Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Lost City

Bryn T. Jones

        “Supermodels,” Finn exclaimed, gesticulating excitedly as if to point out a flock of the fashionistas posing on the horizon. “They’re Christians, but you would just see beautiful people.”
        “With lots of bling-bling, right?” Elaine shook her head. “What next, tattoos for truth?”
        “You joke, but there are members of biker gangs that are devout Christians. They have to earn the street cred to witness to these guys. Someone like me wouldn’t stand a chance witnessing to a Hell’s Angel. He’d eat me up as an appetizer and pick out the sticky parts with his fingernail.”
        “Sticky parts?” Elaine raised an eyebrow at his colorful analogy. “And how, exactly, do they 'earn their street cred?'”
        Finn shrugged and persisted, “They become like the world to show them the way, Elaine. We need to be relevant to the culture around us. The Bible even says to become all things to all people.”
       “I think you’re taking some liberty with the passage, Finn. Paul never became a pagan to win a pagan. He simply meant he wouldn’t serve pork to a Jew or Kosher to a gentile.”
      “What about Mars Hill?” countered Finn.
      “He simply used part of their culture to introduce the gospel. He didn't start worshiping at the alter for the unknown god.” Elaine shook her head and rolled her eyes.
      Undeterred, Finn expounded, “They’re like secret agents waiting for the right time to present the message.”
      “Secret agents, huh?”
      Elaine got up and dusted off her rough pants. Behind them the construction crew prepared for the big detonation. It marked the most ambitious construction project in history: The raising of the perfect city. Elaine looked back where all the cranes, land-movers, graders, and diggers worked clearing the area. She and Finn were thrilled to be part of such an amazing endeavor, though it cost them a lot. They'd both left home, family and friends to come build this new city. All who joined the work would have a place inside.
      “We still got a half hour of our break left, Elaine. Want to look around? It’ll be neat to see how different it looks after we blast the foundations.”
      The new city’s foundations would reach into the lower crust of the earth and support buildings that actually produced energy rather than absorbed it. The city would be a virtual power plant, a self-sustaining ecosystem for all who lived within its walls. Better yet, the city planner had a use for everyone effectively eliminating the bane of poverty, crime, or loneliness. Once committed to the new city, everyone would belong and have value. Despite numerous past societies' failed attempts, this city held true promise for its goal. This hope was worth it for Elaine and Finn. Hope brought them to this place, leaving everything to build something many saw as a foolish social experiment. Yet, the more they labored preparing the ground for this city the closer they grew, finding that honesty and trust came naturally, while malice and deceit faded.
      “Yeah,” Elaine said wistfully, still looking at the land where the new city would stand, “Let’s look around.”
      They didn’t walk far before they noticed something seemingly out of place. Behind a small grove of trees yawned the mouth of a cave. They stepped up to the chasm where a cool wind rushed up from the darkness.
      “I don’t remember ever seeing this before,” Finn remarked.
      “Me either.”
      A daring smile stretched across Finn’s lips. “Let’s get our gear and check it out!”
      Elaine checked the time and figured they had enough to go spelunking a ways, climb some rocks and return to work.
      “Okay,” she said as they ran back to get their hard hats, ropes, and lights.
     Within minutes they’d entered the cave and tested their lights. The batteries would last a long time and the beams burned strong and bright. They breathed was a little faster and shallower as adrenaline filled their veins with each step descending the rocky slopes.
      Water trickled over a wall nearly causing Finn to slip down a chimney. Elaine caught him and hefted him back to a dry patch.
      “Be careful, Finn. Don’t just plunge ahead.”
After moving a little further exploring the cave, they both stopped, listening intently. Something strange echoed in the cave and it wasn’t water or bats.
      “Sounds like voices,” Finn said.
      “It’s probably our own voices bouncing back from before.” Elaine remarked skeptically.
      “Only I don’t think we were whispering,” replied Finn.
      “Come on, let’s go, there’s nothing to see down here.”
      “Did you hear that?” Finn gripped Elaine’s arm and held her still.
      As they both listened they heard, very distinctly, various voices muttering something, and the words were nothing like their recent argument. They continued listening as the voices kept murmuring. They could almost catch a word here or there. Perhaps a “coming,” and then a “dangerous.”
      Finn and Elaine read fear in each others eyes. The voices sent chills through every nerve. How could there be anyone living down in these caves? Yet they knew that in a few hours the area would be completely destroyed in a giant fireball making way for the new city. If they didn’t do something those people would die.
      “We have to warn them,” Elaine said. “If they’re down here we need to get them out.”
      “You suppose they just wandered in and got lost?” Finn said, his voice shaking despite his best efforts to quell its tremor.
      “Finn, we need to go get them out.” Elaine started moving down the tunnel once more after affixing a loop in the wall and securing a length of rope.
