[EDITOR’S NOTE: This story, from Transept author Alicia Pollard, is an imaginative supposal on the order of C S Lewis’s The Great Divorce. It was inspired by works such as Lewis’s ‘The Turn of the Tide‘, John Milton’s ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity‘, Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet, and the works of George MacDonald.]
For clarity, both earthly time and cosmic time are listed below, using the format ‘earthly time (cosmic time).’
‘I would use 60° North this year and go east. They’ve been prowling around the Equator.’
In the frigid dusk, the buckle of the harness was cold. Noel clicked it closed, and then gently stroked the rough brown hair of the caribou’s side. ‘What about the northern host?’ he said, turning to face the Messenger, Abdiel.
‘They’re busy in the Mediterranean. I doubt they’ll trouble you as much as they did last year (a few
The tundra glowed in the afterlight. The murmur of the wind stirring up snow-ghosts was the only other sound. Noel’s crimson robes stood out like blood. With his giant build, his beard looked like a foamy mountain waterfall pouring down to his chest. His face was as smooth and set as a stone carving. Abdiel was equally tall but slender and blazed with an amber radiance, like a torch. It was below freezing, but neither figure shivered.
Noel studied Abdiel, whose arms cradled something. ‘What do you have there?’ he asked.
‘A human. She died in water, so I’m taking her up through Aquarius.’
The baby stirred in the Messenger’s arms. Noel studied her as an astrologer studies the stars; Abdiel looked down at her as a child ponders a diamond.
‘Do you ever wonder,’ said Noel quietly, ‘what it’s like for them, when they first meet the Logos?’
‘Always,’ said Abdiel.
Noel finally turned away. ‘Shalom,’ he told the Messenger. ‘Until we meet again.’
‘Shalom, Gift-giver,’ said the Messenger.
Every year, the same. (It only happened once.) Noel finished buckling the caribou. Then he climbed into his sleigh, cracked his whip, and called, ‘Away!’
The caribou started at a walk, escalated to a trot, a gallop, and then sprang joyfully into a canter. As they reached the bay, where icebergs glowed a faint blue against the black-glass ice, they sprang into the night sky.
Their speed would have killed a human; they rushed into the stratosphere, into the realm of cloud and spirit. They blasted through one of the heavenly storehouses, which left them covered in shining crystals. Clouds the size of kingdoms swirled around them. When they reached the mesosphere, Noel cracked his whip once more and called ‘Slow!’
Here, the blazing lines of meridians and parallels were visible, a shining net binding the earth together against the dark firmament: fiery gold, emerald, sapphire, ruby. Noel tied the reins to the sleigh and began his divine calling, the work he did every year (only once): he picked up a fraying meridian and began repairing its broken threads. Each thread brought him a mental image of the world below: a girl with auburn curls in a four-poster bed; a boy in a ragged coat curled up on a sidewalk; a girl with jade eyes huddled at the bottom of a crowded raft.
Noel received each picture and, as he restored the meridian, sent a dream-image back to each child, his sacred gifts to them: singing stars, murmuring seas, blooming gardens, echoing mountains. As he did so, the humans in the dark world below felt, without knowing they felt it, Creation continuing (groaning), existing (waiting), enduring until the end of time. Human minds would forget these dreams upon waking, but their souls would remember.
Noel worked his way with gentle steadiness across Greenland, Scandinavia, Russia, the Pacific, and Canada until his caribou hovered above Novia Scotia. He looked up when a howl resounded across the expanse. Noel fumbled on a meridian and used his left hand to reach for his dagger, but was too slow: a dark shape launched itself from the darkness, seizing his shoulder with icicle teeth. Its breath stank of decay. Noel braced his right foot against the floor of the sleigh and used his weight to slam the creature against the other side. He landed on it and then attacked with the whip in his right hand, striking at its flaming eyes, until it released his shoulder and jumped back into the darkness, whimpering.
Other dark creatures were attacking the caribou. The lead caribou screamed, rearing and striking at a sinuous mass with its hooves. Another struck at a shadow with huge wings and sharp talons. A third used its antlers to toss a wriggling mass of scales into the void. Noel fished a javelin from under the seat in the sleigh and threw it at one of the remaining creatures.
Something hit him from behind, knocking him against the front of the sleigh so that he hit his forehead against the edge. An inferno erupted in his head. Sharp beaks and teeth tore at him as he pushed himself back up.
A new battle cry echoed through the expanse, and the cloud around him cleared: silver shapes ducked and wove around him. He heard the cry of Auriga, the charioteer, cracking his whip; the barking of Canis Major and Canis Minor; the roar of Eridanus, the river; the whinny of Monoceros, the unicorn; the twanging bow of Orion, the hunter; the bellow of Taurus, the bull.
‘Go, Noel!’ Monoceros called to him. ‘We’ll hold them off!’
Noel cracked his whip: the battered caribou charged across the Atlantic as the Logos descended.
Every year, this was Noel’s favorite sight. (It only happened one year, one day.) It came – He came – as He did then (now) (at all times) (once) (forever)
A golden shower trickling to earth A dove of blazing wings descending
A myrrh-scented wind rushing through barren fields
A foaming river cascading into a desert
A scarlet cross that burned against the night
A blossoming apple tree among leafless fig trees
A bright cloud with a thundering voice
As they raced away from the battle, one wounded caribou stumbled into another and threw the team off course. The sleigh fell like a meteor towards earth and crashed.
Darkness. Pain. Broken. Noel woke, buried in snow, when a cool hand touched his forehead. ‘You do like a spectacular finish, don’t you?’ a voice asked cheerfully. A figure shrouded in sunset-red light knelt beside him, laughing. The sword at his waist flashed rhythmically, like lightning.
He closed his eyes again. ‘Kana,’ he said. ‘Did the caribou survive?’
‘Better than you,’ Kana said. ‘I tended to them first. I’ll have you back together soon.’
‘Thank you,’ he breathed.
‘It is your privilege to be broken, Gift-giver,’ Kana said. ‘It is my privilege to heal you (now) (every
Noel kept his eyes closed as Kana worked. The snow-laden garden was quiet around them: heavy drifts smothered the rose-bushes and orange trees, olive trees and grapevines. The fountain’s water was frozen, as it would be until the Thaw. However, with the rest of the angelic host, he felt the quickening begin, the world’s black sky slowly turning pale.
In the meantime, Noel the Gift-giver and the rest of Creation waited.