A Bystander Story
Here is what MacGeorge said about X's extraordinarily beautiful work of art and since I can't improve on MacG's words, here they are : "...In February of 2003, the inimitable X produced a zine to put most other zines to shame. She used her incredible artistic gifts to produce "bystander" pictures from various fandoms and solicited authors to write a story to go with the picture. The result was a multi-fandom zine with stunning art and a rich variety of fiction, all in the name of charity. If you bought one of the zines then congratulations, you know what I mean. If you didn't, then you should beg or borrow one because it is a treasure to look at and to read. My modest contribution is below, as is the picture on which the story was based. For access to the rest of the zine's bystander stories and art work, click on the logo (above)...."
Herewith is my modest contribution...
You shouldn’t have been surprised. Why would anything surprise you these days? You spent forty years worshipping in the hallowed surrounds of St Giles. Forty years offering reparations for the sins of your fellow men.
Forty years wasted.
You shouldn’t have returned to the church this day. But curiosity got the better of you and you wanted to see what nature of person would buy this holy site and its precious adornments. Once it was a haven for lost and lonely souls seeking sanctuary. Souls like you—tiny beings, amidst the soaring splendour of the stone.
But they failed you—the traitorous priests, who shed the raiments and language of a once strict faith, to better blend with the fallen. Failed those like you, seeking solace and hope. You had revelled in that sanctified beautiful church—a glorified theatre to the godhead. You kept its surrounds so clean, so sterile. You tried daily to wipe away the mortal traces of pain and sorrow—untidy smudges on your brass motifs. You knew the prayer book and the Latin mass by heart and, once, had no doubt of your special place in God’s ordered universe and after-life: ‘I will teach the unjust Thy ways: and the wicked shall be converted to Thee.’
But the ways of God were not the ways of men—injustice flourished and the wicked sought no absolution. You watched them genuflecting to new, dark gods. The various priests spoke with such seeming sincerity of their Lord’s mercy and loving-kindness. And such passion about the joys of god ascended: ‘Ascendit Deus in jubilatione, alleluia…’
You were not surprised when so few answered, ‘Et Dominus in voce tubae, alleluia.’ There were no celebratory trumpet blasts for the ever-decreasing congregation of St Giles. This new forgiving God they were being led to worship was not the wrathful God of your beseechings and utterances.
So you come here today, to observe the final coda to a lifetime’s work. St Giles as a museum or art gallery will call to more people than the plaintive Glory Be’s ever did. This day you watch people scurry like ants in and out of the now deconsecrated surrounds: they little realize that their past actions desanctified it many years ago. They are more attuned to the words on the auctioneer’s pamphlets than ever they were to the words of your Lord.
‘My house shall be called the house of prayer, saith the Lord; in it everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened…’
What they asked for should never have been uttered. The pleasures and treasures they sought, in their folly, should never have been delivered.
You gaze upon the holidaymakers who poke about for a bargain amidst the spiritual debris. An innocent young child, whose voice would have once soared in sanctified salute to a God mysterious, wanders lost and alone.
The angels you so lovingly tended for decades bow their heads in supplication and look not on you—but on another mortal. He studies the catalogue, hoping for a bargain—seeing not the angels of the Lord, but auction lot numbers, to be ticked off.
“He that seeketh, findeth…” you mutter.
How many of your angels will he take home? How many will he touch, as you once did? Will he hope to feel the inner hum of the centuries-old life forces of all those who once came to kneel before the cherubim and seraphim, begging for forgiveness and eternal life? How much will this pagan buyer pay for his little piece of immortality?
Your angels stand shield, as they have always done. Heads bowed, they have little interest in the scurrying of the holiday crowd. Their essence inside the marble remains untouchable. You know that, even if the mortar crumbles, they will not. The metaphysical is in the ascendancy: their immortality, sureness and serenity born of those who stand by the throne of God.
Or so you once thought.
Your eyes wander to the church entrance where a man stands apart, clothed and framed in black. He wraps his arms around himself, perhaps sensing God’s displeasure as His house is turned into a market place. The stranger gazes into the darkness, ignoring the colors and vibrancy of the crowd before him. He stands alone—shadowed, an embodiment of the Lord’s advising to his disciples:
‘Watch ye therefore, for you know not when the lord of the house cometh… what I say to you I say to you all: Watch.’
He turns and gazes at the one reading the catalogue, amidst the angels—and continues to stand watch.
You quietly laugh at his well-developed senses and walk through the crowd, to stand and watch also, as the auction commences and the pieces of silver quickly change hands. Your beloved St Giles is soon sold to a theatre company. Your two most treasured angels are now possessed by the one on whom they earlier gazed. By dusk even the pews are gone.
No rest, any more, for the wicked.
You genuflect to a god no longer there. This God long ago departed from the tabernacle and the souls of men. Turning, you gaze at the watcher in the entrance, who comes alive as the buyer of your angels approaches him. You stare in disgust as the buyer pockets his catalogue and leans to brush his lips against the watcher’s forehead. You feel anger rise within you at the sacrilegious display of such sinful intent here, in what was your Lord’s house.
As they depart, brazenly, arm in arm, the buyer laughs in the sunshine, his lover casting cursory looks about them. You’re sure his eyes miss you as you sink into the shadows, letting the darkness further cocoon you as you gaze out over what was once your domain. You hear again the priests’ welcoming patter ring down the years, just as they once welcomed the faithless into your Lord’s humble abode.
Turning your head, by habit, you look for your sentinel angels. But they are gone now, along with the depraved lovers, away from their centuries old home. Instead of smiling serenely at your piety, they will now gaze only upon degradation.
“And so shall it be at the end of the world,” you sigh. “The angels shall go out, and shall separate the wicked from among the just and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Have ye understood all these things?”
“Yes,” you answer. You have understood and, with the image of the lovers’ kiss signalling the betrayal of everything you once held dear, you answer again, “Yes!”
For you will make it so.
You turn and genuflect in the fading light of a now stripped and bare temple and make a vow of retribution and atonement to the wrathful god you now worship—Jehovah.
“Eternal rest give unto them, oh Lord. And may perpetual light shine upon them…”
You will make it so.
~ end ~