Friday, November 28, 2008

Giant Boots

By David Edgren

This has been accepted for illustration and publication by Stanborough Press in England!
(look forward to the book shaped, fully illustrated, version!)

1—The Village

Once upon a time, in a beautiful valley not so very far from here, there was a village. The people in the village lived a comfortable life and were happy most of the time.

Until the bears came.

The bears were big, mean and angry. Having lived under the mountain for most of their lives, the bears were not used to meeting anyone and attacked the villagers and any other creature they saw. One day they found their way to the peaceful little valley through a system of caves that lead through the heart of the mountain.

They would come out of their cave and head toward the sound of joyful talking and laughter coming from the village. Once the bears were close enough they would rush at the villagers, swinging their sharp claws.

The villagers were quick enough and smart enough to go to their houses and lock the doors whenever the bears came.

Every day the bears would come—but never at the same time of day. The people were never quite sure when to expect the bears, so they built a watchtower and took turns watching. When the bears would come, the huge bell in the watchtower would ring out a warning and the people would hurry to their homes.

The village wasn’t as happy as it once had been. The children were afraid to play outside, the adults were scared to talk in the streets and the men were too nervous to spend much time hunting for game in the surrounding forest.

2—The Hunter

One day, a lone bear came. The warning was sounded and the villagers ran to their houses. Except for one of the men, who was a powerful hunter. He took his spear and headed toward the bear. He was tired of these bears ruining the little village and decided to do something about it. As the bear came bounding toward him, the hunter threw his spear. It was a perfect throw and hit the bear in the middle of his broad chest.

The hunter watched in shocked amazement as the spear bounced off the chest of the bear and clattered to the ground. It had been the hunter’s best, hardest throw—and he knew it. The bear’s fur was just too thick and it’s hide too tough. The bear kept running toward him, angrier now than ever. The hunter turned and ran toward the watchtower as fast as he could. He made it inside and locked the door behind him just as the bear slammed into the tower and roared in frustration, clawing at the door.

Finally the bear gave up. It wandered through the village looking down each street just in case a villager happened to wander into view. When it realised there was no one to attack, the bear lumbered back to the cave.

The villagers wondered what they should do. Should they build a wall around the village? Should they move to another valley?

Then without warning, one cold day, the bears didn’t come. They didn't come the next day, either. For days and days they didn’t come. The villagers thought maybe the bears had gone away. Then one of the children, who had been reading about bears at school, told the grown-ups that bears sleep all winter.

The adults realised the child was right. The bears were hibernating. They also realised the bears would be back when winter finished. The hunter who had faced the bear took a group of men to the cave and they piled rocks until the entire mouth of the cave was closed in. Hopefully the bears would see the entrance was blocked and go back into the mountain and find another way out, in a different place.

3—The Doctor

During the winter, Larry came home.

Larry grew up in the village. Everyone always knew he was going to be something great one day. When he was in school, he was smarter than any of the other kids. He was even smarter than some of the adults in the village. When he finished school, the villagers sent him to a university far away to become a doctor.

The village needed a doctor. When people would become sick, there was an old woman who usually knew what to do. But, when something really bad happened—like a broken bone or bad sickness—the villagers could only watch helplessly. Sending Larry to medical school was the best idea the villagers had come up with for a very long time, or so the village councellors said.

Larry had been gone for four years. Now he was back and he was a doctor.

There was just one problem with Larry. He had always had this problem. He was proud of himself—very proud. Proud that he was the smartest. Proud that he could get answers before the other students. Proud that he could figure out tough puzzles. Proud that he was better than anyone else. And now, he was very proud indeed that he was a Doctor.

"Larry! Larry!" shouted one of the villagers as he banged on the doctors door. "Larry, help me! My arm is broken."

"It's Lawrence, not Larry!" the response came from inside. Larry had decided that his name was too short for a doctors name. So, he wanted to be called Lawrence. It was his real name, after all.

"Sorry, Lawrence." The man replied, "Please let me in. Please help me!"

"It's Doctor Lawrence, actually," came the reply from inside.

"Sorry, Doctor Lawrence!" The man was crying now, "Please, Doctor Lawrence. Please help me!"

Larry opened the door and let the hurt man in. Larry knew what to do. He straightened the man's broken arm and put it in plaster. Then he put it in a sling. He did his work in silence.

"You're done," Larry said. "Keep it in the sling and don't use it." Larry pushed the man out of the house and slammed the door.

"Thank you, Doctor Lawrence," the man said from outside. But Larry didn't hear. He didn't want to hear it. He didn't need people or their thanks. He had himself and he was proud to be Doctor Lawrence.

4—Spring Comes

As time went by, the winter rains lessened and the temperature outside slowly rose. The snow melted from the trees and started the slow climb up the mountain—spring was here. When the sun came out and stayed, the people knew winter was gone for another year.

They had become used to moving freely around the village. The watchtower hadn't been used for over two months. They had almost forgotten about the bears. But some villagers still wondered, "Would the bears return? Would they break through the pile of stones in the cave's mouth?"

The answer came just a few days into spring. A shout burst from a man as he ran into the village. "BEARS! BEARS! BEARS!" The call passed quickly from villager to villager until they were all safely in their houses.

Larry had been told about the bears during the winter. At first he had thought they were just ridiculous stories. Then, after hearing the stories from enough people, he believed the bears were real. But he didn't think they were as big and as scary as the people said.

As he heard the bell ring, Larry came out of his doctor's office into the street. He watched people running into their houses and slamming their doors. Soon it was quiet in the village as all the houses swallowed the people and their yelling. It was like a ghost town—dead quiet.

Then Larry saw one—it was a huge bear, brown, almost black. It walked down the road stopping to sniff at each door that, only moments before, had been touched by a panicked villager. Then more bears came from between the houses. There were so many!

Larry stood staring, forgetting he was outside—until the big bear stopped in the middle of the road, swiveled his head to face Larry and sniffed. The bear's head tilted to one side. He looked directly into Larry's eyes. The fur on his neck stood on end. Huge lips curled away from razor sharp teeth. Then the air split with an earth shattering roar.

Larry spun around and lurched toward the open doorway of his office. He missed—smashing into the wall next to the door. He tried again and made it inside, slamming the door behind him. Moments later, as the doctor rubbed his forehead where he had hit the wall, the bear slammed against the door. Another blood-curtling roar. The door rattled on its hinges, and Larry crumpled to the ground, shaking in fear.

The bears wandered around the streets, looking for something to do, something to eat or something to attack. After awhile, unsucessful, they made their way out of the village.

Every day the bears came. And every day people rushed into their houses when the warning rang from the watchtower. Everyone was afraid and no one knew what to do.

5—Winter Again

The villagers were relieved when winter came again and the bears returned to hibernate in their cave. The hunter led a search for bigger, heavier stones to block the cave entrance. They needed to find something the bears could not move.

They found some huge blocks of granite. They were so heavy that it took three or four men to carry each. They moved them the long distance to the cave. After a few days, they had built a waist-high wall in the mouth of the cave. It was slow work, but together they could get it done before the snow started.

As the hunter and his group of men were returning to get another block, a boy stopped him.

"Yes?" the hunter asked.

"You should use this boulder," the boy said, placing his hand on a massive rock. "It's huge. I think it would block the entire cave!"

The hunter looked at the boulder. He walked around it, exploring all sides. He was amazed—it was perfect! And they had been walking right past it, many times every day! "Help me men," he said to his group. "Let's see if we can move this thing."

The four men put their full weight behind it. They pushed. They pulled. They tried using a stick as a lever. Nothing would make the huge stone even wobble. As other teams of men walked past they stopped and helped. Soon, ever man in the village was putting his complete strength into trying to move the boulder. Every man except the Doctor, of course.

There was no use. It would not budge. The hunter thanked the boy, turned to the group of men and said, "We need to finish the wall. This boulder is too big for us to move. Let's keep building with the granite blocks."

The men nodded in agreement and got back to work. After the other men started to walk away, one man climbed to the top of the boulder and jumped up and down trying to make it move. Instead, he slipped, banged his head and fell to the ground.

Two men saw it happen and rushed to help him. He had a huge bump on his head and a cut on his leg. The men worked together and carried him to see the doctor.

"Larry! Larry!" shouted one of the men as he banged on the doctor's door. "Larry, help us! We've got an injured man here."

"It's Lawrence, not Larry!" came the response.

"Sorry, Lawrence." The man replied, "Please let us in. He needs help!"

"It's Doctor Lawrence, actually." Came the stuffy reply from inside.

"Sorry, Doctor Lawrence!" The man was angry now, "Please, Doctor Lawrence. HELP NOW!"

