Let there be Light.
And there was light—lots of it. I was surrounded by blazing and pure white light. It was then that I knew that I was dead. I passed on. I felt a smile make its way into my lips as I thought I had made it to Heaven or whatever this peaceful place was. I was just confused about why I wasn’t sent to the Gehinnom, the waiting place for souls.
Maybe this is Gehinnom. I thought as I looked around. I swept my eyes sideways and saw that I was alone. If this was the waiting zone, where were the others?
I didn’t find out as a great darkness crawled along the edges of the bright place. In a snap, the blazing white light was swallowed by a crippling void. I knew my heart was no longer beating, but I felt as though something inside my chest was rattling. I tried to escape the rushing darkness, but I could not outrun the shadows. My feet tripped over an object I could not see, and I fell on my face.
I was jolted awake. My eyes fluttered open, and I could see something was lying on top of me. At first, I thought it was a pillow, but I knew that I could not really trust my eyes just after waking up. I blinked hard to clear my vision. A black human-like head with a broken rolling pin plunged inside one of its many eyes smiled at me, its needle-like teeth showing in full glory—the demon. I screamed like there was no tomorrow and pushed the corpse of the demonic scorpion away from my body. Scrambling to my feet, I placed my hand over my chest. My heart was slamming strongly between my lungs. Wait, I thought as I realized there was no hole through my body. I stared at my unwounded chest. This is impossible. I’m sure that the demon’s stinger went right through me. I shifted my gaze to the dead monster on the ground, and my eyes widened as I saw the demon melt. Yes. It melted like fat melting under the heat of the sun. After a few moments, the giant monstrous scorpion and the broken rolling pin were reduced to a puddle of black goo. I stepped away before any of the viscous fluid touched my skin.
I must be dreaming, I thought as I shook my head. I pinched my cheeks, and I felt dull throbbing aches flare along the sides of my face. I wasn’t in a dream. How could you dream if you just woke up, Sh’muel?
Confused, I placed my hands over my face, and I felt the sleeves of my tunic tighten as my muscles flexed. Muscles? Hold it right there. I withdrew my hands down to my sides and stared at my swollen arms. I grabbed my forearms and felt thickly corded muscles. With much unbelief, I rolled my sleeves up. My eyes widened as I saw that my limbs were no longer skinny. My skin did not stretch over my sharp bones anymore. I was muscular. Still not believing my eyes, I raised my right arm in front of me and bent it inward. A massive bulge lumped on my bicep. With the tip of my left index finger, I poked at it—hard mass under soft skin. Still shaking my head, I looked down on my body and realized that I also grew in height as the tunic that I wore no longer reached my calves. The hem of my clothing now just hung past my knees. Oh, what in Mount Sinai is happening?
I was pulled out of my thoughts when I heard faint rhythmic noises. My head perked up, alert like a shepherd’s dog looking out for wolves. There was nothing except barren land. I spun around and noticed that I was in the middle of a desert-like field, but instead of sand, the ground was made of packed earth and pebbles. There were mountains visible in the far east. Or it could be far west as it was hard to tell without the sun. To the distant left, something that looked like a dead forest lay. I looked up. Overhead, the sky was the shade of orange flames. There were no clouds or stars. Just a vast fiery emptiness. Where am I? Where’s mother Amara and father Aaron?
Tendrils of sweat appeared across my forehead. I bent my head and wiped my face with my now muscular arm. As much as I was thrilled that I was no longer the skin-and-bone boy I was back in Jaffa, I was nervous. I was also confused. And anxious. And scared. My heart pounded like an angry mammoth inside my rib cage, and my head felt light. I tried slapping my face, but nothing changed. I didn’t wake up, nor did I fall asleep. Realizing that I wasn’t really dreaming, I took a step forward, the pebbles clinking under the soles of my leather sandals. I did not know where to go, but I knew I shouldn’t be staying beside the liquified corpse of a demon.
Thinking that my best shot was the mountains, I continued to walk due to what I decided was the east. Even without the blazing sun, it was hot. There were occasional strong gusts of wind, but it did nothing to cool my sweating face. My throat felt itchy. I swallowed the saliva pooling inside my mouth. It tasted like sand.
The wind howled again, carrying the foul smell of rotting flesh and bad eggs. My body tensed as I remembered that the scorpion demon had the same scent. I stopped walking and looked around, but there was nothing nearby. After a long passing moment, I took a tentative step forward. When no nasty creature sprang at me, I continued walking and increased my pace, thinking that something may appear out of nowhere and stab me in the back.
Rushing as I was, I didn’t see the small dried twig on the ground. I heard a sharp crunching noise as I stepped on the brittle branch. Looking down, I realized that it was not a tree branch but a dried bone. I scrambled backward as I saw the rest of the skeleton scattered on the ground. A skull. A few ribs. The spine. I gagged, fighting the bile rising to my throat. I bent over to calm my dry retching. Over the guttural sounds that my throat was making, I heard the rhythmic noises again. This time it was louder, as though something was marching toward me. Breathing hard and shallow breaths, I looked over my shoulder.
