Forever 1.8: Psalm 23, A Table

            The loneliness rose up from the back of Glen’s mind and covered him like a shroud.  He had no one to hold him up, to hold his hand, to help him along the way.  Not one would reach out in his time of need.  No one was there for him.  He looked to the sky and felt the crush in his soul.  “Jesus,” he cried out, but he only heard the wind and felt the scratch of a thorn against his hand in response.

            Glen paused when he saw there was no escaping the shadow of night, and worse, with the night came the rain.  It started out soft, but it was enough to halt his progress and drive him back to the edge of the trees.  As the rain and wind picked up steam, he found several smaller trees grown close together.  He prayed that their overlapping leaves might deflect the worst of it and that they were not tall enough to attract the lightening.

            Glen squatted down and washed off some of his own caked on blood.  He opened his mouth and looked up like a turkey in the hope of slacking his thirst.  He closed his eyes and tried to think of nothing.  He prayed for sleep.  By the wee hours, the lightening was constant and the roaring never ceased and he was afraid – afraid of everything that night.  He was not ashamed to say it.  There were sounds and shadows that danced around him in one horrific flash of demonic shapes after another.  He wondered if God might take his soul that night.  It was not the first nor the last time he wondered such a thing.

            When Glen woke, the sun was already up for a time and he was surprised he had actually fallen asleep.  Then again, exhaustion can do that.  Glen found he was still squatting, though leaning on a tree, and he was still damp everywhere, and stiffer than ever.  He moaned as he stood and straightened his legs.  Then he sighed.  God had not chosen to take him, yet.  Such a thing might have been a blessing, he thought.  He wondered if he might ever know what a blessing was, if he might actually experience one someday.

            Even if it was a decrepit and impossible path, you would think getting out from beneath the trees and into the sun would have helped.  You would think walking might have alleviated the stiffness as well.  In truth, Glen eventually felt better, but that feeling came imperceptibly slow.  Nothing ever came easy.

            It was not long after his staggering forward became more of an actual walk when he heard a loud crack and crashing sound in the forest to his left.  He leapt back just in time as a great, old elm tree toppled all the way across the path so it stuck out over the chasm.  The tree had been stuck by lightening and noticeably, not for the first time.  He imagined any number of trees came down in that storm in the night.  Curious that this one should happen to fall just when he came into peril. 

            He stared at the tree for a bit before he realized it was sticking about half-way across the gorge.  He wondered if he could crawl out on it far enough to make the leap to the other side.  He stared at it a bit longer.  He did not like heights.  At last he mustered the courage to get up on the trunk, thinking that only a quarter or less of the tree was sticking out over the drop so all of the weight was on solid ground.  He could not imagine his weight would make much difference.

            Once up, Glen noticed that the path on the other side was not only free of brush and brambles, it was actually cobblestone paved, like a road.  What is more, there was no dark and threatening forest over there, and he felt the strong urge to try and reach the other side.  He was careful to step out on the tree, held tight to every branch he could and watched where his feet went so as not to stumble.  He reached the edge of the chasm before the tree began to side.  The mud under the fallen elm was giving way.  He panicked. 

            Glen tried to run back, but that was not quick enough so he jumped off, only to be caught by a big branch and dragged toward the precipice.  He rolled over the branch, ducked under the one that followed, ran straight out and prayed, only to be whacked as the roots slid past.  He was spun around and dropped, back to the ground, and hit his head on the dirt which did not feel very muddy soft.

            He watched the tree as it slid toward the other side.  He saw when it stopped.  It pressed its top into the far cliff face about three yards down into the chasm.  The roots were still on Glen’s side, above the hole.  Glen looked more closely.  He was tempted for about one second before he spoke out loud.

            “No way.”

            Nine feet to climb was too much to expect even if there were rock outcroppings on that jagged cliff for his hands and feet.  Besides, Glen felt somehow that the stoppage was only temporary and this time the least little weight would send the tree plummeting to the river below.  Glen got to his knees to look.  The river appeared to be a small, thin blue ribbon, but he knew down there it was at least as wide as the chasm above it.  As if in answer to his thoughts, there was a loud snap and the tree finished sliding over the side.

            Glen scooted back from the edge, and just in time as the tree began to spin and a long root rose up behind him.  It surely would have pushed him over if he had stayed where he was on his knees.  After a moment, he thought he heard the splash from down below, but he could not be sure since it was so far away and the tree took such a long time to fall.  Besides, Glen was busy pulling the splinters out of his hand and listening to his stomach grumble.  He would have been happy with bread and water, or since all that rain, even just bread would do.  There was none to be had, so when he finished grimacing as he bloodied his hands removing several sharp bits of wood, He stood and continued on.  He tried not to think about bread, but it was not easy.

            Glen paused again when he heard the sound of voices up ahead.  He almost scooted into the forest, but then he recognized laugher and singing.  It was a party of some sort and his stomach immediately thought of food and dragged his feet forward. 

            It was on the other side of the chasm.  Glen fell to his knees and fought back tears.

            The place looked like a rest stop along the road, with plenty of picnic tables, all covered with massive amounts of food.  The people, men, women and children all looked normal, happy and well-fed.  Glen cried out in a loud voice.

