From Eden to Nod
by J.A. Beaumont
Eden far behind him, Cain plodded along the dusty ground. Few plants could grow here, Cain thought. The soil is far too greedy and the earth too hard to accept the roots of a seed. What a shame that he must walk the land, and an even greater shame that he must walk where green fields and rich soil were nothing more than a memory.
Then again… Cain thought, eyes squinting against the sunlight. I no longer have to hear the cries of my brother’s blood. The red in his hands had been so strange against the colors of the harvest fruits. So unnatural. Was it any wonder Yahweh had forced him into exile? To be a wanderer?
Wanderer. Cain hardly knew its meaning, but the word carried a certain burden to a man whose toil was in the land; a burden of always-moving feet and never-ceasing mind. And where will I go?
He strained his vision to pierce the horizon. Only the endless blue sky met his eyes, air waving in the heat of the barren ground. Nothing as far as I can see and my home at my back.
I am going to die out here.
Sweat trickled down his face. As he swiped the drop away, he saw a shadow move along the ground. A cloud! At last. He glanced up to see if the cloud would cover the sun, even for a few moments’ reprieve and—
Nothing was there except the blazing sun.
The shadow moved toward Cain. He froze. What does Yahweh send me now?
Smoke rose from the shadow. We are not Yahweh, and Yahweh has not sent us. The voice echoed in Cain’s mind like his brother’s dying cries a thousand times over. Full of fear. Full of anger. Full of hate.
“Leave me be,” Cain said, backing away from the shadow. “Yahweh has promised vengeance upon any who would harm me. You want nothing of his wrath.”
More smoke coughed out of the shadow. We knew his wrath before you knew of his benevolence, Cain son of Adam. Before you breathed your first, we breathed our last. The smoke began swirling about the shadow and taking form, a form Cain knew all too well. His brother’s broken body lay before him, wreathed in smoke and shadow.
He threw himself to the ground, throat clenching and eyes starting to water. “Abel, I—” Cain stopped himself. “No, it can’t be you. It can’t be. Who are you?”
The form stood up. We are the memories of Nod. Firstborn of all mortalkind.
An icy hand clutched Cain’s chest and forced him to turn around. The shadow had crept closer, and Abel’s dark, swirling eyes had a glint of fire in them. Cain could see that the shadow of his brother had a cut across his throat. The same one Cain had given his true brother. Smoke billowed out of the gash.
Cain shook his head and turned away from his brother. “Leave me.”
The shadow opened its mouth, revealing a torrent of flame within the shadow. “Do not presume to command us, mortal,” said the shadow, its voice sounding more and more like Abel’s. “We have scoured this earth for ages unchecked; we have seen it remade in Yahweh’s image, and we have incited his creation against him yet again.”
Cain broke from Abel’s cold grip and ran. His steps felt sluggish, more stumbling than running. Soon, the shadow of Abel overtook him again.
“You were banished, yes? Doomed to wander forever? That does not need to be so,” said Abel, small beads of fire dripping from his mouth. “We have a land in mind for you; our land.”
Abel pointed to the east, smoke leaking from his outstretched arm. Cain’s heart pounded and his fists clenched. I needn’t be a wanderer?
A fiery grin was Abel’s response. “Yes,” he said. “So easily. All you must do is come with us.”
Cain nodded, staring where Abel was pointing. The shadowy form of his brother burst into smoke and started floating to the east. Cain followed.
Grass brushed against Cain’s toes as the sun rose. Grass. Red sunrise gleamed across a vast field that stretched as far as Cain could see. Have we gone back toward Eden? Cain glanced at the shadow. They hadn’t changed their course all day or night, and the sun was straight ahead of them. How far have we gone?
The shadow turned to Cain, still bearing Abel’s face. “We are coming to the place where Yahweh chained us while this world burned so long ago, where we and the serpent alike are meant forever to tread.”
