The Last Summer
Shanilah, the daughter of Hadafaz, walked quickly along the hedge that bounded her father's wheat field. The basket she carried was her reason for leaving the house. It contained bread, raisins and figs, and a flask of wine--ostensibly refreshment for her father--but in reality an excuse to return home via the river bank, where she knew Damilech woulde be waiting. She came in sight of the workers and quickened her step. Hadafaz was still sitting on the high shaded platform that he used to oversee the work, and to make notations in his harvest ledger. He was feeling rather pleased with the world in general and a smile decorated his sun-tanned face. It was shaping up to be a good harvest . . . very good indeed.
He saw his daughter approaching and the smile faded. Blast the girl! Why couldn't she do as she was told? His greeting was less than cordial. "What are you doing here, Shanilah?" he growled.
"I've brought you some refreshment, Father."
"What on earth for? It's less than an hour to lunch time."
"Lunch will be a little late today. Cook had an argument with Jani over the fire-wood, and he went away in a huff and refused to bring any in, so Cook had to go and chop her own." She giggled at the memory of the fat and aged servant wielding the axe, hitting the lumps of wood as though they were the offending Jani.
Hadafaz's expression softened slightly. His beautiful dark-eyed daughter always had that effect on him, but his voice was still stern as he said, "You know I don't like you traipsing around the countrside alone. It's not safe! I could have waited for my lunch."
She smiled at him. "But Father, I thought you might appreciate a little more time here in the field. You said the work was falling behind. Besides, it's so hot . . . you must be thirsty."
"I am." He reached for the wine flagon and took a few swallows, then noticed the plump, ripe figs. "My favourites!" he said, and poked at the yielding flesh before choosing one and biting into its rich sweetness. He gazed at his daughter, somewhat placated, while his jaws worked energetically. "Thank you Shani. But run along now, and go straight home. It's not safe for a young woman to be wandering around alone out here. After all, you are betrothed to Japheth, and he wouldn't be pleased if he knew you were walking around amongst these ruffians. Go straight home. Is that understood?"
"Yes Father." She flashed him another smile and hurried away, her gown fluttering in the breeze created by her haste. She drew the veil closely around her face as she passed the field workers, but when she was out of sight of the overseer's platform, she veered sharply to the right, hurried past a group of gopher trees and on down to the river.
Damilech was waiting, just where she expected him to be. He held out his arms to her as she approached and she allowed herself to be embraced briefly, but when he tried to kiss her, she pushed him away.
"Oh Shani, why do you tease me like this?" He grinned at her self-confidently, openly admiring the curves of her body under the prim gown she wore. "For the life of me I don't understand why you wear these drab clothes. With a body like yours you should be showing it off."
"Like your wives and your other women friends," challenged Shanilah, "exposing their arms and wearing dresses made of cloth so thin you can almost see right rhrough it?"
"Yes." He grinned again. "You'd look really good in one of those dresses. Shall I bring you a new dress Shani? Will you wear it for me?"
She withdrew her hand angrily. "No Damilech, I will not! And you know better than to ask me."
"Oh, you funny little thing." He laughed and drew her towards him, holding her against himself in such a way as to bring blushes to her cheeks. "When are you going to tell that wimp of a Japheth where to go? You're not really going to marry him, are you? A man who spends all his time helping to build a giant boat to sail on an imaginary sea would surely not know what to do with a woman like you." He held her firmly, with one hand behind her head and forced her to kiss him. She became limp in his arms. "When will you come home with me Shani, and let me show you what that beautiful body of yours was made for?"
"Oh Damilech. Don't talk that way. You know I never would."
"Why not?" Oh, of course. You're a good girl, aren't you? One of those old fashioned girls who believes she ought to be married first. Is that what you want, Shani . . . marriage? I'll marry you."
"You already have three wives, Damilech."
"You would make a lovely fourth."
"And what would your first three wives have to say about that?"
"They wouldn't mind at all. After all, they all have their own consolations, to which I graciously turn a blind eye. All very civilized and convenient, don't you think?"
"It's not at all the way God requres us to behave."
Uh-oh, he thought, There she goes again. Why is it that sooner or later that God of hers always turnes up in her conversation? His expression was one of irritation as he said, "Yes, well . . . if there is a God like the one you worship my dear, He doesn't seem to be taking too much notice of what's going on."
