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CHAPTER ONE

Sun Over Sodom. Circa 2,500 BCE

 

Fifteen years old, and a distant relative of the king, Jesophot worked for a living. He spent his nights and early mornings—when his luck was in—cleaning bodily fluids and washing the linens and the whores' clothes at King Bera's palace. He made sure to use the days to rest.

Jesophot stood tall enough that one might take him for a grown man until the boy moved and his gangly limbs flailed with their own designs as he shuffled around after his tasks. Where his awkward body appeared to conspire against him, his face carried a promise of many sighs and broken hearts should he live long enough to grow into it. In Bera's palace, filled with beautiful youth, he didn't look out of place.

At this moment, though, Jesophot's face glowed red as he hurtled through the king's common room.

"Get in there, and quit staring at the walls like an idiot!" Balok, the palace chamberlain, growled, still waving the stick he had just used to smack the boy over the head.

"Sir!" Jesophot skittered away at speed.

And on he went, doing his best to navigate the crowded floor. Mostly nude bodies, thrusting, caressing and moaning, packed the room like eels at the bottom of a jar.

He trampled over a limb and heard a crunch. "Gods, sorry," he said at the boy imported all the way from Ur. "Excuse me," that was to the new girl bought from Gomorrah. He released his breath once certain he hadn't stepped on any of Bera's guests. Breaking a slave's hand was one thing. Kicking one of the king's companions would have brought trouble.

He knocked on the door to Bera's inner chamber. Once it opened, Jesophot's stomach flipped when he saw that this wasn't going to be one of the lucky days.

Sunrise had begun to threaten by the time he finished pulling the limp bodies of young boys and fresh girls out of the palace and onto the cart sitting outside. Cleaning the blood, excrement and body parts came next. Not a lucky day. He hated it; he hated the palace, he hated Bera and he hated Sodom. He wished the earth would open and swallow it.

The cleanup and the loading complete, Jesophot drove the cart into the hills and began his labor anew. He pulled one body after another and dragged each through the shrubs and into a clearing.

A girl with short, curly black hair. Her blue eyes—foreign, arresting—had frozen in surprise. A beauty mark the color of bread stood out on her pale cheek. Her nails were smooth and healthy, and her feet were clean.

Another girl. Not tall, but ripe and soft, and with full, pale lips set in a pout begging for a kiss. A gap splitting her left eyelid, where the knife blade had plunged, interrupted her beauty.

A boy's body seemingly untouched except for a trace of dry blood from a red spot the size of a seed set over his heart.

There were five. Jesophot towed the former playthings by their feet to rest among dry, old meat and bones. Then he turned around and went back. He would rest and hopefully sleep. Later he would walk and run in the heat until he fainted from exhaustion.

* * *

Jesophot approached his house. He stopped by a small, charcoal-colored shape on the ground and crouched. He touched the bristles of the fur and stroked the neck. The goat stirred and opened her eyes. She blinked and studied him with her pupils—bars cutting across the golden background like twigs fallen into wax. So unlike Midor's.

Jesophot's breath paused. Something had wedged itself in his chest. He swallowed. Inhaled. He petted the goat, and that helped, but the weight between his ribs had now formed an edge. Sharp. It cut.

A tear landed on the pelt.

He lifted the animal and carried her inside. She curled up on Jesophot's pallet, and he curled up around her. Her musk and warmth greased his lungs and allowed the air in. Out. In. Sharp. He buried his face in the goat's neck. The fur wicked the drops from his eyes.

Jesophot woke in the afternoon. The sounds, and the sun on his face, felt like home. Clinking and clanging of dishes and vessels, yells and muted animal cries outside, the bells softly tolling on the breeze above the altar to the great baals, the grind of his mother's pestle as she prepared the evening meal—all seemed right with the world. Jesophot sat up, rose to his feet and walked outside to wash his face.

"'Phot, duck!" someone yelled.

He began to look up. The last thing he saw was something dark obstructing the sunshine, and he thought he might have registered a musky, sour smell.