      Finn followed as they wound through the labyrinth, their flashlights burning back the gloom. The stalagmites and stalactites extending up and down like hungry fangs around them forced them to crawl. The voices grew louder and more distinct; they were getting closer.
      “Hello,” yelled Elaine. “We’ve come to help you!”
      “Hey down there,” bellowed Finn, feeling awkward at yelling into the darkness. Without knowing why, he wondered if the people even wanted to be found.
      Around another turn was a large opening where their lights revealed an intricate set of pillars as from ancient Greece or Rome. Windows had been carved into the rock like the city of Petra and water fountains bubbled and splashed through several aqueducts. Finn and Elaine couldn’t believe their eyes: They were looking at a city that had evidently survived beneath the ground. Though they couldn’t see the inhabitants, they could hear the hushed intonations of the hidden congregation. This eerie city made them want to turn back.
      Elaine seemed to shake the feeling and said, “This place will be destroyed in a matter of hours. If you want to live you need to come with us. We can lead you out.”
      A voice rose from the depths of the city speaking with authority. “What will destroy us? What is this nonsense?”
      “The new city will be built over this place, but this whole area has to be destroyed first,” Elaine said. “We can’t stop it, the charges are set.”
      “Turn off your lights,” the voice said. “Then we’ll listen to what you have to say.”
Finn turned to Elaine and said, “These people never see light, we’re probably scaring them out of their minds.” He shut his light off.
      To their left a shadow seemed to move, but stayed back from Elaine’s light which she left on.
      “Shut it off, Elaine. You’re scaring them.”
      Elaine waited and looked around. It was all so strange yet familiar, and there was something that bothered her about the whole place. “No, Finn, I’m keeping my light on. If I shut it off we could get turned around and never find our way out.”
      “Look, we can always turn the lights back on.”
      “Finn, I suggest you turn yours back on right now.”
      Rather than listen to Elaine, Finn walked deeper into the city, the gloom enveloping him a little more.             
     Elaine could see that he was still scared to the point of shaking, but making a good show of being brave. His bravado, however, would not impress these people that their lives were in danger. Quite to the contrary, his neglect of his light could make the urgency of their warning ring false.
      The voice spoke again, “You need to shut off the light, Elaine.”
      Its intimate use of her name was like a serpent slithering up her leg, fangs dripping with venom. She kept her light on.
      “This place is going to be destroyed,” she said. “I’m leaving here and anyone who wants to live will follow me.”
      A handful of people stumbled from a few doorways, their eyes covered, their pale skin nearly translucent. They moved down the street and closer to Elaine. The closer they came, the more they seemed to understand the light, even yearn for it.
      Finn moved further into the city and Elaine could see something moving within the city walls, tracking Finn.
      “Finn, turn on your light and get back here,” she said forcefully.
      The voice came once more. “If you must leave, at least drink some water and eat some fruit for your strength.”
      Finn looked at the water in a fountain, scooped some in his hand and drank it. It was sweet, with a bitter aftertaste. He looked back at Elaine and found her light harsh and stabbing, forcing him to look away.
      Elaine found herself walking toward the fountain, too, though she kept her light on. The water did seem like a good idea. All that climbing had made her thirsty.
      She reached the small pool, but the water evaporated into coiling steam when the light touched its surface. Immediately she looked back at Finn who was reaching for a fruit. The tree loomed dark, oily leaves and obsidian fruit, dripping with sap, sprung from its branches.
      Elaine stepped closer and saw that the fruit bristled with hair and oozed thick, crimson nectar, smelling like rotten flesh. Her hand shot out and pulled Finn away from the tree.
      “Don’t touch it, Finn. This place is dangerous. It's the old city. It's what we left! Remember, Finn? We left this place! Turn on your light!. We have to lead people out of here.”
      Finn looked at Elaine his head clearing from the exposure to her lamp. He looked up at the walls of the city and gasped, horrified. The walls writhed with centipede creatures that were eating rock, forming the windows and carving the pillars; the city was their work, not the work of the planner. Nothing here could be redeemed, save the people, the prisoners. Nothing good remained at all, only corruption from which they should flee; from which they had fled once before.
      Finn turned on his light. “Let’s get out of here, Elaine.”
      They hurried up the path, following their rope, leading those who would follow back through the cave. Once past the mouth of the cave, the light of day revealed those they’d saved. They were transformed from pale creatures of the lost city into warm, fresh faced people ready for what lay before them. Soon the explosion hit and the lost city was forever burned and buried.
      Elaine, Finn, and the others they’d guided from darkness worked and, with the tools of the planner, built a magnificent city that shined for all to see.
And God separated the light from the darkness…Genesis 1:4b
And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overpower it. John 1:5
I am the light of the world; he who follows me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life. John 8:12
You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light. Ephesians 5:8
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the bushel, but on the lamp stand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. Matthew 5:14-16
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God … and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:2, 4