Warning: This work has been rated 18+ for language.
The Adventures of Johnathan Oracle in Time:
When in Rome
By Early-Ray Mixon
The year is 1819 and Jonathan sits alone in an empty home surrounded by empty people.
He holds himself, grits his teeth and closes his eyes as he tries again to bury the pain.
The wind outside howls and he fights not to join it, even as demons of grief tear up his
insides. The laughing and the chatter gnaw at the boy and his eyes can not stay shut.
Once again he gazes at the smiling faces of drunken New York socialites. To them this
is just another party. Jonny’s eyes then creep to the body at the center of the room. His
father looking so unnaturally calm, so quiet and dignified. A man who was in life loud
and unapologetically rude. The clothes are also off putting to Jonny, his father would
never wear anything so nice. Nothing seems quite right or natural. Jonny stands, the
mindless chatter is getting to him now. He tries to walk around and clear his head but the
guests are relentless in their pity. Every few steps he bumps into a man or woman eager to
give their rehearsed and insincere condolences.
“So sorry for your loss son.”
“He‘s in a better place now my boy.”
“This is all a part of gods plan son.”
“Your father was such a good man boy.”
“He belongs to the angels now my son.”
“Shut the fuck up!” Jonny shouts.“Just everybody shut the fuck up!”
The chatter suddenly stops. Jonny’s heart skips a beat as he realizes what he just said in a
room full of people. The preacher and his wife standing right in front of him. Shock on
their long horse like faces, disbelief in their eyes.
He feels the judgmental stares of the whole room. The chorus of hushed voices rises up
again. The words “disgraceful”,“uncouth” and“troubled” are repeated in various
combinations. He feels the large clammy hand of the preacher on his shoulder.
“A few uncouth and disgraceful words can be forgiven when you are so
troubled,” he says. Jonny pulls away from the man, he feels like cursing out the whole
room again. He feels like the only sane person, the only one who feels any kind of grief at
all. He has to get away from these people, Jonny pushes past the preacher’s wife.
As he marches to the cellar stairs he pulls off his coat and tie, tossing them to the floor.
“Fuck it,” he says, “I can‘t take this shit anymore.”
Once down the narrow, creaky wooden stairs Jonny leans against the damp stone cellar
wall. Now alone from prying eyes he can let the tears flow. He knows he’s too old to cry,
it’s not manly, but to hell with it he’s in pain. The spiders webs, the darkness and the
stifling air all seemed so much more appropriate than the bright social scene above.
“Jonny, are you down there?” A voice comes from atop the dark and narrow
staircase. The old wooden steps creak as a body descends. Jonny quickly tries to wipe
the tears from his face onto his shirt sleeve. The man coming down the steps is tall and
has to slouch to keep his head from hitting the rafters. Once down he stares at Jonny with
blazing blue eyes and strokes a bushy white beard. Jonny’s eyes widen as he recognizes
The long nose and distinctly hawk like features of his grandfather.
“You won‘t find answers by crying Jonny,” the old man says.
“I‘m not crying,” Jonny lies, “I’m too old to cry.”
“You‘ll never be too old to cry when you’re in pain Jonny,” the old man says. “But it won‘t
solve anything either. Nor will cursing at the primitive fools upstairs. ”
“Then what should I do grandfather?” Jonny asks. “I have tried to act like a man, to not
show my feelings but it seems so unnatural.” Tightly, Jonny’s grandfather grasps the
his shoulders. The old man’s eyes bear into the boy’s soul even as they fill with tears.
“It‘s this backward time period that’s unnatural. Slavery and injustice and suffering are
everywhere and we are expected to ignore it,” he says. “Do not doubt your emotions but
do not give in to them either. We need clear heads for the task ahead of us.”
“Task, what task?” Jonny asks, every bit of him confused. His grandfather takes hold of
his hand and pulls him deeper into the wine cellar. Speedily they weave through the
many barrels stacked about them.“Your father was killed in no accident. Understand that
he died protecting something. He was murdered boy!” The old man’s eyes grew bright in
the darkness, he pulls Jonny deeper still into the damp, dark cellar. They come to stop
before a metal door, rusted red. The boy’s heart pounds, anger and outrage build. He pulls
himself away from his grandfather.“Murdered? What do you mean,” Jonny asks
anxiously. The old man turns his eyes from the door to the boy.
“Nero Caesar and his wretched dogs of Rome did the terrible deed. All to obtain the
Secret which our family protects behind this door.” Jonny trembles when he sees the
door, it has been the architect of his worst nightmares for years. “Father always said the
door was dangerous,” Jonny says. His grandfather holds a skeleton key in his wrinkled
hand. “Dangerous, yes and full of terrible wonder.” The old man puts the key into the
lock. As it turns Jonny hears the rattling gears of time itself. As the door opens Jonny
sees the blinding blue light of infinity and feels the warm wind of history against his skin.