Jesophot awoke the following afternoon. His mother, Had'r, sat on the blankets next to him. She touched his face on the side that wasn't purple and swollen. The wrinkles in the corners of her eyes became a little deeper and she blinked a couple of times.

"What happened?" Jesophot asked, rolling to the side and propping himself up on an elbow.

"The goat," Had'r answered and continued to stare.

Jesophot had gotten used to his mother's oddities over the years and managed to push a swell of irritation away. "What about the goat?"

"The goat died. She was on the roof, and then…just died. Where she stood. And then she fell." Had'r's sharp chin continued to quake as if reminding its owner there was something more to say. "She was a good goat," she finished.

"A good goat," Jesophot agreed, slowly. He fell back.

Had'r blinked.

"We'll need a new one," Jesophot said. "I'll go and see Rasumaleh at the palace."

"Wait until your brothers come back. Baals willing, they will have gathered more tar this time."

Jesophot tried to sit up on the edge of the blankets but then let his head fall back down. He had managed to lounge on his side, but sitting proved a step too far. A wave of nausea broke through in deep heaves. He hadn't eaten, so little damage was done.

Had'r wiped his lips with a back of her hand.

"Stay in your blankets," she said and made her lips look thinner than they had already been; Jesophot had learned to interpret that as a smile. "Balok came—"

"What will we do?" Jesophot's queasiness got worse. Balok was an open, exuberant expression of the nastiness Bera usually kept bottled inside him.

"Oh. He saw you. He stopped yelling. He wants you back in the palace. In a couple of days." She said, patted his head and walked out.

Jesophot struggled to order his thoughts and finally gave up. His head ached, but his mind echoed like a yell into an empty water jar.

Sleep soon returned.

He woke at sunrise to the sensation of a foot in his gut.

"Hey, 'Phot!" his brother Baruz greeted him.

His eldest brother, Nagir, stood next to Baruz.

"We heard you picked a fight with a goat. A dead one," Nagir said.

"And you lost," Baruz commented.

"So the wagons came," Jesophot stated the obvious.

"You look like a goat's shit," Baruz drawled. Swaying from the balls of his feet to his heels and back, he seemed in a jubilant mood.

"They sure did," Nagir said, "and with them came your rich brothers." Even he was nursing a slow smile.

"Come on, Nagir, tell him! Tell him what we did while he was playing with Bera's whores and head-butting dead goats."

"We got more tar than anyone has ever seen. Twice as much. Maybe more than that…I don't know. It's a miracle. Let's just hope the Egyptians bring enough copper to get it all. I'll make sure we have a stall close to Bera's auction table." Nagir said this without changing his expression. He blinked no more than once.

Had'r shuffled into the house. "Jesophot, up. Greet your brothers. Fetch water."

He obeyed. After a couple of affectionate punches in the stomach, Jesophot stumbled out, now balancing a large pot on his shoulder. The left half of his face still felt tender and swollen, and he made sure to carry the vessel on the right. As he walked, he thought about going back to the palace, and if Balok would still be mad. He thought about the stroke of good fortune and all the tar in the bogs, as if to spare him having to beg Rasumaleh and barter his remaining freedom for the right to a goat.

Jesophot thought about goats. Especially, about the recently deceased old goat. Mother was right—she had been a good goat. Every time the palace bred her, and then kept the kids, her udders stayed full for close to a year. Jesophot had been little more than a babe when they'd gotten her, and she still gave more milk than any of the neighbors' goats up until yesterday when she fell on his head from the roof.

He tried to picture Midor, his sister. He thought he recalled something of her: a glimpse, a scent, a touch. Her eyes. She must have been about the same age he was now when he had last seen her, and he hadn't yet learned to walk. Bera had her sent off to King Birsha—a gift, and one of Bera's goats, the good old goat, came their way in exchange. He felt a twinge of remorse that he hadn't retained any memory of his other sisters.

