Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sound Byte from the end of the World

Appeared in The Bohemian Alien Feb. 2008

The new moon had already risen seven days earlier when a fist pounded on my door. I cursed as I opened it and saw not only Ahmet, but his worthless pig of a son, Tomis. Together they are as attractive as half a cow, but they do not smell as good. Black mustaches drip off their lips like rancid oil.

I sneered in their filthy faces and spat, “What do you want?”

Ahmet folded his great slabs he had for arms and grunted, “My rent, Marye. NOW!”

I threw my hands in the air. “What? I go out and get stiffed by your miserable friends and so now you expect me to have money! What am I? A magician to pluck it out of the air? I don’t have the money. That’s all!” I reached to slam the door in his face, but his fat hand lurched forward so swift and hard, I was knocked back onto the floor.

Nodding to his son he muttered, “The daughter is in back.” And Tomis lumbered off.

Horrified, I bolted upright, “You can’t! My daughter is with child!”

Ahmet shoved me back with his boot and I swore at him with greater fervor.

“Shut-up” He growled. “Why would he hurt her? Next month we may have to take her in trade for your rent once again.” Then raising his arms, indicating I was to undo his sash, he hissed, “Get busy.”

Despite my daughter’s cries, it went very well. I know she was uncomfortable, but what can either of us do? It is how we are forced to live in this pig sty of a town.

In an hour we had paid the rent in full. Relieved to have that behind me, I changed my dress, combed my hair, told my daughter to grow up and went into town.

In back of the café where I often find employment, people were gathering to peer out the rear window. A couple of gray-haired old men began taking bets on whatever activity was going on.

Two traders were shouting in the alley way. One was Joseph. Tall, powerfully built, his long wavy hair tied back, he looked like he had to but step on his opponent to win this battle. The other was Samekh, a small, dark, greasy, weasel of a man. I did not see much of the fight because while they were at each other, I went from pocket to pocket, lightening the patrons of their burdens. Ha! Gold and silver are so heavy after all!

From the alley came such loud cries of pain from Joseph I craned to look out of sheer surprise. Samekh, the cheat, the weasel, had several of his friends in tow and they were doing…things to Joseph. Ah, it was a business dispute, and if I sought help for him or tried to step in, it would only cost me my life and they would have continued on with Joseph, so what should I do? It was not my affair. It kept the café entertained long enough for me to fly out the front door. I intended to head for the dress makers. It had been a hard day already, I deserved something for myself. But I was interrupted once again.

“Marye! You evil whore!” the screams of Ahna, the baker’s wife followed me down the street. “You stay away from my husband or I will slice you!”

I screwed up my lip and sneered, “Oh, you want to slice me like bread? Perhaps you should stop your screaming and take care of your man. It is not MY fault you do not please him. You are ugly, I am not.”

Ahna is a hefty woman, very strong from carrying babies on her hips and kneading bread. She snatched up the large, wooden bread paddle they use as if it were a feather and came charging after me like a great, angry, she-bear. Panicked, I pulled out the dagger I keep strapped to my thigh and held it out. “I will slice you, Ahna! You know I will!”

She stopped, but still held the paddle like a weapon and we stood circling each other in the street, one waiting for the other to drop her guard.

“I HATE YOU!” shouted Ahna. “You are poison, you are cow dung. You are everything wrong and then more.”

“Oh? And you are so pure? Who cheats their customer’s, a loaf here, a copper there? You are so good?”

Ahna’s answer was to lunge forward with a great roar. She swung and struck the side of my face. The earth spun and I staggered, in the mean time, she struck me again and again…

“STOP!” A man’s voice cried out and with some relief I saw it was Ben-Wazzeem, one of the herb traders in town. “Ladies! Ladies! I’m sure none of us want the Law to come,” he said reasonably. “Now Ahna, everyone knows your husband goes to this harlot and now you’ve made your point to her, so stop worrying about it.” He put a companionable arm over her shoulder trying to cheer her. “Look at it this way, it could be worse,” he said a grin splitting his face. “He could be visiting a goat!” They both laughed at my expense.

He took her hand and patted it gently, “Your husband still provides, still takes care of you, so he is a good man at least, no?”

Ahna thought about it and nodded, “You are wise. And you are right: Marye is at least better than a goat.”

“That’s it. Now back to your babies.” She spat at my feet and walked away like a pacified elephant.

I was still panting from the encounter, still enraged by their exchange. Wazeem looked me over and cocked his head. “I am surprised you are still here in town.”

I gasped, “Why?”

“‘Why?’” he echoed, incredulous. “The circus! There is something happening out there. I was on my way before running into this cat-fight! She would have beaten you to death; you know that, don’t you?”

I felt my bruised sides and nodded.

“Well, then,” he clucked. “I think you have at least a couple of minutes for the man who saved your life. My alley is empty.”

