Neb’s Cave

Immediately the word was fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men, and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails were like birds’ claws. Daniel 4:33

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago . . . before people began to unwrap their food, or even to write everything down properly … there lived a mighty king named Nebuchadnezzar and everyone in his kingdom, which was called Babylonia, thought he was one heck of a king and a fine fellow, too!

He did everything a king was supposed to do, and he did it with style. He had a big golden throne that he sat around on all day. He watched parades from his balcony … he had people’s heads chopped off out on the patio. Everything he did, well. .. it was just right.

“King of kings!” people used to call him. “Peacock of the universe!” they’d say. “Cleaner than Clean!”

Ahh! He’d like that a lot! And when someone addressed him in this was, he’d invariably ask, “Yes? What is it you want?”

Well, this would go on all day sometimes and before you knew it, it would be bedtime. “Not bad!” thought King Neb, “Not a bad way to live! Not bad at all!”

Now, only drawback to being king of Babylonia was that every springtime you’d have to be publicly humiliated by the priest of Marduk, Bull Calf of the Sun. And then, all the kingdom would give happy little sighs and be refreshed for another year, and the sun would continue to come up and stay out later and later everyday, and the rain would continue to fall, and warm winds would continue to blow, and the crops would poke through the ground, and people would be born and die, and water would continue to run downhill.

“Oh, I can live with that!” said King Neb. And, year after year, he did!
And everything went off without a hitch.

He liked being king. For one thing, wherever he happened to be, he was always pretty much the center of attention. He was visible; whatever it was he was doing, he’d be being seen by someone. Yep, that’s what would be going on. First and foremost he’d be being seen. This was what he was used to and he enjoyed it very much.

When the people would sometimes see him. . . maybe catch a glimpse of his crown bobbing along on the other side of a hedge over at the hanging gardens, they’d hush their tones and be enormously impressed.

Oh, Neb thought he walked the ground the a tread that made the old earth shake! The things he liked to think about! He liked the things he thought about so much, he thought about them everyday! He’d think, “Hey! This is the largest and most important country in this part of the world! And me? I’m the king! Heh, heh, heh! Look at all those people asking me, what’s up!”

Well, for years he had only been able to hear enthusiastic praise from his subjects. Hailings, greetings, impressed breathing, admiring silences . .. that’s all that was available for him to hear.

But . . . as time passed . . . things changed . . . people began to get used to Neb, especially since anybody who felt like showing up at the ceremony could see him get his face slapped every springtime . He began to feel as if he were taken for granted. He began to feel uncomfortable if people stared at him in silence for any length of time. His ears began to pick up unfamiliar tones of familiarity and phrases that didn’t make any sense to him because they were hard to line up with anything in his experience for comparison. Things like, “Hi, Neb!” or “Good old Neb!”

King Neb felt that something was the matter. He felt his very splendor threatened, but he couldn’t tell you what it was that threatened it. “What’ll I do?” cried Neb.

Well, he got into a couple of wars and that made him feel better. But he found that even being a victorious conqueror didn’t get things back to normal for very long. Folks just got used to having him around. His image scowled and sulked at him in the mirror and didn’t look a bit grand. He’d get so mad he’d grind his teeth until all the poeple in the court were wondering, “What’s with Neb?”

“I wish these people would stop telling me what to dol” said Neb to an advisor.

“But, Neb, baby!” said the advisor. “You’re telling them what to do, they’re not telling you what to do!”

“It’s the same thing!” said Neb. “They’re telling me to tell them what to do by always doing what I tell them to do! What’s the matter? Aren’t you enthused about your king and country anymore?”

And so on. He began to avoid mirrors. His appetite fell off. His hair went uncombed, his beard grew, his breath stank, he glared a lot, his whole attitude about life became very sour indeed. His breathing came in little snarls. Everybody noticed that things had gone down hill.

Well . .. the year went around, same as usual. It was getting close to springtime. Time for Neb to be ritually humiliated … and he knew it, too!

A group of his surviving advisors came into the throne room to cheer him up a little and remind him of the ceremony and they found him standing on the throne.
The advisors looked at each other and didn’t know quite what to say.

But Neb didn’t mind. He bounded off the throne and started shaking his fist at the huge hall mirror. “SO! You’re out to get me, too, eh?” roared Neb at himself. “Well, I’m going to get you for that, if it’s the last thing I do! Oh, yeah? Yeah!”

“I am beset!” shouted Neb, staring off into space. “Here I come! Yow! There I go! I can catch up with me if I want to but if I do, I’ll punch myself right in the mouth! How come I have to have all the fun?!”

And stepping out of his own way, he swung mightily and frightened himself right out of his wits. As he’ ran down the hall, yelling and swinging his fists, he glanced back over his shoulder at his retreating figure in the mirror and thought, “There I go!”

