by Erin Vataris
Geula was afraid of the dark. She was afraid of the shadows that oozed out of the brick walls in the middle of the night and piled on the floor near her bed, thick and deep, waiting for her to step into them. She was afraid of the sound of the wind as it whistled past the windows in the darkness. She was afraid of the sound of the baked bricks cooling, the tick and crackle of the mortar between them, but most of all, she was afraid of the black empty dark.
Sometimes, when she hung her feet over the edges of the bed, the darkness climbed up them and made them disappear until she pulled them up and found them again. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, especially on the black dark nights when the clouds covered the stars and there was no moon, she thought she could feel it climbing up the side of the sleeping ledge, seeping into her sleeping mat and trying to make all of her disappear.
Geula didn’t want to disappear. She didn’t want the dark to eat her, so she stayed still on her mat and closed her eyes so she couldn’t see how dark it was. She squeezed them closed so tightly that the darkness couldn’t leak in, and then she pushed her fingers against her eyelids until she could see bright flashing spots even after she opened them again.
She did it again and again until she couldn’t see the darkness anymore, then sometimes she could sleep, but the darkness was still there. It was waiting for her to fall asleep so it could climb up the ledge and into her mat and eat her all gone.
Her legs hurt from where Immi had whipped her for falling asleep at the loom yesterday, so she wiggled them a little bit. Not much, or the mat would crackle and the darkness would know she was there. Her lungs hurt from trying not to breathe too loudly. Her eyes hurt from pushing on them. But she was still there. It hadn’t gotten her yet. Geula tried to think about staying awake, but she was so tired. She just wanted to go to sleep. She wished they would let her leave a lamp on, but oil was more precious than one silly little girl’s silly little fears.
Abbi had put an altar in the alcove of the sleeping room for her and traded Immi’s fine-woven linens for a statue of Asherah with a bronze crown that glittered. He sighed the whole while, but he put Asherah in the altar where the moonlight could shine in the window and catch her crown.
Asherah was a fine goddess to protect her. Geula knew that. She knew that Abbi gave her an altar and not another whipping because he loved her, just like Immi had whipped Geula’s legs out of love and didn’t want her to ruin a whole length of cloth by falling asleep and tangling the shuttle so it had to be all unwoven. Geula knew that.
When the moon shone in and the bronze crown sent stars dancing over the walls of the alcove, Geula could almost see Asherah moving. She could feel the goddess’s gaze on her while she shifted and pushed on her eyes and tried to sleep, and Geula was almost as afraid of that as she was of the shadows that filled up the alcove on cloudy nights. On cloudy nights—nights like tonight—she couldn’t see Asherah at all. She could just hear her moving in the darkness, and she knew, just as surely as she knew the darkness wanted to swallow her up, that Asherah was moving.
Asherah lived in the statue in the altar in the alcove, and Geula wasn’t quite sure whether Asherah wanted to help her or beat her for her childishness.
Asherah never helped her. She just stood there being stone and bronze during the daytime, and at night she roamed around her alcove where the altar was, eating the olives and honey milk they left for her and trying to get out. Sometimes on the darkest nights, the nights with no moon, Geula could hear her feet like raindrops, and she wondered what would happen if Asherah got out.
Those were the worst nights, where she laid on her mat and shivered, afraid of the darkness, afraid of Asherah. Those were the nights when she was so afraid that she couldn’t even make herself get up to pee, and she would lay in bed afraid until it all came spilling out of her in a hot wet stream that dried on her legs and made her mat stink. She got whipped when that happened, a big girl like her peeing in her bed, and Immi made her carry her own mat down to the river, heavy and reeking, to wash it. That was bad, but on the worst nights the darkness was worse than whippings. It was worse than washing her mat. It was worse than everything.
Finish reading the rest of this story in Sulfurings: Tales from Sodom & Gomorrah, or download the book at: