Hello fellow Indies!
I recently did a Facebook quiz, God those are addictive, about which circle of Hell I would fall into…Yay! I got Heresy. And no one who knows me was surprised. Though I could have done with some nice Lust or Gluttony. Those are always fun. I’m a big fan of those. I recently discovered, after going with my family to San Diego and visiting the Ghirardelli’s chocolate store that no chocolate can escape my event horizon.
I also recently visited a museum in Salt Lake City displaying the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. Other interesting things were displayed in that exhibit. Among the interesting things I learned, thought already read about some time in the past was that the kohanim of the Temple during at least part of the Roman Empire would only accept coins with…get this…the head of Herakles on them…yep, you heard correctly. The head of a pagan Greek/Roman demi-deity. The Maccabees took the Temple back from those greeks some centuries before that because of the naughty statues of Greek gods erected in the Temple, that some of the priests were secretly worshipping too. Well, at least politicians of every nation throughout eternity are consistent…And finally, though worship of the one God was the official state religion of the Kingdom of Israel, the same way that Islam is the official state religion of Iran, though there are a million other religions practiced too, the ‘peasantry’, like me, just went ahead and worshiped whoever the hell they wanted as they had all along, including their ancient Canaanite pantheistic gods, as observed by the booby goddess dolls found in their apartments by archaeologists. Most of them never gave up worshipping Asherah/Astarte/Ishtar, the wife of El–thunder god extraordinaire, or Jewish Zeus, if you prefer. That’s right. The WIFE of ‘God’. Hmmm. Wherever did she go?
Needless to say, I have a hard time believing in organized religion for religious purposes. I think it’s great for getting together with family. So I do enjoy Seder, for the food and the company, and especially the discussion. To that end, and because I’m a complete heretic, I’d like to share this Exodus story I wrote a while back. A slightly different take on the Exodus than in most Bibles…
The crimson water trickled out of Miryam’s amphora, as the brutal sun rose in the sky. There would be much suffering today in Miztrayim, among the slaves as well as the free. Though the situation would not be as dire for the pampered artisans and craftsman, most of the unskilled labor slaves she knew couldn’t keep much water. And the only water to be had needed buying. Many laborers would die today in the simmering heat. She looked out across the wavering expanse of scrub and sand toward the city of Ra’amses. The ululating wail of women bounced across the alleys from the city, as everywhere people found the blood water. Even the clean water in the city had been polluted. She sighed and sat down at the water’s edge, not caring that her skirt had fallen in the river. She ruminated as Egyptians and Hebrews ran back and forth, her water jug empty, her face burning in the sun. They were doomed by an incompetent god.
According to her crazy brother, Moshe, God had promised to lead them from bondage, but hadn’t enough foresight to save them clean water in his great smiting of the Egyptian ‘majority’. It was these great planning skills that were supposed to sustain them in the desert should they follow him, as Moshe kept suggesting. He never shut up about it. She sat staring at a gory reflection of herself in the puddle into which she had emptied the jug. A rail thin man, his rib-cage prominent and laced with scars, dropped to his knees next to her and looked at her with cavernous eyes before leaning down and slurping from the puddle with his lips. He sat up for a moment, sated, and then clambered to the river and vomited bloody water onto the rocks. We’re all doomed, she thought.
The kids ran back and forth throwing frogs at each other. Miryam skirted the guard outpost near the palace, trying not to draw the guard’s attention by staying still too long. She watched the ruckus in amazement, until one of the bare-chested painted guards, swiping at the frogs, decided the kids would make a better target, and strode forward, sword drawn. The children scattered, fearlessly pelting the guard in a rain of amphibians and then vanishing. Kids could make games of everything. And after living under a pall of violence, nothing phased them, not armed soldiers with a hatred of their kind, and certainly not frogs.
At first it had been cute. Yehoshuah, her eight year old son, had brought in a little brown frog, as she pulled the morning bread from the oven, sweating. She hadn’t paid much attention. Another stray thing Yehoshuah was going to adopt and let loose in the little brick apartment.
