Author's note: The inspiration for this story can be found in The Bible, in the Book of 1 Samuel, Chapter 4.
The desert between Aphek and Eben-ezer was a sea of crimson. The sand was stained with the blood of thousands of warriors, both Philistine and Israelite, and carrion birds circled the scene, nearly blotting out the scorching sun. The bearers of Yahweh’s conduit, the Ark of the Covenant, lay dead among the soldiers, their bodies cleaved open and their entrails exposed. The artifact itself was missing, taken captive by the Philistine army. The birds landed, eager to begin their feast, neither knowing nor caring for the conduit’s fate.
In the Israelite city of Shiloh, where the Ark had previously resided, a young soldier who had survived the battle returned to the city, seeking an audience with Eli. Eli was a prophet of Israel, now retired due to his advanced age. He had trained the current prophet, Samuel. He was very old and stooped with age, his eyesight completely gone. The soldier entered his chambers, and began to relay the events of the battle. Eli listened intently. His sons, Hophni and Phineas, had accompanied the Ark as priests. The Israelites had carried it with them into battle, believing Yahweh would not let it fall into enemy hands. They were wrong, it seemed.
“What of my sons?” Eli asked. The soldier hesitated.
“Dead,” he said finally, “and the Ark was captured by the Uncircumcised.”
Hophni and Phineas had committed crimes against Yahweh, taking the best cuts of meat from sacrifices, and robbing several of the maidservants of their purity. Because of this, Yahweh had told Eli that his sons would both die on the same day, and that his male descendants would be cursed forevermore. When Eli learned that this prophesy of doom had indeed come to pass, he gave a great cry of anguish and fell from his chair. Being old and brittle boned, the fall caused his neck to break, killing him.
Meanwhile, Phineas’ wife had just given birth to their son. Her labor began upon hearing of the Ark’s capture, and the pain of the ordeal had been too much for her. “Don’t despair, you have given birth to a son,” said the maiden attending her. This did nothing to sooth the wife; she remembered all too well Yahweh’s promise, and she knew her child was damned. As she lay dying, she named her son Ichabod. Then she said,
“The Glory has gone from Israel,” and breathed her last. Meanwhile, up from the Philistine city of Ashdod, rose a great cry of celebration.
Lord Darmir sat in his audience chamber in Ashdod a month after the capture of the Ark. He was conferring with his commanders on how best to deal with the Children of Israel after delivering them such a crippling blow. Darmir had been lord of the city for twenty years, and had spent most of it attempting to purge the area of Canaan known as Israel. It had appeared that his ambitions were finally coming to fruition. Dagon had given him The Ark of Covenant at last.
“I say we send the entire legion of Gath to deal with this,” one of the commanders growled. “Send them right into Jerusalem, and crush the Hebrews and their blasted prophet. The legion has the giant Goliath and his brothers; they won’t stand a chance.”
The other commanders murmured their agreement. Lord Darmir sat in silence for a time. He had worked his whole adult life for this. Might as well strike while the iron’s hot…
“Alright,” he said. “In a week’s time, we shall mobilize the legion in Gath, by which time the Israelites shall be considerably weaker. The loss of that damned chest has left them considerably disheartened. Without it, they believe they have lost favor with their ‘god’. Dagon has granted us a great victory this past month.”
One of the commanders stepped forward. “Are you certain, my lord, that they are vulnerable without it?”
“I am. Dagon delivered it into our hands. Their ‘Yahweh’ has no power. I don’t believe their god was ever powerful. The Ark was a talisman of good fortune, nothing more,” Darmir replied. “Still, it was a powerful one. They always conquered us in battle when it was present. But Dagon has granted us victory, and he will do so again. We have the advantage.”
The commanders appeared reassured, and with that, they were dismissed.
Lord Darmir then retired to his bedchamber, satisfied with the plans that had been laid. Confident in his plans, he laid down in his bed to frolic with a young concubine. Once he had his fill, he dismissed the girl and climbed under the covers, and soon drifted off to sleep.
He was standing in the streets of Ashdod. It was midday, judging by the position of the sun in the sky. The street was deserted, which was unsettling, as it was always full with people going about their day-to-day business. Darmir looked all around the city square, but could find no sign of anyone. He was just about to return to the palace to alert his guards that something was amiss, when a soft female voice behind him made him jump.
The Philistine lord slowly turned. Standing in the middle of the square was a beautiful young woman. She looked vaguely familiar; she looked like the daughter-in-law of the prophet Eli, but he couldn’t be sure. He had only ever seen her once, and that was at a great distance. She stood there, her eyes blank and staring. The crotch of her gown was stained scarlet with blood. What was a Hebrew woman doing in Ashdod, city of her enemies? Before Darmir could dwell any more on the matter, the woman spoke again. Her voice chilled him to the bone; it had a dull, monotonous timbre, barely above that of a whisper. It was ethereal, otherworldly.
