Chapter Seventeen

The four lived on the corn planted for the herd that winter. It was monotonous and tiresome, but it kept them alive. When they were alone, Eve and Cain discussed their escape. When spring came, they would simply walk away one day and never return. They would bring two bags, filled with the most immediately necessary of tools; everything else could be replaced when they found a place to settle. They would move farther east, to avoid the Garden. At night as he waited for sleep, Cain would imagine what they might find. There could be strange and beautiful animals like the ones in the Garden, or more docile, useful cattle and sheep. But the thought that excited him most, and the one he confided first to Eve, was the thought of other people.

"Why not?" he asked. "You said there were birds, and squirrels, and rabbits, and all of these animals in the Garden, just as there are here. You said even the plants were similar. So why shouldn't there be other people outside the Garden?"

"Because God created us. I remember the moment of my creation. I was never a baby. I was born as I am now, only healthier. But animals start tiny, and then grow to their full size. I was never smaller than I am now."

"But Abel and I were. Perhaps the first of every animal is created grown, and afterward all its offspring must grow."

Eve's eyes sharpened. "Perhaps. But would he have made other people somewhere else?"

Cain tried to remember everything his mother had told him about God and the Garden. "What was it the serpent told you about God?"

"He said, 'He is not all he claims to be.'"

"Then... maybe God didn't have to create other people. Maybe they were just... there. Maybe God didn't make any of this."

She stared. "Maybe.... Once I found a skeleton, in the Garden, of an animal which had been like the serpent, though I don't think it was a serpent. I never saw other animals like that one, in or out of the Garden." Her eyes widened. "Cain! When Adam and I left the Garden, I saw a skeleton that looked like a human! I never remembered it till now! Those bones — they must have been a person once! There are other people! But… if he didn't make things, how did they come to be?"

Cain thought hard. "How did God come to be?"

She looked at him as if new answers to great problems were revealed in his face. "I don't know!" she gasped.

"Neither do I. But maybe someday I, or someone else, can figure it out. But if he didn't create us, if we came into being in some other way, then maybe there are other people."

"But he did create me. I remember. I was never small."

"He didn't create me. Maybe he only created a few things, the things in the Garden. I haven't seen him do anything out here. Maybe he doesn't have any power outside the Garden, or not much."

She smiled. "I’m glad I got out of that Garden, Cain. I don't know what you would be if I hadn't. You'd never have been able to think any of this."

"Thank the serpent!"

"Yes. The poor serpent."
"I want to find other people. They might know some of the things we want to find out. They might be like us!"

She gave him a tender, wistful look. "They might also be like Adam and Abel," she said gently.

That stopped his hope for a moment, but he continued to speculate about what other people could be like. They were just as likely to be like him and Eve as like Adam and Abel, he thought… and hoped.

When the weather grew warm, he prepared the fields for another crop as usual. Perhaps he would plant them before leaving. Next year, though, his father and brother would have to do it themselves if it was done at all. Clearing away the weeds and rocks and loosening the soil took only a few days this time; the ground had become more malleable. When he was finished, there was still enough corn from the previous harvest to feed them for several more days. Adam saw this. Perhaps that was what gave him the idea for the sacrifice.

"Cain," he said one night as the family was eating, "you are the chosen of God now."

Cain gave him a guarded glance. Abel glowered. Before, he had always been called God's chosen one, and he had valued the title as Cain did not.

Adam continued. "You should show God your gratitude for the blessing of these skills he had given you."

"How?"

"By making a sacrifice. Place some of the corn from the harvest on the altar where we pray and offer it to him, as a token of thanks."

This seemed an absurd waste to Cain. "What for? What use does he have for corn? If he's as powerful as you say, he can make some of his own."

Adam frowned disapprovingly. "It is to show your gratitude. Abel, too, must make a sacrifice. Abel, you must choose the finest of the kids in the flock and offer it up."

"All right," said Abel indifferently.

"And by which offering is favored, we shall know which of you is truly chosen."

Cain tried not to make any rude noises. Abel's eyes widened with hope. Eve sighed softly.

The next morning, Abel and Cain took their offerings to the altar. Cain set the bundle of corn on one side. Abel laid the kid on the other side and slit its throat with a very sharp stone knife. Eve had worked very hard to give it such a smooth blade. They stood there, waiting as it died. Then Adam and Abel raised their hands in prayer, and Cain and Eve stood quietly listening, thinking that soon they would never have to hear prayers again.

At the climax of the prayer, a great ball of fire appeared above the altar and hovered there a moment. Then it descended, and devoured the kid. The corn was not so much as singed.

