A Monologue with the Æther


Threatening steel gray clouds squat low upon a small city. The number of people moving on the downtown streets and quality of the light suggest that it might be noontime. The young people move swiftly from building to building, from one cooled haven to the next. While the older people move languidly through the steamy hot, almost liquid air. Sweat tinges everyone, quick or slow.

The civic complex is modern but worn looking, low rise concrete buildings tinted with soot from the countless passing of ships on the river just beyond. On the wide worn, pebbled cement steps leading into the courthouse stands a young boy, head down. His dirty blonde hair lies lankly atop his head. His clothing, well-worn and patched, hangs ill-fitting from his slight frame. In his arms, he cradles a weighty black leather bound tome, its gold lettered title obscured by his sunburned arms. Mutely, he seems to wait as those people who have or had business with the courts swarm past him. Most ignore him; the few who notice seemingly shun him.

A nattily dressed man with heavy leather briefcase and a well-dressed woman move urgently up the steps in conversation. As they pass near the unnoticed boy, he suddenly shouts in his high voice, “HARLOT!” The woman stops startled as the boy lifts his head catching her in his blank gray-eyed gaze.

“Repent your sins,” cries the voice, “or face His Eternal Damnation!” They move quickly past the boy as if fleeing. The woman’s face flushed.

The boy moves his vacant eyes from passerby to passerby, all the while hurling epithets and promising retribution from on high. From across the tree lined street watches a tall dark haired man. Though he wears heavy leather work boots, denim and flannel, he seems comfortable in the muggy air. His alabaster skin unmarred by sweat, he exudes coolness except for his eyes. A piercing fiery blue, they allude to a depth of understanding beyond his apparent thirty or so years. He curls and uncurls his right hand above his left hip while his left hand grasps empty air at his side searching for something long carried but now gone. His hands belie his rough clothing, they are delicate almost feminine as is his whole appearance. Despite this hint, no one would upon close inspection mistake him for anyone other than someone used to power and command; someone capable of personally dealing with any situation.

The boy continues his fervent, zealous admonishments driving all away from him. None miss him now though each avoids him slinking past not wanting his attention. Guards leave the comfort of their positions within the courthouse as if to remove him, yet they approach reluctantly, then relent, returning to the safety of the court’s interior. Soon the steps clear, and the boy once again stands mutely, bowed upon the steps.

Without looking, the man steps into the street, crossing it swiftly in a few purposeful strides. Almost as if instantaneously, he stands unnoticed before the boy. He touches the boy with his delicate porcelain long fingered hand. Startled, the boy falls back but is held upright.

“Do you understand these words,” asks the man in an lyrical voice touching the heavy black bound book which the boy holds tightly before himself. “Why do you rage so? You wield this without thought or discrimination, striking all without regard for merit.”

The boy shrinks before the power of the man’s voice which promises hope and inspires fear. The boy’s body wants to run, but the man’s grasp holds him immobile. The boy’s voice, so shrill and insistent before, fails him.

“Wh-wh-who’re you,” the boy finally stammers, then, defiantly, “Let me go, or my paw’ll getcha.”

The fine hand remains upon the boy’s shoulder, “Perhaps, then it is to your father that I should speak. Is he near?”

The man’s blazing eyes leave the boy’s, searching the surroundings for the father. Time appears to stand still. Until seeing no one near, the man returns his full attention to the boy. The hand releases the boy taking the heavy book from his arms. A momentary ray of sun passing through the ominous leaden clouds reflects blindingly from the gold letters on the cover.

“Do you understand this,” the man asks again holding the tome, its title again hidden. “Do you comprehend the words you shout? Do you? Do you understand its meaning? Its intent?”

The boy slumps. “No,” he whispers, “but my paw told it to me. He told me, I had the gift. He told me that I had to use it to save the sinners. He said we’re all sinners, but those what have the gift gotta use it; else, they’ll suffer worse’n all the others. Paw said, my knowin’ all the words were a sign that it didn’t matter that I don’ unnerstan’em all yet.”

Sadness crosses the man’s face, an ancient melancholy. He presses the book back into the arms of the boy as the clouds open spilling a furious rain; lightening leaps forth with deafening peals of thunder. Everything below is obscured.

The storm’s fury dissipates in moments. The clouds gone revealing the drenched landscape to the sun’s full force. In seconds, steam rises from the streets and walks. On the steps, only the boy stands holding the ruined remains of his heavy black book. Tears well from his dead gray eyes.