"But that's where you're wrong . . . "
"Please, spare me the sermon. You won't convince me that he's going to send a flood and destroy us all. Leave the sermonizing to old Noah. One crazy man around here is enough." He held her savagely by the shoulders till Shanilar was sure he'd leave bruises on her flesh. "I've asked you to marry me. It's more than I've done for many other women. It's up to you now, Shani. Leave Japheth and marry me."
She stared helplessly into his eyes, her indecision plain for him to see. Finally he thrust her away angrily. "When you make up your mind, you know where to find me," he said, and climbed into his small boat and paddled swiftly downstream.
Shanilah turned away from the river and walked quickly home. Why was it that she sought Damilech's company when every meeting ended exactly the same way? She felt angry and shamed by his looks and words . . . and yet, his touch thrilled her with secret excitement. Would Japheth's embraces have the same effect? She would never know until after they were married, because he'd never ventured further than to hold her hand. But there was real love in his eyes, and he was a good man. As for the business of the Ark and the threatened flood, she didn't know what to believe. Japheth certainly believed it, and when his father Noah spoke of it, she was quite convinced that he'd had a revelation directly from God.
Shanilah would be at peace within herself until she heard the mocking remarks of her friends--notably Damilech. His arguments were so plausible, from a human point of view, when he pointed out how impossible Noah's claims were of fulfillment. "Do you realize," he'd ask with barely concealed amusement, "how much water would be needed to flood this land? Look how high the mountains are! Where will all that water come from?" Shanilah would find herself confused and undecided, and once more tempted to leave the promise of Japheth's love and protection for the mystery and excitement that life with Damilelch seemed to promise. She filled her afternoon with silent argument as she considered first one course of action, then the other. The Ark was almost completed, she knew that. Japheth had told her a week ago that only a few finishing touches remained to be done, and for several days, Noah and his sons had been loading supplies. That evening, when the sun was setting below a cloudless horizon, Noah came to the house and spent a long time with Hadafaz in private conversation. Later, when Noah was gone, Hadafaz called Shanilah to him and told her of the reason for Noah's visit.
"He wants you and Japheth to be married right away," he said. "Apparently the Ark is finished and he's convinced that God will soon send the flood to destroy the earth. He wants his son to have a wife to take into the Ark with him." He chuckled, but when he saw the shocked look on Shanilah's face, he thought he knew the reason for her dismay and smilingly held out his arms to his daughter. "Don't worry, Shani, love. Noah is a crazy old man, to be sure. But Japheth is a fine lad--a skilled carpenter, and a hard worker. I'm certain he's just going along with this flood business to please his father. But after they've locked themselves up in that monstrous boat for a week or two, they'll be anxious enough to admit their mistake, and the whole silly idea will be forgotten. Then you can settle down to a normal married life. Japheth will make you an excellent husband. I think we'd better humour old Noah and get you married while we can. Who knows what the crazy old man will want to do two weeks from now?"
Shanilah sheltered in her father's arms. "When is the wedding to be?" she asked.
"In four days. But don't worry, everything is ready . . . isn't it?" He held her at arms length so he could see her doubtful nod, then cradled her again, as he continued making plans aloud. "I'll engage extra servants to help with the wedding feast so that your mother will have nothing to complain about."
"Father," ventured Shanilah, "from what you've said, I gather that you've no intention of sheltering in the Ark."
"What?" he laughed aloud. "You didn't think for one moment that I gave any credence to Noah's babbling, did you? Why, if even a hint were to get out that I believed in his story, I'd be the laughing stock of all our friends . . . not to mention my business associates." He gentlly pushed her away. "Run along now Shani, and send your mother to me."
