Creative Holidays to You!
The S Word
Action and Interaction in Illustrations
A Friend in Winter
News for December!
Scapegoatby Alexander Cresswell
I remember very vividly watching a ritual on a dry sandy hill one day quite some time ago. A group of men came up in a procession, most of them in typical work clothes. At the head of the procession, however, were four men in white robes leading a grey goat. They paused at the top of the hill, which ended in a cliff with a sheer drop leading to a flat, rocky plain that stretched away to the next hill. The man began chanting hymns and prayers, while I looked on curiously. Finally, the white-bearded old man looked up and informed heaven, in an authoritative and slightly chiding voice, that it was this goat that was responsible for all the village's sins and not the villagers themselves. Then he pushed the poor animal off the cliff.
I remember Sesurel turning to me and saying, incredulously, "How stupid do they think we are?"
"I mean," he said, continuing the conversation as we headed home, "are we really supposed to believe that that poor goat is responsible for every misdeed committed in that village?"
I had been punting the cloud but, after we gathered sufficient speed, I put the pole down and lay on my stomach, my feet and my face hanging over the edges of the cloud. Sesurel had adopted a similar pose and now we both gazed down at the land. It was brownish, dusty land, left arid by a mistake in the funding to the irrigation department. Tiny wisps of cloud skidded along below us, nearly indistinguishable from the flocks of pale goats and sheep that roamed the land, feeding off the thorny bushes that grew there. I had been idly wondering if anyone would ever get round to organising proper rainfall for the area when Sesurel's comment startled me out of my daydream.
"I assume that they must think so," I replied languidly, "or else why would they do it?"
"Yes," he replied in a far too animated tone, "but how can they think that just telling us it wasn't them will make us believe it? And there was entirely no need to murder the goat!"
Sesurel is an Ofanite, full of boundless energy and optimism. He usually tempers this with a fair degree of sarcasm, but occasionally he becomes excited about the strangest issues, usually when I least want an argument. He is about five foot nine, with blond hair and grey-feathered wings.
"Sesurel," I replied, shifting onto my side to face him, "If I worried about every strange custom that mankind came up with I would never get any work done at all." This was said in such a tone as to indicate that, as far as I was concerned, the conversation was over.
I am an Eholite, and thus display far more composure than Sesurel. I act as a necessary level-headed influence on him, preventing him from getting into too much trouble, for such is my duty as the elder and wiser of our pair. My hair is black, but my wings are white pinioned, longer by a foot than Sesurel's when fully spread and glimmering like the snow in sunlight. I permit myself some small vanity over them.
Home for us was then, as it is now, a small apartment we share in the outer heavens, for most of our work is on earth and we have no wish to commute. We have had it for as long as we have worked together, which is as long as the sun has stood in the sky. I remember in fact that the day we were assigned together we watched a band of remarkably foul-mouthed cherubim hauling the flaming orb to its predetermined position. We had both sat silently through the briefing which assigned us to work together indefinitely and were now walking together through the outer reaches of Eden, where construction work still continued. Neither of us had said a word.
After we had watched the cherubs' labours for a while Sesurel spoke, still not looking at me. "I wonder why they donít just drop it off the edge." He said, "As far as I can see it's all the same at the end of the day."
I laughed and he looked at me strangely. I explained his, apparently inadvertent, pun, and was surprised to find that he had no idea that the sun would, assuming the planning and construction departments were ever able to put their ideas into practice, circle the earth each day. When I asked him if he hadn't received a copy of the official notice he waved it off airily with the words "Oh, I never read those things."
I was intrigued, and we struck up a conversation and by the evening, which occurred prematurely due to a failure of one of the new sun's structural supports, we were firm friends.
A couple of days after we had watched the ritual with the goat, I was called up to the office, where, I had been informed, I was to meet with my supervisor. This came as quite a surprise, as we were in the middle of a job and I could think of no complaints that could be levelled against me. Glaphidrel, the Seraph who supervised Sesurel and myself, as well as a dozen other groups of angels, looked at me over the rims of his glasses.
"Anduruc," he said sternly, his eyes fixed upon me as I shifted nervously, "There has been an incident in a village in sector 1818d. Do you know anything about this?"
I honestly replied that I didn't, ignoring the suspicious thought that was forming in my mind. "Your report indicated that you passed over the same village on your way back from the job," Glaphidrel continued. I again asserted that I knew nothing about the 'incident' and that the village had seemed fine when we passed over it. The seraph finally dismissed me, although from the way he looked at me as I turned to go I was sure that he still suspected that I was responsible for the plight of the village.
Since I had some free time I flew back to the village, and was surprised to see the villagers some distance away, walking away from their homes carrying their possessions on their backs. I was even more surprised to see that they did not have any of their herd animals with them. As I approached the village the reason for their hasty departure became clear. I did not land in the village, but even from their air the stench of goat was almost overpowering.
It took me a long time to convince Glaphidrel that I wasn't to blame for the incident, and even longer for me to let Sesurel out of my sight without making him promise to behave.
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