I loved this one. The assignment is to look at a bible story and make variations, finish incomplete stories, etc. It comes from Midrashim, which is “the Hebrew tradition of interpreting biblical stories through filling in the gaps.” (Novakovich, Ch. 1) I’ve never even thought of trying something like this, but it was really fun to play with it once I got going. Try it!
“The Wroth of God”
“Is he gone?” The whisper came from behind him, his mule’s bells nearly camouflaging it.
He turned. “Is someone there?”
No one answered for a moment. His mule paced a little, the bell clanging against his chest, and Phenthan stilled him with a gentle hand. “Shh, Boljer.” Nothing stirred on the road behind him. Trees waved in a light breeze and a tall stone pillar, perhaps from some forgotten temple, stood in a lonely vigil over the valley containing the huge city in the valley ahead of him.
He was just about to turn back to the road when he heard a rustle.
“Is he gone?” It was a woman’s voice.
Phenthan looked around in a wide circle but saw no one except the guards at the gates of Soddom, still a heavy walk in the distance.
“I see no one but me,” Phenthan answered. “Where are you?”
A cascade of gravel tumbled toward him from the hill to his left. He turned in time to see a woman shake herself free of a fine white gravel, the rocks and silt flowing from her hair and clothing almost like water. The pillar had disappeared and in its place was this woman.
“Are you a ghost?” he gasped, stepping backward fearfully. Boljer shook his head, bumping Phenthan’s back, his bell clanging softly in protest.
“No!” she cried. She sounded teary.
Phenthan looked over his shoulder at the city gates, but even if he shouted as loud as he could, the guards wouldn’t hear him. He sighed bitterly. This is what he got for traveling alone. He turned back to the woman and watched as she batted at her waist-length hair, a white dust puffing off her skin and clothing.
“What happened to you?” he asked.
“My husband left me!” she answered, and then did start to cry. The tears made ugly tracks in the white dust covering her face and she hid behind her hands. “He left me!” she wailed.
Phenthan stepped forward, almost without meaning to. “Don’t cry. I’m sure we can find him.”
Her eyes, large and a dark brown that appeared black in contrast to the dust, appeared over her dirty fingers. “You won’t!” she cried. “He’s with two angels of God. They’re going to destroy Soddom!”
Phenthan felt a chill. “What?”
She looked over his shoulder at the gate and its guards. “We spent the night there, but they wanted to visit with the angels. He offered my daughters…” She kept speaking, but Phenthan couldn’t make out any words among the sobs and wailing.
“So you left Lot, is that it?” he asked, confused.
“No!” she shouted, coming out from behind her hands to glare at him, a faint dust rising behind her. “He took us out of Soddom this morning. The angels said that the men of Soddom were wicked for treating us that way, and for other sins. They will destroy the city!” She looked past Phenthan at the gate. “We have to warn them!”
“Look,” he tried, then stopped. “I’m Phenthan. What is your name?”
She blinked at him, eyes red from the dust. “Ashara.” She had a pretty voice when she wasn’t crying, and her figure under the dust and dirt was comely.
“Ashara.” He felt his face heat. It was a pretty name. He scrubbed his chin, trying to focus. “The guards are worldly men. They won’t believe us if we just barge in there. Let’s sit for a moment. I have water,” he added.
She transferred her attention to him at that. Then she looked down at herself and grimaced. She batted futily at her skirt and a puff of white dust billowed away from it. She looked up at him in disgust. “Water would be welcome,” she agreed.
Phenthan moved up the hill toward her, pulling Boljer along behind. They settled by a short tree, its shade a pleasant respite. He sat down gratefully and pulled his waterskin free of its mooring on the side of Boljer’s tack. She took it gratefully and used a corner of her skirt as a wash rag to clean herself.
A loud boom made them both turn. Boljer woke, startled, his bell clanging mournfully. The ground started to rumble and shake and Phenthan whirled to see Ashara clinging to the tree, eyes wide and terrified.
“What is it?” he cried.
“The Wroth of God! Look!” She pointed a shaking hand at the valley.
Phenthan turned and nearly fell. Flames shot from the city in a wave of destruction. He watched as the gates toppled forward, almost in slow motion, and fell with a huge puff of dust. The sound didn’t reach them immediately, and the fearful crash that did eventually sound seemed tinny in comparison to the scale of the flames. He sank to his knees, stunned.
“I told you,” she whispered behind him. “I told you…”
Phenthan looked back at the woman. He got to his feet, his mind made up. “Come, Ashara. It is a long way to Zo’ar.”
She stared up at him, tears still oozing down her cheeks. “What?”
“This man of yours, this Lot. He could destroy a city and leave you behind? He is no man, Ashara, he is no man to me. Come with me. I will show you my homeland. Let me take you away from this place, this destruction.” He did not add, ‘Let me make you my wife.’ Time would allow him to speak those words, he knew for certain, as sure as the city dying behind him. His gods were not so capricious as this, and he knew a gift from Them when he saw one.
Ashara sniffled but got to her feet resolutely enough. Instead of waiting for him to direct her, she picked up the waterskin and reattached it to Boljer’s tack. She met his gaze with a hint of her own strength. “I will come with you to Zo’ar, Phenthan.”
Phenthan turned and led the way back up the mountain path, Boljer’s bells a cheerful sound behind him.