In the ancient Greek translations of the Bible the Holy Ghost was often referred to in the feminine gender. Now, in the middle of the Sinai, Tom Davidson is about to find out why.
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In the ancient Greek translations of the Bible, whenever they referred to the Holy Ghost they used the feminine gender. Now, in the Sinai, Tom Davidson is about to find out why.
On a Fiery Cloud is a the story of a freelance journalist who has just been handed the biggest story in the past two thousand years. The problem is - who would believe it? You follow his ten day journey, as he reports on a woman who can't possibly be who she claims to be, but who just might be.
Be prepared to have your thinking challenged as you decide for yourself who this person really is. You'll enjoy the trip.
Day One – The Sinai
After twenty years and more trips across it than I cared to remember, I was still amazed at how cold the Sinai could get at night. During the day, temperatures rose almost effortlessly over a hundred, but when the sun went down, the bleak rocks and what sand there happened to be quickly gave up their warmth until, by morning, you found yourself shivering. At least that's what I was doing.
John was curled up on the front seat of the Land Rover, sleeping comfortably in the faded army field jacket that he had remembered to bring along. That was the way he operated. In the more than ten years we had been together John was always the one who managed to remember everything he needed, from extra batteries for his camcorder to just the right kind of film for each of his Canons. I suppose a news photographer has to think of things like that. As a reporter all I required was some paper, a pen, and my faithful tape recorder.
While everything I needed fit neatly in one overnight suitcase, John lumbered through the airports with a huge suitcase in each hand, his camcorder bag over one shoulder, and heavy necklace of cameras around his neck. I usually spent my evenings in hotel lounges, talking to a bored bartender and my best friend, Johnny Walker. John, on the other hand, spent his time upstairs in our room cleaning and adjusting his equipment and watching what the competition had shot that day on the news.
I never understood how two men, so completely different, could spend this long together, but somehow it worked. For nearly ten years now we had covered every cesspool and trouble spot we could get to in time. While the big boys at the networks got to fly around on Air Force One, attending photo ops for the famous and infamous, John and I generally worked the poorer side of town, interviewing and photographing what was left. Such was the life of the independent journalist, selling your stuff to the highest bidder, if there was one, and hoping someone at a major network would notice you.
When you work for the networks you have a secretary who makes your travel arrangements and your room and your scotch goes on an expense account. In our case John took care of getting us places and our expenses came out of whatever Lenny, our bloodsucking agent, could get for our stuff. So today, while the big boys were flying into Cairo on their private jets for yet another Middle East Conference, John and I got to drive there across the Sinai in a Land Rover that Moses probably traded in. I suppose it shouldn't have come as a surprise, then, when our four-wheeled antique suddenly decided to give up the ghost in the middle of nowhere, but it still pissed me off.
I didn't care that we would miss those wonderfully insightful interviews with the sheiks and secretaries of state, each of whom would express hope and optimism for yet another round of talks between the Israelis and their unwanted neighbors. Everyone knew damned well there never would be a solution in anyone's lifetime. I just wanted to sleep in a decent bed and replenish my dwindling supply of scotch. Instead I found myself pacing back and forth in the dark, talking to myself, and trying to keep warm.
Nothing seemed to bother John, though. When the Rover gave out a little after midnight we had both gone through the traditional male ritual of looking under the hood, jiggling wires, and cranking a dead engine until the battery had finally had enough and quit too. Without the tools, parts, or knowledge to fix whatever was wrong with the damned thing we were left with kicking and cursing it. By one in the morning John tired of that game too, smiled, and cheerfully assured me someone would be by in the morning. Then he pulled down the canvas sides of the Rover and crawled into the front seat. By the time I finally gave the relic one more heartfelt talking to and crawled into the back, John was snoring peacefully.
Maybe it was being in his early thirties that gave him the confidence that everything would be all right. At forty-seven I no longer shared his optimism. For him this was just part of the adventure, for me it was another example of how my life was still in the toilet. While he could fall asleep anytime, anywhere, it took a couple drinks for me to give in to the sandman. So it was no great surprise that I was the one who was still awake to greet the dawn.
In a few hours the sun would be the enemy again, blazing overhead and making everything too hot to touch. But for a short time in the early morning it was a rosy glow in the east that slowly took away the chill until it finally became a fiery ball on the horizon. A cooler-than-normal temperature overnight sometimes resisted the encroachment of that warmth and when that happened it generated wind. The greater the temperature difference was, the stronger the wind. As the edge of the sun appeared over the bleak horizon I could actually watch the process beginning.
There wasn't all that much sand in this part of the Sinai, but what there was covering the barren stone floor the wind began to find and throw into the air in a swirling cloud. It must have been colder than normal last night because the dust cloud grew rapidly and, as the sun rose higher and the warming rays penetrated it, the cloud looked like it was on fire, the granules of silicone sparkling as they swirled around.
