June 09, 2006

The Psychevella Begins

Today begins a new novella.

The rules are simple, each participant is to write a one thousand word chapter (including the title) to carry the story along.

In this instance, frequent commentor and novella newcomer Bob knew he was going to be traveling throughout June and requested the first chapter. The only instructions he was given was to adhere to the thousand word guideline.

The remainder of the lineup includes:

June 16 - Chapter Two: Me

June 23 - Chapter Three: Leslie

June 30 - Chapter Four: Amelie

July 7 - Chapter Five: CalTechGirl

July 14 - Chapter Six: El Capitan

I think we are all in for an excellent adventure full of twists and psychic surprises.

Hang on to your monitors, here we go.

Chapter One by Bob:

Bitter Herbs

"Why is this night different from all other nights?" Of course, Papa replied with the words handed down through the ages. But I knew with terrifying certainty that the full answer was actually something far worse than Papa (or, for that matter, even the High Priest) could imagine. Even as a mere 13-year-old boy from Pergamum on his first Pesach pilgrimage, I could sense that something was seriously wrong about this Passover. Yes, everything had been done according to Law and tradition – from the selection of our lamb four days prior, to purging leaven from the house – but it was wrong. Jerusalem was brooding, and the holiday celebration only highlighted the fear on every face.

Just months ago the Zealots had been assuring everyone that Vespasian's withdrawal was only their first victory in the campaign to end Roman domination of Judaea. Oddly, they now seemed pleased with the return of an even larger Roman army, led by the new Emperor's son Titus. The Zealots now boasted: "Hashem will save us from Rome just as He delivered us from Egypt."

But as we huddled around our Passover table, all the Zealots' trumpeting was silenced. Instead, from the north we heard the vulgar laughter of Roman soldiers, mocking our solemn prayers of thanks. From the east we felt the throbbing drums of the Tenth Roman Legion on the march, muttering their backbeat to Papa's recount of the Exodus. From the west came the roast pork stench of campfires, tainting the smell of our Passover lamb. On this dread-filled night every soul within Jerusalem had but one thought: Would the angel of death pass over us once more?

But while everyone else had misgivings, I had no doubt about Jerusalem's fate. True, as a mere boy I knew nothing of geopolitics. Yet, as that same old Lenny Markowitz I've always been (schlumpy, thin-haired, four-eyed, middle-aged accountant who commutes daily from his home in Queens to his office in Manhattan), I knew it all. I'm a bookkeeper, not a historian – but every child who's ever seen the shank bone on a Seder plate knows the outcome of this siege.

So when I asked Papa, "Why on this night do we eat unleavened bread only?" I already knew that eating unleavened bread on this night was different because after this night we would eat stray dogs, rats, mice, bugs, leather, and (if Josephus be believed) babies. I knew (with horrifying certainty) that the blood shed on the Day of Atonement this year, would be that of priests, not bulls. This I knew, but this Papa also intuitively understood. So at the end of the meal, Papa (though very strict about tradition) abruptly stood, removed his kippah and announced, "We dare not pass the night within the walls of the city."

Mama protested, "Surely you joke. You've hardly finished telling the story of the death angel and now you want to dash into the streets to greet him?"

But Papa stood firm, "So stay then, but I will not wait for the Romans to kick down the door."

I rose to my feet, "Papa, I'm with you!" Momma wept. But even if she'd had the courage to join us, I don't think her brothers would have let her go.

The week before, when we arrived in Jerusalem, we'd seen soldiers encamped to the north and west. So Papa and I ran to the east. From atop the city's wall, north of the Temple, we could see torches across the Kidron Valley, moving southward. Papa said we'd wait until after midnight when the full moon had passed zenith and the eastern wall would be in shadow. He'd lower me down by rope and climb down after me. We'd dash for the grove below the Mount of Olives and then creep southward, down the Kidron to the Valley of Hinnom. If by dawn we weren't clear of the city, we'd bury ourselves in the city dung heap until after dark tomorrow.

It was a good plan; it might have even worked. But when the clouds moved in, Papa suddenly said, "Now's the time." And securing the rope, he all but pushed me off the ledge. I was halfway down the wall when the clouds parted and the moon silhouetted me against the limestone blocks. A Roman archer pierced my pounding heart. Once again, the angel of death had claimed the first-born.

And that's how it is every night. No, I'm not always escaping Jerusalem, but I am always another Jew, dying a horrific death. I've entertained blood-thirsty crowds at the Roman Coliseum. I've studied Torquemada's greasy face; cleaned furnaces at Auschwitz; battled on the streets of Warsaw.

I know what you're thinking: These nightmares are manifestations of repressed feelings about your Jewish upbringing . Wrong! My family wasn't very "Jewish" – for Yom Kippur we "fasted" on bacon cheeseburgers. (Okay, so Miss "Shiksa Psychiatrist" doesn't get the joke. Trust me, religious I'm not.) But that's beside the point.

Doc, the grim reaper's nightly visitations may be nightmarish, but they aren't nightmares. When I fall asleep, I actually become another doomed Jew. And when I (as that tormented person) exhale my last breath, I don't awaken – I'm simply awake, back in my bed. But far worse: I remember – not just the horrible events that transpired during the night – but I remember that person's entire life. I've shed his tears, voiced his laughter. I've felt his fear, his joy, his hunger, his rapture, his torment. I've been kissed on the head by his – no, by my momma; I've kissed my children goodnight; and I've kissed my wife wherever she pleased. I've heard every erotic moan, every lullaby, every whimper, every death rattle – yes, every death rattle of mine.

Just one nagging question. For you? No, for God I suppose. Just this, "Why me?" Why have I (of all people) been chosen to bear every sin ever committed against the Jewish people? Jesus Christ! How much suffering can one man endure?

Posted by Christina at June 9, 2006 12:00 AM


Very well written bob.

I can't wait to see your chapter Chrissy ;)

Posted by: silk at June 9, 2006 03:25 AM

Damn, that was unexpected and I can't wait to see how this one develops!

Could be really, really interesing. I'm intrigued now..

Posted by: Nugget at June 9, 2006 03:30 AM

oo, i can't wait to see how you follow up a lead like this! ; ) so many possible directions -- bob certainly made it intriguing

[also, why won't commenting remember my personal info? does it just hate me?]

Posted by: amelie at June 9, 2006 05:30 AM

Very interesting . . . I hate waiting a whole week for the next installment.

Posted by: oddybobo at June 9, 2006 07:43 AM

I'm doomed... (In my best Eeyore voice)

This one's gonna be a noodle-twister to wrap up!

Posted by: El Capitan at June 9, 2006 09:40 AM

Still doing blog-novellas, huh? One of these days you'll have to publish them, if you can ever track down all the authors to get permission.

Posted by: Jack at June 11, 2006 04:36 PM

By the way, the link to my chapter in the first blog novella is broken (it must have gotten messed up with my upgrade to WordPress). The new link is:


Posted by: Jack at June 11, 2006 04:41 PM

Just returned from my own nightmare. What a fantastic set-up and the possibilities are endless! Fun prose, alliterations and irony with just a hint of Yiddish - yet I was sure the accent was from Jersey rather than Queens...

Posted by: epador at June 16, 2006 08:34 AM

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