When last we left Peter the Vegan, he appeared in the Grand and Holy Court of Truth, Justice, and Right, a man condemned of misguided sympathies and a damning history of nonconformity. And where he now stand pelted by a barrage of eggs, rotten cabbage, old shoes, and tomatoes, and an onslaught of vile virulent verbiage.
As the two massive doors of the Grand and Holy Court’s entrance creak slowly open, a hush descend the congregation. Within there stood the executioner; tall, straight, and smartly dressed in his patent leather marching boots, stiffly starched uniform, ornamented by his glossy black cudgel, flanked by two dimwitted goons. They remained in the doorway for effect, emitting intimidation. Then, as one, they marched lockstep into the courtroom, greeted by an outpouring of cheers and jubilation. A standing ovation from those having executed and witnessed truth, justice, and right carried beyond the fullest extent of the law: the Honorable Honor – commissioned by God, the jury of three well aged and grotesquely wrinkled government officials, and the spectacle of bloodthirsty spectators.
Although Peter the Vegan offered no resistance to these purveyors of the law – for what use of that – he was nonetheless bludgeoned into unconsciousness, thus drawing a heap of deafening hoorays from the rowdy gathering. The Honorable Honor nodded his approval as the age-spotted government officials cast a smirk of satisfaction amongst themselves, standing bent and twisted with age, clasping one another’s scrawny, pale hand, congratulating the other on their outstanding performance this day. They served their God and country well and were well proud of it. They would sleep soundly tonight, rewarded with the finest bourbon made available only to the most politically corrupt, in this the seat of many dry counties.
Peter the Vegan awoke, shackled to a cell floor, shivering cold and damp, naked, bloody, and bruised. One eye was swollen shut and the other nearly so, his ear bloomed to cauliflower, his lips fattened, his teeth shattered, their edges sharp to his tongue. He saw the glimmering light of full moon peek through the small barred window, reflecting off the pooled blood he lay in.
Then again, he lost consciousness.
And again, he awoke, standing barefoot and shirtless in a field of tall grass, whitetop, and cornflower. He felt robust, his muscles taut and wounds healed, no scars remain to tell of his ordeal. His long hair blew gently in a breeze scented by spring flora. The sun shone warmly on his skin. The babbling of a nearby waterfall sang harmoniously to his senses as its spray project a rainbow high in the sky above. He felt peace, of a sort he had never known before. It was the sway of contentedness that flowed within him.
He watched as they all came from across the field, the animals he had rescued over the years, those who shared his home, and those he had never known – but he knew them all now, and they all knew him. And they were all eager to greet him; chickens, pigs, cows, goats, and sheep, elephants and lions, horses and zebra, turtles, foxes, hares, and bears, opossums and snakes, and every other manner of creature, from the minuscule mouse to the mighty moose they all came.
And she was there, standing in their midst, wearing only a flower in her hair.
And for the first time in very long time, he felt happy. Glad to be shut of the cruelty that weighed him.
He smiled at her, and she smiled at him.
He filled with joy and a tear broke free.
They danced, they laughed for hours on end while the animals frolicked about. When at last they lay resting together and alone on a blanket of soft earth, the rays of the setting sun caressing their moist entwined bodies, she told him, with fallen face and tear, “You cannot stay here, Peter the Vegan. You must go back.”
“Go back?” he said and blanched. “No, I will never go back. I will not leave you, not now. Not this world for that I came, not ever.”
“It’s not time, my love. I’m so very sorry, but you must go.”
As she spoke these last words to him with a tenderness he’d not forget, he awoke to a rattle of lock and chain and a foul smelling goon singing sorely out of key, “A good day for a burnin’, I’d say. Yes siree, yes siree. Ya see, not a cloud in the sky, not a breeze rustlin’ by. Yes siree, yes siree. A good day for a burnin’, I’d say, don’t ya see, don’t ya say. Don’t I say?
“And you’s goin’ burn, don’t ya see. Now get your lazy bee-hind up. Ain’t proper keepin’ godfearin’ folk a waitin,’” said the goon with an accompanied swift kick into Peter the Vegan’s kidney, causing him to wrench in pain. He then threw him a pair of his own filthy flea infested undershorts to wear so that Peter the Vegan’s endowment be hidden from woman and child and the pure of thought.
He eased up slowly, fragile and hurt, but eager in a strange sort of way, knowing that this fate about to befall him, it too will pass, and then peace will come at the very long last. For when it came right down to it, to Peter the Vegan, dying always seemed the easier than living.
The goon grabbed hold the cord that cut tightly into Peter the Vegan’s wrists and yanked hard. As Peter the Vegan stumbled along with his blood trailing was led out of the cell, through the grimy and dank jail corridors amid a rain of spit, urine, and jeers from the other prisoners and into the bright morning sunlight where his eye squinch.
