The City of God (Short Story)

Reply Wed 16 Apr, 2003 01:40 pm
Outside the filthy window Rebbe Rachmanowitz could hear the Germans as they made their nightly raid into the ghetto. Each day they seemed closer to the little attic room where the Rebbe worked to decipher the faded words in his most precious possession. The book had come to him just when he had given up any hope that it even existed. When he was a young student, the Rebbe found an obscure reference to this book, and he had spent a lifetime searching for it. This was the book in which there appeared a Kabalistic formula for a mortal man to reach the City of God. The Rebbe had wandered all over Europe seeking this manuscript, and by happenstance was in Warsaw when the German's arrived. He sought sanctuary with an old tailor known for his piousness. When the tailor was shipped away to do labor in the East, he took the Rebbe aside and placed into his hands a faded old prayer shawl inside of which was wrapped an ancient parchment book.

The light was fading fast, so the Rebbe put a precious lump of coal on his little fire and checked again his translation of the dim words. Again, he read of the City of God. That fabled place beyond time and space where no suffering or dissatisfaction could exist. There the elect no longer suffered, but were waited upon by the damned. The Seat of Justice. The City of God; where the faithful were transformed into beings content to spend eternity in the presence of God. The Rebbe had spent his life imagining the perfection of the City of god, so he hurried forward to the passages of explicit instructions.

He read again, and checked his notes, as to the means of moving from the troubles besetting this world into the City of God. The day must be the eve of the Sabbath, just as the evening star reached a certain height above the horizon. Today was the eve of the Sabbath, and the evening star would be in the proper position in half an hour. Not much time to wait, after a lifetime of seeking. Once the evening star was in position, the Rebbe would have to perform a series of rituals. He took out his father's old watch, peered through the cracked lenses of his spectacles, and saw that it was time to begin.

The Rebbe put on the shawl that had once held the sacred book, and tied the phylacteries to his arm and forehead. He said his prayers and lighted a candle. From the pocket of his old worn suit, he took a fragment of chalk and drew a door on the brick wall of his chamber. On the floor before the door, he drew a complex Kabalistic diagram being careful to intone the proper words at each node of the drawing. All was prepared; all that was to be done had been done. The Rebbe rose and walked to the wall. After the briefest of hesitations, he rapped his knuckle against the hard brick. He struck again, and heard a hollow sound, from a wall that now seemed of wood. Again, he knocked and the wall seemed to dissolve into a gossamer veil of spider web. The Rebbe stepped through the chalk door into a shaft of golden sunlight.

He stood on a low hill in the countryside. A gentle breeze ruffled his hair, and he breathed in the sweet smell of flowers. Behind him was the sea, above him the morning star. Warsaw no longer existed for him, and he was content. Out of the dark sea came a brilliant ball of light and hovered beside the Rebbe. "We've been waiting for you Putzi". "Putzi", he had not been called that since his mother died in 1922. Putzi wondered if the ball of radiant light might be his mother, or an angel, or perhaps even God. It mattered little, but Putzi smiled and surrendered to his companion. The morning star began to fade in the growing brightness. Putzi's reached to adjust his spectacles, and found that he had lost them. He blinked a time, or two and discovered that now he could see better than ever before. Before him there stretched out a city as far his new eyes could see. The City was made up of low dwellings apparently made of dried mud bricks.

"Come with me", the light floated down the hill. Putzi heard without hearing, and followed his guide along a narrow path. Suddenly from the shrubbery along the path, a naked man leaped out. His blond hair was matted; his skin torn and bleeding from the thorns, and his eyes were wide with fear. The man threw himself at Putzi's feet and begged for his protection. Putzi was moved, and as he bent to aid the suffering man, his guide intervened. "Don't bother with him. There are many like him, and they provide a useful function". The man, seeing no hope of sanctuary, ran barefooted over the rocks.