The clay pot on his shoulder lurched when Jesophot stubbed his toe on a rock. He cursed and hoped none of the baals heard, that they were too busy to pay any attention. Sizable rocks littered the path like loaves of bread made by a god with a wry sense of humor. The trees around, heavy with figs, tempted, but few souls forgot more than once that all fig trees belonged to the palace. Lowering his eyes, Jesophot saw a fluttering in the shrubs and spotted a rat. Had he not been facing the prospect of carrying a fragile pot heavy with water back to the house, he would have been tempted to try his luck with a stone. Meat in the gruel always made everyone smile a bit more.

The well presided over a crossing of several paths, and women were flowing in with empty pots and leaving with vessels full of fresh water in undulating waves of strong hips, backs locked straight and eyes searching for something over the horizon from above the grimaces on their lips. Jesophot had no desire to speak with any of them. A boy without a sister whose mother made him carry water from the well like a girl? They pretended to smile, some even winked, but Jesophot knew better and cringed.

He resolved to mind his own business and go about his task as quickly as possible. He drew the bucket up and began to tip it into his vessel. From a corner of his eye, he spotted a movement and in a blink realized he had either placed the pot on a rock or bumped it—either way, it was going to fall and most likely break. He tensed, about to drop the water bucket and lunge to save the precious pot, when a pair of hands appeared and steadied the clay vessel. Jesophot caught himself, finished pouring, put the bucket down and resumed breathing.

He looked up. The girl let go of the pot, her eyes meeting his. It would have been a stretch to call her pretty, but her eyes were kind and reminded Jesophot of someone. She nodded to him, turned, heaved her own pot onto her head and walked away with a sway of the hips.

* * *

Had'r rested on a rock in front of her house. Her legs lay splayed out around her in a show of bone and sinew. She watched the approaching figure of Jesophot, and she wondered, at the age of forty-eight, how much longer she had to live with her regrets.

It had rained all day in the town of Sodom on the day Had'r's first daughter was born. Water came from the sky in rapid, noisy cords and washed away swaths of soil down the long hill. Had'r screamed and heaved the life into the world. She named the child Midor.

Two more years and two more daughters. Years later, her fourth child, a boy, brought joy to his father, and two more followed. Lot loved his long-awaited sons. Far from a rich man, he found ways to buy the older two apprenticeships to learn a trade as soon as they'd been born. Things had grown tighter by the time the third boy came.

The spouts of rain on the day Lot came home with gold and a milk goat had wedged into her memory.

"No other way, Had'r, there was no other way," he said, his eyes red with the memory of recently shed tears. "Now we can pay our debts and our son can live."

Then he told his wife the price he had paid: three female children.

Later that night, Had'r washed her hands of blood and brain. She continued to scrub long after the last remnants of Lot were gone. The blood on her hands was now her own. How she wished she hadn't complained.

She wished she hadn't gone back after having fled with the children when Lot put up an altar to a new, strange baal. She should have done something after he began to rave about Jesophot's destiny. If Had'r could speak to the girl she had been then, she would have…

But that was not the time to take the blame, to break down. She began to make her way home from the shore.

Her remaining three children were asleep when she returned. Baruz and Nagir lay puffing, cuddled together like kittens. Jesophot, still a babe, had sunk into the nest she'd made for him from the wool she'd stolen from Bera's sheep and sewn inside his father's old tunic.

Her youngest son's eyes opened soon after she'd knelt by him. She reached out and touched his forehead. Peace enveloped her as if she'd been lifted out of her body and become a breath of a great baal. Forgiveness. Had'r withdrew her hand, her eyebrows dripping sweat. She kissed her boy.

Now, so much later, as Had'r smiled at Jesophot who approached at one lurch at a time, bent under the water vessel, she wondered where her boy's magic had gone. The first and last time she felt it was the night after she bashed Lot's head in with a stone.

