Different Floors of the House

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Guiseppe's Crossing--First Installment

Guiseppe’s Crossing

C.T. Lostaglia

©Liber Review, 2009

Comments to Lostaglia@msn.com or ctl@pdx.edu.

Part One--Borne into ruin

The frayed and dusty robes of the three executioners whipped in the wind as they passed over the shifting sands into the vapors of the desert. New sprinkles of windswept sands spilled over the trail of blood they left behind. The blood trail, already drying in the swelling heat, proved the purpose of the now distant trio of death bringers. The red trail ran back down the small sand hill, across a small patch of arid, sandless ground, and up the gnarled, leafless tree that suspended the dying man. Blood trickled out through his wrists, covering the nails that pierced him. Barbed chords strapped his limbs to the prickled, black trunk. He was not dead. But he could not move.

It was hot. The dying man’s skin blistered in the high heat. A slight wind caressed him with a thousand frozen teeth.

The dying man opened his mouth and screamed with wide eyes. His voice faded into a gasp.

He could only straighten one leg in his effort to break free—and that was an irreversible action. The barbs dug into the flesh around his knee and now new tributaries of cold blood shot out of him, ran down his burning skin and met the other cascading streams. He wriggled his heavy head about. His mouth was full. Pain breeds sickness.

The dying man scream out vomit and felt everything.

The pungent scent of blood and emetic bile clogged his nostrils and covered his cracking lips. Weakness enveloped his body. His strength had passed long before they hoisted his body up on this cross. But now, in fragments, he played out the scene of his beating in his mind. The straps of pain they covered him with and the celestial pricks of light that penetrated the sackcloth hood.

The killing three had removed that black hood from him before they left. They had carried it and all the blood it contained with them up the dune hill. They had cursed the dying man before they left. They cursed him to live. “Live.” They said. “Suffer.” They said. “Live long and suffer hard.” This is what the black-eyed assassins said through those vile, broken teeth.

And now, being bitten by the wind and tormented by open wounds filled with sand, the dying man wanted it to end.

But this man, this captive of life, could not die.

For all the bruises and gashes in his flesh, he was not dead. For all the blood lost, for all the will broken, he was still breathing. Heart pounding. Lungs pumping. Veins flowing. He was not dead.

He wasn’t dead yet even if the birds were coming. He shifted his eyes this way and that when he heard one of them in the distance.

“Die.” He whispered the word, but there was command in it. He would will himself to die.

“Die.” Again in a soft, angered voice.

“Die!” He screamed and spewed a sanguine spray of spit into the wind.

But that was all he could muster. His eyes closed. His head fell. He slept through the pains of the day and bitter naked of the night.

Part Two--Traveling ahead while staying behind

The sun was bright, but the day was not yet hot. The dying man lifted his eyes toward the ridge that hid the desert from his view. On the dune two figures seemed to be coming toward the tree. The dying man nudged his head up a little bit, he grimaced but managed to lift his head high enough to let it fall back on the trunk from which he hung. There were two people coming. One figure was much larger than the other and as the two approached, the dying man made him out to be a scholar of some sort. The black satchel, the learner’s crest…he was a teacher. The other traveler, no more than a boy, must be his disciple.

They came to the tree, stopped a few meters away from the dying man and uniformly tilted their heads, inspecting the situation in their scholarly way. The dying man grunted, an apparent attempt at speech. The elder scholar ruffled through his satchel and pulled out a book. The younger just stood there, tilting his head to the left, pondering, then to the right, pondering further.

“Well, we should help this man, I think.” Said the elder to the younger after

consulting his book for some minutes. The younger continued his examination of the dying man, the tree, and the dried blood.

“I think he is up there for a reason, sir.” The younger said.

“Why, yes. The reason he is up there is those chords that bind him so. And they seem quite capable of holding him there for weeks, if not months.” The dying man grunted again.

“I mean to say…it must be a punishment for some heinous crime.”

“Heinous, you say?”

“He must be a dastardly fellow, or why else would he linger there this way?”

“Disciple, are you suggesting that he could get down if he were motivated to it?”