Before the huddled advisors had time to say, “Hey! It’s time for you to be ritually humiliated!” he gave one last wild shriek and disappeared out of the door. He raced down the avenue away from the palace on all fours, roaring and snapping at the people on the side walk, and pausing to bite anyone who wished him a pleasant afternoon. He caught a commuter train which hurled him deep into the suburbs of Babylonia in no time at all.

When the train rubbed up against the closest dismal looking forest, Neb yanked on the emergency cord and crashed through the train window, galloping off into the dense vegetation. He pelted through the greenery for three days and three nights without stopping, until he collapsed from exhaustion. He had lost his crown, he had lost his reasoning ability, and he had cuts on his knuckles, but he felt sure that he had successfully escaped from himself and the throne of Babylonia. And yet, the fact that he was still there, taking up space, soon became obvious and he fell into a deep depression. He became so dejected that he began howling and sorrowing as if it were a painful and unhappy thing to be anywhere at all. He found a cave to curl up in and he stayed right there in the forest.

In time, he grew very shaggy looking. He lost the use of his thumbs, he grew moss on his back, and he skulked around this cave for years and years with mouthfuls of wild grasses and bull rushes and a sorrowful expression on his face, coming out only to find food and to howl at the moon.

Neb developed a routine, spending each day exactly as he had the day before; same howls, same roars, same moans and groans. And, after a while, he caught the attention of Dagon, the Fish God, who noticed him one night howling away and who thought that this was very interesting behavior in a human. He would float in and visit Neb every once in a a while, just to catch his act.

One day, during the seventh year of Neb’s shagginess and mental turbulence, Dagon, Lord of Floating Objects, was sitting on a rock in Neb’s cave, having a one-sided conversation, when who should walk in but Marduk, Bull Calf of the Sun!

“Marduk! You old rascal!” said Dagon. “How ya been? You’re looking well! How are you these days?”

“Oh,supreme, heh, heh! Hello, Dagon! How’re they bitin’?”

Dagon chuckled, but his dorsal fin seemed to flair up a little bit. “Ha, ha! Good old Marduk! Say, you look like you’ve put on a few pounds, pal! All that rich living over at the Sun’s place, eh?”

“Heh! Same aI’ Dagon! So, how’s eternal life treating you, Scaly? You know, you look a little peaked, kinda washed out . . . hey, listen! If you ever need any help with any of the tides or something, just give me a call and me and the boys’ll be right over to give yez a hand!”

“Listen yourself, Bright Eyes! The day I need help from you . . . ”

“Now, now, Dagon, don’t get sore . . . remember your water pressure . . . I know you’re powerful and highly regarded and well thought of and so on and so forth, OK? But tell me, what brings you to this neck of the woods anyway?”

“I like to drop in on this shaggy hermit every once in a while!” replied Dagon. “Usually at the full moon, especially if there’s a heavy dew and I’m swimming on the high flood! I kinda like this guy; thought he was a dog the first time I saw him, all shaggy and woebegone, howling away at my sister, the Moon. Ha, ha, ha!”

“Did you know he’s the king of Babylonia?” said Marduk.

“What? Him? “asked Dagon. “The king of Babylonia? You’re joking?”

“Honest! Yeah, he used to be real dignified and walk around holding his head up high, like this . . . and he’d pass his days surrounded by trembling subjects! HA, HA!”

Dagon, too, roared with laughter, “Those humans . . . too much!”

“You said it, pal!” agreed Marduk.

“Say, if he’s the king of Babylonia, why does he live out here in this cave and go about on all fours and eat bullrushes and other wild grasses?”

“Beats me!” said Marduk. “I think he’s a sore head. He took off one spring, just before face-slapping time. Nobody’s seen him since, except you and your sister. Even me, the Sun’s own Bull Calf, had a heck of a time trackin’ him down; all this shrubbery makes it hard for the ol’ light rays to penetrate! Hey, by the way, how did you get here, Fishy?”

“Oh, I’ve got a fine mist waiting for me outside! But, tell me, I’m curious why would Marduk go to all the trouble of tracking down this wretched looking fellow? Because he used to be king of Babylonia?”

“Well, it’s like this, y’see Dagon . . . since Neb ran off like he did he’s thrown the cycle of the seasons out of whack and the people are starting to give my priests a hard time. Nothing serious, just a few, uh, irregularities have started to pop up . . .

“Like what, Marduk?”

“Little things, little things . . . leaves turning black in the autumn, instead of red and gold like they’re supposed to . . . uh, got a river that’s started to flow backwards for some reason . . . and they have had a couple of bad alkali storms . . . very messy.”