CHAPTER TWO

A Bag of Meat. Chicago, 1995

 

Kimaris parked his pitch-black Ducati at the corner of Ontario and McClurg and took off his equally black helmet. While a sport bike placed a distant second-best to one's own wings, it was what he had, and he was determined to make the best of his situation. The memory of wings and of his former power was older than this speck of infested mud floating through space. Before leaving it, Kimaris patted the Ducati on the gas tank.

Brisk, intermittent gusts coming from across Lake Shore Drive swept away the May sunshine's warmth as soon as it touched the pavement. As a demon, Kimaris had no need to protect himself from the elements, but today it served his purpose to remain inconspicuous. To this end, he wore a black leather jacket and a pair of classic cut Levi's. He rather liked the solidity of the Doc Martens on his feet. He unzipped the jacket as he walked into the Starbucks to reveal a 1990 navy-blue Notre Dame football t-shirt.

It was a Thursday morning, and the only patrons were a couple at a corner table wearing grunge sweaters and gazing into each other's eyes. Kimaris asked the bored barista for a tall Americano with two extra shots of espresso and sat in another corner once his drink arrived. He never put anything in his coffee and liked Starbucks best. It was just about burnt enough to please a demon.

He settled in his chair and waited for the woman. She outranked him, and he knew she was going to drive the point home. He expected her to be rather late. Kimaris raised his eyebrows when a figure in Northwestern Medical Center scrubs came in the door right on time and ordered a spiced chai tea latte. After the drink came up, she glided over to join him at the table.

"Hello, Kimaris," she said.

"It's my pleasure, my lady Lilith." He bowed, showing his neck. It was good to let her know he was going to play her game and understood his place.

"These scrubs are incredibly comfortable on this clumsy body," she said, beaming. "You should try some someday."

"I will make sure of it, my lady," he agreed with a smile. The body she had chosen was far from clumsy, and she knew it. Kimaris would not have minded a turn at it.

"Before we begin to discuss the reason we are here, I must ask a favor," she continued. "Simply observe." She gestured toward the front of the store.

A few moments later, the door opened to admit a young woman. No, a girl. He licked his lips. Fully formed, her body made her seem older than she was. It was more attractive than Lilith's. He would never share this observation with the First Woman. Lilith was the same soul who thought that Samael, the angel of death himself, didn't go quite far enough—it did not pay to anger her.

The girl wore a short skirt reaching her mid-thighs, too short for the weather, and an unzipped windbreaker over a plain black sweatshirt. Kimaris approved of the red Doc Martens on her feet. She ordered a cappuccino with whipped cream on top. Kimaris did not approve of that. Some things just weren't done. The girl put her drink on a table not too far from his, lowered her backpack to the floor and sat down, twining her skinny legs around each other. She pulled out a book and settled down to read. Her long, unreasonably golden hair fell to one side of her head, obscuring much of the face from Kimaris's and Lilith's view.

The girl sat motionless, seeming bound by the spell of the story in the ratty, worn volume, and Kimaris found himself nodding. He had read The Master and Margarita several times, and always found something new to discover and savor. All right, so this world did have a few things going for it. The girl had pulled back ahead in his estimate.

Kimaris turned to Lilith and raised his right eyebrow in a question, showing a mastery of the body he wore that would have been remarkable had he been just another bag of meat and not a marquis, once in charge of twenty demonic legions. He had begun to wonder as of late, in the privacy of his mind, if he hadn't grown complacent. He was proud of his most recent accomplishments, and he doubted Lilith would have sought him out had they been anything other than spectacular. To himself, though, he had to admit his job had been an easy one. It took pathetically little effort to set all of humanity to fight for a shitty swath of sweltering desert. That they fought over the liquid hydrocarbons underground which they then burned for energy was all the sweeter. Immediate local mayhem followed by long-term global destruction. It was effective and elegant, poetic, and while the execution had been easy, he took pride in the idea itself.

So now Kimaris sat across from Lilith studying an exceptionally beautiful, but in all other ways average, human female, and the marquis was starting to find it difficult to hold his curiosity back.

Lilith responded to his unspoken question with a smile. "We're not done, yet. Observe," she said.

