“Is it true, Papa? Have they finished it? Have they finished building the ramp?”
“Of course not, Darry. Where did you even hear that? Who would have told you such a thing?”
But the boy didn't answer.
“Darry...” Yitzhak made the tone that all parents make when they know for certain that their child has overstepped their bounds or has done something wrong, “You need to tell Papa now. And I promise, I will not punish you. Were you listening to the adults speak when you knew you weren't supposed to?”
“Well, then Darry,” he came over and sat on the child's bed with him now, “You have nothing to be afraid of.”
“Did I just make you a promise?”
“Then, go on. Just tell your dad. Hmm? Don't you want to do that? Don't you want to atone and cleanse your soul?”
“Atone for what, Papa?”
“Well, for starters, for not telling the complete and honest truth,” he feigned a smile, “How about that?”
“But nothing. Now, you just tell Papa what you heard. Because, I promise you... And it seems I have been making a lot of promises today already. But I do promise you, Darry. There is absolutely nothing for you to worry about.”
“That's a good boy. Just come out with it, now.”
“I saw it.”
“You saw it?!” Yitzhak's throat turned instantly dry causing this exclamation to come out as more of a throaty whisper than anything else, “You saw it? But how? And what did you see exactly?”
“And you saw it with your own eyes...” Yitzhak spoke this mostly to himself, though, and lifted his empty gaze to the wall adjacent.
“Yes,” the boy almost whimpered.
“Well, Darry. You know very well that children have been forbidden to play outside these past many days. Weeks, now, I suppose it's been. And I know that this has been very hard for you. And I am very sorry for this. But why then?!” he was almost pleading now, “And how?! And who was there watching you? Or, I guess I should say, supposed to have been watching you?”
“Nobody. It was at night.”
“At night?! You mean...you mean, you snuck out of your room?! Then...the other boys. They must have snuck out too. They must have made you.”
“Tempted you. Egged you on, is what you are saying.”
“No,” and the boy was very sad now.
“Then what, Darry. How do you know then...? I mean, why do you think...? Or suspect even...?! That the ramp is finished?! Which it is not!”
“You promised you wouldn't get mad.”
“I promised that I would not punish you. And still, I will not. But...for God, Darry. And because God is everywhere. How do you know this? And what did you see?”
“I just wanted to walk.”
“Yes,” and Yitzhak seemed to understand. This was, after all, his own flesh and blood seated next to him; his own knee, hairy and boney, pressing up against the tiny, fleshy knee of his child's, “A walk at night. To get some fresh air. To feel the peace. I too, Darry, enjoy breathing this air and seeing the stars shine with brightness. I like just to look at them sometimes...twinkling. It reminds of...”
“Of God, Papa?”
“Yes,” and Yitzhak had to chuckle to himself, “Of God. It reminds me of just how big He his and just how small we are. And it also makes me wonder if being with him means becoming a star. Because wouldn't that be wonderful, Darry? To actually be one of those stars up there. Immortal, I grant you. But just being able to see from that view all that is going on down here. And what do you think, Darry? Do you think that maybe we would be able to see a bigger picture then? Do you think that maybe we would be able to see at least part of God's plan?”
“I do too, you good boy. That, I do too.”
“Are we going to die?”
Yitzhak wanted to shut his eyes tightly and the cover them with his own hand. Just a bit of reprieve to block out, momentarily, that hot light of the setting, afternoon sun. But he couldn't. Normally, he would have. But this time, he couldn't. So he put his hand on the boy's knee instead.
“Oh, Darry. Do all young boys ask questions like these? And so often?”
And it was true. The boy, at least in Yitzhak's mind, did have an unnatural preoccupation with death. And the fear of dying.
“I don't know.”
“I don't know either.”
“But are we?”
“Yes, Darry. And this, you already know. We are all going to die. But then we will all come back.”
“I know. But how long do we have to just lie there?”
“This, Darry, you know I cannot know. Until the Messiah comes. But there is something that I can tell you.”
