Signs & Portents
Behold, a Pale Horse
And I looked and behold a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed after him. Revelation 6:8
Miri was a nocturnal worker by nature and choice, and her workday would in normal circumstances have begun several hours ago. She glanced at the pale lanky figure of Robert Harrold asleep on the sofa. It seemed very unlikely that anything would wake Robert. Perhaps, she should try to get a little work done.
She crossed to her desk and picked up the photostats of the ancient disintegrating text, and resumed her note taking. Her Greek was fragile and she had realized that she was a poor choice as a translator for the University of the Light of the Eternal Gnosis, but they could find no other, so she welcomed this chance to puzzle away at the material, and of course, the payment for her labors. The photostats were of material that had been regarded as of minor importance by the more orthodox academia, who had left them to decay, rather than translate them. Her translations, she had to admit, more often than not, revealed that their evaluation had been correct. But however disappointing the content of many of the texts, the modern Gnostics greeted each that was even vaguely comprehensible like it were a divinely inspired revelation. They were also acquiring these photostats at a huge expense.
Well, scholarship standards were certainly changing, she recalled some recent popularizations, which were to her mind, horrifying distortions of what it had taken earlier Gnostic scholars generation to analyze and learn. And who could say that the University of the Light of the Eternal Gnosis was not preserving precious messages from the past which were priceless, on the strength of their antiquity alone.
Iota, she transcribed. Then came the conviction that the next letter was not epsilon, as she had thought. She reached for the magnifying glass to study the photostat again. In a moment, she knew that the "iota" was more likely Hebrew yod. Yod, hau, vau, hau, the tetragrammaton as it was called, the four letters that meant God. The preceding transcription took on a new and enchanting meaning, "with ten marvelous words..." she gave herself over to the rapture that is the occasional reward for efforts like hers. She had penetrated centuries back into time and now knew a small element of a fascinating drama. She knew that the ancient writer of this text was a Greek writing Jew. Only a Jew would declare that the "worlds" had been created by God with ten wonderful words and carefully, superstitiously perhaps, inscribe this most sacred name of God in the old Hebrew characters, deeming it impious that they be inscribed in a non-sacred language.
Had she been working on a biblical text for days now and failed to recognize the passages? Hastily, she reviewed the material she had painstakingly taken down previously. No, the text was distinctly obscure, something about a material sphere, a vegetable sphere, an animal sphere, and a human sphere, seven spheres in all, not all of them comprehensible. Kabbalistic, perhaps, in old midrashes, references could be found to seven heavens and seven earths.
She found her thoughts drifting back to Nostradamus, a converted Jew, was it possible to foresee the future in any reliable sort of way? Had the old Hebrew magician Daniel actually seen several hundred years into the future in speaking of a "king of Grecia" coming to conquer? Likewise, had others accepted a prophecy of their coming rescue in the form of Cyrus the Great, "God's shepherd" who would save the people from their sojourn by the rivers of Babylon, lifting from the the yoke of the Assyrians? (Daniel 8:21 and 10:20. There is a story that Alexander the Great accepted this as referring to his own career. Isaiah 44:26-28—referring to the conquest of the Assyrian-Babylonian empire by Cyrus, who subsequently repatriated the Jews "out of his own pocket.")
To Miri, it was an area of wonder and mystery, she knew the arguments both for and against, but was not fully decided either way.
She had just broached onto the thought that there was some resemblance between Nostradamus's prophetic feelings and the original apocalypse or "unveiling," usually translated in English as the "Revelation" of the apostle, John, which formed the last book of the Christian Bible, when her reverie was interrupted.
Was it Carl at last? Her eyes were on the Abyssinian pelted cat across the room. Catwood's head was up and his ears were forward in alert attention. Presently, he leapt down from his perch and padded toward the apartment door. So it was Carl, Miri sighed with relief, the cat's unerring sense of subtle differences in common sounds was infallible where his family was concerned. She heard the door to the apartment quietly open.
"Carl?" she called softly, to avoid waking Robert on the sofa.
"Yeah," Carl responded, "It's me."
He briefly debated his chances for a quick dart into his own room, but it hardly seemed worth it. His mother would have to hear about things any way. But he fervently hoped she would not become overly upset about the little adventure, he just didn't feel up to any additional excitement.