            “Please.  Help me.  Might I have a piece of bread?  Or a chicken leg?  Please, something to eat?  I am starving.”  His voice softened.  “Help me.”  Glen could not imagine the way he must have looked or the look on his face, but the look on the people’s faces, those few who looked up spoke volumes.  One man looked ready to reach for a gun.  One woman gave Glen such a wicked stare, he could only imagine her prayer was that he go away, curl up and die.  One young boy spit in Glen’s direction, though of course he was much too far away, being on the other side of an impossible chasm.

            Glen wept.  He could not help it.  But very quickly he got back to his feet and continued on.  Perhaps he felt ashamed, though he had nothing to feel ashamed about.  Perhaps he was afraid to let them see him cry, or simply did not want them to see.  Perhaps he felt there was no reason to stay and beg since his experience of begging was it never gained what was wanted or needed.  It is hard to say.  What he honestly felt at that time is still clouded in tears.

Forever 1.8: Psalm 23, Still Waters

            Glen came out of the woods on to a scruffy, bramble filled path that was barely discernable in the dim light of the afternoon.  The sun was setting behind the trees at his back and he briefly wondered if he could outrace the shadow.  After so long among the trees, the idea of being bathed in light was inviting.  But then he saw a sculpted hedge to his right and he thought he might take a closer look, not the least because it took him away from the darkening forest.

            The hedge was tall, perhaps eight feet, and there did not appear to be a break in sight.  Glen followed along with the thorn-filled path and the trees to his left, still moving to get out from the shadow, only not as quickly as he first thought.  He paused when he spied a sign.  “No Trespassing,” it announced in bold print.  A few feet on and another sign said “Keep Out,” and they alternated every few feet:  “No Trespassing.”  “Keep out.” 

            It was not easy going, pressing through the ferns and stubborn weeds, avoiding the bees and other insects, watching out for snakes.  Several times Glen had to make a wide birth around some bush grown up against the hedge.  Still, the hedge held strong and remained unbroken until a small wooden gate presented itself. 

            The scene through the gate was bucolic.  It was a pasture of lush grass without a weed or thorn or so much as a daisy.  There were sheep there, grazing quietly under a sun which was not nearly as low in the sky as Glen thought.  The sun made the wool glisten golden and stark white so it was hard to look at for its brightness.  There was a pool of clear water in that meadow.  Without the least ripple of a wave, Glen could see the sand and smooth round stones at the bottom of the pool.

            Glen was so thirsty.

            He quickly found the latch and discovered the gate was not locked.  Even if it had been, he could have easily jumped it.  It was a gate, but just enough gate to keep in lazy sheep, and Glen wanted no more than to sip that water, to touch and follow the sheep, to find the shepherd who surely must be the most wonderful master to provide such a perfect place.  He was ready to enter when he saw the big sign.  “No Trespassing.  Keep out.  You are not welcome or wanted here.”

            Glen stepped back like one struck in the face.  What could he do?  He tried not to think about it as he turned away and continued along the edge of the hedge.  Soon enough, the gate was out of sight behind him, and at that point he heard the sound of rushing water, somewhere far but not far away.  After a few yards of travel, he found the source.  The hedge made a sharp right turn in that place and followed a cliff top before it picked up on the other side.  There was no way across that cliff.  The hedge grew right to the edge.  And that cliff ran along the end of a deep chasm where a great, rushing river made its way into some underground course beneath the cliff.

            Glen looked to the other side of the chasm.  It looked a much easier journey there.  But the chasm was too far to jump and the hedge, which he judged again, actually stuck out over the edge making travel across that cliff-top impossible.  Glen took two giant steps back from the edge of that chasm, not being enamored with heights, and then he considered his options. 

            He could return to the gate and claim he never saw the sign, but no.  He was never a good liar.  He could go back into the forest and see if there was another way into the green pasture.  But no, being stuck there as day turned into night was not what he wanted.  He could follow the path of brambles and thorns – the one on his side of the chasm to see where it lead, and hope that he might find a place ahead to cross over to the easier path on the other side.  It was that thought that got his feet moving again.  He would find a way to cross over, though it meant walking beside the darkness for a time.

            It was less than a half-hour when Glen saw a figure in the distance, coming his way.  He waved.  When he saw it was a man, he cupped his hand to his mouth and hollered.  “Hello!”  The man said nothing, but looked up for the first time so Glen knew he was seen.  As they approached, Glen realized that this was a very big man.  “Hello, friend.”  He spoke up, smiled and added the word friend just in case.

            The man stepped up to Glen without a word, and Glen saw that he was big, indeed.  He was also handsome in a way, with dark hair to match his dark eyes, but the eyes were also bloodshot, sweat dripped from his brow, and his cheek showed a touch of blood from a cut just below his left eye.  He stared at Glen with that eye for a moment before he grabbed Glen’s collar and planted his big fist in Glen’s face.  All Glen could think was this one was on drugs.

            Glen broke free.  He danced among the shrubs and moved and tried to defend himself, but it was no good.  The man was faster, stronger, and crazy, so in the end the best Glen could do was collapse and pretend to be unconscious.  The man grunted, and kicked Glen twice before he moved off and left Glen to bleed on the weeds.  Glen was not sure he so much as bruised the man, but then Glen was only trying to defend himself.  Sometimes he regretted trying so hard to take control of his temper when he was young.  Now, when the adrenalin started to pump, his body shut down.  Glen won’t let himself fight.

