Read Long After Midnight Online

Authors: Ray Bradbury

Long After Midnight (9 page)

The Messiah

 

 
          
 

 
          
"We
all have that special dream when we are young," said Bishop Kelly.

 
          
The
others at the table murmured, nodded.

 
          
"There
is no Christian boy," the Bishop continued, "who does not some night
wonder: am I Him? Is this the Second Coming at long last, and am I It? What,
what, oh, what, dear God, if I
were
Jesus?
How grand!"

 
          
The
Priests, the Ministers, and the one lonely Rabbi laughed gently, remembering
things from their own childhoods, their own wild dreams, and being great fools.

 
          
"I
suppose," said the young Priest, Father
Niven
,
"that Jewish boys imagine themselves Moses?"

 
          
"No,
no, my dear friend," said Rabbi Niftier. "The Messiah! The
Messiah!"

 
          
More
quiet laughter, from all.

 
          
"Of
course," said Father
Niven
out of his fresh
pink-and-cream face, "how stupid of me. Christ
wasn't
the Messiah, was he? And your people are still waiting for
Him to arrive. Strange. Oh, the ambiguities."

 
          
"And
nothing more ambiguous than this." Bishop Kelly rose to escort them all
out onto a terrace which had a view of the Martian hills, the ancient Martian
towns, the old highways, the rivers of dust, and Earth, sixty million miles
away, shining with a clear light in this alien sky.

 
          
"Did
we ever in our wildest dreams," said the Reverend Smith, "imagine
that one day each of us would have a Baptist Church, a St. Mary's Chapel, a
Mount Sinai Synagogue here, here on Mars?"

 
          
The
answer was no, no, softly, from them all.

 
          
Their
quiet was interrupted by another voice which moved among them. Father
Niven
, as they stood at the balustrade, had tuned his
transistor radio to check the hour. News was being broadcast from the small new
American-Martian wilderness colony below. They listened:

 
          
"—rumored
near the town. This is the first Martian reported in our community this year.
Citizens are urged to respect any such visitor. If—"

 
          
Father
Niven
shut the news off.

 
          
"Our
elusive congregation," sighed the Reverend Smith. "I must confess, I
came to Mars not only to work with Christians, but hoping to invite
one
Martian to Sunday supper, to learn
of his theologies,
his
needs."

 
          
"We
are still too new to them," said Father Lips-comb. "In another year
or so I think they will understand we're not buffalo hunters in search of
pelts. Still, it
is
hard to keep
one's curiosity in hand. After all, our
Mariner
photographs indicated no life whatsoever here. Yet life there is, very
mysterious and half-resembling the human."

 
          
"Half,
Your Eminence?" The Rabbi mused over his coffee. "I feel they are
even more human than ourselves. They have
let
us come in. They have hidden in the hills, coming among us only on
occasion, we guess, disguised as Earthmen—"

 
          
"Do
you really believe they have telepathic powers, then, and hypnotic abilities
which allow them to walk in .our towns, fooling us with masks and visions, and
none of us the wiser?"

 
          
"I
do so believe."

 
          
"Then
this," said the Bishop, handing around brandies and
creme
-de-menthes,
"is a true evening of frustrations. Martians who will not reveal
themselves so as to be Saved by Us the Enlightened—"

 
          
Many
smiles at this.

 
          
"—and
Second Comings of Christ delayed for several thousand years. How long must we
wait, O Lord?"

 
          
"As
for myself," said young Father
Niven
, "I
never wished to
be
Christ, the Second
Coming. I just always wanted, with all my heart, to
meet
Him. Ever since I was eight I have thought on that. It might
well be the first reason I became a priest."

 
          
"To
have the inside track just in case He ever
did
arrive again?" suggested the Rabbi, kindly.

 
          
The
young Priest grinned and nodded. The others felt the urge to reach and touch
him, for he had touched some vague small sweet nerve in each. They felt immensely
gentle.

 
          
"With
your permission, Rabbi, gentlemen," said Bishop Kelly, raising his glass.
"To the First Coming of the Messiah, or the Second Coming of Christ. May
they be more than some ancient, some foolish dreams."

 
          
They
drank and were quiet.

 
          
The
Bishop blew his nose and wiped his eyes.

 
          
The
rest of the evening was like many another for the Priests, the Reverends, and
the Rabbi. They fell to playing cards and arguing St. Thomas Aquinas, but
failed under the onslaught of Rabbi
Nittler's
educated
logic. They named him Jesuit, drank nightcaps, and listened to the late radio
news:

 
          
"—it
is feared this Martian may feel trapped in our community. Anyone meeting him
should turn away, so as to let the Martian pass. Curiosity seems his motive. No
cause for alarm. That concludes our—"

 
          
While
heading for the door, the Priests, Ministers, and Rabbi discussed translations
they had made into various tongues from Old and New Testaments. It was then
that young Father
Niven
surprised them:

 
          
"Did
you know I was once asked to write a screenplay on the Gospels? They needed an
ending
for their film!"

