Here is a little teaser for my newest novel.
Perception, by Gregga J. Johnn, is an allegory about how each of us perceive life according to our personal history and how we may discover universal Truths only in our open exploration of the world about us. There is much revealed about incomplete truth, misconception, innocent evil, and the over arching battle between Darkness and Light.
Each character in this story wears a “perception mask, or glasses” that labels their environment explaining all that they see according to the pre-programmed settings from their own home city. Such labels include, but are not limited to, classifications of furniture, shading from bright lights and clearer vision in the dark, and informational suggestions as to how to deal with foreign items one might come across.
This chapter is an allegorical look at a young man raised in an oppressive protestant style background finding that the Truth and comfort he has discovered in his own turmoil is actually readily available to him in many other places, despite what he may understand at first, namely, in this chapter, in a Catholic styled church.
By Gregga J. Johnn
Able shuffled through the crowd not too concerned as, with his climb, he’d managed to avoid the First City security check points. Yet, still he kept his head down and his perception glasses shaded so as to not draw any undue suspicion.
He made his long way across the crowded walkway among all the shop fronts and portable stands where anything and everything was being sold. It was market day for the farmers. The air was laced with the smells of fresh produce, spices, and feast worthy meats brought in from as far downriver as the ocean. The man slowed down in his delight to take in the atmosphere, while his fury buddy in his backpack popped his head out to explore the air with a twitchy nose and a licky tongue. The pup wiggled more trying to free himself until Reliable tied a thin strap of leather around the little puppy shoulders and held onto the extension as a makeshift leash. Then the duffer pup ran helter-skelter all about as far as his lead would allow.
Able had only been out to market before with his mother when she used to beg for scraps. Yet, since they’d been assigned secure housing and were kept under close watch, market had not been an option. They had to purchase all their food from the stores inside the First city. In fact, the only people really out on the boardwalk market were those who owned the major city stores and those who sold directly to them.
The price and freshness of the food shocked Able as there were obvious markups for the privilege of not having to leave the city to get provisions. He stopped to grab some sticks of freshly barbecued lamb, a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a small jug of honey mead. He was jostled about as he paid by a gaggle of grimy hands held up to him from dirty little faces. He smiled at the beggar children and chose to begin his own journey with a little ridiculous generosity.
The able man used too many of his few coins to purchase a bucket of small chicken legs and a fully wrapped paper pocket of candied peanuts. These he handed out liberally to as many of the little scrufflings running ragged through the market as he could. They cheered and caused such a fuss that Able had to make extra effort to slip into anonymity again as the hungry souls ran off to feast upon their temporary treasures.
The ruckus was noticed and a man dressed in a simple brown cloth tunic bent down to scratch the head of the little pup. Nodding to the generous pilgrim in grateful acknowledgment, he then stepped off, only a small distance away, quickly turning back to follow Able in curious attention.
Able casually drew nearer the fortified check point of this new city. He picked up the tumbly pup and secured him in the comforts of the cozy pack again to snooze. He’d never been here before, knew little of the way they lived in this sister city, but tried not to hold too many of the rumors he’d heard in First city as absolute truth.
The gates were solid carved stone with gruesome statues staring down menacingly at him from the sign declaring this to be the, “First Family City.” But as the guards were smiling to all the passers-by, Able figured the statues were more for decoration.
He approached the gate with an air of wary caution. Suddenly he was shoved from behind and nearly fell to his face. There was a loud exclamation and a great apology as the man dressed in the simple brown tunic reached out to help Able up with a surprising familiar smile and loudly inquired of his well-being,
“I am dreadfully sorry, my son.” He helped dust off Able’s perfectly clean jacket. “I am such a blind ass. Tell me I have not caused any harm?”
Able stuttered, mildly put off by the man’s familiarity with his person and gently pushed himself to an arms distance.
“I am quite fine, thank you.”
A burly guard stepped in to check on the situation,
“Let the Father alone there, fimus.”
