Tag Archives: Death

The Messiah

Below is the third segment of my short story, ‘The Messiah,’ published originally in ‘Sambatyon, a Journal of Jewish Writing,’ in 2006. The story is in an excerpt from my novel, ‘Very Narrow Bridge,’ published in 2011. Enjoy.

“Please yourself,” said the old man. “So stubborn, you must be a sabra.”
“I’m a double-sabra, actually.”
“A double-sabra… never heard of that one before.”
“Not only I was born in Israel, but in a kibbutz. That’s why.”
“A kibbutznik, I see. What brought you to this meshuga land, then?”
“A woman, naturally. Some dreams, too.”
“Big mistake, Gideon, big mistake. On both accounts.”
“You’re telling me.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” said Sid and hit a button in his remote control. The screen came alive with the sound and picture of war. From, Gideon identified right away, Stanley Kubrick’s film: Full Metal Jacket.
“If you’re not taking me to Israel, Gideon, to your kibbutz,” continued Sid, disregarding the film’s noisy soundtrack, “what the hell are you doing here in my digs, ha?”
“I’m looking for Mr. Raymond De Rosi. I thought–”
“Raymond who?”
“De Rosi. He worked with you in the Film Processing Department at Quality Labs.”
“Is that a fact?”
“I think so.”
“Forgot everything about that bloody place, Gideon. Still there, is it, on Lake Street?”
“Apparently so,” said Gideon, who was suffocating in this small, un-air-conditioned studio
apartment, with all the windows closed.
“I was a film producer once, Gideon, you know. I lived in Beverly Hills.”
“I have no doubt about that, Sid,” said Gideon, somewhat doubtful; giving the Oscar statuette another look, though.
“So don’t treat me like shit. Hear me?”
“I hear you well.”
“Good. What happened to Ray?”
“I don’t know. He disappeared.”
“Disappeared… don’t tell me that. No one disappears, Gideon. You either lucky enough to be dead, or unlucky to go on living. No two ways about it.”
“You disappeared once, Dad,” shouted Ben, who was sitting at a small table in an open kitchen area, very much a part of the room, still eating his potato chips. “Remember the IRS?”
“Shut up, Ben, adults are talking now,” the old man raised his voice. Then lowered it, addressing Gideon while putting the film on pause again.
“Couldn’t they help you over there, at the bloody labs?”
“They don’t know a thing,” Gideon replied, happy to get his investigation back on track. “He
quit his job one day, out of the blue. Left no address, no telephone number. Nothing.”
“Good for him. I knew he had it in him.”
“You knew?”
Sid nodded, then said: “Old soldiers are like old dogs, Gideon, they never die. Were you in the Israeli army?”
“Sure.”
“Sure what, where?”
“Paratroops. Here and there.”
“No kidding. I was in Korea, man. What a bloody war.”
Gideon was tempted to ask him about his legs, immobile under the blanket, but thought the better of it.

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The Messiah

Below is the second segment of my short story, ‘The Messiah,’ published originally in ‘Sambatyon, a Journal of Jewish Writing,’ in 2006. The story is in an excerpt from my novel, ‘Very Narrow Bridge,’ published in 2011. Enjoy.

“Good morning,” said Gideon, “I’m looking for Mr. Sid Landau.”
“Who are ya?”
“Ah… he doesn’t know me. I’d like a word with him.”
“Why?”
“I’d rather explain it to him myself, if he is around,” said Gideon, and felt an itch in his arm, urging him to punch this mutant right on his fat mouth. Instead, he just added: “I’m not from the IRS, I can assure you.”

“Who is it, Ben?” a shouting voice came from somewhere deep behind the dark doorway.
“Donno,” Ben shouted back. “Wants to talk to ya.”
“I can hear an accent,” the voice kept shouting.
“Yeah, a bit.”
“Ask him where from.”
“Israel,” Gideon shouted back, deciding to cut a corner here, or he’ll never meet the owner of the voice inside.
“Israel…” the voice cried, “let him in, Ben, what you waitin’ for. The Messiah has arrived!”

And with these words, toned firmly as an order, Ben didn’t have a choice but to clear the doorway. Allowing Gideon, who opened the screen door himself, to break through him and face the darkness inside.
“Come here, young Israeli,” Gideon heard a voice calling him and made his way toward it.

What helped him was a large television set showing a video film, on pause now. It threw its blue light on the old man, who was seated in a wheel¬chair opposite the screen, his legs covered with a blanket. He was completely bald, wore thick eyeglasses but his face – in spite of his advanced age and apparent discomfort – radiated vitality. He stretched his hand.