“The Glory has gone from Israel,” she said.
Darmir just stared. The woman repeated it.
“The Glory has gone from Israel.”
“What are you talking about?” Darmir demanded.
“Mice and sores,” she said in the same unsettling voice.
“What does that mean?”
“Mice and sores…mice and sores…mice and sores…”
“What in Dagon’s Hallowed Name are you speaking of, girl?” the lord shouted.
She continued to repeat the mantra, as the city around Darmir began to darken and fade. As the city disappeared around him, so did the Hebrew woman, leaving the Philistine alone in the darkness. Her voice continued to reverberate through the shadows. Mice and sores…Mice and sores…Mice and sores…
My Lord, My Lord!
Darmir came awake, sweaty and tangled in his blankets. One of his guards stood at attention by the door to the bedchamber next to his manservant, who was attempting to rouse him. “My Lord, My Lord, come quickly! The Ark speaks! Two guards heard it, and they fetched me. I heard it for myself! The Ark speaks!” he cried.
“What do you mean, it speaks?’’ the lord demanded.
“Whispers! Come, My Lord, see for yourself! It lives!”
Darmir hopped out of his bed, dressed, and followed the guard and his servant to the palace temple where the Ark was held. Perhaps they have had a bit too much to drink, he thought. But even as he thought it, he knew it was unlikely. His guards knew better than to consume spirits before or during their patrols; he had executed three guards personally just two months ago for that very offense, and hung their bodies in the soldier’s barracks as an example. As they made their way to Dagon’s chamber, he recalled the dream he had had. It was too much to hope that people hearing the Ark “speaking” at the same time he was having the dream was nothing more than coincidence.
A small group of soldiers and palace staff had already collected at the foot of Dagon’s statue by the time Darmir arrived. When they saw their ruler, they cleared a path for him. He cautiously approached the fish-like deity. At his feet rested the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark was over three feet in length, and two feet in breadth and width. Four golden rings adorned each side, and two golden cherubs sat upon the kapporeth. It was a really a pleasant thing to behold. As much as he detested the Israelites, Darmir couldn’t help but marvel at their craftsmanship. According to Hebrew legend, the mighty man Moses had built the thing himself at Yahweh’s instruction. The lord stood, listening in intently. The palace staff fell silent. For a few seconds, Darmir heard nothing. And then he heard it; a soft whisper emanated from the Ark, speaking in a tongue that he did not recognize. The sound raised the hairs on his arms and neck. As he listened, more whispers joined the first, creating a chilling effect. Then suddenly, they were silenced. The entire room was quiet for several minutes, everyone listening carefully, but the Ark made no further sounds.
“Back to work, everyone,” Darmir sighed finally. The staff reluctantly began to file out of the worship chamber. As Darmir made to leave, he caught a flicker of movement in his peripheral vision. He turned to look at the Ark, but it sat quite still. He quickly scanned the room, but no one was there that he’d have been able to see from the corner of his eye.
“Everything all right, My Lord?” his manservant asked.
“Yes…yes, I’m fine, I just thought…” Darmir said distractedly. He turned and exited the temple. Maybe it was just the ominous nature of the night’s goings-on, but he could have sworn one of the cherubs on the kapporeth had shifted.
A Feast For Predator and Prey
Dawn was approaching. The city of Ashdod was just beginning to stir; people were waking, getting prepared for the day’s business. Aldesh had woken early with the intention of taking the family mule to the market for fresh figs. Upon relieving himself in the outdoor latrine, he noticed what felt like several sores on his backside. After feeling them, his hand came away bloody. He ran back to his hut, to rouse his wife and sons. As he burst into the bedchamber he shared with his wife, Verin, he noticed several bloody pustules on her backside and genitals. “Aldesh…” she sobbed. Lifting his robe, he showed Verin the sores on his own body. “What are they?” she said. “They are so painful…”
“I don’t know, my dear…” said Aldesh quietly.
A quick inspection of their young sons provided no evidence of such an affliction; they were free of the sores. The family immediately sunk to its knees, hand-in-hand, to pray to Dagon. They chanted and pled, imploring the god to cure them of this strange malady. Once they competed their ritual, the four of them ate, washed, and dressed in preparation for their trip to the market. Once they were all ready, Aldesh and Verin led their sons and the mule into Ashdod’s market square. Aldesh proceeded to the fruit vendor, and selected some fresh figs and some garden vegetables. As he was digging through his purse for coins, their eldest child, Niun, began tugging on his mother’s sleeve.