The simple man scolded the guard,
“Now, now, that’s no way to speak to a pilgrim.” He shoved a handful of packages into Able’s arms. “Besides,” he winked at the guard, “you never know who a man is when he is not on a pilgrimage do you?” He kept loading Able up with the packages previously dropped in the collision. He paused a moment and lay a hand upon the guards shoulder,
“How is your brother?” With genuine concern he softly inquired, “Has your family heard from him of late?”
The guard lowered his head slightly that his words might be more private,
“We have not heard a thing these last two months.” He said.
The simple man threw his hands up in joy,
“Then I am sure you will hear soon. Any day now a pilgrim’s solitude may be breached.” He shoved Able ahead of him through the gates, and waved a farewell to the guard, “Peace be to you, my son, and pass on my blessing to your family.”
The guard nodded gratefully and let the two pass unhindered.
Able followed the simple man, eyeing his tunic that looked like the attire of one he might presume to be a beggar. He silently watched, carrying all the other man’s heavy packages up after him as they made their way up the cobblestone streets of First Family city. The labeling in Able’s perception mask was rapidly spitting out declarations of evil and warnings of danger flashed viciously in his eyes.
The inside of this city did not look any different to that of his own, but for the many statues that decorated the homes, shops, and street-ways. Some statues were decorated with flowers and ribbons, others had small offering bowls with various foods and drinks left in them. Some even had coins in water filled moats around them. Able was baffled as none of the wandering citizens took these coins, instead they tossed them in with what appeared to be a prayer and a bow.
If Able had not had his hands full he might have been tempted to refurbish his own coin purse after his recent generosity had lightened it. Yet, still he followed the simple man who led him to another grand gate, cornering off an even grander compound, not unlike the academy back at home, except that this one had a luxurious sheen to it that was in stark contrast to the simple attire of all who somberly and quietly wandered within its grounds.
Able was led around the back to a softly humming garden full of bees, birds, and dragonflies. He was welcomed as a pilgrim friend, heavily burdened with packages, into a comfortably sized kitchen.
Gesturing to a broad wooden table, the simple man welcomed Able to his home,
“You are welcome here, my son. Peace be on you.”
Able carefully deposited the packages and glanced around. His perception glasses told him that most of the furniture was quite old and that the statues and pictures that sparsely adorned the home were idols and should be destroyed. This was the common theme of the details of all that Able saw as he’d walked through the streets. The young man was unable to really comprehend this new place. So much idolatry seemed such a dreadful evil. Able kept his guard up, lest he be deceived and seduced into darkness.
His disorientation must have been obvious as the simple man pulled out a chair for Able to sit, then dithered around unpacking the fresh provisions and restocking his cupboards. He nattered away,
“You seem to have the attire of one who travels much, my friend, yet the cleanliness of your person would indicate you are not so far from the comforts of familiarity.”
Able shifted rather awkwardly in his seat.
The man chuckled,
“You need not tell me your story yet, son. Let us first come into trust with each other, shall we?” He held out his hand with an open palm, “I am Father Tobear and this is my home in the compound of the First Family Cathedral.”
Able nodded, standing, and shook the hand offered,
“I am Able.” Was all he said.
Father Tobear laughed heartily and gripped Able’s muscular arms,
“Indeed I see you are. We shall put your abilities to good use here.” He tossed him a smallish sack of flour and pointing to a bin on the far side of the kitchen, he said, “Flour goes in the first bin by the wall,” then pointing to another sack, he directed, “sugar in the one right next to it.”
Able silently complied with his direction.
Father Tobear watched the young man as he continued working around the kitchen and garden for the remainder of the day. He dug and weeded, pulled and hauled as directed. All the time remaining silent and watchful. It amused the older priest that one so foreign could accomplish tasks with more vigor and earnest labor than he’d seen in a long while, especially when compared with many of the local youths. The fluffy pup stuck close to the boy as loyal as a shadow and Father Tobear thought the young Able would be an excellent addition to the monastery, should he be inclined to stay.
