Featured science fiction from author J.H. Bogran.
The Vicar of Christ rested face up on his bed. Ideas and plans for the following day swam around in his mind. Sleep usually eluded him, but tonight felt different. He fought to keep open his heavy eyelids as his thoughts seemed to evaporate, leaving him nothing but the struggle to stay awake. Soon he lost the battle.
When he opened his eyes he was standing, fully dressed, in the center of a great marble-floored hall. Equidistant pillars formed a circle. He thought the shape of the place resembled a bird cage. No ceiling at all, only blue sky and a few scattered clouds, just like in a dream. It felt powerful and real, like dreams usually do, too.
He turned to the right and saw a man dressed in a black suit; black curls hung over his sideburns. Another man stood to his left. This one wore the typical attire of the Middle East. A long white beard partially covered the dark-skinned oval face. He looked familiar.
“A Rabbi, a Pope, and an Ayatollah.” A voice came from the top, like a public address system.
The Pope failed to see any speaker. Of course, without his glasses, that didn’t mean much these days. He put his hand to his face and was surprised to touch the thin-rimmed rectangular frames. Still, he had not realized it until a second before. He wasn’t sure the glasses were there even when he felt them.
“Together,” continued the voice, “you represent the majority of the human race.”
“Who are you?” The Ayatollah demanded.
“Where is this place?” The Rabbi asked.
The Pope felt compelled to shout a question, except he could not decide among the many he had. In the end, he said, “show yourself.”
The space between two columns turned dark, then blue, green, a kaleidoscope, then back to black. This darkness, however, seemed to have substance, like a cloth. The curtain-like material shrunk until it formed the shape of something that stood behind it.
A creature stood on two feet, like a man. The head was different, bigger and out of proportion. A human head represented an eighth of his total height; a fact that DaVinci had used to beautiful results in his paintings. The head on this thing was nothing human-like. Could it be a bird? Next the Pope noticed the creature had arms held a long cane in his right one.
“Behold, I am the Great Thoth.” The creature took a step forward.
Thoth? He knew the name belonged to an Egyptian deity. Looking up, he now recognized the bird head. Yes, it was an ibis.
“I brought you here because you represent the new religions in the world.”
“New religions?” The Rabbi looked offended. “Certainly, you must be confusing us.”
“Pharaohs were glorifying themselves too much. Ra forsook them and used your common ancestor to start a new race.” The ibis-headed creature paused long enough to take in the disbelief in the men’s faces.
“I know you don’t believe me. To help you understand, I brought somebody who has accompanied us in the afterworld for a long time.” Thoth tapped his long cane on the floor.
The Pope heard the thick dry echo and felt the vibration. The space between another two columns turned dark. Out of the black void stepped out a man wearing an immaculate white robe. A thick golden rope tied around the waist. The man flashed a benign smile showing even white teeth.
The Ayatollah reacted first. “Who are you?”
“I am the link that holds all of three of you together. I am the man willing to sacrifice his firstborn in the name of the Lord.”
“Father Abraham!” Rabbi said.
The old man nodded.
The book of Genesis relates Abraham was born in Ur, but later lived in Haran where he received the command from the Lord to follow His lead.
“My Egyptian noble ancestry came from my mother side. It was obscured in the scriptures.”
“Is that why you came down to Egypt during the famine?” the Pope asked.
The man nodded again. “By that time, there was a new ruler of the land. Still, the Pharaoh learned to fear Ra when he tried to take my wife Sara for himself.”
The Pope recalled the episode in Egypt. Abraham feared somebody might kill him to claim his beautiful wife. As a precaution, he instructed Sara to say they were brother and sister. The Pharaoh lusted for Sara but learned the truth in a dream before committing a terrible sin.
Abraham, an Egyptian patriarch? He looked down, thinking hard. He considered the implications. It would mean the creature implied the Lord, Jehovah father of Jesus, was Ra. Preposterous.
If he was to believe this revelation, it would explain the absence of Buddhists from this gathering. The Pope concluded this must be a dream; one that nobody would believe.
