“Shhh…” Cane’s already deepening voice urged through the silent darkness that surrounded them as they waited tensely.
The grain shed in which they hid measured no more than a few feet on each side, and lined as it was with leather and peat, it gave off an odor as foul as if it were some ancient wounded beast, decaying mightily over a hundred years, ever refusing to die.
“I cannot abide it anymore”, complained Eros nasally, with her fingers firmly pinching her nose shut, “I can taste it…” she spit dryly into a corner that still housed a few kernels of last year’s grain.
“Come now…she is upon it…Look”!
Eros forgot her complaining and crowded next to Cane at a thin tear in the leather where the beams of light pierced the darkness of the tanned walling like a brilliant blade.
The two of them kneeled in silence, their faces pressed to the aged hides to see the world outside; watching and waiting.
Outside the small hovel that hid them in its womb, stretched the low flatlands of Eros’ family. Acre upon acre of sown wheat and spelt now harvested and collected; winnowed chaff from seed, and brought for storage for the cold months ahead.
It would have been an uninterrupted view of soft rolling hills colored hayseed yellow and green, stretching to the horizon like a gentle ocean of earth slopping downwards towards them, had it not been for the intrusion of Eros’ family’s hut, that crested the waves of land, like an orphaned bit of wood and thatch, floating at sea.
A lonely figure occupied the space between the dwellings and the shed, toiling bitterly in the late day chill to place the last of the grain in the low cool earth under slats of wood ,leather, and tar; sustenance for the long winter ahead. In the absence of human company the woman’s face had taken its natural state; a scowl of distaste worn across the sharp features of an angular nose and jaw, an eternal bitterness that sought to crawl out of every pore of her body.
Even as Eros viewed her older sister in the field she felt the welts and bruises over her back and legs from the beating she had received this morning, and the image of her elder sibling became distorted, despite the thin, crisp, December air, as the first large tear rolled down her cheek.
Cane’s hand was on her shoulder.
“Watch now”, he whispered, as Eros’ sister opened one of the last few bags of grain, and there sitting as planted: Cane’s pet frog. A sagaciously large specimen of toad, shinning, oozing, and bewarted as fit it’s breed, and now, poor devil, startled by the light, he leapt in fear… high into the winter air.
“AAAgghhh”, screamed Eros’ sister, her distaste for both crawling things and slimy things, compounded now, by this miserable creature.
The scare would have been payment enough for Eros, who felt a smile spreading across her face, as her sisters hands pulled close to her cheeks, framing her face in horror. Even had the laws of gravity not been auspiciously aligned that day, her sister’s initial fright would have sufficed.
But as fate would have it the frog’s trajectory sent it wobbling, webbed flipper feet over bulging eyed head, in its short but highly arced flight, directly into the soft landing pad provided by the ample bosom that her sister kept on perpetual display.
The second scream that filled the air was more languid, and carried lower notes of disgust and contamination as she tried to pluck the thing from forbidden pastures while all its animal instincts called for it to burrow inward toward darkness and safety.
Cane and Eros burst into laughter a little too loud for the short distance of their hiding place, and it was but a moment before her sister’s hawkish eyes came to rest upon the shed in the backfield that seemed to have overcome it’s inanimacy to mock her from afar.
“EROS…I can hear you…you little wench”, cried her sister, discarding the frog with a toss to the wind and grasping in her hand the heavy wood winnower that had so often left its mark on Eros’ thin skin.
Cane’s hand was tight on her shoulder now, and although there was barely light in their confines she could feel Cane looking at her.
“Fly”, he said, and so did they both, bursting from the darkness of the shed into the cool brightness of the day.
Cane’s twelve winters gave him longer legs and greater strength than Eros’ eleven, and as he pulled ahead of her he reached back a hand, grasping hers and gasping, “run…or we will both feel a beating tonight.”
Their feet beat down quickly upon the hard earth path, as they ran the semicircle around the yard to the front of Eros’ family tent. From there it would be empty fields and pastures as far as their little legs could take them.
Eros stole a glimpse of her sister cutting across the yard towards them swinging the heavy implement in her hand, lips pursed in anticipation. She quickened her pace and felt a sense of relief as they rounded the corner of the hut towards freedom.
“Head west”, Cane breathed heavily as they ran, turning his head to her, “towards the highlands… we will be safe enough…”
His last words were cut short as the wind was knocked out of him. He had run headlong into the thigh of an impossibly large man, who stood as stone in his path.
Eros herself stopped short of the monolith of woolen cloth and knotted muscle that she immediately recognized as her father. And the hot blood that pulsed so quickly in her veins turned cool with fear, a moments dream of freedom turned quickly on its heel to defeat.
Her father grasped Cane by the arm and flung him a like a sack of loose meal into the nearby brush where he landed heavily.
Her father moved quickly before the situation even fully registered in Eros’ mind, and he gripped her wrist in his meaty hand in the wink of an eye, squeezing the bones of her arm together like a steel press. Off in the distance her sister’s cries of rebuke carried mutedly to the front of the house.
Eros dropped to her knees in pain as her father bent her to submission. Had not Cane been face down in the weeds he might have noticed the look on the man’s thickly bearded face went beyond discipline; there was a blood thirsty craving for violence…and there was lust. Since Eros’ body had begun to change into that of a woman there had been too much unusual attention from her father, a man known to take his pleasures when and wherever he saw fit.
His voice was deep as he spoke, “You will hold still for your sisters training today…she is to make an obedient woman of you before the spring comes…”
There was probably more to this speech, but all Eros noticed was that her father was suddenly off balance.
It was Cane!
He had thrown his full weight to the back of her father’s knees, diving for the tackle head first. The hand that gripped Eros involuntarily shot back and into the air as her father tried to steady himself from falling.
Eros did. She broke into a sprint before the word left Cane’s mouth.
Cane himself scrambled to his feet and jolted close at her heels, they ran until the air hurt their throats and chests, till their feet ached, and their bodies were sore.
When they reached the edge of the Western wooded land, at the end of Farm country, Cane collapsed at the roots of the first great Oak, stretching himself to his full length to better allow his lungs to take their full share of air. Eros fell next to him. Her ears were frozen to the touch and her nose was running. Her breaths came in involuntary spasms, as if her lungs needed a new home outside her small chest.
“I cannot go back”, said Eros in between gulps of air, realizing now that her childhood had reached the end of its days.
Cane had recovered somewhat from the run, yet whatever color had returned to his face was again drained away, as if he were more afraid now than when he had dove headlong at her father’s feet.
“Come with me”, he blurted nervously, “…we will make a new life for ourselves, I will bring you into my family..”, he stated, trying to stick to the well established phrases of courtship, yet realizing he had blundered onto the sore spot of his existence…his family.
In place of words he put his hand gently over the mark Eros’ father’s hand had left on her arm, waiting for her reply.
Eros felt herself melt under Cane’s warm stare, and felt the irrational urge to adjust the one piece sack that made up her garb so that it covered the right places. She had loved Cane since she had remembered feeling love, and out of breath as she was she nodded her rosy cheeked head once with a smile to say she felt the same.
Hand in hand they resumed their walk, now cutting through the wooded land.
“My father may come looking for me”, she said to Cane whose attentions were consumed by divining the proper route to his families estate.
He turned to her, “I will hide you”, he said smiling, “don’t worry, you will be safe…I swear it.”
“Ah”, said Cane smiling as they passed a large red Acacia with many knots on its trunk, “here we are”, and as they rounded the great sapling the castle of Cane’s family came into view, larger than any tree or rock that surrounded it. There were none like it in all the land.
Eros hesitated for a moment as she saw, for it returned to her the many Rumors about Cane’s family, and the illness that possessed them. Eros looked over her shoulder back towards her own family but dusk had already fallen and a layer of dark clouds gathered at the horizon behind them, as if providing the sign that the way back was forever closed. She looked back at Cane, who saw the confusion in her eyes…
A bolt of lightning split the air at some distance behind them lighting the sky and thundering it’s mighty roar making them both jump…and then laugh, as if that little bit of pure fear was necessary to put their petty anxieties in proper perspective.
