The Pilgrimage

For decades, Phoebe had scrimped, saved and sacrificed to arrive at this moment. With a trembling hand, she nudged the thin sheaf of monetary script beneath the grille and received her ticket to the Pilgrimage.

Tucking the precious coupon into the breast pocket of her cotton work overalls, Phoebe closed her eyes and savored the experience. She had been tempted to take the trip a year or two earlier, but was happy now that she had waited. Paying homage during the Fortieth Centennial of the Prophet's birth held much more significance to a devout follower...forty years had been the length of time the Prophet had walked among the people of earth.

Phoebe hurried back to the sawmill. She didn't want to be late clocking-in from her lunch break. A misdemeanor might jeopardize the issuance of her furlough permit. The journey to the Sacrosanct Shrine took many months and it was necessary to receive written permission from the authorities to be absent for such an extended period of time.

Not everybody was lucky enough to be among the chosen. The transport vessel had a limited number of spaces and employment history was carefully scrutinized. An over abundance of missed days, whether due to illness or otherwise, and a person's dream of ever visiting the Shrine could be unremittingly shattered. And that was only the first hurdle.

Phoebe was thankful her parents had seen to her early education. Many had not been so fortunate. Growing up, she had been surrounded by the Prophet's ideas, reflections and beliefs. Nights spent listening to the wisdom of his teachings, preserved in the memory and handed down to each generation...commitments of peace and love and hope, all vitally important prospects in a world ravaged by a series of conflicts which had almost destroyed everything and everyone.

Phoebe had been both apprehensive and delighted at the summons to attend the Testing, knowing it would be far from easy. The Council consisted of Masters, venerable and devoted to studying the life and times of the Prophet, but she had passed with flying colors. There had been only one issue over which she had agonized...when asked to identify the Charter Trinity who had accompanied the Prophet to the Bygone New World. It was something of a trick question because one of them had been a dual personality, bearing both a false and true name.

In the end, she had hesitantly given both and breathed a sigh of relief when she noted the nods of satisfaction. To fail the Testing was to be stricken from the list of waiting Pilgrims...perhaps forever.

That night, furlough permit and travel voucher tucked neatly inside her plastic wallet, Phoebe packed her small bag. She kept pinching herself, half-expecting to wake up and find she was back at the sawmill, but it wasn't a dream.

The first port of call was the Prophet's place of birth. Once a thriving, industrial town, it had been razed during the Hostilities over two millennia before. The Celestial Grotto, where the Prophet and his Charter Trinity had preached to thousands while the Faction was still in its infancy, was no more than a shell; nevertheless, shivers coursed down Phoebe's spine to think that his feet had once stood upon this hallowed ground.

Along with her fellow travelers, Phoebe gazed in awe at the nearby Mercy River, along which, so it was written, the Prophet had often sailed in a hallowed craft known as "Ferry." Gathering her courage, she shyly asked the guide where they might find the Quarry.

Eyes sparkling through the dark lenses of tiny, round, gold-rimmed spectacles, the usher recognized her to be one of the faithful. Only the most earnest of devotees had even heard mention of the Quarry. Shaking his head and sighing regretfully, he directed Phoebe to a page at the back of her tour book, which listed the Quarry as one of the Great Mysteries.

A title...? A location...? A doctrine...? Nobody knew. So much information had been lost during the Hostilities.

Phoebe had plenty of time to read and re-read the tour book during the long voyage. By the time the wind-driven ship docked at the Bygone New World's Harbor of Freedom, the slim paperback was dog-eared and falling apart. From there, the Pilgrimage was completed on foot. It proved to be an arduous journey, but Phoebe was immediately rejuvenated the second she stepped onto the tree-lined path leading to the Shrine.

Not knowing what to expect, Phoebe wondered what she would find there. It was an unwritten law that those who completed the Pilgrimage never spoke of what they discovered...only stating that it was a revelation and the experience of a lifetime.

She hoped for a statue of the Prophet or a bust of his likeness. She had often wondered about his appearance. Was he tall or short? Fair or dark? Thin or, like her, not so thin? There were no surviving images.

The rows of patiently-waiting people moved very slowly but, eventually, Phoebe entered the triangular piece of land she had travelled so far to find. Momentarily, she felt a wave of disappointment. There was no effigy.

Kneeling, Phoebe reached out and touched the smooth surface of one of the beautiful inlaid stones which made up the circular mosaic. In less than an instant, the disappointment vanished, to be replaced by joy. Tears welled up in her eyes until she could barely make out the one word in the center of the Shrine, formed in an archaic language of which Phoebe had only minimal understanding.

She had some trouble persuading her tongue to pronounce the alien symbols. She had no idea what it meant, but its sound was somehow musical, mystical and overflowing with promise. It was the Divine Statement of the Prophet. Haltingly, Phoebe whispered it once more before rising to her feet and making way for the young woman standing behind her...


John Winston Lennon

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