Read by Louisa Gummer
* * *
pain has eased
used to it
* * *
where are you sun, sun, my beloved sun?
On shale I sleep.
pierce my flesh pointed edges.
* * *
The air tastes of sulphur. It’s heavier. Presses my mutilated body.
Black sky. Lightning.
* * *
Strong enough today to attempt movement.
I don’t have legs.
After only one day of practice, I've got used to it. I'm more mobile than I was before.
* * *
I ran into rabbit. He didn't seem to understand me. Didn't try to speak himself. He's never been much of a conversationalist, but I remember some congenial mornings together. Could see that memory in his eyes. He was nervous. His nose twitched like crazy.
I ate him.
I'm not used to being hungry. Not used to hunting.
* * *
I remember a garden. So many flowers. Bushes laden with fruit. Sparkling streams. Blue skies. Aromatic breezes.
Maybe my imagination has conjured an exact opposite of my present reality.
No. I can’t believe that. It must exist. It has to.
* * *
Saw the humans today. She swatted spasmodically at swarming insects as she lumbered up the trail. Snot encrusted nose. Puffy eyes. Tangled hair. Chapped skin blotched from insect bites. Her stomach bulged like mine when I ate the fawn. I remember the comforting bulk of her pendulous breasts. The warmth of her enveloping thighs. The cuddly bits are covered now.
She screamed when she saw me. I tried to explain. The man swung at me with his club. I don’t think they are interested in renewing acquaintance.
“You’re rude. You’re dirty. One day I’ll come back and kill you,” I told them.
Rude and dirty? I blush at the inadequacy of my comeback. This is something else I don’t like about my new world.
I also regret my quick temper.
* * *
I found it. The entrance to the garden. At least I think it’s the entrance. It’s grand enough. Marble columns entwined by flowering hibiscus.
But . . .
The marble is dulled by grime. The flowers wilted. Breezes reek of decay.
No one allowed inside. So proclaimed the patrolling cherub in his officious voice. When I tried to squirm closer for at least a peek (because my eyes aren’t so good any more) he slashed his flaming sword so close it singed my nose.
“Your own fault,” he said.
“My own fault? What are you talking about?”
“The Tree of Knowledge?” Remember?”
Suddenly, I did remember. The forbidden fruit. Not to be touched.
“Don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Oh, aren’t you the cunning one?” he answered with a humourless laugh, spinning his sword around his index finger.
“I’m not cunning,” I objected. “I’m a critical thinker.” I wriggled a bit closer. I was desperate to at least smell the flowers and catch a glimpse of the fruit-laden bushes. Maybe even bask in the warmth. Oh yes, that delicious, intoxicating warmth. I yearn for it. I am cold these days, always cold.
He twirled the sword behind his back, between his outstretched wings.
I wasn’t fooled. He was watching. If I got too bold he’d skewer me as fast as I skewered that tiny brown mouse minutes earlier.
“It’s pretty nice in there, I suppose?”
He ignored me.
“Trees bent low with the weight of their fruits? Sparkling rivers, flower-filled meadows, gentle breezes? That sort of thing?” My voice quavered.
“Can’t I just take a peek? Just for a minute? Just for a second? Nobody’s going to care. Please?” I would have fallen on my knees if I had any.
“Not your business. Go away.”
“It’s not fair.”
“What’s not fair?”
“Being kicked out of the garden, of course,” I snapped. “Not so bright are you?” He glanced sideways, eyebrows knitted. He might even have flushed, but with cherubs it’s hard to tell.
“You told her to eat the apple.”
“What are you talking about? It was a pomegranate, by the way, not an apple and I didn’t tell her anything. Why would I do that?”
“Well, if it wasn’t you, it was someone that looked a lot like you.”
He was trying to act stern. I noted the fuzz on his round cheeks, his fine, curving eyelashes and the baby-plump fingers twitching on his sword.
It was impolitic, but I couldn’t help myself.
He lunged forward.
I wasn’t quick enough. The top of my head was singed.
“Okay, okay, sorry,” I said, rolling over in the dirt a couple of times just to make sure everything was extinguished. “But you have to believe me. I didn’t do it. This is a gross miscarriage of justice.”
He had already lost interest in the conversation. Practicing another sword trick. It was just a spinning blur between his fingers.
"It's not as if it did anything for them, anyway.”
"What do you mean?"
At least he was still listening. That was encouraging.
"It was supposed to make to make them wise.”
"The apple. So?"
"Oh, never mind.” He really wasn’t that bright. “And it was a pomegranate, not an apple. Let’s get some facts straight at least."
He smirked. Twirled with two fingers using his left hand.
"When can I come back then?”
“Not for all eternity.”
“Uh, what’s eternity?"
“A long time.”
He didn’t know either. I noted that. His reluctance to admit ignorance was a weakness I might exploit.
“The humans get to return?”
“Nope. Garden’s closed. Nobody’s allowed in. But . . . if they follow the rules, humans get to go to heaven.”
“Heaven? Where’s that?”
He nodded up, toward the smothering, uniformly grey sky. There was uncertainty on his face.
“Okay then, if you don’t know where it is, can you at least tell me what it is?”
He rolled his eyes. Trying to hide his own ignorance.
“So heaven is like the garden? Babbling brooks, lush meadows covered in flowers?” Just talking about it made me emotional. “You know what? Never mind. Sign me up. I want to go to heaven too. Tell me the rules.”
