Arnie grunts as he sits on the hard ground, stretching his stocky legs out. “Man, my feet hurt.”
Shameless, who’d rolled a log convenient to the fire, sits as well, pushing out his hands to warm them closer to the source of heat.
It is Arnie who swings the pick of conversation with the usual starter.
“What was the worst for you?”
Shameless thinks for a moment and then in a voice soft and easy to listen to responds.
“The worst was watching the destruction of civility – the immobilized, the fanatics, the delicate, the angry, the crazy – all caught up in their own disturbing nightmare. Human wreckage.”
Arnie agrees by shaking his head, pursing his lips and adding, “Yeah, everything fell like a house-a-cards in a gust of wind.”
Both men caught up the silence and held it for a moment before it was broken by Arnie.
“So where’d you live before?”
“New York, the center of the storm,” he responded,adding, “My name is Shameless.” He put out a pale slender hand that was now toast warm.
“Arnie,” he replies and shakes the hand extended. “Sort of an odd name you got there.”
“Well, you can guess that wasn’t the name I was born with, but I’ll go with it. It’s the sort of anonymity that legendary tales are riddled with. Shameless is what they started calling me after the incident.”
“The incident?” Arnie could feel his heartbeat quicken and rise to his temples in imperceptible drumbeats. He looks wide-eyed at Shameless, who didn’t return his gaze but continued staring into the fire. Arnie’s flight response kicked in, perceiving impending danger. He tried on the motion of rising, but exhaustion made his movements sluggish and then impossible. He slipped back down like a basset hound to a porch.
“Have you ever read the Book of Judges in the bible, Arnie? It was written anonymously, by the way.”
“No, Shameless, I can’t say I’ve read any of the bible. I’ve always had a tough time believing, especially so now.”
“God wanted to teach about faithfulness and punishment. Such a vengeful jealous creature, no Gods before me and all that. Well, it describes how the Israelite, God’s chosen people, go down the path of moral decay, false worship, etc. etc. and how God gets really pissed. Not quite flood the world pissed, but I’m sure he must have been getting pretty close. He’s gone and shown them the reward of the promise land, and all they would have to do in return is worship the heck out of him and no one else.”
“Was this before or after Jesus?”
Shameless not even phased by his ignorance responds, “These were pre-Christ dying for our sins days, Arnie, with generations of sinning yet to be done.”
“So we have these twelve tribes held holiest among all, who don’t really give a shit about God. They just wanna have fun, you know. And then there’s God on the heavenly throne getting fed up with the whole lot of them. No matter how many of the Israelite get massacred, his religious point is disregarded. He’s just about to throw in the towel on the full faith and worship thing when he gets the bright idea, because he is God after all, to select some human judges to act as temporary leaders, spiritual and otherwise. That sorta works. However, once a judge dies or becomes incapacitated in some way or another the people revert back to being…well, people. We’re all pretty much egotistical assholes and were just as much back then.
Eventually God decides to give a couple a special chosen child, and, no, not Jesus. He gives special blessings to a child born of a human couple, whom they call Samson. He is unearthly strong, but so is his libido, if you get my drift. There’s all kinds of mayhem, terrorizing and betrayal in his tale, strength versus weakness on larger and smaller scales. It’s epic. In the end, good wins out and Samson saves the day, but he dies in the doing.”
“Ain’t that always the case,” Arnie pipes in.
“Well, the whole Book of Judges is packed with violence, crazy amounts of violence, one story after another of defiance, death, destruction. God’s wrath brought about by humankind’s weaknesses. Each judge depicts the deterioration a little more, blurs morality a little more, so that by the time we get to the story of Samson who the hell knows right from wrong and complete moral breakdown and anarchy are seemingly just a story away. Then comes this obscure tale out of left field about an unnamed concubine.”
“A concubine, a whore, Arnie, a woman who..”
“I get it. I get it.”
“What’s a tale without a little salacious tail: right? All this wayward soul wants to do is her own thing; be her own boss, you know, live life, be happy. But her master says, “oh, not so fast. She runs away. He chases her down to her father’s house. The father coaxes the master, stay a day, then one more day, and then just one more day – wine, food, leisure, anything you may want you can have. But eventually the master gets fed up and just takes the concubine and they head home. That’s not the end, however. All along the path they are tempted, stay here, enjoy this, stay, relax. Eventually he succumbs and does stay at a place, and an angry bunch of heathens storm it and want the man. They want to ravage this master in every way possible. Instead, the concubine is offered up to save the man, and she is raped and despoiled in complete savagery. Her master is a total ass, no sympathy. He just throws her dying abused body over his donkey and takes her home. Once home, he cuts her up into twelve pieces and has each piece delivered to the twelve tribes of Israel as message, and wallah, they finally get it.”
Arnie furrows his forehead . “I don’t get it.”
“She ends up having terrible, horrible things done to her, and that is what wakes everyone up.”
“Nope, still don’t see the point.”
“You’re soul-less, brother.” Shameless shakes his head with futility. He gets up from the log and puts on his book bag, readying to trail through the woods ahead alone.
“Hey, what about the incident? Your name.”
Shameless, standing tall and lean, faces Arnie from just inside the edge of penetrating darkness. He now speaks with a chilling rasp in his tone, so unlike the previous soothing modulation. “Someday, Arnie, someone will tell you something too unbelievable to be true, even in these times. You, of course, not believing it, will shrug it off; though, the nightmare of just the possibility of it being true will linger on. That will be the incident.”
No words could come out of the cotton-like dryness between Arnie’s slack lips. He just stared as the man gave him a backhanded wave and disappeared into the dark woods, and mentally thanked God, any God, he was left alive…alone, but alive.