Balaam's Curse, serialization of novel: Part 1: A conception in a cave


By recording these memories I expect to be plagued and pestered to death. Betrayal is an ugly thing; and when the victim has a diabolical bent, foolhardy. That is what master had. Can one betray the dead? I am an observer of life not a fusser over speculative rights and wrongs. I am scared for what master, may he repose in peace, could wreak on a pampered retainer who invites the world to sniff and snigger over the intimacies of a wily wizard. When I tell you that I speak of Balaam you may allow that my fear of the dead is not entirely wild. It is my belief that a select few take their powers, for good or evil, to the grave. A hired hit man who all his life reacts badly to insult would surely not act much better dead. There are bound to be consequences. I could let my scared mind tell me that revenge is on the doorstep, or I could ignore it and tell all. Feted celebrity-hood beckons like a pot of gold. And I am not entirely reckless, for a live dog must get the better of a dead lion. The prospect of honor and profit can do wonders for courage. Master was ill will in human form, but god knows, the man was given to empty posturing. I must not be panicked into giving the departed more powers than they cravenly abused in this world.      

            Immortality, a sought-after but rare fate in human annuls, seldom leaves the immortal feeling blessed. By the time fame or infamy comes to men they are most of them dead. A select number are alive when ranked with the gods, but whether that is a good or a bad thing, knowing that your character or deeds will be poured over time without end, depends on whether they are pride-worthy. Everyone wants to be remembered for heroic deeds; monumental failures and embarrassments are best forgotten. I doubt I could live with the knowledge that a momentous disaster I’d rather forget would amuse or edify one generation after the next at my expense. Trouble is, men cannot pick and choose their destiny. The gods deal that card. Whether for heroic deeds or crass, a man has immortality thrust upon him, wanting it or not, living or dead, he’ll be remembered just the way deities want him to be. Take the Ivri Moses and the spiteful card his god dealt him when all Moses asked was to be allowed to cross a river and expire in the Promised Land. Why - how was that asking too much? If Yahweh his god supposedly loved him and spoke with Moses as to no human before or after, it seems scandalous that he can turn on him ferociously with, “Speak to me no more about the matter!” Now that is something Balaam, no Ivri, I hasten to add, had in common with Moses. But let me treat time in the proper order. For now only this: Yahweh had other plans for Balaam as he had for Moses. Immortal master would be, but for reasons he would not have foretold, and he must have left this world with the hurt rioting and rotting in his head. Or was it? In the end a triumph of sorts came his way. But enough of death, to dwell on which may be helpful but not healthy. A man becomes morbid. And morbidity leaves him ill-prepared for meeting his maker by growing to his full potential as he was put on this earth to do. Besides, Balaam bequeathed scandals enough to keep tongues busy and a hall of scribes scratching away without troubling the dead.

            When I tell you that Balaam was a Moabite you will understand things better. He was born into a society of many beliefs but few prohibitions. Prohibit is not even a word in the Moab dialect. If our nation boasted a genius it would lie in the realm of experimentation. Our people like nothing better than to clown with limits, cross red lines, aim for bold and bawdy heights. A man is not allowed but expected to jump into anything and everything, feet first and over his head, in business matters or vulgar appetites. A Moabite indulges. He does not taste what life has to offer but creates it himself, plunging like a mad colt in lush open pastures. And if foreign gods put up fences, why, Moabites break right through them. Master Balaam, who epitomized such thoughts and principles, would have imbibed them in his mother’s milk. She, who never disclosed to anyone what she was, came with a long proud heritage traceable back to the founders of the nation.

            Moments that come but rarely in history need not come with sublime settings. Moses received the Ten Commandments atop a small bare mountain. Seers foretell that a new god will be born in a barn on smelly straw. Long before both, the Moab nation was conceived in a cave. And the moment was not heralded by blares of trumpets and roars of thunder. It was an affair as private as they come, nothing more grandiose than giggles in the dark and gasps of debauchery. No one of any note was involved: a blind drunk father and two conniving daughters. In their cave hideaway the cut-off threesome seeded a nation they hoped would repopulate a world they imagined had gone to hell with their gutted cities.

            From their mountainside refuge charred remnants of an opulent society winked by night and smoldered by day. The ‘wicked five’ we call the vandalized towns: Sodom, Gomorra, Adma, Zebolim and Zoar. A host of angel warriors, twelve thousand all told, executed the decree of the heavenly court. Their work done, a rain of fire and brimstone fell from outer heaven to seal the havoc. The seal, Yahweh the god’s personal handiwork, was meant never to be broken. Metropolitan hub and luscious farms that supplied the five towns and exported a surplus all the way to Babylonia, were reduced to boils and scabs on the land, and would remain like that to the end of days. True, the inland sea was left, if you allow immobile muck the color and texture of excrement to be called a sea; but even this lived on more dead than alive. Complete devastations like the Flood in Noah’s time were reversed. Life began anew; but not this time. Nothing quite equals Yahweh’s handiwork and how it paved the way for incest in a cave.    

            The survivors were Lot and two daughters. His wife fled with them, but stopping to look back for her two

missing girls was Eeris’ undoing. The cremated cities were lit with a divine shechina which, under normal circumstances would melt an onlooker down like wax. The miracle was that Eeris became petrified standing up, and into salt – with poetic justice let me add, for the miserly housewife was a known hoarder of that cheap commodity. Dumbstruck, Lot’s wife has weathered well considering the desert climate. To this day morbid travelers come to gawk at her pillar of salt.

            The four sons-in-law laughed when Lot told them to leave town directly. They were well-to-do businessmen; stocked piled anything that could be bought low and sold high. Leave their assets for the first opportunist to help himself! They put Lot’s crazy advice down to the chitchat of a couple of trespassers from out of town. What was Lot thinking, bringing foreigners home? The laws of the land for such a crime were uncompromising. Perhaps the guests were opportunists, beady eyes and all on family assets. The sons-in-law humored old man Lot, and when he left they broke out laughing. Circumstances were that comfortable in Sodom. Lot himself, after pleading the devastation at hand, was loath to abandon his own property. “What about my gold, silver and pearls!” he asked himself in a last minute prayer. “How shall we survive without money? Let me take something along.” Here was the perennial insecurity of the rich. Lot and his worries were too much for Yahweh – a slow to anger god who had permitted Lot to live only at the behest of his uncle Abraham. But even his patience had limits. It was only the timely entry of an angel, who grabbed Lot’s hand and ran him out of town, which saved the lingerer from the fate of all Sodom.