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Noah and the Scourge

Noah hacked his wife’s head off, but it was as if she didn’t notice. As he lifted her by the hair, her glassy eyes held his and her jaw opened and closed mechanically, teeth clicking. Just like the snakes I used to kill back on the farm, he thought. Doesn’t know it’s dead yet. Noah wasn’t surprised by the lack of blood. It was all congealed.

Noah, his heart hardened by the horrors he’d endured over the past weeks, scowled. “Emzara, my love, I believe you’re dead. Start acting like it.” He glanced over at the fire he had going, considered for a moment, and then tossed her head into the flames. Even while she burned, her jaws opened and closed. Finally, when Emzara’s head was nearly a skull, her jaw stopped moving.

Queerly satisfied, Noah turned to his three sons, chained together onto a tree. Shem, Ham, and Japheth seemed to regard their father mournfully, as if they understood his actions against their mother.

Noah knew better though. It was with hunger that they regarded him. Given the chance, they’d tear him to shreds, feeding on the flesh of their father with wild abandon. With them it was all about the blood, the flesh, the brains.

They, of course, were undead, part of the flood of shambling corpses that threatened to drown the whole world. A wise man that Noah heard while at market in Utnapishtim (this was before the flood had reached his part of the world) had postulated that the scourge was sent by God himself to wipe clean the Earth.

Noah didn’t know what to think of this, but he figured that was probably as good an explanation as any.

Whatever the case may be, his family was lost to him and he was determined to end their suffering. He was just about to set to work disposing of his undead sons (regrettable, they were only young men of one hundred years) when he heard the unmistakable sounds of someone walking in the darkness.

“Who goes there?” Noah readied his heavy stone axe and attempted to see past the glow of his fire.

“I see Noah, son of Lamech, has given up to his despair,” a voice said from the dark. “You destroy your family. Do you not believe there is a chance to save them?”

“There is no remedy for this foul curse,” Noah replied. “I do what must be done. Step into the light, stranger, so that I may see you.”

The stranger obliged. The man (woman?) that entered Noah’s camp was radiantly beautiful, possessed of an otherworldly comeliness. Clad in a pure white robe, he seemed to glow. “Now you see me Noah. My name is Uriel. Know that God has sent me to save you, for you are righteous under his eyes. If you would save yourself, and your sons, I beckon you to follow me.”

Stunned by the creature’s beauty, Noah managed to ask a single question that night. “Follow you to where?”

Uriel smiled and turned back to the night. “To your Ark, Noah. To Gan Edhen, where Adam named the beasts of the world at the dawn of creation. To where life began.”

Noah, with no thought of refusal, kicked dirt over the flames and the skull of his wife, unchained his sons, and followed Uriel into the night, the stranger’s glow like a torch, a single blaze moving across the midnight desert under the cold stars.

***

Two hundred twenty days after the flood began, and seventy after Uriel had come to Noah, they still walked across the desert. Uriel led them using a dowsing rod, supposedly Adam’s collarbone. Uriel fed Noah something called Manna. Noah had asked what it was and Uriel told him it was a “sigh-low-sigh-bin.” Noah didn’t understand, but he felt good when he ate it.

He was tired of only eating Manna, so this morning he broke his fast on a dove he’d killed in midflight with a bullet from his sling. With some wild olives on the side, it was quite the fine meal. His sons watched him tear at the meat, moaning each time Noah ripped flesh from the dove’s cooked breast. Shem was missing his nose, Japheth an eye (plucked out by a raven), and Ham’s left leg ended in a jagged bone. Noah thought this looked quite painful, but Ham had always been a good sport and seemed to have adapted to walking on it quite effectively. Uriel watched Noah from across the small cook-fire, a serene smile on his lips.

Noah wiped dove grease off his chin and pointed a little wing bone in Uriel’s direction. “So where is Gan Edhen?” he asked. “We’ve been crisscrossing this accursed desert for months now. We’ve crossed and re-crossed the Pishon, the Gihon, the Tigris, and the Euphrates, and now I see Mt. Ararat on our horizon. I’m not well versed on geography, but I know none of this makes any sense. I want answers: when are we going to reach Gan Edhen?”

Uriel, his serene smile never faltering, held up his hands in pacification. His robes were still brilliantly white and his hands were immaculate. “Noah. Noah, Noah, Noah. Be at ease, my friend. You’re only confused because of the Manna. This is necessary to find the Gates of Gan Edhen. Look to Mt. Ararat. Tell me what you see.”

Noah threw the dove bones in the dust at his feet and turned his gaze to the east. He saw Mt. Ararat shimmering in the haze of heat. He saw nothing. “Just what in God’s name am I supposed to be seeing? Look, if you don’t know where-”

“Look again, Noah,” Uriel said. For just a fraction of a moment, Noah thought he saw a gleam of malice in Uriel’s eyes. Disconcerted, Noah turned again in the direction of Mt. Ararat.

At first he only saw the shimmer of the mountain on the horizon. Noah was about to turn once again to Uriel when he suddenly saw a green mass begin to resolve, seemingly out of the shimmers of heat, zigzagging on the edge of sight into an oasis in the wastes. Noah rubbed his eyes, blinked, and looked again. It has to be the Manna, he thought, just the sigh-low-sigh-bin playing tricks on me.