A group of no less than a dozen gray-skinned men appeared out of thin air. I would not have been scared if they were just regular humans, but they were far from being ordinary. Their skins were a strange shade of gray to the point that they looked like shadows. Horns were placed where their eyes should have been. They all smiled at me in one eerie and synchronized movement, showing jagged rows of teeth. The smell of rotten eggs filled the surrounding air. They opened their mouths wider, and I saw that they had snakes instead of tongues.
A shrilling scream rose from my throat, and I bolted faster than a nervous sheep. I might have pissed myself again, but there was no time to be embarrassed. I glanced over my shoulder as I ran and saw that the weird creatures were trailing after me. They trotted like horses marching for a parade. It would have been amusing to look at hadn’t they looked so nasty. Ugly shrieking noises came from their throats. I joined their screaming and continued to run for my life. That’s if I was still alive.
An endless expanse loomed in front of me. Staring ahead, I realized that the mountains were too far away. The mountain peaks were melding into the orange horizon. Even if I ran fast, I would never make it in time. Nonetheless, I continued forward, forcing the muscles on my legs to move and place one foot in front of the other. My heart was pounding hard that I thought I had never felt more alive. Of course, you will know you are alive when death is running after you. I craned my neck one more time, and I regretted that I did. The gray-skinned monsters were barely a stone’s throw away from me. Loud hissing noises accompanied their jerky movements. The demons’ mouths were gaped open, and their snake- tongues danced in the air. It was a nightmare.
As if things weren’t bad enough, my left foot decided to trip on a rock. I fell down, my face connecting to the hard-packed dirt. I rolled over like a mad dog and scrambled on my butt, pushing my feet against the ground in an attempt to retreat. For some reason, I could not stand up. My legs felt like pudding, and I struggled to get upright. My eyes widened to the point that I thought they would fall out of my sockets as the dozen human-like demons rushed toward me. I screamed at the top of my lungs and drew my arms to cover my face. The gray-skinned monsters swarmed me. Their slimy hands probed my body. A sense of relief washed over me as I realized that they didn’t have talons or claws. If they did, I would have been ripped to shreds.
My throat hurt from screaming, but that did not stop me from yelling my lungs out. Somewhere deep inside my heart, I wished that someone would hear me even though I knew that I was alone in whatever demonic dimension this place was.
The slippery fingers continued to grab my arms and legs. I could feel the bodies of the nightmarish creatures swarming on top of me, their weight crushing the air out of my lungs. Their pungent and decaying stench didn’t help with my ragged breathing. I closed my eyes and realized that it was senseless to fight. Is there anything left to fight for? I wondered. My parents aren’t here, and I am alone. I knew at some point that I had died saving them from the demon scorpion that invaded our home. For me, that’s enough. I have repaid my debt by giving my life to save Amara and Aaron. If I die again, I will do so with a light heart.
I stopped resisting and accepted my fate, and I let the monsters do away as they pleased. Their slimy fingers tried to dig into my flesh. A dull pain throbbed everywhere in my body, but I did not care. As I lay there waiting for the demons to finally kill me, I felt a sense of peace that felt like light trying to burn away the darkness. It was as though something was pulling me and taking me away from the hands that desired to rip my flesh apart. I could feel a slight tugging in my shoulder as my right arm was pulled above my head.
Something was dragging me.
I opened my eyes and realized that what I felt wasn’t just emotional. It was real. It was physical. Someone was pulling me out of the swarm of demons. I struggled to crane my neck to see who was helping me. In the blur of movements, I saw pale fingers wrapped around my wrist. The fair skin stood out in the sea of gray hide. With one great pull, I was free of the demons.
I gasped as the weight on my chest was relieved. My breathing was deep and labored when I hauled myself to my feet. For some reason, I was unharmed. When I shifted my gaze, a white-robed figure was beside me.
It was a man.
The man in the white robe had a walking cane on his left hand. To my surprise, he didn’t look hideous nor monstrous. If anything, he actually looked Angelic. He beamed, and I thought he had the sweetest and most reassuring smile I have ever seen. “Let us go, Samuel,” the man whispered, his voice sounding like a song. “It will not take long, and the blind demons will realize that you are no longer beneath their feet,” he said and extended his arm to me.
“Who are you?” I asked over the hissing noises of the unseeing demons. “Why do you know my name?”
His deep blue eyes locked with mine. “There is no time, Sh’muel. I will explain everything later. We must get to safety first,” he nodded to the swarm of demons behind us. “Look.”
I did. I shifted my gaze to the pile of obscene creatures and noticed that some of them were whipping their heads sideways as though looking for something. Their snake-tongues were prowling the air, sniffing, searching for me. Without another thought, I grabbed the man’s offered hand.
“Wise choice,” the man replied. He turned around and ran into the vast clearing ahead, dragging me with him as he did.