“I’m Sid Landau. Take me with you.”
Gideon shook the old man’s hand, finding it determinedly strong.
“I’m Gideon Gold. Where to?”
“To Israel, dammit. Where else can the Messiah take me?”
“I’m not the Messiah, Mr. Landau. I’m–”
“Drop the bloody mister, all right!” ordered Sid. “Told you my name, didn’t I?”

Gideon decided to play the situation cool here and go with the flow, instead of against it; which was, usually, his immediate inclination.
“You sure have,” he said.
“Good. Take a seat, then. Movie’s free.”

“I’d rather stand, if you don’t mind,” said Gideon, who by then got accustomed to the semi-darkness and could see no chair around him; just piles of cloths, old newspapers and magazines, books and empty pizza boxes. The TV set and the VCR looked rather new, though, with plenty of videotapes on both sides of the set and on the floor around Sid. And, to top it all – looking like the real deal, in spite of a heavy blanket of dust – an Oscar statuette standing on the TV set, supporting a few movie scripts.

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The Absurd Regions

As promised in last month’s post, here are four more vignettes—published for the first time here in my literary website—that were originally published years ago in Hebrew, on the pages of ‘Iton77;’ the literary, cultural Israeli magazine. Next month, I will revisit this reportage, which was titled back then ‘The Absurd Regions,’ and publish more of its lyrical impressions, which I wrote during the First Lebanon War of 1982-85. So stay tune, and here goes:

Yoel The Handsome

Dead. Was killed in an accident on a treacherous road in one of Lebanon’s regions. A meaningless Lebanese accident—just like that. Those demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s home can add his name to the list of the fallen. We spent six months, the entire army’s ‘Combat Officers Course’ together. He was the handsomest among us. In his kibbutz, Ayelet HaShahar (Morning Star) he left behind four orphaned children and a pregnant wife. They, too, are among the casualties of this useless war.

The “Status of the Logos”

On our daily patrol we pass by the spot where three soldiers from the reserved battalion, the one that preceded us on duty here, were killed. One short burst of gunfire slaughtered them all. Luckily, we are still alive. For how long, though, it’s hard to say.
Back at our base, from the radio blaring in our kitchen tent, comes the voice of a scholarly literary critic, talking about the “Status of the Logos,” about the “Sacredness of Art,” and of its “Esthetic Beauty.” It sounds as if the voice comes from a faraway country, whose residents are unaware of what their sons are up to here. “Dust to his feet we are,” so says the critic in regard to the poet he is talking about. And so are we, in regard to our country, our elders. So we climb on our armored vehicles. Load our guns. And off we go.

A Hand for Peace

The local population, so the papers back home had told their readers, received the Israeli soldiers with cherries, flowers, and kisses in the air. The other side of the story is a lot less celebratory, and a lot more depressing. We don’t even receive smiles anymore. Only the kids, inexperienced in war and in politics, sometimes raise a hesitating hand for a wave as we pass on the road. They stand on the roads’ shoulders, littered with burned armored vehicles. Above them, swarms of bloodsucking mosquitos constantly hover.

A Dog Burial

A puppy was killed on the road. For the whole day he was lying dead on the roadside, and was beginning to stink. At the end, we were the ones to bury him. After a short hour, his mother found his burial place. She burrowed and excavated her dead puppy, exposing him again to the rays of the sun and the eyes of the world.
The other day, one of our soldiers committed suicide in a checkpoint. Those who knew him claimed he brought his troubles from home. Another soldier was sent to the “soul-health’s officer.” Those in the know said he brought his “mantel-sickness” from home. Last night, a soldier from the Border Brigade was killed in an ambush. Those who knew him said he loved the army more than he loved his home. His funeral service and burial obeyed the required Army protocol.

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Sex War One

SWOSex War One – my dystopian Sci-fi novel – is available for purchase in all eBooks & iBooks stores & devices. “Fast-moving plot and skillful characterization,” said the Science Fiction Studies journal. “This book unifies within it the principles of major Science-Fiction literature,” said This World. Kindle Edition & Smashwords Edition (for iTunes, Kobo, B&N & more.) For further details please check my books page.

To give you a taste of the book, I’ve been posting segments of my award-winning short story, “The Monster,” which serves also as the basis for the book. Here then is the eighteenths segment:

They traveled up for quite some time before they reached the upper level. Once there, they walked a short distance to the Periscopic-Tower, then took another elevator up to the Command-Post. From there they continued, through a windowless sealed tube, to the Transfer-Room with its transparent walls.
At first, the unusual light almost blinded them. Z.Z. stopped walking, laid down her blanket of belongings and covered her eyes with her hands. It took a long moment before she dared to take them off, and open her eyes again. D.L. knew, of course, that the light – a combination of the inside artificial light and the outside natural light – was regulated and posed no real danger to their eyes. Confident of that, he pulled her along with him into the tunnel, which led them from the Transfer-Room to the last sealed partition, where he stopped and put on his helmet.