"Cain, you have not pleased God. You do not depend on him. Abel is the chosen of God."

Abel smiled in triumph. Cain shook his head in disgust. He was tired of pretending. He walked away and into the fields.

He stood there, looking at where his crops had grown and thinking about what he had discovered, and Adam's insistence that those skills were gifts from God. The thought of leaving was refreshing. After a time, he heard steps behind him. Turning, he saw Abel. But something was different.

He had never seen Abel like this. He was grinning broadly, with an utter self-confidence he did not possess — or never had before. His feet were planted firmly apart, and he stood up straight and tall, not his usual slouching, shuffling posture. He would have resembled Cain a great deal, in this new stance, without that strange grin. The grin made Cain nervous. He had never seen anything like it before.

In Abel's hand was the still bloody knife he had used to kill the goat.

They stood examining each other for a long time. Abel seemed to be waiting, so at last Cain said, "What do you want, brother?"

That grin…. "I want my due," said Abel.

"What?"

"I want what I've earned as the chosen of God."

"Haven't you got it? You've got that title again. It's obvious he prefers you. He never favored me, not even for a moment. I don't please him. You do. Isn't that what you want?"

Cain turned and began to walk away, but Abel laid a hand on his shoulder. Cain was astonished at its firmness. The sacrifice had given him so much confidence!

"That isn't all I want, brother," Abel said. His voice was steady and imperative. Cain turned back slowly. "I want retribution."

Cain glanced down at the knife grasped tightly in Abel's hand. Nervousness turned to incredulity — and a little fear. "Retribution? For what?"

"For all the times when you, undeserving, beat me. Every time we fought when we were children, you won. Every competition we have ever had, you won. But now it is clear that God wills that I triumph. I am to beat you now."

Abel lunged at Cain suddenly. Cain had been so taken aback by his speech that he did not react quickly enough, and Abel's fist caught him squarely in the jaw. It hurt. Never before had his brother had the confidence to strike him this way. Abel kicked his shins. Cain stumbled back, trying to move away. They hadn't fought more than three or four times since they were children; he didn't want to fight now. Fighting now seemed to him a waste of time. A firmer fist did not always mean truth. Wasn't Adam's bullying of his mother proof of that?

Abel raised his hand. Cain watched in fascination. His brother's arm seemed to be moving with abnormal slowness. His hand, high above his head, clasped the knife. The sticky blood shone in the sun. The sight made Cain nauseous. The knife descended slowly toward his chest.

Cain seized his brother's wrist and twisted. He wanted the knife to fall to the ground. Abel's grip began to loosen. He passed the knife swiftly into his other hand and stretched that arm far behind him. Cain released him. Abel skipped back, still grinning that horrible grin. Then he leapt at Cain again, aiming the knife at his throat this time. Cain moved aside at the last instant, pushing his brother to the ground as he did so. Then he backed away. When Abel rose this time, with dirt all over his body and scrapes on his arms and legs where he had fallen, he was no longer grinning. He was snarling, just as animals did when they fought. He crouched like an animal. Cain had never seen this much anger in anyone but himself. He had almost always fled and run through the woods until it was spent. Abel was not trying to release his anger. He was trying to kill Cain.

Even as Cain thought this must be impossible, it became a certainty as Abel made a third attack. This time, he knocked Cain to the ground and put his knife to Cain's stomach. Cain strained to hold his hand away, but the blade was already severing the skin. A watery stream of blood trickled out. The knife went a little deeper. Abel was grinning again. Cain felt almost in panic.

"Maybe I can knock him out," he thought. He moved one of his hands away from Abel's, drew it back, and brought his fist into his brother's chin. Abel's head moved back, and the knife faltered, but he was not knocked out. He began to press the knife into Cain's stomach again — and laughed. The laugh frightened Cain more than the grin had. This was far beyond all reason, more than anything else Abel had ever done. Remembering the presumption Abel had always shown, that he was right without thinking — seeing his belief that he had the right to kill Cain — remembering every lie, every insult to Eve — made the red-hot rage boil up again. Cain brought his fists back again and struck Abel's face as hard as he could.

Abel's head went back again. Blood spurted from his nose. It ran over his body and showered Cain. His back arched violently. The knife fell to the ground beside them. His hand ceased its pressure. His limbs became slack. He collapsed over Cain and did not move again.

