Short Stories

Deep Down
(3351 words)
Flight
(708 words)
The Fellowship of Butterflies
(2650 words)
OPUS CHRISTI
(1521 words)
Unusual Safari Sightings
(1171 words)

(words)

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OPUS CHRISTI


It was dark as I entered the corridor that led to the staircase in the tower. The staircase itself was rather heavy and imposing but, then again towers were never built for beauty, only defense. The heels of my shoes clicked against the hard stone floor as I made my way up towards the top floor.

I had earlier decided to place my latest painting on an empty wall at the top of the tower. It was partly to fill space and partly to provide something for the visitors to admire while waiting to climb out on the crenelated rooftop to look out over the mountainous landscape. The laborers had hung the painting earlier in the day but, I hadn’t been able to see it until early evening.

In anticipation and nearly out of breath, I reached the top stair to the landing below another set of narrow stairs that led up onto the roof. I moved out to the room altar measured about 30ft by 30ft. The light was dim, as this section of the they had not refurbished the castle for many years. There were still two old austere iron candlesticks holding two thick, dusty white candles on a large oak table pushed up next to one wall. If I had had the foresight to bring some matches, the candles would have given a bit more light. As it was, I had to admire my new painting alone in the still, cool, dimness.

Covering most of the wall was, "desolation" by a well-known Italian painter. In a somber palette or the colors of sorrow, gray, black, white and beige, a portion of a crucified body was lying on top of a marble altar. Wrapped in a white cloth the lean, taut, muscular torso, legs and arms could be seen dangling or hanging off the imposing white structure. Death had come, and death had gone but, a corpse was lying behind. There was nothing else in this painting except the dark, somber wash of color across the top of the body, one could not even see the chest or head. It was impossible to say what the figure had seen or could still see for that matter. Was it in a basilica or some ancient rotunda? I could almost imagine the frescos that one might see on a dome of a cathedral. But, maybe there was just crisp, clear air, unpolluted air and then again maybe there has never been any unpolluted air, ever.

As I pondered whether there had ever been the unpolluted air, I sat down on an antique, dusty oak bench, next to the table along the wall, across the room from the painting. I couldn’t help but admire the fact that the corpse looked chiseled from marble or stone. I’ve always found the hardness and softness of marble statues interesting and contradicting at the same time. One always wants to reach out and touch the sculptured muscles and smooth velvety flesh. Even now I have a desire to touch the leg, just to see if it feels like skin or marble but I don’t. I remain sitting on my bench.

As much as I would like to move closer to the painting I can’t manage to get up again. I’m not sure if I’m tired or just old. Maybe both. I sit a while longer until I feel my eyelids grow heavy. I’ve never noticed my eyelids before. But, now I can hardly hold them up, they keep closing on their own. I struggle to bring them up again and again and again until I just don’t have the strength to open them up or look around anymore.

I don’t know what I saw last. Was I looking at the painting or the tiny window on the other end of the room or was I looking at the stone floor between my feet, I just can’t remember. Perhaps it doesn’t even matter because now I can see what is up above in the painting. I can’t move anything except my head, a little to the left and right and a bit towards the back. But, I can already see much more than you will. Provided visit the tower to view the painting yourself.

The altar, on which I’m lying is in a large rotunda, itself surrounded by arches leading to a gallery on the other side. The building constructed of pale sandstone with arches holding up the rotunda of a pure white marble that had an elaborate acanthus leaf pattern at the top. The arches move around the room, alternating up above and between them windows move around the bottom of the dome letting in much-needed light.

The warm beams of the sun, fall in through the windows as dust particles dance around the open space, casting light and heat on my naked body. At the same time, it was warming the marble altar so as to make it a little more comfortable, even though the position in which I found myself could be improved. I am unable to move the middle or lower portion of my body; evidently the painter wanted it this way.

Behind the painter’s somber background, the arches continue all the way around the room, completing a circle. Behind these arches in the gallery are mosaics that I can’t clearly make out, as the light from above doesn’t penetrate that far, only the rotunda baths in the light.

Above, in the heart of the dome, is an another ancient mosaic depicting Christus standing near the four streams of paradise. God is flanked on each side by St. Peter and St.Paul accepting God’s law on behalf of the flock gathered round. It is an enhanced pastoral scene. It shows the two palm trees on the side along with buildings and green grass below. It is in a style somewhat primitive, except, whichever way I turn my head Christ is always exactly above, looking right down into my eyes. Even if I close my eyes, I can still feel the intensity of his glare. It’s this glare that makes me uncomfortable.

Down in the tower, I can hear his bare feet shuffling across the cool stone floor. I don’t know what he’s doing down there, or how long he’s been there. Some days I can hear a few words spoken to visitors as they make their way through the tower, but I have never been able to make out what he says. It’s only a muffled conversation, and the more I strain to catch a word or two the less I hear.

I can’t see anything or anyone down there. I don’t know how long I’ve been up here either, maybe it's been days or maybe years, I can’t say. I try to move my head to look out into the distance. I want to see if I recognize anyone or to see if the fashions have changed. I am searching something to give me a clue as to how long I’ve been in this painting. Unfortunately, I can’t see beyond the gallery outside the rotunda.

At night, everything is different, although I don’t know how it comes to be so. Sometimes, as the sun moves across the rotunda and shadows start to appear near the altar, I succumb to a peaceful sleep. When I wake in a sparse dimness, I find myself sitting on the oak bench again. I lift my eyes, and the painting is still there. Christus is again lying on the alter. His hands, arms, feet, legs and torso are in the same position, hanging over the edge of the altar, just as the painter left them.

Every night I stand up and move towards the stairs but, they have disappeared. What used to be a staircase is now a big black hole, and I am afraid to stretch out my foot and feel for something solid. I am afraid of falling into deep, black, eternal nothingness.

Instead, I wonder over to the other side of the tower to a small window where I can feel the cool night breezes, and off in the distance I can see lights in another mountain village. I’ve long forgotten the name of the village or the names of it’s inhabitants but, the lights reassure me that someone is still there.

On clear nights whispering voices float through the air and someone sings in the distance. I don’t recognize these voices, but they keep me company. I don’t feel alone as I pull up my bench to the large table and remove a sheet of paper from its drawer to leave this message. Just to let you know I’m trapped somewhere in eternity, between dusk and dawn. But, all the voices outside the tower walls tell me I’m not alone. Just in case you are wondering, Christ is asleep on the altar, in the painting, on the wall. But the night is retreating, I hear the birds stirring, soon it will be time for me to go back to work.

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2002 scm - 1521 – 070415


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