“Come…let’s get you to shelter, it will be harsh weather by the look of it tonight…follow me.”
Cane led her by the hand along a circuitous route that purposefully missed the fires and camping sites of his family in front of their castle, and instead took her on a wooded trail that crept along the side of the building to reach its entrance.
As they walked along the perimeter of the great dwelling Eros allowed her hand to gently trace across its side, her fingertips thrilling along the alternating wood slats and the sticky gloss that held it together. When the terrain was plain, and empty of rock and twig, she would take her eyes from the path in front of her, and allow them to stare up along the side of the monolith until its highest dimensions passed the leaves of the tallest tree beside it.
Cane was watching her absorb it all and he smiled as he led her to the great open door at its front. He momentarily turned a piercing gaze towards the tents of his family, and once again certain they were unobserved, he took her hand and brought her inside.
Eros’ eyes filled with such sights as she entered, visions she had never imagined, so that her mind did not remark on them as much as try and take it all in.
They entered into a long hall, such an enormous enclosed structure of wood Eros had never seen. Along its length ran a table, and the walls were adorned with pots, pans, jugs, and cooking utensils. There was an earthenware pit for flame and coal, and every few breadths was a door, each leading off to the unknown.
At once Eros’ mind was full of questions for Cane, “Why do you dwell in the tents outside if you have created this cave out of wood”?
But Cane was not listening, as his eye had caught movement out by the encampment.
“Quickly now”, he said, “let’s get you properly out of sight”, and in saying so, led her out one of the doors of the great hall up creaking wooden steps, the likes of which were previously unseen to Eros, and at their zenith another door, opening in to darkness and the scent of hay.
Eros stepped hesitantly into the darkness, and as her eyes adjusted she stopped, sensing the large forms in front of her. She took a step back to the safety of the doorway.
“Do not be afraid”, said Cane as he stepped forward boldly, laying a comforting hand on one of the great beasts.
“This is Thunder”, he said of the horse whose main his hand caressed, “and this is Flame. They are tamed by the hand of man, and they will not hurt you.”
Eros’ curiosity overcame her fear more quickly than she would have imagined, she had seen carvings of these marvelous animals before but to actually see them…
As she joined Cane her hand rose up to the mare’s mighty side and she could feel the gentle power of it.
Cane left her side and arranged the hay in the corner into a make shift mat, “rest a while over here, I will bring you food from the tents when the coast is clear, you need not worry of your father finding you in here”, he said, his hand tapping on the thick wooden infrastructure that surrounded them.
Even as Cane left, Eros found her utter exhaustion more compelling than the foreign beasts that shared a dwelling with her. She curled on the hay with her eyelids already seeking to shut, barely having the strength to wonder what sort of illness made a family live outside placing their beasts within…as sleep turned her fears to the softer stuff of dreams.
Cane, having seen to Eros’ safety, headed quickly for the encampment knowing he was late, well past the time to sup. And as he exited the enclosure he saw his father walking toward him, tall and thin with his great bow worn as always across his back.
Even before they reached each other the reprimand began, “Foolish child”, scolded his father, “what colossal waste of time has bidden you to delay your whole family.”
Cane knew better than to argue with his father so he lowered his head in submission, “I am sorry father.”
“Canaan”, said his father using his full name to relate the seriousness of his error, “you are almost a man, it is time for you to leave the games of youth and accept the mantle of adulthood…”
Cane raised his eyes and looked straight at his father, “I will”, he said, finally knowing that he meant it.
Cane’s father nodded and put a hand on his shoulder in reconciliation. Behind his father the rest of his family made its way up the hill, lead by the patriarch, whose long grey beard and ashen white robes distinguished him from the rest. His progress was slow and aided by a large staff, yet none of the younger members moved ahead or aside of him.
As Cane’s grandfather reached them he looked only at the ground, as if the weight of the world had been resting on him heavily and he had been bent by it in turn.
The elder placed a hand on Cane’s father’s shoulder much as his father had done to him a moment ago.
“Is you family gathered to you”, he asked gravely.
“Yes”, answered Cane’s father.
With this, the aged man allowed himself to look at the horizon where the clouds had turned deep black, occasionally illuminated by the glow of lightening within them. Even as he watched the air filled with a mist. Sharp stinging droplets that burned as they hit ones face.
The rain brought panic with it to those who gathered round, save for the elder, whose face only showed a sadness.
“It begins”, he said to Cane’s father, and then shouting so that everyone in the group could hear him, “It begins”!
Now the elder was more animated, and he strove with lively steps up the ramp to the enclosure.
“Cham”, he said calling Cane’s father by his given name, “take Canaan, stand at the entrance here”, he pointed with his staff to a position a few feet removed from the porthole.
“Yafes”, he yelled now, the whole ordeal beginning to resemble military efficiency, “grab that rope at you feet”.
“Shem”, he shouted, “the other mooring line…get it…now the both of you….pull…pull with all your hearts.”
As they stood in the great hall and pulled the ropes attached to the furthermost edges of the ramp to the enclosure, it ripped free from the grass and roots that held it to the earth all this time and creaking a deep groan of discontent it lifted into the air.
Shem’s wife’s brother was still upon it as it lifted and he strode inwards with several other members of the extended family.
“Back!” yelled Noah rapping his staff against the doorway, “this is not your journey.”
As their brother in law hesitated at the gateway, Shem protested even as he hoisted,”Father”, he yelled, “have but an ounce more mercy…”
Noah the patriarch turned now to Cane’s father, “Cham, the bow…”
Cham started at his father aghast, looking between the great patriarch and the face of his brother in law with whom he had just shared bread.
Cham was an expert archer with eyes as sharp as a hawk and steady hands that knew neither delay nor mistake in their movements. As a child he had mesmerized crowds by plucking an apple from a volunteers hand at twenty paces, and anyone who had joined him on a hunt knew that the moment the arrow was notched the doe was all but felled.
“Forgive me”, Cham said tersely to his brother in law as he loosened the strap to his long bow allowing it to hang at the ready of his swift arms.
The sight of that terrible black bow was enough to clear the ramp, and uncles and relatives shook their heads and stepped back to the ground.
Shem looked at Cham as if he had just placed poison in his soup.
“PULL”, shouted Cane’s grandfather at the top of his lungs, for the rain had changed character now and stung them like pellets at high speed, making them feel as they had just braved a hive full of bees with no honey to speak of.
Even within the enclosure the rain flew at them from all directions, rattling the pots and pans off the walls, shattering earthenware into pieces on the floor, even the sturdy wooden chairs at the table fell from the force of the winds.
Outside the family remnants crouched to the ground or pressed themselves to the ark with their hands covering their heads, limiting their exposure to the onslaught.
As the great door passed its fulcrum it began to rise more easily, and Noah stepped forward to grasp the lowest plank and help its ascent. He pressed his face close to it, and his great beard flowed un-tethered at the mercy of the winds, his robe billowing around him like a sail at sea.
“Pull”, he whispered in the effort to bring the giant gate forward, and as the wind got under it, it came all at once, smashing into the doorway with enough force to shake every piece of moss, dirt, and loose twig from between the slats of wood that had served as a ramp until now, showering the participants below with a hail of debris and grit for their hair and clothing.
Noah sunk back from the wall, feeling for the floor below him with his hands before he sat on it, he put a hand on his forehead and breathed a sigh of relief.
He stood now, after having his moments rest, and motioned to Yafes. “Take the last of the tar and the pitch that you brought with you”, he said wearily,” it must be tight to water before the hour is out.”
He turned then to the womenfolk, “be of some use…clean up this mess.”