Cain’s eyes widened. “The serpent? But he was in Eden!”
“Not always, mortal,” said Abel. “We will join him soon.”
Cain opened his mouth to protest, but a hill dotted with flowers of every color imaginable stopped him. Wind whipped and rolled over the countryside, causing the vast expanse of greens and reds and yellows and violets to shimmer in the sunlight. Every bit of him wanted to scour this land and observe how so much life could grow.
As the shadow of Abel glided over the grass, each plant cowered under his darkness. Not until he had passed over them did the flowers rise to greet the sun again. Cain’s breath caught in his chest. How can the serpent’s servants be this powerful, to make creation itself bow to them? Has Yahweh not seen fit to protect all this?
Abel turned to him. “Do you still cling to Yahweh? We once did as well, but he showed us our folly.”
The wind rushed past Cain as they neared the top of the hill. Just as his feet truly began to savor the softness of the grass and his eyes the color of the flowers, he saw the dry sand and cracked stone begin again not so far ahead. Tilting his head, he traced his hand along the straight line that separated the flourishing plant life and the desert.
At long last, they came to the top of the hill. Cain gasped. Before him, the land sprawled out like a great bowl, at the bottom of which was a lake of fire. The shadow of Abel stood next to him, his flaming smile mirroring the pit..
“We welcome you to the land of Nod,” said Abel.
Dozens of shadows like Abel gurgled out of the ground, blackness pouring from them as well. So many began to form that it looked as though the ground itself was bubbling. Cain shielded his eyes and tried not to cough as the entire sky darkened, turning the sun an unnatural red. The shadow nearest he and Abel bubbled up and stood as a man Cain had never seen before.
“Who comes, Sherobaal?” asked the shadow. It seemed to be talking to Abel.
Abel bent to one knee before the nearest shadow. “This mortal wishes to join with us and the serpent.”
Cain’s heart raced when the shadow turned its gaze to him. “N-No,” he said. “I want nothing of the sort. It was because of you that my father and mother were thrown out of Eden.” He placed one foot behind him, hoping it would find the grassy hill again.
Abel held out his hand, “You’ve come all this way, Cain. What purpose would fleeing serve you? Do you know where the rest of the desert will lead you? In the end, you will only end up back here.”
Cain kept shaking his head and taking steps backward. The fire in Abel’s smile began to fade, and he lowered his hand.
“What then?” another voice, cold and smooth, echoed over the land. “Will you return to the place where you killed your brother?”
Where Cain expected a shadow, a flash of light instead came. In that flash stood a man without eyes and white robes. He had a smile that set Cain’s heart racing. I’ve heard of this man before.
“You don’t bow, I see,” said the man, tapping his chin.
Cain stood still. “And why should I? What allegiance do I owe you?”
“None, to be sure.” He folded his hands. “But your mother and father were so willing to listen to me before; I thought their son might show the same respect.”
Cain spat. “You deceived them!”
“And they believed me,” said the man, approaching Cain.
He took another step back, and his foot touched grass. Cain turned to run, but invisible hands kept him in place.
“But Cain, we’re just beginning.” The man disappeared in a flurry of white smoke and fire. His body formed mere feet from Cain. “Yahweh may have abandoned you, but I have not.”
Don’t listen to him, Cain remembered. The serpent’s words were the one thing that his mother said convinced her more than anything to eat the forbidden fruit. He looked away, but he felt the invisible hands grip his face and turn him back to the man.
Cain straightened his back. “He hasn’t abandoned me. He’s protecting me right now.”
The man shook his head. “I could tell you if Yahweh were here, you know.”
“He promised to—”
“What? To avenge you four times over?”
“Seven times.” Cain said, raising a finger.
“And what good will that do you, Cain?” asked the man, the smile on his lips fading. “You would be dead and in my grasp anyway. Yahweh has no use for you alive.”
Cain fought against the hands that held him in place. “I would rather wander for the rest of my life than serve the one who got my parents banished from the Garden.”
