Week 8: Abracadabra: Bang! (Or the story of how the world ends)

When he woke up that morning, George Harrison had forgotten he was close to bringing about the end of the world. He was slumped awkwardly on the Victorian armchair in the corner of the room, staring intently at the longcase clock. The room was filled with the stale, thick smoke of cigars, ectoplasmic in its fluidity and shape. The long, mournful drapes were drawn and only the gentle flicker emanating from the candelabrum over the desk abated the overwhelming darkness. He closed his eyes as the clock began chiming, gently nodding along with each ringing of the bell. He tried to picture the pendulum swinging inside the airtight long tower. Like the clock, the room seemed to possess a hermetic quality, he thought, and the idea made him smile.

He rose to his feet in time with the last chime, his long, ruffled hair falling over his unshaven face. He walked toward the desk, which stood proudly as the centre piece of the rather ornate room, and taking a deep breath, he placed his hand on the broken humidor. As he did so, the same question that visited him every day crossed his mind. ‘I wish I could remember,’ he whispered as his mind questioned when the box had last worked properly.

Waving the thought from his mind, he opened the humidor and smiled. The order of the symmetrical rows of index cards pleased him. He was a man used to looking for patterns and as he ran his fingertips over the thousands of filed cards, a shiver ran down his spine.

Suddenly stopping, he picked up a random card. He looked down at the piece of paper, the neat hand writing warming his heart with familiarity.

‘VIOLET CONSTANT JESSOP. Indexed on 7th March 2005’ the card read.

Like every day, he tried to remember when he wrote this particular entry. He tried picturing that evening in March when he sat at his desk, his fountain pen full of ink, the blank card in front of him. ‘No use,’ he whispered as he questioned himself whether it had been a cold day.

He moved his head from side to side and shook his arms as he walked over to the mirror. As he caught a glimpse of himself, he was reminded of a distance runner awaiting the starting pistol shot. However, as his step brought him up against his own reflection, he was shocked to see his ashen looks. His eyes were tired and the dark bags under his eyes were turning a deeper hue of purple. ‘You need to draw your drapes now and then, old chap,’ he joked with himself as he forced a smile. The smile, however, only compounded his astonishment at his own appearance, the creases on his face seemed alien to him in their maturity and aridity.

‘Right, George,’ he went on, ‘who was Violet?’ He closed his eyes as he looked in his mind for the answer. He had the misfortune of learning from a very early age that his memory would start eroding even as a young man and he had religiously followed the same rites every day. Transcribing information onto the index card in the evening, testing himself at noon every day on a random card.

‘Your job is too important for you to forget yourself before you’re done,’ she had once told him. The fear of letting her down drove him.

‘Violet Constant Jessop,’ he spoke softly, and then, a smile suddenly curled on his lips. ‘Violet Constant Jessop survived the sinking of the Titanic, only to be involved in the sinking of the ship’s sister vessel, the Britannic.’ He exhaled heavily, the relief smoothing the creases on his face. Still smiling at himself in the mirror, he added, ‘she had a thing for clean teeth.’

He turned the card over and nodded, confirming he was right.

‘I just wished I remembered if it was a cold march evening.’

_____

He wasn’t surprised when they approached him with the manuscript. His friends in academia had been gossiping about the secret finding by the University of Chicago that would appear to challenge the Dead Sea scrolls finding. If it was true, George had reasoned, they only had a handful of experts to approach for translation, of which he was certain he led the field. George wasn’t an arrogant academic by any stretch of the imagination, but he did pride himself in being one of the best. He had worked hard and tirelessly to be in his position, and when he was approached by a consortium of American and European government officials with the document, he accepted the challenge without needing any explanations. It was a validation of sorts.

He was surprised when he received the first death threat, however. He had been sworn to secrecy under pain of incarceration, so he was shocked when the Church of Last Day Christians first wrote to him. Like Einstein, George had always considered the Bible as a collection of childish legends and his interest arose rather from his love for the poetry and rhythm of ancient languages, ‘abracadabra’ beautiful to him not for its magic but only for its rhythmic Aramaic.

The Church of Last Day Christians had originally pleaded with him to stop all work on the manuscript. The thought hadn’t crossed his mind, however. Like the government’s consortium, George had been captivated by the document, with its old religious incantations accompanied by the detailed drawings of complex and unknown machinery.

‘The name of our Lord shall never see the light of day again. Your death is by your own hands.’ George smiled as he recited the death threat in his head again. He enjoyed doing this at least once a day, now that he was a man with personal rites. He could not remember how many more threats he had received throughout the last two years after that first one though, but that note in particular had been imprinted in his mind.

As he reached his working desk, he looked at the number of pages with scribbles, some crossed out, some highlighted. He took a deep breath and a tinge of excitement ran through his body. He knew he was very close to deciphering the manuscript in its entirety. His academic inquisitiveness coupled with a personal desire to reach the end. Each section of the manuscript, once translated, only seemed to have worked as a key to the following section. Every answer he obtained, simply raising questions that he knew he would only answer after he translated the next block of text. And now, he stood on the edge of the ending. ‘It’s your destiny, George. It’s what you were born to do.’ Her words kept coming to him, and although usually remembering her made him happy, this time he felt uneasy. The concept of destiny always made him feel uneasy.

‘Right,’ he said to himself, ‘let’s finish this once and for all.’