            It was not long after the big man moved off when another man came along.  This was an older, more normal sized man, and Glen called out to him as well as he could.  It was not a strong call.  His throat was dry and his lips were cracked, He was surprised he could make a sound at all.  He was also breathing rather shallow for fear of the damage his body might have taken.  He dared not move much in case his ribs were as cracked as his lips.

            The man did not stop.  He moved closer to the chasm rather than get close to Glen.  The second man was the same.  He would rather risk falling off the cliff into the raging waters below than acknowledge Glen’s presence and a person in need.  The third man lead an ass in his wake.  He at least paused, and for some time he stared at Glen.

            “Please,” Glen said, and reached his hand out to the man.  But in the end that man shook his head.

            “I am not for you,” he said.  “You do not belong,” and he followed the ones before him, down the path and out of sight.

            After that, the shadow of the trees caught up to Glen and he knew he had to move.  He was stiff and hurting everywhere, and not sure if a few bones might be cracked.  He decided he was lucky none were broken, but he limped all the same to find the sun again. 

Forever 1.7: The village II, A Rough Road or the “Coarse” of Life

            Generally, it was the course of Glen’s life more than any given people that bothered Glen – and as time went on, it was more people than just family and teachers who were told in advance to make it hard.  Brother Tom, of course, got all the best teachers.  Mother made sure of that.  She also made sure Glen did not have any of the same teachers Brother Tom had.  Draw your own conclusions.

            Once, Mother took Glen and Brother Tom to pick out a suit jacket.  Brother Tom liked the one that Glen described as the light pea green that was left after someone threw up the soup.  But Brother Tom wanted it so Mother bought that jacket.  Glen did not begrudge the jacket his brother wanted, but he wondered out loud why she brought him if his opinion mattered so little.  She answered because Glen would get that jacket the following year.  Yeah, when colors like that are completely out of style.  It also did not seem to matter that Tom was more tall and thin while Glen was more short and stocky.  Glen was just supposed to make do with whatever Brother Tom handed down, when he was finished with it.

            So it went.  Brother Tom would write and share with Father.  Baby Carol and Mother would be the girls together.  The parents had their boy and their girl.  Glen would be alone in his room, dreaming, but afraid to dream because every dream he ever had was crushed.  He did some acting in high school and for a couple of years after.  He was pretty good and knew it, but then came a summer – one not touched by his parents for a change – and he suffered the scorn of a young woman whose big brother happened to be the musical director for the company.  She wanted Glen, but since he did not feel the same way about her he did not so much as get invited to be in the chorus.

            The result was he had to get a real job that summer instead, and he never went back to the stage.  You see, by age twenty he was questioning, what’s the point?  He had no one.  He had no encouragement, no support.  He had no one to stand behind him, least of all his own family.  At best, Mother thought the theater might be a nice hobby when he got old.  So with only discouragement in his face, he gave up, but…  He would try something else.

            That is key.  Glen never simply gave up.  He was not a quitter.  In fact, many would say he continued to try in many positions long after those position became untenable.  So it was not the giving up part that mattered, it was the trying something else part.  It was more like. Okay, that did not work so let’s go try something else.  He searched, but for what? 

            Surely there had to be something to which he was called.  There had to be something he could be good at that people would actually recognize and say good, supportive, encouraging things.  There had to be something that his parents, while maybe not proud, might at least not call stupid, wrong and forget it.  Glen had to find that thing.  After all, he died when he was three-and-a-half, but he was brought back to life.  The question still remained: Why did God let him live?

            That question burned in his dreams.

            Glen woke up every few days or weeks or months or in some cases years.  He woke up and wondered where he had been all that time.  He lived so often like a sleepwalker.  The memories did not seem real.  It was like some ancient golem or some modern android lived his life and downloaded the memories upon his return.  What made it especially hard was the substitute Glen had no initiative.  It spoke when spoken to, did as little as it could, and kept as low a profile as it could keep.  It lived the routine – the pattern Glen set on his departure, sometimes to embarrassing ends which Glen then had to deal with upon his return.

            Glen’s only grace was when he awoke, he always remembered something: an image, a place, an idea, something unnatural, impossible, fascinating.  It was never a full memory and never a complete picture, but all the same he wrote these things down from as early as he could remember.  He wrote things down from the day he learned to write.  He filled notebooks, a whole library with islands, nations, armies and navies, great battles, monsters, struggles and some joys.  They were shattered images, like shards from a broken mirror, able only to reflect the smallest pieces of the picture.  They were like thousands of jigsaw puzzle pieces thrown together in the same box.  What could a single piece really tell him?

            Glen would try to remain awake and aware every day, but invariably when he tried, he would wake up a day, week, month or year later and ask, what just happened?  He remembered, but it did not seem real.  The reality seemed to be in the elusive pieces that always managed to stay just beyond the corner of his eye.  Perhaps if he remained in focus, his life might have turned differently.  But he could not, and it did not. 