“Maybe you ought to talk to the Wind God, eh?” said Dagon, barely able to conceal his amusement.

“Hey, I did, I did! He says there’s nothin’ he can do! The timing is off or somethin’. The wheel is out of kilter, you see. Without a king to slap every springtime, there’s no wholeness in Babylonia. Things are incomplete! Nope! He’s gotta get slapped.

“Well, look, why don’t you just have them set up a new guy and you can slap his face?” suggested Dagon.

“Come on, Dagon, it’s not as simple as that! His former advisors say they have no precedent for the king crashing through the window and running off into the forest on all fours! They say it might be test of their loyalty; they think maybe he’s gonna come back. They’ve adopted the old wait-and-see. The thing is, they really enjoy runnin’ the country without him.” complained Marduk.

Dagon was beginning to enjoy Marduk’s predicament. “What do you think’s going to happen?” he said.

“Think! What do I think is gonna happen? Hey, I didn’t travel ninety three million miles to stand around and wonder if the clown was ever coming back! I’m here to take him back!” shouted the Bull Calf.

“Like that?” said Dagon, suppressing a smile.

“Uh . . . um . . . well, I’ll have a little talk with him first. He’ll be OK!”

“Maybe he’d rather stay out here and howl at my sister. I don’t mind! I’ve gotten to like the old bird. Why don’t you leave him alone? Hey, why don’t you come as a revelation before the assembled advisors and tell them to get themselves a new boy?” offered Dagon.

“Look, Dagon, this is real important stuff here! This ain’t no pleasure cruise, you know! This guy’s the king and he’s gain’ back whether he likes it or not!” shouted Marduk.

“Yeah? Well, maybe he will and maybe he won’t!”

The two gods glared at each other for a moment. Marduk went over to where Neb was curled up, munching bull rushes. ‘Hey, Neb!” he called in a friendly manner. “Neb! Hey! It’s me, Marduk, your old pal! The Bull Calf! Hey, are you in there Neb? Heh, heh, heh! You remember me! Sure ya do! Don’tcha? How ya been? Oh, come on, Neb! You can’t be enjoying yourself out here in this crummy cave!”

“Enjoying yourself isn’t everything!” snickered the Fish God.

“Dry up, will ya? Listen to me, Neb! You don’t want to stay like this! Think about it! Come on, how do you really feel about carrying on out here in tbe woods like this all the time? Roarin’ and howlin’ all night! Doesn’t your throat get sore? Neb? Neb?”

“Don’t listen to him, Neb!” interrupted Dagon. “He means you no good!”

“Come on, you could change it all, Neb, you can do it! You could change it all in an instant, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye!”

“Knock it off, Marduk! Look at him! He doesn’t even hear you! He’s content right here being wretched! He’s gotten used to it, so layoff him, will you? He’s not going anywhere! He doesn’t want to go.”

“Outta my way, Fishface, or you’ll find yourself floatin’ belly-up in a big bowl of chowder!” shouted the enraged Bull Calf.

“Watch it, Marduk! This is Dagon the Fish God you’re talking to, not some punk moonbeam. You be careful how you wag that cattle tongue, or it’s lunchmeat time!”

“Why, you miserable little smelt! I am the awesome blasting furnace! I am Marduk, the Firestorm!”

“You are a glorified side of beef, and you know it! I am Dagon the Engulfer! Dagon the Gulper-Upper!”

“Yeah? Well, you’re gonna be Dagon and Chips in a minute, if you provoke my Horrible Awfulness! I will dry you and fry you to a crisp!”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah!”

“Oh, yeah?

“YEAH!”

“You and who else?

“YOU ASKED FOR IT!”

And the two deities leapt at each other with fierce snarls and each turned his terrible power against the other. The air was torn by explosions and hideous shrieks and the cave soon filled up with blasts of steam as Marduk and the Fish God went at it more and more ferociously.

Neb, bewildered by the chain of events leading up to this enormous din and confusion, was terrified. There were blinding fogs! Continuous flashes of lightning! It was too much! Poor Neb stumbled around on his hind feet, trying to feel his way out of the cave! As his ears rung and his head spun, his hands found the opening and out he staggered into the sunlight. He looked up into the sky and a puzzled look came over his face.

“Hey! What am I doing out here? What am I eating here, bull rushes? What is this stuff on my back? Why does it hurt so much to straighten up? How come I’m so shaggy and ragged? Hey, where is everybody? What am I doing out here in the woods? Hey! Where’s my crown?” said Neb.

And he puzzled over these questions for a moment and then walked to the nearest highway and thumbed a lift back to Babylonia, which was where he felt he belonged.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me. Daniel 4:34

© Ken Raabe

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