“Outside!,” she had ordered, and followed him outside to make sure he let the slimy thing go.
It had been a little cute, staring at her with round black eyes, and round little toes. As soon as she got to the door, she dropped the bread tray in astonishment, spilling the bread to the dusty earth. She cursed. There were frogs everywhere, carpeting the road, roofs and every other surface. She turned and looked back inside. Frogs of all sizes leaped and bumped and pushed into her dry goods with abandon, burping and croaking wet little sounds. Shouts began issuing from every house on the block. She took a squelching step, and almost slipped on a bump and the ichor that oozed from the frogs that had appeared underfoot.
“Arrgh!” She yelled, casting a venomous look toward Heaven and stormed into the house just as her foolish brother approached with purpose.
She rolled her eyes. Moshe’s ‘purpose’ was getting ridiculous, an affectation only the privileged could afford. The rest of us have purpose to say alive, she thought. He had grown up in the Palace, adopted by the Princess who had decided that he was too cute to be a laborer, she thought bitterly. While the rest of us sweat and toil and die by bits. Mother encouraged it! She spent more time with Moshe in the palace, than with me and brother Aharon. First-born boys! Think the world owes them!, she thought savagely as Moshe barged in. Yocheved, their mother had convinced him that he had a ‘mission’ to help his people in his position, instead of fucking exotic slave girls. Trouble was, she never really aimed him in a particular direction or defined ‘helping’, so away he went. Now he ‘has visions’. God save us from visionaries! His newest crusade was only the latest attempt at self-imposed ‘redemption’. She faced him with her feet planted and her hands on her hips. It did nothing to diffuse the fierce light in his eyes as he entered, his breath ragged with passion.
“Do you see! Do you see that our God avenges us? Now do you believe me?”
“I believe you’re an idiot with delusions of atonement. Frogs? Really? What kind of idiot drops frogs on people?!” She held her hands out, surveying the chaos.
“Hush your blasphemous tongue! Don’t speak of God in that way! He’ll deliver us from bondage!”
“Us who? Saving you, from perfumed whores and sweet water and slaves with fans?”
“I have never used slaves. My women are willing.”
“I am a Hebrew! I am your brother. Have you no care for me?” He suddenly looked as forlorn as the young toddler the princess had pulled from the rushes, glancing back toward the family who had left him there, hidden. “I gave up all that.” He gestured at the plain tunic and breeches that had replaced the gold-woven linen finery.
She relented, her dark angry eyes softening, “I guess. Thermusthis, your ‘mother’, must be angry. She’s probably wishing she left you in the river.”
He shook his head. “She loves me like our own mother. Why do you expect so ill of her. She is a kind woman. She understands why I must do this.”
Miryam sighed. “Ok. Right, your mission. Here’s a little blast of reality: you live in the palace surrounded by people who aren’t too fond right now of the other side of your family. You need to be more careful or you’ll wind up crocodile food at the bottom of the Nile. Don’t think you’re untouchable just because the Princess wanted a son and ‘saved’ someone else’s. Her Daddy doesn’t think you’re so cute, I will wager you a week of food on that!”
“He will not move against me right now. In fact, he is considering my proposal to release the Hebrew laborers from their contracts, if not all bondsmen of Hebrew descent. He fears us.”
“You can’t possibly believe that. Fear is why people try to destroy us, not keep us alive.” A frog dropped onto her head. She smacked her hand down with a squish, made a face and wiped her hand on her dress. “So He couldn’t have come up with a plague that was less…slimy?” She grinned.
He put a burly arm around her, towering above her by the length of her forearm, and shrugged. “I’m not turning down His help. Things can’t go on this way. Ramses has lost his mind, he’s genocidal.” He looked at her with sharp brown eyes. “I heed your warning. I know the only reason I’m still here is because of Thermusthis. He dotes on her. She watches out for me like a hawk. But now he knows what I am, he is just waiting for an opportunity. I will not give him one.”
