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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What Canaan Found


Go aboard, you, you with your household, you and all the animals.

The long languid rolling of the ark did less to unsettle his stomach than the rapid lurching they’d endured during the worst of the storm. Then, as the sky collapsed above them and waves lashed at them from both sides, it was all Japheth could do to lie screaming on the floor without vomiting. This isn’t to say that he hadn’t vomited (he had, over and again until he was empty and then continued violently retching) or that all was calm, or that the rains had ceased, but things were better now. He could stand upright – provided he remembered to stand loose at the knees and the ankles, and he could eat a little food. Or would eat a little food, if there were any to eat. The provisions that hadn’t been lost during the storm and hadn’t spoiled, wet and rotted in the weeks after, were carefully preserved for the animals. “We must ensure their survival, son,” Father Noe had told him – his syllables slurred by the rocking motion of the ship. (It had to be that, right? They’d brought no wine aboard, had they?)

“But what of our survival?” Japheth had asked.

His father blanched green, burped a vile smelling belch, and moving his hand lightly, waved the stench away, “the LORD will provide. The Lord will…”

Japheth watched Father Noe stagger (unsteady feet because the ship rocked on the waves, or because he was guttered on wine?) towards the avian compartment. The cooing of the doves and the squawks of hawks and ospreys quieted as Noe closed the door behind him.

“What has the LORD already provided for us?” Japheth asked the wolves in the cages to his left. The wolves only snarled and whimpered in response. They disliked the ship’s motion even more than Japheth.

The dreams won’t cease until the rains stop falling. The rains won’t stop falling until heaven’s cisterns are empty. Crows fly away but return, cackling and cawing. Likewise the dreams. Let heaven disappear and let the rains desist, so that the dreams will fade. The horses are saggy, plow worn nags. Couldn’t Father Noe find a worthy, healthy representative of the species? And why the flies, to buzz about the horse shit? And the maggots in the rotted meat? Why are we set on preserving the future, father? Can you explain? What better world will it be if we bring these pests into it with us?

The ark drifted in sun sparkled waters. The sky was empty, not a cloud anywhere, 360° to the horizon, and if not for the water upon which they floated the rain could have been a retreating memory. A fading dream. Fetid warm air hung heavy below deck. No breeze. No circulation. Just the stench and squawk of animals in close fitted cates. Shem shoveled the dung, down the trough, toward the window, pushed it out over the side. It splashed into the water below. Shem thought briefly about throwing himself over the edge as well. His splash would be indistinguishable from the shit. And he could sink as quickly as the shit. Could sink into the sink. Settle to the bottom. Just settle. Just…

Naamah, old Mother Noe, never went up on the deck, into the outer air. The expanse of water terrified her. In the open infinitude she felt shrunken, shrunk down into nothingness. She came up once, the day after the rain stopped, took one look out and shrieked. She turned and tumbled back down the ladder and refused to come up again. Not until the ark came to rest.

***

And he called his name Noe, saying, this same shall comfort us in our work and in our toil, because of the ground that the LORD hath cursed. But Noe found grace in the eyes of the LORD. And G-d spake unto Noe (why not us?). And Noe builded an altar unto the LORD and a vineyard for himself. Was this what the angels taught him-the art and way of healing? To make wine for our sorrow that we might overcome the offspring of the Watchers? Did Uriel (the reflection, the effulgence, the light like a molten god, like softened silver silk) come from the presence of the One to demonstrate fermentation? As if we needed another demonstration of rot and decay.

Canaan on the shore of the vast but receding lake squints, looking for the opposite shore (for the apostate score). Was that smoke? Was that the sound of drums? Music in the distance? The far-off calls to him but his mother and grandmother refuse to let him go further than the thin woods at the edge of Grandfather Noe’s vineyard. “Don’t wander!” they’d shout whenever he’d approach the wild blasted woods. “Come close! Come back!”

One day, instead of foraging for firewood (nothing was dry enough to burn) he wanders further than the field, into the wooden copse over the ridge. There he discovers the putrefying corpse of one of the elder giants, grotesque in its size and smell. It was drowned in the flood. Now its corpse lies rotting in a wretched place under an unforgiving sun. Were those deformities the result of decomposition or birth? Canaan pokes at it with a stick, prodding its bloated belly–when, suddenly, it ruptures, belching foul gas and coagulated blood. Bloat-flies swarm out of the open cavity, flying into Canaan’s face, into his eyes, his nose, in his mouth. The smell is overpowering, worse than the hot, fusty smell of the ark, worse than the noisome stench of the combination of various animal manures, worse even than the mephitic exhalations of drunken Grandfather Noe. Canaan spits and slaps at his face before tripping and falling backwards He lands on a rotted log–crashing through the soggy bark, disturbing grubs and worms and many-legged crustaceans in grey shells. Flailing and thrashing, the boy runs back towards the ridge and the secure confines of the family plot at the foot of the mountain.