“I am not certain. To get down would mean to dislodge himself from his piercing bonds. The pain might not be worth it to him.”

“That is reasonable thinking. You truly are my greatest student.”

“You jest. But really, I was talking about the cause for him being there, up on that hideous, dilapidated tree.”

“Ah! The cause, is it?”

“What do you know?”

“I know that, being men of reason, we simply cannot travel back in time to undo the cause of his situation.”

“Reasonable. Time travel is an impossibility.”

“Not necessarily.”


“Time travel is possible—is this a lesson you’ve learned by my teachings?”

“I have no recollection. Certainly I would remember such a profound lesson.”

“Well let me teach you then: As matter of fact, one can travel ahead in time. It is the traveling back that is impossible.”

“Will you teach me, master?”

“Indubitably. Watch this.”

The elder scholar lifted his head to the darkening violet sky and froze his body in place. There he stood, an akimbo statue against the purple panes of the universe. The younger scholar and the dying man (being intrigued by the prospect of traveling in any direction through time) watched intently.

A minute passed. Nothing was happening. The elder man was still standing there, hands on hips, smiling into the outer reaches of space. Another minute came and went. Then another. Nothing.


The elder removed his hands from his hips and laughed.

“See? I told you I could do it.”

The younger scholar shook his head, indicating he did not understand. The dying man grunted and coughed a dry cough.

“Ho ho! My young apprentice! You do not realize that when I began traveling in time the sun was just there above that naked bough. And now, a good five minutes has elapsed and here I am! I, my nimble-minded fellow, have traveled ahead in time.”

Amazed and enlightened, the young man rejoiced in the celestial prowess of his mentor. He fell to his knees and kissed the robe of the elder.

“Verily, you are a powerful man, Master!”

“Indeed, my boy. And one day I shall teach you how these things are done, but not today. Today, we have to help this man and go about our tasks of endeavor.”

The younger scholar rose and straightened his robes.

“Yes, master, but how should we help him if we are not capable of altering the cause of his situation?”

“Simple. We give him water and bread.”

“Yes! That is what we should do! Water!”

“And bread.”


The young apprentice took his wineskin and some bread up to the dying man and, after wrestling his way up the tree, slowly fed him the food and water. It was a difficult job, the dying man’s mouth was dry and swallowing was a painful task. The young scholar climbed down the tree when the water was nearly gone and rejoined his teacher.

“Let’s be off then.” Said the old man.

“Let’s do.”

“Master?” The young apprentice, pleased with their accomplishment and the master’s display of arcane power, had one more question. “Master, can you travel far into the future? Like, say, ten years or so?”

“Why yes, my lad, I can. But it would take a decade to get there.”

They walked briskly around the tree and continued their long travel toward the lush valley beyond the hills of the desert, for this is where they lived.

And this is how the dying man lived his first day, a day of agony, yet a day sustained, on his arboreal grave. It is true that he still wanted to die. But he wanted to die a little less than he did the day before.

Part three--Opiates of denial

The next day brought great pain to the dying man. He grimaced and flinched with every thought of moving an arm or a leg. His injuries did not simply sting like they had the days before. Now he could feel the nails and barbs inside him. The exterior pain gave way to inner pain—a more throbbing, excruciating, pulsating sensation. Especially painful were his wrists and the bones in his arms. The nails felt as if they might rip through his arms if he moved too much, so his every thought was on flexing the muscles in his forearms to prevent the rending of flesh. And this was a horrible task. His shoulders creaked with intensity, his muscles had to be relaxed every now and again or else they would quiver and he would lose the battle altogether. A careful balance between flexing the muscles and relaxing them had to be maintained, and when he slept—when he was able to put off the agony enough to sleep—he could only hope he would wake up before the nails proved stronger than his bones and flesh.

The one thing that helped him in this regard—ironically—was the barbed chord. The chord entwined his arms in such a way that, if he were careful, he could shift his weight, so very carefully, to alleviate both the pressure and the pain. This chord with its spiky teeth was wrapped around his torso and legs as well. He realized it was helping him survive. And staying alive became more feasible the longer he did it. Certainly he still had many, many moments throughout the day when he would throw his screams to the sky, or maybe he would cry softly into his shoulder, wishing either the heat of the day or the light in his eyes would just end.