My sense of wonder didn't last long, since the cloud was growing rapidly and heading in our direction. As it swept across the desert floor, devouring more and more sand, the sun disappeared, blotted out by its own creation. I reached over the front seat and shook John until he finally sat up.
"What's up?”he said groggily.
I pointed towards the cloud. That woke him up.
"Oh shit, it's going to be a big one”
We both hurried to make sure that every zipper was completely closed on the Rover. Enough of the sand would find its way in anyway, but I didn't intend to choke to death. I had heard about dust storms that had actually turned over vans, but this one didn't look that bad. Even if it was, where were we supposed to go? All we could do was sit there and wait while the storm swept across the desert floor towards us like an ever-darkening wall of sand. I could feel my body tense as it neared the road.
Then it stopped.
I don't mean it blew past us, or died down. It just stopped. Completely, utterly, and instantly, like someone had turned off the switch on the giant wind machine. The sand, caught with no means of support, fell with a soft thud like a heavy curtain dropping at the end of the performance and there, in the middle of what, a moment ago, was a raging sandstorm, stood a figure. Whoever it was wore a light gray robe with a hood, and it wasn't until the figure got closer and drew back the hood that I realized it was a woman.
With her jet-black hair and sun-weathered skin she could have been anywhere from early twenties to late forties. Her skin and hair were Arabian, her nose Jewish, but it was the eyes that drew my attention, dark and strangely penetrating. It almost made me want to look away as she came up to the Rover.
“Where the hell did you come from?”I asked.
“Out there,” she said, pointing over her shoulder, “Have you got room for me?”
“Sure” said John, “but we've been here all night ourselves"
“I know, ”she said as she went around and climbed into the seat behind John.”I appreciate you waiting for me."
John looked over at me and I shrugged.
“Lady, I don't know who you are, and I don't particularly care, but I can tell you emphatically that we weren't waiting for you."
“Suit yourself,” she said and she sat back in the seat as if something were going to happen now. Her attitude, coupled with my lack of sleep, was really getting to me.
“Look, lady, what I'm trying to tell you is that this piece of shit broke down last night and none of us is going anywhere."
“I don't know why you're so upset, Thomas, the Land Rover merely stopped here until I arrived."
At the mention of my name John turned around in his seat and gave me a funny look.
“Have I met you?”I asked
“Not that you would remember. John, if you want to try the switch we can be on our way"
“Just who the hell are you and how do you know our names?"
“Thomas, you really don't have to shout, I'm right here. You can call me Carta Justis, and who I am is a question that will be debated for centuries. As for your names, that will become apparent as time goes on. Now are we ready to go now?"
I really didn't need her on top of my rapidly worsening headache.
“The battery's dead!”
She looked over at John who was staring at her like she was a ghost or something.
“He certainly is cranky in the morning isn't he?"
John nodded dumbly. She'd only been in my life a few minutes and I already couldn't stand her.
“The only thing that won't crank right now is that battery. I told you, it's dead."
“Care to bet?"
“Dinner at your hotel in Cairo. If it doesn't start I'll get out now and you'll be done with me."
“Fine,” I hissed. At the time it seemed like an easy way to get rid of her.
“John, you're a witness,” Carta said.
It took a minute for him to snap out of it and turn the ignition key, but when he did, the engine roared to life immediately. We were both shocked. It hadn't started that easily when we picked it up in Tel Aviv. Now we both stared at Carta suspiciously but she just sat back and smiled contentedly.
“You might want to turn on the air conditioning. It looks like it's going to be a hot one."
“The air conditioner doesn't work” I sneered.
“Care to make it double or nothing, Thomas?"
John's hands were trembling as he put the Rover into gear and we took off. He looked over at Carta and gave her a weak smile as he reached for the switch on the air conditioner. I just sat back and tried to sort all this out. In a little while I could feel the cool air flowing under the front seat.
“That's better,” said Carta, folding her arms across her chest.
“Well, now that you're comfortable, maybe you can tell us who you really are and what you were doing out there in the middle of a sandstorm.”I said.
“You wouldn't believe me if I told you"
“I'm the person who the Christians refer to as the Holy Ghost"
The Rover nearly swerved off the road as John turned around in his seat and stared at her.
“Jesus, will you watch where you're going,” I yelled. “She's not the Holy Ghost so just watch the road."
“See, I told you that you wouldn't believe me, and that's why I chose you."
“You chose me?”
“You and John. You two have been kicking around together for over ten years now, looking for that one big story that will get you to the big time. Well, in the coming days you're going to get an exclusive on the biggest story in two thousand years."
I just sat back and shook my head.
“Just what I needed,” I thought, “a nut case.”
“Look, it's obvious that you know more about us and less about who you are. Maybe you were roaming around in that desert too long, I don't know. But can you give it a rest with this Holy Ghost business? I haven't had any sleep and I have a long day ahead of me. "
“You have no idea,” she said with a smile