Kimaris complied. Nothing particularly interesting happened for a few long minutes. A rare patron would enter the coffee house, order a drink, receive it and leave. The bored barista continued to look and sound just as uninterested. The cashier put on a chipper front and greeted each new arrival in a gratingly off-tune soprano squeal.

"Your two percent is out!" one of the recent arrivals called out. Heavily made-up, and likely on a break from taping a news segment at one of the neighborhood television stations. "I'm in a real rush, people!" The man stood, shaking the empty thermos.

Stricken, the chipper cashier bolted for the back room. She sprang back and onto the café floor a few seconds later, carrying a silver container.

"I am so sorry, sir. Here you go." She slunk back behind the counter.

Once the anchorman had left, the cashier came back out and began to check the remaining creamer and milk containers. She was almost done when she stopped. Then she fell to the floor as if all of her bones had melted at exactly the same time. A bag of meat, the thought came to Kimaris again.

"A stroke," Lilith clarified.

Kimaris nodded. Neither of them moved from their seats. "Ironic," he commented.

"No, coincidental, with a little nudge from me," the chief among demons said and sipped her latte.

The young Bulgakov fan was the first to react. She jumped off her seat and crossed the short distance to the body on the floor in no time. She searched for a pulse, must have failed to find one, and began to administer textbook CPR. The couple in the other corner had just started to put their hands to their mouths.

Three to one, thought Kimaris. It often took months for new soldiers to act with calm in emergencies. Many never mastered such professionalism at all. He found himself nodding and smiling. This young girl had some raw talent. He certainly would not turn down an opportunity to remake her in his own image.

Lilith seemed to know his thoughts as soon as he did. A gesture of her finger compelled Kimaris to lean forward and bring his face to within an inch of hers. He beat down a flash of resentment. Lilith laid out her plan in a low whisper, and he was glad he had held his temper. He would get to play for the highest of stakes at last.

"I will be delighted to do my part." Kimaris leaned back with a smile once Lilith released him. "But how do we change what's already ordained?"

"We cannot." Lilith nodded. "But they," she pointed to the floor, "have free will He Himself gave them."

Kimaris's smile deepened. "That's ironic, right?"

Lilith only showed her sharp canines in response.

In the meantime, the girl, who had no idea her future had just been decided by two strangers sitting no more than ten feet away, had given up and stopped her work on the corpse of the chipper cashier. Her shoulders drooped and started to shake. There may be some stronger measures required after all, thought Kimaris, whose attention was drawn to the girl again. His tongue danced across his lips. He truly looked forward to it.

CHAPTER THREE

Glory to You Lord. Chicago, 1995

 

Anastasia could eat a whole box of "Ptasie Mleczko" in one sitting. Fluffy vanilla inside, with a hard, dark chocolate shell, it dissolved in one's mouth slowly in a magical mélange of flavors. She considered herself addicted to the stuff.

"Zosia!" She heard her mother yell from across the apartment.

She hated the nickname. It sounded like an old woman's name. It was an old woman's name. Her aunt Zofia's. She was cursed with it, and went by her middle name, Anastasia, instead.

"Leave the chocolate for a moment and take out the trash!" Irena yelled. More than twelve years after leaving a small town in northeastern Poland for Chicago, she still spoke little English. Polish was the language of the house.

"When I get to it! And my name is not Zosia!" Anastasia yelled back.

Irena stormed into the living room. Her high cheekbones, blue eyes and a straight if assertive nose were stereotypically Polish. Shoulder-length hair of a sharp, red hue, a color found nowhere in nature, punched the effect home.

Irena had set her face in a snarl, and even that was beautiful.

Damn the woman.

"You little shithead!" Anastasia's mother hissed. "You will do what I say and without talking back. You aren't even dressed. Get your fat ass moving! We will be late to church!"

Even though the last two pieces of the chocolate-covered confection called out to her, Anastasia rolled off the couch. She came close to bumping into Irena as she headed toward the kitchen. How dare she? Fat ass? Her ass was definitely not fat, and if she did indulge in Ptasie Mleczko on occasion, she made sure to balance that by skipping a meal.