Alone in her room, Shanilah pondered her dilemma. Four days! Not much time to make up her mind, but the time for indecision was over. What would she do? Damilech had offered to marry her. She knew that her father would be delighted if he knew, and more than willing to replace Japheth with the wealthy and inflluential Damilelch. Even fourth wife of such a man would be superior to being the first wife of Japheth the carpenter. So why hadn't she told her father? Was it because of the devotion she'd seen in Japheth's eyes . . . the promise of a love so tender that not even the exciting prospect of life with Damilech could erase it from her mind? She thought and thought, her inclination wavering to and fro as she tried to decide what she really wanted. What of Damilech's three wives? Would they be kind to her if she chose him? Perhaps they had once felt this same attraction--had been drawn to him with the same irrestible yearning. But what had become of their love? It seemed that Damilech had tired of them one after the other. What reason did she have to believe that it would be any different for her? On the other hand, Japheth was an honest man who worked hard and honoured his father. His very demeanour promised faithful and long-lasting love. True, if she married Japheth she would never wear the erotically exciting clothes that Damilech would give her; despite her profession of distaste, Shanilah had a secret desire to dress in the fashion of the women of the city, in shimmering, filmy, sensuous wisps of finely woven, expensive cloth, revealing more than it covered. Gowns which by their very design invited the embraces of men. Was this what she really wanted? To be used by other men when her husband tired of her? She was sensible enough to know that this path would only lead to unhappiness. She believed in the God of Japheth. She would choose his way. Kindly, reliable Japheth offered her nothing but his faithful love, but she counted that of more worth than the fleeting joys of the household of Damilech.
The wedding took place as planned: a simple ceremony with a small number of guests present. As soon as the marriage feast was over and the last of their friends departed, Shanilah left her father's house and went with Japheth to Noah's home. No house had been built in which she could begin her marriage, and she knew the reasons. Firstly, Japheth had spent all his time helping Noah with the building of the Ark, as had his other two sons, Ham and Shem. Secondly, what was the point of building anything when the flood, when it came, would only sweep it all away? The weeks that followed found Shanilah becoming more and more convinced that Noah was not just a crazy old man. His eyes were sincere when he spoke of his love for God, and his fears for mankind. The Ark was quite ready now, and all the fodder and grain and foodstuffs had been loaded and carefully packed away, every last detail in compliance with God's instructions. Noah spent a great deal of his time talking to the people--in the streets and in the fields. In private homes and from the back of a donkey cart parked outside the banquet halls--a flaming torch wedged in the cart-wheel, illuminating his earnest face as he warned the people of the doom to come.
But everyone was tired of this old man. His presence had ceased to be a novelty and their patience was wearing thin. When he first began to speak to them, they had listened with outward politeness, and only the furtive winks and nudges betrayed their skepticism. After a time they stopped gathering around to hear what he had to say . . . they'd heard it all, and when he began to address the throng they simply continued on their way, conversing with one another, ignoring the white haired man with the message. Now, their inattention gave way to ridicule, and his words were greeted with jeering laughter. Even the local authorities had threatened to lock him up if he didn't stop being a public nuisance.
When the procession of animals began, the laughter stopped for a little while. Never before had anyone seen such a strange spectacle. It began early in the morning. Thethmon, the street sweeper, had been the first to see it, when he sleepily pushed his broom along the narrow cobbled lanes. From the corner of the wine merchant's shop he had a clear view of the Ark, standing stark and alone on the plain. He had seen it there every morning, silhouetted against the pale glow of the dawn sky. Now it was not only the Ark which was etched in black, but a moving column of figures stretching from the huge doorway of the Ark, across the plain outside the city walls, clear up to the hills. It was an eerie sight, and as Tethmon stood watching with his mouth agape, he felt as though he was part of another world, in which the air was still and the only sounds were the intermittent, muffled animal calls, and the whir of wings as clouds of birds made their way into the Ark.
By midday everyone in the city knew of the mysterious goings on. All day and well into the night the steady stream of animals continued to march into the Ark in an orderly fashion, and there were many hasty consultations as to the import of this. Seances were held, in which the spirits were enquired of. Astrologers and wizards looked wise and made mysterious and obscure remarks and soothing speeches, designed to put minds at rest and consciences to sleep. But when, next day, there was no more evidence of animal migration, the populace settled down to speculation and lively gossip. The most miraculous aspect of the whole phenomenon was that the people were not persuaded to view Noah's warnings with any more credibility than they had previously. Perhaps a few gave serious thought to the evidence of their own eyes and perhaps they wondered whether they should take a stand with Noah, but the doubts soon crept away, leaving the stony hearts untouched. After all, it is univerrsally acknowledged that attempting to convince minds which do not want to be convinced is a fruitless endeavour. So it was with the Antediluvians. For a short time they stopped to gape and wonder, but the strange scenes soon lost their impact. After all, for all they knew, that crazy old Noah could have been secretly feeding and training the birds and animals to behave that way, just to get their attention. Well they weren't fooled! Not for a moment.
