Different Floors of the House

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Guiseppe's Crossing--Final Installment

Installment Two is Here
Installment One is Here
Part eight—Nails

The floor shook so violently it echoed in the dying man’s ear and woke him instantly. Something was happening. Repetitive throbs of pain pulsated on the back of his skull. Someone was screaming—not the dying man. Successive blows landed on his face now. One, hard, sharp blow fell on his forehead, then another to his neck and another crushing blow to his cheekbone. The blurred vision of awakening faded into the black of dreamless sleep.

We he woke again he pushed himself quickly against the wall and grasped the sill of the window, trying to pull himself up. There was a hooded, cloaked figure squatting at the portal. In one hand, this man held a hammer, in the other, a long, curved knife.

“Do it!” The intruder yelled. “Pull yourself out that little window and fall to your death. Do it! I want to see you try it!”

The dying man’s hand slipped from the window and slumped down onto his lap.

“Bastard.” The hooded man stood up and slowly approached the dying man, bent over like a warped shadow. “You should have done it. I will even help you.” The dying man tried to pull his arm away but the hooded figure swung the hammer quick and pinned the hand to the wall. The wall creaked. The dying man moaned in pain. The knife whirred and sparkled as it came to his throat.

“Let me tell you something.” The hooded man put his spitting face against the ear of the dying man. “I don’t like you. I don’t want to give you anything, murderer.”

The hot, wet breath of the hooded figure reeked of animosity. “That is what you are, is it not? Murderer?” The blade stung and the cold steel of the hammer crushed the bones of his hand against the wall.
“Why should I?”

The hooded man removed the hammer from the dying man’s hand and pressed it into his temple. The dying man felt the vein in his temple throbbing against the pressure of the hammerhead.
“Why should I help you?”

The dying man was crying. He tried to speak through spit.

“What are you saying to me, swine?”

The dying man again tried to force out words but only began to cry louder.

“That’s right, cry. Cry you little swine bastard!” The hooded figure raised the hammer to strike.

“Poor me!” The words came out as the dying man slumped over into the dark corner of his little wooden tree house.

“Poor you! Poor you?” The hooded man dropped the hammer and grabbed the dying man by the chin, yanking his head up. The dying man saw his face, his angry, burning face. He was the one. This hooded man was the one that yelled out “Murderer!” when he was hanging on the tree.

“Poor me.” The dying man repeated in a defeated whisper. The hooded man loosened his grip on him and dropped his head. He sat there shaking his head, whispering the words to himself: poor me, poor me, poor me.

“Yes.” He said. “Yes.”

He let go the dying man, gathered up his hammer and walked over to the portal in the floorboards. He stopped for a moment before leaving and stared blinkingly at the dying man.

“Poor you.” He said, then he descended the rope.

The dying man heard yelling outside. He pulled himself up the wall and brought his eyes above the window sill. The hooded man was yelling. He was yelling into the desert and kicking sand. He was not forming words, he was just yelling and rampaging. The hooded man dropped to his knees and began pounding the sand with his hands. Sand flew into the wind. The yelling continued but eventually became just gasps and squeals.

Finally, the dying man saw the hooded man crawl over to the lean-to the young Bedouin had slept in the night before. For some time the hooded man lie there, piling sand onto his body with his hands. The dying man himself began to cry, even louder than before and the hooded man looked up to the window and saw his eyes peering out. The hooded man jumped up, grabbed something out of one of his bags and ran toward the rope. The dying man squirmed his body back into the dark corner, crying and hiding his head with his arms. The rope made the house creak and shake as the hooded man ascended it.

The hooded man did not enter the tree house. He stuck his head above the entry.

“I made this for you.” He said sharply. He threw something across the room at the dying man. The dying man flinched and hid his head. Something hit the floor with a clank then slid until hit the wall under the window.