“Mama,” he said. “My stomach hurts.” He was massaging it, his face pinched in a grimace.
Verin looked at the boy, concerned. “Father and I are going to the healers to buy herbs for our sores. Maybe we can procure a remedy for you, child,” she said soothingly. The boy nodded, wincing. He would wince at short intervals, moaning. Verin ran her hand through his hair. The boy closed his eyes at her touch, finding emotional comfort in his mother’s attentions. But as Aldesh made to load the mule with his purchase, a stabbing pain pierced Niun’s body, and the boy grabbed his stomach, cried out in agony, and crashed to the ground sobbing.
“Niun!” Verin cried, dropping to his side. She rolled him onto his back.
“Mama! My belly…something’s inside…” he sobbed. Clutching his stomach, he began to wail, kicking his legs and flopping around like a fish out of water.
“I’ll get a healer!” Aldesh said frantically. “Wait with him, Verin! I will return shortly!” And with that, he tore off down the crowded street toward the apothecary, where the healers also conducted their business. Verin began to stroke Niun’s head. Niun curled into a ball, gasping and sobbing.
“Shh…” she crooned. ‘Papa’s going to get you some help. Hold on, child.” Niun continued to sob, grabbing his belly and moaning. Verin scooped him into her arms, holding him tight to her bosom.
“There have been complaints of an outbreak of sores, My Lord,” said Kolan, captain of the city guard. Lord Darmir sat on his throne, head in his hand, listening intently to Kolan’s report. A shiver ran down his spine at the memory of his dream two nights prior. The Hebrew woman had mentioned sores. “The healers have been quite occupied since early morning. The apothecaries are nearly depleted,” the captain finished.
“How many reports have there been?” Darmir asked cautiously.
“At least five hundred, but I heard rumors of more throughout the city afflicted with this strange malady. It seems to be contained to just men and women. The children and infants seem quite unaffected. The sores are mostly on backsides or genitalia,” Kolan replied. “Several herbal remedies have been issued to the populace, though they may take some time to yield results.”
Darmir sat there, silently pondering his next move. A plague of this sort had not ravaged Philistia in nearly a millennia. Never during his lordship had he needed to deal with an outbreak of illness. He was silent for a few minutes, thinking hard. He could not let his people suffer so...
“Have any of the palace staff complained of this?” he asked finally.
“Yes sir, at least twenty servants and seven guards have said they have the sores,” the captain replied.
“I want them placed in a sealed chamber until this gets sorted out. I don’t need them spreading this plague to others,” Darmir ordered. “Have the palace healers supply them with herbs and potions. Have them give regular reports on their progress.” Captain Kolan bowed and turned to exit the chambers to carry out his orders. He paused at the door, having only just remembered something else he meant to relay.
“There have also been several reports of felines stalking about the city. More than usual. They keep congregating around the children, as if they are expecting something,” he said. “It could be nothing, but in light of recent events…well, it seems a bit strange, is all.” With that, he exited Darmir’s chamber, leaving the lord in a state of silent panic and confusion.
Back in the square, Niun’s condition had worsened. He was screaming at the top of his voice, tears streaming from his eyes. A healer was examining him, but could not determine the source of the child’s extreme discomfort. Aldesh and Verin stood by the mule, watching in horror at Niun’s performance. A small crowd had gathered around the family. Their youngest son was in his mother’s arms, face buried in her shoulder, his body shaking with frightened sobs. Nobody noticed the three cats lurking in the background, green eyes fixed on the child. The healer lifted the boy’s shirt, the better to examine the agony’s point of origin. As he felt the boy’s belly, something beneath the skin began to bubble and move. The healer and Niun’s family took a step backwards in shock; something was writhing inside him, fighting to escape. Blood began pouring from Niun’s mouth as a hole appeared in his abdomen. A small snout-like nose poked through the hole, followed by another. Soon, bloody holes were appearing all over Niun’s stomach.
More little noses popped out through some of them, with little clawed feet emerging from others. Niun was screaming hysterically, gargling, “Mama! Papa! Help me!” The healer and his parents looked on in horror as the snouts chewed and the claws burrowed, tearing open his torso. Verin screamed as the last bit of flesh was torn away, revealing a cluster of several large, bloody mice. Members of the crowd shrieked and backed away from the scene. The mice untangled themselves from each other. As soon as the rodents were free of their abdominal prison, they scattered in all directions, provoking the prowling cats into pursuit.