            Every time he found something good, it got discontinued.  And every time he strove for the light, the darkness would drag him back down.  He had nowhere to turn when even the twenty-third psalm turned against him.  He did not blame or even question God, necessarily.  He simply did not understand… 

Forever 1.7: The Village Revisited

            There are a million stories of Glen and his family and their days overseas like seeing the Mona Lisa, which is now covered most of the time, and climbing the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which no one is allowed to do anymore, but those stories can wait.  They visited battlefields, like Bastogne, Verdun and Normandy, and palaces like the Alhambra and the fountain of lions which was pretty good for a people who had no graven images.  There were castles and a whole walled city of Carcassonne, and the beaches at Cannes where the children were not allowed to go.

            Sister Carol fell off a canon in Lisbon and left her stuffed animals in Rome.  They got mailed to a future stop, the animals I mean.  It would have cost too much to mail the canon. 

            Brother Tom made a baseball bat and found an acceptable ball during a week’s rest stop in Austria.  Several German boys joined the game, but it was hard to play ball in a field where the grass came up to the knees. 

             There was a Ferris wheel in Vienna so big it had train cars for coaches, and the Lipizzaner Stallions that danced as good as Trigger.  There were so many things and so many stories, but eventually the family found a big boat in Rotterdam and headed for home.

            School was just school after that, though it was hard to get into the routine again.  Glen missed his one room school, Don Antonio at the chalk board, and that early morning bell that rang merrily from the church steeple and called the children to come and learn.  By contrast, the bell in his school sounded like a prison bell, and the school felt a bit that way as well.

            Still, life in general went back to the way it had been before the trip overseas.  It was almost as if that trip never happened.  Glen supposed it was to be filed away for later remembrance.  So Brother Tom got all the attention and managed the parents to his liking.  Sister Carol, being the baby as well as the only girl certainly got her share, and Glen went back to being the disappointment and afterthought if he was thought of at all.  In a way that was fine, because Glen understood that when he was thought of it was in the most negative and critical way possible.  Even when he did something right, it was never right, and when he did something well it was still no good.  Life was empty and hard for Glen, but at least Glen imagined it could not get any worse.

            It got worse.  Yes it did.  

            Glen was taken to the school psychologist who supposedly knew all about children.  After only a single one hour examination, the man, an amateur, rightly surmised that Glen was not working up to his potential because he found certain things boring.  Glen wished he knew enough back then to suggest that what he needed was some positive reinforcement, but he did not.  The solution the man came up with could not have been worse if it had been conceived by the devil himself.  He said, don’t make it easy for him.  If there are obstacles in Glen’s way, he will rise up and overcome them.

            From that day on, Glen’s life became a living Hell.  His parents were already inclined to be negative and critical toward him.  Now they had official sanction to ruin whatever he was involved in, interested in or went after.  The man said don’t make it easy, but Glen’s parents interpreted that as meaning make it as hard as possible if not impossible.  What Glen needed was guidance, to find something he was good at that he could pursue, something that his parents could support, where they could be proud of him.  What he got was their every effort to make everything as difficult as possible, and in every sense, for a child, impossible.  Under no circumstances were they going to say a positive word, and Glen floundered, directionless for the next twenty years, which just reinforced in their minds that Glen was hopeless and useless.

            I cannot tell you how many things in Glen’s life his parents, and in particular his Mother with her prime networking skills destroyed.  They got him fired from two jobs and in a third they moved him from the fast track to the never to be promoted in a million years track.  Back when Glen was trying to invest in church ministry, he struggled in three churches.  There is nothing but circumstantial evidence that they interfered, but it is very strong circumstantial evidence, and Glen has often wondered exactly who his mother called and exactly what she said. 

            “Thank you for hiring my son.  You will need to keep on his back to get good work out of him.  I wish you the best.”  That would be enough.  Any employer or church member would hear:  “Thank you for hiring my no-good, retarded son who needs his mother to call on his behalf.  He is lazy and useless so I sarcastically say, good luck.”

Forever 1.6: The Cave, Many Mansions

            It was not far along and the ground improved.  A hardy desert grass obscured the path, but it was a welcomed sign.  Glen felt sure he was getting somewhere, and it was not much further before he smelled the green.  His eyes caught it moments later, though it was still far off  He heard the wail of the men that followed him and thought they might stop and might even go back to their cave.  They did not stop, and he was actually glad for the company, poor as it was.

            “There is life up ahead,” Glen spoke to the air.  “I can see the green and smell it in the air.”

            “It is perdition.  It is purgatory.  It is death.”  The three men responded to Glen’s words.  Glen could not see it, but he did decide it would not hurt to walk carefully and keep his eyes open. 

            “Now gentlemen.”  He spoke up so they could hear him.  “I don’t know what perdition is, I don’t believe in purgatory and life isn’t death so there you go.  Besides, it smells like home – not mine, mind you.  Like Dorothy where if you go looking for your heart’s desire you don’t have to look any further than your own back yard.”  The others said nothing.

            It did not take long to see the big house behind the trees, and it was a real big house like an old southern plantation home or the kind of manor house sometimes found on out of the way roads in England.  It also did not take long to see the chain link fence.  It was laid out perfectly.  Scruffy, dull green tufts of thick grass with barren brown dirt between was on one side and a lush carpet of green, well landscaped with trees, bushes and flowers was on the other.

            “What is with the fence?”  Glen turned at last to face his three followers.

            “There is a sign,” the Leader responded and the Officer pointed a short way down the fence.

