Pretty certain it’s gonna happen….
Crouched upon the hill near its crest, but not quite, lest his silhouette betray him, he pondered upon his naked toes and the earth beneath and wondered how many men’s bones the worms had worked through the centuries there. In this place, he reasoned with an astute accuracy that belied his otherwise troubled mind, the infinite host of history, no doubt.
At turns he rose and looked about and crouched again, surveying the land like a hunter who had all but given up on his game. A man for years long on patience but now twitching and restless, almost nervous with the worry as to whether his quarry had not gone extinct. And he, the hunter, next. He rose again and stood full at last and took a long deep draught of the land and sky.
Turning his face to the latter his countenance was revealed in full. A black socket where one eye should have resided. Blind, but still a means of sense, he turned that hollow into the wind. A whistle rose and he was the instrument. Something of a smile came to him. Something, but not quite.
As a child, when he was once loved, he was given a name he had now forgotten. As a slave, when his fellow man had done their best to either fell him or fill him with hate, his keepers had called him Palpitus. In the Colosseum of Rome, where the snakes of love and hate forever mated in a sickening twist, the crowds had chanted in gleeful worship, “Little Death…Little Death…Little Death.” The chant had thundered upon his ears so many times. So many times it was the last thing his foes had known of this world.
But that was another life long lost again. Now his name was something else. He struggled once more of many times as he looked down upon the distant city to recall just who…just what it was that he might be. As he did so, the man near his foot moaned yet with life. Palpitus casually shifted, turning only slightly to silence him with a long, slim shank of ivory.
Rest now, you one of many before you. You one of oh so many yet to come.
A whispering voice, perhaps on the wind or maybe from the Gods, answered Palpitus, or even dared to judge him. But he satisfied himself that he had not sought their wisdom, and so he dismissed it.
Far below, at the foot of the hill, a shepherd girl ran. She tripped and seemed to fight at imaginary obstacles. Palpitus twisted his expression as he watched her go. At his feet the now blood-gurgling man who had been raping the girl just scant minutes before, he pawed ineffectually at the Little Death’s leg with fingers as weak and needing as a newborn seeking its mother’s teat. Palpitus gave no notice. His eye stayed fixed upon the girl. His mind even more distant.
The sun was rising behind the hill she had fled—and those men there—and so she shielded her eyes in looking back.
True, she would be thankful later that the heinous ordeal had been interrupted—and she spared of her life—but in this moment an offering of thanks was not her intent. In fact, for many years later—indeed, all of her life—she would be haunted by the murder of her assailant. The peeling away of his throat even as he smiled above her. So gruesome a morning when her world was innocent. An awakening.
But here and now, in the raw moment of her trauma and salvation, Palpitus mistook the gesture of her hand shielding the sun for one of appreciation directed towards him. He bowed a humble nod and raised an outstretched palm in return.
The girl turned then and continued on, stumbling as much as running as she fought her way home.
The Little Death, his purpose validated, stood full and made for Rome. There was so much to do. So much to set right. He had been gone for too long.