In the household of Noah, Shanilah had taken her place as an honored daughter-in-law. She had long since acknowledged in her own heart that she believed Noah. It was obvious that his connection with God was very real and very close indeed, and Shanilah knew that the flood would come, just as Noah warned. She came to know the wives of Shem and Ham, for they too had joined the household of Noah. Shem and Ham had sold their houses and all their possessions in order to buy needed supplies for the Ark, and Noah's modest home now shelterd them all. Shanilah liked her new sisters-in-law. She found them kindly and hard-working and completely committed to the course their husbands had chosen. She, with them, was caught up in the preparations for entering the Ark, and in her busy day of drying fruit and baking unleavened bread and little oat cakes, she had time to reflect on the awful mistake she had come so close to making. Even if the flood were not a factor of her relief, the tender love which Japheth showered on her was reward enough. Being married to him, she told herself, is like being bathed in sunlight, and her remembrance of Damilech grew dimmer and dimmer until she almost never thought of him at all.
One night, the whole family was eating the evening meal together as usual, but the atmosphere was far from usual--mainly due to the grave expression on Noah's face. "What is it Father," asked Shem, "you seem so quiet and serious tonight."
"Indeed, my son," answered the old man,"for the time in which we live is a very serious one . . . " He paused to scrutinize the respectful faces turned towards him, "more serious than any of you realize."
"Something has happened, hasn't it?" pressed Shem. "What is it Father?"
"Yes, what is it?" chorused the others.
"The time has come," said Noah. "Today the Lord spoke to me. That is, He placed an impression in my mind, and I knew . . . tomorrow, we enter the Ark."
Silence followed his announcement, a silence filled with many emotions: elation that the climax towards which they all had worked was about to be experienced, relief that the waiting was over, and an awesome fear of what was about to be unleashed upon the earth. Would the Ark withstand the ordeal? Would they all be safe inside? Noah's wife broke the silence. "I had hoped to bake some more of those fruit loaves," she said, almost to herself, "they keep so well."
"You have a few more hours," said Noah, "use them as you will. As for me, I'm going out once more to ty to make an effort to reach these stubborn people. If only I could reach some of them, I'd be willing to stand out there in the mist all night."
Shem and Ham glanced meaningfully at one another. The people would not listen, they knew, but neither had the heart to discourage their father from making one last effort to plead with a stubborn and wicked generation.
Shanilah had plans of her own. As soon as the meal was over and the remnants tidied away, she wrapped herself in a long shawl and left the house. She walked quickly through darkened streets, taking short cuts through questionable areas in order to reach her father's house by the shortest possible route. Hadafaz was very surprised to see his daughter standing on his doorstep, and he frowned at her, and pulled at his beard ill-humouredly. "What are you doing here Shani, at this time of night? What is that husband of yours thinking, to allow you out on the streets alone? Look at you . . . you're wet through from the mist." Hadafaz took his daughter's hand and drew her inside, then stopped and glanced at her keenly as another thought came to him. "You haven't left him, have you?"
Shanilah laughed. "No Father, of course not."
"Then why are you here?"
Her laughter died away as the serious nature of her visit took control of her thoughts. "Father, tomorrow we enter the Ark. God has commanded Noah to go in and to take all his family and all who desire to be saved into the Ark. The flood is coming."
Hadafaz looked slightly exasperated. "Shani my love, you sound as though you're being taken in by all this nonsense. It is only nonsense you know."
"No Father. It isn't. I believe Noah. I believe God. The flood will come. Oh please Father, won't you change your mind and bring Mother and the little ones into the Ark? There's plenty of room."
Hadafaz pressed his fingers against his eyes, and his lips formed a tight little line. This really was too much! He took Shanilah by the elbow and led her to the couch in the comfortably furnished room, then sat down beside her. "Shani my love, listen to me," he said, with an air of exaggerated patience. "Listen to me and I will explain it to you again. First of all, there will be no flood, because there are no means to cause a flood." He laughed. "The rivers are flowing along gently and quietly. They have never been known to rise even one cubit, and even if they did rise above their banks, where would the water come from to causes them to do so? Noah can't conjure up something that simply isn't there. Now, you tell me. Where is the water going to come from? Fall from the sky, perhaps?" He laughed again at the absurdity.
