Saturday, February 13, 2016

Chapter 19

There were many other stolen pens returned and many other adventures that happened along the way which I have not the time to recount, but the very last pen which the old man set off to return was not exactly a pen (for it had no ink) and had not been stolen. It was a two foot long writing utensil, carved from ivory in the shape of a staff, except the tip was sharpened to write in the dirt as the people from the place it came were unfamiliar with books or paper. It was traded in the uncivilized jungles of Africa for a pocket-size old testament which the old man had been given by a transient with unmatched eyes during his layover in the Amsterdam Airport in exchange for the five dollars the old man had put in his begging tin,"Bless you, and whomever this Bible touches,"said the Amsterdam bum handing over the book. 

Indeed, the Bible reached many hands when it was traded for the ivory staff where the old man spent two days living with the Shetobi tribe–not to be confused with the Shenobi plateau where the tribe lived, deep in the Shobeti rain forest of Central Africa near the dam of the Shelobi River. But, as stated, it wasn't stolen. In fact, the curious villagers stole the old man's curious book several times and when he found it each time he told his interpreter, who spoke Shemoni dialect natively but was not exactly proficient in English,"Please tell them this book of Moses belongs to me." To which the interpreter would spout off a series of sounds that resembled spitting, coughing, and sneezing. Yet when he saw the ivory writing staff, he fell in love with it and offered to trade and the trade was accepted fair and square. Still, the old man felt compelled to return this not-exactly pen, as well.

Upon his return to the Amsterdam Airport he put the same five dollars in the same tin of the same bum with unmatched eyes that had been there five years previous and this time he was handed a pocket sized New Testament and once again declared,"Bless you, and whomever this Bible touches."

But when the old man reached Africa he was met with resistance,"I cannot take you there, sir," said the same guide and interpreter as before, at the elephant rental outfit where the last road ends,"Shetobi tribe no longer tourist attraction."

"And I am no longer a tourist,"said the old man,"I have come to simply return something."

"Too dangerous, sir. Shetobi surrounded all sides of Shenobi."

"By whom?"

"Sheboti tribe."


Another Englishman was just returning his elephant and caught the conversation,"No, they are not savages,"said the Brit,"they rob them of their crops, 
enslave their children to work in the mines. Make 
human sacrifices of them to the God of Shenobi. They make savages appear as English gentlemen."

The old man asked,"What is Shenobi the God of?"

"Diamonds. And you, sir, would be worth a gold mine of them."

But the old man insisted, for he did not fear death, and with a bribe the price of an elephant, he was soon tromping deep in the jungle by night with the guide for it was only possible way to sneak thru on pachyderm.

When the old man arrived he was warmly greeted by the Shetobis."We have waited long for your return,"said the elders thru the interpreter.

"Well, tell them I apologize,"said the old man to the guide,"If I had known this staff was so valuable, I would never have traded it in the first place."

As the old man held out the ivory staff to give it back the tribesmen and women all bowed their heads.

"Come,"said the chief elder of the tribe,"Tonight we celebrate. For deliverance is soon at hand."

The old man was confused, for the staff seemed to be the object of their worship, yet they did not want it back. Still, being respectful of native cultures–no matter how odd–and remembering how delicious roasted hyena tasted, he went along with the celebration.

The old man and the guide sat in the middle of the elders around the bonfire. The flames were bright, garnished with dancing and chanting, and the roasted hyena was as good as ever. The old man exchanged a smile with one of the very energetic young female dancers who seemed pleased at his approval.
Noticing, an elder sitting nearby said thru the interpreter,"She is my daughter."

"Tell her she is very good at dancing,"said the old man. The guide did to which the elder sneezed, coughed, and spit twice..

"He says she is yours to wed," said the interpreter.

Pretending he had not heard this, as he had no interest in a new wife, the old man changed the subject,"Who is their deliverer?" he said to the interpreter.

The interpreter asked the elder and the elder was about to speak but then swallowed hard, eyes wide and pointed as a small Sheboti (not to be confused with Shetobi) army came marching into the village by torchlight. "Sheboti!" the elder cried, which sounded like a very loud sneeze. The guide threw a blanket over the old man as the celebration turned to panic.