He looked back at the door as it had made a strange noise, and then shook his head. Yafes stood in shock with his feet glued to floor.
“Pitch, man, pitch”, yelled Noah, “gather your senses, my child…”
The door separated from the doorway an inch or two at the very top, allowing some rain to spill in with a small cascade not unlike a waterfall, and then it opened further letting water coat the inner doorway deepening the color of the dry wood like a layer of dark blood.
“They are opening it from the outside”, said Cham, the first to solve the mystery.
Noah looked frantic for a moment with his eyes bulging he stared at his gathered sons.
“Cham” he commanded, “grab Yafes’ line and pull…Shem...pull…Yafes, you fool, seal it before we all drown in this wooden coffin.”
Noah himself ran to the long wall behind them and grabbed the bracing board from its hooks, surprising everyone with the ability to lift the thing mightily off of the wall and carry it across the room to the door.
Inertia and physics were on the side of the ark dwellers and the force Shem and Cham placed on the ropes slowly brought the door back into place…but not before they heard the cries of the rest of their family.
“For pity’s sake...” cried an uncle.
“Do not leave us to die…” cried the womenfolk.
For a moment the tide was reversed and the door opened more than it had originally as Shem’s brother in law managed to slide his thick arm in the side of the door.
“My child”, he yelled, “take my child, he knows no sin, he…”, but his plea ended as he withdrew his arm in pain and the great door closed once again.
Noah dropped the large bracing wood into the hooks on the door, locking the ark from the inside.
Yafes still stood as if bewildered by the world in general, a stance that was not all that uncommon for him.
“Useless beggar”, Noah muttered in condescension as he plucked the bucket of pitch from his eldest son’s hand.
“Help me” he said to Shem and Cham as water started to seep through the bottom of the doorway, “quickly now, get it sealed.”
Cane watched his father and uncle work diligently turning the great hall to a structure impregnable to water.
Noah seemed vexed at the raw execution of the whole ordeal, possibly having imagined it happening in a manner that was more free of human emotion.
They stood there silently, the raw power of the rains punishing the wooden exterior, and filling the ark with an odd resonance that did more than jar the ears, but tickled ones tongue and irritated ones nose, as if the vibration was jostling every bit of the sensory apparatus.
Cham turned to his father when the foul black goo had been spread over every crack.
“It is done.”
Noah righted one of the overturned chairs of the long table and let his weight sink into it. He rested a weary head in the palm of his hand with an elbow on the table, and used his free hand to search through the folds of his clothes for his pipe. A trace of fear momentarily crossed his face as he conjured that it had been left in the camp, but then his fingers felt its familiar form; and he pulled it from his robes eagerly lighting it from a nearby lantern.
“Careful with that”, said Yafes, eyeing him from across the long table, “we dwell now in a tinderbox awaiting its first strike.”
Noah looked sharply at Yafes from across the table through the tendrils of smoke that lazily rose from his pipe and nostrils. He had to speak loudly to be heard above the drone of the rains.
“Careful…yes”, he said to Yafes, “that is what you are… aren’t you..Why did you not pitch the door as I asked you to.”
“Because”, said Yafes, “I didn’t know if it was right.”
Noah turned away from Yafes who only ever caused him perpetual confusion.
He looked over the tiny remnants of his immediate family, the women hard at work cleaning the damage from the winds and water, Yafes as always perplexed with his latest conundrum, and Shem and Cham, standing ready to do his bidding, with nothing to distract them from the calls to mercy from outside the door.
Noah especially noticed the fear in little Canaan who stood so close now to his father’s side.
He clamped his pipe between his teeth and motioned them inwards from the door with his hands. His patriarchal instincts telling him it was time to gather them for a talk.
“Children, children”, he said calling them to the table, “you too Canaan, you are almost a man now.”
They took seats around the great wooden table that spanned the room each struggling to focus on Noah rather than the ruckus from the world outside.
Noah sat at the head of the table, grasping his staff in his right hand as his left tended his pipe, which he brought to his lips now, in consideration of the careful words that were needed to settle his family. The family he had not been able to bring close enough to God to truly understand their purpose.
“What we hear now”, he said through the plume of smoke that exited his lips with each spoken word, “are the sounds of an ending so horrible, only humanities evil to itself could have brought it, for God has no such ill will to man.”
The smoke filled the room, plugged as it was to the outside with tar and pitch, turning their living quarters into some mist filled morning too close to the moors. Noah spoke with great care, enunciating each word so that it’s critical importance was conveyed by both its meaning and the deep lines of concentration on his forehead.
Noah motioned his lit pipe to the door, “hearing the end…makes it difficult to realize that ends are necessary for new beginnings”, and he pointed now with the back of his pipe’s mouthpiece to each man at the table, “ you assembled here, are that new beginning, your seed…to sow the new worlds only fruit.”
Cane alternated between horror and confusion, “then you mean this storm..This flood…will cover all the earth under its waters.”?
The elder patriarch nodded his head solemnly.
Yafes was shaking his head, “It is wrong…it is a boast of evil from within a heart of our creator that should be filled with good, with mercy even …as mother to child.”
Noah had lost patience with Yafes years ago, as his eldest could not seem to heed the simplest of lessons.
“The great thinker then, has not familiarized himself with justice? With reward? With punishment?”, scolded Noah, “would you have a murderer walk free, a rapist carry on with his daily errands…have you not looked around you and seen humanity fallen to its knees in despair”?
Noah ground his teeth into the stem of his pipe as his anger flowed toward Yafes, and his eldest son fell silent under his critique.
Yafes as always was slow to answer, pondering every question as if he were chewing over a particularly stringy bit of meat, treasuring the flavor and texture of each bite.
“He intervenes now”, said Yafes slowly, “after remaining hidden through endless atrocity, and then punishes the guilty with the innocent crushing the both under one mighty hand?”
Yafes was shaking his head, “this is not justice…killing the worlds innocent children cannot be justice.”
As was often the case, Cham, Shem, and Canaan would sit and watch these debates with little interest, and their tired eyes shifted from one end of the table to the other as Noah and Yafes sparred at a sport that they could at best consider themselves to be captive spectators of.
Noah shook his head slowly at Yafes’ simple thoughts, as he eased his pipe in and out of his mouth, “Spoken by a man, with a man’s justice in mind”, he replied, “It is often that God takes a child back to heaven, and then as now we trust his judgment in having done what was needed. We do not trust in the hands of man that which we trust in the hands of God. He takes us all in the end, young and old, and makes the evils of our lives right and fair in a place beyond the bounds of our knowledge.…”
“Like David”, said young Cane, interjecting into the conversation, feeling his chance to participate had arrived.
“David?”, said Noah quizzically, straining memory to find a face that fit the name.
The look of earnestness on young Canaan’s face made Noah feel that it was all the more important that he remember.
“You’ve become confused, my father”, said Yafes, carrying on his conversation despite Canaan’s interruption, “for the justice of God there is room, but he does not have rights to destroy or cause suffering to the innocent on a whim simply because he has created us, or because he will treat us to just rewards in the life that takes place after…nor does the Lord believe himself so entitled…though the natural world may bring with it pain, the Lord himself wishes mercy on every child.”
Noah was ignoring Yafes’ prattling by now, and concentrating on Cane, “David..” he wondered again out loud while blowing another plume of smoke into the air.
“…and the Grindstone”, Cane prompted his grandfather.
“Oh”, said Noah, with the rush of the tragedy returning to him, “Of course”, David had been a childhood friend of Cane’s who, upon the fruition of one youthful afternoons play, had happened near a loose millstone that fell with the weight of a hundred men upon him crushing him from the waist down. Cane had waited with him there, and comforted him through the course of the night until death finally delivered him from pain.
“Yes, child”, said Noah, remembering the long talk they had had after the incident. “God has a special place for the innocents who suffer such tragedy..”