Terror sweeps across his adolescent body as he is confronted with the raw power of the universe. There before him is a swirling vortex of blue flame extending into infinity.
He shakes, he wants to run but fear keeps his body frozen. With some effort he pushes
words past his quivering lips.“Jesus Christ in heaven!” He shouts, then lets slip an
incoherent torrent of curse words. Better he thinks than giving in fully and screaming in
“Don‘t just stand there boy, your father must be avenged!” His grandfather shouts so
loud that he sounds like a madman. Slowly Jonny reaches for the old man’s extended
hand. “That‘s right my boy we‘ll go together!” He grasps his grandson’s hand with a
maniac’s strength. It is a grip so tight that it hurts.
“Where are we going,” Jonny asks while dreading the answer. He can not begin to
imagine what lays beyond the terrible vortex.
“We are going into history boy!” The old man’s laughter fills the air as he yanks the boy
forward. Jonny struggles against his grandfather’s grip as he is pulled unwillingly ever
closer to the dreadful vortex. Finally his hand his free but Jonny realizes there is nothing
beneath his feet. He falls for an eternal instant, nothing but the swirling blue flames of the
vortex in sight. Suddenly, slowly and almost instantly he finds himself standing in the
corner of a market place. He looks around but doesn’t see his grandfather or anyone like
him. What he sees are throngs of strangely dressed people. They chatter in a language he
Does not quite understand. The smells then hit him all at once. A thousand repugnant
odors invade his nose. All too quickly he finds himself bent over coughing.
He sits on the ground, letting the back of his mind worry about getting dirt on his church
pants. Then he notices that the people here aren’t really wearing pants. All of them have
on these robes, sort of like togas… “Oh damn,” he says as the realization hits him.
He recalls his grandfather mentioning Nero Caesar before they jumped. Jonny stands and
looks at his clothes, fit for a New York funeral. He feels the eyes on him already, people
are staring. “Just damn,” he says again as he looks for a place he can duck out of the
crowd. The street is too busy to maneuver, there are people carts and farm animals
moving every which way. He stumbles in the wrong direction and nearly gets trampled by
a horse. The rider shouts some obscenities Jonny cannot understand but he suspects
involve his mother. Across the street there is an old man talking to two centurions.
The gnarled finger points in Jonny’s direction. Some things don’t need translation, the
boy breaks into a run. “Oh shit, why is this happening to me?”
Too many people in his way, Jonny pushes and shoves without regard for manors.
He trips. “Damn it, what the hell did I just trip over?”
He hears the sound of an angry bleat. A goat, now a very mad goat ready to
charge. The boy staggers to his feet but not quickly enough. The goat head butts Jonny
knocking back to the ground. Someone offers the boy their hand and without thinking he
takes it. As he stands he suddenly feels the point of hard, sharp steel against his chest.
The centurion’s grip on Jonny’s arm tightens. The boy hears rushed angry words. The
language was unintelligible. Perhaps Latin or Greek, Jonny hadn’t paid enough attention
during his classical studies to really recognize one from the other when spoken. He can
Recognize anger though and this voice was full of it.
“I don‘t know what your saying,”Jonny said. “I don‘t suppose you would speak
English?” Immediately he realizes that he should kept his mouth shut.
The second centurion grabs him by the arms.
“Just damn,” he says again.
