The Mark of Cain

This was done for a flash fiction challenge from: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/02/22/flash-fiction-challenge-game-of-aspects-redux/.

I had a day to write and got the following parameters:

Swords and Sorcery at the gate of the Garden of Eden with a talking sword.

It was a fun exercise.

The little stream slithered almost imperceptibly over a piece of moss-covered rock, but the whispers led Shimon straight to it. Falling to his knees, he cupped his hands into the little wet line, drinking whenever enough had collected for a mouthful, or when his thirst bested his patience.

At his side, The Serpent was watching his frustrated attempts at relief with relish. It thought there was something so endearing to the way humans were enslaved by their needs. He almost wanted to thank God for giving him that most helpful tool, but it felt a bit trite, like a weak parting blow from the losing side in a tussle. No; this was a war of attrition, anyway. Patience…

Shimon had finally drunk his fill and was looking lost again, so The Serpent had to point it in the right direction once more. Humans. So needful of guidance.

Shimon felt the whispers start in the back of his head, goading him on into the thickening forest.

The landscape had slowly been changing from the arid land he knew to the verdant forest he now found himself in. He knew that meant that there should be a river nearby, but the trickle had been the first water he’d found in days. He’d almost turned back a few times, but always the thought of his dying son kept at him, driving him forward. He glanced furtively at The Serpent, checking that it was still there with him. Almost immediately, its whisper started.

“I’m going nowhere, Shimon”

Shimon’s gazed flicked ahead again, studying the thickening foliage for the best route forward.

“I know,” he spat.

The Serpent sounded hurt.

“Would you rather I silence myself now? Let you walk out your days with your grandfather’s mark on you for all to see? The sins of the father…” it trailed off.

Shimon grimaced, “Are not mine to carry,”

“And yet you do. Funny that you attempt to serve so fickle a God. His curse keeps you down and yet you burn your wealth to cinders in an attempt to please him.”

“What I do with my own is for me to say.”

“Tell that to your son.”

Shimon stopped.

“Shut up and lead me to the garden”

“Which would you prefer?” The Serpent asked, gleefully. “Both are quite impossible. And if you’d like to wash that stain off your back, I would advise keeping a more civil tongue. Or did you enjoy being turned away by the healers?”

Shimon’s jaw clenched until it creaked.

“It is my curse. They should not have to suffer under it.”

“Ah, but the sins of the fathers…”

That night, they stopped in a little clearing. Shimon built a small fire, which The Serpent lit by pouring its magic through him. There was nothing to cook, but the fire made him feel safe. The Serpent lay against a tree. The thought had been building in him for days, but it still took a while for Shimon to speak up.

“Were you not banished as well? What makes you think I can help you get in?”

“Ah, I might not be almighty, but my bite is still sharp.”

Shimon shivered.

“The gate will be guarded.”

“Ha! Cherubim. I used to be first tier. In any case, God lets me in all the time. It is you He wants to bar from the tree and its stream.”

“So I can never wash the mark off.”

“The curse of Cain wasn’t given in jest,” The Serpent said. “But you’ll get your bath, just trust me.”

Shimon turned away. That his son would die for someone else’s crime was abhorrent. He felt it in the pit of his stomach, even though he would not voice the blasphemy to himself.

The gate wasn’t much more than an opening in a gigantic thorny tangle. At first Shimon thought it was unguarded, until he saw the flickering light on its leaves.

Through the forest’s growth, he could just make out what seemed like a torch. Heart beating furiously, he started inching forward, hand on hilt.

“Sneaking won’t help. This fight we take head-on,” came The Serpent’s voice.

Shimon hesitated.

“GET UP!” the voice roared inside his skull.

Shimon straightened as if pulled up and froze in shock. The torchlight came from the fiery blade of a long sword in the hand of the guard. The Cherub was awesome to behold. Its strong wings were spread out above its body like a great white dome, covering its face. At Shimon’s movement, the wings whipped away, exposing its face. Human, ox, eagle and lion seemed to blend into each other in a shifting mass around its head.

“And now we fight,” hissed The Serpent.

Shimon glanced at its sinuous curves, suddenly fearful of the clash between the two angels. He was just a man. He tried to fight the shaking of his hands, as his legs slowly started backing away. The Cherub’s lion face growled softly. He could sense The Serpent’s glee.

“Running away now? Next time your wife’s turned away at the well, you can tell her why you failed.”

Shimon clenched his jaw. This was it. His breath came in gasps. His whole body shook. The Serpent took the initiative.

“Draw me” it cawed.

Shimon gripped the bone hilt and drew the snaking length of the sword from its scabbard. The Serpent gleamed like fresh blood in the dim light of the forest.

The Cherub looked sad, but made a slight bow before charging. Shimon’s body moved to The Serpent’s will. Fire and blood clashed, throwing off sparks. The Cherub took a couple of short swings at Shimon’s head. He parried in a flurry of red droplets. A strong swipe from The Serpent pushed the Cherub back.