After a moment, Cain gently moved him aside and rose. Then he looked at the damage on Abel's face. His nose was completely crushed. Abel seemed to be unconscious. Cain took him in his arms and lifted him, to take him to the house to be cared for. His anger had cooled. Abel should have known he couldn't beat him. Cain left the fields, but stopped outside the fence. He couldn't take Abel inside. With a sudden horror, he realized his brother was not unconscious.

He was dead.

***

Cain had never liked his brother. He had always regarded him and their father as more like the animals than like what humans should be. After all, they never took advantage of the one gift it seemed God had given them — the ability to discover things the animals couldn't even perceive. They seemed content to ask God for anything they might want. Cain thought that God should want his creations to fulfil their highest potential, yet God was most pleased by those who let him do everything for them. Cain despised those same people. Yet now, he had killed one, and he was utterly desolate. Abel had not lived what he thought a human life should be, yet he had possessed a mind, which he could have used. Cain had destroyed that mind and any chance of Abel's every truly using it. It had been done in anger, and Abel had meant to kill him, but Cain was as unhappy as if he had killed his brother purposely, out of idle malice.

Adam and Eve had come out as he buried Abel under stones and earth. He had explained what had happened. Neither had spoken. He was glad. He didn't want to talk.

When the last stone had been set above the body, Adam fell to his knees and began praying. Eve put a comforting arm around Cain's shoulders, even though she looked as unhappy as he. She understood his feeling, he knew.

Adam prayed for Abel's soul, and for Cain's forgiveness. Cain did not hear his words. He was deeply absorbed in his own thoughts until blinding light poured from the sky. He was immediately terrified. This, Eve had told him, was how God had always appeared to them. He closed his eyes, and the light burned through his lids.

"Where is your brother Abel?" the voice thundered.

God must know. This was a stupid question. "Am I my brother's keeper?" he asked.

"What have you done? Hark! Your brother's blood that had been shed is crying out to me from the ground. Now you are cursed, and banished from the ground which has opened its mouth wide to receive your brother's blood, which you have shed. When you till the ground, it will no longer yield you its wealth. You shall be a vagrant and a wanderer on earth."

***

"Shall we still leave?" Eve asked.

"Not yet. Next year. I want to plant another crop."

Her eyes widened. "But God said—"

"The serpent said he's not all he seems. I don't think he can change it. The ground's still the same. I can control it. How can he stop it? Before we leave I want to prove him wrong."

"So we'll know? Or to show Adam?"

"Both. Though I don't think a good crop will convince him."

"Nothing will."

Cain planted the fields. All through the spring, it grew warmer and warmer. No rain fell. The seeds were never able to sprout. A few drizzles came in the summer, but the land was dry and barren. There would be no crops that fall. They were hungry that winter, but in the spring, Cain tried again.

Rain was plentiful this spring. More than enough soaked his fields. It fell every day. It loosened the soil, and all the seeds floated away in a stream to the river. There was no crop that fall.

The third spring, however, Cain became hopeful again. There was no more or less rain than usual. At the end of summer, the plants were healthy and bearing fruits, almost ripe. Perhaps the last two years had been a coincidence. They would eat well again this winter.

They never understood where all the grasshoppers came from. One morning there was a dark cloud on the horizon. It neared, and they saw it was thousands of swarming insects. They hid in the cave. Buzzing filled the air. When it finally ceased, after a full day of hiding, they came out. There was not a plant in sight. Even the trees had been stripped of bark.

Cain looked at the barren, desolate land for a long time. Then he went into the cave and began packing without a word. He took a few extra loincloths and the tools he would need most.

Eve came to his side. "I'll go with you," she said.

"No. He wants me to be alone. It won't work if you're with me. I have to leave you both. You're getting so thin. You'll starve if I stay."

Her eyes filled with tears. "I'll miss you," she whispered.

He dropped his bag and embraced her. "I'll miss you."

Her voice broke. "My son, how I love you. Only you and the serpent thought as I did. I'm so glad you are what you are. Never change. Maybe someday you'll find other people. Maybe your children will find the answers to my questions. Maybe they'll learn how to fly, and what that serpentlike animal was, and what makes everything fall down. I hope so — for your sake. And wherever you go, remember, I love you, and I shall always think of you."

He hugged her again. "Goodbye," he whispered hoarsely. He would never see her again. He slung his bag over his shoulder and left the cave.

Adam approached him, trying to give him advice on how to achieve forgiveness. Cain brushed him away angrily. He went through the valley, taking half the cattle, and herded them away from the others. He knew his parents were watching him, and that Eve would be crying. He did not look back.

He urged the cattle on. They all, as one, headed east.

 

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