“You’d do well to abandon the hope that this is a dream,” Thoth said.
“There goes my last hope,” Rabbi muttered.
“I’ve brought you here because religion is responsible for the current state of chaos.”
“We’re not-” The Ayatollah began but stopped when Thoth’s hand rose.
“Religion is responsible because you let the people stray away. They no longer fear God, any god, as they used to. As they should! They lost the hope of a better life in the afterworld.
“Money and power; those are the new deities now. It is a disgrace that even religious leaders crave for them.”
The Rabbi opened his mouth, surely to protest, when Thoth tapped his long cane on the floor sending a shockwave that took the Rabbi’s breath away. The man gasped for air, his eyes wide as if they would pop out in terror. It took him a while to regain normal breathing.
The Pope knew he must have projected a mirror image as he experienced the same lack of oxygen. The sensation so real, then again, most dreams felt real until the moment you woke up.
“In other words: you’ve lost your flock.” Thoth walked toward them, looked each one of them face to face, and then he returned to the columns. The Pope caught a minty fresh scent came out as the creature breathed in front of him.
He amended his previous assessment; the Pope now felt the adjective “preposterous” felt short off the mark.
Thoth and Abraham took their time to explain some bible passages.
They mentioned Joseph, the reader of dreams, who was sold as a slave in Egypt only to later serve as counselor to the Pharaoh.
“Why do you think the Gods would allow something like that?” commented Abraham.
They brought up Moses. The many attempts to convince the Pharaoh to release the people showed a reluctance to really hurt the Egyptians until a severe measure served as the last resort and the firstborn of every family perished.
“The time has come for you to return to the true deities.” Thoth concluded.
“I only believe in Adonai.” Rabbi proclaimed.
“And I believe in the all mighty Allah!” Ayatollah said.
“We don’t mind the change in names as long as you make the people have faith again.” Thoth conceded.
The Ayatollah looked around, and then met up with the Rabbi and the Pope. Before he spoke, he took off his turban. He ran a hand to try setting his long disheveled gray hair in place. The Pope shared a look with the Rabbi, who also took off his black hat.
“What do you expect us to do?”
“I expect you to get your flock back. Who cares what names they give us? They must sow the seed for their life after they die!”
The Pope didn’t understand what was wrong with these men of Faith. They seemed to be shifting their beliefs. How could they dare ask the bird-headed beast how to run their flock? Was he the only one to keep his Faith unshaken? At least, not quite yet he admitted to himself. He had never considered the many parallels in the Old Testament with Egypt. It was a strong point.
Converted or not, it was something he’d have to ponder for a long time. The implications of The Vicar of Christ and successor of Saint Peter to publicly accept any of this were staggering.
Abraham crossed the room and stood next to Thoth. The deity towered above the man by several inches. They spoke in hushed tones making it impossible for the Pope to follow the conversation. After a few minutes, the patriarch and the deity turned to face the three men.
“Search in your hearts, mind what you have learned today. We expect great changes from you.” Thoth tapped the floor again.
This time the shockwave reverberated in the insides of the Pope. His lungs felt pressed against his rib cage and gasped for air. He opened his mouth hoping to inhale, but felt the same as if he were underwater: Nothing happened. The room faded to dark.
The Pope woke with a start; his heart racing as he realized he was sitting on his bed. It took him a minute to control his agitated breathing.
He looked around, recognizing the things that belonged to his bedchamber: the oil paintings, a dresser, and a desk. All was there.
“I can’t believe it was all a dream,” he said.
His gaze swept the room until it came to rest on his night stand. As usual, several books lay there for bedtime reading. The Holy Bible stood most prominent. It was in Latin as he preferred to read it in that dead language. Other two or three books changed every week.
A book next to the Bible caught his attention as he had not seen it until then. He pulled it closer until the cover came into focus. There was a drawing, a rendering of an old deity.
It wasn’t a dream. The drawing was Thoth.