"I don't know where it will come from Father, but I know it will come."
Hadafaz smiled indulgently at his daughter's worried face, and patted her hand. "It simply cannot happen, Shani. Then, of course, there's the matter of that ridiculous boat. No-one has ever seen a boat that large before, let alone try to build one. A boat that size can't possibly float, not to mention the weight of all those animals that Noah has crammed into it. If there were to be a flood, Noah's Ark would sink like a stone! Then there's that huge door he's built into the side of it. I'll admit it seems a good idea to build the door to open downwards like that . . . to double as a ramp, but how does Noah propose to get it closed? Has he told you? It would take twenty men with ropes and pulleys to move it off the ground." He chuckled. "I don't think four men and four women are going to shift it."
"I have not questioned Noah, and he has not questioned God. He built the Ark according to the instructions God gave him, and we trust God for the rest." But her heart was heavy. Even as she spoke, she knew that she could not persuade her father to come into the Ark.
"Besides," he went on, "just supposing we did come into the Ark with you, what do you suppose would happen to our home while we were gone?"
Shanilah looked up at him miserably and shook her head.
"Vandals! That's what. Thieves and vandals would break in and we'd lose all this." he swept his arm around the room to indicate the rich furnishings, the tapestries, the gold and silver objects decorated with precious stones. "You wouldn't want me to lose everything I've worked so hard for, would you? Hmm?"
"It won't be any good to you if you all drown," whispered the girl.
Hadafaz shook his head. His patience was running out, but he overcame the urge to speak sharply to her. Instead he said, "Don't worry your lovely head about it Shani. Tell you what I'll do: first sign of rising water, and I'll pack all this into our wagon and drive your mother and the little ones away to the highest hill I can find." He stood up and drew her to her feet. "Come along now. I'd better walk you home. Can't have a beautiful woman like you wandering the streets alone. That would be asking for trouble."
So Shanilah allowed herself to be wrapped up again in her shawl. She hugged and kissed her mother and her younger brothers and sisters, and sadly followed her father as he led her outside.
They went home through the main streets, rather than the alleys that Shanilalh had used when she came. The way was longer, but the streets were well-lit and thronged with people and therefore safer. Noah was there, at a street corner, standing on the back of his donkey cart, pleading with the people to listen to him. Shanilah and her father drew abreast of him and looked. Noah's face was illuminated by the burning torch at his side, his white hair and beard shimmering in its glow. "God will destroy this wicked world," he thundered, "but God is merciful, and forgiving, and in His love and mercy He has provided a sanctuary for you . . . a way of escape." The crowds of prople surged past him, unmindful of the eloquence of his final warning. In desperation Noah flung his arms wide and moaned, "Why will you die? Oh my people, why will you die?" His cheeks glistened with the tears he wept unashamedly for the insensitive mob. Just for a moment, Hadafaz was moved. Just for a moment Shanilah began to hope, but Hadafaz stubbornly pushed the impulse from him. He firmly drew Shanilah onward and left the man of God behind as he pushed his way through the crowd.
With the dawn's first tentative gleamings, Noah and his family made ready to leave their home and enter the Ark. The water barrels had already been filled: a few valuable and prized possessions had been packed and moved, and a goodly supply of implements and utensils needed to begin life anew when the flood was over. Now they carried the last few baskets of supplies: dried corn and olives, wheat cakes filled with dried fruit (because they kept so well), and seed for the first planting when the ground was dry again. At the gate in the garden wall, Noah turned and gave a last look at the home he'd built with his own hands, knowing that soon it would be submerged. Perhaps there was the faint hope in his heart that this sturdy stone-built house would withstand the flood . . . that when the waters receded it would simply be a matter of scraping away the mud, and building new furniture, but his garden would be destroyed; the almond tree and the young olives would be gone. He put an arm around his wife's shoulders and gave her a squeeze, then they turned their backs on their home and made their way towards the plain, now streaked with purple and grey and the first brilliant flashes of sunlight.