Entering the living room, he almost staggered at the sight of Robert on the sofa. It took him a few minutes to realize that Robert was not a refugee from the riot at the university, and that Robert's sleeping body was due to something unrelated to his own night's adventures.
Miri's "My God's" and "what happened's" were saved for the kitchen where he seated himself at the table and gratefully gulped some tea and grabbed bites from the sandwich Miri had prepared for him between answering her questions. Miri had reached her fifth insistence that the police be called, immediately, she said and reached for the kitchen telephone. Carl hastily reached for it also, calmly putting it back.
"Mother," he explained, "I'm all right, really, it's nothing. In a situation like that, the police don't need you and they expect the same consideration. I've told you that. In that kind of thing, it's every man for himself and that includes the police. Think about what would happen if you complained to the police now. If the police had got on the job, it could have meant a night in jail for me as well. They're very democratic about things like that. They can't sort out a situation like that and they don't try. The only ones likely to get arrested are those who present themselves for the honor. And that might be quite an honor. There might have been someone killed in all that fracas, for all I know. Would you like to come up with bail and attorney fees for me in the the present state of our finances?"
His last remark brought back the morbid recollection of Sharif's fate. Miri had calmed down now and seemed to have accepted the situation. He eyed her, not wanting to excite her again, but there were things he had to do.
"When did Robert come?" he asked.
"Just about two hours ago," she answered. "It was just like he'd been through something quite awful, I don't know what it was. He just sort of passed out on the sofa. I think we should let him sleep for now."
"Right," Carl agreed, stepping to the door and looking in at Robert's form on the sofa. Robert stirred as if feeling the scrutiny and mumbled in his sleep. Carl pressed a solemn finger to his lips when he turned.
"Mother," he said, "I think Sharif may have been badly hurt."
He quickly revealed Sharif's last known disposition to her. Miri was again lost in a swirl of considerations.
"What should we do? Should we call the hospital? Did Sharif have any family here in Berkeley?"
Carl shook his head. To the best of his knowledge, Sharif had no family anywhere. He had thought the situation through on his way home. If Sharif were indeed dead, one of the certainties would be a police "inquiry" which could result in the arrest of anyone who had been at the scene.
This did not worry Carl, probably, only Sharif himself knew that Carl had unwittingly attended the riot. But it was an unfortunate fact of police procedure that even inquiries after a dead or seriously injured person might be construed as "suspicious." The police had long ago abdicated the option of discovering a real perpetrator in this sort of riot. There were just too many of these and taking them seriously was just too costly and time consuming, especially with the well meant liberal restrictions that handicapped law enforcement procedures. Pressures to act in a no-win position compelled the police to take some sort of action, but a common sense and self protective policy had been adopted. The result was the democratic policy Carl had described to his mother. Police relentlessly took actions that were easily available, favoring those which did not result in the ignominy of police themselves being charged with criminal offenses. Courts just as routinely released the innocent or guilty caught in such procedures, but the experience of being arrested was costly and not to be desired.
Feeling all the same guilty for his own defection, Carl phoned Barry Newman, who shared Sharif's apartment and passed on the logistics of trying to find out about Sharif's condition to him, adding a fervent request that he be told as soon as anything was learned.
Barry took it all in calmly and responded with reassuring words, his tone and manner radiating competence and comprehension of the problem. Barry knew his way around the angles and corners of Berkeley, and he assured Carl that he could leave it all to him.
Carl felt better after making the call and the conversation between him and his mother ebbed and flowed around him. Since Carl's job at the airport had been phased out, Miri had begun to discuss leaving Berkeley, she had in fact developed survivalist notions without the paramilitary conservative political notions that usually accompanied such.
Then she changed the subject, proceeding to the strange feelings she had about the Nostradamus documentary she had watched on TV. She seemed to be of the opinion that this was somehow related to how she had just been thinking about Robert, and amazingly, he had suddenly appeared at the door.
Carl could not comprehend what the connection was, and discovered that he was falling asleep in his chair. He rose and went to his room to retire. Miri went back to the photostats of the ancient manuscript, searching idly for some clue to what her intuition seemed to be trying to tell her, but her conscious mind stubbornly refused to pick up the trail. Her conscience nagged at her for wasting time and she returned to the job of transcribing the words into readable, if very approximate English.
On the back of the sofa and stretched along it's length, Catwood and Robert slept on.