Every Creeping Thing
It might never have happened if the bushbuck had not gotten free. Sambethe chased behind it, losing hold of a spiraled horn as it darted out of reach. Things took off from there. Thunder thundered. Her shoulder hit the rail. Ham grabbed her wrist to steady her and when she looked at him the sky cracked open. Lightning lit the boat from stem to stern causing the other animals to butt against their stalls and screech and howl and moo.
The first raindrop landed on Sambethe’s lip and she licked it away, wishing she could drink the rest before the earth filled up. But this was not God’s plan. Five million more poured down as she stared into Ham’s eyes. The world was dying, yet there it was – a crescent of light in a bottomless pupil, the white heat of which she would recognize as gift and curse until the end of time.
When he said her name, there were cyclones. Hurricanes. Tidal waves! The bushbuck curled against her thigh and shivered. All around the boat, latches were being latched. Sambethe and Ham were the last ones on deck, caught outside with the rest of the damned even if their feet did not touch the same flood.
Last week, he’d jumped and spilled his lentils when she touched his shoulder at lunch. The air was changing and so were they. Before this, they had laughed, slapping saw dust from each other’s sleeves as they worked, carrying gopher-wood between them, feeding treats to the bongos from the cups of their hands, but no more. God was starting over and Ham belonged to his wife Galatia just as surely as cock belonged to hen and lioness to lion.
“It comes,” Ham said, the words so soft they washed off with the rain. After years of work, the beasts were gathered. The boat was built. What would be saved was saved: every creeping thing, according to it’s kind.
Ham bent toward her, nudging wet hair from her cheek with the tip of his nose. Even as their skin touched, all of Heaven wept.
His father had picked Galatia for him, choosing her with strictest care. She was a bright and lovely light meant to cheer his restless soul. Sambethe was one to stay up all hours penning bleak visions in careful hexameter. She’d dreamt of Ham’s dark lovely face ten years before she saw it looking back at her across the banquet table on the day she married his brother. In her dreams, he had wet hair.
A crate shattered on the wave-swept planks. “God forgive me,” Ham sighed, dropping to his knees. Palm fronds and spilled saffron whirled at his feet as he wrapped his arms around her waist. Kissing her through wet linen, he drew hot circles with his lips up and down her belly.
On the ground, Jemuel and his son Meshach were running through the downpour. “Take us with you!” they begged. Jemuel tripped in the rising water. Meshach threw a rock at them. Sambethe felt blood on the back of Ham’s head when she curled her fingers in his hair.
Ham didn’t notice. He bit the embroidered blooms that wreathed her hips, snapping threads until his teeth were purple, the stitches bled of their dye. Flower by flower, he chewed his way down. Another crate splintered. Honey mixed with the petals and blood coursing in the water around them. Sambethe felt Ham press himself against her legs and she gasped as she had gasped the day his body brushed hers while gathering figs in the valley.
On that day, it had been an accident. He was reaching. She was bending. A veil-full of figs tumbled and rolled. Sambethe had always believed that she was alone in her desire. In that moment, she knew otherwise. The lapwings nesting nearby were not so loud as the sound of Ham’s swallow.
Alas, a reasonable man will gather his wits swiftly, or not at all. In the time it takes a heart to beat, it was over. Smashing fruit under his toes, Ham left her with a hundred figs growing soft in the sun.
He did not leave her this time.
There were others running alongside the boat now. “Save us!” they cried.
Ham moaned, his hot tongue lapping at the cloth between her legs. Sambethe arched against his mouth, gripping the rail as he devoured her. By now, the mountains were volcanoes of water. Oleander rained like ash.
“You are no better than the rest of us!” their neighbors bellowed.
Ham twisted skin and fabric between his teeth, tasting her and drinking rain. He rubbed his lips, his nose, his cheek against her until she screamed louder than the condemned drowning in the streets. If her husband did not hear her, this was only because God was flooding the world.
Ham could not put his seed in her. It was this same sort of unholy coupling that was about to spell destruction for everyone they knew. Instead, he ran his palms over flesh he would never feel naked against his own. He traced nipples trapped under rain-soaked cloth. Bodies and trees and furniture thrashed against the hull. Ham thrashed against Sambethe. Like flotsam reeling in an unbridled sea, they clung, they sighed, they shuddered.
As he trembled, Sambethe looked into Ham’s eyes. Being a woman of vision, she beheld the whole of his fate ... Someday, when this was all behind them, it would be his life’s work to father the coloured peoples of the world. With Galatia, he would give birth to the Hametic tribe. His descendents would invent ways to bridge water without boats.
He had another fate as well, one he shared only with Sambethe – someday soon, when the sun came out, they would put away their love like a butterfly in a jar and step onto dry land, the first two sinners in a sin-cleansed world.
Copyright © 2008 by Carole. All rights reserved.
Carole Lanham’s work has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, most recently appearing in History is Dead, Vulgata, Bound in Skin, Beneath the Stones, and Midnight Lullabies. In 2005, two of her stories received Honorable Mentions in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror by Kelly Link and Ellen Datlow. When she’s not writing, she enjoys hiking around Death Valley with her beautiful and wonderful husband and her two wonderful and beautiful children.
Of her idea for this story, she says, “It occurred to me that the ark was the ultimate sex in the rain story, what with all those animals paired up in stalls and the mothers and fathers of every future race holed up in a very long storm together. While I’m not really implying that anything but the holiest of unions took place (this is a work of fiction, after all), sin surely did not die with the rain.”
If you enjoyed the story, why not let the author know? Type your message below and we’ll send the author email. Leave the from box empty to be anonymous, but include your email address if you want a reply.