Tethmon, the street sweeer, paused outside the wine merchant's shop on the corner and looked across at the dark bulk of the Ark. He saw the pitifully small procession making its way across the wide plain, and could hardly wait for the first arrivals to the awakening city to tell them of Noah's latest folly. Before Noah and his family could reach the Ark, a second procession had joined them. A ragged trail of jeering, laughing people: tradesmen and merchants, landowners and servants, all come to poke fun at the crazy old man who was forcing his family to be shut up with a horde of smelly birds and animals. A mob of childldren danced and pranced before Noah: ragged urchins, and sons of the wealthy, shouting and pointing, and giggling, repeating the disparaging remarks they'd heard from the adults around a hundred dinner tables. At the doorway to the Ark, the mob parted to allow the procession to enter. "Would you like a hand to get the door closed Noah? We'll push and you pull!"
"Let us know when you get tired of the smell in there--we'll bring flowers!"
Noah saw his family safelly up the ramp then stood in the doorway. "Won't you change your minds? There's still time. Come into the Ark and save yourselves," he pleaded.
"The only thing we need to be saved from is crazy old men who waste their time building monstrosities!"
The crowd appreciated this remark, and everyone there tried to think of something funny to say, and with each new witty saying the crowd roared with delight. Someone suggested that since they were all in such a party mood, they ought to send for the wine skins and some food, and have a feast. There were shouts of agreement on every side and they were all deeply engrossed in making arrangements for their Ark Party when a strange sound caused them to pause and listen. In the resulting hush they all heard it . . . a creaking sound, a squeaking and grating of timber against timber. One man who'd been standing on the corner of the ramp was suddenly jerked from his feet and went sprawling headlong into the crowd. They looked around for the cause, then gasped in amazement as they saw it. The massive door was moving upwards. Slowly but surely, without a hand laid on it, it was closing into the side of the Ark.
"How is he doing that?"
"They must be using pulleys on the inside."
"They can't be, there's not a rope in sight."
"Perhaps they've got levers, or something, rigged up."
"Well, who's working them? The lot of them are still standing there in the doorway, and no-one's lifting a hand."
The crowd fell to silence. Then as the massive door gradually swug shut, they continued to stand and stare for several minutes more. Then one, more brazen than the rest, called out "Come on, let's get on with the party. We'll celebrate until they decide to come out again."
Several voices agreed, and once more the crowd was laughing and jostling and making plans for their feast.
Inside the Ark, the eight souls who were destined to repopulate the earth, settled down to a steady routine. Everyone had their own tasks to perform and there was a great deal to be done . . . so many animals to be fed and watered every day was a formidable task in itself. Generous-hearted Japheth had to be reprimanded for giving out too much fodder. "Only just enough to keep them alive, Japheth. We're all on starvation rations. Remember, we're going to be shut up in here for many months. The object is to keep them alive . . . not to fatten them up."
In the upper part of the Ark, which was to be their home for the duration of the flood, Noah and his family sat down to their first small meal. They had been preparing for this for many weeks, gradually reducing the amounts they consumed, until their stomachs were shrunken and easily satisfied with one quarter the amount they would normally eat. Later, for sleeping, hammocks would be slung from the deck head beams, and a carefully devised oil lamp was also slung from the boards above them, to ensure against its being knocked over. With all that dry hay on board, one couldn't be too careful. They continued in this way, day after day, waiting patiently for God to act: believing He would send the flood in His own time. The people of the town, those who could spare the time, or those without inclination for work, had been holding a marathon party. Every day they came to jeer and to revel. Six days went by, and each new dawning made them more secure in their belief that Noah was just making a fool of himself.
On the seventh day, towards the evening, the revelry was going on as usual. Noah and his family were patiently carrying out their tasks when suddenly, an eerie sound insinuated itself above their conversation: a soft pattering on the roof over their heads. "What's that?" asked Ham.
Noah went to the window and peered out. "The sky--it looks so strange. It's gone a dark grey colour, like ashes, and there are drops of water falling from the sky." He stood aside so the others could look out too. "See?" he said, "the deck is wet and becoming wetter as we watch."
"How strange . . . and frightening," whispered Shanilah.
"Think how frightening it will be for them," said Japheth, inclining his head towards the sounds of hub-bub which surrounded them.