“My boy! Oh, my precious boy!” Aldesh howled, his eyes wide with horror, sinking next to his son’s ruined body. He took Niun’s head in his arms, and rocked the ruined shell back and forth, weeping bitterly. Verin crashed to the ground in a dead faint, dropping her other son, who fell headfirst to the ground, splitting his head wide open. All around them, other children were sinking to their knees and screaming in agony, while their parents watched helplessly. Within minutes, the screaming children’s bellies erupted with several scurrying mice, just as Niun’s had. All around Ashdod, mice were burrowing out of the bodies of firstborn children, both male and female. Cats had gathered around some of the victims, giving chase as soon as the mice were free. The rodents scampered through the streets, while devastated families ran hither and thither, howling in anguish, pleading to Dagon for mercy.
In the palace, Lord Darmir was perched with his feet on the throne as cats and mice tore through his chambers, scattering his guards and servants. Men were shouting, women were screaming, and soldiers were attempting to beat away the bloody vermin with their spears and short swords. As Darmir observed the terrible scene in front of him, the Hebrew woman’s voice floated to the forefront of his memory. He could almost hear it in the present, as though it were being carried to him on the wind. Mice and sores.
The Flames of Gath
“We are being punished!”
“We have lost favor with Dagon!”
“My Lord, what shall we do?”
Night had fallen, and Darmir’s main audience chamber was full of city officials and priests, all of them either crying out to Dagon or clamoring for the lord’s attention. Darmir sat with his head in his hands, wishing he could just disappear. Those who had complained of sores on their lower regions were now completely covered in the red pustules. He later learned the origins of the rodent attack, and he almost passed out upon hearing it. Once his horror and disgust had abated somewhat, a new question arose; how could the mice have manifested themselves in the bellies of the children? And to make matters worse, several of the adults afflicted with the sores were overcome by fevers, many dropping dead where they stood. Then all the mice that hadn’t been caught by the cats or stomped on swarmed forward to consume the corpses.
“Enough!” he shouted, finally having had all he could take. The shouts and cries dwindled away to nothing. “I want Captain Kolan, Commander Fokr, and High Priest Gadich to step forward. The rest of you, wait outside. I wish to converse with them alone.” The room emptied; several of the officials were grumbling. Many had lost children to the mice, and many other officials had the boils. One had already died from the plague.
“We need to remove the Ark from the temple,” Darmir said without preamble. “The priests in Gath can perform their magic to bind its power. I believe it caused this. There is a terrible curse upon it. The shamans there are well versed in sorcery.”
“My Lord, can not I say a prayer of binding?” Gadich implored.
“Your priests have tried, and failed. The sores have worsened since your ritual. It seems the Ark can’t be stopped. The priests in Gath are better equipped for this sort of thing. Besides, King Achish led the charge against Israel’s army, and captured the Ark. Once the curse has been removed, I think it will make a nice trophy for him,” Darmir replied. “I want arrangements made tonight. A contingent of soldiers can escort it to Gath in the morn. And, remember, do not touch it. I have heard horrible things about those foolish enough to do so,” he said.
“Fokr and I will handle its transfer,” said Kolan. Darmir nodded his approval.
“Go now. I want it in transit tomorrow morning,” he said. Kolan and Fokr bowed and exited the chamber. Gadich stepped closer to Lord Darmir’s throne.
“Gather the priests at the foot of Dagon. I want you to go into town and select two infants who aren’t ill with either plague. They are to be sacrificed to him, so that he may heal our city,” the lord commanded.
“As you wish, my lord,” he said, then bowed and took his leave.
“The Uncircumcised have moved the Ark to Gath,” said Samuel. It was early evening in Jerusalem, and the prophet stood before King Saul. “Our scouts returned an hour ago. They witnessed the Ark in transit yesterday morning between Ashkelon and Gath. It has been in the city for a day at least.”
“We shall march to Gath and seize it back from them,” Saul declared. Samuel shook his head. Saul was a good king, the king Israel had asked Yahweh for. But he was brash at times. The young prophet was considerably calmer, a patient servant of the Most High.
“Yahweh told me of His plans. The Ark will be returned to us by His hand. We are not to march on Philistia,” Samuel said calmly.
“It’s taking too long,” Saul snarled. “Our people are suffering from illnesses, Eli is dead, Hohni and Phineas gone, and Yahweh wants me to sit still?” Samuel shook his head again. The king could be so childish at times.
“The horror Israel is experiencing in the Ark’s absence is nothing compared to what the Philistines are suffering in its presence. Yahweh gave me a word. He will exact judgment on the Gittites this night,” said the prophet calmly.
“What will he do?” asked Saul, interested. There was a look of hunger that slightly unsettled the prophet.
Samuel approached one of the windows in Saul’s throne room, the window facing south, where lay the city of Gath. The sky was a beautiful pink and purple, a lovely desert evening. “Fire,” he said.