The Sheboti soldier at the front of the line pointed to the young female dancer that had been offered to the old man as two others with spears grabbed her.

The elder who was the girl's father tried to stop them but was thrown on the ground.

"Where are they taking her?" asked the old man, helping the elder up.

"To the offering mound,"said the guide as the elder cried in agony,"his only daughter..."

The old man ran to catch up with the soldiers."Wait-take me instead,"he demanded.

The leader put the torch up to the man's face and then grabbed it and laughed for some time with delight, rousing the others.

Then, triumphantly waving his hand in the air he yelled what in English would mean,"The great white sacrifice will bring us wealth untold!"–but which sounded like a very bad case of the flu–and the girl was let go.

The old man was then dragged thru the forest, his interpreter being left behind, down off the plateau to the Sheboti village (not to be confused with the Shetobi on the Shenobi) and to the sacrificial mound where he was bound at the top to a stake. The wood below him was then set on fire and an even louder celebration with chanting and dancing began than the one he had previously attended, except that he was the one being roasted. Yet he did not mind dying, especially to save such a helpless young dancer rather than marry her. Still, he thought being burned alive was not his first choice and he smelled the souls of his shoes melting...

Then, the old man had another thought that could perhaps get him out of his predicament. His arms were tied in such a way that he managed to pull out the ivory staff from his coat and he held it up as high as he could in hopes that the Sheboti would reverence it as the Shetobi did–for their names were quite similar. But apparently they had not received the holy memo, for they laughed and threw more wood on the bonfire.

Then, as the socks of the old man began burning, a  low rumbling noise like the sound of a train began to compete with the noise of the sacrificial ritual at hand, and when it had drowned the celebration out entirely, the old man saw walls of water coming in every direction.

Most of the Sheboti did not even have time to scream before they were swept up in the flash flood from the broken dam along with the entire Sheboti village.

As the sun rose hours later, the old man awoke on the mound, his staff still raised, as two Shetobi guards and his guide took him down off the mound toward the crowd of praying Shetobi villagers.

"What are they saying- thanking Sheboni for saving me, I suppose?"asked the old man.

"No, they praying to you,"said the guide,"they think you are Moses."

"What?? Where did they get that idea?"

"I read to them the book you left. I not so good at English."

Then an elder brought the pocket Old Testament book that the old man had left.

"Moses hold up staff. Children of Israel pass thru Red Sea on dry ground. Deliver from bondage,"said the chief elder thru the interpreter. He pointed to the destruction all around and then up towards the undisturbed plateau. "You do same for Shetobi. Great and last sacrifice. We thank Moses!"

"Tell them they are very kind,"said the old man,"But I am not Moses." Then he pulled the copy of the New Testament from his coat pocket. "In here is your true Deliverer, for Deliverer is His name. He is the Great and Last Sacrifice." 

That evening, the old man read from the pocket-sized book to the Shetobi–not to be confused with the Sheboti–of the babe born in Bethlehem to a virgin as fair as the young dancer and of loving their enemies even those who make savages English gentlemen, and of the crucifixion on the cross for all mankind who are, in the end, all savages. And he read to the tribe until sunrise and then he and the guide got back on their elephant and went on their way.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chapter 18

The next pen was colored with a red tartan pattern and had been found by the old man on the cobblestone floor of the Wilfordrshire castle, in the shepherding country of Scotland. The pen was immediately recognized by the tour guide when the old man took it out of his coat upon his return there. "Doesn't belong to the castle-'tis the pen of a good friend of mine, John Isaacson,"he said,"See the initials engraved there?"

The old man obliged. "Aha–know where I can find the lad?" he asked in his best Scottish accent, for the old man had a habit of trying to match his voice and manner to that of whomever he conversed with though he was never very convincing. 

"In the pasture just on the other side of this hill tending, he'd be."


"I like to think of his as wooly acrobats," said the tour guide showing a bird's eye picture on his phone of a smiley face formed from the furry white animals,"That's John's flock-all 100."

"Amazing-how do they do it?"

"Follow the sheepdogs...who follow the shepherd."