Outside the Ark, the revelry was at its height when someone suggested they pack up and move indoors before the evening mist descended. Everyone agreed, and they were in the process of carrying out the suggestion when someone noticed the dark color of the sky. "What's that?" asked one
"Must be smoke," said another.
"It's an awful lot of smoke."
"Perhaps the forest is on fire."
"There's no burning smell."
"What could it be?"
They stood and watched in awe as the ever darkening clouds drew together with astonishing speed. "We're surrounded," gasped a woman, looking back over her shoulder. "The whole sky is closing in on us."
When the first drops of rain began to fall, pandemonium broke out, as everyone tried to give an explanation for what was happening. All recognized the unexplainable--a manifestation of the supernatural--but surely these puny drops of water could cause no damage? As each man tried to hide his growing fear, the gnawing suspicion strengthened: that he'd been wrong to ignore Noah's warnings. The women clung to their husbands, their lovers, their children, as with wet clothes and glistening faces they waited to be told what to do.
"I think the mist is a little heavy this evening."
"Yes, that's it. By tomorrow the sky will be clear again. Let's go home. I'm getting wet." So they left the Ark standing on the plain, its door shut tight, its timbers dark and gleaming as the previously unknown phenomenon of rain drops pattered down onto the plain, soaking the ground, forming puddles and bogs and miniature lakes.
All through the night, the rain increased in intensity, and by morning the inhabitants of the city knew that it wasn't just an extra heavy mist. Everyone was thoroughly alarmed. At sunrise some were already down at the Ark, hammering on the door and asking to be let in. Others were hurriedly loading carts and wagons and heading for high ground. When the thunder began to rumble in the sky, and the lightning began to flash, there was no longer any doubt in anyone's mind as to the error of their decision. It had become patently clear to everyone that what appears impossible to man is far from impossible to God. Wives accused husbands with "Why on earth did I listen to you? I'd have gone into the Ark if you hadn't been against it."
Friends and neighbors berated each other: "You were the one who said Noah was crazy. Who's crazy now?"
Children, sensing the fear in their parents, became frightened themselves, and cried without knowing the reason for their tears. At midday a louder, more insistent rumbling was heard, accompanied by earth tremors. What terror seized these doomed souls as they saw the walls of their houses shaking around them. Like the thunderstorm, earthquakes were unknown, and this latest phenomenon made the strongest knees turn to water and rendered all their sophisticated wisdom into the babbling of idiots.
The ground continued to shake and heave, and great fissures began to open up. From these cracks in the earth's surface huge volumes of water began to gush, joining with the heavy downpour of rain so that in a very short time every inch of ground was covered with a shallow layer of water. The peaceful rivers and streams became raging torrents so that anything or anyone caught in their grip was beyond help. Now, undisgused panic reigned. Hordes of men and women descended on the Ark with pick-axes and crowbars, intent on forcing their way into it. Inside, their voices could be heard alternately pleading for mercy and screaming obscenities. Shanilah. crouched near the door and listened to the thud of the axes and crowbars as the terrified people tried to break in. Then, horror of horrors . . . she thought she heard her father's voice calling to her. Her heart seemed to stop beating and her moulth became dry as she listened. There it was again! "Shani . . . Shani. Let us in. For pity's sake child . . . let us un."
Shanillah sprang to her feet and ran to Noah where he stood. Down on her knees, tugging at his robe, the desperation pouring from her eyes and her voice, "Oh, Father Noah . . . please, please. Open the door and let my family into the Ark." She sobbed and pleaded and clung to his ankles, her tears running down onto his sandals. Gently he leaned down and lifted her to her feet. Tears of sympathy filled his eyes as he spoke to her. "Shanilah . . . daughter . . . it's too late. It was God's own Hand which shut the door, and it's not within my power to open it." Then he put his arms around her as she clung to him, and he held her close until her trembling stopped.
Suddenly, almost everyone inside the Ark was thrown to the floor as the mighty vessel gave a shudder and a lurch, then tilted sideways, righted itself and began to float. Outside, frantic hands were clawing at the door, clinging to the keel, clutching at the slightest promise of a handhold. But the wind was whipping the water into huge waves, which crashed against the sides of the Ark, and soon every clinging vestige of humanity had been swept away, and only the Ark remained, riding on the waters of the flood which no-one believed would come.