Larry opened the door and let them in. Once they had laid the man down, Larry made the others go outside. He cleaned the cut and put six stitches in the man's leg. He put an icepack on the bump on his head. "Your fine now," he said as he stood the man up and pushed him out the door. "Now be more careful. People who climb on things, fall from things. So use your head for thinking, not bumping!" He slammed the door behind the man.

In just under two weeks, the wall was finished. It was huge and blocked the entire cave entrance.

"I doubt the bears will make a dent in that!" The hunter said. "They do not know how to use their strength together, like we do."

The villagers waited, with anxious talk and high hopes, for winter to end.

6—The Wall

The first day of full sunlight the people heard roaring from the cave. It was a frustrated muffled roaring.

The hunter took a few men to see how the wall was holding. When they got close, the roaring was much louder. But they could see the wall was still standing. They heard a huge thud as a bear ran, full speed, into the wall from the other side. The wall shook. But the stones stayed in place.

Another huge thud resulted in the same shaking of the wall. The bears seemed to be taking turns running at the wall. Over and over they thudded into the other side of the wall. Each time causing the wall to shake—without falling.

Then the thuds and shaking stopped. There was silence for a long time.

"Perhaps they have gone!" the hunter said with a smile. "Let's go closer and listen."

The group of men approached the wall. As they got closer they noticed a steady new noise. A sort of scratch, scratch, scratching.

"What's that noise?" asked one of the men.

"I think it's the bears," replied the hunter.

"What are they doing?" another man asked.

"It sounds like they are trying a different strategy," said the hunter.

The scratching moved across the wall from one side to the other. Then it went down to the bottom of the wall and then up—up to the top of the wall—to the weakest spot. One of the huge chunks of rock wobbled at the top of the wall.

"How are they reaching way up there?" asked one of the men.

"I think I was wrong," said the hunter. "They are working together. I think the bears are climbing on top of each other to get to the top of the wall."

Just then, the block that had been wobbling lurched forward and fell from the top of the wall. Then the next block began to wobble.

"It won't be long," said the hunter. "The wall is coming down. Hurry back to the village. We must tell the village council. They must think of something to get rid of these bears!"

As the men jogged back to the village they could hear the roaring of the bears getting louder, punctuated all to often by the thud of another block hitting the ground outside of the wall.

7—New Strategy

The village council had been in discussion since the men returned. It was now late in the evening. They knew the bears would be out in the next day or two.

Every grown-up in the village was at the meeting. Most of the kids huddled outside, listening through the walls.

A number of ideas were offered. Some said they should trap the bears. Others said the villagers should pack up and leave. The hunter thought he might be able to make stronger spears. There wasn't any solution that pleased everyone.

Larry had sat in silence. Finally he spoke. "Why don't you just put something bigger in the cave entrance? Make a stronger wall, get bigger blocks."

The hunter spoke, "There is a boulder that would block the hole for good. But, we tried to move it. Every man in the village helped. It won't budge."

"Well, I wasn't there," said the Doctor. "I didn't help."

Some of the men snickered. The hunter replied, "Doctor Lawrence, it wouldn't have mattered. It is too big. We cannot move it. Even if we could make it wobble, we could never move it all that distance to the cave."

A boy entered the back door. "Can I speak?" he asked.

"Of course not," Larry responded. "This is grown-up talk. We need to save our village from the bears."

The hunter recognised the boy. "Wait," he said. "This is the boy who found the boulder. He is a good thinker. He saw it when none of us did. I wish for him to speak."

The people in the council house went quiet and looked at the boy, waiting to hear his words of wisdom.

"Maybe," the boy paused, reconsidering. "Well, maybe we should ask the giant to help us. He could move the boulder easily!"

Some people began to laugh. Others shook their heads.

Larry spoke, "The Giant? The Giant?" he laughed. "The giant hasn't been seen for years. Some think he is dead. Other think he never existed at all—just a story."

Another man continued, "And even if he is out there, his valley is far away."

"And, if I remember the stories correctly," said someone else, "the giant never helps anyone. He's a selfish brute!"

The boy hung his head, "well I just thought. . ."

"No," interupted Larry. "You didn't think. This is the real world—not a fairytale. These are real bears. We need real answers, now!"

Everyone talked over the top of everyone else. The room grew louder and louder. The boy stood, staring at the floor, crying.

"I WILL GO!" shouted the hunter.

But, nobody heard him. The talking and arguing was too loud.

The hunter climbed onto a table, put his fingers in his mouth and whistled loudly. People stopped talking and looked up at him. "I will go," he said boldly. "I will go find the giant. And I will convince him to come. He is a fighter like me. I will speak to him of the bears. He will come."

The people were amazed. There was certainly no one better to send. The hunter had faced a bear. He could face a giant.

The hunter left the next morning.

8—Proud Giant

That afternoon the bears broke through the wall. But, by then, the hunter was far away. The villagers started using their watchtower and warning system again, hoping that soon the hunter would return with help.

The hunter walked for days. The days turned into weeks. After two months of walking the hunter found the giant's valley. There was only one way in, down a steep rocky slope. The hunter made his way into the valley and shouted, "I come in peace! I need your help, great giant!"

A large hill, at the far end of the valley, rolled over and stood up. It wasn't a hill at all, but a very large, very hairy giant. The giant took three huge steps. Now he was in the middle of the valley.

The giant spoke, in a deep rumbling voice, "Who dares enter the valley of the great giant?"

"I am the greatest hunter from a distant land," replied the hunter. "We need your help."

"What can I do for such a little people as you?" said the giant. "Surely your problems are much to small for my attention!"

"Bears are attacking our village," said the hunter. "There is a boulder. We need your help to block the cave entrance—to trap the bears."

"I will help," said the giant. The hunter was amazed. This had been easier than he thought!

"If you can answer my question well enough," finished the giant.

"What question?" asked the hunter.

The giant bellowed, "Can you wear my boots?"

The hunter, without even thinking about his answer, laughed and blurted out, "Wear them? What a silly question! I could live in your boots. They are huge!"

The giant shook his head sadly, saying, "You have not answered well enough." Then he turned, took three large steps, laid down and looked—once again—very much like a hill.

The hunter stood in stunned silence. Was that it? He had not travelled all this way to be rejected. He walked over to the hill. It took the hunter nearly an hour to get across the valley. He stood next to the huge hill of a giant.

"Please come!" the hunter said. "We really need your help!" He walked around the hill, begging for help the whole time. The giant never moved—not even a twitch. After a couple hours of yelling and demanding attention from the giant, the hunter gave up. No response would come.

The hunter left the giant's valley. It was a long two months, walking back to the village, knowing he must tell them their bear problem was as big as ever.

The giant would not help.

9—Bear Attack

While the hunter had been away, the bears had come to the village every day. Sometimes in the morning, sometimes at noon, sometimes just before dark. The villagers always listened carefully for the watchtower's warning. Once they heard the bell ringing, they would run from wherever they were into their homes.

One day, the bears came early in the morning. After they had gone back to their cave, one of the villagers took his son hunting in the forest. They had been hunting for about an hour when they heard the bell ring.

"Twice in one day!" the boy said.

"Yes," said the father. "That is not normal. I didn't think they'd be back. We better run!"

As the father and son emerged from the forest they saw the bears running along the tree line, not far behind them. The village was a couple hundred metres away.

"Run!" yelled the father. "We can make it!"

They ran as fast as they could but one of the bears was catching them. A man who lived on the outskirts of the village came out of his house and yelled to them, pointing at his house, "Come into my house! Quick!" He had a spear in his hand.

They had almost reached the house when the bear jumped forward, raking one of his paws down the boy's back. Then, with another swipe, one claw cut into the back of the father's arm. Just then, the spear wizzed between the father and son striking the bear in the shoulder. The bear slowed just enough for the two to reach the house.

The man, who had thrown the spear, rushed in after them slamming the door. The bear was close behind and banged into the door a moment later.

"I've been hurt," the father said, trying to look at the back of his upper arm.

"Me too," the boy said as he slumped to his knees, out of breath.

The man who lived there looked at their wounds. "We need to get you to the doctor," he said. "Luckily, your wounds aren't that bad. But the cuts need proper treatment."

The bear had wandered back toward the forest. The man led the father and son to Larry's office.

"Larry! Larry!" shouted the man. "Larry, help us! A bear got two villagers."

"It's Lawrence, not Larry!" the response came from inside.

"Sorry, Lawrence." The man replied, "Please, let them in. They need you!"

"It's Doctor Lawrence, actually." Came the reply.