“Come,” beckoned the monk, “dinner is served in the main hall and you have more than earned yours.”
Able nodded and followed his guide to wash in the sink, but when the Father approached a bowl of water at the foot of a rather gruesome depiction of the Shepherd’s death, to bow and dab the water upon himself, Able stepped back with almost a sneer of disgust. The father noted it from the corner of his eye and decided to attend to such disrespect later in the evening.
The meal was taken on the verandas in the gentle glow of summer’s twilight. All the workers in the compound ate together in the soft quiet, appreciating all the bounty of food, beverage, scenery, and companionship. Able would have liked to continue in his silence, but one of the leading dignitaries among the simple brothers took a curious interest in him. He was questioned with justified interrogation.
“You are not long among us, son? I’ve not noticed you before.” The dignified gentleman at the head of the table eyed the new young man intensely, yet Able could not to determine if the reception of his presence was positive or negative.
“No, sir. I am arrived today.” Able studied the food he ate.
“Today? Then how is it you come to sup with us in such familiarity?” The Dignitary gave way to indignation.
Father Tobear, sitting across from Able, advocated for him,
“I caught the young man paying homage to Saint Gemma in the Broadwalk Market. I brought him in.”
The man at the head of the table sneered with practiced justification,
“Then you are accountable for him?”
Father Tobear accepted,
“I will carry the responsibility of him.”
The lead Brother responded,
“So shall it be, then.” He left the table to pursue more pressing matters followed by a number of eager attendants.
Father Tobear whispered to Able as they cleared and washed their own dishes,
“Worry not about Father Puissance and the force he exudes. It is only his nature to see the tasks before him accomplished with great power. Yet,” he lowered his voice even more, “I would not go out of my way to find myself in his pathways were I you.”
Able nodded curiously, but with mildly defiance. Father Tobear noted the masked rebellion.
“Come,” the priest beckoned, “I should see your true heart before making judgment.”
He led Reliable around to the front of the great Cathedral. It was quiet in the evening hours and only a meditative and solemn chorus of brothers sang quietly from the loft above the entry way. Their song spilled over upon the two as they made their way into the austere presence of grandeur, loftiness, and haunting peace.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow.
Father Tobear made his customary pause at the bowl of holy water to dab his forehead, bow, and say a brief prayer of honor asking forgiveness.
Praise Him all creatures here below.
Able stood rather awkwardly by trying to take in all the glory of the carvings and frescoes on the ceiling, the glimmering light filtered by rich and gorgeous colors in windows full of story, and the multiple paintings and statues depicting the history of the Shepherd that he knew from his own boyhood.
Praise Him above ye heavenly hosts.
The simple priest beckoned Able forward down the main aisle between the pews and closer to the front altar.
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
The Altar itself was a creation of such grandeur that Able felt most intimidated. The gold encrusted embellishments were such lavish accents only fit for a great and magnificent King. Yet, it all centered on a simple depiction of mother and child.
The care, the acceptance, the surprisingly familiar atmosphere provoked deep emotion within Able’s heart so that he couldn’t contain the tears and his lip trembled slightly in awe of the holiness in the Presence that surrounded, welcomed, and overwhelmed him. He unconsciously bowed to his knees in the center of the Cathedral’s nave.
Father Tobear also bowed in prayer, kneeling upon the stairs before the altar. He was in deep contemplation, fingering a string of beads in prayer and meditation upon the source of his peace.
Able spoke words of prayer to his own Shepherd, as the Shepard puppy that always lingered as his shadow, curled up at his knees in serene comfort.
The Shepherd answered him,
“You are always welcome in Mine and My Father’s Presence, Reliable.”
Able stopped his prayer in shock with his mouth hanging open. The Shepherd sat right there with him on the steps, scratching the head of the little happy pup.
The Shepherd continued with a smile,
“You are surprised to see me?”
“I… ah…” Able shrugged confused, relieved, and full of the same joy he always felt in the Shepherd’s atmosphere.