_____

He was distracted, working on the last paragraph of the text. He recited the old language softly to himself as he worked hard to convert it into Latin, a painstaking task that had taken him over three years since he first got the manuscript. He worked with the conscientious care of a scribe, and he wondered that he would have looked to an observer just like one of them too. It pleased him. The thought shot out of his mind quickly, however, as he realised what his last translated sentence presented to him. ‘Hoc evangelio Domini nostril lesu Christi,’ he whispered to himself incredulously. He had realised from early on that the manuscript was written from the point of view of Jesus of Nazareth but it was only until now that he had such an emblematic sentence. ‘The gospel of Jesus Christ,’ he said to himself again.

Just as he finished his sentence, he became aware of the noise in the next room. He had lived alone ever since she died, and the feeling that someone else might be in his house made him feel nauseous. He looked around his desk for something to defend himself with and his eyes fell on the old humidor. He picked it up and brought it up to the level of his head, ready to be thrown. He tiptoed to the door, which stood ajar and still, and he spotted the two men looking around the room, holding revolvers.

‘Shit,’ he shouted, attracting the intruders’ attention, and he dropped the humidor on the floor as he threw himself upon the door and locked it.

‘Dr. Harrison,’ shouted one of the men. ‘We just want a word.’

George didn’t respond. He turned around and realised that he was trapped in his own office. The sight of his once ordered index cards, now lying scattered across the floor, made him wince. There was a knock on the door.

‘Who are you?’

‘We just want a word, Dr. Harrison.’

‘I’m calling the police as we speak,’ he bluffed. He kept the telephone at the other side of the house, to avoid being distracted whilst he worked.

‘I’m afraid we dealt with your phone line before we came in, Dr. Harrison.’

He felt as if he had been suddenly punched in the stomach. He looked around the room desperately. ‘What do you want?’

‘As we said, we just want a word.’

_____

‘We don’t expect you to understand this completely, Dr. Harrison,’ said the man from the other side of the room. ‘But we need you to stop now.’

George, who was standing with his back against the door, suddenly felt the urge to grab all his notes. He clutched them like a mother would her unborn child. He thought of her again. ‘Why would I do that?’

‘We understand that you had to translate the book, scientific curiosity is not necessarily against our beliefs, but we never actually thought that you would get the job done.’ The man stopped, and then added as an afterthought, ‘especially so soon.’

‘Apart from that powerful vow of confidence, I still don’t hear a reason why I need to stop.’

‘Let me put it this way, we believe that the document you hold in your hands contains an unspeakable amount of power, and we, as the servers of God, need to ensure that this power is not unleashed by anyone.’

George shook his head. ‘It’s just words, my good friend. Beautiful as the may be, they’re just words.’

‘In principio erat Verbum et Verbum erat apud Deum et Deus erat Verbum,’ the words were almost sung by the intruder as he spoke with an accented Latin George couldn’t place. ‘I imagine the Latin won’t be a problem for you? And the name is Michael.’

He recognised the bible verse. ‘You’re trying to convince me to stop translating a gospel by quoting from another?’

‘Do you understand the significance of these words?’ Michael went on, uninterested in his words.

‘I must admit my Christian mythology is not up to scratch,’ George added, suddenly finding pleasure in the knowledge he was angering his intruder. ‘Are you trying to tell me that your god is trapped in some little word in this book?’

There was no response. He brought his ear to the door and tried to listen. He could hear Michael talking to the other intruder, who, up to that moment, had remained silent. ‘We don’t have time for this,’ the man shouted at Michael.

George looked around the room for a place to hide his notes.

‘Dr. Harrison, I’m afraid we need you to come out now,’ shouted Michael, suddenly sounding very angry.

‘You didn’t answer my question.’

‘Of course Our Lord isn’t trapped in that book. I told you you wouldn’t understand.’ The irritation in the voice was palpable.

George looked at his notes and sat on the floor, pushing away the index cards scattered underneath him. He started working on the last two lines he needed to finish the manuscript.

‘In the beginning, God created the world with just a word, Dr. Harrison. His words created the heavens and the earth, and the stars, and everything around us. His words are powerful, none other more than his name.’

‘Ok?’ He continued hurriedly working on the text.

‘In that book, Dr. Harrison, therein lies the real name of Our Lord. It should never see the light of day again, its mere mention will bring about the end of our world.’

‘Yes, yes, I remember the death threats.’

‘Threats?’

‘The name of our Lord shall never see the light of day again. Your death is by your own hands,’ he said just as he reached the end of the text. He scanned back his work to make sure he had actually completed the translation.

‘You don’t understand, Dr. Harrison. It will not only be your death by your own hand, but all our deaths.’

As Michael spoke, George thought of his late mother one last time and read back to himself the words he had just translated.

‘Enough of this,’ shouted the man who had continued to be quiet as he proceeded to kick the door in.

George looked up, the echo of the last sentence he was reading reminding him of the entry he was planning to enter into his humidor index that evening. ‘Oppenheimer’s Bhagavad Gita,’ he thought.

‘Stop!’ shouted Michael as he spotted him on the floor, reading the lines out loud.

And it was with a smile that George Harrison learnt the real name of the Christian god on a day when he had forgotten he was bringing about the end of the world, and the last word that went through his head was ‘abracadabra.’

‘Stop,’ whimpered Michael again.

Bang!

THE END

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