Putzi was puzzled that anyone in the City of God should be allowed to suffer. Putzi wanted to ask for an explanation. In the distance a pack of wild dogs spotted the fugitive and set up a loud howling. The pack was made up of a mixture of breeds. There were slavering wolves, silent Dobermans, Rottweilers, Bloodhounds, and Alsatians. All hunting breeds, and they covered the ground between them and their fleeing prey quickly. Putzi could hear the man's cries as he tried to escape. The dogs steadily closed the distance, and their baying became almost joyful as they closed in for the kill. The chase ended when the dogs leapt upon the man and bore him to the ground. Their fangs tore at him, ripping flesh and hands and feet away. Putzi was horrified. He covered his eyes and ears, but could not shut out the horror.

In a state of shock, Putzi silently followed his guide who continued toward the City. The companion light halted to permit a large group of empty-eyed humans to be herded across the pathway by dogs who nipped at their heels. An old man in the crowd saw a little brook of sparkling water, and began to head toward it. A Border Collie ran at the old man, and made him return to the shuffling herd of humans. Putzi began to weep, for the City of God was not what he had expected.

The houses became more numerous, and the path turned into a narrow street. Everywhere there were dogs of every size, shape, breed, and description. The number of humans was small, and they appeared a degraded bunch. Putzi saw Poodles being lovingly groomed by naked women, and fat Pugs being hand fed by acne-marked teenagers. One old woman seemed obsessed with scratching the ears of a Pekinese who nipped at her raw knuckles. The Rebbe began to think that his guide might not be an angel after all, but one of the Enemy's demons.

Putzi and his companion light climbed a long time, always toward the brilliant light of the sun. Finally, Putzi stood before a light far greater than a thousand suns; so brilliant a light that Putzi's guide faded into nothingness. Putzi knew that he was not alone, that he stood surrounded by dogs. It seemed to Putzi, that out of the great light came a hand, and that the dogs began a joyful howling as they leapt to lick the hand of light. Putzi himself leapt to kiss the hand, and found that his long black tongue was content to lick the extended palm. Putzi felt himself lifted into a lap of light and he buried his puppy nose into his fur in delight and contentment.

The door shook beneath a heavy blow. A second shock burst the lock and the door swung open. The dirty little room was dark, and smelled of mildew. The soldiers stood aside so their officer could enter. Holtz, wrinkled his nose, and squinted to see if there were any Jews hiding in this smelly kennel. He almost stumbled over the body of the Rebbe sprawled on the cracked wooden floor. Holtz cursed and kicked the body with the shiny toe of his boot. "Throw this out onto the street where it can be removed". The soldiers entered, picked up the body and threw it from the window onto the cobblestones below. Holtz looked around the little room and saw nothing of interest. The scrawled chalk diagrams in Hebrew meant less than nothing. The room was empty except for a guttering candle, a little coal fire in a brazier, a broken chair and table. On the table was some sort of Jewish book. Holtz shivered and the hair stood up on the back of his neck. Holtz felt the chill in his bones, and threw the book onto the fire. The fire flared up, but the room remained cold. Holtz rubbed his hands together over the cold fire, smiled and thought to himself, "not a bad night's work at all".
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Reply Wed 16 Apr, 2003 03:02 pm
I really enjoy your voice and style.
(Glad I am nice to dogs. I plan to be even nicer from now on).... Does make you think.

Thank you for sharing it.
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Reply Wed 16 Apr, 2003 07:02 pm
Asherman -
Very satisfying read.
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Reply Wed 16 Apr, 2003 07:22 pm

If you liked this one, perhaps you may like some of the others posted here. Just click on the link at the bottom of my post. It'll take you first to a collection of my paintings/drawings, and from there to a collection of a couple dozen short stories.


Glad you liked it. This one has been perculating for several weeks. I have a couple of others that are being more difficult. I get a birth pang once in awhile, but by the time I sit down at the keyboard I realize it's just a false alarm. The logic of one story just doesn't take me to an ending that satisfies, and the other story has dialog/point of view problems. One of these days they'll be ready, and then I can write them.

Haven't seen anything from you lately. Get on the ball. We need more prose and less possey.
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Reply Wed 16 Apr, 2003 07:32 pm
just a hint of william golding "two lives of Pincher Martin" good read asherman
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