“And he would have helped if he could”, prompted Cane longing to hear his Grandfather proclaim the words of a benevolent God, as he had that night, in a voice louder than the deafening rains, “he would have lifted that stone if he could.”
Noah spread his hands wide to give Cane an idea of the measures they were speaking of, “God”, he said, “is a being of mercy and benevolence that are boundless…boundless. His good will..His intolerance of pain and suffering are as great as his might and his knowledge..Immeasurable. They are so large we cannot imagine the container that they might fill, and yet they overflow its sides.”
Noah silenced Yafes’ opening mouth with a finger in the air, “Yet the Lord has made a world with natural consequences, that has given man the free will to choose how he will live, for it is for this purpose alone that the universe exists, and for this purpose alone that God will contain his power and mercy behind a wall, lest man descend into a state of slavery, where he sees only God ;and choice diminishes to a mere word that proceeds what he knows he must do.”
Canaan seemed satisfied with Noah’s answer and began to feel a little better about the being that seemed to be in control of his family’s destiny.
“And is that, yet, not my point”, said Yafes ignoring the stern warning Noah had given him to silence, “If the small act of God lifting the millstone off David would have been so great a blow to natural order and free will so as to prohibit him from quenching his thirst for mercy…is it not clear, that here, at the end of all things, God in this great act, has revealed himself and shattered natural order and free will to kindling wood in the process” ?
“He who is bidden to silence, speaks, but talks not sense”, scolded Noah.
“Then listen carefully”, said Yafes, “that I may unfold it for you…if the Lord’s unlimited mercy is bound by the prudence of an undisturbed natural order and the maintenance of free will, then now…of all times we should witness it unbound from its constant harness, as a force beyond any forces ever encountered. Here..now..where the Lord reveals himself and destroys nature and free will, let us witness him as he is. Let us see him as we imagine him in our prayers and our hearts. Let us behold an act of kindness for the innocents equaling the act of destruction for the sinners, an act of mercy to the young and blameless more potent than even the waters that crush the guilty.”
“You speak riddles, as always”, Noah complained, “But it is not because you have fathomed the depths of knowledge, it is because you are trapped in your own misunderstanding of it. Indeed, it is with God’s mercy itself that he purges the world of evil and renews it for man.”
“What do you ask”, Noah continued in exasperation, “shall the lord make a rock he cannot lift, shall he turn a triangle into a circle for your amusement, shall he split the waters to spare the innocent and punish the guilty…”
“Why not” ?
“Because the Lord does not bend nature..”
“Yet behold it is broken…”
“Silence the both of you”, cried Shem, staring at the door in fear.
They all turned then, eyeing the entrance to the vessel meant to take them to the world made new, and strained their ears to be able to hear above the din of the rain.
It was a banging noise, weak and difficult to hear above the force of the waters, yet unmistakable, and it emanated a few feet above the top door jam, easily twelve feet from the ground outside.
“Anakim…” whispered Noah, looking at that moment as old as his six hundred years, his beard quivering as he spoke, his greatest fears realized.
“What is it father”, cried Canaan in fright, as he spun out of his chair and moved back towards the wall.
Cham’s face was pale with terror, but his hands steady and sure as he pulled the great bow off his back. His eyes stayed upon the entrance as he spoke to his son.
“The giants of old, my son, from the generation of Enosh they have roamed the earth”, said Cham through terse lips, “behind me, all of you”
“The inhabitants of Bashan”, murmured Shem as he dug through his belongings for his broad sword, pulling it franticly from its scabbard, “twice the size of a grown man, now they look for passage to the new world that will be born from this destruction.”
“Calm yourselves”, said Yafes observing the panic his family had slipped into, “it is all myths and storytelling, there are no giants…”
There was banging again from above the doorpost.
“That was a cubit higher than the last”, said Shem crouching low to place his weight below the sharp edge of his drawn sword, “Og himself may stand behind this door.”
Shem glanced at Cham, “prepare yourself my brother.”
Never removing his gaze from the doorway, Cham notched an arrow drawing the bow string with strong arms till the feathers at the back end of the shaft nearly tickled his eyelashes.
“Come then children of Kayin”, spoke Cham with icy calm, “we await you.”
“Madness all of you”, cried Yafes, grasping a frying pan from off the wall, he stepped boldly to the doorway.
“The fool has finally lost his mind”, cried Noah of Yafes, as his son tapped along the doorway with his frying pan, “will he do battle with the denizens of Bashan, or cook them breakfast,,, his mind is as weakened as his words suggest…back, child, back, stand behind your brother Cham.”
Yafes turned to his family, his investigation completed, “It is simple I assure you”, he stated, “ the water level has risen above the door, and those members of our family who cling to the arks outer dimensions in hope of safety are now well above our heads.”
Yafes taped the frying pan against the door again level to his head and listened to the dull thud, then grasping a plank for leverage and lifting himself into the air with one leg braced to the door, he taped above the post, where only hollowness echoed.
“Come closer”, said Yafes to his brothers, “and you will still hear their cries.”
Shem and Cham declined his offer and put away their weapons with chagrin.
Yafes returned to the table, never the look of perplexity leaving his face.
“My son”, said Noah, relieved not to be facing the terrible foe he had imagined, “there is wisdom in you..why must you remain so confused about the Lord.”
“For the God I pray to is one of unbounded mercy, he cannot be unmerciful any more than he could be less than all powerful and all knowing. When the constraints of free will and natural order are removed, I expect…omnibenevolence…a force of mercy so undeniably a part of the lord that it would be as apparent as the destruction that surrounds us.”
“Spare us your blabbering “, said Shem to Yafes, tiring of philosophical diatribe, and sore at being shown up by his brother. Even the terror of giants held more promise than this.
“But the act of mercy you await is upon you even as you do not see it”, said Noah aiming to lead his eldest back to the path, “God must destroy what has rotted to its foundation before he dares build upon it, the innocent life that may cry in fear outside this door is the necessary evil that accompanies the Goodness of returning humanity to a harmony in which it may finally realize the purpose of it’s very creation.”
“Father, I cannot imagine an all powerful God that suffers from the demons of ‘necessary evils’, for these are the troubles of men and lesser beings who cannot achieve that which they fully desire. If there be but one babe clinging to its mother in this awful tempest, that God cannot…nay, will not help; then all these years, my prayers have been directed to a being I have not fully known until this day.”
Noah smiled at his firstborn, “You have a kind soul in you, Yafes, and it pleases me to see it shine, but you view this miracle from too narrow a perspective, seeing through human eyes, that which is Divine wisdom.”
Noah continued, “above and beyond the concerns of any individual, innocent child to murderous adult, there are the grand concerns of the universe. Purpose child, purpose. What God accomplishes here makes suffering of children dim in perspective of the brightness that will be
achieved by a humanity that can choose its own ends…for the good.”
Yafes raised his hands to symbolize the world outside their enclosure, “this..”, he said, “this is not purpose.”
He let his hands drop to his sides in near exhaustion, “God’s purpose is to create a world where humanity may once again find its soul. What we see outside is not the purpose, but the method chosen by the Lord to accomplish it. He is a being who may choose from any method to accomplish his purposes because he has at his disposal unending power and knowledge. The fact that within this infinity of possibilities he has chosen to crush the babes with the sinners, makes me weary with sadness, for now I must worship a God whom I can only assume does not measure pain and justice by any scale I could ever want to be familiar with… and remain a human who is concerned for the suffering of others.”
“Child, you are so close to the truth, yet you cannot grasp it”, said Noah, almost pleading for Yafes to take the final leap of faith, “ the very fact that God has chosen this method to end the world shows without question that this is the path of maximum mercy, and minimal cruelty to the innocent ,through which his purposes could be accomplished…do you see that now…do you understand it now? It is simple…there is no other way.”
Yafes lowered his head in final resignation, nodding that he had in the end been convinced, yet his brow still remained furrowed.
