, and as I drew close he flashed me a bright white smile standing out starkly from his dark face.  He had very little hair, and what he did swirled lazily around the back of his head. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, a pair of Army surplus canvas shorts and some sort of decaying sandals that looked homemade.
                As I came over, he put his instrument in some sort of leather sling that was laying on the ground behind him, rolled up the multi-colored mat he had been standing on and hoisted an absurdly large pack that sat beside them.
                “So, where are you taking me to eat?” he said as he fell in beside me like an old friend. His voice was a rasping tenor, sing-songy in cadence with the hint of an accent, but from where I couldn’t have guessed.
                At first I was so bowled back by the easy audacity of this man that I forgot I had said I wanted a picture. The only thing I could think to say in response was, “My phone’s broken.”
                “What?” he barked back.
                “My phone’s broken, I can’t take a picture with you.”
                “I couldn’t give a fart in the wind about that, child,” he laughed, “Now let’s eat, the world is about to end.”
                I stopped short as he didn’t break stride. What had he said?
                “What did you say?” I stammered out.
                He turned around, his huge pack nearly taking out a passing bicyclist. “Didn’t I tell you? The world ends in about five hours.”
                I stood staring in the crowd, confused pedestrians elbowing past. He had stopped ahead at an old local pub that I had never been, in and opened the door. “You comin’?”
                I dashed to the door as it was swinging shut behind him, feeling as if the world was tilting under my feet.
                When I caught up, he was already, inexplicably, sitting with a beer. “Would you like one? It’s on you after all.”
                I sat down with a plop. “You said the world was going to end.”
                He took a long drink of his beer and set it down smiling, foam dribbling from his lip. “That I did. What of it? “
                “Well, I don’t know… I mean I’ve heard so-called ‘men of god’ claiming, ‘The End is Nigh’ my entire life, I thought I was immune to that sort of thing… but I believe you. I don’t know why, and that terrifies me.”
                “You can feel it. I think many can today, though few know why.”
                “So this is it? All my life comes down to this. An incomplete art degree and I won’t even see my wife again.”
                He began to laugh uproariously. “What are you talking about?” he said as he chuckled.
                When he saw the pained expression on my face he stopped short. “Don’t you worry about that, child. There won’t be any fire and brimstone-- No four horsemen, no ‘big one.’ It’s just the eschaton.”
                “Escaton, my child. Don’t they teach you anything in school? The. End. Of. History.”
                “So how isn’t that a bad thing?” I said hearing the edge of madness in my voice.
                A waiter brought over two Reuben sandwiches and a beer to me, even though we never ordered. That’s what I had wanted. .. The old man took a big sloppy bite of the sandwich, sauerkraut slinking onto his plate. He spoke between bites. 
                “You’re married… Do you love your wife?”
                “Yes. Of course. She’s the best thing in my life. What does that have to do with anything?”
                “What was the moment you first loved her?”
                I stopped short. I couldn’t say. Obviously sometime in the first few months we were together. 
                He chuckled, seeing my surprise, “What was the day? The hour? You can’t say, can you? When was that instant when a moment’s fancy became love’s true heart? Whether or not you can remember it precisely, you know it happened. For the earth, for humanity--- That day is today. Today the world falls in love. Not everyone will realize it happened, some may even refuse to admit it to themselves, but that changes nothing. In the days and years to come, the world will be new. The old world of passing fancy has ceased to be and the new world of love has begun.”
                I didn’t even know what to say. I sat dumbfounded, trying to take it all in.
                “Let me put it another way.  Have you ever heard the legend of the praying monks? That if not for 12 monks praying without ceasing in their cells, the world would cease spinning?”
                I nodded my head yes, I had heard someone mention it once.
                “Well it’s true, in a sense. I was very active in the Neolithic, but I digress. These monks have been praying since the dawn of mankind—called by the beat of the collective unconscious and the universe itself. They underpin the zeitgeist, “the spirit of the age”.  Now for about four and a half more hours, we are in the Piscean age, the Osiran age, and the prayer has been…”
                Then he spoke a word I had never heard before, yet I knew all the same. It sounded clean, like fresh water, like sand.
                “What does it mean?”
                “It doesn’t directly translate, of course. But it means renewal, cleaning, purification, distillation. It also means consolidation and expression; and the cosmic desire to give birth to a new dynamism.”
                “And that’s what they pray for?”
                “Yes-- but that’s also what they pray into being. That, along with the other words of the previous aeons…” He rattled off a litany of charged, almost magical words.  They sounded like growth, like birth, like blood and laughter. The entirety of human history was spoken in those moments.
                “…So as of 7:37 Eastern Standard Time this evening, they’ll have spoken that word for about 2,150 years, and then they will add another. I was hoping to swap in for last round, but I get to go this time.”
                I looked incredulous, “You’re telling me you’re over 2,000 years old.”
                He began to laugh again, “Of course not, that’s absurd. 2,000 years?—How old do you think humanity is? I’m 200,000 years old!”
                Now I laughed. But as I saw him smile his pearly white grin I stopped.
                He stood and grabbed his pack and made to leave. His sandwich was gone, not a crumb left, and his glass dry. My beer and sandwich sat untouched. He turned without a word and walked to the door whistling REM’s “It’s the End of the World.”
                Before he opened the door to leave he turned to me. I looked back at him in disbelief and astonishment.
                “Do you want to know what it is?” he said.
                “What what is?”
                “The new word.”
                I nodded. He crossed back to me and leaned over and whispered it in my ear-- another strange magical word. Lost in my own reverie, I didn’t realize he was gone until the bell on the door signaled his departure.
                I still remember the word, though I can’t pronounce it. It sounded like the wings of birds, like stars, like wind and storm. It sounded like hope.