This time Shimon moved first, a quickly parried stab turned into an upwards swing, but the cherub lifted his whole body with a flap of his wings. Their swords were flashing too fast to follow now. Shimon felt trapped, watching from inside as his body tore itself apart to match the Angel’s effortless movements.

He suddenly realised his lips were moving too. The physical fight was only one aspect of the clash. Syllables and numbers were flowing from both combatants, running into each other, undercutting phrases. He could sense some kind of order. The numbers fit into each other, though how, he couldn’t tell.

He could feel his body tiring. His movements were becoming slower, only parrying the Angel’s attacks, while the sword in his hand was gleefully pouring forth magic from his lips.

The Serpent was craftier than any other creature. With a sudden pause in the stream of numbers, he tossed the last into the fray with a flourish. The Cherub’s face froze in terror as its movements suddenly ceased. Shimon could feel his arm start the death blow.

“No!”

His hand froze. The Serpent was shrieking in his ears, but Shimon fought the impulse to kill.

“No! I’m not here for more blood on my hands. Abel’s is enough.”

“Fool! It will kill you!”

“I will be washed in the stream! My son will live.”

Shimon noticed there was another man standing behind the frozen Angel. He looked sad, but smiled when Shimon’s eyes met his. Dressed in simple white robes, this man seemed out of place between the blood-spattered combatants.

“Kill it!” The Serpent screamed, “You will never lift your curse! Your family will die like curs, beaten and spurned by all. The curse of Cain is on you. Kill it and we’ll wash it all off!”

The man in white turned towards Shimon and put his finger to his lips.

“Shh. It is now Shimon’s turn to talk.”

The resistance suddenly left Shimon’s body. It was his own again. He sagged to the ground while the man sat down beside him.

“Shimon, Shimon, where are you?” he asked.

Shimon saw the hurt in the man’s eyes and looked away, hiding his face in his hands.

“I wanted to be clean,” he mumbled

The man smiled again.

“What makes you think that you’re not?”

Shimon looked up again, angry.

“The curse of Cain is burned into my back!”

The man shook his head.

“The curse of Cain was never meant for the sons of Enoch.”

“But, the sins of the father…”

“Are not the sins of the son. You kept the curse because you took it with you. Each generation has to choose. The Serpent almost had you stained with the blood of Cherubim.”

“Then why didn’t you stop him earlier?”

“You had to have a choice. And its consequences. Otherwise love is impossible. Now, put down the sword and go back to your family. Your son is only sleeping.”

With that, the man got up and walked into the garden, leaving Shimon alone with The Serpent. He shook the hilt from his cramped hand and turned away from the gate.

Somehow, it felt like his back was healing.

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Critiquing Criticism: Personal Growth Via The Hobbit

I have seen a lot of films since writing about my disappointment with The Hobbit. I loved each to a different degree, yet I somehow didn’t throw myself in front of a keyboard to vent my frothing glee.

Why? I haven’t exactly been too busy. Haven’t had this much free time in ages.

It seems that there’s something perverse that drives me to broadcast all my negative thoughts to the world. Putting something down when I truly believe it deserves it infuses me with a kind of manic energy that is quite unbecoming of someone who believes in love and peace.

Don’t get me wrong- I love telling the world about things I enjoy too. But the things I hate galvanise me into action in a way the movies I love didn’t. I haven’t written a long essay on the elegance of Looper; of the superiority of implied violence; of stripping unnecessary explanation from stories. Hell, I could probably do a whole page just on the amount of crying I did in Les Miserables.

But I didn’t, and as soon as I saw it in myself, I started noticing it around me more and more. We are negative and reactive in our dealings with the world. It could possibly be part of the Anonymous Effect (the internet tends to make people meaner), but I think even that just points to this flaw in humanity.

I think criticism beats praise, because of the inherent vulnerability of love. When we put our vitriol into the world, the worst someone can do is tell us we’re wrong. It’s in the denouncement of something close to your heart that the true damage lies. The things you love live under your skin, and you have to have a pretty thick hide not to feel the arrows aimed at them.

When someone denounces something I love, it feels like an attack on my character. It’s painful and scary to put positive opinions out there, yet that is what I do to someone else whenever I criticise something they love.

Film criticism, specifically, is there so people can find out if they would like certain movies. It sparks debates about the effectiveness of art. I like reviews (Both good and bad) and believe them to be important in the kind dialogue that broadens horizons. My own opinions have been augmented by well-argued reviews before. And this growth is something I cherish.

To coddle my own insecurity and sensitivity by only writing negative reviews, however, is unacceptable. I have decided to endeavour to make myself more vulnerable and write about what I enjoy. I will try to brave the hate machine that is the Internet in the hope that I may inject a bit more love into its unfeeling mechanisms.

The only way to spread love is to make yourself open to rejection. Love is often only something that is reciprocated. And it won’t always be returned. But if we never put it out there, we create a world that is a bit darker.

In spite of my spite towards The Hobbit, I am glad I watched it and put it down. It has given me the opportunity to look long and hard at myself, and attempt positive change.

And if a movie gives you that, it can’t be all bad, right?