Al Kratz

The Three Men

And it came to pass, on such a winter’s eve, in a dark stable, that two thieving hands of two different men brushed against each other while grabbing the back of a sleeping mule. One hand belonged to a man known as The Brute. This hand was callused, hairy, and swollen. The other hand belonged to the bearded Melchior. It was cold, bony, and hairless. In the right company, Melchior would claim to be a King. Now, The Brute and Melchior stood frozen in the barn, trying to train their eyes on what would happen next.

“Who is there?” Melchior asked.

“Who is there?” The Brute replied. 

“Bayyyyy,” the mule said.

Each man felt the other man was the one who didn’t belong. Each man grew confident that the other man wasn’t the stable owner. Each man kept a hand on the mule and guided him out into the light of the same moon and stars you can see tonight even after all this time has passed.

The Brute looked at Melchior the bony, his long white beard illuminating. “What would you have done if I was the stable owner? What would you have done if I struck you in the face and said, how dare you try to steal my mule! What would you have done then?”

Melchior took his hand off the mule and stroked the end of his long beard. “Why, I would have turned the other cheek.”  

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” The Brute said.

“And why is it you have you come to steal this mule? Where do you think you’re going?” Melchior asked with the confidence of an innocent man.

The Brute took his hand off the mule and stepped away from it as if his business was finished. There in the dark, behind Melchior, The Brute saw the third man, also a skinny little man, this one wearing a purple tunic.

“Where am I going? Let’s just say I’ve done more than covet my neighbor’s wife, and I have reason to believe he’s not inclined to turn the other cheek unless it is to turn mine to the burial ground. I must go far away, and this mule will carry my things. Where do you two think you are going? Why do you need the animal?”

The purple tunic wearing man, known as Balthazar, stepped forward and smiled, his yellow teeth competing with the starlight he pointed up to now. “We are following a new star, right up there in the Eastern sky, the light that will lead us to the birth of a special boy who shall be King of the Jews!”

“That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” The Brute said.

Balthazar closed his mouth. Ground his teeth. “Have you ever considered, dear fellow, that the problem resides in your mouth and not your ears.”

“Alright, Alright. Relax, wise guy.” The Brute placed his bag on the back of the mule, adjusting for room to spare. “Here, put your stuff on. I’ll go your way. We’ll share the mule.”

Melchior turned his back to The Brute and faced Balthazar. They carried on a conversation The Brute could not hear. He could only see Balthazar shaking his tiny head and his skin becoming red under the moon. Finally, Melchior turned around, put his bag on the mule with.

The Brute’s, and began walking the mule. The Brute caught up to Melchior and the mule and Balthazar still carrying a heavy load.

“Why do you carry that? There’s room on the mule. There’s always room,” The Brute said.

Balthazar stared at The Brute and walked on.

“It’s Gold. Frankincense, and Myrhh,” Melchior said. “Gifts for the boy King!”

“That’s the dumbest—” The Brute said but then thought differently and walked on.

The three men followed the new star, and while it never looked to The Brute like they were getting any closer, he had to believe that they were. He looked down at his sore and swollen feet. He looked down at Melchior’s feet. Balthazar’s feet. The mule’s feet. None of them complained. They kept moving forward, one foot in the front of the other, under the light of the new star, heading to the East, in search of the true king.

###

Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa. His novella-in flash was shortlisted in 2018 and 2019. His recent stories have been in Smokelong, Pithead Chapel, and Bull. His website is alkratz.com.