"Sorry, Doctor Lawrence." The man shook his head in disgust. "Please, Doctor Lawrence. Please, let them in."

Larry opened the door and let the father and son in. He told the other man he could go home now and then shut the door.

Larry looked at the wounds. The father's cut was deepest. Larry said, "You are more injured than your son. I will deal with your wound first." Larry cleaned the wound and put germ killing antiseptic on it. He was surprised when the father didn't flinch or say anything. The antiseptic stung. Tough guy, thought Larry.

"I'll need to give you a few stitches," Larry said. "I just have to give you a couple of shots so you wont feel it."

The father interupted, "Just stitch it up quick. Don't worry about the pain. I want you to help my son as soon as you can!"

Larry raised his eyebrows, "If you insist, but it will hurt." The man said nothing so Larry threaded the needle and stuck it in the mans arm. He didn't react at all. Larry finished the stitches, amazed at how tough this man was.

Larry went over to the boy. "You will need to lay down," said the doctor. "You have three scratches on your back from the claws. I'll clean two and leave them, but I will need to put a stitch or two in the other one."

The boy nodded bravely. Larry washed the three scratches. Then he dabbed some antiseptic on a cotton ball and pressed it on the first scratch. The boy sucked air in with shock. "That stings!" he said.

"Yes, it does!" Larry said. "But we've got to kill the germs!" Larry put the antiseptic on the other two scratches and the boy reacted both times. He didn't like it at all.

After Larry had given the boy a couple of shots, he started stitching the wound. It was more than the boy could handle—the antiseptic, the needle, the stitches. The boy started to cry. Larry was just about to say something to the boy when he saw the father wipe his eyes. Larry looked over at the man and was amazed to see tears flowing down the father's cheeks.

Something happened to Doctor Lawrence's heart right then—something Larry couldn't understand, something wonderful. The father could handle all the pain in the world, as long as it wasn't happening to his son. Larry realised the father loved the boy more than anything else in the world. That's when Larry's heart changed. He wanted to be that kind of man—like the father. Larry realised he no longer wanted to be Doctor Lawrence so people would think he was amazing. He wanted to be Larry the doctor who helped people because he loved them.

Larry finished the last stitch and wiped a tear from his own eye. "You'll need to keep these clean," he said. "Be careful. And I hope you both feel better soon."

Larry opened the door and said they could go. As they left the boy looked into the doctors eyes, "Thank you Doctor Lawrence."

"You're welcome," he said. "And, please, call me Larry."

10—Giant Truth

Larry was a good doctor. He helped people for the rest of the summer with a smile. He gave treats to kids, said nice words to adults and cared for people from the bottom of his heart.

When the hunter returned everyone was sad to see he was alone. The hunter told the village council what had happened. Everyone listened to the story of his journey. It was a great story—even if he did return without the giant.

When he finished, people started talking about the right answer to the giant's question. One person said the giant was mean and wanted people to say they were afraid of his boots, because they could stomp you to death. Another villager said the giant was selfish and wanted to hear how great he was. Lots of people had lots of ideas. But, no one knew what to do next.

Summer was coming to an end. After the winter they could send someone else to talk to the giant. They had all winter to decide what answer to give. But they would have to put up with the bears for another year. It was a miserable situation and no one wanted to leave the council meeting and go back to real life outside.

Larry was at the meeting, listening carefully. He heard the hunter's story. He heard the many answers people suggested. Then he spoke, "Tell us again," he said to the hunter, "exactly what the giant said about your answer."

The hunter stood and answered, "He just said, 'You have not answered well enough.' Then he ignored me."

"I know what to say," Larry said with an excited smile. "I know what that giant needs to hear! I will go. I will go speak to him, right now!"

"It's too far," the hunter said. "You will barely get there before winter. You'll never make it back before the snow."

"I must go now," said Larry. "The giant will bring me back."

"Very well," said the hunter. "I will draw you a map."

The villagers started to cheer and clap. Many asked Larry what he was going to say—what would his answer be? Larry just said, "I will just tell him the truth."

Larry left in the dark, while the bears were asleep. By the time the bears came out of their cave, the next morning, Larry was far away.

11—Well Enough

Two months later, as snow started to fall on the mountains, Larry climbed down the rocky hillside into the giant's valley.

As he walked into the clearing, a large hill, at the far end of the valley, rolled over and stood up. Three huge steps later, the giant stood before the doctor.

The giant spoke, in a deep rumbling voice, "Who dares enter the valley of the great giant?"

"I am the doctor from a distant land," replied the Larry. "We need your help."

"What can I do for such a little people as you?" said the giant. "Surely your problems are much to small for my attention!"

"Our hunter told you of the bears attacking our village," said Larry. "We need you to move a huge boulder to trap the bears by blocking the cave entrance."

"I will help," said the giant, "if you can answer my question well enough."

"What is your question?" asked the doctor.

The giant bellowed, "Can you wear my boots?"

Larry was impressed by the volume of the giant's shout. He replied in a confident voice, "Not anymore!"

The giant took a step toward Larry. "Are you suggesting you used to be as big and as great as me? Were you once a giant like myself?"

"No," Larry replied. "But I used to walk in your shoes."

"How could you walk in my shoes with such little feet?" questioned the giant.

"I was the smartest kid in my village," Larry said. "They sent me away to become a doctor. When I came back, I was great! I was the only one who had been to the big city, the only one who had been to university, the only one who could heal their cuts, bruises and broken bones. I was the doctor, and I was a giant compared to them."

A rumble came from the giants throat, "Hmmm... Go on..."

"I was so proud of myself," said Larry, "that I treated everyone like they were useless and annoying. I didn't need them or want them. But they needed and wanted me. Then a bear attacked a father and his son. The man was tough as I fixed his wounds. But when I fixed his son's wounds, the man cried."

"He cried!" the giant murmured interrupting, clearly caught up in the Doctor's story. "What happened next?" the giant asked.

Larry continued, "Seeing the way the man loved his son changed me. It made my heart hurt. I wanted to love people. From that moment on, I started helping people because I cared about them, not because it made me look good."

Larry stopped and shuffled from one foot to the other, looking down at his shoes. Then he looked directly into the giants eyes and spoke, "So, no I cannot wear your boots—not anymore."

The giant had been so caught up in the story that he was leaning right over the doctor. A huge tear trickled down the giant's nose and splashed on Larry. It was like a bucket of water pouring over him. The giant lowered himself to one knee and laid his hand on the ground in front of Larry.

Larry stepped into the giants huge hand and walked to the middle of his palm. The giant lifted the little doctor high in the air until he was looking straight into the giants eyes.

In a whisper, choked with tears, the giant said, "You have answered well enough."

Then, standing to his full height, the giant stepped out of the valley and started to run.

12—Giant Change

A few short hours later, they arrived at the village. The giant's strides were gigantic. And when he ran, they were even bigger.

The villagers heard the thud, thud, thud of the giant's footsteps and gathered at the watchtower.

They watched as the giant ran through the forest—they could see his head above the trees!

They watched as the giant ran across the valley toward the village.

And they watched as he ran right past them—toward the boulder. As the giant rushed past, some people said they heard Larry's voice call out, "We'll be right back!"

From where he sat, high up in the giant's hand, Larry could see that winter had come to the valley. The mountain tops were all white. The bears would be asleep in their cave.

The giant reached the huge boulder. With his free hand he picked it up like a baseball.

The village people ran to the cave and arrived just as the giant got there. He lowered the huge boulder into the entrance. It was a perfect fit. He gave it a push and it sank into the cave mouth, rock grating against rock—biting into each other. The cave was sealed. The bears would never return.

The people cheered and shouted, "Larry! Larry! Larry!" The giant faced the crowd and opened his hand so Larry could see the people. Larry clapped his hands with the people. Then he put his finger to his lips. The crowd went quiet.

"Don't thank me," Larry said. "Thank this great giant! He has chosen to help us."

The people clapped and cheered for the giant. Then the giant held his huge finger to his lips, copying Larry. The people quieted.

"It is not I, or Doctor Larry, who deserve thanks today," boomed the giant. "It is all of you. For without you, neither Larry nor I would have helped you today."

The people stood in stunned silence. They looked at each other in confusion. What could the giant mean? What had they done?

The Giant continued, "You have loved each other. It is your love that changed Larry's heart. And his heart has changed mine. You have all answered well enough!"

The people cheered. Then the hunter approached the giant. "Before you go back to your valley, we would like to give you a gift, great giant," he said. "Ask for anything and we will gladly give it."

The giant paused for a moment and said, "I would like, very much, to stay here. I want to learn to be like you villagers—to love and be loved. Can I stay and be the protector of your valley?"