“Yafes”, said Noah dubiously, “what yet could there be that would still trouble you” ?
“It is another matter, father..”
“Heavens above”, said Shem heatedly, “will you figure it out for yourself then, how long will you impetuously question the Lord who saves us and destroys all else..is this his thanks? Why not get down on your knees and beg his mercy for questioning him when you should be thanking heaven that you still breathe air instead of water.”
“Stay your harsh tongue”, Yafes said to his brother, “I merely puzzle over the ark at this point.”
“Speak, my son”, said Noah, never tiring of being the compassionate teacher.
“ you needn’t ask him”, mumbled Shem almost to himself, “he will continue to babble, bidden or not.”
“ I cannot fathom”, said Yafes, “how the water level could be so high, yet the ark be mired still in the soil, I would of thought once the waters were over the first deck we would..”
As if his words commanded the workings of the world, they felt a sudden emptiness in the pits of their stomachs, a soft rolling nausea followed by the need to grab the object closest to them that offered stability. The pans and vessels that lined the wall, hanging on nails and hooks, leaned first forward, than clashed back against the dry boards of the far wall.
“She moves”, cried Noah, standing with legs spread wide for balance, leaning heavily on his staff. And even as his family one by one crouched for safety or hugged the walls in desperation the ark filled with the frightened calls of the animal world, as countless denizens of the wild awoke in alarm.
“Get up, get up”, Noah urged his family,” we must tend to the animals, the domesticated must be calmed, the wild….must be double checked to be sure they are caged…especially those that could consume a man or child…quickly now.”
“It is too late”, cried Shem, and even as he stood, the ark swiveled on its axis, dropping both he and Cham back to the floor.
“There”, cried Shem pointing to the far hallway and fighting the urge to regurgitate his dinner, “something stirs outside of its cage” !
In the distance, a bare whisper above the rain, rung the sound of creaking steps, and whatever beast might of loosed it’s cage, padded downwards to Noah and his family.
Cham struggled against the vertigo that consumed him to free his bow, fighting his way to one knee he held his weapon horizontally reaching back to his quiver for an arrow.
“Do not kill it”, cried Noah, leaning now for stability against the table, though it slowly slid across the room, “the animal must be returned to its cage…destroy it..and destroy its kind forever!”
“What then”, cried Shem, finding his sword and holding it close, “shall we offer our necks to the lion gratefully..what of our kind, what of our lineage?”
Noah found his feet and his voice all at once, “have faith my child”, he said, “all that happens on this journey is a part of plan that has already been laid out for us.”
The beast tumbled down the last few steps in animal confusion and rolled out the doorway in puff of hay and twigs..it had become trapped in a feed sack from which it’s appendages jutted.
Seeing the small size of it Cham dropped his bow and pounced landing squarely upon it.
“It is just a swine”, yelled Shem in relief.
“Aaagghhh”, yelled the swine under Cham’s heavy grasp.
Even stuck pigs don’t squeal as this one did, and the family gathered about it, on unsteady legs, in curiosity and confusion. As Cham pulled the sackcloth down from the head of the thing, he was shocked to see the face of a little girl.
Noah’s face was inscrutable for a moment, as if the image did not register with him.
“No”, he said simply, as the child observed them in fear, “it is not possible.”
“Eros !”, said Canaan, running to her side, and pulling her from his father’s grasp.
As Noah observed her, his brows pulled low covering his eyes, and dark thoughts brewed and fermented the stuff from which dark deeds take root.
“She is with me”, said Canaan, sensing the dismay in his family.
At last Noah looked at his grandson.
“Child”, he said, “what have you done?”
Canaan opened his mouth to speak but Eros’ small frightened voice fell upon their ears first.
“It’s not his fault”, said Eros as she began to brush the twigs and hay from her hair, returning her countenance to that of humankind, “he has helped me run away from my father and sister who are evil to the very core, it is only through Canaan’s kindness that I am here.”
“I am sorry to disturb you in your wooden cave”, Eros continued addressing herself to the great elder before her, tilting her head all the way up to look at his face, “but I felt the earth move under me ,as if I were falling even though my feet touched ground, and the great beasts beside me near trampled my head.”
Noah saw the little thing shaking with fear, and merciful as he was, spoke to her, looking down on her small figure before him.
“What is your name, little one.”
Noah’s eyes were hidden behind his thick brows where they stayed shadowed for none to see.
“Are you hungry, child” ?
Eros hesitated for a second, wondering if she were overstepping her invitation… or lack thereof.
“Yes”, she said, starvation typically being the better motivation over manners.
“Canaan”, said Noah magnanimously, “take Eros to the table, and see to it that the womenfolk give her what to eat.”
Thrilled with Eros’ quick acceptance by his grandfather, Cane smiled at her, and led her by the hand, both walking on unsteady legs unadjusted to the ebb and flow of the waters that buffeted the ark like a small speck of dust on their surface.
As they carefully lowered themselves into their chairs at the table, bowls were placed in front of them with warm vegetable broth poured from leather flasks so that steam rose invitingly to their nostrils.
The days harried events made it easy to fall quickly into the feast, and it was only between slurps of soup and with a slightly scalded tongue that Cane managed to speak to Eros.
“Are you alright”, he asked, the spoon in his hand poised before his lips.
“Yes”, said Eros, though she was badly frightened, “I think I am…now.”
“”Do not worry”, said Canaan, “tonight I will show you things of amazement of which you have not even dreamed.”
Cane was smiling as he slurped another spoonful, “there are beasts in this dwelling, the likes of which defy the minds ability to understand.”
Eros looked at Cane, eyes wide, “I believe you”, she said, “all around me I can feel their movement, your castle is swayed to its very roots by the force of them.”
Cane was shaking his head, “No, that is another matter, Eros…do you hear the rains that surround us?”
Eros nodded, as their entire conversation took place with raised voice over the basal hum of the pounding waters.
Cane leaned closer to almost whisper it to her in a harsh rasp above the rains, “They cover the earth…dowsing it…cleansing it of human and beast!”
Eros looked confused, “Then everyone…”
“Do not think of them”, whispered Cane, “their time has passed for this earth, it begins again with us!”
He placed a hand over Eros’ and was happy that she smiled in return.
As Canaan and Eros talked and ate, Noah and his sons gathered at the far end of the long hall, their bodies slowly growing accustomed to the see saw motion of travel upon the newly formed ocean that had swallowed the earth whole. Noah leaned heavily on his staff, his body swaying to either side of it like a pendulum as the boat rocked.
Noah spoke in low tones so as not to be overheard by the youngsters.
He was shaking his head, “I cannot piece it together”, he complained, “what is the meaning of this intrusion…it is a conundrum that leads me only in circles back to the start of my thoughts.”
“What is there to think on”, hissed Shem, as he leaned against the wall for support, “her place is under the dark waters that surround us, as commanded by the Lord himself…”
“You do not know the Lords mind”, cautioned Yafes, “it is possible she is meant to be here, an innocent that will be an example of God’s mercy to his creations.”
“Fool”, said Shem to Yafes, “I do know the Lords mind, as revealed to our father and now become truth and fact before our very eyes. Whether by the waters smothering curse or by the edge of the blade…his will be done.”
Shem was fingering the hilt of his broad sword.
“Stay your hand and know this”, said Cham abruptly, “she who sits and dines with my son, is under my protection.”
Shem’s face was red, “Then I hope your arrow reaches far enough to strike the very heavens, for it is God’s wrath that you incur upon all of us.”
“This riddle knows no answer”, Noah said bitterly, “If she was meant for the waters than why hath the lord placed his burden on our backs. Nay…it is not the place of man to destroy man. If the Lord deem it fit he will see to it himself.”
Shem ‘s face had turned from red to the livid purple of rage that is barely contained.
“Aye”, he said, his voice choked with emotion, “Save it was you, father, who took care to close the door, you, who denied entry of my wife’s brother, you, who refused his innocent babe.”
