The Chronicle of Belthaeous
by John W. Steele
Chapter 58: Epilogue
The young man gazed through the bedroom window, and his eyes surveyed the meadow where a high cliff fell to the sea. He sighed gently, the youthful features of his face now creased with a fine line in the brow.
“The doctor says you’re going to be all right, Dad. When the fever dies, you’ll be in fine fettle once again.”
The old man’s lungs burned, and with every breath, his ribs revolted in agony. “He’s lying. Drunks know more about life than doctors do, Jerus. Doctors only know about death.”
Father and son shared a long silence.
How quickly the boy had grown. The old man admired the breadth of his son’s shoulders and his steady slate-grey eyes like those of his mother. But despite the young man’s imposing presence, Jerus would always be his little boy.
“The nurse will be here shortly. I think you should be in the hospital, Dad.”
“For what? So I can spend my final days hitched to a ventilator like an inflatable doll?”
“I don’t understand you, Dad. Sometimes you act like you have no fear of...”
The wind picked up, and far in the distance, dark clouds appeared on the ocean.
The old man wheezed, and the cardiac monitor beeped in a slow, irregular cadence. “Listen, Jerus, when your mother died, I did my best to persuade her to remain with us. I secured the last few vials of Eternulum before I destroyed the formula. I begged her to let me chelate her, but she refused. She said no life is better than an artificial one.
“Your mother was... we are... the same. She never complained, right up until the day the tumor stole her away. I wouldn’t wish her back here for anything, but I miss her awful sometimes.”
Jerus gazed into the distance, his face long and fixed. Outside, a cool breeze was drifting in from the sea. He looked in his father’s eyes and rubbed his shoulder. “What really happened that day at the U.N.? It all seems so weird.”
“I’ve told you what happened. Everything unfolded just as I said it did.”
“That’s not what the Internet says.”
“History is written by the victors, son. The entire moral structure of the world depends on how the past is interpreted. We’ve had this discussion before. Why are you questioning me now?”
“I’m sorry, Dad. I’m not questioning you. But the official story makes it sound so different.”
The old man held a tissue to his mouth and coughed, a bloody clot clung to his chin, and his lips were a shade of pale grey. “I never paid much attention to what went on in the world after those days, Jerus. The government seized Genibolic, and I was more than happy to be out of there.
“They kept me in prison for three years because they thought I knew the secret of Eternulum. But I’d destroyed all the data. They wouldn’t believe I had no idea how Dr. Nacroanus designed the molecule. It makes no difference now. Adrian Nacroanus took the secret with him, and it will take another equally as brilliant to understand how he did it.
“For a long time, I thought they were going to kill me, but they never did. One day they just opened the cell door and set me free. We’ve had a good life on the coast. You’re not disappointed in me, are you?”
The young man reached forth and wiped the old man’s chin with a washcloth. “No, of course not, Pop. You’re the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“Then what is troubling you?”
“They claim the whole incident was a hoax, like when Orson Welles broadcast The War of the Worlds. They deny the blackout. They deny the aliens. They deny Belthaeous. They deny everything. Yet millions of people claim to have witnessed the incident on television. Something terrible happened that day, but it’s been swept under the rug, and it seems nobody dares to talk about it.”
“Nothing of any significance matters in this world, son. I’ve told you this. I learned the hard way: to survive heaven or hell you take your stand and hold on; there’s no other way.
“The problem isn’t what goes on in the world, or who runs it... the problem is this world; it’s flawed by design, and it can never change. Matter is chaos, and suffering is the only path to enlightenment. Until you can accept this reality without a shadow of doubt you’ll never understand the purpose of this creation. I’ve grown weary of this subject, son. I put it down years ago, and I certainly don’t want to deal with it now.”
The pewter clouds rose higher and churned like mighty titans. Thunderbolts streaked in the sky, and the ocean rolled and tumbled. A murky veil obscured the sun, and the meadow darkened to a pale shade of sapphire.
“What should I do when you’re gone, Pop?”