The people cheered with joy. They danced around the giants great boots and dodged the huge tears of joy that fell from above.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Perfect Lamb

by David Edgren

Once there was a boy named Rufus. Rufus lived with his family on a small farm a few hours walk from a large city. Of all the things Rufus loved to do, his favorite was to spend time with his best friend, Sammy.
Sammy wasn't a person like Rufus. Sammy was a lamb. He was the prettiest lamb Rufus had ever seen and Rufus loved to play with Sammy. They spent as much time together as they could every day. Sometimes they would play cat and mouse and Rufus would chase Sammy all over the farmyard and when he caught him they would fall into a heap and Rufus would hug Sammy tight. Other days Sammy and Rufus would go on long walks together over the hills and through the fields, exploring every cave and peak they found. Rufus loved Sammy and Sammy loved Rufus. They were the best of friends.

One day Rufus and Sammy were picking flowers for the kitchen table when Rufus heard his father calling. They gathered the flowers they had picked and ran home. When they arrived, Rufus's father met him on the front porch. He said, "Rufus, I need to go into the city today. And I need Sammy to come with me."
"Can I come too?" Rufus asked.
"I'm sorry Rufus, no one is allowed into the temple until they are 12 years old," Father answered.
The temple. Rufus had heard all about the temple. That was where parents went to pay for the sins of their family. And they usually paid with… "Dad No!!" Rufus almost shouted at his father, "You can't take Sammy! He's my... He's my..." Rufus began to cry, "He's my best friend."
Father placed his large hand on Rufus’ shoulder. "Rufus you know I must take a lamb so sins of our family can be cleansed in the eyes of God."
"But, why Sammy?” Rufus blustered. “Take another lamb. We have lots of lambs.” The tears were streaming down his cheeks now, but he didn’t care. “Why do you have to take Sammy?"
"God asks us to bring the most perfect lamb we have.” Father said, slowly moving his hand through Rufus’ hair. “I have looked at all of this years lambs, and Sammy has the most perfect coat and the best build.” Gently cupping the back of Rufus’ head, father knelt down and looked into his son’s eyes. Father’s eyes were wet too. “You know our lambs better than anyone. Can you think of another lamb more perfect than Sammy?" Father asked.
Rufus hung his head. "No," he whispered. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. He slowly sat down on the front steps, dropped the flowers and put his arms around Sammy. He held Sammy tight and cried into his perfect coat.
They sat there for a long time—Rufus and his best friend, Sammy. While Father got ready for the journey into the city, they sat there. As Father ate his breakfast in the kitchen, they sat there. As Father put on his boots, they sat there. Finally Father came through the front door and quietly said, "Rufus, it's time. I must leave now."
Rufus gave Sammy one last hug and then stood. He didn't look at father. He just said, "Sammy is ready to go," and walked into the house. Rufus' father put a pack on his back and then picked up Sammy and laid him across his broad shoulders. Sammy's front legs hung down in front of Father's chest, his soft little body rested against the back of fathers' neck. Father descended the front steps and headed down the long driveway.
Inside the house, Rufus watched through a window. A few seconds after they left, Sammy bleated loudly. Rufus ran to the front door. Tears streamed down his face. He threw the door open, leapt onto the front porch and stopped suddenly at the top of the steps. He could see Sammy-lamb resting on Father’s shoulders as they weaved down the lane. Rufus' heart fell. He crumpled into heap sitting down heavily on the steps. Rufus collected the flowers he had picked with Sammy and began to sob. He missed Sammy so much.

Father picked up his pace. At a fast pace, it was a couple hour’s walk into the city and he wanted to be there by midday. Father’s long legs took large powerful strides.
Two and a half hours later Father entered the city gate. He had been to Jerusalem a number of times before and was prepared for the crowds. It always amazed him that so many people would want to be so close together. People bustled all over the city streets. Father could hear a lot of shouting and merriment as he walked toward the temple. He fought his way through the crowds and finally arrived at the temple entrance. He paused, collected his thoughts and made his way into the outer courtyard.
There were a lot of things going on in the temple courtyard. Tables, covered with various kinds of animals, lined to edges of the courtyard. Father walked up to a table dedicated to buying and selling lambs. He lifted Sammy from his shoulders and sat him on the ground. The man came around the table and studied Sammy. "Very nice," he said. "In fact, one of the best I've seen in a long time. He will definitely be used for a special sacrifice. Twenty-five," said the merchant.
"Twenty-five?" questioned Father. "I though you said he was remarkable. At the market he would be worth at least forty!"
"I have not paid twenty-five in over two weeks," said the vendor. "But, this is a unique animal. Twenty-eight. That is truly as high as I can go."
Father was bothered. He never liked these temple vendors. They always got away with more than anyone outside the temple walls. "Thirty-five, my friend. Surely that is not to much to ask from such a wealthy temple and for such a perfect lamb."
The vendor stalled. He rearranged some items on his table. He wrote some numbers down on a slate with a piece of chalk, rubbed them out, and wrote more. Father decided the vendor was putting on a very good show. He opened the cash box and made as if he were counting to see if he had enough money. Finally the vendor spoke, "I do believe you would rob God. Thirty is as high as the temple will go. Thirty. Take it or leave it."
Father was outraged at the insult. Rob God? Surely the only man being robbed was a farmer from outside the city. And the only man doing the robbing was a vendor who swindled for a living. Father spoke, "Agreed. Thirty it is."
The vendor counted out thirty dirty copper coins and gave them to Father. He then lifted Sammy and placed him in the small enclosure where he kept the lambs. Sammy would now be cleansed and blessed by a priest and then sold to a person who would use him as a sacrifice or to the temple for one of the ritual temple sacrifices. Only the best lambs were used for the temple sacrifices. Father noticed the vendor kept Sammy separate from the other lambs. He was a special lamb indeed.
In the middle of the courtyard sat the moneychangers. This was always the part father hated most. First he always got less than the animal’s true worth and then he had to trade the underpayment of copper coins for the cleansed temple coinage. Father approached a moneychanger and placed his thirty coins on the table. The most infuriating thing about the money changing was that you didn't even get a say. The temple set the conversion rate and it was final. The coins were quickly counted by a well-trained eye. An eyebrow went up, "Must have been quite an animal." A small heap of shiny new coins was placed next to the thirty. "Twenty-three, my friend. Have a nice day."
Father took the temple coins and headed back to the side of the courtyard the lambs were in. He took caution to go to a different stall than where he had sold Sammy. He was not about to deal with that thief again. "I would like the best lamb you have," father said—as all temple goers were required to say. Never would you ask for anything less than perfect for your sacrifice to God. If you couldn't afford a lamb you took a less valuable animal which was also perfect.
"Thirty-five temple coins," said a nasal voice.
Father looked up in astonishment at the vendor. The price for a perfect lamb had gone up. Last year it was twenty-five. Father had planned to talk the vendor down to twenty-three. But at a cost of thirty-five, there wasn't a chance. Without a word, Father went back to the moneychangers. "How much for 12 more temple coins?" He asked in frustration.
"20 coppers," came the quick response.
20 coppers. Father only had 14 left from the last sheering. He needed those for the next two weeks food for his family. Angrily father stormed to one of the many tables where perfect doves were sold. "How much for two perfect doves," he nearly shouted.
"20 temple coins," said a small boy—obviously the vendors son.
The boy reminded Father of Rufus. Father was ever so glad Rufus was not here. This would have broken his heart. Father had traded Sammy for two doves. He decided he would not tell Rufus. Too frustrated to haggle, Father placed 20 temple coins on the table and the boy handed him a cage that held two average looking doves. Father was beyond argument—he took the doves and headed toward the line for the altar.
After the sacrifice had been made Father made his way out of the temple. He stopped at a moneychanger and placed the three remaining temple coins on the table. The coins were refunded one for one. Father soberly took the three coppers and put them in his moneybag. Making penance for the sins of his family was always such a draining and humiliating experience.