This frightened Z.Z. somewhat. She had never before seen him wear such a thing, and she pushed back against the wall. He signaled her with his hand to come over to him. She obeyed and took hold of the sleeve of his thick trip-suit. She was cold, so he turned up the heat and lowered the air pressure, slowly bringing it down to the level outside. He waited a while, until he noticed to his relief that she had gradually stopped shivering and was becoming more comfortable with her new surroundings. He disconnected the electronic seal mechanism, which in turn enabled him to unlock and open the partition door. He stepped outside.
The air pounded hard on him. He was shaky for a moment before regaining his balance, but the special trip-suit withstood the pressure well, and he was able to see that Z.Z. was hiding by the open doorway of the partition, refusing to step out. He was forced to pull her along with him. She tried to resist, pushing back and even kicking him, but it was a useless attempt, since he was stronger and had the advantage of wearing the trip-suit. So he pulled her out and shut closed the partition door behind them.
They were outside now, but not on solid ground yet. They were standing at the bottom of the stairs, the stairs that led up into the world outside. D.L. saw that it was hard on her to breathe. Of course, it was her first time to venture out of the underground colony, where she had been born and had lived all her eighteen colony-years; and of course, she was not wearing his kind of special outside trip-suit and helmet. He took hold of her hand and again, forcefully, pulled her along with him. If she were to die like that, the thought flashed in his head, because of the unclean air and the cold temperature, so be it. He would not have to use his weapon. It would be easier on him that way, and maybe on her, too.

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The Monster

SWOSex War One – my dystopian Sci-fi novel – is available for purchase in all eBooks & iBooks stores & devices. “Fast-moving plot and skillful characterization,” said the Science Fiction Studies journal. “This book unifies within it the principles of major Science-Fiction literature,” said This World. Kindle Edition & Smashwords Edition (for iTunes, Kobo, B&N & more.) For further details please check my books page.

To give you a taste of the book, I’ve been posting segments of my award-winning short story, “The Monster,” which serves also as the basis for the book. Here then is the sixteenth segment:

It had been almost a whole colony-year, four hundred and fifty colony-days, since a special expedition of colony-citizens had taken the last trip outside. D.L. was very much aware of this fact. The rare trips outside into the world above, with its open air and space, ordered randomly by the Mother-Colony, were usually a cause for much commotion and celebration in the underground colony. It was the only way, in fact, to stir any excitement, along with certain worries, into the lives of the colony-citizens.
The level and density of the nuclear radiation in the air outside was fluctuating, shifting constantly with the winds and clouds. It was still dangerous enough to justify the infrequency and rarity of the trips outside. There was also not much out in the wind-swept plains and valleys: everything had been extinct on the earth above for many years. Radiation clouds ruled the land. No living creatures existed, and no growing flora; nothing of nature’s past domination was there to see and smell. Only a scorched, barren ground.
D.L. checked the level of radiation outside, as well as the weather. It was summer up above, so it seemed; the long nuclear winter was finally over, evaporating and passing through. The wind strength was moderate, and the level of radiation was very low, almost undetected by the sophisticated, scientific computer in charge of keeping records of the radiation level outside. He looked at the various screens, transmitting the views captured by the outside cameras, and processing their data. It was night, but, taking a closer look, D.L. could see some signs of light here and there, penetrating through the darkness. That was enough for him; he left the Control-Room in a hurry.

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Phantom John (Part Four)

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Frantically, obsessively, she began to read all the names on the wall. Left and right. But soon felt hopeless. She couldn’t even see the elderly couple any longer. She was alone: no father, no grandparents, no one. She was so weak, she was afraid she was going to pass out. But she used to be an athlete, and remembered how to respond in a situation such as this one, and when to stop. So she managed to walk a short distance away from the wall, still holding the flowers, and under the first tree she found she dropped down to the ground.

She didn’t mind the wet, cold grass. She folded her legs up, put her arms around her knees and buried her head in her arms. She wanted to die, right then and there. Because the wall that heals, as she once heard it was referred to, didn’t heal her. Truth was, it opened a bigger wound inside her, causing her to bleed and cry. She was shaken like a leaf in the wind, receiving finally some help and sympathy from above. In the form of light rain, falling on her gently, its sound dissolving into her cry. Until suddenly, coming out of nowhere, she heard a voice asking: “Why you crying, child?”