The house creaked and rocked again as the rope swayed underneath it. The dying man pulled his heavy body over to the window again and picked up the object. It was a leather string, bound in a circle like a necklace, and there, at the end of it, it was wrapped around two nails. The dying man peaked up and out the window again. The hooded man was lying there under the lean-to. The dying man slid his body down and sat up against the wall. There he caressed the jagged nails. He felt the imperfections in the mold of them that had caused him so much agony. He ran his fingers over the nails again and again while looking out the other window onto the deep blue waves of the sea. And then he closed his eyes and slipped the necklace around his neck.

Part nine—The fare well

Days and days passed and with each day came a new guardian at the base of the tree. They brought water and food and clothing for the dying man, and every now and again they brought a game to play with the dying man or they brought furnishings for his tiny home. Soon his house had chairs and lamps of oil and even a small cot, which was much preferable to the straw matte the dying man had been sleeping on. They strengthened the bindings of the house and coated the roof with tar and sand—which helped to keep out the wind, the rain (if ever it came) and the insects.

Like the house of the dying man, the tree itself gained benefit from the water the Bedouin people brought. Soon the tree was sprouting many, many buds and after some time, leaves. Near the end of the season, the tree even bore some small, strange fruit, but it was inedible due to its infancy. “Next year,” they said, “next year it will flourish and we will eat its fruit.”

And like the tree, the dying man himself began to grow in strength and regain the use of his hands and legs, for everything was provided to him so that he might recuperate and live. And live he did. And although he never regained the full strength of his voice, he could still force out a word now and again if he needed to, and in this, he was content. He was not required to do anything, save stay in that little house atop the tree.

One day, the young Bedouin who had befriended the dying man months before came to stand guard.

Together they played backgammon all the day and laughed and ate fresh fish from the sea. But when the day was ending the young man placed his hand on the shoulder of the dying man and sadness overcame him.

“We are leaving.” He said softly. “Our time in this place is done. We will head toward the rivers to the east and stay there at length.”

The dying man pulled his shoulder away from the young Bedouin, stood up and began pacing in his confined space.

“Don’t you understand?” The young Bedouin rose and tried to put himself in the dying man’s view. “This means you are free. There will be no one here to guard this tree.”

The dying man shook his head and looked away from the young man.

“You could just go!” The Bedouin tried to convince the dying man. “You could just walk out of here and go free!”

But the dying man plopped himself down on his cot and hid his eyes in his hands.

“I want to know your name before I go.” Said the Bedouin. “It is possible for you to tell me your name?”

Without hesitating, the dying man looked up to the roof and tried very, very hard to say his name.

“Juh…” He stammered, “Jah…Jah…Jah”


The dying man shook his head and continued trying.

“Sehpay!” He yelled out. “Sehpay!”


The dying man nodded. “Guiseppe.” He said.

“Guiseppe, my name is Karim.”

Guiseppe nodded then looked out the window into the night.
“I am sorry, Guiseppe.” Said Karim before slowly retreating down the rope to his station. Guiseppe huddled himself in his cot and lay there for hours, unable to sleep.

The young Bedouin woke up in the middle of the night to a clanking, scratching sound. He looked toward the tree and saw the dying man standing in the shadows. The dying man held a sword above his head, the Bedouin’s sword with both hands on the hilt, the blade pointed straight down, with its tip at the belly of the dying man.

“Guiseppe don’t!” Cried Karim.

With great force Guiseppe thrust the sword downward, but he missed his torso and the blade struck the hard clay at the base of the tree. Then he raised the blade again. The Bedouin closed his eyes and turned his head away. Again, the sound of the blade striking earth rang out. The young man rose to his feet to investigate. Guiseppe lifted the sword again, and again he struck into the dirt. He was digging.

He blows to the earth fell harder and faster, sand and clay flew. The dying man had penetrated less than a meter into the ground.

“Why are you digging there?” Asked the Bedouin man.

Guiseppe did not attempt to reply, he simply kept heaving the sword up and down.
“You’re not supposed to be off the tree.”

Guiseppe stopped digging and pointed to his feet with the sword. He was standing on a large root of the tree. The Bedouin laughed.

“Well, what are we digging for?” He asked.

“Yes.” Gasped Guiseppe, panting.