But when the old man walked over the hillside and found the apparent local celebrity, he was anything but "smiley". John Isaacson, a burly looking fellow was heading toward the woods, beside the pasture where his flock was grazing, when the old man approached.

"This is yours, I believe," said the old man trying to hand him the pen, but he was ignored.

"Dot!" John cried out,"Dottie-my love!!"

"Did you lose your wife?" asked the old man.

"No, my sheep–wife ran off years ago,"answered John," Now she's deserted me, too–'less that bloody thief, Ivan Malloy stole 'er. Dottie!!"

"Perhaps a wolf got her?" suggested the old man.

"In Scotland??" laughed the shepherd,"ain't been wolves here since the 14th century, lad. King eradicated 'em."

The old man tried to hold his tongue but he couldn't. "Where there is sheep there are always wolves,"he said.

The shepherd stopped at the tree-line. "The only ravenous, blood-thirsty animals 'round here are down at the pub-now if you'll excuse–"

"Can I just give you this?" the old man tried to return the pen but again was unsuccessful as the shepherd disappeared into the forest. "Wait!!" The old man reluctantly followed, "Bloody wait!"

"God help us with that accent," sighed John, sarcastically.

"Oh, He will-of that I have no doubt,"replied the old man.

"Makes one of us."

"Why do you doubt Him?"

"Well he certainly ain't cared nothin' about the falling fleece prices. A shepherd can't feed his family on pennies a clip. Mind you–I haven't lived a godly life like the long line of cross–bearers 'fore me. Let's just say I'm the black sheep of the clan, not worth–Oh, what am I bloody confessing to an old man–and what do you bloody want, anyway??"

Just then, a rustling noise was heard in the nearby thicket.

"Dottie that?–" said John.

"Look–"interrupted the old man,"The way you live is no business of mine, I've come to simply return this pen to you." The old man placed the pen right in front of John and this time the shepherd took it and examined it like a sword distracting him from the noise in the bushes.

"Oh yes-must've dropped this in Wilfordshire castle when–" A ferocious growl masked his last words like thunder clapping, as a large aggressive beast sprang from the bushes and assaulted the shepherd, knocking him to the ground.

Then, just as suddenly, the terrifying growl turned into a painful yipe that faded 'til the animal went limp and turned into furry silver and grey blanket covering John Isaacson.

"A wolf??" said the bewildered shepherd.

"Aye laddy 'tis so."

John rolled it off, revealing the blood-soaked pen with which he had stabbed the animal.

As the two men stared silently, a sheep came sauntering out of the fauna.

"Dottie! Dottie!" the  shepherd laughed until crying, as the sheep licked his face, "perhaps God has left the ninety and nine to find us both, my love."

"No doubt he has,"said the old man,"for He is the Good Shepherd."

As the three walked back to the pasture the shepherd said,"God has looked out for me today, but tomorrow I have have a commodity that I cannot sell for a profit in this dark cruel world?" 

"I understand you have quite a talented flock,"said the old man,"perhaps there is more than wool you have to sell. Do not doubt, John Isaacson, the Light of this dark cruel world will show you the way and when He does, I should like to hear about it."

"Then you shall,"said John. 

And so the old man left his address with the shepherd and went on his way...

Monday, September 3, 2012

Chapter 17

The Hotel of Inconsequences was a spacious seven story lodge-one for each deadly sin-perched on the edge of a very high cliff overlooking a deep valley below.

Paying guests arriving via sky lift were treated to a twenty-four hour, guilt-free, consequence-free, all-u-can sin buffet. 

At least that was the brochure's promise...

The old man's previous stay was quite brief. In fact, he never actually entered the iniquitous building having become so nauseated from the bumpy ride up and, consequently, left with a full refund.

The long unbreakable carbon fiber pen he had slipped into his pocket, belonged to the front desk at the ticket counter at the bottom, but he was told he could keep it. 

He turned to leave but felt compelled to take another ride in the sky lift.

"Why would you send me back into the den of iniquity?" the old man asked the voice.

"Art thou better than He who was found among sinners?" 

The old man rolled his eyes and entered the tram mumbling,"Ok, but this could get messy." 

As the lift began the ascent up the mountainside, he noticed an approaching storm and that the only other occupant in the tram was a young boy that couldn't be more than fourteen years old, looking defiantly at the shrinking town below.