Father left the temple and headed back the way he had come through the city. As he walked toward the city square, he noticed a large crowd. The people were shouting and cursing. Father decided to investigate. He pushed his way into the middle of the crowd until he could see what was happening. A man was being flogged. Tied to a wooden post fixed into the ground, the man was being whipped by two Roman soldiers. They were taking turns.
The people in the crowd nearest the flogging were counting the lashes 12, 13 . . . This man was a criminal, Father realized. Having no desire to watch a man being beaten, Father pushed his way back out of the crowd. As he was leaving the town square, the loud counting spread through the crowd. He could hear the numbers being shouted as he walked up the road. The shouting stopped at thirty-nine. The “whipping of death” it was called. Forty was the number of lashes said to kill a man. Thirty-nine was given to those who were wanted alive, but fully beaten.
Father stopped at the next doorstep and took off his pack. He sat on the steps, under the shade of the building, and retrieved his lunch from the pack. Unwrapping a small loaf of bread, some meat slices and some fresh butter, he made himself a sandwich.
As he was eating, the crowd around him seemed to be growing. Father realized the crowd from the city square was moving toward him. He stood next to his pack and finished his sandwich. He could see a procession of people coming his way. Roman soldiers cleared the street. As they came closer, Father recognized them as the two soldiers who had been beating the criminal. Behind the soldiers came three men, each carrying a large plank of wood. It didn't take Father long to realize these three men were going to be crucified. The wood they carried was the upper-beam of what would become each man’s own cross. Men to be crucified were often forced to carry their cross-beam through the city streets so people would know what happened to anyone who broke the law.
The first criminal to pass Father was well built and carried the beam on one shoulder. He smirked at people who made remarks and spat back at people who spat at him. The second man was not so bold in manner or built in stature and quietly carried his cross-beam across both shoulders. The third criminal was struggling to bear his beam. He dropped it once and a soldier kicked him and told him to pick it up. By the time the criminal reached Father, he was holding the beam in front of himself with both arms and stumbling like a drunk. He leaned too far in one direction and the beam slipped out of his grasp, falling to the ground. He bent to pick it up.
This was the man who had received the 39 lashes, Father realized. He was covered in blood. His back and legs were a mess of torn flesh. His left cheek had a tear in it. Evidently a whip had gone astray. The man repulsed Father. The criminal tried to pick up the beam. A soldier kicked him. He fell on top of the beam. He tried again to pick it up and fell to the ground, exhausted. He was nearly dead.
The soldier shouted with a snarl, "Pick up the cross, Jesus of Nazareth," and gave the prisoner a mighty kick. The criminal tried to stand, but fell over. He tried again and stumbled toward the crowd. A woman stepped out of the crowd and held him up. She was crying. Father watched, unable to pull his eyes away. The criminal whispered some words to the woman and she stopped crying.
There was no way this nearly-dead man would be able to carry his beam. The soldier guarding him walked over to where he stood and pushed him up the road. He shouted, "keep walking, my king. I'll get someone else to bring your walking stick!" He laughed and then turned to the crowd. He pointed directly at Father and shouted, "What is your name?"
Father turned to see if there was anyone behind him. Mysteriously, in a crowd of hundreds of people, he was standing alone. People continued backing away as Father stuttered, "S-S-Simon."
"Well S-S-Simon,” mocked the soldier, “you look like a strong country boy!" The soldier pointed at the cross-beam and shouted, “pick up that beam and carry it to Golgotha. Pick it up, NOW!"
Father knelt and picked up the blood soaked cross-beam. He placed it across his shoulders and carried it just as he had carried Sammy a few hours ago. Blood was running off of the beam and down his neck, arms and back. He quickly caught up with the stumbling criminal and they marched to Golgotha—the place of the skull.

The death procession exited the city through the gate Father had entered just a couple hours before. Nothing felt familiar to Father. Where there had been busy bustling people moving to and fro, now there was one angry mass of humanity surging after three stumbling criminals. Where there had been the soft warmth of Sammy’s little tummy on the back of Father’s neck, now there was rough splintering wood sticky with still-warm blood. Where there had been a purposeful temple-bound pace to Father’s step, now there was unsure stumbling after the executioner and the condemned.
The soldier in front of Father pushed the prisoner along. “Get moving, Jesus! We’ve got more on our schedule today than your little crucifixion,” the soldier shouted. The badly-beaten prisoner, Jesus, was putting every bit of his concentration to staying on his feet. Father followed behind as the prisoner slowly advanced.
Jesus, father thought to himself, Jesus of Nazareth. He was sure that was the name of the teacher. His boys had gone to hear Jesus of Nazareth tell stories, one day not so long ago. Could this be the same man? Father had heard only good things about this Jesus. The boys—Rufus and his older brother Alexander—had come back overwhelmed with excitement about the stories they had heard. They couldn’t stop talking about what they heard and saw—or what they said they saw—they said Jesus healed people. Sick people, deaf people, blind people, lame people. Father wasn’t too sure. Only God could heal such things. But, they were children and children saw what children wanted to see!
Jesus stumbled again. He landed on his hands and knees. The soldier kicked him in the ribs. Father could hear the air rush out of his lungs with the sudden blow. The soldier pulled his foot back for another driving kick. A shout from the head of the procession gave him pause. “Get that man up! We’ve got to get this thing done!” The shouting soldier must have been in charge—Jesus’ soldier quickly dropped his foot to the ground and lifted Jesus to his feet. “Move it Messiah,” he laughed scornfully and gave Jesus a push.
This was the Jesus the boys had gone to see. Father had heard the talk—people in the market, around the well—in the common places where people could talk about such things. There was a lot of talk about this messiah. Messiah’s came and went, but this one—this Jesus—was different. He didn’t want or offer power. He asked for nothing more than a listening ear and offered something strangely compelling—a kingdom, not of this world. Father had listened to the talk. But, until now, he hadn’t given it much thought.
They were approaching the top of a hill. Father recognized Golgotha—he had seen other men crucified here. It was within view of the main road into Jerusalem, which made sure the maximum number of people saw those being punished for their disobedience. It was a deterrent that worked—people thought twice before disobeying the Roman laws and soldiers. Crucifixion was a terrible way to die.
The soldier pointed toward a long beam of wood—much longer than the one Father was carrying. “Put the cross beam above that one,” the soldier grunted at Father. Letting the beam slide down one shoulder, Father cradled it in his arms and lowered it to the ground where the soldier had gestured. As the beam thudded to the dirt, Father quietly stepped backward. He was scared the soldier would keep him involved in this ghastly event. He turned his back to the soldier and casually walked into the approaching crowd. He had done it! He was out of sight and hopefully out of mind of the soldiers.
It was time to go home. Father didn’t want to watch a crucifixion. He started working his way deeper into the crowd. Father heard the sound of a large hammer striking a spike. He looked over his shoulder without meaning to. Another metal on metal clang filled the air. Two soldiers were holding the cross beam in place while a third drove a huge spike into the piece of wood, fixing it to the one beneath. Again the hammer struck the huge nail. It continued sinking in to the wood. The soldier with the hammer was in a rhythm now, the clangs coming like heartbeats. Father stared, mesmerized.
In no time the spike was fully embedded in the wood. “Bring the condemned,” the soldier with the hammer shouted. Jesus was pushed toward the cross. Two soldiers pulled his arms and legs—stretching him out to match the wide reach of the cross. Nails were driven into his wrists and ankles. Father flinched with every clang of the hammer.
The three crosses were lifted upright and knocked forward until they dropped into holes prepared for them. As Jesus’ cross thudded into the deep hole his body convulsed with shock. Soldiers jeered, men cheered, women wept. Father could hear so many sounds. The ringing of the hammer still pounded in his head. Soldiers panted, exhausted from the effort of the task. People murmured to each other. The occasional taunt was slung at the crucified trio. And when the insults hit their mark, one of the criminals would lash back at the crowd with some cutting retort.
Nailed to the cross above each man’s head was a piece of wood with the charges against them written on it. Father read only the one above Jesus. It said, “King of the Jews.” Those were the only words Father could read. The others must be the same thing in other languages, Father thought.
Jesus hung on the middle cross. He was much worse off than the other two. They had not been whipped before hand. They still had strength in them. Jesus hung limp and listless. He struggled for every breath. The cross was designed for this—once a man had lost the strength to lift himself, which every breath required, he suffocated slowly. Jesus wasn’t hurling angry retorts at the crowd. Father wasn’t sure if it was because Jesus was too weak or because he didn’t want to reply.
“You saved others,” one voice shouted from the crowd. “Save yourself, Messiah!”
Jesus said nothing.
Another voice rang out, “You said you are the Son of God! Surely God wont let His Son die on a cross! Call to Him!”
Jesus remained silent although his body convulsed with a sob. Is Jesus crying? Father wondered.
A priest stepped forward, clearly wanting to be seen to speak, “You said you would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.” He spread his arms wide, mimicking the crucified Jesus. “Save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
Then the lights went out.
At least that’s what it looked like. It was midday moments before and now it was like midnight. The sun was simply gone. People began to scream. Some ran. Some stood still. Some fell silent. But they all wondered what this could mean.
In the darkness, Jesus’ voice rang out from the cross in a plaintive cry, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Moments before the lights went out, the high priest in the temple lead Sammy across the courtyard. He had made a careful inspection of all the lambs available and chosen Sammy—he was a remarkably unmarked lamb. Sammy was the most perfect lamb the priest could remember seeing.
He led Sammy to the altar in front of the holy place. A curtain usually separated the holy place from the courtyard, but today it was open so the people could see this special—day of atonement—sacrifice. They would be able to watch as the forgiveness of the people of Israel was secured and assured.
The High Priest lifted Sammy onto the altar. He stood with his back to the temple, his face to the waiting crowd. One hand rested on the nape of Sammy’s neck, the other reached under the altar and grasped a knife. He lifted the knife high in the air and said the required prayer.
As the High Priest said “Amen” he brought the knife to the underside of Sammy’s neck. The people crowded forward, anxious to see. The knife touched the soft skin of Sammy’s throat. The High Priest had done this hundreds of times. It was a simple cut. One quick tug of the knife and the lamb would die, the people’s sins would be forgiven and the crowd would rejoice.
Just as he was about to draw the knife toward himself, a horrendous noise erupted behind him. It was a tearing, ripping, earth shattering sort of noise. Before he could turn around, a collective gasp came from the large crowd as they all drew in a breath at once. It seemed, to the High Priest, that he felt a gust of wind caused by the sudden intake of air. His eyes darted from face to face in front of him. Eyes the size of plates. Mouths hanging wide open. Hands clasping hearts. He saw them all in a rush. What only took a second seemed like hours.
The High Priest spun around in slow motion, the knife still in his hand. It took a moment for his mind to register what he was seeing. The holy place was no longer divided from the most holy. The curtain required by the Lord—the curtain that protected the people from seeing the holy of holies—was torn in two. All that was holy, all that was sacred, all that was off limits except once a year, stood exposed to the masses of gawking people.
The High Priest began to shake uncontrollably. They should be dead, he thought to himself. I should be dead! We are staring into the holy of holies—the very presence of God. We should all be dead. But, we are not. What has happened? The knife fell from his hand and crashed to the marble floor of the temple. The noise of it was like a sudden clap of thunder.
Then the lights went out.