Now it was Karim who was speechless. He stood there for a moment, watching Guiseppe stab at the hole. Then he frantically tapped his digging friend on the shoulder trying to get him to stop digging.

“Look!” He stuttered as he yelled. He pointed and waved his finger at Guiseppe’s feet. “Look there in the hole!”

In a crack of the hole there emerged a small purple glow, no bigger than a grain of rice. It scurried around in the hole blinking bright violet. Then another scurried out of the crack, and another. Soon the hole was filled with an electric purple swarm. The swarm buzzed in a low, harmonic tone and amassed along the rim of the Guiseppe’s pit. More and more came out and they filled up the hole until they overflowed and seeped out onto the desert floor. The Bedouin stepped backward as the swarm came close to his sandaled feet. Guiseppe stepped up higher on the root and grasped on to the trunk of the tree. Then the swarm gathered and exited the hole and floated like a cloud into the dark of the desert, illuminating the sand under their path. And then they were gone.

The two men shook their heads and raised their shoulders. But almost immediately something magnificent happened. The cracks of the hole gave way and out of the hole gushed a powerful jet of water. The water sprang into the air, making rain.

"Well!” Yelled Karim and he grabbed the hands of the dying man and they danced around the fountain at the base of the tree.

“Well!” Said Guiseppe, laughing.

They danced in the rain.

Soon though, the fountain lost pressure until it was a small, but constant bubbling of water.

After they danced and rolled around in the mud laughing, the two men covered the waterspout with rocks. The Bedouin said he would travel to the caravan the next morning and request to stay and help build a well at the spring.

And he did. And they said yes. In fact, the entire caravan came to see the well the next morning. They too laughed and danced in the water when the rocks were removed. Children ran and jumped in the water and played almost all day.

At the end of the day, when it was time to say farewell to the caravan, a certain number of them had decided to stay at the spring to help build the water well.
And so, after weeks of digging and damning and forging, they built a well. And this was the beginning of stationary life for these people, for when the well was done, they were able to water the trains of other travelers for a small fare.
And the tree grew and made fruit and then they sold that fruit as well. And they planted seeds and grew more trees. And soon, in the middle of the desert, miles from the sea, an oasis was awakened. And they called it Guiseppe’s Crossing.

Part ten—The unspoken “S”

Within months of the discovery of the well, roads had been worn down in the sand around Guiseppe’s Crossing. Buildings were erected for living in and doing business in. Pens for herds and coops for flocks were constructed. In the center of the oasis, the earth had been excavated and a pond of fresh water was maintained and constantly replenished.

All the inhabitants worked, even Guiseppe. And although Guiseppe was not paid for his labor, his house was maintained and he was allowed to keep some of the fruit from his tree for his own edification. At times Guiseppe wished he could have a house and a family and leave the tree, but Karim, his young Bedouin friend who had by now become the magistrate of this oasis, insisted the command of Sul al Val not be breached, for he feared the ruler although he had never seen neither him nor his army.

For three years, the oasis flourished and gave hospitality and trade to the travelers along the coast. The oasis grew to a small city and its inhabitants sought new ways to increase their fortunes. They burned sand into glass and dug mines for the shiny things of the earth. It didn’t take long for the news to spread to distant lands of the value in Guiseppe’s Crossing, but there were some who hastened its popularity.

Bal Ramin was one of these people. He was the man who made the necklace with Guiseppe’s nails. Bal Ramin wanted, of all things, Guiseppe’s house in the great tree. And every time Bal Ramin saw Guiseppe climbing out on a branch to collect fruit or leaves (for these held value as well), he would throw rocks at Guiseppe, trying to cause him to fall. When confronted about this by Karim and the others, Bal Ramin insisted he was only having fun with Guiseppe and meant him no harm.
One morning, before anyone else had risen for the day, Bal Ramin climbed the tree and began knocking off every fruit and leave he could reach with a sharp stick. He was as quiet as he could be about it, but the falling fruit woke some of the people in the oasis. When they apprehended Bal Ramin, they summoned Karim to deal with the vandal.