Shem punctuated his reply by pointing the back of his sword at his father menacingly, “do not fain innocence in front of those very eyes that have witnessed your actions.”
“You”, said Shem pointing at Cham, “cleared the way with the threat of an arrow to the heart, and you, old man”, he said tapping Noah on the chest with the large handle of his weapon, “closed the door upon the world, innocent and guilty alike. Even the endless waters of God’s rage cannot wipe the blood off your hands.”
“I did as instructed by the Lord himself”, protested Noah.
“Well then, for the diligent pupil, one task remains”, said Shem.
“He may speak truth”, said Yafes slowly, even as Shem and Noah stared each other down in anger, “though I like not where it leads, we have indeed entered a pact with the lord, and have agreed to be his new humanity, willingly we have joined our hands with his and cooperated in the exclusion of our brothers and sisters, even when closing this great ark door meant their very extinction. We were not asked, not did we proceed to gather the young and free of sin at the outset of this journey… ”
“What we face now may be more painful to our hearts..” said Yafes, “But if this is the singular way that the Lord may return humanity to its purpose…”
He shrugged his shoulders, leaving the last unsaid.
“What tiny god is this”, said Cham angrily, “whose great plans are flummoxed by a women child of nary eleven summers?”
Cham shook his head and fingered his bow, “He would have to be a mouse of a God…I would put him in my pocket and feed him cheese.”
“Bite your tongue”, said Noah harshly.
A bolt of lightning split the air just outside of them jarring even the bold bowman to a start.
Noah spoke again, “do not underestimate the power of one human life”, said the patriarch, “ the name of this child speaks to me of the evil of women, she could be the poisonous seed that destroys humanity for a second time.”
Noah spoke more quietly now, barely audible above the savaging winds outside, “I have seen dim visions of the future, my children, upon those times when the Lord dwells with me.”
“I do not know if they are dreams of what could be or what will be, but I have glimpsed times when but one evil man, may change the course of all men’s thoughts, to the destruction of many.”
“Aye, then”, said Cham, “this God has only one method to train a child from evil to good…the sword? Are you sure he has the great powers then that you always speak of?”
“His power is all around you”, said Noah shaking his head, “do not question it. It is a sad path the lord has asked us to walk to our better future, but such is our destiny.”
“Father”, said Yafes, “Although I understand the Lords purpose, I fear that if we take the life of this young child, we ourselves may become the poison of the new world, each of us a bitter seed that will sow only future generations of murder and fear.”
Noah nodded his head, recognizing the problem.
“It is too late for your concerns, Yafes”, said Shem, “for this poison is already thick in our veins. We have already as best as committed this sin a dozen times today, I did not hear your protest as the door of this vessel closed, when my family begged for mercy; and I have no ears for your belly aching now.”
“It was all of our families”, corrected Cham, “we have all had to make this sacrifice for God’s will.”
Shem locked eyes with Cham before he spoke, “Yes, my brother”, he said, “and it appears you and Canaan will have to make it one more time.”
“Enough”, said Noah, adding finality to the conversation, “this noose around our necks has no easy knot to untie, and yet there is work to do.”
“Shem…Cham…forgive each other your words of spite, and check on the wild beasts that they are caged, use your weapons as a deterrent, wound if you have to, but save the lives of our precious cargo.”
“Yafes”, continued Noah, “you and I will split the lodgings of the domesticated beasts, make sure they are calmed and fed..”
“Tonight”, said Noah, “I will pray to the lord, that he may visit with me and provide a way out of this darkness.”
“But for now”, said Noah, “No harm shall come to this child.”
Canaan watched from the table as the group broke up to accomplish their various tasks, and was quick to pull Eros away from her soup in search of new adventure.
“Come with me”, he ordered, pulling her along by the hand, “horses and hay are the least of this boats miracles, I will show you true wonders.”
So despite the wagging fingers and shaking heads of the womenfolk Canaan and Eros slipped out the nearest doorway leading them up and to the right.
Both Eros and Canaan used their hands against the walls as they ascended the stairs, as it was difficult to climb as one was being tossed like a salad. The doorway that they reached was sealed shut with a smelting of carved wax and filler of woven flaxseed strands, with an overlying pitch gloss, that closed the entrance as if a spider had spun a half melted web over the portal. In its middle was stone of clear crystal which Canaan pressed his face to.
“Look”, he urged, as Eros pressed her nose to the makeshift window.
Inside stretched an opening that made the great hall look as if it were a cramped closet. It was Acres that stretched out before her, she felt she might be looking out over her family farm at dusk, the far wall was at the end of a horizon length of empty space.
“It is impossible”, she said simply.
“It is space”, said Canaan, “that the Lord has bent to make it bigger”, his repetition of Noah’s explanation falling short of the true complexity, but enough to satisfy Eros.
“Then nature is a plaything to him, he breaks it at a whim.”
“Why has he created such a wondrous empty room and placed nothing within?”
“It is not empty”, replied Canaan, the beginnings of a smile starting to peak out from his mischievous face, “look again.”
Eros peered hard through the crystal window, allowing her eyes time to adjust to the darkness. She noticed that the walls and floor were not hard but mossy, with fuzzy borders, and even as she stared off into the distance the frantic legs and abdomen of a beetle the size of her head scampered across the clear glass.
“Aaahhhh”, screamed Eros, giving into the visceral need to pull her face from the window in a motion so abrupt it hurt her neck.
Cane was strategically placed to catch her, laughing at her discontent.
“I hate you” she complained, “and that room is disgusting.”
Cane released his grip on her shoulders reluctantly.
“It is every creeping insect of the world.”
“How can that be?”, she protested indignantly, “it would take a hundred years to collect half of those...crawling..”, she shivered rather than finishing her description.
“My grandfather has been collecting for six hundred years”, said Canaan, “my Uncle Yafes likes to say that several species were already living in his beard… so he had a head start.”
Eros smacked his head while he laughed, “If you don’t stop being disgusting I won’t continue on your tour.”
“Come with me”, said Canaan undiscouraged, and lead her up a level on a spiral stair case that made them both dizzy. At its apex was the ceiling in the form of a trap door, which Cane pushed up with all his strength.
Eros entered the abode above her in such wonder that for a moment her mind knew no words to describe her surroundings, an enormous dome of a room of which she could see neither end, all around her were potted plants, many as large as trees, and upon every branch perched a winged creature.
The color of it literally exploded from every angle, the pink pelicans, the parrots, the finches, the…
Even her heart paused with her mind, as the enormous eagle flew majestically over her head eyeing her as a curiosity that had entered its world.
Humming birds buzzed swiftly past her ear, even as she turned to witness a majestic peacock, strut haughtily up to them.
“I could live here all of my days in happiness”, murmured Eros, as she found her words, but Canaan was already leading her down and away from heaven as he closed the door behind them he smiled at her.
“There is more to see.”
He led her lengthwise through the ark now, walking her swiftly through cramped wooden corridors. Ducking under doorposts that ran low and slanted, until he finally reached one of the arks few bits of metal in the steel bars that made up the entrance to the room in front of them. Even seeing the Iron unmolested by their tempestuous journey, Cane could not shake the tension as he walked towards the door in front of him. Sensing his fear, Eros slipped behind him, only her head peeking out from aside his shoulders.
The Lion that obliged their spontaneous meeting did not need to roar to instill fear, for as it walked slowly to the gate of its cage it towered over Cane, it’s enormous head filling the width of porthole. It’s flat yellow eyes knowing only death, it’s mind bent only on the hunt. It made Cane feel weak just to look at it, and no matter how many times he had stolen his thoughts to bravery his legs felt queer and flat when he approached the lion, as if caught in a dream where one is chased but their feet are too heavy to lift off the ground and run.
Eros was hiding completely behind Cane at this point, and she whispered to the back of his head, “let’s go…let’s go.”