Sammy jumped down from the altar. The darkness was not a problem for him. He spent every night outside and his little eyes knew how to see in the dark. He made his way through the screaming surging crowd. He dodged through the people, dived between legs and jumped over low objects. Moments later, Sammy was outside the temple charging down the city street Father had walked twice today. Sammy headed for the city gate.
It took a few minutes to work his way through the panicked people, but Sammy soon emerged from the city. He skidded to a halt—now that he was in the open, outside the city—and got his bearings. It only took a few seconds for his internal homing beacon to kick in. All animals seem to have an innate ability to find home. For Sammy, it was simply a matter of heading toward the place where he knew he was loved. It was a long run and took a bit longer in the dark.
About three hours later Sammy turned off the main road and went between gateposts he recognized, even in the dark. He bolted toward where he knew the house—and Rufus—should be. Then the lights came back on. There was Rufus! Sammy skidded to a halt and let out one long “baaaaa.”

Rufus sat on the front steps. He hadn’t moved from where he sat this morning when Father picked up Sammy and walked away. The darkness had been surprising at first. But, after a few minutes of silence and darkness Rufus became accustomed to it and actually preferred it. He felt dark and silent inside too. He’s dead. Rufus thought sadly. Obviously the sun quit shining when Sammy died. The sun loved Sammy too. He liked that thought. Everybody and everything should love Sammy. And they would if they knew him, he thought. A weak smile crossed his sad face in the darkness.
Then the lights came back on. It was bright—really bright. Rufus realized it was the middle of the afternoon. The Sun was glaring directly down the drive into his eyes. Then he heard it. “Baaaaaa.”
Rufus jumped to his feet. He knew that voice better than his own. It was Sammy! But it couldn’t be, he remembered. Sammy was surely dead by now. Another bleat burst forth in front of him. Rufus shaded his eyes and looked down the lane.
There, to his total surprise, was Sammy.
Sammy saw Rufus and broke into an all-out run.
Rufus couldn’t believe his eyes. His ears had been right. It was Sammy. Rufus started running too. Moments later there was a collision of boy and lamb flesh in the lane as Rufus scooped Sammy into his arms and they spun around in joyful circles. It was too good to be true. But, true it was.
Sammy wriggled out of Rufus’ grasp and started doing a playful dance in the grass alongside the driveway. Rufus chased him—and laughed.
Later, the two friends sat together on the porch. Rufus sat on the top step. Sammy, on the bottom step, rested his head on Rufus’ knee. Rufus alternated between patting Sammy’s head and his perfect coat. And his mind wandered.
“What happened, Sammy?” Rufus asked aloud. “Did you get away?” Rufus thought about this for a few minutes. If Sammy had somehow escaped from Father, he would still need to make a sacrifice. He would return and, probably, take Sammy to the city tomorrow. That was too painful for Rufus to think about for very long. So, he tried to think of other scenarios. But, every course of events he came up with ended in the same way. There was one undeniable fact—Sammy was alive. And this fact led Rufus to the repeated conclusion that Father would take Sammy away again.
Rufus hugged Sammy tight hoping that, beyond reason, there was some way—some way he could keep Sammy.

When the lights came back on, Father stood facing the three crosses. He hadn’t moved. As the people who fled in panic receded into the city, Father, and those like him, stood in awed silence. The darkness had seemed to last forever—it was so dark and deep—and yet finished so suddenly it was hard to be sure it had been dark at all. Once the crazed crowd was out of earshot, Father could hear the slow agonized breathing of the crucified men. The long silences between forced breaths were punctuated with the occasional groan or whimper. The darkness made little difference to the men’s suffering.
Moments after the sun returned, everything seemed to go back to normal. It was as if no one wanted to consider what the darkness had meant or what had caused it. A group of soldiers stood guard near the crosses. One held up Jesus’ robe and said, “I’d like this one for myself.” The others argued and they cast lots to choose the lucky person.
Jesus inhaled a sharp gasp and whispered what seemed to be a prayer, “Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing.”
One of the crucified men snarled something under his breath, glaring at Jesus. The criminal on the other side of Jesus replied, “Do you even know who you are talking to?” He paused to take a ragged breath, “We deserve our punishment! But he has done nothing wrong.” Then, fixing his eyes on Jesus, he said, “Jesus, please remember me when you reach your kingdom.”
Father pondered this thought for a moment. This criminal must know something of Jesus’ teaching. He knows about the unearthly kingdom Jesus often spoke of.
Father’s thoughts were interrupted by the voice of Jesus, “My kingdom—yes, you will be there with me, my friend. I promise.”
There was such surety in Jesus’ tone. He meant it. Both Jesus and the criminal slumped forward again, staring at the ground. There was a sense of peace between them. Father could feel it.
A man stumbled to the foot of Jesus’ cross. He was crying. “Oh my Jesus,” He sobbed. “My sweet Jesus!”
Jesus spoke, “John, call my mother. She stands on the hill behind you.”
The man turned and gestured to a crowd of women. An older lady made her way toward them and stopped a few paces off. It seemed she could bring herself no closer.
Jesus said, “John, look after her as if she were your own mother.” The man nodded and sobbed his agreement. After another agonizing breath, Jesus lifted his eyes to the woman. “Mother, take John to be your son.” The woman, tears glistening on her cheeks, nodded and slowly walked back to the group she had come from.
Father was amazed. He is dying, he thought, and yet he is concerned for his mother and friend. This is no ordinary man.
Time seemed to drag into eternity as silence overtook the crowd and the three crosses. Breath after ragged breath accompanied the occasional whimper and more frequent outcry as muscle spasms and oxygen depletion competed against the will of each crucified man. Every breath was excruciatingly painful. And every breath was life and death.
Jesus’ head listed to one side and he moaned, “I am thirsty.”
A soldier dipped a sponge in a bucket of wine mixed with vinegar. Impaling the sponge on a spear the soldier hoisted it up to Jesus. As the scent of it registered in Jesus’ nostrils he jerked his head away. The soldier followed Jesus’ face with the sponge, pushing it against his mouth.
Jesus tilted his head back against the cross and stared into the sky. “It is finished,” he said with an almost triumphant tone. Then, in a agonizing shout, Jesus proclaimed, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands.”
His head rolled to the side and rested against his chest. The remaining air rushed from his lungs and his body slumped forward, hanging from the nails. Jesus was dead. A tear tracked its way down father’s dusty cheek.
Nearby, a roman soldiers said, to no one in particular, “Surely, this man was the Son of God!” Father couldn’t help but agree. Such a man should not die on a cross, Father thought to himself. Jesus was no criminal. He was what he said he was—God’s only Son. Father felt a sense of relief at that thought. And Father suddenly realised he could go home. It was over.
Father turned, walked to the road that led home, and began the return journey to his family. He thought as he walked and walked as he thought. He had so much to tell his loved ones. So much had changed. And yet, he didn’t know what was different now. Jesus was dead. How could he be God’s Son and dead? How could a dead Messiah lead people to his new kingdom? Was there any hope? What did it all mean?

