Starfish of David

Available as an ebook at Smashwords, Amazon and other online retailers

Satirical magic-realism abounds in this modern myth narrated by Samson Grief, a reclusive painter living in Mount Russet, Prince Edward Island, Canada. While struggling with a creative block, he discovers a six-armed starfish, or as he calls it a Starfish of David, on his current work in progress. The problem is he has no memory of painting it. Soon Samson is confronted by three redheaded strangers who identify themselves as Judas, Shylock and Fagin, figments of his imagination and messengers sent by a genderless deity named the Supreme One. Having decreed the Middle East to be a hopeless mess, the Supreme One wants PEI to be the new Promised Land and tasks Samson with building the Island’s first synagogue to get the cosmic wheels rolling. Scared, confused and seriously doubting his sanity, Samson eventually, though grudgingly, accepts the challenge. To further complicate matters, Judas, Fagin and Shylock tell Samson the Supreme One wants him to build the synagogue on Rossiter’s Field, a garbage dump situated on the outskirts of Mount Russet. The Island’s Jewish community, from whom Samson hopes to find support, are scandalized by the choice. It is as if he has chosen Gehenna (the fiery garbage dump depicted in the Old Testament as the Jewish equivalent of hell) to be a proper place to build the temple. Rossiter's Field also happens to be the spot that entrepreneur and political hopeful, Reuben Arsenault has his eye on for a special project of his own. And so starts an unfolding of political intrigue as well as other obstacles Samson discovers along the way.

Excerpt from Starfish of David

They don’t call it the Mount Russet Body Parts for nothing. It was a crumbling, ash-coloured brick two-storey walk-up situated at the end of Morningstar Crescent, an unwelcoming cul-de-sac at the down-at-heel north end of town. The only other buildings on Morningstar Crescent were an abandoned warehouse and a tattoo parlour called I Of The Needle. I liked the Body Parts well enough because it was cheap, remote and I rarely saw any of my neighbours. Which was why I was unpleasantly surprised to see a moving van parked in front. Two men carrying an ugly green sofa were about to block the front entrance. I managed to sidle past them just in time to race up the stairs, fumble with my key in my door and slam it shut as soon as I was in my apartment. Bounding up the short flight two steps at a time took the wind out of me. I bent over, bracing my hands against my knees, while I caught my breath.

“We was wondering what took you so long, my dear.”

I straightened up as if my spine was equipped with a tightly wound spring hinge. It was them. In my apartment. Standing in front of my easel. The speaker was the candyfloss muttonchops in the baseball cap. He spoke in a cockney accent and had The Golden Book Of Illustrated Bible Stories in his hand. He held it out. “You forgot something.”

“How did you get in here? What do you want?”

“We doth harbour no ill tidings toward thee, signor” said the stout one in the coral bucket hat. His beard was a tangled thatch of barbed wire, an earthy orange like freshly dug up carrots.

“Who the hell are you?” I demanded. “Why are you talking like that?”

The third, the aging hipster, took off his yellow straw porkpie hat. His unkempt hair was the same burnt cinnamon as his beard, coarse and wavy and just barely reaching his shoulders.

“Perhaps we might be seated at the table,” he said in a deeply mellow voice. His hooded eyelids carried the weight of having seen too much in his lifetime. “All shall be revealed by and by.”

The table he was referring to was the old-fashioned folding kind, usually used for playing cards. There were two metal folding chairs and a stool by the kitchenette counter where I usually had breakfast. “The three of you can sit. I’d rather stand.”
Baseball cap and bucket hat took the chairs. The other one laid his porkpie hat on the table and perched on the stool. His compatriots hesitantly followed suit, removing their headgear and setting them on the table. Without their hats the three of them were oddly vulnerable and unsure of themselves. An unexpected pang of sympathy crept into my wariness.

“I believe it is best to begin with introductions,” said the one on the stool. “My name is Judas.” He pointed to the stout one. “This is Shylock.” Then gesturing to the other: “And this is Fagin.” The sharp, high-pitched yelp that leapt out of my throat was as close to laughter as I could manage, considering three lunatics were in my apartment and I had no idea how to get them out.

“Sorry about that,” I said, not entirely sure why I was apologizing.

“It is not necessary to express regret,” he said. “In this instance, we anticipated disbelief.”

