Saturday, March 24, 2012

"Man of Red Clay: A Novel of Adam" by Jonathan Hooper, Chapter 2

Chapter Two

We came out of Eden. This new place, barren of everything that had nurtured and sustained us in our innocent state, I called wilderness. I formed the word on my tongue and it sounded right. In those days, it seemed right to name things. So I had done, in the beginning, with the animals that kept me company. This dry place needed a name too, as did the rocks, the lacerated ground, the winds. As we thirsted, I named everything, as if by naming, I could make them less strange, less hostile.

It was a Godless place, unguarded by the angels and left to the dominion of our enemy. Here, the cherubim could not protect us from the vengeance of he who had lately fallen, though once higher than Michael or Uriel. Oftentimes in the Garden, I had seen Uriel in his heavenly armour, singing a hymn to welcome the rising sun. Our enemy had been more glorious still. But now, transformed, he dwelled in this desolate land, and it was him we feared most.

No trees or plants grew in this wilderness, no breath to turn clay into living things, only a sun turned malevolent, no longer the marker of idle days but a murderous tyrant, withering all life. There were winds, dry, hot winds that blew sand into our faces, burning our eyes. Looking at the wilderness, I thought I could understand what death was, until this point only a word. I saw the barren earth and the plants withering beneath the sun and knew pain.

With Eden behind us and guarded so that we could not return, we walked and kept walking. The ground seemed possessed of some terrible thirst; there was no water to give life in this place. We held out a hope that the landscape would change. It was a land of sand and hard stones. The soles of our feet burned as we walked, and the sun punished us every step of the way. Exile in this wilderness seemed a harsh punishment for what we had done, yet we did not doubt that God was just; we continued, our bodies weakening, hoping that before our end, divine mercy would save us.

And though the heat burned us, knowledge, like a conflagration, spread through the once dark parts of our minds; the knowledge of what we had done, the transgression - a moment's disobedience, but what consequences! Everything beneath the sky was changed. This fire, edifying, yet all consuming, burned the last places of our innocence. This was the first consequence of our transgression. It was an agonising birth for us, seeing through eyes that were like the new born, a dangerous world; knowing that in Paradise, the angels still lamented at our leaving. My eyes were truly opened: looking back now, I realise that I was seeing a new, corrupted world struggling through the most excruciating birth-pangs. 

It seemed that we walked for days. If the days were scorching, the nights were bitterly cold. The balance we had always known had shifted; there were extremes of hot and cold, as if the day and the night were at war with the earth; as if nature were at war with itself and would stop only at total destruction, with all its children ravaged and dead. This is the fruit of our disobedience, I thought - that we have brought a vengeance upon nature itself, and the world is suffering because of us. But even then, I could not blame her who took the fruit first, for somewhere in this wilderness was he who had seduced her, and I suspected that his wrath had not been sated. I vowed to war against him who had brought us into this state, and make him responsible for our fall from grace.

The second consequence of our fall was hunger and thirst. Eden was far behind now, with its ambrosia and nectar; guarded by the cherubim. I looked for a tree that would offer us fruit, but the few strangled desert bushes gave us nothing. Each night, the sun fell like an angel in the west, and even though it had burned us, we dreaded its setting. In Eden, the dawn had renewed all that the dusk could rob from us; here though, it seemed that all life was dying irretrievably, the day as ravaging as the night.

It took us an eternity to cross the desert. We had come to hope for nothing more; all the world might have been desert. The crossing was like all the days in Eden put together. Where before we had no concept of the passing of time, and the days ended and were renewed without loss or nostalgia, now each sunset seemed to separate us further and further from Eden, so that more than a desert stood between us and Paradise. When night fell on the wilderness, we sheltered amongst the rocks as the wind came upon us; but even then we were not entirely alone, as you will hear.

We took shelter, on the fourth night, beneath a solitary, windblown tree, huddling together against the worst of the wind and the night's cold. Eve, weaker than I, sought warmth in my arms, but I could not keep her from shivering.

"We will die here," Eve said. "And I should die first, since this is all the result of my disobedience. It was my weakness, my imperfect sex."

Her skin had turned deathly pale, her eyes distant with a look of despair; I thought that she would give up and succumb to the cold. The separation from Eden was harder for her, even though I alone had talked with God and had had audience with the angels. But though I felt separation from the divine, the anticipation of separation from this woman of my own body filled me with greater anguish. I tried to hold her and rub her skin to counter the cold.

