Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Black (10/15/09)
TITLE: Bar the Door
By Carol Slider
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I passed through the gates with the crowd, come to bargain for bright-hued silks, finely wrought ornaments, ambrosial perfumes and succulent fruits. Other sorts of merchandise, too—even then the city was known for its exotic pleasures. But all cities had such; and this was a delightful garden, green and glowing.
In a narrow street, a man crept out of shadow, circled my arm with sinuous fingers, and whispered silkily,
“Lodge with me, Stranger...”
I uncurled the grasping hands; he had an evil look.
King Bera greeted me as a brother.
“You are kin to Abraham? We have heard of him; he is a mighty man.”
“My family would be welcome here, my lord?”
“Very welcome. Graze your flocks outside the city, and dwell here in comfort and safety.”
I bowed, thanked him, and passed that night at an inn. The innkeeper spoke little, except when I told him the king had favored me.
“Well, then...” he nodded, his lip curled as if he hoarded a secret joke. “Sleep in peace tonight, friend; but bar the door.”
I barricaded the thick wood door with iron, groaning as I lifted the bar. And the fearful night came on.
Outside the barred casement, I heard unearthly hissings and moanings, howls and cries. No watchman tolled the hours; and sometime in the night, heavy blows shook the door. There was no light at all that night, not a glimmer through the casement. And I thought: This is an evil place.
But at morning light, how verdant the fields, how luscious the fruits, how rich the merchants’ wares! What better home for us? My wife Eda and I furnished a home near the center of the city. Eda bore no sons, but four fair daughters.
I sat at council with nobles and rich merchants. King Bera honored me; and when Abraham’s men fought for my king, I became his chief advisor.
Yet there were the nights. We lit our lamps and barred the door; but sometimes I felt the night creep in through crevices and cracks. My oldest daughter married a man of the city, a man of wealth and power—but on her wedding day, her eyes were dark and strange. The second daughter, too like her sister, also left us.
Then two remained—Phene and Thamma—bright-eyed, untouched. And I fell on my face and vowed to Abraham's God that I would keep them from this night that circled our house, mocking and challenging us.
It was an evil city—evil and seductively beautiful, like a treacherous woman. I knew what it was, yet loved it all the more.
Sometimes I would sit by the gates at twilight. Too many strangers had been seduced by beauty; I brought them home and lodged them safely, until the night—the last night—I met two who glowed with living light. No wonder the bestial hordes almost breached our sanctuary when darkness fell.
I knew why the messengers had come: the city must die. No time to gather possessions; no time to convince mocking sons-in-law and lost daughters. At dawn, the messengers took hold on us, and we were outside the gates.
“Flee,” they said, “without looking back.”
Eda howled; Phene and Thamma were dumb; and I grasped the arm of my deliverer and pleaded for Zoar, the smallest city on the plain.
Zoar was spared the divine retribution that only lost Eda glimpsed. But even as I turned my face toward it, I turned away; for the men of Zoar knew too much of our ways.
So we went to the mountains, weeping as we climbed, our tender flesh torn by painful rocks and seared by brutal winds. We found a crevice, somewhat sheltered, and rolled a stone over the entrance to keep out beasts.
Night came on, and we lit a stub of candle with a bit of flint. My daughters had provisions—bread, dried meat, wine. We ate in silence, and I thought:
God is just; Sodom was a wicked city; yet I have saved my daughters.
And then I looked at them in the dim candlelight, and recoiled—for I saw in their eyes a great dark void, like a city at midnight after all the lights have gone out.
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