As the old man was walking along the railroad track one evening he heard noises coming from a stand of trees. Approaching the area he found a group of men around a large tree felled by storm. The tree had fallen across a well-worn path into the woods. Women and children were watching the men chop through the heavy trunk of the tree.
The old man joined them and when it came his turn with the ax he flailed away mightily but could not hit in the same place twice. He only dented the trunk; no chips flew. He kept thinking he would improve, but he did not. As his aim improved his arms began to tire; he made little progress.
Next in line behind him was a large Negro who took the ax and dislodged thick chips where the old man only scored the trunk. When his turn came once again, he took up the ax but only to occupy time while the other men rested. The sun had gone down when the job was finally finished. The women and children had gone home to prepare supper.
The men gathered up their hats, coats and tools and silently walked away towards the houses. Each half of the tree had been rolled aside, clearing the path into the woods. The old man sat exhausted on one end of the tree for the next hour. He did not know exactly where he was or which way to go. When he arose he was dizzy and lightheaded. He slowly got up and walked down the trail towards the lake.
Suddenly, brilliant memories flashed through his mind one after the other. They were bright, vivid memories of events…events that had happened to him in his childhood years ago. They were all racing through his mind in rapid succession. They were not connected events, but distinct, absolutely clear, vivid memories; pictures of past events that had taken place years ago. There might have been a dozen memories, all distinct and all different. Perhaps this spell lasted only 10 or 15 seconds. When the memories passed his mind was clear, but he could not remember a single one! He knew he had experienced these events and that they were true to his life, but he could not recall a single picture. He decided he had experienced a replay of pictures of past experiences of his life. Due to the physical exertion, something in his mind had short-circuited and these ancient memories were retrieved and flashed serially through his mind. They then completely departed; they were now totally gone. The old man did not know where he was–either in time or space.
He walked slowly down the path toward the lake, sat down on a rock and watched the stars come out. He might have dozed. When he opened his eyes, it was springtime, and he was sitting in tall grass with flowers, bees, birds and greening trees. Children were playing. He dozed. When he awoke again it was winter. Snow was knee-deep; trees were bare, icicles hanging from stark black branches. The sky was gray and featureless. It was quiet, everything was motionless. When he looked down from the sky he saw a lonely, snow-covered Prophet solemnly sitting opposite him on the log.
The old man nodded to him and asked, “Where are we?
“I don’t know.”
“How long have we been here?”
“I don’t know.”
“Why are we here?”
“We must be somewhere; so we are here. Perhaps we’ve been here forever. My dog has been here always.”
“What is it all about?”
“I don’t know. Why do you ask?”
“I am trying to find the secret of life. I thought you might know.”
“I know nothing. I am seeking just like you. Sometimes I think I have found the answer, but then it slips away, like a goldfish, from my hand. It is gone and my hand is empty.” The prophet arose, brushed the snow from his shoulders, and then sat down again.
“When did it all begin?”
“It began when fishes crawled up from the sea onto the sandy shore, and developed legs. They stood up and walked into the forest. They lived in the trees and were afraid. One day they came down, walked on the ground. Some planted corn; some lived in caves and under hedges. They were all afraid–afraid of lightning, winds, storms and fire.”
“How did they overcome their fear?”
“Wise men amongst them invented God’s who were the creatures made from the Bones of their Fears and the Flesh of their Ignorance. These gods could be called upon to protect them from their fears.”
“That doesn’t make any sense!”
“No, it does not.”
“What happened to these gods?”
“They were explained away. They were never really there.”
“What took their place?”
“Other gods…gods that have not yet been explained away.
“What good are they?”
“They are not good for anything, but are essential to man’s peace of mind because of his fears. Man loves to listen to stories…stories of gods, gods greater than himself. Gods who can answer all of his questions.”
“Are there such a gods?”
“Have these gods ever answered any questions”
“No! Man has answered some of his own questions but not many.”
“How many of these gods are there?”
“Many. The first one who did not arise from natural events such as lightning, thunder and fire was a tribal God. This God had a chosen group of people. His name was Jehovah. He told them to kill other tribes and take their land. He was a harsh, vengeful God. He saved Noah and the animals on the ark, but drowned everyone else on earth. He is still up there for his people. They are the Jews.
“From these stories a later God was developed by Prophet Jesus. He said he had a father named God in heaven, with a spirit god in between called the Holy Ghost. This group was like an egg with two yolks. God was one, Jesus was the other and the Holy Ghost was the transparent part of the egg.
“Sometime later another God named Allah was invented. He recognized the other gods but said he was superior to them. The gods are not all bad, but there are books written about them which are thought to be sacred. They inspire men to fight amongst themselves to prove whose god is the greatest.”
“Perhaps there should just be one god and not any books!” The Prophet’s dog got up and walked through the snow down towards the lake. The Prophet slowly got up, brushed the snow off his shoulders, and followed the dog.
The old man rolled over on his back, looked up at the sky and went to sleep.