We did not sleep long. It came first as a low moaning sound, blended with the wind. The moon cast some light, enabling me to peer through the dark, but there were black clouds and, at first, I saw nothing. Then, after I'd kept the watch for some time, I realised where the sound was coming from. Some way from our sleeping place, several large, feline shapes waited, shadows with bright, fiery eyes. I said nothing to Eve, but weathered the cold without sleeping. The shapes did not come closer, at least not at first. I stood guard unfailingly, hoping Eve would sleep, but she did not.

And then, at last, the beasts began to stir. The lions came to us, as they had done dutifully many times before, with eyes no longer meek but hungry. These creatures that had lately been our companions, to whom I had given names and been rewarded with benevolent subjugation, regarded me fiercely. They too seemed to have fallen from their first state, they too were hunger-ravaged like their erstwhile masters. Life has turned against life, I thought, looking into the wild stare of these beasts. We had become their enemies; like the fallen angels, they had ceased to serve, with no God to watch them, or command obedience.

"What has happened to them?" Eve whispered, growing more frightened. "Don't they know us?"

A great male lion, long-maned, proud, was the one who led this hunger-ravaged company. He had mastered the others, strength now ruling where grace had before.

"I am your master yet," I said, though in truth, I was afraid, because I knew that the old order was overturned.

Sheltering Eve with my bulk, I broke off a branch from the lowermost bough and wielded it against him; evidently, my nature had changed also, and I felt rage at his insolence as well as fear. I knew that my strength was weak next to his bestial power, but my fury held the branch to keep him back. Eve knew that I could not tame the beast with this weapon, and tried to leave herself exposed to the lion, so that he would attack her instead; the lion, driven by hunger, came closer still.

But then the spirits of the air had pity on us, or perhaps God Himself kept the watch, because there was a flash of light from out of the cloudy night sky and the tree erupted into flame; flame, as I'd seen it before, was in the countenance of the angels, but now it had descended from God to ourselves. The lions fell back in fear as the light was followed by a deep groan of thunder from the sky. And behold, the branch I held was aflame too; I found that I could wield it to keep the lions at bay.

One by one, the pride disappeared into the night. We sat next to the burning tree whilst the roars from the sky continued; frightened as we were, the heat brought life back into our bones. Then the rain came, pelting against our bare skin, making the tree hiss and smoke. We opened our mouths with gratitude and tasted water for the first time in days. It was blessed. I thanked God. I said a prayer as it rained on us, and we huddled beneath the tree, cold but satisfied.

I thought that we were guarded after that; that there had been a messenger sent to deliver us from the lions. But in the morning, we were alone again, and when we awoke, the tree had become ashes, black and dead, but the dawn was already afire, the sun a flaming light-bearer in the east.

Weakened by hunger and thirst, we continued on our hopeless journey. On those desert nights I had my first dreams, that deceived me into thinking that I was still lying in the warmth of Eden. It felt as if I had opened my eyes and could see the foliage of Eden, with the fruit ripening uneaten, golden like the sun. And yet Eden was mantled in quiet, all the animals expelled, its paths empty and its plants growing wild and unmanaged, covering the place of our habitation, swallowing up our sleeping place and obliterating the last signs of its erstwhile keepers. The water, when it fell from the leaves, was a bitter poison.

I dreamed also that I went to the centre of the Garden; once there, I saw the Tree of Life begin to wither, its boughs envenomed with poison from the mouth of a serpent that encoiled the branches. Later, when I dreamed this dream again, it was the desert bush that replaced the Tree, and on the lowermost branch a bloody thorn, in the place where the fruit had been plucked and eaten.

We did not spend our last night in the desert alone. After I had slept and dreamt of the Tree, I awoke to an unearthly stillness, with the stars, more frozen now and remote than those lamps that lit the night in Eden, all around the place of our shelter. The fire had burned low and there were just ashes smouldering. I closed my eyes again, whilst still lying on the ground, but then it seemed that I felt a warmth on my skin, as if the fire had burst back into life. The warmth became a heat that was blinding; I opened my eyes and saw an angel there above me, covered in divine light, whilst on his brow a fiery star burned incessantly. He looked proud and handsome, and his face seemed merciful as he looked down upon me. Eve, strangely, remained sleeping, and I realised that even here, she was excluded from conversing with the angels.

I had not seen this angel before, but his glory was equal to the seraphim and more. He spoke with the cadence of Michael or Uriel, in soft, melodious tones enriched by praise.

