The man had not seen this door before, and would not have noted it but for the candle. The door’s face was as rugged as the rocky walls around it, but in the flickering candlelight, its straight jamb cast a faint shadow across itself. Praise be to the Almighty for giving this light. For without the candle, without it, the man’s tribe would still lumber in the dark. He had heard the stories from his father, and him from his father, and him from his. Of the time when there was naught but sound and touch, and his people huddled in the blackness on the stony floors, afraid, not seeking the way. Eating only of the waxen manna the Almighty buried in the walls, drinking from the water that trickled from the fibrous tendrils the Holy food grew from. Before the Creator spoke to his ancestors and told them to seek His way. Before each generation taught the next to dip the wick to aid the search. Before they saw they were naked and could clothe themselves by weaving the fibers. And now, with the candle, he had found this door, and wondered … was this the one?
As was accustomed, this night he’d left the rest in the last cavern he’d found. It was his job to take the candle and seek the Lord’s path through the tunnels and doors, ultimately to the promised place, but usually to the next grotto where they could replenish. It had fallen upon him to be the candle-bearer when his own father passed. Some nights, rare nights, others might accompany him. But usually not. The candle-bearer’s job is a lonely one. Only once the way is clear would others follow. Too many had gone through doors that led to ruin. Too many had stepped and fallen to their doom.
However, this door he felt certain about. Not because of what it was, but what it wasn’t. The other doors had been remarkable: carved reliefs that even touch could not fail to find; or dazzling rubies that flickered in response to the caresses of the flame; or impossible height that stretched all the way to the dark craggy roof. But this door was nothing, a part of the stone walls, barely even an opening. He had never seen its like. With a trepidation bordering on ecstasy he pushed through.
Lo, what a room! The door that was straight on one side, straight like every wall in every tunnel his people had ever wandered through, now curved into a room with no corners. In the center of the room sat a circle of water, the liquid stretching to within a few feet of where his sandaled feet seemed mortared to the ground. And, surrounded by the pool, was a small mound of ground, out of which grew a thing, a thing he had few words to describe. A brown cylinder, gnarled, raising up and then splitting into smaller and then smaller versions of itself. Each fork looking the same from a distance, but each tine unique when examined on its own. Finally at the ends of tines that did not fork rested sheets of green, below which hung the most beautiful red baubles. This alone would have have made him fall to his knees in praise. This alone would have made him thank the Almighty for giving him the candle that showed this beauty. This alone would make him prostrate before his Creator. Even had he not seen the roof.
But the roof … oh how the roof sparkled. The ceiling stretched to the infinite, and inlaid in it rested a panoply of glittering jewels, one larger than his fist, most no larger than the smallest ember on the smallest wick on the smallest candle. The smaller jewels clumped in whorls and swirls, too many to count. Some shone brighter and larger than others, making shapes if his mind’s eye drew the lines between them — a warrior, he thought, or a great belt. None outshone the largest — a pendulous disc than reflected the candlelight without a flicker. It made him question if the canopy itself provided the light, rather than his meager candle, so bright was the room. It was in wonder and awe at this musing that he forgot, for a moment, why and how the Almighty had chosen him to see this, to lead his people. But then he remembered his teaching, and knew the light from the candle he held tenderly in his hand must have brought this ceiling to life. Was it not known that it was so? Was it not prophesied through the ages? He dropped down, placed his head on the ground, and gave thanks as his father’s father’s father had taught.
Only upon raising his head did he notice across from him, equidistant, were two other similar doors. Through which had marched two men wearing robes such as his, holding what looked like candles such as his, who had clearly fallen to their knees such as him, and were looking at him incredulously. But for the color of the clothes each wore — a blue robe, a green robe and a red robe — they would be identical he thought, and laughed what magic this that the Almighty wrought. As quickly as he laughed, he hesitated. He had for countless nights searched, and never before met someone not of his kind. Each night he had felt his stomach tighten as he pushed alone down catacombs he’d not been before, or stepped through doors he’d opened for the first time. Yet this fear, seeing these men, was different. His hand reached to his belt and grasped his stone knife to give him comfort. Yet surely his Creator would not bring him here, to this place, to have his candle illuminate the world like this, if He meant him harm. With that thought he and the two men rose together and walked towards each other.