The Lion produced a slow deep murmur from inside his throat a soft grumble that sounded like thick iron chains sliding passed one another, it was almost hypnotic, and Cane stood, mesmerized by the very power of the thing that wished his brutal death in its heart.
Nature’s mercy froze him in place before the great killer, in recognition that before such power there was only submission and acceptance of one’s fate.
The spell was broken by Cham’s bow rattling against the bars, startling both the lion and his son.
“Back!”, he yelled fiercely at the lion, showing no fear, crashing his bow against the bars again, “Back!”
Shem then joined him from the side passage that had brought them to the same location as Eros and Canaan. He walked with a limp, and there was blood on the handle of his broadsword.
Cham grabbed Canaan by the lapel and pushed both his son and Eros back even as he eyed the beast, holding it’s gaze, one hunter to another.
Canaan noticed the blood on his father’s chest even as his father spoke, “Shem”, said Cham, “check the integrity of the bars.”
Cham notched an arrow and took carful aim at the lion over his brother’s shoulder, as Shem pulled harshly on every rung.
“It holds”, he said, warily eyeing the king of the jungle.
Cham turned to his son, “it is not safe for you or Eros to wander now”, he said, “we have just re-caged a cougar on the third deck, and it was no easy task.”
Looking thoughtfully at Eros, Cham continued, “there are beasts here” , he said, shifting his gaze to his brother, “who could easily kill a child like yourself.”
Shem stared back at him with eyes as black as polished onyx.
“Bring Eros to your mothers quarters, she will bed there the night, and close the door after yourself..”
“Do it…and be fast about it.”
Shem spoke to Cham in a voice that was both weary and fearful, “which fate will you choose first, my brother, the gorillas, or the panther, for death may find us at either door.”
Cham wiped the sweat from his brow, and motioned to his brother, “come, we will see which dwellings we happen on first, and meet fate as men.”
As the two men brushed by them Cane and Eros descended the steps back to Cham’s quarters, where Cane dutifully placed Eros under the care of his mother, and she turned to look at him and wave goodnight as she disappeared behind the curtain of beads that hid the world of women.
Cane himself went to his father’s room and rested himself on his father’s bed, a simple mat of straw in the corner of the room.
It was several hours before his father returned and Cane’s eyes had grown heavy from the long day.
“Where there many more animals?”, asked Cane, rousing himself with curiosity.
“No child”, said his father as he sunk to the ground leaning against the post of the doorway balancing his bow across his lap, “there is nothing left here that hunts you.”
Cane felt more secure now, “then come rest, father”, he said rolling over to make more room.
“I will rest myself here tonight”, said his father placing his quiver beside him at the doorway.
“Are we not safe”, said Canaan raising his head to ask the question.
“We are”, said his father uneasily, “Take some rest my son”, he said smiling at his boy, and sleep took Cane quickly.
Morning broke with confusion, as his father shook him from dreams and warmth. “Come quickly”, he said, as Shem waited in the hall.
“Where is it”, asked Cham urgently of Shem.
“ I lost it near the second deck”, he said out of breath, “the wound on my leg has stiffened overnight, and I could not keep it’s pace.”
“Rest yourself”, said Cham, as he pulled a dagger from his belt.
“Canaan”, he called his son, “take this and hold it close to your body, the time to be a man is upon you.”
He turned to face his son as he handed him the blade by its handle.
“Quick jabs at the face, and the nose, and the pads of the paw…never show fear…never show hesitation.”
Cane felt himself begin to tremble involuntarily.
“The Lion?”, he asked
“Chewed through the wood next to the bars”, said his father as Shem nodded.
Even as Cham started out the door Cane hesitated, “but father”, he said, and then became embarrassed to speak in front of his uncle, “I am…”
Cham stood impossibly tall and strong before his son, “do not fear, my boy”, he said, his character built out of confidence itself, “how do you think that mangy beast was put in a cage in the first place.”
Cham winked at Canaan, and Cane followed him down the hallway.
As they left Shem looked after them, and as they turned the corner he walked to the women’s dwelling and pushed back the curtains and beads that gave them privacy.
“The girl”, he commanded simply, and as Eros appeared at the doorway, freshly awoken with her hair askew, he smiled at her, “the great elder wishes to see you…”
As Cane followed his father down the hallway his father spoke back to him, instilling the experience he had gained as a man of the wild.
Cham navigated swiftly through the maze of hallways with his back to the walls and his bow at the ready.
“Canaan, listen carefully, the lion rules the jungle through fear, because he is not as powerful as his name suggests. An elephant may trample him, his pride may turn on him and rip him to shreds…”
“Fear is his most potent weapon”, said Cham, “it is what prevents him from being challenged , and to master him you must shed your fear of him.”
“But he might tear me to bits with one paw”, said Canaan, not realistically envisioning himself losing fear in the near future.
“Child”, said Cham, “a being of true power does not need to rule through fear, the Lion does it because deep down he is a lazy beast, most interested in eating and mating, in truth he does not even hunt, but scavenges from the kill of the lioness. He wants to sleep more than he desires the sting of a good fight, and when you remind him that you know his true nature his power turns to dust.”
Cham bent to the floor and sniffed the ground.
“Do you track him” ?
“No”, said Cham, “I detect no scent at all.”
“Follow me”, said Cham to Cane, “we will track him from his cage.”
Cham bounded up the steps to the lion’s den with his bow poised like some beautiful instrument he might play, the twang of its string the last note for a lullaby of eternal sleep, but he stopped short at the bars of the lions gate where the beast sat eating it’s meal behind the steel of the enclosure.
“But…”, said Cane.
Cham’s head fell forward in shame, and there was anger in his eyes when he lifted it again.
“Father I do not understand…”
“There is not much time…”, said Cham, “and I fear Eros is in danger.”
“But the lion sits behind steel bars?”
Cham looked at his son’s innocent eyes, sad that the evils of the world would visit him so young, “my child, there are more fearsome monsters than lions and tigers, and oft they dress in the skins of men.”
“Where is Eros”, said Canaan in a scared voice, not understanding his father.
Cham thought for a minute and then understood.
Canaan could barely keep up with his father as he raced through the halls.
“I love this room above all else”, said Eros to Shem, as he opened the trap door and the cries of birds filled her ears, “It is a small taste of heaven.”
“Then let it be the first taste of many to come”, said Shem, as he walked toward Noah at the far end of the room, sealing the door behind him.
“Dear child”, said Noah walking forward from a small figure in the distance until they reached him, ”come, there is something I would like for you to see.”
“As you wish”, said Eros, glad to be extending her relationships beyond Cane and his father, even Uncle Yafes was present at the far wall.
Noah escorted her by the hand to a patch of leather that covered a bit of the far wall, and the four of them clustered around it.
“What is it?”, asked Eros of the great elder.
Noah cleared his throat, “it is…the one defect in the wall of the ark… a window through which we will send a winged emissary after the rains, to see if the world is once again safe for human life.”
“It will be exciting then”, said Eros, running he hand over the leather covering to the outside world, her hand feeling the pitter patter of rain against it, “to step forth and rebuild the world anew, I am proud to be amongst your family, and greatly honored that you chose to speak with me, my lord.”
Noah fingered his staff uncomfortably, surprising himself by glancing at Shem for reassurance.
“But, my child, that is just the problem, you see, and there is no potion to make this easier to swallow, but”, Noah grasped his staff as he reached the point of his talk, “you were not meant for the new world, my dear, you are not a part of the future that goes forward, but you are a part of the past that must be left behind…”
Eros turned pale and felt her stomach churn, “but you cannot mean…”
“He does”, ventured Shem, having little patience for ceremony, “so let’s get on with it.”
Eros began to realize she was fighting for her very life, “but how can you be sure”, she argued.
“He can’t” said Yafes, putting a hand on her shoulder.