The thinking made the homeward journey pass like a moment and soon Father was rounding the last corner and heading down his own driveway.
He noticed Rufus running toward him from the house. Father wasn’t really concentrating on Rufus. His eyes were studying the stones on the path. He couldn’t get his thoughts straight. How would he explain all he had seen today?
Rufus approached father and asked, “Father, didn’t you take Sammy to the city today?”
The question took Father by surprise. The situation in the temple seemed ancient history. So much had happened since then. But, the memories now flooded back into his mind. He had traded Sammy for two doves. Rufus would be heart broken. He wouldn’t tell Rufus the whole story, he had decided. The memory fresh in his mind now, Father answered Rufus. Keeping his eyes on the pebbly path Father said, “Yes Rufus. You know I took him.”
Rufus blustered, “Didn’t you make a sacrifice for our family? Are our sins forgiven?”
Father was confused. He glanced into Rufus’ eyes and then away. He was afraid Rufus would read the truth in his face. “Of course I made a sacrifice, Rufus. That’s why I made the long journey.”
“But Father,” Rufus interrupted, “how could you have? Sammy is here.”
Father noticed, now, that Rufus was holding a lamb in his arms. “Rufus, that’s not Sammy. It can’t be. I took Sammy to the temple. I sold him to the temple traders. I . . . I . . .” Father stumbled over his words.
“Father, this is Sammy,” Rufus said with certainty. “Did you make a sacrifice? Did you?” Rufus didn’t want Sammy to go back to the temple tomorrow. He wanted Father to say he had made a sacrifice, that Sammy was free to stay home—to stay alive.
“Yes, Rufus . . . I made a sacrifice. I,” Father attempted to continue.
Rufus interrupted again, “But Father, this is Sammy. Did you sacrifice a different animal?” Then an idea—a previously impossible idea—rushed into Rufus’ mind. “Father, did you find a better lamb?”
Father stopped walking, stunned. He fixed Rufus with a long hard stare. He looked down at Sammy and studied him for a long moment. He reached out and gently stroked Sammy’s perfect coat. Then Father smiled and looked into Rufus’ eyes as his own eyes filled with tears, “Yes, Rufus. Yes! I found a better lamb!”
Father wrapped his arms around Rufus and Sammy and the three of them stood there for a long time. A very wonderful long time.

Jimmy and the Black Dot

Jimmy was excited! He had been waiting for this day for a long time. Today was they day of the eclipse.

They had studied eclipses at school. Jimmy had learned it was called a solar eclipse when the moon gets between the sun and the earth. Today was going to be a very special solar eclipse because it was going to be a total eclipse—the sun would be completely blocked for a short time.

At school, they had learned how to look at the eclipse. You should never look directly at the sun. It can hurt your eyes! The way to look at an eclipse is to poke a hole in a piece of paper and hold it above another piece of paper—white paper. The sun will shine through the piece with the hole and onto the paper on the ground and the shadow will have a dot of light where you poked the hole. Jimmy had already poked holes in about 10 different kinds of paper. He wanted to find the best one. But, when he took them outside and tested them, he found they all worked perfectly.

His teacher assured the class that when the eclipse was happening the dot in the shadow would copy what was happening in the sky. As the moon blocked the sun, the dot would have a bit missing. When the eclipse was full the dot would be gone. You would also be able to tell the eclipse was full because it would be nearly dark in the middle of the day.

Jimmy had been talking about the eclipse for weeks. His dad had surprised him last night by saying, "Jimmy, how would you like to stay home from school tomorrow and I will watch the eclipse with you?" Jimmy had jumped up and down with excitement. Just Dad and Jimmy, watching the eclipse.

Now the time was here. The eclipse would be starting soon and Jimmy had been testing his pieces of paper all morning. His dad opened the front door and asked, "How's it going? Started yet?"

Jimmy said it should start soon. His dad came out and picked up one of Jimmy's papers. He tested it out. "Hey, this works really good!"

Jimmy and his dad didn't have to wait long. Soon they noticed a piece of the dot missing. Then the missing bit got bigger.

"It's working!" Jimmy laughed. "It's really working!"

As they waited and watched, the eclipse slowly progressed. Soon, half the dot was missing.
Then the phone rang in the house. Jimmy's dad said, "I have to get that, Jimmy. I'll only be a few minutes." Jimmy didn't mind, he was having too much fun watching the eclipse.

When the eclipse was full Jimmy was amazed. The dot was gone and it was almost dark. Jimmy could just make out the shapes of things around him. It was like dusk—After the sun has gone down but before it gets completely dark.

In the semi-darkness, Jimmy had an idea. He had seen pictures of eclipses. In the pictures of full eclipses there was a ring of glowing light around a black dot. Jimmy wondered if that was what the sun looked like right now. He knew he wasn't supposed to look at the sun. But he thought, one quick look wont do any harm. And Jimmy looked at the sun.

There it was—a glowing ring in the sky. Jimmy was amazed. He should have looked away, but he didn't. After a few moments, on one side of the ring, a shiny diamond started to appear. Then it got bigger. And bigger!

Jimmy was so transfixed, he forgot he was staring at the sun. He watched as the ring disappeared completely and a shiny round diamond took it's place. It wasn't until the eclipse was finished that Jimmy had a sudden panic. I'm staring at the sun! He jerked his eyes away from the sun and looked at the ground.

Have you ever stared at a bright light and then looked at something else? If you have, then you know what happened to Jimmy's vision. He had a dot in the middle of everything he saw. It was a black spot—opposite to the big bright sun—a residual image. Everywhere Jimmy looked, the big black dot was there, in his way.

Jimmy blinked his eyes over and over. He could not get rid of the dot. He started to get scared. If Dad sees me like this, he will know something is wrong, thought Jimmy. Dad will be able to tell I am not looking at him properly. Jimmy kept blinking his eyes rapidly, hoping it would make the dot go away. But it didn't!

He decided to go for a walk around the block. Maybe if I walk, Jimmy thought, and look at lots of different stuff and blink a lot, the spot will go away. He walked and blinked—blinked and walked. Around the first corner. Then the second. And the third. He was almost home and the black dot was still as strong as ever. Then, out of the corner of his eye, Jimmy saw Andrew.

Andrew was a homeless man who often slept on the park bench around the corner from Jimmy's house. Jimmy had brought Andrew food a few times. And on hot days, if Jimmy saw Andrew, he would bring him a bottle of water. Andrew was laying on the bench. He's probably asleep, thought Jimmy as he walked and blinked.

Then Jimmy had the strangest idea. I wonderif I put the black dot on Andrew . . . It would be like Andrew just disappeared. Like he didn't even exist. Jimmy liked the idea of making someone disappear! He stopped in front of the bench and looked straight at the sleeping Andrew.

In the black dot, the bench disappeared. Andrew was gone. Then something really weird happened. It was like a movie screen coming to life inside the black dot. The dot flickered, went bright white then black again except that Andrew was in the middle of the dot. The dot was as dark as ever, but Andrew was lit up like the sun was shining fully on him.

Andrew sat up in the black spot. He looked at Jimmy. And then he spoke. "I could really use a hug, Jimmy." Then the dot flickered, Andrew disappeared and it was just a big black spot again.

That was weird, Jimmy thought. Well, I guess I can give Andrew a hug. Jimmy leaned over Andrew on the bench—he was asleep again—and wrapped his arms around the man's shoulders.

Andrew woke with a fright. "I'll move! Don't hurt me!" Andrew shouted, "Don't take me to jail. I'll move officer!" Jimmy stumbled backward as Andrew lurched into a sitting position. "Oh, it's you, Jimmy! Why were you grabbing me?"

Jimmy said, "I thought you wanted a hug."

Andrew looked at Jimmy with a quiet stare. Then he said, "I suppose I did, Jimmy. I don't get many hugs. And I do like them!"

"I gotta go now," Jimmy said.

"Yup, ok." Andrew replied. "Come back any time you need another hug!"

"Thanks Andrew," Jimmy said. "I will."

