40th Writing Contest • First Place, Flash Fiction
Alexander Weinstein of Ann Arbor, MI has won the New Millennium Flash Fiction Prize for “The Prophet.”
He will receive $1,000, a certificate to document the success, and publication both online and in print.
“In this age of miracles and marvels, when the next life-changing technology is just a yearly rollout away, what happens when a Messiah appears to show people the new path? Weinstein’s ‘The Prophet’ imagines this occurrence and humankind’s amusing, unsettling reactions to it. Don’t be surprised to catch a glimpse of yourself in this mirror!”
By Alexander Weinstein
We all felt the same way when we heard about The Prophet: skeptical, jaded, a stirring which longed to become awe. We wanted to know whether it was really true. Had he actually taught a group of fifty in Flagstaff to levitate? If so, where was the proof? And when he did it again, this time fully recorded and posted online, we studied the YouTube clip like forensic scientists. The comment section was filled with naysayers, and yet, in all caps with exclamation marks, user after user attested to witnessing the miracle. I WAS THERE!!! HE HAS ARRIVED!!!! We shook our heads. It was smoke and mirrors, we told one another, trick photography; you could do anything with a Mac.
We doubted our doubts.
After all, we were ripe for this. Many of us had spent nights, pondering the universe, high on medicinal-grade marijuana. We were yogic radicals, weekend ayahuasceros, freethinkers who gave UFOs a second chance, and we prized our transcendental moments from meditation retreats and self-empowerment seminars, collecting our small illuminations like keepsakes. We’d longed for this, coveted it, but now, in the light of a living prophet who was teaching people to transmit electricity through their third eyes, we were hesitant.
Then he began appearing in even our most skeptical friends’ Facebook feeds. WATCH THIS VIDEO! And there, atop a rock in Sedona, along with the collected crew, he merged with the universe, his body disappearing for a full eight seconds before rematerializing. We watched the slightly crooked iPhone recording, the prophet’s voice an indecipherable murmur, the electromagnetic crackling on the phone, and suddenly the rocks were empty and the videographer was saying holy shit for eight seconds before the group returned, seated in lotus, as solid as pre-transcendence.
We had to witness it for ourselves.
We took paid vacations, left jobs, closed the coffee shops where we worked, found babysitters for the week or, remembering our sunbaked dreams of youth, took the kids with us (why shouldn’t they experience enlightenment?) and loaded up our Subaru wagons, leaving the cul-de-sacs where our dreams of nirvana had given way to Netflix.
They’d already built the amphitheater by the time we arrived: a fifteen-acre clearing amid the foothills. Someone had trucked in a generator, another had donated microphones, and a devotee who owned a sanitation company had donated over a hundred PortoPotties. We crammed into the clearing, side by side, unfolding yoga mats and placing meditation cushions beneath us, burning sage and drinking from BPA-free bottles as we listened.
There he was, far in the distance, his high-pitched voice ringing through the afternoon sunlight. We’d heard similar instructions in our YMCA yoga classes, Pilates workshops and Reiki certification courses, but the presence of the prophet changed us. We felt our bodies glowing; we breathed in light; we discovered gravity wasn’t a law, simply a habit we could kick; and there, in the holy cathedral of Flagstaff, we learned to levitate.
We stayed on.
We imagined it would end badly. We’d grown accustomed to expect the worst: the police would arrive to arrest us, the National Guard would use gas, the government would send drones, the prophet would be assassinated, and when he was killed the world would end. But none of that occurred. Instead we learned to place our hands on our neighbor’s temples and free them from suffering, we healed wounds of karmic incarnations, we delivered astral liberation to our parents sitting in their living rooms watching reports of us on TV. And when the gas in the generator ran out, we tapped into the reserves of our electrons and powered the microphones back on.
All who came were enlightened, and they were fed and loved, but eventually we grew tired. We yawned. We wanted coffee. We longed for things: a refrigerator, text messages, movie popcorn. Looking into the eyes of our lovers, we realized we could only ascend together for so long. Ultimately we needed to read a book or play online solitaire. We wanted to go home. And so we went home.
The prophet is still out there in Arizona. He welcomes visitors and stragglers, providing illumination to the few who have yet to receive it, and every now and again they’ll do a news story on him. They report that crime is non-existent, how war is on its way out, that world hunger has been solved, and nobody’s in as much of a rush anymore. But, the truth is, whether you’re carrying recycling to the curb or lifting it with your chi, there’s still this everyday reality to deal with. This past Thanksgiving the prophet appeared on all the stations. There he was with his small handful of steadfast devotees, each of them in lotus, melting the snow around where they sat. They joined hands and produced a great luminous egg of light which lit up the heavens brighter than the Northern Lights. It was beautiful, we admitted; then we changed the channel with our minds.
Alexander Weinstein is the Director of The Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and the author of the short story collection Children of the New World (Picador 2016).
The Prophet © 2014 Alexander Weinstein