Then sleep for his eyes, he dreams of Gilgamesh’s garden under the sea. Angels of the deep and the monsters of sleep pursue him. He mounts the air like a strong wind, and flies like strong eagles and leaves the inhabited world behind; he escapes the great wasteland, the wilderness, the Desolation like a bird. But the monster in his dreams buzzes and hums, thrumming fingers crawl over his skin, lick his eyes as he sleeps. He feels the throb of his heart, the pound of his pulse, the blood in his veins. Then the creeping fingers disappear and the buzzing ceases. The silence is perfect but brief. His pulse slows, returns to something like a normal rate. But sleeping within his dream is another horror that will not be quieted. The roar of the rain and the screams of the drowning wake him. Canaan starts and falls from his simple pallet to the floor, slicked with reeking terror-sweat.

***

Few of the animals lingered, as the family had at the foot of the mountain, at the edge of the retreating lake. Even those creatures that would have, in antediluvian times, made their homes at the water’s edge in the shadow of the mountain – herons, cranes, foxes, mink, deer – had scattered. Far. Without hesitation. Freed from their cages and pens inside the floating zoo, they’d run like escaped convicts. The shore was barren, the woods uninhabited, even the waters of the lake were formless and void.

Grandfather Noe would not allow them to make tents of goat skin. “The animalsh must be preserved,” he says, “else, why were we shpared through the fl… through the flood?” The family showed him how rapidly the goats had reproduced after their disembarkment from the ark, but Grandfather Noe was adamant. They would build their rickety shelters from the rotted trees and fallen branches gathered around the lake, from mud and from stone, but not with the shedding of animal blood.

“Why must we stay here, Father?”
“No more questions, Canaan.”
“Why?”
“No NO.”

Through the woods, over the ridge, past the bleached bones of the giant, Canaan follows a magnificent bird-a low flying pelican in the wilderness, leading him further and further on. He packed a bag with food and a bedroll and left the family. Left Grandfather Noe’s vines. Now he leaves, steps out into the unknown and unpredictable world. He leaves Grandfather Noe snoring in his drunken stupor, sleeping naked in the shade of his grape arbors

And after a time he begins to find proof of life. Canaan finds animal tracks, paw prints and scat-the first he’s ever seen. He sees bird nests and bee hives, fox dens and snake holes. The world is alive, fully, really, living, breathing, dying, living. The grass is eaten by the rabbit. The rabbit is taken by a snake. The snake by a hawk. And when the pinnacle hawk dies it, too, is eaten by vultures, by fungus, and by bacteria too small for Canaan to see. But he knows that they’re there.

Then he discovers something wonderful and frightening. Something more than the hoof print of deer or paw prints of rock-badgers. Canaan sees a human foot print in the dirt – five toed and round heeled, arched. Perfect in every aspect. Perfect because it was recognizable. Perfect because it was like is own – but it is not his own. It is smaller than his.

He stops and stares at that print for the rest of the day, considering what it means, and what he should do. ‘Do I go home with the news that we are not alone,’ he blinks, once, twice, and again, as he works through his options. ‘Do I track the person who left this print, follow them to their home?’ The sun slides down and he still hasn’t thought of an answer.

‘The sorrows of death encompass me, and the floods of ungodly men make me afraid,’ he thinks. ‘But what men are these? There are no others, no people but Grandfather Noe and timid, sleeping grandmother, my calloused uncles – Shem and Japheth, laboring in the sun, my skulking father, Ham, their wives, my brothers, my sisters, my cousins. Ungodly men, maybe, but this is no flood. Why then am I afraid? Why am I afraid of a single lonely footprint in the dirt? With the blast of His nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as a heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea, but here I am alone and not alone.’

Canaan follows the prints, scrabbling in the dirt, up the hill toward the highlands. The path leads over rocks and stones, disturbing moss and lichens, through fields bending stems, past trees breaking small branches. Canaan follows where the impossible prints lead.

Grandfather Noe said the waters covered everything, waters smothered everything and everyone. Every living creature under the sun. Every father, mother, daughter, son under the moon. The rains came down and the waters of the deep broke loose and flooded the entire world. There should be no prints here. There could be no prints here. It is impossible. But here the print in the dirt was scuffed, as if the one who left it were skipping. Skipping? Who could be skipping through this field? Grandfather Noe said everyone but the family had been killed.

He hears something ahead, laughter, but not laughter like the taunting, teasing laughter of his sisters and cousins; this is a bright musical laughter, sparkling. And he hears singing. But he doesn’t recognize the song or its melody. It’s not one sung by his sisters and cousins or his mother and grandmother. Come to think of it, he’s never heard his grandmother sing. She rarely speaks and never sings. This song is charming and sweet even in its melancholy.

He listens to the voice and the song:

The goat and flower,
the bee and the fish,
the sky above and
a lonely maiden.

Wind over mountains,
rain in the forest,
and the sky above
the lonely maiden.

The bird flies away,
the deer will startle;
everyone will leave
the lonely maiden.