            “What, no Cheshire cat to go with it?”  Glen was joking but they were not smiling so he lost his grin, stepped down and read.  “Keep out.  You are not welcome or wanted here.”  He turned to look at the three, but they looked surprised.   They whispered before the Leader asked.

            “What sign are you reading?”

            Glen raised his brows and pointed to the sign.  “This one right here.”

            “But that is not what it says,” the Treasurer said.

            The Leader hushed the man and read the sign he saw.  “Welcome.  Come around and in by the gate and you can have a mansion of your own.”

            Glen squinted at the sign.  He did not see it.  He squinted at the three men in their pompous rags, and decided to encourage them toward something better.  “So, why don’t you take them up on the offer?  It sounds pretty good.  New clothes, I bet.  A warm, comfortable bed to sleep, food whenever you like and who knows what all.”  He let his voice trail off because they looked horrified by the whole idea.

            “But I need to be the leader,” the Leader said.

            “And I need to decide everything,” the Officer said.

            “And I need to keep the accounts,” the Treasurer said.  “And all the money.”

            They turned as one and began back they way they came.  There was no chance of saying anything more even if Glen could think of something to say.  He looked again at the sign.  It clearly said, “Keep out.”

            “Pardon me.”  Glen turned and saw a man through the fence.  He smiled because the man was smiling, but he held his tongue.  “Why are you on the wrong side of the fence?” the man asked.  “You should be in here.  I am certain.”  Glen watched as a young woman came to join the man and add her smile to the group.

            “The sign says Keep out.”  Glen responded.

            “Not possible,” the man said.  “Surely you belong here.”

            “You certainly don’t belong there,” the woman added.

            “Story of my life.  I don’t belong here but I don’t belong there either.”  Glen lost his smile and had a sudden insight.  “Your home is in heaven?”

            “Yes, certainly,” the man said.

            The woman looked up at the man.  “It must be.  It can only be heaven.”

            Glen nodded and turned away.  He ran to catch up to the three men but never found them and never passed them.  When he got back to the cave they were not there, either.  It did not make sense, but he thought overall the whole adventure made more sense then he imagined it should.  He squeezed through the crack in the back wall of the Leader’s room and found his flashlight.  The world outside the cave was beginning to fall into night and he knew he had to go.

            It was not easy climbing back up that steep incline, but he had to get back to where he belonged – or at least where he belonged more than where he had been.  The flashlight slipped from his hand when he reached the top.  He heard it clatter back down to the cave below.  There was no way he was going back to retrieve it.  All he had to do was shove himself the last foot.

            When his mother came in to wake him up that morning, Glen felt like he had not slept a wink.  He had not, and what is more, his flashlight was missing.

Forever 1.6: The Cave, Corinthian Communion

            Glen found the table in the Great Hall set for six with tableware that looked to be pure silver and gold.  The goblets were fine crystal – jewel embedded.  The food on serving platters and deep dishes looked steaming hot and smelled delicious.  There was fish, bird, meat of some kind, potatoes, rice and at least a half-dozen vegetables.  There were cheeses and fruits of all sorts so that Glen was not sure he could name them all.  The wine was decanted, both red and white, and there even appeared to be brandy and six glasses on a tray for after.

            Glen spun slowly all the way around.  There were no people to be seen, no cooking fires or stoves or so much as a cupboard for all the priceless dinnerware.  How that feast came to be there, Glen could not imagine; but then it did not seem to faze the residents of that cave community one bit.

            “Dinner.”  The leader came out into the Great hall and hollered, while Glen stared.  The Chief Officer and Treasurer quickly joined him beside the table, and Glen did not quite know what to do.  He felt he ought to be invited, but he needed to be invited first.

            “Citizen.”  The leader did invite him, but not to the table.  He clearly pointed to down below, off the ledge where the table was.  He waved Glen to stand in the inch-thick dust that had not been disturbed for years as no one came there and no one but these three lived there.

            Glen complied, but slowly, and imagined there might be some ceremony before he would be included at the table.  There was a ceremony, but not what he expected.

            While the Officer and Treasurer bowed their heads, the Leader tore off a small chunk of bread, picked up an ordinary cup of red wine and turned to face the gallery in the great hall, a gallery which consisted of Glen alone.

            “Citizens.  As we partake today of our noon dinner, let us remember the great sacrifice your officials are making on your behalf.  We work hard for you all, to see that your needs are met in every way.  We do our very best to take care of you all.  We spare no labor in our body.”  He held up the bread.  “Neither do we spare our very life’s blood for your sake.”  He held up the wine.  “Let us give thanks for those of us who are here to watch over you and provide this great and bountiful feast.”  He leaned down in Glen’s direction and held out the bread and cup.  “Here, citizen.  Share in our bounty.”

            Glen took the bread and cup and spoke softly.  “Thank you.”  Then he watched while the three up at the table took their seats and dug into the food with abandon.  They spoke some to each other, but never so much as looked again in Glen’s direction.  After a moment of disbelief, Glen found a place in the stones where he could sit.  The bread was very good and the wine warmed him, but it was not enough to sustain a bird.  And he decided while he ate that he had indeed fallen into a loony bin and wanted no more of it. 

            Glen stood when he was done and stepped to the cave entrance.  The sun was bright, but straight up overhead and it only took a moment for his eyes to adjust.  He was just about to step out when one of the three above noticed and shouted.

            “Wait!”

            Glen turned to listen.