“So when you say… Judas, you mean Iscariot?”

“That is the name by which I have come to be known.”

“And Shylock? From The Merchant Of Venice?”

The stout one rose, bowed deeply and pushed back a loose forelock. He had thick eyebrows resembling burly caterpillars, from which stray hairs sprang out like twitching antennae. “Verily, signor, I did hail from that ghetto within fair Venice. And yet, I was no merchant, but a moneylender, as I had no other means of livelihood.”

I looked at the other one. “Let me guess, Fagin. Pickpocket?”

“I have acquired many talents, my dear.” He twirled a cadaverous finger in the rusty steel wool sprouting from his angular jaw. “But I always preferred to think of myself as an educator, passing on me hard-won experience to the next generation.” He touched the bill of his baseball cap and it was only then that I noticed it was for the team the Brooklyn Dodgers. Lunatic or not, he obviously had a sense of humour.

“I have no idea how you got here before me or even how you got in here at all. I assume one of you is good at picking locks.”

“I can assure you we did not enter by any criminal means,” said Judas.

“Well you weren’t invited either,” I said. It was then that I noticed the discoloured scar circling the base of his throat. I must have been staring because he tugged at his collar with gloomy humility. “In any case I think you all should leave now.”

Perhaps sensing his comrade’s mortification, Shylock stood and rested a meaty hand on Judas’s shoulder before stepping in front of him in a protective stance. “We hath no wish to overstay our welcome. Yet we beg thy indulgence to hear with good patience the purpose of our mission.” The notion of bolting out the door and running flitted briefly through my head. Either the one called Fagin could read minds or the impulse was clearly visible in my expression.

“And doing a runner won’t help you none, my dear. Why not save everyone time by hearing us out?” He also stood and pushed his chair toward me. “You’ll need this more than me.”

I sat. Judas slid down from the stool, took the chair that had been vacated by Shylock and placed it in front of me. “What I have to say might be best understood if we are at eye level,” he said, settling onto the seat while the other two stood behind him. Judas spoke patiently. I thought he started off a bit patronizing, but as he went on I realized this patience was on his own behalf, choosing his words carefully in order to make himself understood as best he could. He explained that the three of them could be best appreciated as figments of my imagination, and yet they also had free will. That is to say: while they originated from my mind they were also capable of independent thought and actions.

“How is that possible?” I asked, surprised by the sharp quaver that gave the last word a couple of extra syllables.

“It is a mystery that may become revealed to you within this lifetime or perhaps the next. That is all I can say to any satisfaction.”

“So all those times I saw you appear and then disappear…”

“We were trying to introduce ourselves to you. This was why we had to adopt this form of dress, so as not to alarm you and ease our way to your attention. Yet we sensed you were not ready to be approached.”

“But then you left me alone for all these years. Why are you back?”

“I ask that you be patient and listen. There is much to for you to take in.”

His tone was gentle, yet insistent, making it clear that any further questioning or discussion was futile. This only brought more questions to mind, but I pushed those thoughts out of my head and forced myself to listen. I wondered if things might take an even more bizarre turn, still I was not prepared for what he was about to tell me. The mission that Shylock had mentioned was no small thing. The three of them were messengers of the “Supreme One.” Those were his exact words.

“You understand of whom I speak?” Judas asked and tried to smile.

“God?” I said.

“If that is the name you prefer.”

“God spoke to the three of you?” I looked at the other two. Their faces revealed nothing.

“What did His voice sound like?”

“I have no words to describe this. It is not the voice of a man.”

“God’s a woman?”

“It is not the voice of man or woman but that of an all-pervading silence.”

He allowed me to ponder this before going on to explain that, for the past few centuries, the Supreme One had been very disturbed by the state of this world. The destruction of natural resources caused by rampant greed, the dwindling of compassion and the ever-growing reverence for self-interest in most of its inhabitants had signalled a point of no return.

“Centuries?” I said. “If it’s been going on for centuries why this sudden concern?”

Judas’s patience was waning at all my interruptions. “The length of a century in this world passes in a mere instant where the Supreme One dwells.”

“'Tis the truth, signor,” said Shylock. “Those thirteen years that marked our absence, of which you spoke earlier? They passeth in the instant it takes to scratch the Supreme One’s nose.”

Fagin leaned in a bit closer. “That is, my dear, if the Supreme One had a nose or a reason to scratch it.”