“Yes. I can tell you that you will not remember just lying there as you so eloquently put it. So, please don't you worry about that.”
“Then what will happen, Papa?”
“Well, Darry. I imagine that it will be just like waking up from a very long nap. At first, you may feel very tired and you may not even remember when it was that you first went to sleep. But then it will come to you. And then you will look over and your mother and I will be there too. And we will be so glad to see you,” Yitzhak's voice trailed off at the end as he fought back the tears.
“Then why are you crying, Papa?”
“Because, my boy. Because it just makes me so happy to think about this moment, you see. Because death can seem very sad, Darry. But when we see it as just another part of His greatest plan...then it can seem very happy. And how thankful we must be to have such a wonderful God who allows everybody to see each other again. And I think we will meet many people, Darry. People whom we do not even know quite yet.”
“Like your children's children's children's children. And they will all be so very happy to meet you. Even if you do not know them quite yet.”
“That sounds good.”
“Yes, Darry. It will be very pleasant and interesting. For you and me both! And we will eat very much and dance around.”
“Good!” the boy perked up now, “Because I'm hungry!”
“Yes, son. I do know this. And it is my deepest wish that you were not. But we will eat soon, my boy. Very soon. We will feast and eat all that you can handle!” Yitzhak smiled as he found himself caught up in this fantasy now too when viewed through his own child's eyes. “So much to eat,” he said again and then added, “And no sadness whatsoever. And never, never any pain or suffering. And no one will ever have to die again. Now, how's that for a nice thought. We only ever have to die once. And even that, my child, in the grandest of all things to come, will not even be so bad.”
“And Uncle? Will he be there too?”
Why. This is what the knot in Yitzhak's throat seemed to ask just then as it grew until bursting into a watery gusher. While yet, at the very same time, it seemed to solidify and grow denser until finally it weighed down his actual head. And he didn't answer. Instead, he lifted his hand from the boy's knee and wrapped it around his tiny shoulders.
“Where's Mama right now?”
“You know that too, my boy. You know that she is during her menstruation and that she is at the common house until she is again pure.”
“But...when will that be?”
“In just a few day's time, I think. It is not important, Darry. You know that that is where she goes every time as all the women do, for that is their duty.”
“I know. But I just want to see her.”
“As well do I, Darry. But you know that it is forbidden. Forbidden by God.”
“But I just want to hold her.”
“As do I, Darry. But you will see her and she will hold you soon enough. Very soon, I think.”
“No, Darry. No more questions. And, please now, no more buts.”
“But why do you keep saying my name?!”
“Only because, Darry. Because, I named you. And you know that I love you very much.”
“And do you want to hear something very special?”
“Yes,” the boy acquiesced.
“Well, I think... Do you know what I think?”
“I think...that we should lie down and take a nap together and this way, we can feel refreshed and perfectly enjoy the evening. And I think that you have been up and worrying about nothing all day...and could use a good rest.”
“Thank you, Darry. You are a very good boy. A very obedient boy. And you know that God is always watching. And that He sees that you are a very good boy too. Now, doesn't this make you happy?”
“Okay then. I thought that it would.”
And then they did lie down together; Yitzhak's arm still wrapped around the boy. And as the boy's deep breathing of slumber increased; he thought to himself.
Oh no, no, no, Yitzhak. This isn't how it was supposed to happen. And even if it is all the way that it was supposed to happen, it's still not the way that you wanted it to be. This boy here so soundly asleep in your arms. He would grow strong and smart. Smarter than you, Yitzhak. Smart enough to come up with a plan that could...that would take them all down. That would save us all. For all you know, Yitzhak, your boy could be the Messiah. Who's to say that he's not? Hmm? Who is to say? I would take him in my arms and run from here if there were anywhere to run to. And I would place him out of sight with just enough water if there was anywhere he would not be found. And I would stay with him. That's right, Yitzhak. Why not? For days...weeks maybe; the two of you...the three of you could live in a pit...