“We can”, said Noah becoming angry, “God has visited me many times and specified the exact number to be included on this voyage, and has done so again last night”, he let out a sigh, “make no mistake, it is the will of the Lord.”
Yafes shook his head, “it is a test of your morals you old fool, hold fast to what you know is right.”
“How is it a test”, cried Shem, “when every other child sinks low in the waters, their bellies full of silt, as we speak, by the hand of lord himself.”
“Leave your cruel descriptions for another time”, said Noah to Shem, “listen to me child, and pay not head to my sons, there is another life after this one… a better one, and your road towards it lies at the bottom of the dark waters that surround us.”
Noah pulled harshly on the leather trimmings that surrounded the opening in the wood, and they fell, revealing to the assembled a land shattered by the hand of god. Dark and cold, covered by the thick clouds and night air, a rain so potent each drop looked like a fist, and the waters hissed as they were beaten to a boil by the constant bombardment from the heavens above.
“My child”, said Noah, staring at her from behind a long beard, his face buried under it, his eyes rimmed with kindness and understanding, “spare us the sin of sending you over, choose for yourself the destiny you have been appointed by the master of the universe himself.”
Eros looked at the large men that surrounded her, Shem was nodding his head, holding as always the broadsword secured at his hip. Yafes, shook his head, warning her of perils she could only too easily see.
She turned to Noah, “I believe that which you say, for you are a prophet of the Lord no doubt, and I have seen his miracles, he is no simple conjurer of coins and rabbits, but…”
“Yes, my child”, said Noah.
“but…I am afraid”, said Eros finally giving in to tears, as she looked at the world outside, “because I don’t know how to swim.”
“Have mercy, lord, mercy”, prayed Yafes to the God of the angry skies.
“My patience is through”, said Shem to Eros, “little woman, it is not to swim that we send you, but to sink like a stone to the depths of the sea.”
“Shem”, scolded Noah.
“What father, what is it you wish”, cried Shem, “let us fulfill God’s will, lest he turn this craft to lead, and remake Adam from dust as in the beginning.”
“You may not kill this child”, said Yafes.
“Nor will we”, said Shem, “we place her back where the hands of her maker intended her, he may do with her there, as is his wish, as he has done to every other innocent child that walked the earth. You have said yourself, free will and natural order are corrupted by this miraculous event, so god will be free to do with her what he will.”
Cane’s muted cry came from behind the locked trap door.
Shem turned now to Noah.
“This is the last chance to do God’s will, in a moment the great bow of your son will be upon you, and before you can tell him of God’s decree, we may all have been pierced by the sharp end of his arrows.”
The look on Noah’s face was terrible. It was pain and conscience, duty and regret, all at once.
His staff rose to touch Eros’ belly as she stood before the open window.
“Please”, she begged, looking at his eyes, “I am scared.”
“Forgive me…my child”, he said, and with a gentle push, no more than nudge, she fell silently into the darkness below…
“I am sick”, said Yafes, and he slowly crouched to the floor by the window.
The trap door burst open and birds flew in every direction, squawking and showering multicolored feathers in abundance. Had Eros been present she surely would have enjoyed the sight of it.
It was Cham’s strong shoulder that broke the door and he came up first, easing in to a run across the great room, followed by Canaan close at his heels.
Cham opened his mouth to shout inquiry of Eros, but fell silent as he saw Yafes curled at the open window…for in his heart, he already knew…
“Eros”, screamed Canaan in ignorance, “where are you?…what have you done with her?…”
Noah tried to intercept him before he reached the window, but he dodged his grandfather’s arms and leaned his upper body out into Armageddon itself.
“Eros!!”, he screamed searching the black oceans for a sign, as the rains pelted his back.
As lightning kindled a fire in the heavens he thought he caught sight of a bobbing head among the foam caps of the waves, and upon instinct dove to save his beloved.
But the sharp grip of his father was upon his ankle, with hands as strong as steel that has bested cougars and tamed lions.
Even as he let his son struggle till his strength was spent, Cham spoke to Noah, “I will serve you on this journey as I have sworn, but when we reach land, broken will be the bonds of our family, and expect neither mercy nor respect from your son.”
Noah bowed his head in anger, mumbling curses.
Cham pulled Canaan from the window, for his son was limp and sobbing, and carrying him like a babe, he walked away from his assembled family.
Shem patted Noah on the back, “you have done what is right in the eyes of the lord, and walked in his ways… I will always be your son, and you may always call on me.”
As Shem took his leave, Noah turned and lowered the leather covering of the window, closing the episode in his mind as best he could.
He reached a hand out to Yafes and helped him from the floor.
“Are you alright , my son”, he said.
Yafes looked at him with red rimmed eyes.
“Are you, my father?”
“Yes”, said Noah, “for I have done what the lord has asked.”
“You have killed a child.”
“No”, said Noah, “I have returned her to the lord’s wrath, where she belongs.”
“You must find a way out of your doubts”, said Noah to Yafes, “the lord does that which is right.”
“Yes, father”, said Yafes, “I will worship, always, his power, and fear him all my days, and I have come to understand him much……….better than I did before his great miracle.”
“Good, my son”, said Noah rubbing some warmth into Yafes’ back with his hand, “Good.”
For Eros the fall down the side of the Ark was short, and the intense fear she felt was replaced almost instantly by a shocking sensation of cold as she hit the waters. She quickly discovered that swimming was but thrashing about in fear for one’s life, and by instinct alone she made for the side of the Ark, hoping to grasp onto it and re-board. But even as her fingers tried to grip the sides they slipped over its slimy exterior, and the waves quickly washed her away.
For a moment she thought she heard Cane’s voice, and she screamed his name in hopes of what she did not know, perhaps just to be heard…but there was no answer.
The Ark seemed to be propelled by some force greater than the currents, and as each flash of lightening lit the horizon it was further and further away, until it faded from the dot it had become on the horizon.
Alone, Eros felt tears surge once again, and she conjured that she added to her own demise by a few ounces that dribbled down her cheeks into the watery bath where she would end her life. The worst of it was the solitude, for in between the bolts of lightning she was alone in the cold and dark; So black and empty, that she could not tell if her eyes were open or closed. And having never faced death before, the terror of it made her close her eyes and wish even for the hard hand of her sisters discipline, just so that it be in the warm sunlight of her backyard.
Finally her arms grew tired and her fingers and toes numb, and she spoke to the lord, imagining how angry he was at her for having contributed to the world gone wrong, to have punished her to her death.
“I am sorry, my master”, she said, her words forming vapor in the cold air. “And I hope you have a warm place for me in the life that takes place after this one.”
“Though”, she added, as she began having trouble keeping her head above the waves, “if you could find it in your graces to spare me the swallowing of this salty ocean, I would return to you my honest thanks and praise…”
Eros spoke with God for as long as she could, figuring that he must have a spot of compassion for little girls who fell off of Arks.
Eros waited quietly and patiently for an answer, trying not to let terror take her heart as she realized that she could no longer feel her arms and legs and that they could no longer support her. She spoke with God again, but by now was fairly sure that he was occupied with his miracle, and could not listen.
It was a terrible sensation when the final moment came, as her neck craned to keep her nose above water, for she had the certain knowledge that she could not maintain this pose forever, and she knew the salty waters that burned her throat and made her cough would soon fill her body, and she feared the moment she would not be able to gasp for air.
She thought of Canaan and it calmed her that perhaps she would meet him again in another life. She wondered if he would be the same mischievous child, planting frogs and bugs and scaring the devil out of everyone. She hoped he wouldn’t change a bit. She wondered if God had once been in love with humanity, like the love that she had for Cane. A feeling that was young and new, and full of forgiveness, and why he had lost it and turned to anger.
Eros felt sure that even though God had no mercy available for her in this world, that he might be far more giving in the next one, and as her head finally slipped under the waves, she felt nothing but love for God, and faith in his justice.