“Sorry?” said Saul.
“There will be fire in Gath tonight.”
Two Philistine priests exited the chambers where the Ark was held. They had just completed a ritual prayer to Dagon and Baal to banish the curse on the Ark. They were just about to seal the chamber for the evening when a low, hissing whisper fell upon their ears. The priests turned at the door, searching for the source of the noise. Their eyes fell upon the Hebrew artifact. The noise seemed to be coming from it. They approached it cautiously. As they drew level with it, one of the golden cherubs began to rock slightly, then it turned, spread its golden wings, and rose slowly from the kapporeth. The priests stood where they were for a moment, staring at the cherub, transfixed. They snapped to when the chambers doors slammed shut with an echoing bang. As they turned back to the angel, it swooped down upon them. The men screamed, threw their hands over their faces, and sped towards the door. They pushed with all their might, but it would not yield.
A maid was carrying fresh linens to King Achish’s room when she passed the door behind which the priests were meeting a terrible fate. She heard the door rattling as the men banged on it, then the banging ceased and was replaced by bloodcurdling screams. The screams continued for several long seconds, followed by an ominous silence. “Guards!” she cried, and as she did so, the doors flew open, and a golden object zoomed through them toward the window. The maid squealed and ducked. She remained crouched for a few minutes, then slowly approached the two priests lying at the door. She screamed again. The priests’ eyes had been torn from their sockets, their throats slashed. One of them was still flopping around gargling, but was soon still. The maid then vomited all over the King’s linens.
Outside the palace, people were gathering in the streets, gazing up at the golden cherub, who was slowly beating its wings. As it hovered above Gath, the city began to darken. It was not a natural darkness. It was night, but this darkness seemed to come from another place entirely. The torches were extinguished as the city was plunged into shadow. The citizens could not see anything in any direction, not even the people next to them. The stars were no longer visible. Then, a high-pitched wail sounded throughout the city. It drilled into the brains of the Gittites, causing many to cry out. It felt as though a hundred tiny knives were stabbing their brains. Then, as suddenly as it had sounded, it stopped. The torches reignited, the stars returned to the sky, and the cherub had disappeared. Many were on the ground, hands clasped over their ears, howling.
But not all. Several people stood in the streets, their hands at their sides. They stood there, both men and women, staring blankly before them, as their fellows rolled around on the ground. Then, they dispersed, leaving the others in their misery. They moved about in a mechanical manner, like marionettes. Some returned to their homes, others went to seek out loved ones and acquaintances.
Milaja entered her house. She had been sent out to fetch a pale of water when the darkness struck. Jopla, her father, was in the kitchen cleaning up the remains of their supper. He had not noticed the darkness or the earsplitting keen outside; only those who had gazed upon the cherub outside had. However, he thought could hear people howling in the street. He turned at the sound of his daughter’s entrance. “Ah, dear, you’re home. Did you bring back water like I asked?” he said. Milaja said nothing, but stared blankly at her father. “Milaja, dear?” he said cautiously. He noticed the jug he had given her was gone. “Was there a problem at the well?” he pressed. The girl remained silent. Jopla began to worry. He had seen homeless lunatics in the street before, and his daughter was behaving like one. He approached her cautiously.
As he reached her, she finally spoke.
“The Glory has gone from Israel,” she said in a flat dead voice. Jopla stopped dead in his tracks. Her voice was not the voice he knew; this voice was rougher, devoid of humanity.
“What about Israel?” he said nervously. He placed his hands on Milaja’s shoulders. As he did so, he noticed how warm her body seemed. Jopla placed a hand to his daughter’s forehead. It was very warm. “My child, you are ill!” he exclaimed. And delirious, too, judging from her behavior and assertions about Israel. He kept his hand on her forehead. It seemed to be getting hotter. Jopla yelped and pulled his hand away. His daughter’s skin had suddenly burned like hot iron. A sizzling noise was emanating from her, and as he watched, smoke began to unfurl from her eyes and ears. “Milaja! What is happening to you?” Jopla cried. Flames erupted suddenly from her arms and legs.
“Milaja!” he cried, jumping backwards. The girl continued to stare blankly at her father as the fire engulfed her. She appeared not to notice that she was being burned alive. She was consumed by the flames within seconds. Soon, the odor of burning flesh permeated the small home. As she burned, Milaja opened her mouth and uttered three words: “Yahweh is nigh.” BOOM! The girl exploded, demolishing the house. People passing the house were hurled into the air, screaming. Pieces of stone sailed into the street, hitting passersby.