When Jimmy go home he went into his room and closed the door. He hoped everyone would leave him alone until the dot went away. His dad yelled from the kitchen asking if Jimmy was hungry for lunch. He was, and his Dad let him eat in his room. He heard his sister and mother come home from school. They were talking about the eclipse and the great day at school. He heard his mum cooking in the kitchen. Then he heard his mum yell out, "Time for tea! Everybody to the table."

The spot was still as big and black as ever. Jimmy had been practicing walking around without bumping stuff. He was pretty good at using his peripheral vision—the edges of his view—where he could still see. He opened his door, walked down the hall, pulled out his chair and sat at the table.

During tea, Jimmy did his best not to look at anyone. It was hard to eat tea without being able to see it! He had to look at his plate out of the corner of his eye without looking strange. It was hard work and took a lot of concentration.

He had almost emptied his plate when his mum said, "Jimmy, would you like more mashed potatoes?"

"Yes please," he answered. Then as he saw her, out of the corner of his eye, scoop up some potato and reach toward his plate he looked up and said, "Thanks, Mum."

He didn't mean to do it! He just looked look up without thinking! He was a good kid and always said please and thank you. But looking up was a big mistake.

His mum was in the middle of the black spot. She had the spoon in her hand and the potatoes were in the air—frozen in mid flight! It was as if the dot stopped reality and only allowed whatever it wanted.
Jimmy's eyes were focused on his mothers face as she looked deeply into his eyes and said, "I love you so much, Jimmy. You will make mistakes in your life, but no mistake will ever be so great that I will stop loving you. I will always love you, no matter what! I need you to know that."

Then WHAM! The potatoes hit the plate. Jimmy looked back down and everything was normal again. Well, normal except for the big dot. What just happened, Jimmy wondered. Mum was so serious. I know she loves me but that was just weird. It was like I was hearing her deepest thoughts. Jimmy was confused and a little bit scared.

Jimmy cleaned off his plate, enjoyed his desert and then asked to be excused. He went to his room and went to bed early. I hope the spot is gone when I wake up in the morning! And with that thought in his mind, Jimmy fell asleep.

The next morning, when Jimmy woke up, before he opened his eyes, he said aloud, "Please be gone!" He hoped more than anything that his eyes would be back to normal. Surely a good night's sleep would fix the problem, he thought. No black dot, no black dot, he thought over and over. Then he opened his eyes.

The dot was still there, and as big and black as ever. Jimmy was upset, but got busy getting ready for school.

He made it through breakfast without looking at anyone. He brushed his teeth, packed his bag and headed to the bus stop.

When the bus arrived, Jimmy let everyone else get on first. As he entered the bus, he knew he needed to find a seat. He stared walking to the back of the bus—hoping there would be an empty seat next to the aisle. And there was!

He looked at the empty seat and then glanced up to see if anyone was in the seat next to it—by the window. His eyes met Sally's eyes.

He didn't mean to do it! It happened so quickly! Sally was in the black dot. Everything around her disappeared and Sally said, "Please sit next to me, Jimmy. And would you please talk to me?"

Jimmy plopped into the empty seat, breaking the black dots connection with Sally. They sat there in silence as the bus started rolling down the street. Then Jimmy remembered what Sally had asked. She never talked to anyone on the bus. People avoided Sally. Jimmy didn't know why, but he usually did to—just because everyone else did. But, today, she had asked him to talk to her.

"What are you doing?" Jimmy asked.

"Going to school. What are you doing?" Sally responded.

"Yeah, going to school," Jimmy said. "What do you have for lunch today?"

"A sandwich," she replied. "What about you?"

"Yeah, a sandwich," Jimmy said. "Actually two sandwiches. I always tell mum I only need one. But she makes me two because she says one day I will start growing and will want the second one."

That seemed to be enough talking for both of them. They sat in silence until the bus pulled into the school yard.

As Jimmy started to stand, Sally grabbed his arm. "Jimmy," she said, "thank you for sitting next to me. And thank you for talking to me!"

Jimmy paused, thought about it, and then said, "I thought you wanted me to sit and talk with you."

"Oh, I always want someone to sit next to me," Sally said. "And I always hope someone will talk to me." Sally's head fell forward and she stared into her lap. "But nobody ever does."

They were alone on the bus now. "Well, your welcome," Jimmy said and stood up.

Sally placed her hand on his arm again. "Jimmy," she said, "would you sit next to me on the way home today?"

"Sure." Jimmy made his way off the bus.

As he was walking down the path to the classrooms, Jimmy noticed someone on the swings. You weren't allowed on the swings before school—because there wasn't any supervision. But Frank was different. He came really early to school. And sometimes he stayed until late after school. He rarely did his homework and often didn't have a lunch. Things weren't too good at home for Frank. So, the teachers gave him a bit of leeway—turning a blind eye to his use of playground equipment.

Frank was swinging really high. Some kids could go so high that Jimmy wondered if they would go right over the top of the swing-set. Frank was going super-crazy high. Jimmy was so caught up wondering about how high Frank was swinging that he stopped walking and stared at Frank.

He didn't mean to do it! He forgot! He looked right at swing-set. Frank, in mid-backswing—at the highest point—froze in the black dot. He was hovering impossibly above the ground. In his frozen state, Frank turn his head and looked right at Jimmy. "I'm really hungry Jimmy. I haven't had any breakfast." Frank said, and then started to swing again.

Jimmy reached into his back and opened his lunch. He took out the extra sandwich and walked over to Frank, making sure not to look directly at him. "Hey Frank, I have an extra sandwich," Jimmy said. "Do you want it?"

Frank dug his heals into the dirt and brought the swing to a screeching halt. He looked long and hard at Jimmy. "Why?" Frank asked, "Why are you giving me your sandwich?"

"I thought you were hungry," Jimmy replied. "And my mum always gives me two."

"I am hungry," Frank said looking at his feet as they dangled from the swing. "But how did you know that?"

"It's hard to explain," Jimmy answered, "You just look like you haven't had breakfast."

"That's true," Frank said in surprise. "I haven't eaten since yesterday."

Jimmy reached his arm out, extending the sandwich toward Frank. Frank took the sandwich, thanked Jimmy and started to eat it ferociously.

Jimmy saw one of the teachers headed up the path, directly toward the playground. Even out of the corner of his eye Jimmy could tell it was Mr Rankie.

Jimmy rushed for the path, he didn't want to get in trouble. Mr Rankie was the cranky teacher. He was always grumpy and telling kids off for doing things. Nobody knew why he was never happy. He was so mean that he was alone. Nobody lived with him. No wife. No kids. He was too grumpy for family, that's what the other kids said.

Jimmy was on the path now. He tried to walk normally—like he had been on the path all along, like he wasn't just on the playground. He didn't want to get in trouble. He walked toward Mr Rankie. And Mr Rankie walked toward him. Oh, no! Jimmy thought, I'm going to get in so much trouble.

When he was about to pass Mr Rankie, he was so nervous he forgot about the black spot. He knew if he said something nice it would help. Jimmy looked up at Mr Rankie and smiled.

He didn't mean to do it! It was an accident! And now Mr Rankie was in the middle of the big black spot.

Jimmy stood frozen like a statue. Mr Rankie looked down at him. "I'm not really a mean teacher," Mr Rankie said, looking deeply into Jimmy's eyes. "I just need someone to love me."

Jimmy stood there—it seemed like forever—studying Mr Rankie's face. He doesn't know he just said that to me, Jimmy thought. Everyone seems surprised when I know what I have learned about them from the black spot. Maybe I should just go around Mr Rankie and go to class. But Jimmy had a weird feeling about what he had just heard Mr Rankie say. He may not know he needs someone to love him, but he does need it.

Jimmy sat his backpack on the ground. Then he stood as tall as he could, wrapped his arms around Mr Rankie and gave him the biggest hug a little boy can give. While still hugging Mr Rankie, Jimmy looked up at his face and said, "I love you, Mr Rankie!"

A big tear ran down Mr Rankie's cheek. He rested one of his hands on Jimmy's shoulder and tussled Jimmy's hair with the other one. "I love you too, Jimmy," Mr Rankie said. "Thank you for that hug."

"Your welcome, Mr Rankie," Jimmy said with a smile. Then he picked up his bag and ran to class.

As the day went on, the spot slowly faded from Jimmy's vision. By the time he got on the bus that afternoon, and sat next to Sally, the spot was completely gone.

After talking to Sally for awhile, Jimmy stared out the bus window and thought about the black spot and all that he had learned from it.

Then Jimmy made a decision, "I don't ever want to stop seeing people the way I saw them after looking at the sun."

Dave Edgren ~ Story: Teller, Author, Trainer ~

BOOK DAVE NOW! Dave Edgren is passionate about creating a values-based storytelling culture. In his engaging and often hilarious way,...