I was in a castle made of dark gray stones, and I was seeking a discovery. Particularly, I was searching for the secret of anointment in a stone study atop a castle’s tower. I attempted but could not open a heavy tomb bound in red leather, in which I believed held the answers I was looking for. Then, I heard a sound coming from the stairwell. It was the sound of a slow, metal cadence on stone — like the metal pulse of a dying heart — growing louder and nearer.
I turned to look, and I saw antlers, an iron helm, and an armored knight coming around the corner of the dextral stairwell. The antlers protruded through the helm. The ironclad bohemoth dragged a heavy longsword that must have weighed more than the anvil it was forged on. His blade clanged and sparked with daunting gravity against each step. CROMP. CRANZK. KRIIIING. CROMP. CRANZK. KRIIIING. The knight’s shoulders were slumped like the Boxer of the Quirinal — so utterly somber and powerful that he need not be on guard while awaiting his next summoning.
The knight came to a stop. His antlers pointed toward me. He slowly lifted his upper torso. His antlers towered above me. Through the darkness, moss, and rust that obscured his ocularium, he focused his shadowed stare into my essence — a stare I did not see — a stare that I felt in my chest. He was waiting for me to make the first move.
I said, “I came here, in sincerity, to search for answers.”
The knight spoke. His voice was demonic and angelic. “I am the guardian of anointment. You must answer this or die.”
He asked. “By the end of the Bible, how many people did Jesus save?” His voice resonated through his armor, rattled his iron plates, echoed off the stone walls, and reverberated between my ribs.
I took a breath. Somewhere in the pause between inhalation and exhalation, a moment rushed through me contemplating his followers, his deniers, the dead burying their own dead, the hired hands, the sheep, the heirs, the Romans, the Jews, revelation…
I exhaled and answered from the place inside my chest that his voice had shaken.
“All of them.”
The knight subtly changed his grip on the sword but otherwise did not move.
“That is correct.”
The knight sank his posture, his antlers tilted forward, and he turned while dragging the blade of his sword along a white semicircle etched from prior trials. The book, bound in red leather, was bound in the blood and skin of those who failed. And for each failure, its contents were buried deeper along its spine and between its covers.
As he descended the spiraling stone stairwell, the metal pulse of a dying heart vacated in decrescendo.
I turned to the book. It opened itself and drew me through a purple, black, and white illuminated passage like the tunnels I’ve seen near death.
Suddenly, I was on the other side. As these passages tend, they don’t put you somewhere else. You come to somewhere else like the boom of a encyclopedia being slammed shut, a flash of blackness, the sensation between being ripped to shreds, and waking up from a dream.
And there I was… in what appeared to be a medieval garden.
The architecture was human but inspired. Its perimeter was enclosed by a cast iron gate. I never turned to look at the entrance, but it seemed to be a garden in some other world made of stone paths and clouds.
The garden was lined with junipers and other shrubs. Containers of herbs and flowers were abundant. The shades of green were all uniquely vibrant under an overcast sky. A fountain in the center of the garden flowed with glacier blue aqua vitae that fogged over its well. The air was medicinally aromatic. The humidity was cool and warm, thick and visible, and it left a constant feeling of dampness on the skin and menthol and rose in the lungs. Cobblestones paved the garden, and each stone was engraved with the names for human organs in different languages — some of which I’ve never seen.
The knight’s voice emanated from a place behind my shoulders. “Do you see now?”
And I said, “Yes. I see. This is the secret of anointment. It’s not a book. It’s a place.”
I squatted and touched the stones to read the known and unknown languages engraved into them before walking through a cast iron gate, onto a leftward path, and into the clouds.