Before I could ask anything else Judas waved his compatriots back. He continued by pointing out that the Middle East, which many have long considered the Promised Land, was, in particular, a great cause of distress. Apparently, in the Supreme One’s estimation, the tensions there were far beyond any reasonable solution.

“Henceforth, that part of the world will no more be distinguished by that name. The

Supreme One has seen fit to bless this small red mote as the new Promised Land.”

“What red mote?”

“This very one we are now on.”

“Red mote? You mean here? PEI? This… Prince Edwa… this nothing little island is going to… the new Promised Land?”

What began as a slow chuckle soon escalated into fits of gasping hysteria that threatened to spill into heaves of panicking sobs at any moment. I started to hyperventilate and hugged my knees. When I looked up again I could see the worried creases registered on the three faces staring at me. I kept my hands braced on my knees as I struggled to get a grip. Little did I know the coup de grâce was about to be delivered.

“Before this consecration can be made final, one task must be completed. This island has churches of various denominations, a mosque, a Buddhist monastery, a variety of places of worship except one. A synagogue must be built and you have been chosen to erect it.”

“Chosen?” The word lacked any meaning. “Why me?”

“Why, because of the girl of course,” said Fagin stepping forward. He crouched down on one knee in front of me. “That bone-thin, ginger-haired urchin you painted. That picture caught the Supreme One’s attention right smart.”

Now Shylock stepped up and towered above me. “Forsooth, signor, rarely has paint and canvas made palpable such vulnerable despair and grim pride. It most nakedly expressed what thou hadst described so artfully as…” He turned to Fagin. “How went that pithy statement?”

“'The delusion of our collective innocence,'” Fagin quoted. “Your way with words, my dear, is almost as dexterous as your handling of the brush.”

Normally I enjoy praise as much as anyone, even if they are from figments of my imagination, but hearing those words echoed back after all these years made something inside me go icy, as if witnessing my own corpse being exhumed. “But I just said that… I was on the radio, I had to think of something…”

Judas looked at his other two compatriots and they both stepped back. “I sympathize this may be more than you can comprehend in a sitting,” he said.

I kept telling myself that I could get up and walk out of there any time I wanted to, yet it was useless to consider such a thing. What I couldn’t understand was, if a supreme deity was going to choose messengers, why these three? And what were they doing in my psyche in the first place? Each was a famous Jewish character in literature, each a prime example of anti-Semitic sentiment throughout the ages. But only two of them were definitely fictional characters, while there is enough historical evidence to verify that Judas was a real person. I mentioned this to them.

“It is factual that I did exist,” Judas said. “And yet my history took its own path through the telling and retelling by others to portray the version of a Judas other than me. While Shylock and Fagin, though fictional they be, had their origins in people who existed.”

“And if I weren’t based on one model, my dear, then perhaps it was a composite of many to make a single portrayal,” said Fagin with a small dramatic flourish of those claws that passed for hands. “But that’s the case of everyone, innit? You yourself are just a result of many who came before you.”

“'Tis a great problem of our philosophy, signor,” added Shylock “What form doth reality take and what may be said to be a fiction? Is one a mirror for the other or are they clothed by the opposite ends of a single thread?”

I closed my eyes and rubbed my temples. “Am I going crazy?” I fully expected an answer but was greeted by silence. I opened my eyes to find myself alone again. Relieved at first, I walked around the flat, opening the doors to the bathroom and the tiny space I used as a bedroom, checked the closet, bathroom cabinet, pulled aside the shower curtain, even flung open the kitchenette cupboards and rummaged through the drawers.

Not a sign of them anywhere except for the copy of The Golden Book Of Illustrated Bible Stories on the kitchenette counter. I opened it to the page with the picture of Moses parting the Red Sea. I looked by Moses’ foot, but there was no sign of the six-armed starfish.

I felt a slight breeze and noticed the large picture window – the one letting in all the natural light that makes this apartment such a perfect studio space – was now open. Before I could shut it, a brief gust blew the drop cloth off the canvas. There was the six-armed starfish again, a good deal larger and more centered from where I had blotted it out last time. I stepped back, allowing my eye to follow along the tapering reddish strip between the rising waves. If before I saw it as the crack running through the world, I realized it now symbolized a stretch of unknown from which there was no turning back.