Miriam put her hand on the side of his face. Dumb-ass brother! They turned at the sound of retching from one of the nearby hovels, and then looked down at the ground, helpless. Following the blood plague, scores of their already weakened people had died right alongside the Egyptian citizenry, sickened from drinking the poison when there was nothing else to drink. Even the beer had turned. The smell of sick was everywhere. And now this.
She woke up with a raw scalp from scratching in her sleep as though insects had been burrowing beneath her skin. There were the same raw patches all over her body when she whipped aside the clothes from her body.
“Moshe! Moshe! Call Him off! He’ll kill us!” She yelled, but no one answered.
She sat at the side of her pallet with her head in her hands. It took all of her effort to resist squirming and screaming. Something crawled all over her, and she could tell by the shrieks that had become commonplace in the city in the past couple weeks, that her experience was being repeated everywhere. Instead of easing their lot, these plagues were making things worse. The government didn’t believe they were in real danger, and it only made the hatred against her people seem justified. Acenath, her Egyptian neighbor, had faithfully brought food over every week when Miryam’s family hadn’t enough. But yesterday when they had met in the street, there was an uneasiness in the woman’s eyes, and she had pulled her son Kosey to her, subconsciously, as though Miryam would snatch him or turn him into an animal, the child she had helped watch since he was an infant. Acenath had caught herself in her reaction, and gave Miryam a vague apologetic glance and then hurried into their home. The soldier raids had intensified, and three more Hebrew families had been arrested in the past two days. No one would ever see them again. Yocheved remembered when they had been considered ‘Egyptian’, with slightly different customs. And then in the space of a few years, following Ramses ascendency, they had woken up ‘Hebrew’.
“Auuuugh!” Miryam tore her clothes off, baring herself, scratching at her genitals frantically. The infestation was even in her womanhood. She ran and ran until she reached the river and threw herself in.
She wiped the bile from her mouth, almost tipping over the stinking pot. The frogs had made the food bad, and fevers had begun throughout the city from the lice. Miryam flopped back on her pallet and wondered how she was going to get up for work. Badness was coming from both ends, and if her mistress was in a foul mood, she’d get beaten for her lovely aroma.
Yehoshuah burst in, darker every day from the field. His wide chocolate eyes took in her condition.
“Eema, there’s something coming! From the desert.” He ran to help her up.
What now? She thought sourly, stumbling to the doorway. There was a thin dark growing line on the horizon. A deep hum vibrated in the air. Dread filled her belly.
“Get inside, Yehoshuah! Now!”
They ran in and Miryam began pulling cloth across the windows sealing every possible crack in the hut. The hum got louder. Miryam grabbed her child and drew him in her arms into the corner behind the pots. He struggled, but stopped and let her cover him, as soon as he saw the fear in her face. Something like a wall of air hit the side of the hut and a droning buzz swarmed around walls that seemed thin as papyrus. Flies boiled in through the cloths she had wedged quickly in the windows. They swarmed over everything, wiggled through her hair as she shielded Yehoshuah, and covered her face against his small back. The buzz drowned all other sound. She coughed out a fly in horror and contemplated that maybe death by the lash or by the guards, was preferable to anything their ‘guardian’ God could provide.
Dever: Cattle Pestilence.
Ramses was scared. The flies had covered everything, a dark plague born in the empty wastes between lands, evidence of an angry god, one that seemed to be gaining in power every day. One from which his own gods, indeed his own divine father seemed unable to protect them. For weeks, Ra, Horus, and the others had been silent. And this new Hebrew god was insane. His followers hadn’t been spared the plagues that had befallen his land so far. This god didn’t seem to care that they suffered, just that they were bonded as slaves when they did it. Their god would rather kill them himself, it seemed. Well, maybe that was the answer. He, Ramses, would kill them all before their god killed the proper Egyptians. He beckoned to the nearby Greek slave, who brought him the scroll he’d ordered. He dictated the edict that on this night, all Hebrews would be exterminated. And then he paused, his hand over the seal. Instead he grabbed the scroll and threw it in the flames of a brazier, a holy fire to Horus. This new god was too unpredictable. Bastard Mo-ses, the sorcerer threatened to call down more plagues if his birth people were not released into the desert. Something in the man’s eyes gave Ramses a needle of fear. One he shouldn’t be feeling as the son of a god. He couldn’t give in to terrorism, but the prospect of loosing the laborers to the desert, where they would die of exposure seemed more and more appealing. That might kill a number of birds with one arrow. But if he released them on demand, he’d look weak. Damn that Mo-ses, and may the Soul Eater devour him after death! He complicated everything.
