Eden may be closed, but those who stumble upon its remnants are still dangerously transformed by the Tree of Knowledge and must be stopped.
As if something large had fallen far and hard.
Every living thing felt it.
And, because of that thump there came a pause. Time stopped-at least time as they had known it until the thump-while all that lived, from small to large, considered what it meant. Then, every living thing that could run began running. Every flying thing flew. Every swimming thing swam. And all went in the same direction-away.
While they ran, the Cherubim materialized, almost leisurely-as if time didn't matter. As if this wasn't the most urgent thing in the universe. As if all the time in the world would be available for what was destined to take place. At first, they were like mist, but the steam was glowing. The very notion of space itself on every side was pushed apart to accommodate the massive beings. The phenomenon might have reminded the man and woman of a flame, if they had ever seen fire. At first, they could look through the one in front of them. The two Cherubim stood firm, backs to the Garden.
The man and woman had never imagined anything like this. That it had come so swiftly after that terrible meeting...after their blasphemous eating...was a line of thought neither wanted to follow. A new emotion enveloped them: the fear of death, the meaning of which they couldn't envision.
When the man and woman passed the first shining creature, something foreign inside them chafed. It was the cousin of Shame, one of the impudent feelings they had endured earlier that day. But this distraction whispered, "Depart. Get past the apparition. Now." Although they didn't know the word "apparition," they understood enough to run away.
For nearly a day, they had discovered new ways to think, all manner of opinions, conflicting ideas, and thoughts. One of these was Curiosity, the herald of Temptation. Curiosity said, "Stop. What is that? This is something we've never seen." It was not of their world, but they knew from whose world it came.
In response, the man stopped and bade the woman stop as well. They turned around and looked at the giant. Now like jewels, now like fire, now like liquid diamond-fully materialized, the Cherub was huge; almost three times as tall as the man.
It held something-something the man and the woman had never seen before: a flaming sword. The moment they saw it, they realized what would happen if it were swung in an arc while they were in its path-which they were. Just days ago, they'd swung things too: flowers, lambs, strands of grapes, themselves-anything that made them laugh. But that was before they had eaten the fruit that changed the world, the fruit of the tree that they could still see, now out of reach forever.
From where they were standing, they could feel the heat of the flaming sword, and at that moment, Instinct was born. It was a gift; a gift for protection; one last gift from the Father for His loved ones on whom He had meted out the nearly ultimate punishment.
He had given them a multitude of gifts as they ran away from the Garden. Besides Curiosity and Instinct: Preservation, Resourcefulness, Intuition, Creativity, and more. Generations would rise and fall before they understood half the gifts He'd given them on that day.
As they gazed upon the Cherub, Preservation told them that the flames of its sword were hot; well beyond the elysian warmth that was all they'd known before. This heat could sear their flesh in an instant; the image of which came into their minds not from His gifts, but from knowledge-knowledge acquired when they partook the fruit of the forbidden tree. Knowledge that had opened their eyes to things like their own mortality-something they had never considered-surely, that was no gift.
Both the man and the woman understood that their world had begun to change at the Tree of Knowledge. They received the knowledge of suffering and mortality, the feelings of shame, embarrassment, and immorality; emotions and inhibitions: fear, worry, and distrust; and the awareness that everything they had thus far experienced also possessed a bad side. The knowledge of things they never knew they hadn't known, and the knowledge that if they had gone on in Obedient Bliss, they would not have cared about the things they hadn't known they didn't know.
Take it back, Lord!
With its right hand, the Cherub slammed its sword down to the ground exactly the same time as its twin did at the other end of the Garden. Their every move mirrored one another three miles apart, though their backs were to each other. Their swords didn't enter the earth; they were not of this world-they bent the earth. And that was the first earthquake.
The first earthquake was as loud as it was powerful. All the remaining creatures, the ones that had held back, now rushed out of the Garden in terror.
Between the sword of the one Cherub and the other, there came a distortion of time and space. With flawless synchronization, they sliced through the air in a semicircle, cutting a rift through the very foundation of existence. The arc of their swords pulled this fabric-of-the-universe over the Garden, making a great dome in the process. As their swords hit the ground in perfect unison, the dome was complete; no one could get into the Garden; space and time began to warp around Paradise.
The angels swung their swords up as one, using both hands to raise them skyward and give glory to God. Through this glorification, power surged into them; and through that power, the sphere enclosing the garden appeared to contract. Fire of Heaven, golden light, pure and bright, illuminated the angels and refracted into uncountable rainbows. There had never been a rainbow on the earth before.