I followed him, still desperately gripping my dagger. In the alley, he turned, put his hands on my shoulders and lightly pushed down, but instead of going to my knees, I rammed the dagger into his belly and yanked it up toward his breast bone.

I have killed men before, and as they die, they all look the same. Eyes wide and amazed that I would dare hurt them and words of ‘why’ on their lips. Wazeem was no different. Before the light died in his eyes, I told him, “You compared me to a goat.”

My revenge satisfied, I headed for The Circus.

It is not really a circus. We have all called it that for many months since the carpenter began bringing creatures in to populate it. But it is so odd and so many strange things happen there, it is something to see.

I took the walk over the first, then second hills outside of town and though I have seen the circus many times, the site of it still made me gasp. It is the largest, single structure I have ever seen. The sons built it at the bequest of their mad father. Yes, he must be mad. This building is larger than the king’s palace. It is long, and made from lumber treated to become gopher wood. Yes! You may ask why a building is made with gopher wood. Why would it need so much protection from moisture and dampness? That is the true madness here! The carpenter, a fool named Noah, calls it a boat! And who but a mad man spends a hundred years building a boat so huge, so far from the sea?

Then the animals began to come. Creatures the likes few have seen. Even great long neck dragons came here, laid their eggs and the young clambered on board. Beautiful birds, young, snowy white bears, baby elephants . . . they all came to Noah’s boat. His huge gangplank lays open and he constantly calls for us to join him, but then, he is mad and there is enough madness about.

I ran where much of the town had gathered. It was a carnival as men drank their wine and cavorted, singing songs about Noah and his lunacy. Two men began to dance naked and called out, “Noah! This is what we think of your God!” One of them urinated and cried, “Oh, look! The rain came!” The crowd, including my self, laughed.

But there was silence when Dhalet the High Priest of the Sun joined us. He wore a dazzling, white robe, his headdress was lined in pure gold, on the end of staff was the golden image of the fish god. Flanked by his priests, he stood before Noah’s boat and cried out, “Noah! You will speak with us! Speak with us, now!”

I waited, suddenly forgetting all that had happened today. Noah . . . I had not seen him in years. Some said that now lightning flew from his eyes, some said he spoke to spirits. Not for the first time since coming to this place, fear pierced my heart.

Above us all, striding out onto the fruit of his insanity, Noah stood on the deck of this boat, this ark he calls it. He was very old, but he is still a man’s man and I felt my body ache with desire for him.

I could easily picture him out cutting and carrying lumber alongside of his sons. His beard was long and white, but even from this distance, you could tell that here was a man with fire in his soul.

“My neighbors!” He cried. “The Lord has spoken to me! He will send the rains in one week. I beg you! Please do not be left! There is room! Come! Anyone!”

There were chuckles and snickers, but not a soul moved toward the plank.

“Noah!” cried Dhalet. “In the name of our holy gods, I ask that you listen to reason and come out of there! You must see the insanity here! Let us use this lumber to build homes for your neighbors! We will slay the animals for offerings and feast for many weeks! You will be a hero! Revered and loved! It is I that implore you! Come out! Come out now.”

“There is ONE GOD!” Noah bellowed in a voice that seemed to shake the hills. “It is His will that I do! His alone! Repent of your evil and come with us before it’s too late!”

“Enough!” Dhalet cried. “All of you! Tear that ark apart! His lumber is our lumber!”

Like many of the men, Orzet, another carpenter from town, cried, “About time!” He joined the throng of men heading for the gangplank.

Then, that is when the Great Thing happened. This gangplank, this creation of wood and sweat, so thick I have seen several heavy animals walk up its path with scarcely a creak; this large, heavy door lifted from the ground. Not a single man touched it. Not one rope was tied to it. The men ran back in fear as the door lifted to close of its own accord. Slowly, it rose, closing, closing . . . a resounding ‘thud’ haunted the air as it shut with a finality that made me afraid. Not even Dhalet could make anyone raise a hand against the ark after that. They were too fearful.

We left The Circus a much quieter group that day.

I have watched the faces of people this week and part of me has felt like I am watching the walking dead. But the sun still shines, the breezes are still cool and sweet, and I remind myself Noah is a religious madman, nothing more.

But it has been seven days and now the rains have started. And it is not a mere shower; the water is falling in torrents. Even still, this should not be a surprise. The autumn rains are often heavy, except the rains aren’t stopping. The storm should be slowing, but this one grows stronger. Right now it is night and my daughter sleeps in back as always. The rains aren’t stopping and I know what I must do. While there is no one to stop or ridicule me, I will make my way to the ark. I would take my daughter, but in her state, she would not make it and waking her would only cause her pain and fear. To leave her is merciful.

I will go to the ark and pound on the door. I will scream, claw if I have to. I will promise anything, as long as he allows me in. And he will let down the gang plank for me. He has to. I will MAKE him.

I must hurry. The water is seeping under my door.

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