NEBUCHADNEZZAR was in such a state when Daniel arrived at about four in the morning with a raincoat thrown over his pajamas that all the customary grovelings and mumbo-jumbo were dispensed with, and he received him the way any man might receive another at that hour—any man, that is, who'd just been scared out of his wits. The guards with their leash of panthers were dismissed, the slatted ivory blinds were pulled shut, and, sitting bolt upright in the middle of his bed with the covers clutched in a knot at his throat, the king stammered out his appalling dream.

He said there was this enormous tree so heavy with leaves and fruit that it gave shade for miles around and all the beasts of the field came to take their ease in it.

"That's you," Daniel said.

He said there was this creature who came down from heaven bearing orders that the tree was to be chopped down, its branches lopped off, and all its leaves and fruit scattered.”

I guess you know where those orders came from," Daniel said.

He said the mutilated stump that was Nebuchadnezzar had its heart changed to a beast's heart, and ate grass with oxen, and its hair got all matted like feathers, and its nails grew long and yellow like an owl’s.

"That's to help you get back in touch with reality," Daniel said. "You've gotten so used to being treated like a god, you've started believing you are one.”

When the thing finally happened, everybody was very tactful. Nebuchadnezzar would come grazing across the lawn on all fours, and they'd look the other way. He'd lift his leg on the marble balustrade, and business would go on as usual. He'd squat out there in the hanging gardens howling into the dusk as naked as the day he was born, but from everybody's polite expressions, you would have thought it was just the court musicians tuning up for the evening cotillion.

He was still lying out there on the grass one morning when the sun started to come up, and by the time it had cleared the tops of the tallest palms, he was back on two feet again and behaving quite normally. The way he explained it was that as he'd lain there watching the golden rays fan out across the sky, he'd suddenly realized that even a great king like himself must look pretty cheap compared with a god who could put on a show like that once a day and kept putting it on whether the audience was worth it or not because that was the kind of god he was.

"Now you're starting to talk sense," Daniel said.It wasn't long after this that Nebuchadnezzar got back to the office again, full time, with Daniel as his right-hand man. Except for a certain uneasiness in the presence of ruminants and an occasional friendly chat with his psychiatrist, it was comparatively clear sailing from there on out.

-Originally published in Peculiar Treasures and later in Beyond Words 

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