By: Antwan Crump
“What is this?”
“This? It’s a map.”
Solomen snatches the scroll from the priest. “A map?” Unraveling the papyrus, he stares bewildered at the seemingly infinite, and unintelligible scribblings. He rolls the scroll back together and shoves it into the priest’s chest. The priest falls to the ground from the force of his impact.
Solomen continues past the priest – who rolls over and screams “This will save man!” The doors to the temple open -guards flood in and surround the priest, their swords drawn. As the snow and hail fall upon him-Solomen puts on his hood saying “Kill…”
“No!” the priest interrupts. “Please. Take this!” The priest extends the scroll toward Solomen. He ignores his plea, and concludes “Kill, him.” He leaves, beginning his trek back down the mountain -into the city.
The soldiers take no mercy on the priest -stabbing him until his remains become nothing more than a red puddle on the sacred stones. Even the bits of fabric were unrecognizable. Having their fill of the murder, the soldiers loot the temple.
One refuses to, as he had also limited himself to a single swing against the priest. He instead walks around the temple. Taking in the beauty of the stonework, and various art that the priests had created and collected.
A specific painting catches his attention. A whisper overcomes his thoughts. Following this instinct, he approaches the painting. It shows a lone woman, naked, and in mid-dance. He is embarrassed for only a moment, before noticing the snake at the top of the artwork, and the apple in the woman’s lowered hand.
“Eve.” He says lowly. Running his hand across the canvas, he sees flashes of the birth of man. He sees a family – mother, father, and two sons- being exiled. They walk out of a paradise, as filthy rags grow around their naked bodies. He’s snatched out of his meditation- “James!”. His pupils dilate. Startled he steps back. The painting ripples.
“Yes?” he responds half-aware.
“Are you okay?”
“Well, then come on you’ve got to see the rest of this temple. It’s incredible!”
“No problem Paul, I’ll be there.”
Paul smiles and runs to catch up with the other soldiers. James drops to his knees, returning his attention to the painting. The whispers return “It’s a map James, use it.” in a fearful panic, James draws his weapon and vapidly looks around him. The room is empty.
The priests blood runs toward James. He follows it with his eyes as it runs towards the wall, then against it -collecting directly under the apple. He reaches into the dark crevice where it collects and pulls out the scroll.
“James! Are you coming?” James shoves the scroll into his armor and rushes away to join his army. As he leaves the priest’s blood runs up the wall and into the frame of the painting. The apple falls from Eve’s hand, the snake descends, and a bright light appears in the corner replacing the tree above them.
James joins his militia outside the back of the temple. The men stare -in the distance several other monasteries are consumed by fire and black flame.
“What’s going on Paul?” James asks, barely penetrating the echoed screams that overwhelm the mountains and skies above. Paul is silent – dropping to his knees- he says a prayer for the lives lost. He breaks from his pleas with god -for their soul’s peace and looks to James – his eyes swollen with tears. “Was this us James? Is this who we’ve become?” He looks back toward the flames -the screams lessen.
James kneels beside him -removing the scroll from his armor- he hands it to Paul, “What’s this?” Paul asks, taking it from him. “I think it’s a map. I think it’s why we’re here.” James responds solemnly, as he looks to the smoke, and then to their compatriots -who’ve been taking joy in desecrating the statues that had surrounded the temple.
Paul starts to open the scroll. “Wait.” James grabs his wrist, “Are you sure?” Paul is silent and continues. James drops his hand and watches it uncurl.
With every ongoing inch of the scroll undone, the flames die down, and the smoke recedes into the sky. The two are enamored with the text, barely noticing it’s effect on their surroundings.
The men who’ve been destroying and looting the temple, come to a sudden pause and stand at attention. Paul finishes unrolling the scroll. The fires cease, the dark smoke quickly dissipates. A bright light shines from the document, engulfing them. The two are blinded by a surrounding white light.
A voice comes from everywhere, “This is the map for your salvation. With this, you are freed. Take it, and suffer no more.”
The light recedes back into the scroll, Paul drops it – the scroll wraps itself -tightly closed. Back into the fray of reality, they look off into the distance to see the monasteries fully restored, with no sign of what had just occurred.
At the edge of the cliff, stand their entire infantry – all locked together arm in arm. They audibly weep. Through their cries, they scream to James and Paul, “Help!”
The two attempt to rush to the men. With every pace forward, they are further away. Noticing this they stop and watch, as one of the soldiers on the end of the line – steps off of the cliff.
Still locked in arms, and unable to unlink themselves – one by one – they each fall. The imminent final man off the cliff – weeps uncontrollably -as he prepares to descend to his doom. He shouts to the skies, “Forgive us!”, before disappearing into the snow.
There are no screams. There is no sound of impact.
Stunned, Paul silently re-enters the temple, kneels down in front of the painting -and prays. James remains outside, awaiting the whispers to return. When they do not, he picks up the scroll and joins Paul in prayer.