“Why are you doing this, Bal Ramin?” Ask Karim with sad eyes. “Why do you wish to destroy this tree?”

“It is not the tree I despise!” Screamed Bal Ramin, looking up at the window of the treehouse. Guiseppe was watching out the window but retreated into the house upon hearing this.

“Why do you hate Guiseppe, then?” Karim grabbed Bal Ramin’s face and turned it away from the tree house. “What has Guiseppe ever done to you?”

“You don’t know anything!” Bal Ramin fought free from the men that were holding him and ran out of the oasis into the desert. Some men chased after him, but came back without him some time later.

Worry and concern crept into the oasis but it was soon forgotten as the days went by and Bal Ramin did not return.

Guiseppe grew disheartened though, because his tree had been ransacked and the only fruit that remained was too high or to far out to harvest. The townsfolk consoled him by bringing him other tasks to do. He sewed. He fixed things. He counted beans. He spent most of his spare time staring out his window across the desert, the direct the purple swarm—and Bal Ramin had gone.

The people of Guiseppe’s Crossing designated a day of festival to forget their troubles and to celebrate their good fortune in the desert. A great tent was constructed and entertainers came from hundreds of miles away to participate. Peddlers came to sell their wares and the great culinary masters of the east came and created a great feast.

It was on this day that Guiseppe was allowed, for the first time, to leave the tree of his confinement. They needed someone to corral the livestock and tend to the teams and flock. Guiseppe was just happy to be let out.

The music played deep into the night. Drunk men stumbled out of the tent with a woman on each arm. Some people got too rowdy and had to be sent home. But, for the most part, the celebration was full of joy and merriment. Until the raiders came.

While harnessing a camel to a rail, Guiseppe spotted something at the top of the sand dune to the south. A light. A torch. Then more torches joined that one and soon there were twenty or more torches. They came galloping down the sand like a ball of fire in the night. They screamed and yelled and rode through the oasis knocking people over with their feet and running them over with their horses. Guiseppe ran to the tent and tried to yell but no words came out of his mouth. He ran toward the center of the tent, waving his arms and pointing in all directions. Some people stood up and told him to get out. Karim, who was dancing with his young wife, saw this and ran toward Guiseppe. The minstrels stopped playing and everyone in the tent heard the commotion outside.

The bandits rode through the town throwing torches on buildings. They ran into some buildings and exited minutes later, their arms full of whatever they could carry. Karim and Guiseppe came out of the tent just as a young boy was snatched up in the arms of a raider and carried away. “Bal Ramin!” Cried the young boy before he and the raider that bore him disappeared into the darkness of the night.

Buildings burned. Dead bodies slumped over in the pond of the oasis. Women cried. Angry men shook their fists. Some of the men said it was the bodyguard of Sul el Val, come to wreck them for letting Guiseppe off the tree. They called it a curse and pointed their fingers at Guiseppe and Karim. Karim told them that it was Bal Ramin, that the boy had yelled his name before being whisked off, but they were reluctant to believe this because they had grown up with Bal Ramin and didn’t believe him capable of murder and kidnapping.

A counsel was held and after much deliberation, the elected representatives of the oasis people decided that a watch needed to be set and that patrols should be maintained at all hours. They would place guards at the four corners of the village and on the dunetops. And they would place a guard, twenty-four hours a day on Guiseppe’s rooftop, for that was the greatest vantage point in the oasis.

They did all these things, but the raiders returned. And having the superior advantage of weaponry and horses, they inflicted great harm upon the village.

A new counsel was called and the elected officials decided that they needed to build a forge for weapons and shield and that they had to build a wall around the oasis to help protect it. And so they did. It took months, but Guiseppe watched them build the wall from the foundation in the sand to the parapets that reached the height of his house. He watched out his window as the warrior merchant from across the sea trained men how to fight, how to thrust a weapon and how to kill. They made Guiseppe construct fletching and bowery in his house, and he did it well. They made him sharpen sword and spears, and he did. Then they placed trained soldiers on the walls and throughout the city, so that no matter where Guiseppe looked, there would be a soldier and his spear. But even after these things were done, the bandits, lead by Bal Ramin, returned.