Explosions rocked the city as several other buildings met the same fate as Jopla’s house. The blank-eyed people who remained in the streets caught fire as well. They walked up to people not affected by the darkness, touched them, and they too ignited. Screams of agony rent the night air. People ran to the well, returning with buckets of water, attempting to douse their fellow citizens. The water had no affect whatsoever, and the bucket carriers were touched and consumed by the fire. After awhile, the ones not on fire realized that escape was their own only option, and made a beeline for the city gates. King Achish and what palace staff that remained unburned tore through the streets on horseback, the guards attempting to cleave a path to the gate. Several of the burning citizens were decapitated, but their bodies continued to roam about independently, spreading their conflagration. The palace staff and remaining citizens managed to gain the open desert on the other side of the gate, their destination being the city of Ekron. Four soldiers carried the Ark on poles near the middle of the procession. “Send a runner to Ashdod!” Achish ordered his shield-bearer. “I want Darmir to join us in Ekron! We will destroy this blasted thing, then we will march on Israel! Those Hebrew slime will pay for this!”
Back in the streets of Gath, the citizens acting as catalysts had snapped out of their reveries, and began to scream, having only just realized they were being devoured by flame. They were incinerated in seconds, having outlived their purpose. Out in the desert, the remaining Gittites listened in horror to the screams of their people. After a time, they died out, leaving only the odor of burnt flesh, wafting toward the procession on the desert wind.
King Saul was relaxed. Samuel stood before him, and a young shepherd boy sat at his feet, playing a harp. The boy’s music was soothing to Saul, especially in the days since the Ark’s capture. His mastery of the instrument had the king enthralled. Anytime the boy played, it chased the away the demons of stress that tormented Saul. When the young shepherd played his final note, the king smiled and said, “Delightful as always, David. That will do for today, I think. Go home to your sheep.”
The boy David stood, bowed, and made to leave the throne room. Samuel nodded to him as he left, smiling. When the soldier outside the door closed it, Saul looked to Samuel and said, “I heard Gath got its comeuppance. Yahweh kept his promise.”
“He always does,” said Samuel. “For a man who was anointed as king by Yahweh’s Holy Spirit, your faith at times is surprisingly disappointing.”
“Yes well, it’s been a stressful few months. I want the Ark back in Israel, where it belongs.”
“All in good time, Saul,” the prophet replied. “He never leaves us, nor does He forsake us. You know this.” Saul continued to look morose, so Samuel pressed on. “A report came in from a patrol. It seems the legion in Gath was on its way to Jerusalem. They were a few miles from Gath when Achish and several other Philistines caught up to them, babbling about a massive fire in the city. Apparently there is no known cause, people just caught on fire. So there, Yahweh’s prophesy of fire came to pass. And it did in good time. The disaster caused the army to turn back. We just found out about the approaching force after the fire, and had the fire not happened, they’d be at our gates this very moment.”
Saul pondered this for a moment. Then he broke into a smile. “I suppose my faith has indeed been weak. If that army had made it here, we would have been unprepared, ” he said. “May Yahweh forgive me.”
“He has, Saul,” Samuel replied. “Now if I may, I must leave, as I feel the Urge.” The Urge was Yahweh’s calling to a private communion with the prophet, felt most strongly when a prophesy of great importance was to be revealed.
“Yes, yes, please do!” said the king, He seemed very interested in the upcoming prophesy. Samuel hurried from the room to his private prayer chamber.
Once inside, the prophet removed his sandals and his headdress and knelt on the floor. He spread his arms wide and closed his eyes. He knelt there for almost five minutes, emptying his mind of all other thought, just as Eli had taught him all those years ago. Once his brain was empty of trivial thought, he heard a soft, gentle voice. The voice was within him, reverberating through his brain, but it was also without him, and he could hear it with his ears. It filled him with warmth and hope. He was in the arms of the Father.
“Welcome, my child,” said the voice.
“Father,” Samuel murmured. “What is your bidding?”
“I have seen the suffering of my children. Israel has paid the price for its immorality and idolatry. I allowed the Ark of the Covenant to fall into the hands of the Philistines to bring judgment on them, and to bring the Children of Israel closer to me. Since its capture, Israel has begun to pray to me again. They have ceased their worship of pagan gods. Now, it is time to bring the Ark home. This will be done within the next fortnight,” said the voice smoothly.
Samuel smiled. “And how will this be done, Lord?” he whispered.
“The rulers of the Philistines are stubborn. Even after I ravaged two of their cities, they have not attempted to return the Ark to Israel. They are vain enough to believe they can destroy it, or bind it with their magic. It has resided in the city of Ekron for the last two weeks, and I have done nothing to attack the city. They now believe that the Ark has lost its ‘charm’, and are now celebrating their ‘victory’. This will change soon,” the voice replied.
“More plagues?” asked Samuel.