            “I do not advise going out there,” the Leader spoke first.

            “Going into the outside is not allowed,” the Officer added.  “It is against the law.”

            “You can’t go.  There is work to do,” the Treasurer added.

            “Thank you, but I am going,” Glen responded.

            “But you’ve been paid,” the Treasurer shouted as Glen turned away and stepped out from the cave.

            It was desert outside.  Nothing much grew there and probably nothing much could grow there.  While that made Glen doubly curious as to where the feast might have come from, it did not stop his feet from walking.  He headed straight out from the cave and was only partially surprised when he heard the shuffle of three sets of feet not far behind.

            When Glen paused, the feet paused.  Glen looked to the ground and saw the remains of an old path.  It might have been cobblestones once upon a time, but it was hard to say.  The stones were too few and spewed from the earth at odd angles.

            “Where does this path lead?”  Glen wondered and shouted the words, though he did not turn his head.

            “To disrespect,” he heard the Leader.

            “To the end of choice,” the Officer said.

            “To poverty,” The Treasurer added, and Glen smiled.

            “I’ve been once to the Pit of Poverty.  This may be my way home.”  He walked at a good pace and the others did their best to keep up.

Forever 1.6: The Cave, Yet Another Man

            The Great Hall was as empty as before, only this time Glen thought to lower himself off the raised platform and down to the floor below.  He saw it was covered with an inch of dust and undisturbed for ages.  He knew then that the men in the rooms never came down there.  He also knew there were no other people – no one as he imagined to come in and out of the Great Hall or go in and out from the outside.  There were no workers, no citizens, no people of any kind.

            Glen thought for a moment that he had come into a loony-bin, but again his curiosity rose up and he wanted to see what the treasurer had to say.  It was the last cave, and he imagined door number one, two or three.  According to the game this should have been door number one, but then he started at door number three.  This time he knocked on the stone archway before he spoke.

            “Excuse me, the chief officer said he would whip through the papers so I could receive assistance.”  It was a statement, but he made it sound like a question. 

            In this room a very round man sat in a very small chair in front of a tilted table.  This man had one book, a ledger, and he was going over it most carefully.  He looked up when Glen came in.

            “Be with you in a minute,” he said.  “It would not do to have these numbers add up wrong.”

            Glen stood quietly while the man worked, but after a while he grew tired of waiting.  “Excuse me,” Glen said again, but the man was not moved.  So Glen began to inch forward as if wanting to take a look at the book.  The man responded by picking up his quill, he put a period on the page and closed the book quickly.

            “Now, what can I do for you, citizen?”

            Glen had to repeat himself.  “The chief officer said he would whip through the paperwork so I could receive assistance.”

            “Hmmm.  Well, he would,” the fat man frowned.  “But I see no paperwork here.”  He looked at Glen and smiled a smile that said, sorry. Glen could not stop his tongue from asking.

            “But the chief officer decided, so that should be good enough, shouldn’t it?”

            The frown came back and deepened.  “Sadly, it does not work that way.” 

            “Why?”  Glen wondered.  “What is it you do here?”

            “Why, I’m the Treasurer, the Treasurer.  I oversee the accounts, the treasury.”  Glen shook his head and some red rose up in the man’s fat cheeks as he furrowed his brow to match his frown.  “Look, the Leader can recommend all he wants, and the Officer can decide things all day, but I have to determine what we can afford and not afford.”  The man got down from his little stool to stand on his stubby, fat legs.  He put one hand on the tilted table which Glen guessed was a desk of some kind, and he began a more thorough explanation.

            “It is really quite simple.”  The man cleared his throat.  “Public money cannot fairly be shared.  It is the one thing in life that must be vested.  Why, if we let the ordinary people have their own money there is no telling what they might spend it on.  It would be anarchy, I tell you, everyone for themselves.  Only one can rightly oversee the public trust.  It is a great and grave responsibility to have such control, I know.  But I believe my fairly large shoulders can bear it for a while longer.  It is good to hear your concern, but you can trust that I will bear the burden with honesty and spend only what is in the best interests for all.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  He waved, though there was no crowd to applaud. 

            “Of course,” Glen said, and though he still did not understand, he was not sure he wanted to.  He turned back toward the archway but the man waved at him and made a great show as he opened his desk.  The whole top of the table lifted and he pulled out a yellow, cardboard Banker’s Choice cigar box.  He was careful not to let Glen see the contents, though Glen caught a glimpse of a piece of string, a jack and a small piece of common quartz.  He also heard a few coins rattle and watched as the man carefully pulled out a copper.  He held it out.

            “Here, citizen.  The Leader has said we must be gracious to our citizens and since you say the Officer has decided, let this copper be for you.”

            Glen stepped up as the Treasurer closed the cigar box lid.  “Thank you,” he said.

            “Now the tax on earnings,” the Treasurer did not pause.  “Is two copper coins.”  He held out his hand.  Glen saw no reason to hold on to the one he had been given, so he handed it back, but then he shrugged.

            “I only have the one you just gave me,” he admitted.

            “I see, I see.”  The treasurer frowned again as he returned the coin to the box and the box to the desk.  “You will have to work off your tax then, I suppose.  Please see the Chief Officer next door and ask him for a work assignment.”  The Treasurer went back to his stool, his quill and his ledger and paid Glen no more attention.