Silver spears glistened as they flew through the night sky. Arrows of fire took flight and rained down on Guiseppe’s tree and on his house. The clash of sword on shield, the crack of steel on iron brought chaos and the screams of defeat. Women and children suffered, the elderly were slain on their knees. Horsemen were thrown from their mounts onto beds of waiting blades. The dust of war and smoke of fire clouded the air and the lavender moon turned red. This was the end.

Guiseppe slipped down the burning rope and grabbed the sword of a dead man. He charged, yelling an inaudible warcry, toward two horsemen at the gate. But they did not meet him in battle. They ran. They reared their horses and rode back up the dune. There they were joined with a handful of other raiders. Then they left. The oasis was theirs for the taking—but they rode off.

Guiseppe searched all the bodies at the wall. None were alive. He went to the main street, it was littered with dead men, women and children. He heard a faint cry from the direction of his tree. He saw there an armored man lying at the trunk of his tree, writhing in pain. Guiseppe ran to the man and removed his helmet. It was the warrior merchant, his face bloodied and burned so bad he was hardly recognizable. He looked at Guiseppe before he died. Guiseppe got up and yelled out: “Karim! Karim!”

“Sul al Val!” Came a reply. Someone was running up the street yelling. “Sul El Val is coming! He is minutes away!”

It was the peregrine monk who had given medicine and cleansed the wounds of Guiseppe on the tree. He ran up to Guiseppe, stumbling, panting.

“Sul al Val is coming, he’ll be here soon. You must run!”

It was then that Guiseppe noticed the monk was wounded and bleeding badly.

“You must go.” Panted the monk.

Guiseppe turned and looked in all directions.

“To the sea.” The monk cried. “You must go to the sea and hide in the mist.”

Guiseppe helped the monk lean against the tree when he started to fall down.

“Wait though,” said the injured monk “help me with this.” And then he grabbed hold of the nails that hung from Guiseppe’s neck and yanked the necklace off. He leaned against the tree with one arm and put his other hand under the arm pit of the warrior merchant. “Help me! There isn’t much time!”

Guiseppe helped the monk lift up the warrior monk and strip him of his armor and clothing—down to his loincloth. The hoisted his dead body up the tree and pinned his wrists to the lowest branches of the trunk with the palms of their hands. They pounded and pounded the nails in, flesh on metal, over and over until they bled and the nails sunk in.

“Give me fire,” said the monk, crying, “quickly now, get me fire.”

Guiseppe retrieved a burning arrow and brought it back to the monk. The low rumble shook the earth. It increased in magnitude quickly.

“That is him.” Said the peregrine monk in a wimper, “that is Sul El Val’s army coming to destroy this already destroyed place.” He put his hand on Guiseppe’s chest and pushed him away. “Now go! To the sea!” And with that he stuck the arrow of fire in his eye with a great thrust and lunged forward to cling onto the warrior merchant as he burned.

Guiseppe lingered there momentarily, gazing at the tree. It was charred with smoke and smoldering with fire. It was as barren as they day they had hung him on it. He looked at the burning house he lived it on top of that tree and the burning monk and warrior that hung from it now. Guiseppe dropped his eyes to the ground and saw the glimmering sword of the warrior merchant.

Guiseppe took up the sword of the warrior merchant and the bag of the peregrine monk and ran away from the smoldering tree toward the sea. As he crossed over the last slope of sand before the water he saw two distant figures scurrying along the beach. They saw him running and they waved.

He ran down the sand toward the two waving men, kicking up sand and looking over his shoulder as he flew. One of the figures, an old man holding a black satchel and having a scholars crest on his robe, took the dying man under his arm. Together the three of them scuffled down the beach a ways in the mist. After traveling with the two for a while, Guiseppe, the dying man, stopped. He bid the travelers goodbye and turned around. Then he walked away as the two travelers stood and watched him disappear. There he traveled forward in time, for there was nothing left for him in that place.

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