A slave ran in, his head shepherd, a black wa-Lemba tribesman from the nearby Cushite kingdom. He was sweating and trembling. He bowed before Ramses, his god.
“My god…” he stuttered. He seemed unable to continue.
Ramses fidgeted with impatience. “Finish what you came here to tell me.”
“The, the cattle. They have fallen ill.”
“With what? How many?”
The man kept his head down, shuddering. His voice was muffled. “All of them I have seen. They are dying. It is the pestilence, my holiness. It is claiming them all.”
Ramses kicked him in the face, and then grabbed the sword of a guard and ran him through the gut as he grabbed his bloody nose. “No one threatens me! Blackmail! Trying to terrorize my people will not be tolerated!” He stormed to the palace entrance.
The city was in disarray as people ran through the streets wailing at their misfortune. Dead and dying cattle were wheeled through on carts, the corpses destined for the midden heaps to be burned, so their pestilence wouldn’t poison whatever herds remained. The only meat for the markets tomorrow would be the cured reserves that were supposed to last through the drought. He snapped orders to his ministers to release a portion of the drought provisions from the royal storehouses to see people through the next few weeks until more animals could be purchased from the kingdom of Punt and other allies. That might help quell the panic for the moment. No stores would go to the god-damned Hebrews. They could starve for bringing this on his kingdom.
The violence had increased threefold. The Pharaoh had gotten Moshe’s message about releasing Miryam’s people, and instead of complying had decided on a show of strength. Which was exactly what Miryam had expected. A political genius her brother was not. He had spent his entire life embroiled in palace politics, yet people’s reactionary nature seemed to have washed over him like the Nile. The raids had doubled, with every other family, including children declared traitors and enemies of the kingdom. But more disturbing was the civil unrest. She cleaned up the camel dung spattered on the outside of the house from the teenage mob that had gone from Hebrew house to house last night. Four of them had stormed in through her front door, yelling expletives at them. One of them had knocked Yehoshuah unconscious, while the other three held her down and pulled up her dress. Ari, her husband, accompanied by Har-An, Acenath’s husband, had run in from the quarry and struck the young man with his mattock. Two intruders fled, as the mattock felled the attacker who was about to violate her, and Har-An dropped the last assailant with a meaty fist. The two men looked hard at each other. Har-An took his mattock with a deep breath and ended the one still alive that he’d knocked down. Ari grabbed bed cloths, tossed them over the remains. They hefted the bodies over their shoulders without another word and left in the direction of the river. Miryam scrubbed the stains on the floor.
A day later, the Egyptians had reason now to be scared. Following the riots, very few Egyptians were on the streets, and moaning could be heard from the houses Miryam passed on her way to collect water. Of those she saw, every visible piece of skin was suppurating with sores upon sores. These walking horrors stared at her clear face in supplication, begging someone whole to do something to relieve their condition. None of the Hebrews had been affected, it seemed, at least not by whatever affliction this was. Maybe God’s aim was getting better, she thought sourly. Except, she liked most of her Egyptian neighbors. It was having money that made people act like idiots, not the gods they worshipped. And nobody she knew had any, so they were always perfectly nice. After putting down her load of water, she stopped over Acenath’s house next door, with some of her meager food and water. The place stank. Both Acenath and her husband and Kosey were curled on their pallets. Miryam rushed to the child. His face was erupting with pustules, and she could feel the heat from him without touching his forehead. She wet a cloth in clean water and laid it across his forehead and trickled more onto his lips. She did the same for his parents. Acenath just stared at her with dull eyes. Miryam sat with them until she had to leave for her mistress’ home.