"I hate to disturb you but do you mind if I ask your weight?" asked the old man.

"75 pounds, I think,"said the boy.

The old man did some quick mental math and, stepping to one side, concluded,"That would put me right"

"What's it matter?"said the boy.

"I am trying to stand in the optimal position for equal weight distribution so that this thing doesn't rock back and forth so much. But if you don't mind me throwing up in this tram, I suppose you're right–it doesn't matter."

The boy's sneer turned into a look of concern."What do you mean rocking back and forth?"

"Oh yeah-last time it almost came off the hinges-a consequence of poor design, I'm sure. So what brings you up here?"

"Parents,"said the teenager.

"What kind of parents would send a kid to a place like this?"

"My parents didn't send me here-I ran away, dude."

"Let me guess,"said the old man as the tram reached mid-point,"they told you that you can make your own choices but you can't choose the consequences of your choices."

"Yeah-they don't think a place like this exists. But I found it, man–and I'm never going back."

A deafening thunder clap muted the boy's last words as a vein of lightening streaked down from the sky.

"Assuming we even make it to the top,"said the old man as the car suddenly stopped.

"Is it supposed to do this?" said the boy.

"Yes, it's completely normal..."

The boy sighed with relief.

"...when the top of the tram is hit by lightening," finished the old man.

A heavy wind began blowing across the valley that tossed the car violently like a beaten pinata.

"You see having no consequences puts us in a difficult position!"shouted the old man trying to hang on.

"What's that?!" cried the terrified kid clinging to a floor rail.

"Without consequences there is no future!"

"What're you talking about, dude?!"

"The future is only made up of two things, and one is the consequences of our choices!"

"What's the other one?!"

"The acts of God!"

The two braced themselves as another bolt hit the top of the tram and they dropped like an airplane in turbulence as sparks rained past the windows.

The old man tried to pry open the doors but they were locked tight. 

Then, he saw a hatch above him that he managed to open,"C'mon-there is only one way out!"

The young man followed the old man thru the hatch onto the top of the tram which was teetering. They could see the connection was badly damaged and barely attached to the steel cable above it. One of the pulley wheels suddenly broke free and fell 'til it dissappeared into the fog below.

"It's coming off and we're going with it!"screamed the boy.

"Not if we hold onto this cable and zip-line back down to the bottom of this mountain,"said the old man.

"What in God's name are we gonna use for that?"

"A pen, of course." 

The old man pulled the unbreakable carbon fiber writing utensil out of his coat pocket and placed it over the steel cable, his hands grasping the two ends,"Jump on my back, son."

The boy obeyed and just as their four feet left the roof of the tram, it separated completely from the line and disappeared into the abyss.

"Don't let go!" yelled the old man as wind and rain pelted their faces. 

The boy held tight as the two zip-lined all the way down to the bottom, safely.

But just as they got on firm ground, it began to shake violently.

"Earthquake!"yelled the boy. 

The two ran into an open field and watched as the cliff upon which the hotel was perched which gave way and sent the seven-story Hotel of Inconsequences plunging into the valley below.

"How did that–?" began the boy when the smoke cleared.

"Consequence of trying to eliminate all consequences, I suppose," said the old man.

"Thanks for turning me around."

"Thank God,"said the old man,"Like the steel cable, He is The Iron Rod. And remember what I said up there."


"Don't let go." 

Then the old man said,"I should like to hear about the consequences of your future choices, do you have a small piece of paper I can write my address on?"

"Consequently, I do."said the boy. 

And with that the old man gave him his address and went on his way...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Chapter 16

The next pen belonged to the St. Joseph Cathedral in the old man's hometown. It was large parish with a   school beside it where the old man had attended as a youth, being raised Catholic. But he had not returned there since, except for his neighbor's wedding which was the occasion where he swiped the black pen from the table in the foyer where the guestbook lay, being the ninety-eighth and final recorded guest at the affair.