And Yitzhak smiled now as the reality faded back in. He wanted to chuckle to himself again too. Then to laugh and laugh out loud! But he couldn't. Normally, he would have. But this time, he couldn't. Oh, what a dream. And even at this late hour. Even now. The mind's strictest code. The instinct to...not let go. To protect his own flesh and hang on for dear life. Dear...life.
“I love you, Darry,” he whispered once more and kissed the boy's sweaty forehead.
“Are you ready, Yitzhak?” a voice fainter than any whisper then came from somewhere just beyond the door. A broken voice.
“Yes, my brother,” Yitzhak whispered back, “Yes. We are.”
And he stared at the ceiling and held his boy tightly. And there, they waited like innocents.
There they waited...like lambs for the slaughter.
They told us to lie down and wait. To pray and wait. To wait for the end to come.
They told us shut our eyes tightly. To put our heads against the wall and try not to think about anything. Anything but God now. And that we would be able to feel Him so close. And that we should give ourselves to Him...peacefully. For, it was not His intention to hurt us. Nor his.
They told us that, no matter what we heard, to try and not make a sound...not a whimper. They said that this would scare the remaining...and they were right.
From all the way across the room, I could hear them. They started down there like a line. And unfortunately, I was to be one of the last. At least I assumed so. I could hear their footsteps and the stones below them. The only footsteps. And they were across the room.
But the echoes! And I felt myself starting to cry. I was scared, yes. But the tears were only for this complaint. For complaining to God just now about the echoes! Why?! Why couldn't it have just been outside?! There would be no echoes there...I don't think. And I think that I would have felt much closer to Him there...under the stars and the sky. But there were no stars. And there was no sky. There was darkness though. And I suppose, I should be very thankful for that. My eyes were shut very tight, this is true. I did as they said. I obeyed. And I knew that this was because it was best for me and everyone. And it was because it was best that they told us to do it. But I still don't think that I would've liked to even imagine this in the light. That is what would have felt cruel. That is what would have been a test too trying. So He has been merciful in this way. And so I should be thankful rather than complain. Complain about the echoes.
I am only so grateful that my boy is not here. And to think that, at first, I had actually wanted him to be with me. I felt it only natural despite our law. But that only now, I find...I realize that we are truly going against our law. And there is nothing natural about this.
He is such a sweet boy. I hope that it is already over for him. And if Brother has kept to his word and his plan then... Ah, but this is not his plan. It never was. He had simply been chosen. And like all chosen people, we must survive. No. We must prevail. We must endure. And endure this hardship, we would. And he would too. And to endure this hardship, I would try...when they came to me.
If I could hold my baby right now, my baby boy, I would kiss his sweet forehead and hold him tightly. And I would caress his sweet name again over and over. And I would forgive him for playing outside and exploring. And I would wrap him in my arms and hold him and cry. But this would upset him very much. So I know that it is better this way. And I suppose that I am very thankful for that too. Very thankful for so many things right now with only one complaint. And I hope that He sees this. Even though I know that the does. Still. I hope that He will not judge me too harshly.
For, even across this wide room, I can hear it all spilling.
And there were whimpers. For, how could there not be? As there was the gargling and the last minute pleas. As there was the echo of the limbs all gone limp. I also heard what sounded like rain. I could not hear the metal though. And, I suppose, I was very thankful for this too. Because, this also, would have been a trial that I could not bear. Instead, the sounds were hollow. Muffled. Anything but sharp.
The footsteps moved closer. Slowly but methodically. Infallibly. And never with much of a pause. If there were protests...true protests; then they were stifled almost immediately by the chosens' great strength. For, that's why they were chosen. Or part of the reason, at least. Their great physical strength as well as their incorruptible character. They were unable to be persuaded and unable to crumble. And I believe it is this last trait that they were chosen for above all others. They were men but they could be metal. And they would be metal because this is what had been asked of them. They would be metal for us, thank God. But then they would burn forever and ever. Also for us. And if I am still crying then it is also for this reason. Not from fear though. For, the chosen are well known for being quick and precise as they were thorough. Always.
