[passage from an untitled novel, written 12 August 1996]
he Forum didn’t come cheap, Simon said to himself, marveling at Rock’s coup. How had he managed it? The Romans were flocking to see the great magic show, no doubt of it, and the money poured in. It wouldn’t be the first time, he thought; you couldn’t go broke underestimating popular taste. Without thinking twice Simon disappeared and, invisible to all but unseen spirits, strolled through the gates unobserved and no poorer than he had been before.
The audience was boisterous and unruly; clearly they came expecting a good time. Had word of mouth brought this response? And how many dogs had Rock killed to get the result? How many talking fish had he suborned for the purpose? This was child’s play; a misuse of the powers beyond for trivial and disgusting ends. Simon wafted through the crowd like a gentle summer breeze and soon found himself in front.
Rock stood in the center of the arena, coolly facing the audience. He had no nerves. Simon knew that, but again he wondered at the stolidity of the man. Rock didn’t enter into it; the man was a boulder, a granite cliff, solid and hard and unmovable. There was strength in that, sure, but there was also enormous weakness. When a cliff crumbled, the ruin was great. Better to be smoke in the wind than an avalanche—the pain was less.
“Show us your god, Rock,” called out somebody behind Simon. “What makes him so great?”
Simon laughed—he could recognize a shill when he heard one. And as if on cue somebody else shouted again.
“Simon gave us hard proofs—let’s see yours!” The crowd roared its approval.
Rock raised his hands and the crowd fell silent. The man was impressive—Simon had to grant him that. “Romans!” he shouted. “You be the judges. I am come to say that I believe in the true and living God and I bring you evidence—hard evidence—solid and irrefutable evidence—that he and he alone is the ruler of the universe. I ask you only to put your eyes and ears in the service of your mind, to see and hear the evidence I am about to put before you. I have seen it—I have heard it—I have felt it—and there are many among you who themselves have witnessed the workings of God in this world for themselves!
“Now you’ve seen the magic tricks of Simon the imposter. These are nothing. Where is he now? Where is he hiding? This is the man I drove out of Judaea for his cruel and heartless tricks played on Eubola, an honest and upright widow. So what does he do then? He looks for new victims, new sheep to slaughter, new jewels to steal. But he is powerless, a whimpering coward who flees the power of God like a rabbit running from an all-consuming brush-fire. He does not dare face me—no, he hides in the darkness and confusion of his lies and deceit, full of fear and delusion. Or why else is he not here to face me. If I am the liar, why does he not show me up? Where is Simon?”
Simon knew an opportunity when he heard it. Stepping invisibly into the arena he invoked a stroke of lightning, called for a thunder-clap, and appeared in a whirlwind of colored smoke. There was a collective gasp from the audience, a moment of stunned silence, and then a burst of applause that threatened to bring down the Forum. Simon smiled and gave a slight bow towards Rock. “You wanted to know where I am, Rock?” he asked politely. “I’m here, fool and charlatan, to show you the power of God once and for all.”
Rock looked at Simon expressionlessly. “All flash and noise, Simon,” he observed. “And nothing but a foul stench left behind. How appropriate.”
Something was wrong. Rock was giving nothing away, but suddenly Simon had the feeling of having walked into a well-planned trap. He felt the quicksand sucking away at his feet, but showed nothing to his enemy. “So tell me, Rock, how comes it that I am not afraid to cross swords with you, if I have not the power of God behind me?”
“First tell me this, Simon the sorcerer,” said Rock, “when you groveled at my feet in Samaria, when you begged me for the secret of the Holy Spirit