"The fire, angelic element, is servant to you now; I gave you its secret. Take this new portion of knowledge with you into the wilderness, but know that your mastery of fire, like nature, is unsure; it will be enemy as well as friend. It will raze your cities and burn your crops, but also it shall ensure that the dark does not consume you.

"It is my gift to you. Do you think I would see you helpless in such a place, exiled from Paradise and prey to corrupted nature? I am not like He who has abandoned you. Do you not despair that you have lost your former glory? Does it rile you that a simple transgression barred you from the Garden, with nature defiled by your momentary lapse? Death is now the fate of all living things. Cursed you are with the knowledge: even the angels cannot know what it is to die - it is the right of man alone. You could not remain in the Garden - how can fallen beings rule over unfallen nature? So you inherit this fallen world. The beasts that you had with you in Eden, they too have been expelled into the wilderness.  They too are fated to die, and live now without a master. Survival is the delight of the strong. All are possessed by the urge to survive, some by the urge to kill, and all life has turned against itself. To survive, they must procreate, but some of their children will suffer from the first. And the agony of childbirth is an agony that will affect all creation; your wife will take herself apart from you, ashamed; your children will be born out of pain. It is your curse to hunger always, to labour though the winter spoils all your sowing. So also is Eve cursed to bear your children alone and with great suffering. Great is your fall, Adam, but some have fallen further."

Whilst he was speaking, I came to realise that this was no angel, but the prince of that host that had fallen - the third part of heaven - and the same who had seduced Eve to eat the fruit. Michael had told me at the borders of Eden. This was Lucifer, his name meaning Lightbearer, the prince of the powers of the air; and I was afraid.

"You are the archangel who fell from heaven," I said. "You are he who warred against the throne of God, the rebel. You brought us into temptation. You are our enemy, the originator of sin. Why do you tell me these things?"

"So that you will know how far you have fallen, and how utterly lost is the order of Paradise. That you may share in my misery, Adam. Oh what bitter loss, to be flung out of earthly paradise. How much more bitter then to have lost heaven."

"Why do you not kill us, since you still possess angelic powers? Why not finish your revenge now, since the seraphim guard us no longer?"

"If I kill you now, I will end your misery, and reconcile your spirit with God. But if I leave you to suffer here, my vengeance will extend to all your children, who will know nothing but estrangement from God. You will spread your corrupted seed in a corrupted earth. This is the beginning of my vengeance on you; my hatred for you is unending."

"Why? What have we done to you, that you would hate us so much?"

"Not what you have done; rather, that He favoured you and held you above the angels of heaven, thus breaking the ancient hierarchy. In heaven, I saw you brought before God, a being of clay; but I would not bow before one lately made. Before you were fashioned, I was, and after you will return to dust, I will be. Why should I bow to you? You are humans, not gods; it is fitting that the angels should not bow.

"Now go into the wilderness, but know that your sufferings have just begun. Know also that all around you there are spirits, fallen like me, that will strive to turn you against God. My vengeance on you is just beginning. Think on this when you awake."

Was it a dream? I did not know, but it seemed that I watched him ascend into the air and disappear, an angel in countenance still. The next day, I said nothing to Eve about it. We walked without speaking under the sun's heat, with little strength left and nothing to sustain us.

We came upon an animal some time later; it was a goat, lying on the ground, its body covered with flies. I did not know what death was before that, but now we looked together at this lifeless form and shuddered. Its flesh was stripped and there was white bone showing; no spirit was remaining. The body of flies, making an infernal, buzzing clamour, rose into the air as we stooped closer to the animal. I turned in disgust and led Eve away.

And finally, though I had counted ourselves cut off from divine grace, we found a refuge place at last. In the midst of the desert, we saw a line of palm trees; at first, I thought we had found our way back to Eden, and were looking on its borders. But this was a new place: a pool of water, with a circle of date palms, and many young plants growing near the water's edge. We stumbled towards it, giving thanks to God.

The water cooled us at once; we swam in the pool and ate the dates. The fruit sustained us, but the memory of nectar and ambrosia lingers long in the dry mouth, making the earth's fruit bitter. Nevertheless, we were able to shut our eyes as we floated in the pool and imagine we were still under the protection of Eden.

I know that Eve still thirsted and hungered, that a few days here would be enough before we continued to the edge of the desert - if it had an end. We did not know, but we held out for God's mercy. That oasis was the first sign that there might be more than desert; that trees could flourish here too, and springs rise from the earth. So we had hope, at least.

Now, Seth, it is late. Let me sleep a little before the day.

No comments:

Post a Comment