The thatch roofs were burning and collapsing. And the ones that weren’t alight were being pulverized by fist-sized hailstones along with any fool who tried to save them. Lightning cascaded down in three different places as she watched. El, the storm-God of the Hebrews was doing what He did best. Miryam flinched as she peered out the window in time to hear the punctuated squawk of a chicken that had run in panic, and see a puff of feathers stained red. Acrid smoke drifted in and a strand of fiber and gray ash floated in midair. She bolted upright, the fire was close. She peered as far out as she could without getting beaned by hail. A conflagration was three houses away, and Acenath’s roof was starting to catch from the drifting embers of other fires. A woman ran down the street, trailing smoke and fearing fire more than the physical assault from the black sky. Everywhere people were yelling, covered in welts and bruises as water for the fires was handed in from the river. Miryam grabbed a partly full water jug and hoped for the best as she ran to Acenath’s house, climbed to the roof and doused the growing flame. Hailstones slammed into her, and she fought to keep moving and tried to block blows to her head with one hand holding the jug. Apparently there was no special shield for Hebrews out in the open. Brilliant. Maybe their reprieve from the boils and sores had just been luck or different food or something. Acenath ran out, covering her head with her hands, but a carbuncle blossomed above her eyebrow as an ice ball pelted into her. Having survived her illness, she wobbled on her feet, looked up at Miryam and ran back inside. A moment later, she emerged, climbed to the roof and handed Miryam a full jug of water.
“You!” Acenath called back into the chaos on the street, to anyone. There was no husband to help her now. Har-An had not survived. “This fire will be yours if it spreads! Help me!”
Water came, by Egyptian and Hebrew hands scratched and shredded by the pounding hail. Within a few minutes, her fire at least was out. Lightning cracked into a house down the street, sizzling the water in their cistern, and making Miryam almost lose her hold. People melted back into whatever shelter they could find. As Miryam slid down, she noticed sparks landing in the thatch on her own roof. Acenath did too. Tendrils of smoke curled up and then extinguished. A hailstone almost took off Acenath’s nose as she stared, then shook her head and grabbed Miryam’s arm and ran into her own house.
“Maybe your house would be safer,” she said sourly to Miryam. “But I can’t leave Kosey here by himself.”
“I’m fine, Mum! I’m almost a man.”
“Just because you’re the man of the house doesn’t make you a man yet! And you shouldn’t be out of bed!”
The boy sat up, sores healing on his face. He rolled his eyes.
Miryam shook her head. “I’m as confused as you are. Trust me.”
“Your house didn’t catch fire.”
“Yet. Day isn’t over yet.” Miryam reminded her.
Acenath glared at her a moment, then burst into laughter, slapped Miryam on the shoulder, right on a bruise, and handed her a cup of weak beer, and piece of bread. “Thank you, friend. I never thanked you for helping us before either. I almost lost my Kosey…Har-An…” Her huge dark eyes filled with tears, and she choked. Miryam put her arm around the tiny younger woman’s shoulders, and played with Acenath’s long black braid. Tears dripped down Acenath’s cheeks, but the lines in her face relaxed a little.
The boy bit down on his trembling lip, and put his arm around her other shoulder and gave the women a very manly look. “Mama, it’s ok. I’m fine. And I’m almost as tall as you, see. I can handle man’s matters.” He stood above them and extended his skinny chest. The women looked at each other, stifling smiles.
“Yes, well as far as my height, you didn’t have far to go.”
He looked crestfallen for a second, then grinned. Miryam snorted and went to the window, rubbing at her numb fingers. The hail had stopped, and the lightning flickers receded into the distance. “Clearing up,” she said. But their quarter of the city as far as she could see looked like it had been through a battle, with debris littering the street and smoke from fires dotting the buildings here and there.
“Why does your god hate us so much?” Kosey’s voice came from behind her. Miryam turned to his clear amber eyes. Acenath watched, quietly chewing on a crust.
“I think he’s just angry with Ramses.”
“Because Ramses is a donkey’s b–?”
“Kos!,” His mother yelled, glancing at the door fearfully.
“But you said–”
“Do you want to get us killed, boy?” His mother went to the door and peeked out.
