He came out of the dark water, weakened by his baptismal and ritual flogging, and fell to the ground, shivering on a slab of fallen limestone. Watery blood smudges resurfaced all over his thorn-tormented body. He lay there stiff and contorted through the long night, the talls pines and oaks staring away in all directions with noble indifference. The pool where they left him to die shimmered silver-black, soaking in the soft, almost metallic, moonlight. He’s curled up and whimpering death song madness, croaking frog dirges, derangements of the blind owl. Meditations of the murdering crow,whose avatar was a living child…
Gray morning, gray mind, found him staggering down a dusty forest path, wrapped in a tattered fold of canvass he found half-buried in the woods. Soon he came to a small village of loggers, beggars, thieves, leftovers from some nomadic tribe. He could not recall if he hailed from here or somewhere else. Yet the memory persisted of a hellish-lit sky of floating steel thorns, speckled with millions of galactic lights, an impossible city in the unbounded sky. He dreamed of this glittering city of madness all night in his agonized sleep, a dejected drifter beneath the cold branches of unfeeling trees. Then it dawned on him, along with the sun rising misty-bright through coal-colored trees to the east, that this town was his town. And the villagers were his villagers. And that forgotten long-gone tribe was his tribe.
In the center of town a short but sprawling leafless tree– a judas tree– stood in lieu of the town’s commemorative statue. Black scars wound their way up the main trunk, like a supernatural coil of lightning had struck it. Severed heads hung in the smaller limbs like christmas ornaments. A little girl in a dirty and torn gray smock whacked a lazy stick at one of the heads, hoping half-heartedly for some magical pinata effect. And he also realized that the villagers were watching him too, from shadowed corners between slanted wooden buildings, from smoke-black windows, from the doors just perceptibly cracked.
Girl, whose heads are these? He watched her slug-gray eyes sparkle briefly with a glint of knowing, then all was lost again to that everpresent thoughtless myopia this riff-raff town suffered from, punctuated by their strange and violent rites.
The girl only smiled surreptitiously, then ran away cackling like a wounded virginal.
The hanging upside-down faces began to look familar. Then all at once, he remembered. These were his tormenters from the previous night, chosen from his passionate followers. He was more than a leader, a mayor, a town-protector, he was their savior, their god. At least in their minds perhaps.
Was it always like this? The not remembering, then slowly, more slowly, each time, remembering? The entropy of repeated cycles. It must be that way. And how long has this ritual been taking place? How many times has he enlisted townsmen to flog himself to near death then toss his semi-conscious body into the water?
He decided he would not go on with this ruse-ritual any longer. As certain as the realization this ritual had once been important to him, perhaps even more than to the villagers themselves it was designed for, he was now just as certain it was utter folly, a con act with no real purpose. He decided then, while a centipede flitted inside and out of one of the upside-down mouths, that he would simply leave town, without explanation, as soon as he could peel away all the eyes hanging on him like leeches.
No one spoke to him, but still they watched, throughout the day. Only the heat and a dirty dog kept him company as he shambled about town, eating from the same refuse piles as the dog. Finally, growing hot and tired, he found an empty shed with a hay floor and termite-ridden walls. Sunlight stabbed through many of the cracks between the wood slats. The dog, having sensed something to his liking far across town, had since abandoned him. He would wait till sundown to make his move.
He was sweating profusely and dehydrated from the long hours of sleepless waiting, when dusk finally came. He slipped quietly out to a back alley and crept along the deepest shadows until he again reached the center of town. He looked down a long alley and saw the trinity tree, as he had remembered it was known. He was stunned by what he saw:
The trinity tree was swaying around as if being ravaged by a tornado, although there was no wind to speak of on this muggy evening. And the little girl was flogging away, more vicious than before, at the three heads now laying on the ground. He had to venture closer, something in the ferocity of her manner both frightened and intrigued him.
When he came within ten feet of her she turned to face him, and he saw her eyes like two compounded suns, emitting searing laser light. Light from that divine city in his dreams, where he longed now to be, but felt, dismally, he could never get there.
Divide, now! the girl commanded.
These words confused him a moment, unsure if they were directed at him or someone else, even perhaps herself. Then he felt the first tremor deep within, rising up as if from a deep abyss in his solar plexus. As if he was the source of all madness, forgetfulness, untruth. He looked down at his abdomen and saw his flesh began to ripple, the undulations growing increasingly chaotic. Wrenching pain hit him then and he was too shocked to notice that the villagers had gathered by the trinity tree to watch this new ritual unfold. The Ritual of the Division. They were wearing black robes, monk habits, with the hoods covering their heads. Nothing could be seen of their faces, if they even had faces.
Finally he dropped to the ground, the pain too intense now, and his abdomen cracked open, spurting out gobs of thick black blood, black as crude oil. A head covered in intestinal gore finally broke through, smaller than a normal man’s head, then another, and another. Pieces of torso broke off, like torn papier-mâché, as the three forms, now human forms, rose out of what was once a human gut.
He was still alive however, already beginning to heal from these catastrophic wounds. He saw with both terror and pride, a blended emotion that seemed all his own, that he had given birth to three blood and tissue smeared replicas of himself. Thinking yes, this has all happened before, in fact has gone on for untold millenia, perhaps an eternity, and perhaps would continue for another eternity, an eternity of entwined eternities, like a crown of thorns. It had been this way in other villages, in other times, the tribe going back and back with no cause or beginning.He thought briefly if only he could remember this later the cycle could be broken, this infinity of executions and resurrections, but he was resigned he never would.
Soon, once again, the replicas’ heads would be hanging on the trinity tree. This solitary tree conscious only of the sky and the thirst for rain, indifferent to the rest of this planet of unending ritual pain and cleansing.