She grabbed the garbage pail from under the sink, navigated toward the back door, tripped on her flip-flops, caught herself and headed down the stairs. Anastasia's face was her mother's. Her hair was her own. As she flew down the stairs, the hair flew behind her. Three full feet of sunlight. Other girls would touch strands of it and tell her how beautiful they thought it was. Boys would just stare at her and make her feel uncomfortable. Anastasia pitched the contents of the bucket into the dumpster and heard the buzz of hundreds of flies. She turned around and ran back before she could smell too much.

Irena and Anastasia made it to mass on time. Her father wasn't home, and Anastasia no longer bothered asking where he was on any given weekend. She suspected he was working hard on making some stolen cars disappear. They proceeded to a pew while giving each familiar face a small, measured nod, and received a small, measured nod in exchange. Not too much, not too little. Just right.

Anastasia sat down, glad to be able to stop feeling the men's stares on her butt. She was becoming used to it and no longer really minded, but a holy mass just didn't seem like the right place and time.

As Father Franciszek went through his usual routine, the women in the congregation traced his every move. He was thirty-five and six feet tall. His face, a study in symmetry and strength. If he had wings, he would have been an angel.

The priest sat thoughtfully until it came time for the scripture reading. He rose slowly, picked the Book up from the lectern and carried it in upraised arms around the altar until he returned it to the exact spot where he had found it. He cleared his throat.

"The Lord be with you."

The congregation gave the proper response. "A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke," he continued.

"Glory to you, Lord!" the church intoned.

Father Franciszek paused and then began to read, telling the story in Polish, in a clear, melodious baritone.

Anastasia tried to listen. But the Ptasie Mleczko must have made her sleepy, and she woke up in time to catch the last passage.

"Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrown out. And people from east and west, from north and south, will come and sit down at the feast in the kingdom of God. Look, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last."

The reading made little sense to Anastasia, and, based on what she had caught, she wasn't sure she regretted having missed the rest. After that, Anastasia let herself drift off and completely missed the homily.

On the way out, as they always did, Irena and Anastasia stopped to chat with Father Franciszek.

"It was a beautiful homily," Irena said.

"Thank you, Mrs. Nowak," the priest answered. "If I may," he continued, "our youth group meeting is this evening, and we would love to have Anastasia join us if you approve."

"But of course, Father."

"Anastasia?" Father Franciszek inclined his head toward the younger Nowak.

Anastasia considered her options.

"Sure, I'll come," she drawled.

CHAPTER FOUR

Birds Come Back. Sodom, circa 2,500 BC

 

On the eve of his sixteenth birthday, Jesophot found himself walking beside an ox pulling a cart to Gomorrah. Balok had sent him off to trade for fresh supplies for Bera's more discerning guests. Uncommonly for any two kings of neighboring towns, theirs was a cordial relationship. They met often. They guested in each other's palace. They took pride in their entertainment and the hospitality they offered, and were in that respect fiercely competitive. Some people said that Bera and Birsha were lovers, but Jesophot never did. Balok had no patience for this kind of talk.

A day's walk along the coast separated Sodom from Gomorrah. Jesophot stopped at midday to water the ox, let it graze on whatever it could find, and to have a bite of something to eat himself. He sat down under a large, wild olive tree and took out a piece of bread and the water skin. He drank deeply, thirstier than he had realized. Then he enjoyed filling his belly up with the bread. He chewed, not thinking of much. The ox grazed right next to him, likely entertaining no more complex thoughts. But, soon enough, something started to bother Jesophot like a rock in his sandal or an ant in his loin cloth. He cast about. He did it again. Yes, the faces. The faces staring at him from the cart. The faces of the two women he counted among his cargo. Dirty, wearing gray rags and with gray hair on their heads. Jesophot realized their hair could have been any color—the ox kicked up lots of dust. They were both squinting in his direction but made no eye contact.