He did not remember which of them spoke first, but once the first greeting was uttered, each man’s hand slowly fell from their side to reach out in salutation. He asked their name, and they his, and soon their voices rose in conversation, as though they’d known each other longer than their own children. They marveled at each others’ names: Moshe, Mohammed, Peter; and the way the words rolled in unfamiliar ways across their tongues. Soon they shared the names of others in their groups, just to be astonished at the variety. And each gushed as to the beauty in the room and in turn praised Him — although again, the names ranged: Yahweh, Allah, God. Admittedly, he found the others’ names for Him disconcerting, but to avoid being inhospitable, he resolved not to correct them.
In time conversation turned to the candles they held, and here, as in their robes, he was surprised as much by the similarities as the differences. All were made from the wax that covered the manna, but of different shapes. One was taller and thinner than his, the other shorter but with a thicker wick. On the candles, they found much to talk about, as men are prone to deep conversation of their crafts. They discussed which shape burned longer, which burned hotter, and which held up best in the cool eddies that sometimes rushed through the hallways. They shared where they collected the soft delicacies, how their ancestors found the rocks on the ground that sparked when banged together, and how they learned to melt and collect the wax from their food. They shared the tricks they used to craft wicks from the hairy tendrils that bore their sustenance, how they kept the woven cords centered as they poured the warm liquid into their molds, and how to get the steadiest burn. He, and he knew the others, got lost in this — never once amongst his tribe had he found another who knew so much about the torches. He wished the night could go on forever.
Alas, then the conversation moved to which candle lit the roof that dazzled them so. It was obvious to him that it was his candle — had the room not come to life when he entered, and had the Creator not promised his people it would be so. Yet as he pressed this point, so did the others. He tried to reason with them. Yes, while he admitted the benefits a shorter candle could confer in some limited, limited, circumstances, surely it was self-evident that his taper shone the brightest and the best! As he pushed, each of the others pushed as hard, harder, to argue it was their light that brought forth the gemstones above. None of the others would move — they would not see reason. It was only by remembering that he held his candle in the service of his people, and his Creator, that he was able to refrain from shouting at their blasphemies.
At length someone suggested — it could have been him or one of the others, he could not recall so heated had the discussion become — that perhaps they should retire for the night, and resume the conversation tomorrow. All of them saw the wisdom in this, as their candles had begun to fade and they did not want to return to their people in the dark. They agreed to meet again the next day at the same time and resume their conference. With the thought of rest, everyone calmed, and they wished each other well in the day ahead.
He made his way back to the room of his people, found the mat he shared with his wife, next to his son, and put his head down. A strange and wonderful evening, it exhausted him, and he fell quickly to slumber. As he dreamt, he returned to the room, and walked from the door to the pool. With each step his foot pushed on the water, but did not sink, and he found he could easily move to the center of the room. His hands touched the gnarled structure in the middle, his fingers finding holds, and one arm after the other, one foot on top of the next, he began to climb. Soon he reached the top, and held in his hand one of the red jewels, which he brought to his nose. It smelled of sweetness, of life, of joy, of all things wonderful. It smelled of his wife. Of the feast they had on their wedding day. Of the feast they shared in their wedding bed. Of his son on the first day he held him. He touched this strange ball with his tongue, and a fire exploded in his mouth, compelling him to bite into the fruit. With each bite his heart stopped and raced at the same time, his skin tightened and relaxed, and his mind reached up, up, up towards the sparkles in the roof, further and further until he heard a voice addressing him: “Show the others my way,” the voice intoned, “so they may give thanks.”
He awoke renewed, and all through the chores he shared with his people during the day, before his nightly search began, he moved with a new lightness and purpose. He could not wait for the evening, when everyone else was down for the night, so he could take the candle and return to the room. There he would tell the other men of his dream, how he’d received word that his people’s way was The Way, and surely they would see the glory of the Almighty. He would convince each of them to extinguish their flames so he could show them the power of His light to illuminate the roof.
And if they would not listen, oh, if they would not listen, he would blow hard and make their flames die so they could understand the might, the power, and the righteousness of His way.
– A. B. Clarke, Feb 2015