“Nay. I will send my most powerful and terrible servant to deal with them. Thus far I have spared most of the Philistine rulers. But now their judgment is at hand. I promise you, the Ark of the Covenant will be returned to you very soon. Now go Samuel, go and tell your king what is to transpire,” the voice commanded.
“Yes, Father,” the prophet murmured. Samuel was then brought back to himself. After taking a few moments to readjust to his surroundings, he stood up, put his shoes and turban back on, and rushed to the throne room with his news.
“I want every soldier in the city on full alert!” King Achish bellowed, causing his aides to cower. It was early morning in Ekron, and Achish and Lord Darmir stood at the foot of Lord Behen’s bed. The tan colored room was bathed in blood. The lord’s three concubines lay dead on the floor. One had a broken neck, another had her arms and legs torn off, and the third had been decapitated. Behen’s body looked as though it had been stabbed several times. His torso was nothing but a bloody pulp.
“Whomever did this will be punished a hundred times over!” Lord Darmir shouted. Things had been looking up since he and Achish arrived three weeks previously. The Ark seemed to be through with its shenanigans, and the Philistines were planning another attack on Jerusalem. What was left of Gath was being rebuilt with the help of the army, and some citizens had even returned to their homes. And now this…
“Are you certain that nobody heard anything?” Achish shot at the guard who reported the incident.
“N-no sir,” the soldier stammered. “A servant reported seeing blood seeping out from under the door, and fetched me to investigate.”
“Has anyone noticed anything strange or out of the ordinary?” Darmir demanded.
“Well…”said the soldier evasively. He seemed reluctant to reveal something.
“Yes?” the lord pressed.
“A few nights ago, some people saw flashes of what appeared to be a naked man running through the palace corridors. Anytime someone tried to get a closer look, he was gone. The man appeared to be made from…’’
“From?” said Achish impatiently.
“White marble, sir,” the soldier finished quickly.
“White marble?” said Darmir in disbelief. The soldier nodded nervously.
“He was last seen earlier last night,” he offered. Darmir and Achish looked at each other in horror.
Later on in the week, things steadily declined. The rulers had everyone on high alert for “the marble man”. They believed it was some sort of thief or assassin painted white as a disguise. After several days of failing to apprehend anyone matching this description, more deaths had followed. Nobles would often wake up at night to see a white figure silently observing them as they slept. It would disappear almost as soon as looked upon. Guards were posted in each of the noble’s rooms, but it did no good. The following morning, the nobles were all found brutally murdered, their guards nailed to the wall by their own weapons. This frightened the palace staff, as the walls were made from stone. What sort of being had the strength to ram a sword through solid rock? The nobles had all died from various causes: decapitation, dismemberment, and strangulation. One was even reduced to a pile of ash. And in all cases, the guards were pinned to the walls , impaled by their spears and swords.
Darmir went to bed that night, fuming. It seemed the Philistines had once again lost favor with their gods. Maybe this was punishment for failing to wipe out Israel. The lord resolved to have Ekron mobilized tomorrow as acting ruler. Ashkelon could join forces, and this would all be over. With that last determined thought, he crawled under the covers. Israel was his. He would own all of their land and their people would be his slaves. Together with Achish he would acquire more land for their people.
“Good night, my lord,” said one of the guards posted in his room. Darmir grunted noncommittally and rolled over. He was asleep instantly. He awoke less than an hour later. It sounded as though a commotion was taking place in his room. There were shouts, then bloodcurdling screams, punctuated by a strange screeching, like sharp nails on slate. Then all was silent. Darmir untangled himself from his bed sheets, looking around wildly. His eyes fell on his two guards. They were pinned to the wall by their swords, their spears lying useless on the floor. Blood ran down the wall, and dripped from the blades, hitting the floor with soft plinks! He screamed. Having been so focused on the bodies he didn’t notice the silhouette next to them. Then the marble-white figure stepped from the shadows toward the bed. The thing seemed unarmed, but Darmir was frightened just the same. The lord grabbed his pillow, the only object within reach, and brandished it threateningly.
“Stay back, assassin, I warn you!” he said, more bravely then he felt. The being continued toward him.“Help! Guards! Guards! It’s him! The marble man! No…no, get away from me! No, no I-ARGH!” Darmir opened his mouth wide and let out an earsplitting cry of terror that no one would ever hear as the figure swooped down upon him.
He was discovered the following morning by palace guards. All that remained of the Lord of Ashdod was a bloody skeleton. His hide was discovered hanging from an arrow in King Achish’s chamber, causing the Gittite to vomit and faint. Once he came to, he gathered High Priest Gadich and Captain Kolan. He ordered a small statue of Dagon to be brought to the room where the Ark was held. Once this was complete, he dismissed the servants, ordering that the doors be shut.