So I was not afraid that they were right behind me now. Perhaps they were now only one soul away. There was a silent scuffle. A third pair of footsteps flopping along the stone floor a bit slippery with sand. There was a tension. And then there was the release. That muffled sound of the limbs going limp again. And the stoney silence. The silence of exaltation. This is what I liked to imagine.
This time, though, something warm ran just below my toes. And it kept running until I could feel it all the way up to my knees and my thighs. Then I felt a felt a soft hand on my shoulder and may have only imagined that I heard a very gentle, “Shhh.”
So this was the end. It had finally come for me. The waiting was over. And, for this, I was very much relieved. And very grateful. For, in an instant, I would awake and be with my baby boy again and with my husband whom I love very much. And together, we would mourn for the chosen. But praise them. And plea and beg and pray for their forgiveness. It would be our duty because they had done theirs.
“Shhh,” I heard once more. I definitely heard it this time and felt as the hand on my back pressed on it so firmly. Not uncomfortably but just firmly enough. Enough to hold me in place. To hold me motionless should I try to move. Which I did...although involuntarily.
“Shhh,” the voice whispered again, “Please, Sister. Be still. Be still so I can put you at peace. Please, do this for me. Enough struggling.”
But I wasn't struggling. At least, I do not believe. The room was now gone. And the sounds were gone too. And even the touch of the hand was there but just barely. Because there was only darkness now. Darkness with only one tiny seed of light somewhere deep in my heart. In the center. And it would not leave me. And it would not let me be. So, yes. I suppose, I was. Maybe. Although, I did not want it to be. But maybe. Yes or no. I don't know. But just maybe. I was struggling. Dearly. For the life. And with the life still left in me.
“Please, just stop fighting, my sister!” I tried to whisper so that the others...the remaining would not become more frightened, “Please, just stop kicking!”
She was hardly there at all though. This, I could see. Certainly, she could not hear me. But if... Oh, only if she could and would obey my pleas.
Her eyes were all black though. Black like I'd never seen them before! Shining with terror in the darkness and the moonlight. But she could not hear me begging her to stop her kicking feet. To please stop squirming and wiggling below my weary hand now gone weak. No.
No, no, no. This, I could not do. This and only this, it seems, too much to ask of me. Even now and after so many. But this. This, I could not. And for that, I am infinitely sorry. I am infinitely sorry, my Lord! Please. Oh, please just hear. Hear me! And please, just this once. Just this one. Please, take her to heaven for me. For, I do not have the strength.
“She's leaving, Abi!” He whispered also. Attempted to whisper at least. But the echo, again, revealing his state of alarm. Revealing the state of all things. “There! There, now she has found the door! And you must go after her! Please, Abi, please!”
“Oh, has she?” I muttered. Perhaps silently. As if in a trance.
“If you will not go then I must.”
And I knew he was right then. And I knew he was stronger. Yes, I would go. For if he went, I would crumble. If he went, there would be no guarantees. No certainty. And for this, I must be certain. Certain or else I would crumble.
Ah. But you've already crumbled, Abi.
“Yes. I will go,” I mumbled.
“And I will then finish here. Finish our work For, these are the last. And then we are... Come back and I will give you a chance. I will finish the work entirely.”
“Thank you, my friend,” and I meant this will all sincerity, “And I love you for that. But I am already damned now. And I will be with you. I want to be with you and by your side. For all of eternity.”
“Then come back anyway, Abi. Come back for me. But only so that we may take this great trip together. As it shall be.”
“And it will be. And that is my word. Please, then, do not worry.”
Frantically, she had run. But this did not much concern me. Her footprints were there and even across the top of this great mountain, I believed I could hear her breathing. For, she would be the only one.
