Alfred continued his study of gods and heroes, when he had time on his hands—which was often. The great heroes had always been called, often refused, before setting out on their quests and achieving immortality. Jesus was, like the great Hindu hero Ram, god made human, one of the less interesting of mythic figures, since he was born with pure goodness and never had to face the brutal psychological struggle of so many heroes. The anger of Achilles, the terror of Gilgamesh at his own mortality, Medea’s savage jealousy. Jesus was only interesting when he was hung on the cross, in excruciating pain, unable or unwilling to foster his divine powers to simply smite the Romans, only uttering, “Lord, why hast thou forsaken me”!
Alfred knew he could never bear that much suffering. What if fascism came to the U.S. and he was imprisoned and tortured? His martyrdom would likely mean nothing, and in any case he wouldn’t be around to see the results.
He was willing to put his time and energy into a remarkable cause, maybe even willing to die for it, but not to undergo torture. But his cause was going nowhere. Clearly, Rhea and Eva were right. He could change nothing. He needed a new hobby. And now he did have one, albeit a desperate hobby; still, he would follow it to the end, as books poured onto his Kindle app. When his eyes or mind grew tired, he streamed videos, at times convincing Eva to watch, more often alone. There were many marvelous stories still to explore—the Koran, the Mahabharata, folk tales from Africa and the Americas. The seemingly massive book of myths had, he realized, been only slightly better than Wikipedia. Now he was going straight to the sources (in English translation, of course), breathing in their wisdom.
Perhaps this period of his life was only the spiritual and moral preparation for future achievement. If so, he had better stop drinking. More likely, though, the knowledge and flavor of these tales was only flowing through him like water through lakes, rivers, streams, seas, oceans, evaporating and returning as rain. He was merely one of the smaller, more stagnant ponds—the knowledge would sit within him for a few years until he died. In the unlikely event that there was still a world of humans, it would pass on to a new generation of readers, as it always had.
Would Alfred attain personal Nirvana? Probably not. Would he change history? Certainly not. The only leadership secret he’d learned from all these myths and biblical tales was that it’s best to be born a god or hero. Or perhaps that, when one is called, when opportunity arises, one must take it. But he’d never been called.
One night, after nuking a frozen pepperoni and sausage pizza and cramming it down his throat at midnight, Alfred had a strange dream. He stood high on a mountain, surrounded by children. Were they his somehow come into existence? Below him a crowd gathered. In a flowing robe, bearing a simple staff, he was preaching a sermon of peace and love, of harmony with people, with animals, with all nature. And the crowd roared, the people loved him.
Dark storm clouds gathered. Thunder murmured. Alfred bore two stone tablets containing all the answers, but twin bolts of white light—as if from the hand of Zeus himself—struck them. The tablets turned liquid in Alfred’s hands, melted, dripped into the alien landscape, transformed into globules of radioactive rain pouring on the heads of the gathered crowd. Alfred’s children melted into nothingness and the crowd panicked, stampeded away. Then the nuclear rain ceased, and the crowd slowly regathered. Alfred began to speak, but they hissed and booed, shouted, surrounded him, moving inexorably forward. In the distance, Roman soldiers appeared bearing a cross too mammoth to hold any human being. Alfred turned and fled, unable to bear the enormous burden.
Ethan Goffman’s first volume of poetry, Words for Things Left Unsaid, was published by Kelsay Books in March of 2020. His poems and flash fiction have appeared in Alien Buddha, Ariel Chart, BlazeVox, Bradlaugh’s Finger, Burgeon, EarthTalk, The Loch Raven Review,Mad Swirl, Madness Muse,Ramingo’s Blog,The Raw Art Review,Setu, Verse Virtual and elsewhere. Ethan is co-founder of It Takes a Community, a Montgomery College initiative bringing poetry to students and local residents. He is also founder and producer of the Poetry & Planet podcast on EarthTalk.org.