It’s 3975 years before the common era, and there isn’t any sun.
People back then are pretty much like they are in our day. They try to live good lives. They try to live happy lives. Sometimes these conflict.
Everybody back then hopes to go to Heaven when they die. But it’s not rightly the Heaven people talk about now. It’s not a Heaven of unity with God, or, leastaways, if it is, nobody says much about that side of it. It’s not a Heaven of perfect joy for those who do good deeds, which is another pretty popular concept of Heaven in the modern day. Maybe it relates to one of those two Heavens. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it don’t even intersect.
People don’t get into the old-time Heaven by faith or by good deeds. Those things might matter to a modern Heaven, but they don’t matter much back then.
3975 years before the common era, everybody has a gem. And they keep it with them always. That gem is their value and their virtue. And when they die they take their gem to the gates of Heaven, and they slam it down on the counter, and the guards give that gem a good long look. And if the gem is pure enough, and pretty enough, and big enough, and worth enough, the guards’ll let ’em in.
And if it’s not, why, no one’s really sure what happens to the lost soul then.
You can always know who’s better’n you, or who’s worse. You just have to take a gander at their gem. If it’s pretty big, if it’s pretty clear, if it’s just plain prettier than yours, then they’re better’n you. If it’s not, they’re not.
It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a curse. It’s just how it is, back then.
Now, Cole starts out just an ordinary guy, but the thing is, his gem’s the best. Not the biggest in the world, not the brightest in the world, but it’s clear as the sky on a perfect day. It’s full of glitters like the stars. It’s deep and it’s beautiful. It’s jaw-dropping, and everyone who sees it knows it.
So he says to his friend, “Hey. You should give me your gem.”
And his friend Saul doesn’t like this much, but he knows it’s the right thing to do. He does. ‘Cause you just have to look at Cole’s gem to know he’s always right.
So he does it. He gives Cole his gem. Now Cole’s got two.
And Cole says to his other friend, Mr. Schiff, “Hey. You should give me your gem.”
And Mr. Schiff does, ’cause Cole’s got more worth in his pocket right then than the Princes of the Sky.
And now Cole’s got a cluster, and he goes from place to place, and he takes the gem from everyone around.
People don’t want to give him their gems. But it’s pretty clear by now it’s right. Cole is more important than everyone else. He’s righter. He’s purer. He’s better. He’s the verr’ definition of good.
So people start sending him their gems without even being asked. They pour into his trove by the hundreds, by the thousands.
He’s King of the World, Cole is.
And he lives for a long time that way.
In thirty years, Cole’s got seven wives and he’s got three daughters. He’s got some male lovers too, ’cause Cole ain’t too particular when it comes to anatomy. He lives in a palace and it’s up on a hill and he sends his edicts out to the world.
And there’s no one in all the world who’s worth two seconds of your time, save Cole.
And there’s no one in all the world worth the trouble to feed ’em when they’re starving, save Cole.
And there’s no one in all the world who’ll go to Heaven, of course, save Cole.
And one day, Cole’s out in the moors and he sees the wolf, and he knows he’s gonna die.
That’s the way it is, back then. When you’re gonna die, there’s a wolf who comes for you. And it looks at you once, one day, with its piercing eyes, and that’s when you know. And it looks at you a second time, another day, and you’d better be drying the ink off on your will. And it looks at you a third time, and maybe you’d been afraid before, but you’re not afrightened then, and you get up, and everything’s clear, and you say your last words and testaments to your friends, and you walk up to the wolf, and you go, and that’s how you die, back 3975 years before the common era even starts.
So Cole knows he’s going to die. And he goes home. And he writes some more proclamations, and he writes his will. And then he looks in the mirror and he sees the wolf again. And he goes outside, and he calls for his pipe, and he calls for his bowl, and he calls for his fiddlers three.
“Bring me my pipe,” he says.
And his old friend Saul brings it out.
“Light it for me,” Cole says.
And Saul sets a fire in the pipe. And Cole puffs and puffs and after a bit the fire rises, and rises, up into the sky, and there’s a sun now way up there high.
“Wow,” says Saul. He looks at the sun. He looks at it hard ’cause he’s never seen one before. His eyes start to sting, in a while, so he’s got to look away.
“Too bright,” says Cole. “Bring me my bowl.”
So Saul brings him his bowl. And Cole flicks his wrist and throws the bowl up into the sky, and there’s a moon now way up high.
“Wow,” says Saul. He stares at the moon. It’s white and it’s shining and it’s prettier than Cole’s eyes.
“And my daughters,” says Cole, “and their fiddles.”
And his daughters come out. And they’ve got their fiddles. And Cole says to them, “Play.”
Meredith’s his oldest daughter. She’s a painter. She kind of hesitates.
“I’m not any good on the fiddle,” she says.
“Oh?” says Cole.
Claire is his middle daughter. She’s got a serial killing problem. Just a bit of one. And she’s a doctor on the side. She hesitates too.
“I’m not any good,” she says. “Either.”
“Oh?” says Cole.
Iphigenia’s his third daughter. She’s a whore.
“Nor I,” she says.
Cole grins at them, just a bit, at the edges of his mouth.
“Play like you’re worth something,” he says, “though you ain’t.”
So they play. And they play. And they play.
They’re still playing as the wolf comes. They’re still playing as Cole goes away to Heaven with every last gem on Earth.
They’re still playing now.
You can’t get into that Heaven any more, and people aren’t getting born with gems these days. Prolly someone changed the rules, and it’s prolly for the best.
They’re still playing, though, ’cause Cole told them to, and he’s the only person they ever met worth one damn thing.