 
          
"Surely,"
protested the Bishop, "there's only
one
ending to Christ's life?"

 
          
"But,
Your Holiness, the Four Gospels tell it with four variations. I compared. I grew
excited. Why? Because I rediscovered something I had almost forgotten. The Last
Supper isn't really the Last Supper!"

 
          
"Dear
me, what is it then?"

 
          
"Why,
Your Holiness, the first of several, sir. The first of several! After the
Crucifixion and Burial of Christ, did not Simon-called-Peter, with the
Disciples, fish the Sea of Galilee?"

 
          
"They
did."

 
          
"And
their nets were filled with a miracle of fish?"

 
          
"They
were."

 
          
"And
seeing on the shore of Galilee a pale light, did they not land and approach
what seemed a bed of white-hot coals on which fresh-caught fish were
baking?"

 
          
"Yes,
ah, yes," said the Reverend Smith.

 
          
"And
there beyond the glow of the soft charcoal fire, did they not sense a Spirit
Presence and call out to it?"

 
          
"They
did."

 
          
"Getting
no answer, did not Simon-called-Peter whisper again, 'Who is there?' And the
unrecognized Ghost upon the shore of Galilee put out its hand into the
firelight, and in the palm of that hand, did they not see the mark where the
nail had gone in, the stigmata that would never heal?

 
          
"They
would have fled, but the Ghost spoke and said, Take of these fish and feed thy
brethren.' And Simon-called-Peter took the fish that baked upon the white-hot
coals and fed the Disciples. And Christ's frail Ghost then said, Take of my
word and tell it among the nations of all the world and preach therein
forgiveness of sin.'

 
          
"And
then Christ left them. And, in my screenplay, I had Him walk along the
shore
of
Galilee
toward the horizon. And when anyone walks
toward the horizon, he seems to ascend, yes? For all land rises at a distance.
And He walked on along the shore until He was just a small mote, far away. And
then they could see Him no more.

 
          
"And
as the sun rose upon the ancient world, all His thousand footprints that lay
along the shore blew away in the dawn winds and were as nothing.

 
          
"And
the Disciples left the ashes of that bed of coals to scatter in sparks, and
with the taste of Real and Final and True Last Supper upon their mouths, went
away. And in my screenplay, I had my camera drift high above to watch the
Disciples move some north, some south, some to the east, to tell the world what
Needed to Be Told about One Man. And their footprints, circling in all directions,
like the spokes of an immense wheel, blew away out of the sand in the winds of
morn. And it was a new day. the end."

 
          
The
young Priest stood in the center of his friends, cheeks fired with color, eyes
shut. Suddenly he opened his eyes, as if remembering where he was:

 
          
"Sorry."

 
          
"For
what?" cried the Bishop, brushing his eyelids with the back of his hand,
blinking rapidly. "For making me weep twice in one night? What,
self-conscious in the presence of your own love for Christ? Why, you have given
the Word back to me,
me!
who has
known the Word for what seems a thousand years! You have freshened my soul, oh
good young man with the heart of a boy. The eating of fish on
Galilee
's shore
is
the True Last Supper. Bravo. You deserve to meet Him. The Second Coming,
it's only fair, must be for
youl
"

 
          
"I
am unworthy!" said Father
Niven
.

 
          
"So
are we all! But if a trade of souls were possible, I'd loan mine out on this
instant to borrow yours fresh from the laundry. Another toast, gentlemen? To
Father
Niven
! And then, good night, it's late, good
night."

 
          
The
toast was drunk and all departed; the Rabbi and the Ministers down the hill to
their holy places, leaving the Priests to stand a last moment at their door
looking out at Mars, this strange world, and a cold wind blowing.

 
          
Midnight
came and then one and two, and at three in
the cold deep morning of Mars, Father
Niven
stirred.
Candles flickered in soft whispers. Leaves fluttered against his window.

 
          
Suddenly
he sat up in bed, half-startled by a dream of mob-cries and pursuits. He
listened.

 
          
Far
away, below, he heard the shutting of an outside door.

 
          
Throwing
on a robe, Father
Niven
went down the dim rectory
stairs and through the church where a dozen candles here or there kept their
own pools of light.

 
          
He
made the rounds of all the doors, thinking: Silly, why lock churches? What is
there to steal? But still he prowled the sleeping night...

 
          
...
and found the front door of the church unlocked, and softly being pushed in by
the wind.

 
          
Shivering,
he shut the door.

 
          
Soft
running footsteps.