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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

STRANGE ENCOUNTER – Episode 3 | "What hope do I have now?"


This short-form fiction series is set in Rome in the late first century AD. You can read the previous episodes by clicking the link below.



 

[A few weeks later…]


Decimius came out of the tavern’s back room again, carrying a heavy amphora very carefully. Using the two handles of the jar, he set the load down slowly, and then stretched with a grunt. 


“Felix, I need to run out to buy some supplies at the market. But Hermes will be coming around to pick this up. When customers pay in advance, we give them the best treatment, so offer to carry it for him to…wherever he takes his weekly order.” Decimius gave a nod of finality, and rushed out the door.


Another order of wine?” Felix wondered, as he tidied up the tavern. “Does he go to a party every week? And why does he buy the wine for everyone? And for that matter, how does he afford all this wine?” Hermes’ secretive ways confused Felix. Even during the day, Hermes seemed to alway sneak around, like he had something to hide. But in conversation, he was always so put together, coming across as noble and wise. What could account for his suspicious behavior? Maybe if he will let me carry all this wine to his mystery destination I’ll find out, thought Felix. He was willing to do the hard lifting to satisfy his curiosity.


When Felix heard the door open, he expected to find Hermes arriving to pick up the wine. But in fact, it was his wife, Anna, accompanied by her cousin Athena.


“My love,” Felix blurted out, walking over to her, “Are you alright?”


Athena was holding her arm as they walked and Anna seemed wobbly and weak-footed. 


“I must be working too hard,” she responded, trying to dismiss the concern. “Athena, you didn’t have to walk me home. This is embarrassing, I just need some food and rest.” 


Anna sat down at the closest table and laid her head down. 


 
Infection wasn’t new to Felix. He had three brothers die from infection at various ages, the youngest around seven years old, the oldest eighteen. 
 

Athena chimed in, “Felix, look at her leg. It’s red and swollen.” Felix immediately knelt down beside Anna. His concern grew when he saw a wound with a noticeable infection. 


“I just need to put my feet up, that’s all. We serve goddess Fortuna now, Athena, I’m well taken care of.” Anna’s voice was muffled as she tried to talk with her head resting on her arms folded on the table. 


“We need to get you upstairs, right away,” Felix demanded, with a mixture of determination and fear. Athena and Felix carefully hoisted Anna up from the table and helped her upstairs to the apartment. 


By the time they got to the apartment door, Anna could barely move, her energy was sapped. As they made it to the bed, she collapsed, and as Felix looked her over with concern, he noticed she was covered in sweat. Infection wasn’t new to Felix. He had three brothers die from infection at various ages, the youngest around seven years old, the oldest eighteen. 


 
Felix frantically rummaged around some baskets of junk in the bedroom until he found a small clay snake, Asklepius’s symbol. He carefully placed it near Anna’s head.
 

Athena quickly went to get a damp cloth to sooth the heat of Anna’s forehead. Felix was in a panic. He clasped his hands together and prayed, “Hail Asclepius, son of far-shooting Apollo, healer of maladies and infirmities. You have brought hope and joy to many, O soother of cruel pangs. I plead for your grace on Anna, we are your humble servants.”


Felix frantically rummaged around some baskets of junk in the bedroom until he found a small clay snake, Asklepius’s symbol. He carefully placed it near Anna’s head. Felix quietly pleaded with Aslepius for a miracle. 


 
Felix had prayed to Asclepius dozens of times in the past, but this time it was different.
 

Felix’s eyes were closed tight as he rocked back and forth, muttering inarticulate chants. Athena felt bad interrupting Felix’s fervent supplications but she tapped him on the shoulder, startling him. 

Felix had prayed to Asclepius dozens of times in the past, but this time it was different.


“I’m sorry, Felix, but I need to get home to the children. It’s getting late.” Athena gave Anna’s hand a squeeze. Anna was fading in and out of consciousness, but even when she was conscious, she was woozy and drowsy. “I left a bowl of water beside her bed, make her drink it. I will come back first thing in the morning when I can find someone to watch the boys.” With that, Athena slipped out. 


Felix had prayed to Asclepius dozens of times in the past, but this time it was different. Not once had Asclepius brought his healing touch to the people Felix cared about. In the silence of the room, and the fading light of the sunset growing shadows through the windows, Felix found himself wrestling with an age-old question: if the gods are so powerful, and it costs them nothing to intervene and help, why do they remain silent? What moves the hands of the gods? In a moment of frustration, even rage, Felix blurted out, “Curse you, Asclepius!” Though Felix knew it wasn’t the case, this interjection of outrage seemed like it hastened the darkness and he quickly lit a small candle before it was pitch black in the room. 


“What have I done?” He quietly muttered to himself, disappointed that he rebuked the very god he was desperate to appease. “What hope do I have now?”


His thoughts were interrupted by a loud knock at the front door.




This short-form fiction series serves as companion to Dr. Nijay K. Gupta’s book Strange Religion: How the First Christians Were Weird, Dangerous, and Compelling. Stay tuned for Episode 4: “Which God?”

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