            Glen stepped once more into the main cavern the others called the Great Hall.  He found a surprise.  The table was not empty.

Forever 1.6: The Cave, Another Man of Position

            The Great Hall was the dusty inside of the main cavern.  Glen stood on a portion that was raised above the main floor and there was a table there with six chairs.  No other furniture adorned that whole cavern, but Glen imagined some stones and broken stalagmites could suffice for chairs and tables of a sort for the people. 

            Beyond the cavern – that Great Hall, there was a real opening to the outside.  The sunlight streamed in from there and it looked powerfully bright.  Glen wondered briefly if he had stumbled into a place that was too close to the sun.  He wondered if that was why these people lived inside a cave.  But he put that thought out of his mind when he came up to the table.

            It was scratched and dirty and like the leader’s throne, not well kept.  There was a thick-as-your-forearm candle in the middle of the table, stuck fast by candle drippings.  It looked nearly burned to the bottom but stubbornly ready to be relit.  One thing it told Glen was it would get dark, eventually.  The thing is, he saw no fire, pots, pans, food, plates, cups, knives or anything that might go on the table.  There was not so much as a cupboard in the corner, so he wondered what the table might be used for.

            “Hello.”  Glen thought to call out.  “Hello,” he called softly.  There was no one around.  He felt sure there had to be other citizens, but there was no one.  He found that curious.

            Just beyond the table there was another archway – another opening to a cave in the back of the cavern which was beside the leader’s cave and looked just like it.  This cave, though, had a desk and chair instead of a throne, and the man who sat behind the desk was so small he could barely reach his head and arms up and over the edge. 

            The little man shuffled papers with an air of authority and finality.  Some papers he put in one stack and some he put in another.  Some he signed with a great quill, and flourished the quill in a way that made Glen imagine a most flamboyant signature.  When Glen stepped into the room, the man looked up briefly and spoke as he returned to his papers and otherwise ignored his visitor

            “What is it, citizen?  Can’t you see I am very busy?”

            “Yes, I see your busyness.  The leader suggested I see you.”

            “Oh, he did?  He would.  But He knows I am too busy to bother with the common sort.  He should have known better.”

            Glen swallowed as his curiosity took hold.  “But what is it you are doing, exactly?”

            The man paused and looked up with surprise.  “Why, I am deciding,” he said.

            “You are the officer?”  Glen wanted to be sure.

            “Chief officer,” the man responded.  “It is my place to decide things.  I have to decide everything.  The leader can make recommendations all day long, but I am the one who has to decide what actually gets done.  Some things just aren’t practical.  Some are contradictory.  And not only that, I have to decide how things must be done.  So now I have work to do.  Good day.”

            “But the leader said there was something I might do and you would know what that is,” Glen said before he wrinkled his brow.  “I’m sorry, but what exactly are you deciding?”

            With that, the man put down his quill and got down from his chair.  That left only his tufts of gray hair sticking above the desk, and Glen watched it come around to the front.  He found this man dressed in a terribly worn three piece suit.  He had a gold watch and fob in his vest pocket and took it out to look at before speaking.  Once the watch was back in place he looked at Glen.

            “Briefly.”  The man cleared his throat.  “Power cannot fairly be shared.  It is the one thing in life that must be vested.  Why, if we let the ordinary people do whatever they wanted there is no telling what sort of things might happen.  It would be anarchy, I tell you, everyone for themselves.  Only one can rightly set the agenda for everyone to follow.  It is a great and grave responsibility to have such power, I know.  But I believe my small shoulders can bear it for a while longer.  It is good to hear your concern, but you can trust that I will bear the burden with dignity and decide only what is best for all.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  He waved, though there was no crowd to applaud. 

            “I see,” Glen said, though he still did not see.  He began to inch back toward the archway while the man went back to his high chair behind the desk.

            “Tell you what,” the man said once he was settled.  “I’ll whip you through the papers to approve you for assistance until we can find something permanent for you.  You go next door to the treasurer and he will help you out.”

            Glen guessed and raised his right hand.  The small man had to turn around and raise his own right hand before he could turn again and say, “Correct.  Turn right in the Great Hall and the treasurer’s office will be the first door on the right.”

            Glen nodded, tried to smile for the man and stepped back out into the Great Hall cavern.

Forever 1.6: The Cave, A Man of Distinction.

            The light in the cave came in through several cracks in one wall.  Glen wondered if the light was from the outside.  He imagined it had to be and wondered further what that outside might look like.  It took considerable searching, but at last Glen found a crack that was big enough to squeeze through.  At thirty-something, he did not yet have the belly that so many men developed, so the squeeze was not too bad.  “Stress had its pluses,” he moaned as he tried not to rip the buttons on his shirt.

            It was not the outside, yet.  It was another room in the cave, and this one had an open archway for a door.  There was also a man dressed in a long, ermine lined robe, who sat on a high backed chair.  Glen might have imagined a throne if the chair paint was not peeling.  The man faced the open archway, so he had not seen Glen.  Glen stood for a moment and seriously debated returning the way he came; but then the man spoke.

            “Come in, citizen.  You have interrupted my thoughts already.  I might as well get a look at you.”

            “I’m sorry,” Glen said.  “I did not mean to interrupt.”  He walked around to the front where the man could see him and he could get a closer look at the man.  He avoided putting his back to the open archway, just to be safe.