She was certain she heard the voice only in her head. Still, she raised her teary eyes and saw, behind a silver screen of steady rain, only the black wall. But the strange, male’s voice, spoke again: “Want one?”

She turned her head sideways toward the voice and met two shiny, ebony eyes, and a black face covered partly by a rough beard, surrounded by long thin dreadlocks, growing out of a colorful knit cap on top of his head. He smiled at her, revealing missing teeth, as well as some brownish, rotten ones. A wet cigarette was defying gravity by hanging loosely on his broken bottom lip, fighting the falling rain at the same time.

He offered her one. His dirty, yellow-coated fingers, were sticking out of his torn woolen gloves. “C’mon, don’t go shy on me,” he said, blowing smoke into the cold, damp air.

She couldn’t resist, not at her present situation, him or the cigarette. And even though she’d stopped smoking before her reunion with her birth mother, and stuck with it as long as she was there in Springfield – vowing, in truth, not to smoke ever again – she took his filter-less Camel cigarette. And only when he leaned forward to light it for her, protecting the cigarette and matches from the falling rain, did she notice that he was sitting in a wheelchair.

It felt good, man, smoking again. Real good. Like finding an old friend. And it made her warm inside, too: the hell with her health. She’ll never win the gold medal anyhow, as she used to daydream in her early teens, in the eight hundred-meter dash at the Olympics. No, she won’t. She was ready to die, anyway. She was dead already: part of her, at least. So what’s the diff?
“The dead are dead.”

She looked at him amazed. Was he a mind reader or what?
His eyes kept staring at the black wall while he continued speaking: “Ain’t nothing you can do about it, kiddo. Learned that long ago.”

She inspected him now all over, and noticed that he was wearing a windbreaker too, not unlike her own windbreaker. It was covered with army badges and stuff, though, ribbons of all kinds and colors. And other such things she knew nothing about.
“But his name’s missing,” she spoke for the first time. “It’s not on the wall.”

He took a long, lasting drag at his cigarette, then tossed it on the wet grass. It was still alive there, smoke spiraling up from it, when he spoke again: “He ain’t dead, then.”

* A short story excerpt from my novel: Very Narrow Bridge.
To be continued next month on the 15th.

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Meet Me in Baghdad at Sundown (Last Part)

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dolan-air.com

Only 2 minutes remain before midnight when Akef thinks about the two women in his life. His wife, who in fact had encouraged him to leave Baghdad, is no longer on his side. She is on her father’s side. She can’t live for long without all the amenities and privileges she was accustomed to since childhood. It is like a second nature to her now. And all the promises and vows to stick by him no matter what, to kill herself if he would be killed – are worthless. He is certain of that. Ab­solutely worthless. She begs and cries and terrorizes him constantly with her quest to go back. She is ready even to sleep with him again, like in the good old days when he, not her brother, was the chosen heir to the throne. And this willingness on her part is a sure sign, above all else, that something is wrong here. Very wrong.

And at the same time he knows, with the same certainty but with­out any proof to support it, that the one real woman in his life, his young mis­tress – is dead already, a victim of gang rape and brutal mutilation. (Recorded on videotape, no doubt, for the enjoyment of his enemies.) He was allowed to keep her only because everybody else – upon reaching a cer­tain position of dominance and influence – was allowed, required al­most, to do so. It was a sign of maturity and power, a privilege of sorts. But it was, still is, no secret; as there are no secrets at all in this barbaric, if modern regime.

He longs for her so much, misses her so terribly, but at the same time he knows deep inside his heavy heart that it is futile: she is in a different world already.

And it so happens that when only 1 minute remains till mid­night, Akef still can’t decide what he is going to do when the telephone would finally rings. He finds himself caught between the hammer and the anvil, as the elders used to say back in his village, and can’t see a way out of it. But, as he looks with dismay at the peaceful, yet so menacing black instrument, and then stares fearfully at the electronic clock, as if trying to prevent it from moving forward, he suddenly thinks about Allah: the one and only God. He must put his trust in Allah, and in his son Muhammad, to guide him out of this dark tunnel. After all, Allah is the real Supreme Ruler, and in his name he did all those terrible things he was forced into doing. He just obeyed the damn orders, anyway; he was always an obedient servant. And suddenly – as if it were not so much by his own volition, but rather he is forced into it by a power much greater than himself – he falls to the floor and puts his head on the rug in the direction of the window, and hopefully Mecca. His eyes, however, are full of tears; he is praying silently for forgiveness and guid­ance, for…

The telephone rings while Akef is praying and catches him by surprise. He raises his head from the rug and glares at it, just when it rings for the second time. He crawls on the floor towards it and stops by the small coffee table, as the third ring sounds. He then raises his hand above the telephone, hesitating still, his mouth dry like the mouth of a dead man, when it rings for the fourth time. It is as if Akef didn’t expect this call at all, as if he didn’t anxiously wait­ed for the telephone to ring for the last 10 minutes, the last 6 months – since that terrible dream in Baghdad. Or, as a matter of fact, waited for it his whole life.

