|THE CENTURION by Rob Bliss|
It was on one of my nightly Dumpster dives that I found my new god. I’m, of course, a chameleon, blending into the filth of this city, part of its concrete cancer so as not to be attacked by the viruses that walk passed me every day. You don’t notice the homeless, therefore we are powerful. We go everywhere and are the true inheritors of the city. Those who live under roofs constructed for them, who toil and draw sweat to their brows—are we not like them? What is the difference between you and me? Your wealth is a form of poverty and slavery; my poverty is a form of wealth and freedom. We are brothers, but you will submit to me. I own the god—you do not.
Every Dumpster is a treasure chest, and I am a Conquistador slaughtering the Mayans in the name of a new god. The treasure feeds me, gives me clothing, rewards my searching with tools and weapons. I cover myself in its reek to ward off predators. On buses and in subway cars, none will come near me—there is protection in being a pariah.
I live underground, in the tunnels of the subterranean trains, the darkness and the noise keeping the modern people of the surface at bay. They like to hate those different than themselves, and what they hate they hurt. I have been beaten for sleeping out in the open—but isn’t the entire world open? I am in the world more than they can ever be. Spat on, my pennies scattered, called every slander—they once tried to set me on fire. Where are the laws protecting me? Where is my day in court, judge and jury remaining impartial when I walk in, dragging my life behind me? There is no entity to side with me, except those like me. Perhaps. But one has to be truthful—even down here it’s dog eat dog, rat eat rat, and human eat human. And everyone’s an addict of something.
As above, so below.
I found a man’s severed head in a box. The box was lined with plastic and there was a postmark on it. The head had been mailed, its message delivered then disposed of. The death of the messenger was the message. It was art, on par with the best offered by the ancient Greeks and Romans. What should I do? How should ethics and morality compel me? “Do the right thing”? What an ugly phrase, invented by the self-righteous. What is right? In this metropolis, he who reports crime becomes the criminal. Someone got his head cut off—so what? Isn’t history just people trying to keep their heads attached for as long as possible?
I wrapped the head back in its plastic and folded the flaps of the box closed. Tucked like a football into the crook of my arm, I draped a wing of torn coat over it and shuffled through the streets, the head’s stink masked by my own. People parted like a holy sea, proving that I was a divinity.
The head began to tell me so as soon as I found it, liberated it.
“Thank you, my son. I shall reward you by making you my son. Take me home and deify me. Bring me sacrifices and I will bless you with an empire.”
It all made sense. My life had come to this point—I carried the reason for my birth—I was a new god slinking amongst the heathen masses, none of them recognizing me for who I really was. A Christ at a crosswalk, waiting for the light to change, the decapitated prophet who foretold my coming as he inhaled his plastic air. I glared back at the gazes of disgust that were the sentinels of my holy trek. I smiled black teeth at them and cried out, “Wait for me! I am coming soon to save you all—you are all filthy heathen scum! You need me, Whores of Babylon! Accept me as your god or I’ll burn your motherfucking souls!”
They listened, and were sore afraid.
In the tunnel, in my wood and plastic shack, I set the head up on a shelf. On the other side of the prophet’s head were pasted torn pages from an obscene magazine showing male and female, female and female, male and male fornication. So many Adams and Eves paying obeisance to their god. I set candle stubs into soda can bottoms and let the firelight flicker on the mashed and bruised deformity that was my divinity.
I kissed his mouth and tasted a godly rot.
“Thank you, my son,” the Head said, a cracked-open eyelid gazing down at me on my knees. “Every god is trapped like a djinn in an ornate bottle. He who frees us becomes gods of earth. Go forth and find converts. If they do not submit to belief, kill them and bring their heads to me. All ghosts follow a god or two.”
“Yes, yes,” I muttered through a salivating smile, candle flames like stars to guide my path. “But what, O Lord, if they resist and I cannot overcome them? If they lock me in their cages, as they have done before, refusing to accept my divine purpose?”
“You are saved, always. In prison you are free. Amongst the heathen, you retain belief. I am always with you. The more converts we have, the greater our army. We will enact our holy war until all submit, and the only laws are those I make. Our empire will not falter. Believe in me, my son, and I will kill every enemy you ever acquire. Now go.”
With tears bleeding candlelight, I rose to my feet, kissed again the lips of the living corpse of god, and clutched my box cutter. A tool that can become a weapon, carried by every man and woman of the streets. When it could not slice through the heads of the drunk and sleeping and weak and crippled, my teeth could grind gristle, my fists snap bone. I will have my heads. First the easy targets, then the greater … as with all religions.
“Do you submit?” I will ask. And any who deny will die.
As with any new religions, many must die before the few can be chosen. And as with any aging religion, the sacrifices must be found every year so that the god will be appeased. Thus are all gods forged in war.
You may ask: can a piece of scum like myself build an empire so powerful that I will become the very god of this entire city?
Your answer will come from a carpenter, a farmer, a shepherd, a beggarman and a thief. All religions, all empires are started by the lowly, the hated, the refuse of civilized humanity.
I will wash and dress in my finest stolen clothing and make a meeting with the democratic mayor.
His head will be on my shelf by the weekend, and it too will tell me how pleased it is with me for liberating it from the useless meat it called a body.
Only the spirit is permanent, therefore death is how men are resurrected as gods. I am the Centurion who nails the god’s body to the cross. No need to thank me. I know I’m holy.
You would do well to kiss my sword.