            “A rather ordinary looking lout,” the man decided.

            Glen saw a man who was tall and gaunt.  He was way too thin, Glen thought.  “My name is Glen, and you are?”

            “I am the leader.”  The man appeared taken aback that Glen did not already know this. 

            “The Leader?”  Glen really did not know.  The man stood, and Glen thought he was too tall as well as being too thin.

            “Yes. The leader, the leader.”  The man gave a look of exasperation.  “Look, someone has to be the leader.  I am the only scholar here, the only one who is able to consider all the options and then recommend a course of action for the followers to take.  It is simple, really.  Someone has to be the leader, and by all rights it ought to be the intelligent one.  Don’t you think?”

            “Let me say this.”  The man straightened, grabbed his lapels and prepared to give a speech.  He cleared his throat.  “Authority cannot fairly be shared.  It is the one thing in life that must be vested.  Why, if we listened to the ordinary people there is no telling what sort of suggestions we might get.  It would be anarchy, I tell you, everyone for themselves.  Only one can rightly set the agenda for everyone to follow.  It is a great and grave responsibility to have such authority, I know.  But I believe my old shoulders can bear it for a while longer.  It is good to hear your concern, but you can trust that I will bear the burden with dignity and recommend only what is best for all.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  He waved, though there was no crowd to applaud. 

            “Oh, I see,” Glen said, though he really did not see.  He glanced at the archway opening and wondered if there might be a way out, and the leader spoke again.

            “Now please, if you don’t mind I have much to consider.”  He made a show of sweeping his ragged ermine robe aside and sat again on his throne.  “Why don’t you go down the hall to the officer in charge.  He will give you something to do.”  He pointed out the opening and waggled his finger like he was waving Glen off.  “And tell him I am not happy with him.  Part of his job is to see I am not interrupted by ordinary citizens such as yourself.”

            “Down the hall?”  Glen asked.

            The leader looked up and frowned.  “Do you know your right hand?”  Glen raised his right hand.  The leader almost scolded him for being wrong but at the last second turned his back, waved both of his hands and said, “Good.  Go out into the Great Hall and turn to your right.  The officer’s door is the first door on your right.”

            With that, Glen thought he had better go before the leader became seriously agitated.  He stepped through the archway and into the Great Hall.

Forever 1.5: Across the Sea, the Cave

            The fall went by rather quickly.  The family saw two newly released movies, The Alamo and El Cid, both in Spanish with subtitles.  Mom signed the boys up for Judo lessons.  It was probably the most exotic thing she could think of, though it might have been more appropriate in Japan.  Sister Carol got Flamenco lessons, which at least made sense.  Otherwise, it was regular business for Glen, going to school and coming home again. 

            Glen supposedly had school at home as well.  Mom brought the books they would have had back in the village.  She and Dad spent time with Tom who wrote some papers and the like.  For Glen they just said go read your book.  No surprise he was not motivated to do that.

            It was about mid-winter when Mom and Dad went off on a trip to Morocco and left the children home.  They had engaged a woman, Rosario, who cooked and cleaned for a very reasonable price, and by mid-winter they had little qualms about leaving the children with her for a week.

            Rosario was a wonder.  She spoke virtually no English, but by then Spanish school immersion had the boys well along on the Spanish basics.  Even so, communication was rough sometimes, especially when it came to traditions and customs that were so different from one side of the Atlantic to the other.  Keep in mind, there was no internet, no Google translations, no television to speak of.  Paco was the only kid in the neighborhood who had a little black and white TV, and the boys did get to see the Lone Ranger once or twice, in Spanish of course.

            When it came to things like Halloween, Rosario just incomprehensibly giggled the whole time.  Three children dressed in costumes went from door to door, covered all five doors in the house because, of course, none of their Spanish neighbors had any idea about the holiday.  Rosario ran around the inside of the house and got to the doors to open them and hear the children shout “Trick or treat.”  She gave little treats in each bag and giggled off to the next door.

            By the time Mom and Dad went away on their jaunt across the Mediterranean, brother Tom and Glen were once again anticipating boredom.  In truth, brother Tom was not inclined to sleep well that week, so he enlisted his little brother in a game.  When night came and the lights went out, the boys got their flashlights and went exploring.  The bed covers became the entrance to a cave and they each crawled under, in their own beds, to see what they could find. 

            Mostly, brother Tom read under the covers, at least for as long as he thought Glen was still awake.  Glen fell asleep head at the wrong end a couple of times, but one night, the night they went to bed early in anticipation of their parent’s return, Glen had a very different experience.

            He touched a pebble first, then a rock, and then he slid head first in the dark down a steep incline.  Fortunately, he held on to his flashlight and there was also some light that filtered into his cavern through cracks in the cave wall.  He had no idea where he was, except this was a cave, a real cave.  This was ages before Glen discovered Lewis’ classic Narnia books, but if you ever read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, you should have some idea of how he felt and how this happened.

            When he stood to look around, he felt taller and older than before.  It was not an illusion.  He was thirty-something, though he was not sure how that was possible unless it was some kind of college or seminary nightmare.  With that thought, he considered going back the way he came, but then the light got him.  He knew the inside of a cave should be utterly dark.  Where was the light coming from?  He wondered and began to search.