Miryam stared at her. Acenath shook her head at Miryam. They both let out a long breath.
Unabashed, he continued, “Then is it because he hates Hebrews? We don’t hate Hebrews. Yehoshuah’s my friend.”
Miryam ruffled his hair. “I know, boy. We weren’t spared most of this either. Maybe I just haven’t kissed His Heavenly …rear-end enough. I’m not very good at worship, regardless of the god. At least you have more than one to choose from.”
“That just means more…rear kissing,” Acenath muttered. She gave Miryam a relieved smile.
Miryam kneeled by her and took Acenath’s and Kosey’s hands in hers. “I will never be your enemy.”
Acenath wrapped her arms around Miryam. Kosey huffed in relief. “So I can still hang out with Yehoshuah? He has the best snail collection.”
“Nuthin.” He coughed, and darted out the door to find his friend before the women could stop him.
Ramses stared at the growing cloud on the horizon. The city had weathered sandstorms before, but the tremor in his belly spoke of something far worse. He gave the orders to cover whatever structures might be damaged by the storm, and sent runners from region to region of the city, warning his citizens to shelter in their homes. Except none went to Goshen, where one of the oldest neighborhoods of Hebrews still resided. All work in the city was ceased. One of his foreman, a Canaanite from the outlying area arrived, out of breath. His guard stepped forward to block the man’s rushed approach, but Ramses waved them back, and motioned the worker into his presence.
“My Lord,” the huge man kneeled. Even through his almost black complexion, his skin was blanched with worry. “It is a plague from the Hebrews! It must be! They have called locusts, my Lord! They have called Pazuzu, demon of the wastes. Their god works with demons!”
Dread froze like a stone in Ramses belly, even as he rolled his eyes at the mention of foreign gods. El, Pazuzu, god or demon, it made no difference who or what had brought the locusts. Non-Egyptian gods and superstitions did not belong here. He snorted in derision. “Your heathen gods do not interest me. This is sorcery, and they will pay.” He decided on mercy today and dismissed the man to see to his own business. The swarm would be upon them in minutes. He sent runners to the fields to gather what could be carried to the grain houses, but the swarm descended as he watched. Large flitting forms blotted out the sky and settled on the fields and roofs, as he retreated to the inner courtyard. Within minutes they had edged impossibly in through every crack. The long coppery bodies were like no locusts he had ever seen. They were three times the size, their paper wings twitching even in rest, and making their outlines blur as though they flickered in and out of the living world. And then the sound of their mandibles filled the halls with scratching. He ran at them, crunching them under foot, stomping and sweeping around with his arms. With each stomp, their bodies held his weight for far too long before collapsing into mush. And as he swept some away, he could see gnaw-marks everywhere there was vegetable material, including wood. Pazuzu. Demon of the wind, demon of empty places. The name echoed along his nerves as he stared at the creatures. But it is a foreign god! Osiris, Lord of the Harvest, why are you suffering this foreign god to invade your land and torment your loyal followers?
When he arrived at the grain houses, the keepers were in a frenzy. They lit huge fires of aromatic woods before the doors to smoke the insects out, but the golden swarm seethed through the grain. Ramses sent away all available servants to fetch the priests and bring the finest animals from his personal herd to sacrifice to the gods that he had somehow offended. As he waited, he stood before the fire, and gazed at the sky towards his Heavenly Father. Why are you doing this to me? My first job as a god is to lead my people, and now I cannot even feed them. Our meat rotted on the herd, our stores from our allies are depleted, and now there will be no grain. By the end of today, my people will be eating sand. Why are you not intervening, Great Ones?
