Friday, March 30, 2012

Saul and the Witch of Endor

This was not an entry for a writing contest, but actually something I wanted to submit for anthology.  After all getting published is the ultimate competition for writers. I love the idea of Biblical inspired fiction.  Enjoy!

Saul tried to avoid looking at the peasants. Their eyes pierced through his sweaty robes.  They could sense he was an outsider.  Saul just hoped they didn’t recognize he was their king.  He wished he had his guards with him, but he also knew he must face this part of the journey alone.
He kept his hooded head low and shuffled along the dusty road. Beggars, drunks, and prostitutes extended their trembling fingers.  He shuddered. Their cravings reminded him of his own depravity.  He tried to shut his ears to their moans but the murmur inside his skull was even more troubling.  His only hope for freedom hid somewhere in between the filth and the destitute, a woman who could speak with the dead.
                Daylight faded as Saul stepped into an alley that was not much more than a shadow.    The alley came to a dead end.  Saul wondered if he had made a mistake. Then he heard the sound of a knife scraping against stone. An equally grating voice followed.
                “Someone is a long way from home.”
Saul turned to face a group of cackling shadows.  The man with a knife smacked his lips. “All outsiders must pay for safe passage.”
                “All I’m carrying is fifty pieces of silver.”
                Saul tasted the men’s foulness as they crept closer.  The leader of the group picked his teeth with the knife. “Fifty you say?  Pity.  I can collect three times that by handing your carcass over to the king’s men and claim that you practice sorcery.”
                Saul considered disclosing his identity, but he feared that would incite them even more. “No!  I can get you more.  Much more.  Gold.  Jewels. Silk.  I can have it delivered tomorrow.”
                “I cannot wait until tomorrow.” The bandit lowered his head and charge. Saul tightened his grip on his staff.  Maybe if he was quick enough and injured a couple of them, they’d lose courage and run away.  But he didn’t even need to land a single blow.  Just as the bandits were about to charge, there was a puff of smoke and suddenly the alley was carpeted in snakes.
                “The witch!”  The thieves yelled as they fled, leaving Saul standing alone among a slithering mass.  He felt the compression as a black serpent coiled around his left leg.   He raised his staff to beat it away, but then the snake twitched and had two heads.  Then it had four. As it travelled up his body, the heads turned into fingers and a hand, and the snake’s tail became a scaled arm.  The same thing happened on his other leg.  Serpents collected underneath him, weaving together into the form of a woman’s body.  By the time the hands reached his face, they looked and felt human, with the exception of sharp black nails that scraped against his cheek.
                “I’ve been expecting you.”  The woman spoke with a voice that echoed against the alley walls and sounded like a thousand serpents.  It was equally chilling as it was seductive.  Saul followed her, noting the way her hips swayed opposite her shoulders.   She touched a stone and revealed a hidden passage.  Saul stepped inside and prayed that he would see the light again.
                Saul followed in silence as they made their way down the downward sloping path.  Torches provided some light. Their flickering made shadows leap and dance against the wall, but other shadows moved on their own.  Saul kept his eyes locked on the winding woman in front of him.   Eventually they reached the bottom, a confluence of several tunnels.   She took him into the one adjacent to theirs.  A few steps in, she opened an iron door.  A red glow came from the room behind it.  Saul took a deep breath and stepped inside.
                Saul could not see where the walls ended and the ceiling began.  Shelves stretched along each side.  They contained jars and pots filled with objects Saul did not recognize.  A small pile of coals glowed in a fire ring.  The woman beckoned him to sit on one of the cushions on the floor. 
                “You must not tell anyone of this place. As you know, the king has killed or exiled many mediums.” 
She threw something on the ashes and the room filled with a potent fragrance, piney with a touch of sulfur.
                “I promise you will come to no harm.”
                “Very well then, whom do you seek?”
                “The prophet Samuel.”
                The witch stared at Saul.  Her black eyes locked on his.  Then she snatched his hand as her eyes rolled back into her head.  She began a soft chant.  Her body undulated with the incantation.  It increased with speed and intensity until she was shrieking and shuddering.  Saul felt chills course through his body.  A wind blew through the room and extinguished the candles.  The woman screamed one last time, then collapsed.  Saul could just barely make out her crumpled form in the dim firelight.  
He went over to check on her. He rolled her over and two withered hands came out of her chest.  He screamed and fell. He scrambled to the edge of the room and curled into a ball.  When he dared look again, a robed figure, glowing like pale moonlight had totally separated itself from the medium. He knew it was Samuel.
                “Who has summoned me?”  Samuel’s voice was old and tired, yet it filled the whole room
                Saul tried to speak, but his tongue was dry.  The phantom scanned the room and its cavernous eyes settled on Saul’s.  Cold sweat soaked Saul’s body.  The ghost glided across the room to where Saul huddled.
                “Saul, why do you summon me?”
Saul closed his eyes so he could speak, his voice barely a whimper.
“God ignores me.  I cannot get any answers for my distress. I’ve come to ask you what to do.” 
                “Fool!” Samuel bellowed. Wind coursed through the room, shattering clay jars on the floor. “God ignores you because you do not obey.  Behold what the Lord has revealed to me.”
The room became a battle field.  Philistine soldiers roared as they hacked through Saul’s army.   He heard the wails and grunts of his troops as they fell.  Swords clanged against shields.  Arrows whistled through the air.  A sludge of dust and blood oozed past Saul’s feet.  Saul tried to hide his eyes.
“Watch!” commanded Samuel.
The scene changed to just two soldiers fighting.  Saul recognized one as his son, the other was a monstrous Philistine.  He knew his son had no chance, yet he still winced when the final blow was delivered.  He watched as each of his sons met their fates.  Tears coursed down his face as the vision changed once more.  This time he saw himself.   A sword pieced through his chest.   Then the images faded, and he was back in the darkness, sobbing by the embers.
“Must it come to this?”
“You and your sons will join me below the earth by the time the sun sets tomorrow. Now leave me in peace.”
                Samuel’s ghost crawled back into the woman.   Saul collapsed.
                He awoke on a bed. Sunlight beamed through a window. 
                “You should eat.” 
The voice was soft, like a trickling stream.  A peasant woman stood in the doorway.  Saul stared at her, trying to decide how he knew her.  As she brushed the hair from her face, he saw the snake tattooed on her wrist.  He looked back at her.  Her black eyes locked on his. He wondered if she’d seek him once he was on the other side.  He looked at the plate of food again. He took the bread and ate, understanding now that it was his last meal. 

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