* * *
The metal latch clangs as the lock is fastened. Jonny has never felt so helpless. The cell is cold and damp and his future uncertain. “What are they going to do to me? ” He groans, sitting on the muddy floor. He can’t understand a word the Romans are saying, can’t tell what they have planned. He thinks he hears a word or two of Greek and remembers reading that Greek was a popular language in the empire after Latin had fallen out of common use. He bangs his head against the hard stone wall. If only he’d bothered to learn even one of the classical languages! Instead he buried his head in musty history books for all the good they’d do him now. He can’t even tell what year it is. The cell is darker than soot, nothing is visible but everything smells. At first Jonny tries to hold his breath but can’t for long. The foul stench of death and feces is invade his nose. He coughs until he can’t sit straight. Sliding down, his body meets the cold, filthy goo. His skin itching at the thought of what it was, a million bathes will never make him feel clean. He closes his eyes and tries to picture his warm, soft feather bed. His mother and father both alive and well tucking him in and kissing him goodnight. Long gnarled rat teeth sink into the boy’s leg, shattering the fantasy. “Oh god,” he cries. “I’m going to die here!” Salty tears fall down his cheeks as he weeps in earnest. He hugs his knees and begins to hyperventilate. “Je…Je…Jesus, Jesus save me,” he prays. He can think of nothing else to do but prey, if anyone hates Romans enough to save him it has to be Jesus right? “I know I’m a bad Christian,” he said. “I don’t even go to church but god, I’m only fourteen I don’t want to die!” Then he looks up and notices something, something very bad. His Roman guards are looking at him. They point at him and say one word he recognizes, one word that makes him go cold inside. “Christian!” He remembers once again that his grandfather had said something about Nero before dragging him through the time vortex. Now more than ever Jonny is certain he will die. “God damn it,” he says as the Romans open his cage. He has a feeling there is a special place for Christians. Jonny remembers his history; they fed Christians to lions in the time of Nero. The guards mutter in Greek as they undo his rope bindings and begin to shackle his hands with metal. That’s when he hears them, the words he’s been dreading to hear. “Circus Maximus,” the guard says among his otherwise indecipherable Greek. Jonny Jerks and struggles. The guard tries to hold him still. He wiggles his hand free from the not yet bolted shackle. Jonny’s eye catches the gleam of steel at the guard’s side. His free hand reaches out. His fingertips touch the cold, smooth wood of the hilt. With a sudden furious and desperate motion Jonny thrusts the blade up into the face of the guard. A terrible howl causes the boy to cringe. The guard falls backward, holding his face with both of his hands while screaming. Blood flows like water from between his fingers. A knot forms in Jonny’s gut. He backs away from the wounded man slowly. The sound of rushed footsteps, two more guards burst in. Their blades flash as they draw them. There is only one small door and they block it. His eyes dart back to the man thrashing about on the floor. The two others charge while shouting curses. The boy parries the first swinging blade, then the second. He parries the second, thrusts then parries again. He thinks back thankfully to the many fencing lessons his father had given. Two opponents however is one too many. He tries to keep his eye on both but loses his footing. He stumbles over the leg of the man he’d cut. He falls and finds himself maliciously held by that same bleeding individual. Jonny’s drops his sword as the guard twists his arm. The other guards poise themselves to strike. The boy closes his eyes. He anticipates the penetration of cold steel into the flesh of his neck. And wonders just how long it will take to die. Just how painful will it be? Then he hears the men talking. The guard who holds him the same word twice, “phonos!” “phonos!” Jonny tries to remember his Greek lessons but cannot recall what the word means. He imagines that it means to kill. The other two seem somewhat reluctant though. They are talking something over. Jonny opens his eyes. They’ve put their swords away. One of them picks up the shackles from the floor while the other pulls the boy to his feet. He grabs both of Jonny’s wrists and pulls them to the front of his body. The other comes and places the shackles on, bolting them securely. Both men have smirks upon their lips. One pats the boy affectionately across the back. He says something, something “gladiator,” Jonny gets it. Because he can fight these guys think he’s worth money. It’s something at least. He figures, he won’t be killed right away. The men lead him out of the door. They climb steps and walk through a narrow hall until they reach yet another door. The first of the guards opens it and the second pushes Jonny through. He stumbles and falls into dirt, hey and something that smells bad. The guards laugh and pull him up. One of them produces a knife and cuts off Jonny’s manure stained shirt while the other fills a bucket from the trough. Cold water strikes the boy’s bare skin. He shivers. Jonny is then pushed from behind, urged forward. The guard points to a wagon. Jonny hesitates for a moment too long. A loud crack splits the air. Stinging pain cuts across the boy’s back. He falls to his knee. Turns his head back and sees the other guard standing over him with a horse whip. The first guard pulls him up by the shoulders and shakes him. He shouts something in Greek and points to the cart again. This time Jonny gets in without hesitation. Slowly Jonny’s new condition sinks in. It is a condition he’s only seen once before on a trip with his father south of the Mason-Dixon Line. He’s heard about it all of his life though. He’s been told how wrong slavery is but never really cared or given it thought. Now he doesn’t have a choice but to think about it, how much he has in common with the Negroes of the south. He looks at the shackles on his wrists. “Just damn,” he mutters as he lies on his back. The guards hitch the cart and drive the horses forward. Jonny bounces with the movement of the cart on the roughly paved road. He closes his eyes. Thinks back to that visit to New Orleans, the slave auction he and his father passed on their horses. He imagines himself to be headed someplace similar. An American stripped of freedom and sold as property, he didn’t like the thought. “It’s still better than dying,” he says as he sits up. He watches Roman people and Roman buildings as they slowly move into the distance. Jonny puts the past out of his mind. This is Rome not America. They were ready to kill him but instead are giving him a chance. He’ll live by their rules if it means survival. He looks at his shackled wrists again. “So I’m a slave now…”