Two days after the locusts, the hunger in people’s eyes matched the hunger of the swarm that had enveloped them like a bronze papery rain. Incidents of robbery increased as the most desperate, young, and angry people broke. Just when Miryam thought it couldn’t get any worse, a black fog fell that wasn’t like fog. It was like a miasma poisoning the air, smelling like rotten eggs and making it hard to breath. Torchlight could only be seen a couple cubits away. Miryam didn’t think it was night, but no glow from the desert sun penetrated the fog. By her estimation, it had been late afternoon when the cloud descended, and her sense of time told her that evening now fell. Acenath, Kosey and Yehoshuah huddled on the extra pallets she’d set out in the crowded center of her apartment. She lost track of time, but Ari should have returned home from the quarry by now. Shrieks and blood curdling screams issued out of the dark and everyone looked at each other with wide white-rimmed eyes. It had seemed very close, but it was impossible to tell from what direction. The boys flinched and then recovered. No one spoke, but Kosey, older than Yehoshuah by two months retrieved a sickle from a hook on the wall and stood by the door.
“We are cursed. This land is cursed,” Acenath said.
“Maybe it’s just us,” Miryam replied quietly. “If this is caused by our god, as my brother believes, than this will follow us into the desert if we leave.”
“But your god will protect you. He will not curse you. He is only angry with us, with my people. That’s what everyone says.”
“What if everyone is wrong.”
No one said anything for a long time. The only sounds were furtive shuffling outside the walls and periodic bouts of screaming, somewhere outside.
Makat B’chorot: Slaying of the First Born
Ari had returned from the quarry, where they’d hunkered down until the strange fog had passed. But the sight of him alive did nothing to quell Miryam’s anger for the next few days. Her fist slammed into Moshe’s nose as soon as he barged in her doorway three days later. “That’s what I think of your stupid crusade!” She rushed him and kicked him in the long shin, flailing at his chest and clawing at his face. He grabbed her and shoved her back. She stumbled across the sleeping pallets and jugs and fell. Otherwise, he ignored her as though she hadn’t even spoken or moved against him. His eyes were burning with anger. Something else was in his eyes, fear. “Slaughter your lamb. And cover the door lintel in its blood. Do it now.”
She stared at him and sneered. “I’d ask if you’d lost your mind, but that seems redundant.”
He grabbed her and hauled her to her feet by her dress. “Do you want Yehoshuah to die? Do as I say!”
She slapped him across the face. “So now you’re threatening me?”
He slumped. “No. Death will come tonight to all Egyptian heirs, and there is little time left. The sun has set.” He pointed to the horizon outside the window.
“Moshe…What did you do?” She swallowed hard.
“Nothing. I know things. I know you never believed me. But, it is El. I…” he wiped the blood trickling from his nose and looked down. “I told you, I know things.”
She sighed and sat down, gazing at her god-touched brother. That was what some people said. That was what the rest of her family believed now. They’d scoffed at him at first, his wild eyes, his rich pompous mannerisms. But he didn’t look pompous now. He looked scared, and tired. He sat down next to her, and touched her face. He took her numb left hand in his and frowned.
He pleaded and bowed his head. “Miryam, please. I know you think I’m crazy–”
“I don’t know whether you’re crazy, or a sorcerer. And I’m not sure which is worse. Har-An died because of these curses. He is our neighbor and friend. Don’t you care? Doesn’t our god care about the innocent?”
“I’m not a sorcerer! How could you think that,” he spat. “Ramses refuses to listen to God and let us leave.”
“To go where, exactly? Into the desert? You have been outside the city, right? Here’s a flash of insight: There’s no water out there.”
“He will take care of us, we are His Chosen.”
“He’s doing such a superb job so far! I couldn’t keep anything in my belly for three days, I nearly died, and that was before He nearly burned my house down, and killed my friends! I like them and I don’t care what their parentage is, and I don’t want to follow any God who does!” Her voice had risen, until Yehoshuah covered his ears and ran next door.
Moshe’s face was sad. He didn’t call her out for blasphemy or any other such nonsense. At least he was learning. He just stood, and touched her face and left. The torchlight increased. She shivered. Death will come to all Egyptian heirs, her shiver became a shudder. Me and my temper. What does that mean? In her belly, she knew the curse would happen, but she didn’t know how. Yehoshuah was still next door. Yehoshuah. She grabbed a long knife from the table and marched outside to the tethered lamb. Ari was coming down the road as she slit its throat. Blood spurted all over her hands, and into the bowl she’d set under it.