“You see it, don’t you?” Uriel asked. Noah nodded. “Get up, Noah. We can reach it today. The Tree of Life awaits.”

***

They stood side by side in the dusk, the sun hiding behind Eden. The walls, covered in Lapis tiles and overgrown with twisting green vines, rose up into the purpling sky. “How tall are they?” asked Noah.

“One hundred feet,” said Uriel. When Noah looked at him without comprehension, Uriel clarified. “About six hundred sixty six cubits tall. Ironic, don’t you think?” Noah shrugged, at a loss again. Behind him, his undead sons piped in with a chorus of moans. Noah yanked on the chain leash. “Shut up back there.”

Noah examined the golden gate in front of them. All manner of beasts were inscribed up its height, each one a pair. From inside, Noah could hear growls, grunts, howls, and all kinds of bestial sounds. “So are you going to open the gate for us?”

Uriel looked at Noah. “You ask many questions,” he said. “We have a special entrance, just for us. Look.” Uriel walked forward to a seemingly random area of wall and dug about with his hand in the vines. After a few moments he seemed to find what he was looking for. Moving the vines to the side, Noah saw there was a small hole in the wall. “Well, come on.” With that, Uriel entered the gardens. Noah tugged at his sons, but they dug their heels in like stubborn dogs. With great exertion, and no small amount of frustration, Noah dragged his zombified brood into Gan Edhen. Noah failed to notice the skeletal corpse next to the gate. Next to it in the sand lay a sword, weak flames dancing along the steel.

***

Noah wouldn’t have described Edhan as a garden. It was wild and looked untended. The trees rose higher than even the walls and plants seemed to grow on top of one another. He would occasionally catch a glimpse of some beasts, always in a pair, but they didn’t seem to pay him any more attention than a curious glance. Who let them back into the club?, they seemed to ask. Eventually, Noah came out onto a great lake. He saw four rivers flowing out of it, and over the walls ahead of him Mt. Ararat loomed in the last light of the setting sun. Uriel stood between two trees on the shore of that lake.

“Hail, Noah. We come at last to our journey’s end.” Uriel nodded to his right at a dead, twisted tree. “The Tree of Knowledge, from which Adam and Eve ate, sealing the fate of all mankind.” Uriel nodded to his left at a massive, fruit-laden tree. “The Tree of Life, from which you shall eat.” Uriel plucked a ripe fruit from the lower branches of the tree and held it out to Noah. “Eat, and know life.”

Noah opened the fruit. Inside were small seed-like berries. Scooping out a handful, Noah popped some in his mouth. The taste was bittersweet. Noah looked to his sons and saw them restored, noses, eyes, feet, all of it. They were unconscious. Noah turned to ask Uriel about this, but only saw the tail of a snake slip into the lake. The Tree of Life began to shrivel before his eyes, the fruit falling and corrupting as they hit the ground. He felt rather than heard the approach of something massive, something of unfathomable power. He turned to see an unassuming man walking towards him out of the tree line.

“Who has come to Gan Edhan unbidden and unwelcome? A son of Adam?” the man asked.

“I am Noah. These men asleep at my feet are my sons,” replied Noah. “Are you… are you God?”

The man stared at him from under bushy eyebrows. “I am the Master of this garden. Take that as you will.” God (for that was who Noah believed this was) glanced over Noah’s shoulder at the decrepit Tree of Life. “Again you defy my commands. You’ve destroyed the only thing left worth tending in this paradise. I was going to destroy mankind, but your defiance has saved what’s left.”

“I don’t understand. I was told to come here.”

“Who told you to come here? I sent no word to you.”

“Your messenger, Uriel, showed himself to me and led me to this garden, bid me to eat from the Tree of Life.”

God looked at Noah, his displeasure evident in the set of his brow, the line of his mouth. “I sent no messenger named Uriel. Uriel has been dead to me these past millennia, fallen with Lucifer into the pits of Hell.”

Noah felt sick. He dropped to his knees on the grassy shore. God spoke again. “Noah, I spare you, your family, and the rest of my misbegotten children. But as I sent Adam and Eve away with a  curse on my lips, so too shall this transgression weigh upon man. Though not immortal, you’ve enjoyed long lives. No longer. You’re descendants will be lucky to reach sixty before they begin to fall to pieces, old and feeble. As a sign of this new curse, I give you the rainbow. Look upon its radiance and know the paradise lost to you for all time. Though you may follow the rainbow to the ends of the earth, you will never find its end.  Begone now from my presence.”

With that, Noah and his sons were sent from God’s sight, their descendants condemned to short lives of pain and struggle.

Hey, welcome to my blog. First post. Hoping to get into this more.

I decided to participate in a flash fiction challenge I found at this great blog. Chuck Wendig gives some great advice for authors and this exercise seemed both entertaining and constructive.

The premise was to roll the die and pick the aspect that corresponded to that number. I rolled 7 – 4 – 7, which corresponded to a zombie apocalypse set at the gates of the Gardens of Eden and involving a mysterious stranger. The limit was supposed to be 1,500 words, which I failed on spectacularly, but the resulting story is, if I say so myself, pretty solid. Some parts feel rushed, but I wasn’t having any shortage of ideas, which made me struggle with keeping it as short as I did. Thinking about expanding it a bit more. Let me know what you think.

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