On this third day of his crossing, at the height of the greatest wave of heat, another traveler happened by the tree of the dying man.

Curiously, the dying man spotted a hunched over figure on the dune-top. This silhouetted figure seemed to be brushing aside sand with his hands as if he were looking for something. At times the figure would disappear over the hill only to reappear a little later in the same hunched over state, still investigating the sand.

The dying man tried yelling at the hunching figure, but his voice was still powerless. Only raspy whimpers came out of his mouth. This, coupled with the anguish of his physical state, angered the dying man very much. His breath became erratic and his veins bulged, causing the bleeding to start again at the nails in his wrists and over certain parts of his body where the barbs had sunk in deep. He passed out.

The dying man awoke to a cold chill across his face. Water. Cold water. As soon as the brightness of the sun faded, the dying man saw a hunchback man hanging above him by his legs from a large branch. In one hand he held a small parchment and in the other, a wet cloth rag that was soiled with blood, dirt and sand. He smiled at the dying man and continued cleansing him. He was reading from the paper and chanting, all the while hanging like a monkey upside down. This new stranger wore the minimalist garb of a monk, the peregrine monks from across fertile plains beyond the desert. He began chanting in a strange language, maybe Latin, maybe Romanian—it was familiar, but not wholly recognizable to the dying man. The peregrine monk cleaned and bandaged the dying man’s wounds without unlatching one barb or pulling one nail. He then applied a medicinal ointment to the man’s entire body and gave him an oral anesthetic. All the time he was singing and laughing, talking in a deep voice (in a foreign language that was neither Latin nor Romanian) and making strange clicking sounds with his mouth. And then, his countenance fell.

The monk placed the soiled rag on the dying man’s head and gave water and bread to him, who took it apprehensively.

“Would you like me to hear your confession now?” Said the suspended traveler after the water was nearly gone.

No answer came.

The dying man blinked and then stared into the sun.

“Was it a crime of anger?”

No answer.

“Can you speak to me?”

No answer.

“Do wish for redemption? For reconciliation?”

Then the monk asked a series of questions and to each he received no reply—not even a nod from the dying man.

“A crime of passion? A crime of thievery? Thievery, was it? You stole to eat? Was it a crime of poverty or of greed? Did you make bread on Sunday and eat it on Tuesday? Are you a debtor? A chop man? Did you catch a fish for sport? Did you laugh at court? Perhaps you failed to pay taxes or you associated with rebellious entities. You are an enemy of your lord? Is that what it was? You conspired to assassinate the Sultan? You are not from here? Did you count the stars or build a levy? Did you accuse a man? Was it a walking offense? Malice? Scorn? Impertinence? Incontinence? Rape? Was it incest? Skullduggery? Did you protest within five paces of the Gate? Did you test a fault? Did you fail a test? You were a spy in a foreign court? Were you the bearer of ill news?”

Having no questions answered, the monk let slip the soiled cloth into the air and watched it fly through the winds of the desert.

“I cannot help you if you do not help me help you.”

No answer.

He shrugged and spryly descended the massive tree in a series of fluid bounds.

“There is a caravan near here.” He said while gathering up his peregrine’s gear. "They are Bedouin. I will tell them of your plight."

The dying man looked further away from the monk.

“Beware the purple lights. The hunchback monk motioned across the sands with his hands. “The lights are my quest. If you see them, take heed from whence they come. I’ll be back again.”

And with that, he left the dying man to his own free will, and hunched off over the desert, across the sea to the mountains beyond the fertile plains of a distant land, for that is where he resided.

And this is how the dying man lived the third day in the desert. He was grateful to the monk although he did not show it. He was, after all, still nailed to a tree, in great pain. But that pain was not why he cried for hours and hours that night. He sobbed and wept until all the dry desert air was filled with his lament of moans and the lavender moon disappeared in the lilting sky.

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