The Pantocrator—Part II
By Kolbe Lange
There, the crowd parted to form a large circle around a group of officers. One was beating a slender man, forcing him to his knees. Several others ransacked a diminutive stall nearby, throwing its merchandise onto the cobblestones.
Oddan gasped. “Father Meczennik,” he said softly. He watched as the priest’s handiwork, vast arrays of wooden toys, were dashed to pieces on the hard roadway. Small birds, lovely dolls, and grand boats were all heaped into a large pyramid.
“This insurgent thought he could defy the government! This is how dissenters are rewarded!” The chief police had stopped beating the man, and now addressed the mob surrounding him, “Disservice with pain! Disobedience with imprisonment! Long live our glorious republic!”
Oddan stared at the priest, who still knelt on the rough stone slabs. He caught the glimmer of a small metal crucifix that dangled from Father’s pocket by a strand of beads. Oddan’s eyes widened. If the officer spotted the sacramental …
He tried to catch Meczennik’s eye. However, the priest’s face, bruised and bloodied from the beating, was too swollen to focus. His lips appeared to be moving, tracing words into the air. He was praying.
The officer turned and noticed the gleaming metal of the crucifix. His eyes shone like a snake’s. Snatching the rosary from the man’s pocket, the officer dangled it before him. “We warned you. Oh, yes, we warned you. We gave you plenty of warnings.” The officer straightened, spat on the metal cross, and turned to address the crowd, “An Iconodule!” Loud whoops followed. One portly constable grabbed a tapestry from a nearby cubicle and dragged it over to the pile of wooden toys. Another snapped a beam from Meczennik’s booth, erecting it in the middle of the heap. The commander dragged Meczennik over to the pyramid. After kneeing the priest in the stomach, he tied him to the pole.
“Kerosene,” the commandant called. Someone handed him a flask of clear liquid. He opened the cap and drenched the tapestry. Then he dumped its dregs onto the priest.
“On my authority as chief, and acting in the authority of this wonderful government, I sentence this man to burn upon a stick, for the most heinous crime of harboring religious artifacts. Long live the government!”
The officer struck a match, and let it slip from his fingers. The tapestry immediately ignited. Oddan couldn’t move; his arms rested uselessly at his side like bricks. He glanced up into the firelight, searching for Meczennik’s noble face among the garlands of smoke. To his surprise, the bloodied, compassionate face of the priest held no fear. In contrast, his eyes were laced with laughter!
“May Christ forgive you all, just as I have forgiven you!” the priest called into the crowd. Then the twisting tongues enveloped him, and he was never seen again in this mortal world.
When the flames died down, Oddan approached the smoldering heap, and fell to his knees. The crowd had dissipated, and the few remaining bystanders ignored him, scavenging the priest’s stall for forgotten goods. Beating the stones with his fists, Oddan wept for his friend. Warm, wet liquid splashed in his face. His eyes shot open. Blood stained the cobbles where Father Meczennik had been beaten. The paintbrush, still locked in his grasp, was drenched with the sticky ooze. With a shout, he threw it away. It smashed against the wooden wall of the priest’s shop and broke with a clatter, leaving a large, red streak.
Standing up, he staggered through the market toward the station. He entered the train, hardly caring for his destination. With a lurch, the tram started down the dark tunnel. The face still floated on the periphery of his vision. Too tired to focus, Oddan let it drift around his consciousness. The king on a wooden board. Suddenly, his features sharpened. Oddan looked for the compassion, the clemency that he had always envisioned. Instead, a vengeful despot scowled into his soul, pointing to a large, crimson streak.
With a start, he woke up. The automated voice in the ceiling called his street. He staggered out of the tram onto the steps leading up to the roadway.
He let the door to his apartment slam behind him. Sinking down to his knees, he leaned against the wall of his studio. Through a dim fog of tears, the stern face stared out from the wood plank. Oddan stood up and turned the board around. Then he slipped into a dreamless slumber.
Dust coated the canvas cloth, which in its turn covered the wooden easel. A stray light beam played upon a stone wall, revealing a dull red stain. Downstairs, an old man slowly rocked a young child to sleep. Another painted on the floor by his feet.
“Look, Dziadek!” the youth said, holding up his canvas.
Oddan peered at the picture. “Sh, sh. Not so close, Odbicie. Old Dziadek’s eyes can’t see as well as they used to.”
Odbicie stepped back, “Matka said that you used to be a painter, Dziadek. And that you painted her the most beautiful birds and flowers. She said that once, you tried to paint the Chrystus. But then you stopped and got so sad. So I drew you my Chrystus.” The boy beamed up at him.
The painting slowly focused. The child’s rough sketch revealed an overcast city, and in its center stood a blazing inferno ringed on all sides by a jeering mob. A man sat in the middle of the flames, a look of perfect serenity on his face. A stray sunbeam poured out of the clouds, casting a golden wreath around his head. The light from the halo diffracted into the crowd encircling the flames, leaving none untouched.
“Is this your Chrystus?” Oddan asked, pointing a wrinkled finger to the figure in the flames.
“No Dziadek, look here.” Obdicie’s chubby hand pointed to a figure above the clouds. A small child. Not the vengeful dictator of his imagination, but a small child, pouring light and love out upon the world.
A tear trickled down Oddan’s cheek. He reached up to wipe it away.
The Pantocrator smiled upon him.
Kolbe Lange is 16 and completing 11th grade. Homeschooled for most of his life as a Navy dependent, he lives and studies on Camp Pendleton, CA, where he enjoys producing simple films, designing board games, scouting with FNE, and wearing his coveted hat. While still undecided about which college he will attend, he is considering programs for architecture, robotic engineering, and creative writing.
Each time we administer the CLT, the top forty students are invited to write a piece for the Journal. Well done, Mr. Lange! If you enjoyed this piece, you might also like some of our other posts from top CLT students. And be sure not to miss our podcast, Anchored.
Published on 13th April, 2022.