She had a right to be afraid, Abi. A right to squirm and fight. For, the blade had gone dull, Abi. Or, at least it was starting. But what was I to do?! To sharpen the blade then so close to them? The sound alone would likely kill them with fright. Which might have been better. Better for me. And, I suppose I that may have gone outside just to hone it but I could not make them wait any longer. To torture them so. Perhaps, to believe, for only a moment that they had escaped. But there was no escape. For any of us. And they knew this deep down. But now that the blade had gone dull, the work was not so easy. For us or for them. The first had gone quickly. Instantly. And I knew how to do it. For, that's why they chose me. Partly. I knew how to take the lamb. Peacefully. Quietly. Sometimes, I even imagined that it awaited me expectantly. To feel the rapture...though I know this is silly. To go to sleep. To do its duty just as I was there to do mine. And I felt like, for only a moment, we were one. But I never felt the oneness on this night. I was only there to ravage. For, there was so little time and there were so many. Nine hundred sixty, to be exact. Almost 1,000 souls. Is it any wonder, then, that the blade was now dull?
Was I supposed to remember all their faces? Was I supposed to whisper to each one? To say something gently that would put them at ease? I had wanted to, yes. But there was no time! The decision had been made so late. Ah, but who can blame him for this? I could not have made such a decision myself. But I could do the work. We could do the work. Just barely. He had been one of the most difficult though. Despite the fact that he had gone so willingly. He had wanted to set an example. To prove to the rest of us that he was not joking. After his decision had been made. He had wanted to lead. And lead us he had. And lead us he did. Up until now. The very, very end. When, while my own hands still touched him...my very weary hands; we'd parted ways. And now he led them and them only. But he was right. His decision was right and he'd made the right choice. He had been one of the most difficult though. It had felt like snuffing the candle out...the candle of God Himself. Like snuffing out his great light. Because I know now, and certainly, what the world is when there is no God. It is like this. Like this silence all around me. Like this darkness all around. Like all the faces I wished I could remember though not in this way. Like all the faces not at peace...at least it seemed so when I closed my eyes. But this was only the trickery of my hell just beginning.
Yes, there were the faces every time I blinked. Sometimes just the eyes. But all their eyes. As if they were all still watching me. Looking at me. All of them combined. And surely, they were. Because it would take them time, Abi. A little time yet to find their way. And they were looking to you, Abi, because they still wanted life. You who were practically dripping with it. All of their lives with much of the crust already turned dry. They were seeping into you, Abi! Not their souls but their life. But this would go away. And go away soon. The work was almost finished. And, perhaps with this one, I could finally take time.
Perhaps, no more punctures. Perhaps, no more of this dull back-and-forth on the same skin with the same blade that you keep pretending is still sharp!
Perhaps, this one was a gift. One last gift. From God.
There she is. I found her now. She had not run very far. She had not even thought to find a place to hide. Just her. In the sand. Almost exactly like she had been lying before. Her breathing; short gulps. And I found myself only wanting to wash her now as she was so much covered in earth.
I knew my voice would not startle her. So paralyzed she was with hysterics and fear.
“Sister?” and I laid down next to her now in the sand and the earth, “Shh. Shh. Now, there is no reason to have become so afraid. But it is just a reaction. I know...I know. And do you see there, my sister? On the horizon? Can you see the early light there that has now come to greet us? And only us, sister. Now, isn't that nice? Can you see how beautiful? Just look at the light casting all those shadows away. So soon, they will all be gone. So soon, there will be nothing but a beautiful, new day. Can you see?”
Her hair was wet with perspiration against my face. And I imagined that it cleaned me ever so slightly. My cheek.
“I am so glad then. This makes me so happy that we can share this together.”
She was a very delicate girl. Her heart still beating fast and hard.
“Come, now. Let us be at ease.”
And then she was. Her heart still beating fast and hard but with her limbs all gone limp. She rattled a little but this was still a great gift. This was still a great blessing.
And when I left her there in the light of the day, I knew she was at peace because I could not see her face. Not even when I blinked. And I believed then that I could face all the fire and endure all the pain that surely awaited me. But please, do not let me miss her for all eternity. That and that alone would be too great.
And now, as I had promised, I will go back and talk with my friend still there in the common house. To be with him and see how he is doing. Because, I can hear them on the ramp now. A ram in their hands. Its head and its horns as it breaks down our gate. Hell will be here soon. We won't have long to wait.