“What are you doing, woman?” Ari ran to her. “That was the last lamb we’re likely to have! The ewe’s too old for more!” he wrenched the knife from her hand.
The torches and rushlights went out. The night in the street was black and there were no stars. Something dark and massive gathered in the shadows, all around them. A ruckus of yelling came from Acenath’s house, and several other houses on the street. Yehoshuah ran out as Acenath’s panicked voice shrieked from their house. He was panting and clutching his throat, and then he collapsed into a seizure at the feet of his parents. Miryam screamed and wrapped her arms around him, as tendrils of darkness reached from the shadows. She thrust the bloody bowl at Ari. “Splash this over the door, now!” her face brooked no argument. She hauled Yehoshuah inside, and Ari did as he was told. He entered, but before he could utter another word, she ran and shoved him out the door again. “Go put some on Acenath’s home. Cover every door you see! All our Gyptian neighbors! The curse is coming for them!”
He powered past her and dropped to his knees next to Yehoshuah, his only son. The gory bowl spilled liquid into the dust of the floor. Miryam wrapped her arms around her son’s heaving shoulders. He leaned over and vomited onto her feet, but he was breathing. Her and Ari grabbed him and held each other and sobbed.
“Eema, Abba, you’re crushing me.” Yehoshuah pushed at them, fighting to sit up, his face a nauseous green. Kosey, Mama, Kosey is sick–”
Miryam grabbed the bowl, but only a spoonful of liquid remained. She ran next door and smeared it on Acenath’s door with her hands. It left a dark smudge. There was sobbing inside. She rushed in. Acenath was clutching Kosey, screaming and shaking him. He was prostrate on the ground. He was deep purple under his dusky skin, and silent. Darkness filled the room as flashes of light flickered here and there in the air like a thousand fiery eyes, and wisps of smoke wrapped around the two in the center of the room like giant dark hands. Miryam’s heart almost stopped, but she dove for the dark mass which parted and surrounded her with a roar, like an inferno. Tiny red eyes surrounded her in a million wing-like puffs of feathery smoke. She held her sticky palms out around her and yelled defiantly at the top of her lungs, “I am a Hebrew! Stay away from this boy! He’s mine, Demon!”
She covered him with her trembling body, still brandishing her bloody palms. The smoke creature blinked its thousand malevolent eyes and withdrew silently from every crack and crevice in the room. The room was dark, but it was gone. Acenath sobbed and laid her head on Miryam’s shoulder. Miryam could feel the faint throb of the boy’s heart pick up speed. He took a shuddering breath. Acenath kept sobbing. Miryam laid back onto the floor and stared at the ceiling.
The line of refugees wound into the desert as far as Miryam could see. Acenath hefted her pack and ushered the boys in front of her.
“You don’t have to come if you don’t want. Though I’m glad for the company. The order was only for us to leave,” Miryam said.
The younger woman shrugged and glanced back at her half-empty house. “You claimed my child in fosterage. The least I could do is help you raise him. My man has gone on to the afterlife without me. There’s nothing here for me now.” Her eyes teared for a moment. She stared at a wiry young man walking past to join the trail. “Maybe a Hebrew man won’t be too bad.”
Miryam grinned, and shoved Kosey’s face around as he turned to stare at his mother. There were empty huts up and down the dusty streets, some Hebrew, some Egyptian.
“We need to pick up the pace before Ramses sends the army to hurry us up.” Acenath commented as she followed the slow winding throngs of people.
Miryam snorted, “Hardly our biggest worry after last night.” She tugged her bag over her shoulder, sighed and began walking.
Whenever someone tells me that ‘such and such’ are enemies, I have to wonder about regular shmoes like us, the Hebrew and Egyptian equivalents of Joe from the Seven Eleven. How many of those Egyptians were our enemies, and how much political maneuvering did it take between the government and dissenters to cultivate that hatred so far into the future that we still celebrate plagues and suffering thousands of years into the future? It’s definitely a good thing to celebrate freedom and the winning of freedom, I just wanted to take a step back and look at this from a different perspective…Discuss…