Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Make Hay While the Sun Shines" (without using the actual phrase or literal example). (03/06/08)
- TITLE: Abyss of Black
By Chely Roach
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The darkness was suffocating. It did not resemble the darkness of night; there were no stars or moon to cast their gentle illumination. It was like being in a tomb after the last stone was set. You could feel the dark; like a cold, terrifying blanket, it enveloped Umayma. At first she wondered if she had gone blind, but she could hear screams in the distance. Their panicked cries only frightened her more. She couldn’t discern how long it had been since the fire fell from the sky. It felt like eternity.
The stench of decomposing flesh crept under her door and clung to the smothering abyss of black. She swatted away unseen insects; the deafening swarms had returned for their carnage feast. Their livestock was killed in the hailstorm that also left her a widow. Kafele was trying to save them from the pummeling ice rocks, many the size of Pharaoh’s fist. Without those few cattle and goats, they would surely starve. Now she was facing the same fate, but alone.
The morning after the storm, Umayma gathered the water vessels, and stared at the blue sky from her door before hesitantly stepping out. In the two hundred paces to the stream, she tried not to focus on the desolation. She filled her containers, balanced their weight upon her shoulders, and turned to return home. Against her will, her gaze fell upon her beloved; under their favorite tree, now stripped of every leaf. If the locusts had left any green on the landscape, it was banished now. She went to him. She crumbled at his side, and allowed the heaviness of the grief to consume her.
“How long will this go on? How long will we suffer? Why does Pharaoh not send them away? Egypt is ruined—the crops, the animals, and you my beloved, are gone. This Hebrew God is so angered, and our king is so stubborn. If he would have let them leave weeks ago, none of this would’ve happened…I would still have you.” Umayma buried her face in Kafele’s chest, sobbing bitterly. When she opened her swollen eyes blackness was painted over them.
Panic covered her entire body; screaming, she stumbled blindly in the pitch-black. Within moments, Umayma was completely lost. Eventually, she tripped over one of her water vessels; she knelt to feel its broken clay pieces as the water saturated the barren ground. She cautiously felt for the other, and almost knocked it over when she found it.
The relief of finding the water was replaced by the noxious fear that she would not find her way back to shelter.
What if the skies open up again? What about Kontar?
Umayma started to swoon, when—as if he heard her thoughts—Kontar cried out. Her ears perked up, and her breasts began to leak. She clutched the vessel and staggered in the direction of her baby’s cries, determined to reach him. When she found the threshold, she crawled to Kontar. She held him close with his face in the crook of her neck, and as her fingers stroked the back of his thick hair, they rocked with their rhythmic sobs. She put him to breast to quiet his cries, and succumbed to welcomed sleep.
After endless hours of lightless torture, Umayma lost hope. Her tongue was caked and swollen from thirst, and her milk was drying out. Though the water was gone, she was too petrified to attempt to find the stream. The desert air was frigid and reeked of death. For her and Kontar, death was also imminent; promising to be slow and agonizing.
She closed her eyes, cursing Pharaoh and his hard heart. The full wrath of the Israelite’s God has devoured our land...blotting out the sun. Undoubtedly, Pharaoh can now see that the God of Moses is bigger than our gods, perhaps even the one true God as the Hebrew’s claim. Mercy…show us mercy, God of Israel.
At that moment a glow burned upon her eyelids. They fluttered and watered as she struggled to open them; the searing light forcing her to squint. With Kontar in her arms, she weakly shuffled to the window. What was once her fertile homestead was now a brown barren waste land, plagued with blood. She could not imagine it any worse.
It has to be over. Pharaoh surely let His people go…
Umayma looked into the dark eyes of her firstborn son.
At least I still have you, beloved.
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