I climbed slowly up the cliffs, my hands grasping cold stone in the moonglow, the road below me further and further away. The snow hadn’t touched the cliff, fortunately, and after a few terrifying moments my hand grasped the plateau and hoisted my body up and over. There before me lay the temple I sought.
Surrounded with snow-covered ornamentation—a fountain and some decorative steps—the temple was grand in its scale and yet simple in design, hearkening to Greek design. I knew not what I would find inside, yet I would not have been surprised to find a massive statue of Zeus or a smaller statue of Lincoln.
As I walked through the ornamental steps and ascended the pathway, I was struck with an overwhelming feeling of déjà vu. I’ve been here before, I thought to myself. But it was different now, covered in snow and forgotten on a cliff-side.
I stepped into the grand archway that marked the temple’s threshold and found myself in a small room softly lit by a golden glow that resonated well with the room’s gold leaf and red velvet walls. It felt an infinitely warm and comforting contrast to outside’s dark indigo and silvery-white moonlight reflected on the cold snow. The room and the room beyond it were filled with dioramas housed in glass cases gilt with gold trim.
They each depicted a different sort of battle scene, playing out silently in mechanical clockwork. Here tiny golden tanks fired glittering explosive shells into a field. There small airplanes dropped golden bombs onto a small dingy city. In the next room tiny soldiers fired tiny machine guns into each other, mortar exploding around them and grenades being thrown, all perfectly quiet.
At the end of the second room was a door, simple and brown compared to the splendor around me. As I saw the door I realized I had indeed been here before, in another time, perhaps another life. I recalled beaming with pride at the diorama here, having built it to demonstrate the genius and inevitable success of the Third Reich. Before, these walls lay bare and rooms empty. He was someone else, though. From somewhere else. Still, the door remained.
I opened the door only to find a yet smaller room, just wide enough to hold a couch and a computer desk and a small television with nondescript images flickering across the screen. The room was brown with cheap particle board paneling, the couch a nondescript grey-yellow-green color. Inside the room was an older man, hair white but still standing tall and proud. I barely paid attention to his outfit, which appeared to be a dark blue robe with silver trim. He spoke to me and asked if I had found some evidence for humanity’s continued survival, for its redemption. I thought for a moment and as my attention wandered I found myself at the crest of a hillside overlooking a quiet coastal town, night illuminated by the sharp moonlight, city glowing softly with human lights.
The port, I could see, was at the end of a ship-filled lagoon, beyond it a glittering ocean. The sight was beautiful, the small wooden ships gently rocking to the waves, the town below me laying in silence. I found myself walking to a nearby building, a restaurant, small and well-worn, a light layer of grime attesting to its habitation. Inside, I knew, was a woman I also knew and loved from the lowest depths of my heart. But she was not there, and in that moment I was returned to the study. “Well Belphegor?” said the man to me. “Have you found it?” As he spoke what I was not aware was my name, his appearance changed, becoming something less human and more indefinably alien. I saw myself change as well—into a reflection of him.
I sat on the couch, brainstorming what I would say, what argument I would give. As I did the door of the study opened and in walked the woman. My heart yanked as she smiled her beautiful warm smile at me, said a few quiet words to the man and then left again. “Have I always known her?” I asked myself. The man stared expectantly. I drifted over to the computer desperate to build an argument that would satisfy his questioning. I mulled over reports of human kindness, human hope, human courage, human love. I built my case thoroughly and meticulously and began to present it soberly and intensely.
But as I spoke my mind began to drift and I thought of the cruelties and the injustices and the greed and the malfeasance. I thought of war, of perpetual endless war. I thought of hate, justified and rationalized and reproduced again and again. I thought of fear and loss and grief and wounds and scars and destruction. I began to weep, to cry openly. I choked with fear and sadness, I stopped my argument and spoke instead: “I don’t know. I don’t know if humanity deserves to continue. I don’t know if it’s redeemed. I don’t know.”
The man smiled a warm, knowing smile.