Jesophot's jaw paused. His thoughts swiveled. Before he could stop it, Jesophot's mind uttered a name: Midor. Now he knew what she had looked like on the day another ox had carried her to Gomorrah. Gray, all gray. With thin, vacant eyes.

Pain startled Jesophot—he had clamped his teeth over the tip of his tongue. He tasted the blood. Swallowed. He got up, the remaining bread in his right hand, the water skin in the left. He walked up to the cart. The eyes in the two faces were now cast down, the lips in each face twisted in a mirror grimace. The heads sat still on the thin, filthy necks, not making any attempt to avoid punishment.

"Drink. Water," Jesophot said. He extended his left hand holding the water skin toward the face closer to him.

The heavy vessel had started to make his arm ache before he realized there was a good reason why they weren't taking him up on his offer. Thick cords still bound the slaves' arms and feet. After a moment's consideration, Jesophot undid the knots around their wrists. Looking up close, he could now tell they were both girls, rather than grown women, but any specific features were hidden beneath the layers of sweat, tears and grime.

Jesophot picked up the water skin again.

"Drink. Water."

One of the girls tentatively reached out and, when no violence came, closed her hand around the top of the skin, brought it to her lips and began to drink in round, lustful gulps.

"Slow down!" Jesophot pushed the skin down, dropping his bread in the process. "Take it slow. You'll make yourself sick." He helped the slave take a few more small sips. "You'll get more water a little later."

Then he helped the other girl and moved back a couple of steps. He saw the bread on the ground where he had dropped it. He picked it up, broke the piece in half and handed the two chunks to each of the girls.

"Eat slowly," he cautioned.

Then he walked back to the tree and sat down. The ox was still contentedly nibbling on the shrubbery and the rare blades of grass. Jesophot gazed beyond the cart, beyond the road, then beyond the shore, and into the blurred horizon over the waters. He looked up and enjoyed the green of the tree leaves and the blue of the sky beyond. He saw no birds and cocked his head about that briefly in a question.

When he began to lose the feeling in his bottom, Jesophot got up, walked up to the cart and stared at the two figures inside it. He took a knife from his belt. He could see in the faces and the eyes of the two slaves that they knew what came next. They expected it and were resigned to it. Neither said a word to stay his hand. One of the girls simply stared in front of her. The other's eyes were fixed on the olive tree which had given Jesophot and the ox shade.

Jesophot leaned into the cart and quickly cut the cords binding the slaves' feet. Then he put the water skin down inside the cart and pointed his hand at it, and then at the girls. He couldn't say if they understood. Neither moved much despite being free of her bindings. Neither tried to say anything. He thought they had understood when he spoke to them earlier, but now was not so sure. They could be deaf. They could be mute. They could be foreigners whose freedom could be taken away so easily. They could be war prizes taken by Bera's soldiers during his many skirmishes and adventures across the land. Jesophot thought on it and decided it didn't matter. Midor, his mind whispered. Whatever happened when he came back to Sodom—his execution, likely—he would never ferry pleasure slaves down this road again.

Jesophot shuffled toward the tree, took the ox by the yoke and hitched it to the cart. Once the cart and the ox were joined, he hit the animal on its rump, and the ox resumed his plodding march. The cart, with its two passengers, trundled behind the beast in a quickly growing cloud of dust.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Karol Lagodzki left Poland at twenty and has called the United States home for over two decades. His non-writing careers have ranged from fixing stucco while dangling from roofs in Paris to sorting through human cadaver heads in Jacksonville. His short stories have appeared in The Ryder Magazine, Streetlight Magazine and Tishman Review. He lives in Indiana with his family, and is a Master of Arts in Creative Writing candidate at McNeese State University. Find him at www.patreon.com/lagodzki.

Q. Why do you write?
A.
I can't help it. Story telling is a human urge I cannot resist.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I am fascinated by the human need to believe.
Q. What books are you reading now?
A.
I just finished "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien. Remarkable.

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