For Jake, the new year couldn‘t arrive faster. The Christmas season that was meant to bring joy came as a nuisance in the form of traffic gridlocks, unnecessary gift exchanges, and forced smiles at holiday parties. The green and red bulbs that illuminated the season, Jake saw as stop and go lights while inching along a busy street with motorists that had designs to bombard stores with needless purchases.
“I’m glad I don’t have to worry about this nonsense for another eleven months,” he muttered to himself. He had no patience for spirituality or religion, and was glad his parents had never made him waste time in a so-called house of worship when he was young.
The new year also meant a vacation away from his accounting desk job and to a trip out west that he booked last June. Trading concrete city pavements for a temporary dusty terrain was calming therapy for him. Two weeks in a town seemingly forgotten by civilization, with a visit to a dude ranch, would be the elixir he most needed to overdose on and put the overemphasized remnants of the holiday season behind him.
He rented a ranch style home in a quiet neighborhood near the desert. He spent a few days horseback riding and learned how to make somewhat of a lasso, to the amusement of the ranchers. One night, he was about to turn in when he spied out the living room front window a figure walking by.
He drew the drapes to get a closer look, and saw a man attired in a long, tan tunic, a matching head mantle, and a red rope belt, walking purposefully with the aid of a wooden crook. Curiosity and an elevated heartbeat was enough for Jake to venture out and ascertain the nature of this odd fellow’s business.
He ran out into the clear, cool night, and raced up to the man.
“Excuse me, sir, what’s with the outfit?”
“Tonight I am a country shepherd and I am off to the see the newborn King,” the man announced, as if he were a star of a Broadway show during the climactic scene.
Jake squinted at the man as if he had two heads, mentally volleying to which head came the voice of the insane drivel. The man continued on his way as Jake watched with mouth ajar. He shook his head to clear the weird encounter until he saw several other townsfolk, dressed in similar garb and headed in the same direction as the shepherd.
“Where are you going?” he asked a woman, who was glowing with merriment, as if she just saw an angel.
“Come. All are welcome,” she said, with a soothing voice that was as welcoming as the aroma of fresh baked bread. For a moment he was entranced, slowly calculating his excessively limited knowledge of the Epiphany.
He quickly caught up with the shepherd. “Where are you going? Is this some kind of a reenactment of the Three Kings?”
“If you want to call it that. Why don’t you come along and find out for yourself?” he said, without breaking stride and keeping in rhythm with his crook and gait.
“But… I am not a man of faith,” Jake stammered, sheepishly.
“Tonight you can be,” the man said, with searching eyes.
They ambled along without words and encroached on the desert. Several others joined in the journey, heading toward a bright, off-white, artificial light that highlighted the area over a hill. Up ahead were the three sages, adorned in colorful velvet and kingly crowns, riding on horseback at a turtle’s pace. They carried small chests adorned with pearls that gleamed from the light of the faux star.
They encroached over the hill and saw an opened tent. A man was standing at the entrance facing the inside. The shepherd’s face beamed with each step closer and his warm smile eased Jake’s skepticism.
The three kings were the first to greet the father, as he slowly stepped aside to reveal mother and child. The townsfolk collectively knelt as the kings dismounted and offered their treasures. This small town, symbolic reenactment of the Nativity was unraveling before Jake’s eyes. A deep sigh of wonder and a jolt of understanding overwhelmed him.
“The peace, the love… it’s as if it’s all happening for the very first time,” he whispered to the shepherd.
“Now you’re getting it,” the shepherd answered, softly. “I have participated in this moment of tranquil beauty the last ten years and I still feel the same way.”
They looked on as the mother tenderly showered kisses on her baby‘s forehead. The shepherd nudged Jake to greet the new family. Jake rose, approached, and smiled at the parents, as the mother rotated her position to present the baby closer to him. He slowly reached and tenderly ran his hand over the baby’s head. Tears welled his eyes and his attempt at sniffing back was little defense to the message of the Epiphany that now seeped through to his soul. A humble smile shone through his glossed face as he turned away and scanned a panoramic view of the masses wearing adoring demeanors.
He rejoined the shepherd and knelt, still, lost in an aura of silent reflection. So silent, Jake could hear his heartbeat and his breathing was as steady as a stream of flowing water. Gradually, the faithful began to depart, holding lit candles that seem to dance in unison.
Jake and the shepherd began their descent back to the neighborhood.
“Tonight, you truly were a shepherd and I was a sheep,” Jake proclaimed.
The shepherd scanned the night stars and pondered Jake’s revelation. “Perhaps I will see you again next year,” he offered.
“Perhaps. It’s only eleven months until Christmas,” Jake answered, thanked the country shepherd, and bid him good tidings.
Jon Moray has been writing short stories for over eight years and his work has appeared in several online and print markets. When not working and being a devoted family man, he enjoys sports and the science fiction/fantasy genre.