The old man wheezed and his words crackled in his throat. Everything is in your name; you’ll damn well be able to do anything you want. I’ve never influenced you unfairly. This is a decision you must make yourself.”
“But I must have a purpose here...”
“Look, son, anyone who understands the stars can prove your destiny is decided before you arrive in this place. A good seer can tell you more about your life than you’ll ever care to know. You sign a contract recorded in the heavens when you’re born. There’s no such thing as karma, except for the elite. The average man is born to suffer, and he’s not able to alter a thing.”
“But I’m confused.”
“Confused about what?”
“Confused about God. I’m angry that he’s taking you.”
The old man tried to sit up but collapsed on the pillow. The monitor exploded with a cautionary whine. “God, I’m so weak.”
He rested a minute to catch his breath. “I’ve never tried to persuade you with my views; I wanted you to make up your own mind. God isn’t a person or a thing; it’s the highest level of infinite intelligence. Don’t judge it by the standard of your mind, because the lower mind is little more than an archive of brainwashing and cherished opinions.”
The young man lowered his head. “What makes you think you know the truth, Dad? Everybody thinks they do.”
The old man drew a deep breath. “I never claimed to be certain about the truth, son. I’m only certain about the lies.”
The young man’s face flushed. “Damn it, Dad, why do you always have to be so brutally honest? Why can’t you just go along with the design sometimes?”
The old man’s forehead knitted. “You don’t have to go along with the design. The design is what traps you here. You know the difference between right and wrong. No one in this world gives a damn about you. If they do, they want something in return, and sometimes you get damn little in return for a lot.”
Rodney closed his eyes. “Don’t be like me, son. Don’t waste your life searching for the answer, because if you find it, you can never go home. You’ve got the world in the palm of your hand. Take it and run with it. Wisdom is only pain.”
The young man peered once again through the window.”Were you ever happy, Dad? It’s like you were always in a different world.”
Rodney’s eyes fell on the portrait of Heidi that sat on his nightstand. “Let me tell you something, Jerus. You were born because your mother and I wanted you. You had no choice. None of us do, really. Had I understood what I know now, it would have been different.
“I’ve never discussed these things with you, because it’s not good to awaken before your time. As long as you listen to your conscience, not your heart, your understanding will mature naturally.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Conscience is deeper; it’s not ruled by emotion. The heart may deceive you and lead you by design, but the conscience never will.”
Jerus folded his arms over his chest, their eyes met, and the young man looked away.
Look, son, I’m going to tell you the only thing you need to know. If you can remember this, your journey here will be a lot easier.”
“Do no harm. It’s not always possible but, if you can tame the Archons, they’ll cease to control you. In the end, nothing we do is different from anything else. All that matters are the decisions you act on while you’re here. Do as you will, but remember, your mind is the only thing you take with you, if you can’t control it, something else will.”
The sky transformed into an abyss of swirling mist the color of lead. Hands of lightning flickered in the clouds and the boom of thunder rattled the window. Hail stones streaked from above, assaulting the house with a cacophony of taps and rattles. From somewhere outside a rumble boomed in the field.
“I better check the stable,” the young man said. “You know what happened the last time the door blew open. I’ll be right back.”
Rodney watched his son walk away, and somehow he knew he’d never see him again. In a hollow whisper, the old man cried, “Jerus! You and your mother are the only real happiness I’ve ever known.”
The young man turned and his eyes shone. “I’ll be right back, Dad.”
A bitter gray torrent churned in the meadow, and a haze of sleet fogged the window. A chill leaked into the room and surrounded the man in a morbid embrace. He had sometimes wondered about this moment, but now that it had arrived, it seemed his life had lasted only seconds.
The old man jolted and the last breath he would ever know rattled from his lungs. The monitor shrieked and its red line flattened.
Like some fated omen, a lustrous portal opened in the sky. The wind grew calm and the thunder laid down its wrath. The sea came to rest and its whitecaps smoothed to swells. All that remained were fading dark clouds and the silver linings that create them.
Copyright © 2014 by John W. Steele