His wife, Layla, picks up the receiver on the fifth and final ring. He did not hear her opening the door, nor did he see her coming in. But now, as she stands above him smiling, reminding him of her father more than ever before; it seems so right, so befitting, so natural – the telephone cord resembling a hanging rope – that she would be the one to hand him the receiver. He takes it from her, his hand shaking heavily, even though he knows with absolute certainty who, carrying what message, is waiting for him at the other end: The angel of death, instructing him to meet him in Baghdad at sundown.

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Meet Me in Baghdad at Sundown

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dolan-air.com

Finally, at 11:50 on the clear desert night of February 26, his wife closes the door behind her and leaves the room. He re­mains motionless, sitting on the edge of the uncomfortable wooden chair, surrounded by semi-darkness, yet able to see through the narrow gap between the heavy curtains an airplane taking off from Amman International Airport. He could have been on that plane, Akef figures, on his way to London. Or maybe even to New York. And therefore to freedom. But instead, in exactly 10 minutes, the black telephone – resting so ominously beside him on the small Arabian coffee table – would surely ring.

“Five rings, no more,” his wife Layla had said before she left to her bedroom (where he is no longer welcome). She urged him to stay put, and alert, before leaving him alone. On purpose she did that, tightening the noose she had already looped around his neck beforehand. Five rings – enough time for him to pick up the phone and confirm the deal. And seal his fate.

At the other end will be her father, his father-in-law, and the father of all the people of Iraq. He would fulfill, by speaking to him personally, the one condition Akef had set and vehemently demanded. He had stood his ground stubbornly like his old village mule, refusing to budge on that. He wanted to hear his familiar voice, not that of his son, his sworn enemy – the head of the Ministry of Internal Defense – and the leader of all the murdering-squads. Akef will be able to deduce, he is still convinced of that, if her father would be lying to him; even without seeing his false, deadly smile. But, if Akef won’t pick up the telephone, if he will let it ring through – the deal will fall through as well, and he may never again see the sad old eyes of his mother; may never again kiss the full, warm lips of his mistress; may never again touch the hard, ancient ground of his beloved homeland.

It is now 9 minutes before midnight, and the perfect time for him to light a cigarette. Enough time, he is sure of that, to smoke it all the way through before the telephone would ring. He feels how his whole life – past, present and future – is crystallizing in this small Camel cigarette. An American cigarette it is, of course, yet depicting and selling the allure of the Arab world. The same cigarette he had smoked, he now shivers in remembrance, on that fateful morning, after he was jolted out of a ter­rible dream, covered with a blanket of cold sweat. In his dream, he was walking with Layla in the marketplace of Baghdad when suddenly – while she seemed to be gaining ground on him, chatting loudly with the other women there – someone touched his shoulder lightly. He halted and turned back, facing so very close to him her father: the Supreme Ruler himself. He smiled his big sinister smile at him, allowing the full effect of this shark-like smile to terrorize him for a long moment, before saying: “Meet me in Baghdad at sundown.”

And only after her father had turned and left, disappearing among the crowd at the marketplace like a phantom, that it became clear to Akef who in fact he was: The angel of death.

But as he kept lying in the big bed, awake and shivering with fear, careful not to wake up his wife – who slept peacefully beside him, oblivious to his tormented state of mind – he could’ve sworn that in his dream he was actually in Baghdad, in the marketplace, and couldn’t figure out this riddle. Yet it was then that the misty road ahead of him began to clear up, and together with the creeping morning light it dawned on him that the time had come for him to flee. He had to leave his beloved city behind, he felt certain of that, and head for the border.

Akef was, after all, the executioner of so many lives in Iraq. He had made his way to the top – heading the Ministry of External Defense – by stepping on countless of corpses. He knew too well, and too much, to be easily fooled. And therefore, he was absolutely sure that the Great Executioner himself, who was in fact the one to order all these killings Akef had carried out, had decided already whose head would be cut off next: that of his son-in-law.

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