Hundreds arrived for the Extravaganza. A festival now well underway where people gathered from miles around to witness the burning of what had only the day before became the most talked about and hated man alive. There were swindlers of every flavor and bogus magic people and every sort of trickster and opportunist who converged at the scene to leverage what they could from the naïve and gullible. Food canteens were hurriedly set up the night before and sold cheesy souvenirs and served overpriced half-cooked sausage on a stick, pork chops and ham hocks, hamburgers and frankfurters, sugary drinks, gummy bears, and cotton candy for the kids. All served by boisterous fat men who hadn’t seen their penis since puberty, and who now required medication to produce an erection, of which, without the trick of mirror, they are still unable to glimpse.
The burning stake stood seven times higher than needed, the Flag of Blasphemy and Shame affixed to its top, hang lifeless in the still air. A crude platform lay atop wood and tinder meticulously laid, encircling the stake, strategically set so as to burn gradually from outer perimeter inward, ensuring the most agonizing prolonged event possible. Peter the Vegan, led by the executioner upon the platform to where two goons bound his hands, feet, and neck, tightly and securely to the stake. “Damn you anyway imbeciles,” Scolded the Executioner in a condescending manner. “Don’t choke him to death before we’ve a chance to kill him! Now loosen that neck.”
As the mob began to pelt Peter the Vegan, with epithets and everything else they found to throw his way, the order came to stand down by the Honorable Honor himself who stood up, and out, proudly wearing his papal tiara and his finest purple priestly cope draped with satin stole affixed with precious jewels and gilded idols. Perched high above the others on his grandiose platform, commenced with lowered head, the ceremonial prayer, “Let us pray. Dear merciful Lord our Father, we ask for your blessing this day upon us your children who have journeyed warily from near and far to witness your Hand of Judgment. We are proud O Just Lord and God to be the call of your highest servants, to do your bidding, to root evil from the world. By all that is gracious, sacred and holy, we most humbly praise you, O Mighty Merciful One. Amen.
“Now, burn the heretic!”
With that, the goons lit the tinder.
The trumpets blared.
And the mob let out a deafening roar that shook the ground.
And the children stood wide-eyed and spellbound in terrified anticipation, absently biting off cotton candy and chewing gummy bears by the handfuls.
As the tendrils of smoke rose from the kindling, the Flag of Blasphemy and Shame gave a slight wave, then another. A sign of the Almighty. Or, so the faithful assigned.
Slowly, but surely, the fire closed around Peter the Vegan. Its intensity pressed upon him from all angles, increasingly. Heat and smoke begin a scouring of his open wounds and bare flesh, his hair began to singe. The platform on which he stood grow unbearably hot to his bare feet and the superheated air surrounding him seared throat and lungs with each breath he drew. Although his head tossed from side to side seeking relief not found, not a scream or muted sound did he let go. Much to the disappointment of the mob, whom many among confessed to having seen better burnings in their time. A lot better, they said with an inflated disdain.
Through the waves of shimmering heat and flame, among the sea of happy faces, he saw her.
Then, as the wind grew stiff, she disappeared.
So mighty the wind that the Flag of Blasphemy and Shame flew straight out and shredded at its edges before it ripped from the stake and flung itself across the face of the Honorable Honor. Who fumbled furiously to free himself of this indignity, only to knock off his papal tiara in the process and into a muddy hole it rolled, only to be trampled upon and ruined by the frantic throng.
Meanwhile, clouds gathered, as though the goddesses had commanded them to do so. Thick, black and threatening, bestrewn with blue veins of lightning. Angry clouds were they, turning day to darkest night. When soon let go their rain, as they had never let go before. Their jagged thunderbolts, thick as tree trunks, blindingly burst from the sky into the ground they crater throwing dirt, rock, and debris high above then raining down, as thunder reverberated the earth with explosions so violent it caused many to poop themselves.
And the children watched in fear and dismay as their cotton candy dissolved in the downpour, their gummy bears blew scattered upon the ground, and they squealed for the unfairness of it all as their mothers hasten them away to a shelter.
The food canteens blew over, and again over, spilling their deep frying lard and catching fire. And the boisterous fat men, who hadn’t seen their penis since puberty, rolled out of them as fast as fat men could roll, butts aflame, only then to be tossed about like tumbleweed in a sweeping desert windstorm.
Fearing the worse to come, the Honorable Honor and his entourage bolted for the cover and safety of the courthouse storm cellar, the Flag of Blasphemy and Shame caught up in his stole flapped behind him as he ran. And those who hadn’t already fled followed on his heels.
The fire at the stake was quickly extinguished, and not a moment too soon, not so much as a smoldering ember left to glow in the darkness.
Only one shadowy figure remained, motionless in the storm, oblivious to its rage, an orphaned urchin possessed of face to draw pity (or ridicule depending on one’s disposition) and one that only his wretched mother had ever loved. He held a steady gaze on Peter the Vegan. His intentions were unclear. His expression was unreadable as he watched through the slanted rain for the slightest flickering hint of life. For although Peter the Vegan remained upright, held tightly so by his bindings, his head drooped as though he were dead. But he was not dead. No, not yet.