The dome collapsed inward, slowly, and imperceptibly-millimeter-by-millimeter, minute-by-minute. It was meant to be so. Had it collapsed instantly, the disturbance in the continuum of reality would have destroyed the planet. The Garden did not actually become smaller inside the dome, but the warping of the space enclosing it gave that impression to the world of Man in which it had formerly existed.
The man and the woman could see through the dome into the Garden, they could see the Tree of Life; they longed to be back inside. Their aching regret came and went, replaced by remorse, then anguish. They stepped backwards; their first steps outside the Garden. Sharp stones cut their feet and bruised their heels- skin that had never been pierced-and for the first time but not the last, they felt pain.
God! They cried out.
He didn't answer.
Where are you? They couldn't hear Him, couldn't see Him... couldn't feel His presence.
The hot air was thick with dust, smothering-nothing like the deliciously moist air to which they had become accustomed. The thunder of fleeing creatures faded in the distance, replaced by shrieks, roars, and blood-curdling screams, as the game of prey and predator commenced.
Why are they doing that? The woman's eyes glazed in confusion. Yesterday we played with them, rolled with them...
She touched the garment God had made for her; it was rough against her skin. Lamb! Why did it have to be Lamb?
Of all the animals, Lamb had been their favorite. Lamb had played with them every day, and they had nuzzled to sleep against the animal's shining fleece, every night, soft and warm. Now, this lifeless mantle was all that was left of their friend. Lamb was surely dead.
Will I be like Lamb when I am dead? Will God take me for a garment? Or, she clutched her belly-new life stirred in her womb-will he take one of my children?
With the world's first tears in their eyes, the man and the woman looked up to the Cherub's face. He stared at them with an expression that their newfound knowledge told them had yet no name. The man paused to name it, as was his prerogative, and he named it Pity. But pity was something the Cherub knew to be of the world of Man, and the Cherubim's link to the flow of time in that world was loosening; with each passing moment it slowed its speed to the rhythm of the Garden. One second in the Garden now exceeded a worldly minute; soon it would be an hour, then a year. Standing at the nexus of two such disparate time-streams, the Cherubim were more like statues than living spiritual beings.
Without warning, a hymenal laceration appeared above the tip of the angel's upstretched sword. With an earsplitting belch, it vomited forth a projectile of malevolent phlegm almost the size of the angel itself. The emerging blur arced upward. Had it maintained its trajectory, the fiend it was would have landed far beyond the man and the woman. However, it traced the Cherub's gaze to the terrified couple. Seizing the moment, Evil whipped its tail around in midair-a tail that had not even been there yesterday when, bedecked with jewels, he had been the most beautiful of them all. The putrid appendage slapped the now-not-so-innocent couple across their chests, shredding their flesh while propelling them backward onto the stinging gravel.
Collapsing, they gagged on the smell of the Serpent's mighty tail, their stomachs spasming at the touch of its ooze. In its eyes, they saw malice, death, and maniacal triumph. All this happened in the instant before they struck the ground-the impact causing blinding pain. Their breath was knocked out of them, and mercifully, so was their consciousness.
But before the hideous Tempter had a chance to slink away, before the woman had succumbed to the reprieve of faint, she locked eyes with the Prince of Darkness himself, his face defiant, triumphant. She finally understood the diametric other side of everything that ever was, the worst of all that through his scheming she had wrought:
A small figure sat hunched in a doorway further down the alley. She might have been any of the junkies one sees every day in the Netherlands. Yet there was something different about her countenance, something proclaiming that while she may have been down and out, she was not an addict. When she stood up, the truth of the matter became evident: the bundle she held was a baby. She walked resolutely to the small door that would free her from a lifetime of responsibility, yet at what cost? She pulled the lever to reveal a bluish, other-worldly light—hygienic, beckoning, promising to grant wishes that could never come true, certainly not in the tearful mother’s world. In one motion, her baby was inside. She turned and ran. Fast.
Femke was rooted to the spot. It was as if the devil was putting on a spectacle just for her. Unlike so many other things in life, the baby hatches were not merely façade. She knew the door would lock within three minutes. The girl was nowhere in sight. How long had it been?
Should I take the baby?
Time seemed to stop, all sounds were stilled, so that one small noise would resonate like thunder: Click! The hatch closed forever.