Canaan sees her–sitting on a stone watching a flock of goats. She braids lengths of flowers into her hair as she sings. “Don’t stop.” Canaan speaks. The girl startles and turns toward whim with a small blade in her hand. Canaan raises his empty hands and stands motionless. He is not a threat. “Don’t stop, please. It’s such a strange song.”

She smiles a pleasant toothy grin, “It is my song,” she says.

“Did you learn it from your mother? My mother sings sometimes. But not like this. My mother sings dirges.”

“No.” she says. “It is my song. Not my mother’s.”

***

“We saw the flood,” she says to the boy. “We saw the waters. But we went further up the mountain with our goats to escape. The rains made a mess of our village and our homes. My cousin’s house slid down the side of the mountain when the dirt beneath it washed away. When the rains stopped we came back down, cleaned the mud and the mold from the walls, repaired the roofs that had collapsed, rebuilt the goat pens. We started over. But not everyone in the village survived. Old Lazal and his wife died during the climb; they fell into the water below. Monal was crushed by boulders in the mudslide. Several others drowned. And we’ve heard the same from other villages and tribes as well.”

“But Grandfather Noe said the waters covered everything, that it killed everyone, to pour out G-d’s fury on the wickedness of the world.”

“The what?”

“The sons of G-d, angels, apostate angels knew the secrets of the Templars and their sin was great in the Earth and they taught men how to sin and to do wicked things. And they killed many, and they begat giants. So G-d regretted ever having made humans.”

“Seems to me that humans didn’t need angels to teach them cruelty. I’ve never even seen an angel or any of the Nephilim and my cousin Leannet was beaten to death by a man from our village when she refused to marry him. ”

“But how could she refuse?” Canaan stops mid-sentence, his eyes wide. “It doesn’t matter. The flood was G-d’s wrath. It covered everything. It killed everyone.” Canaan’s voice grows louder and higher pitched with each word.

“The flood didn’t kill you…,” the girl says gently.

“Because Noe found favor with Yah. And our family was spared, told to build a vessel to escape, and to preserve animals. But he told us everything else, everyone else was gone. You shouldn’t be here! You should have drowned with everyone else!”

She points, “Look there. You can see the shipwrecked hulls of our fishing-boats. But your family was safe inside a vessel built to withstand the storm. You were warned. Did you rescue anyone? Did you save anyone else?”

“No.”

“Did you try?”

“No. The LORD told Noe it was for us. The rest were too wicked, their violence too bloody.”

“But you liked my song.”

“A song is not enough.” A silence grew between them as deep and as daunting as the flood.
“I have to take the goats home soon...,” she says but Canaan does not respond; he is still staring and the broken ships on the rocks. “I have to take the goats home now. Will I see you again?”

Canaan looks up. “Sing for me once more before you go.”

“I should sing?” the girl asks, “I should sing my song for you, a song that not even my mother has heard, I should sing my song for you who would have me drowned?”

“Please?”

“No. I must take the goats home now.” She stands and begins calling the animals, counting them.

“Don’t go,” Canaan pleads with her. “Don’t leave me.”

“Why don’t you come with me?” She invites him with her words and with her eyes.

“To your family? But they’re… they’re…”

“Wicked?” she finishes for him. “Then stay here, or go back to your blessed, drunken Grandfather Noe.”

“I can’t go back there,” he shrieks. The girl sighs. “Stay, just a little longer. Stay and sing, please.”

“I can’t,” she begins to lead the goats away.

Canaan grabs up a stone from the ground, raises it over his head and crashes it down upon her skull. A flood of blood sprays up from the wound, spattering him across the face, a violent red rain. Again and again he brings the stone down on her head until she is dead.

“You shouldn’t be here! You shouldn’t be here! You shouldn’t be here! You should have drowned!”

***

When Canaan finally looks up from the bloodied corpse beneath him, already cooling, blood forming thick dark mud in the dust, the goats have scattered. He hears their bleating far off down the mountain somewhere. He drops the stone, tries to wipe some of the blood from his face, but only smears it around his eyes in gruesome streaks.

He flees back down the hill, toward the dark valley, towards the empty woods and the lifeless lake, back toward Grandfather Noe’s vineyard. “We’re not alone. There are others,” he shouts as he runs back to the cluster of family shacks. “Others. There are others on the mountain. The flood didn’t get them all.”

The family gathers around him, asking questions: “What are you talking about? Where did you go? Why did you leave?” His mother grasps him with both arms, “You are bleeding son; what happened?”

“It’s not my blood, mother. It’s hers, a girl. One of the others.”

“This is her blood?” asks his father, Ham.

“Ye…ye…yes,” he stammers, out of breath and afraid. “I killed her, but … she should have drowned, right? That’s what Grandfather Noe said. She should have been killed in the flood. She shouldn’t have been there.”

“You killed her,” Ham says again, less a question this time.

“Yes.”

“Then they will be coming, blood for blood, life for life. That is the way of it. They will be coming. Fear and dread are upon us. We are the horror of the earth.”

Then Noe cursed his son, “Cursed be Canaan; he will be the lowest of slaves to his brothers.”



The weeping eye of heaven is watching.

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