“Do not be surprised to find me everywhere you go, my friend. I am always about.”
“But…?” Able looked about at all the statues and offering boxes, the candles and places of physical worship that were labeled as heretical idolatry by his perception glasses.
The Shepherd smiled,
“Ahh, yes, your perception.”
Able dropped his head and blushed at the recognition of the Shepherds omnipresent appearance in his own thoughts.
The One from whom all blessing flowed reached up to make a minor adjustment on the settings of Able’s glasses.
“What you know of Me and of your life is not wrong, dear heart. You are a most eager, genuine, and sincere seeker of Truth.”
Able listened and watched in awe of the transformation of all the understanding that flashed before his eyes anew and refreshed.
“However, you are a finite creature. Always remember that. Your understandings can change with just one tiny piece of extra recognition. The smallest amount of Truth can transform the entire landscape of your being.”
The Shepard pup pounced up with his front paws onto Able’s chest and licked his face.
“I tell you that your perception isn’t necessarily wrong, as it is tainted in some places, jaded in others, but mostly it is simply incomplete. That is just as it is as you learn through your own experiences.”
Able was about to inquire eagerly as to how he may understand all things completely, but the Shepherd chuckled and, silencing him with a hug, encouraged him,
“Take your time, Able. Relax and always seek to see Me wherever you are. You may already understand the idea of being as intelligent as a viper, but never forget to be open with the innocence of a dove as well.”
Able’s confusion looked to explode in the paradox.
The Shepherd smiled in delight at his dear Reliable soul.
“In time, and on this journey of your own, you will always find me, so stay awhile here and learn to see Me in this place.”
Able instantly objected,
“But, I can’t! Gentle? I have to go rescue Gentle!”
The Shepherd’s demeanor shifted more sternly,
“Do you not think I am capable of holding My own?” He stood and stepped up to tower over Able from in front of the Altar.
“Who are you to think I need you to do what I have vowed to do Myself? Where were you when I rescued the tiny baby girl from her lone wanderings to return her to her mother caregiver?”
The Altar behind the Shepherd began to illuminate in such glory and majesty as to cause Able to have to shade his eyes, even from behind his perception mask.
The Shepherd King continued,
“Where were you when I dropped my Gentle Warrior into the midst of turmoil that all the distractions of daily life might be discarded and she might seek her solace in Me alone?”
The whole Cathedral began to tremble, as the Voice of the Shepherd reverberated around the humbled man on his knees,
“Where were you when I fashioned this very mountain upon which your whole livelihood and the lives of millions upon millions do dwell and laugh and cry and seek love in all that they do?”
A sudden Shekhinah brilliance burst forth and Able was blast backwards, flat upon his rear, prostrate, open and vulnerable to all the terror of the Glory of the LORD about him. He only heard the Voice from the very foundations of the earth calling out,
“Where was I when Gentle was ripped away from all she knew and loved? Where were was I through all your life as you fought against the growing evil that killed, stole, and destroyed as much of the good in your life as was possible?”
The atmosphere of the Cathedral settled quietly in a sudden comforting peace and Able opened his eyes to see the Shepherd holding him as a lamb in his lap whispering with tears of unconditional love in his eyes,
“I am, I was, and I evermore shall be here with you, always with you.”
Able grasped his beloved salvation with a heart bursting in repentance and adoration. The Shepherd held him and smiled again, encouraging him,
“I’ve got this. You don’t have to worry.”
Able breathed deeply and nodded in submission as the Shepherd continued,
“You follow your own path to understanding.” There was a sadness in his eyes as he offered, “I promise you will see her again.”
Able knelt on his face in tears of refreshing joy and felt a hand upon his shoulder as the little pup at his side licked his hands.
The comforting weight of Father Tobear’s hand on Able’s shoulder reassured the boy as he spoke,
“Come, son, you are most welcome to stay should you find your heart willing to learn.”
Able nodded and followed his mentor out of the dark peace of the Cathedral into the newness of the night.