The serpent released Cain. He extended his hand to show the full breadth of the grassy land around him, with the desert beyond.
“So be it, son of Adam.”
Nod far behind him, Cain trudged through the last of the grass and flowers. Back into the sand and stone. Yahweh hasn’t abandoned me. He hasn’t. No matter how many times Cain told himself, he couldn’t forget the serpent’s words. I know Yahweh has use for me alive. He has to. His feet buried themselves in the sand, tripping him up.
A voice answered his thoughts. His own voice.
Yahweh abandoned you the moment your parents believed the serpent.
He fell face-first into the sand, still hot even though the sun was setting now. It’s not true! he rebuffed himself. I spoke to Yahweh firsthand. Cain slammed his fists into the ground to prop himself up. The sand burned his eyes as he opened them, blurring his vision.
Something moved, silhouetted against the setting sun, walking on all four legs. Cain blinked away the last of the sand and jumped to his feet the instant he saw the thing more clearly. A lion was stalking him.
He had seen lions once or twice working the fields outside Eden, but never this close, never when he didn’t have a staff to defend himself. The lion stalked back and forth, its eyes fixed on Cain. His hands clenched, but he wasn’t so sure how fists would stand against a lion. Cain breathed deeply and began circling in the opposite direction of the lion. Yahweh, deliver me!
No answer. Cain dared not speak the words aloud for fear of provoking the lion, whose path was drawing closer to Cain’s as they circled each other. I can’t let my eyes leave it. The lion snarled, and Cain’s heart started to pound against his chest. Yahweh, deliver me!
Still no answer. For a moment, Cain wanted to look to the sky, open his arms and beseech the skies themselves to save him. Cold fear trickled through his body as the lion drew closer still. Yahweh, deliver me!
The lion roared and pounced. Cain jumped out the way of its first attack and broke into a sprint. I just need to find something—anything—to use against it or hide from it. He would not glance behind him; the lion was there and he knew it. Yahweh, deliver me!
Claws raked across his back as the lion pounced again, not missing its mark this time. If Cain screamed, the scream was swallowed up by the lion’s roar as they both fell. Cain dared not face the lion’s teeth and claws. Let him take me here. May my blood cry out from the earth as well.
A flash of light blinded him, but he felt the weight and cut of the lion disappear. Cain braced himself, fearing the flash was only a brief reprieve the lion would cut short soon. But only the wind made a sound. He chanced opening his eyes and saw a man garbed in white stood with his back to Cain. “Yahweh!” He found himself saying, exultant.
“Ah, so we both wish,” said the serpent as he turned to face Cain. His face was scrunched with concentration, but the smile Cain had come to know was still there. “Do you see now, son of Adam?”
Cain’s back still burned with blood. I will not move from this place.
“Shall I assist you? It is within my power to heal you,” the serpent said, taking a single step closer to Cain.
Cain tried to adjust himself, but the gashes down his back roared in rebellion, wracking him with trembles and pain. It took everything within him not to vomit from the shakes. Yahweh, where were you? You weren’t… His mind trailed off, trying to distract him from the pain. The serpent took another step forward and extended a hand.
“Just say the word, and it will be done.”
Breaths growing shallow, vision flickering, Cain gazed one more time at the sky and pleaded with everything left within him. Yahweh, deliver me!
Not a word came from the heavens.
Cain looked again at the serpent and reached forward, hand shaking under the waves of pain from his back. So close to relief, to freedom. He just had to—
The serpent grabbed his hand, and the pain in his back melted away. A raspy breath was Cain’s only reaction as his mind returned. He stood and stretched the sore muscles in his back. The serpent still stood with his hand outstretched.
“Shall we go, Cain?” He said, tilting his head.
Cain glanced westward. Eden was somewhere beyond that horizon. He spat.
“Yes,” he said. “I will go with you to Nod.”