To walk on the great sandstone massif near the Dead Sea that is Masada, with its symbolism of human freedom together with its deeply spiritual past was an event I had been looking forward to for decades. Within a few steps I was entranced. Our guide was meticulous in his explanations while gentle and firm in their meanings. The ancient fortress was only one stop in our recent ten day tour of Israel, but, aside from praying at the Western Wall, was the high point in every way of my entire time. So, naturally, as we moved through the ruins, looking down on the remains of the Roman ramp and the Roman camps and the palaces of Herod, the place where the final lots were drawn, it was the black line that ran about the stone walls that captured my attention. It marked the separation between the original stonework and later restorations. The line ran raggedly across the walls, sometimes up high, twisting here and there, three or more layers of stone blocks above the dressed stone flooring, sometimes down to only one layer, sometimes on the same wall.
I had never seen an archaeological dig with the demarcation so honest, precise and so visible anywhere else, which includes visits to several countries. Consequently, as we walked back toward the cable car to return us to earth, I knew there was a short story waiting to be told, to be called “The Black Line”, with Steele Mackaye as protagonist. I sketched out a preliminary plot that night at the hotel.
Now, having returned home yesterday, I wasn’t sure just where “The Black Line” would fit in the backlog of projects, even against other partially completed short stories let alone against the three novels in-progress. I’m still not sure, but, given a day or two to adjust to Southern Cal again, just maybe I could return to Masada and complete a draft by the first of next week, then go back to the novel at the top of the list.
That sounds right — while I can still feel the heat of that day, and note that wandering black line.