After finding no clergy in the foyer, the old man entered the chapel. The ornate and spacious sanctuary full of statues, Sistine-like murals on the
rotunda ceiling, and the hanging crucifix had not changed in the sixty years since he had taken his first communion. In fact, it seemed the very same Gregorian choir–whom the old man as a boy thought lived in the walls–had never aged nor stopped for so much as a breathe of air, but continued their eternal sanctus faintly heard through the sound system.

And there it was...the old wooden confessional with scarlet curtains-still just off the stage-which he had often entered to receive sacramental penance for the misdeeds of his youth. 

Suddenly, out of the confessional, stepped a parishoner-a dark-looking young man in a hooded sweatshirt-who profaned the reverent air with cursing as he rushed out of the sanctum.

Still unable to find someone to return the pen to, the old man approached the confessional and knocked on the wood and whispered,"Pardon me, Father-"

"Enter, my son, and I shall hear your confession,"whispered a voice thru the curtain.

"Oh I don't think I need to confess, I just wanted to-"

"The Lord will judge that, my son."

Reluctantly, the old man entered the confession booth and rested on the kneeler. It was much smaller and lighter than the dark dungeon he remembered as a teenager, but as he knelt he seemed to magically regress to the age of sixteen.

The screen opened and he could see the meshed and gravity worn face of a priest who oddly resembled one whom he had confessed his dangerous and immoral behavior to long ago. He still remembered his words:

"Be grateful you did not die in your sin, my son–for no unclean thing can enter the Kingdom of God." 

He recalled the murky swamp of guilt bathing and pickling his soul and then the tsunami of peace that washed over him when the priest uttered the words,"You are forgiven, my son." 

"Father, forgive me, for I have sinned,"said the old man as if addressing the crucifix hanging in the small window.

"Continue..."said the Father.

"Well, I don't know if it is a sin, actually,"continued the old man," but a few years ago, I was attending a wedding here and upon signing the guestbook, I pocketed this long black pen." 

Then old man slid the pen thru a small grid hole to the priest.

"Was this a pen you coveted, my son?"

"No, I have no need for pens..I have plenty of others."

"And how did you obtain these other pens?"

" the same way, I guess-"

" Are you familiar with the commandment: Thou Shalt Not Steal?"

"Yes, Father. but I have been returning them all.."

"Ahh, restitution is as important as confession. A truth some young people do not like to hear."

"Yes-he seemed very upset," agreed the old man, assuming the Father referred to the young man who had stormed out. When he realized–by the Father's silence–that he was challenging a confidence, the old man redirected the conversation,"Are there sins for which no restitution can be made?"


"Which ones, Father?"

"Thou shalt not commit adultery. For once the virtue of a woman is taken it cannot be returned."

"Then what hope is there for such a sinner?"

The rhythm of their conversation was broken again by a long pause. Then the Father said, "You are forgiven, my son. Go thy way and sin no more."

Seconds later, what sounded like a gun shot echoed thru the cathedral. And then sneakers squeaking across the marble floor.

The old man quickly slid his curtain and saw the hooded young man run out of the cathedral. 

Then he saw the quarter-size hole in the curtain of the center booth and flung the cloth open.

The priest had his hand over his heart on his black robe.

"Oh dear...dear God!" he cried in a trembling voice, seeing the wet crimson stain on his palm.

"You're shot! I'll get help-where's–"the old man began.

"No..time...please take this," begged the dying priest, handing the black pen back to the old man,"Take my confession."

The old man snatched a program from the previous day's mass in a nearby pew,"Okay...go ahead."

"Father, f..forgive me...for I have sinned..."he whispered laboring,"I...always tried...bring honor to the Church...but I...I was weak once... fathered a child...Will not implicate her...know they are taken care of...Oh God, Please...forgive...will sign..." 

The priest scribbled his initials at the bottom,"Give to the bishop–"

Suddenly, the priest's whole countenance changed from the heavy forlorn look to one of tranquility and joy, as if the heavens had opened to his view and light had filled his veins.    

"Oh, such peace!...finally, the burden gone...H..How is it done?" cried the priest.

"His name is The Restitution,"said the old man as he held the old priest's face. Then he whispered the words again so that the priest could inhale them with his last breathe,"His name is The Restitution."

And the priest died.

Soon, the ambulance arrived along with the bishop to whom the old man gave the note, and the pen, and he went on his way...