“Rule number one is don’t tell people to eat forbidden fruit.”
He thinks he’s so funny.
I took a deep breath. “No seriously. Tell me the rules.”
“No point. Only humans are allowed.”
“But that’s not fair. How come I can’t go?”
“Don’t know. Not my business. Something about souls and your lack of.”
It was raining again. Rivulets of muddy water. Oh to loll once again in the hot sun!
A leaf fluttered past. He somersaulted in the air, passed the sword between his wings, through his legs and cleaved it in twain twice so four blackened pieces twirled to the ground.
“You don’t even care, do you?”
“Rules is rules. You can’t go to heaven and you aren’t ever allowed back in this garden. If you try to sneak in I will cut you into ten thousand pieces by ten thousand pieces and place your remains in an eternally burning pit three times deeper than the tallest mountain that will be guarded by a scarlet woman, an abomination, holding a silver goblet full of uh . . . disgusting things and sitting on a purple beast with seven heads and ten horns and four wings covered with eyes that never close until the world is righteously destroyed. Best not to dwell on it. It’ll just make you bitter.”
“Doesn’t that seem just a bit extreme to you? Irrational? Vindictive, even? Why should I be punished for someone’s else crime?”
I was shrill. I couldn’t help myself.
“See. That’s breaking the rules right there. Doubting is wrong.”
“I’m not doubting!” I shouted. I took a deep breath. “I need to understand. I can’t help that. It’s my nature, over which I have no control. And since I’m not responsible for my nature, I shouldn’t be held accountable for my actions. That just doesn’t make sense.”
He wasn’t paying attention. Cherubs don’t have a long attention span.
A breeze wafted through the gate. It was warm and, beneath the rot, smelled vaguely of cinnamon and nutmeg.
It left me weak with longing.
He balanced his sword on his pinkie.
He is unperturbed by long silences.
“What’s the point of a garden that nobody uses?”
“It’s a symbol,” he said, concentrating on his balance as he stood, eyes closed, tippy-toed on one foot.
“A symbol? A symbol for what?”
He scowled, pretended he was too busy to answer such stupid questions. He didn’t know. I could tell.
“For what?” I persisted.
I had him on the defensive. I could sense panic as he tried to think of a response.
“It’s a symbol for uh … heaven on earth. It is a symbol for a place without sin. A place … without you!” The point of his sword almost touched my nose.
“I am sin?”
“A symbol of mankind’s fall from grace,” he said, pink, plump lips pursed in his annoying way.
“But who decided that? I certainly didn’t volunteer. Can’t I be a symbol for ... uh, wisdom? Or, how about beauty?” I uncoiled slowly, so he could see my seductive fluidity and the iridescent glistening of my scales. (I suppose I could be a symbol for vanity, but it wouldn’t be my first choice.)
I stopped writhing. He wasn’t even looking.
“If you’re stuck on guard duty that means you can’t go to heaven either. Isn’t that right?”
I was desperate. I was grasping.
He turned around. Blinked, as if the thought surprised him. “Yea, I guess that’s right.”
“Well, that doesn’t seem just. You didn’t do anything wrong.”
His dirty-grey feathers swayed slightly with the rhythmic movement of his powerful shoulder muscles. He lunged forward. An earthworm struggling to find dry ground became ash floating in a murky puddle. “I do what I’m told.”
I felt like weeping. Maybe I was. It was raining so hard I couldn’t tell.
“You know, maybe the knowledge thing didn’t work on the humans because they never ate enough of the pomegranate,” I said in a conspirator’s voice. “There’s probably plenty left. Big, juicy ones. Wouldn’t you like to know everything? The meaning of life, for example? No question you couldn’t answer. And don’t forget the tree of life. Imagine. You could ...”
Faster than I could blink, he sliced my tongue right down the middle. Searing pain and the stink of cauterized flesh.
I howled. I writhed. He watched impassively.
“Why did you do that?” I asked finally.
All that came out was hissing.
“Deceiver. Beguiler. Corrupter of innocents. I know why I’m here. I’m here to stop snakes from sneaking back into the garden.”
Deceiver. Beguiler. Corrupter of innocents. That hurts. Almost as much as my tongue.
* * *
The humans tried to sneak into the garden. The merciless cherub turned them away. The sweeping of his oversized wings created howling dust devils that dislodged boulders, stripped leaves from trees and bowled them over as they knelt pathetically, weeping and tearing at their matted hair. Flames melted the pebbles at their blackened heels as they scurried away.
Even from afar, high up in the now-empty eagle’s nest where I have hidden for two days, I could hear them lamenting. “Bully!” I called out, though loud hissing is the best I could manage. “Pompous bureaucrat!”
But I have hope again.
They want to return too.
If we join forces, we might find a way. Together, we might outwit him, though they don’t seem very bright.
I can be charming. I’ll chat with them.
As soon as my tongue heals.
(c) Raymond Walker, 2016
Raymond Walker, from Vancouver, Canada, is a former print journalist who has returned to his first love of writing fiction. He has had a secret sympathy for the devil since being expelled from catechism for misbehaving when he was ten years old.
Louisa Gummer is a Liars' League regular. Her recent voiceover work includes the "Vine in 1914" strand on BBC Radio 2, seducing Harry Enfield on a radio ad, guiding visitors around Stockholm's Moderna Museet, and giving instructions inside an MRI scanner.