Once they were alone, Gadich got to his knees and began a ritual prayer to the miniature statue. “I know this has something to do with the Ark. I want you douse it in oil, and burn it,” Achish ordered Kolan. Kolan bowed and grabbed the oil used for lighting torches in the room. As he made to approach the ark, the priest cried out. “Gadich! What is wrong?” the king cried. Kolan ran to him. He backed away at the sight of his face. Gadich’s eyes were rolled back in his head, blood streaming freely from the sockets. As the captain looked on, blood began to pour from the priests ears, staining the sides of his face. He sunk to all fours, mumbled something that sounded like “mike-ull,” then rolled over on his side, dead.
“The Ark! Now, do it!” cried Achish hysterically. Kolan made toward the Ark a second time, then stopped dead in his tracks. He stood stock still for several seconds. “Kolan! What are you doing?” the king cried. “Burn that thing now! Kolan continued to stand there, unresponsive. Then he yelled.
His arms had begun to crystallize, starting at his fingers and crawling up his arms to the rest of his body. Within seconds, a pillar of salt stood in Kolan’s place. Before him, the cherubs on the kapporeth shifted, spread their wings, and rose from the Ark. The lid was thrown wide open, revealing a blinding white light. Achish threw his hands up to shield his eyes. When the light faded and the kapporeth slammed shut, a tall marble white man with fiery eyes stood before Achish. The pillar of salt lay shattered at his feet.
He was the strangest creature Achish had ever seen. The man stood a full seven feet tall, his skin the purest white. His arms and legs were well muscled, and his hair was a flaming yellow color. He had no genitals. His eyes were big and bright, with tiny balls of flame in place of irises. There was a strange beauty about the man; it was almost feminine, but he exuded a masculine authority. The king stared in awe at this man. “Wh-who are you?” he stammered.
“I have many names, Philistine,” the man said. His voice was soft and high-pitched, almost hypnotic. “But in the Semitic Tongue, I am known as Michael, Archangel of the Lord and Protector of Israel.” The Gittite stared at him. When he finally found his voice, he was consumed with hatred.
“You murdered all those people here in the palace!” he growled. “You are nothing more than a murderer, Archangel.” Achish put as much mocking and spite into that last word as possible. “You also caused devastation in my city, and in Ashdod. Those people did not deserve that!” He drew his sword, but it shattered into a dozen shards the moment it cleared the scabbard.
“It was not Yahweh’s wish that this happened,” said Michael calmly, as though he had not been threatened. “The lords and the army brought this on your people. The Ark of the Covenant is very sacred to the Hebrew Children. They suffered without its presence, so Yahweh simply repaid you for your treachery. They are and always will be his chosen people. As for causing devastation in other cities, it was these two angels-“ here he indicated the cherubs hovering behind him, “who instigated the plagues of illness and fire. When the Ark was constructed, they were sent to rest on the kapporeth, and to awaken when needed. I was sent when it became clear that you weren’t going to return it to Israel.”
“Yes, but why kill us?” the king cried.
“I have already told you why, Achish. You Philistines never learn, do you? Yahweh gave the Israelites dominion over the land of Canaan. You live here as long as he tolerates it. You continue to try to wipe them out, and every time you are defeated. I would have thought Samson’s rampage in Gaza all those years ago was enough to make you learn but, as always, you repeat your past mistakes. If you do not harm Israel, then no harm will come to Philistia.” the angel said softly.
"Israel is no better than we! What sets them apart from the Philistines?"
"They sin, same as everyone else. But their fate as Yahweh's Beloved was sealed long before the Philistines ever existed. It was decided before the Earth was created. If you leave them be, these terrible occurrences will cease. They are a sweet, peaceful race, despite their faults," Michael replied.
“But, I-“ the king began.
“You will return the Ark to Israel. This has gone on long enough. You will send ambassadors to King Saul and arrange for its passage.”
“Dagon will not-“
“Do you think I am jesting, Philistine?” Michael bellowed, the flames in his eyes spitting. He did not look remotely beautiful anymore; on the contrary, he was hideous. His skin was charcoal black, and his face resembled that of a burnt lion. “Your pagan gods cannot save you! Hasn’t my god already proven this? If you do not return the Ark to its rightful place, your land will burn! ‘Dagon’ will not forestall His judgment! This land will turn on itself. Crops will die, cattle and livestock will die, and no food or drink will be found in your land! Your citizens will be reduced to cannibalistic monsters! Abominations, they will be! Is that what you want?” the angel roared, his voice several octaves deeper and booming.
“HELP!” the king bellowed.
“No one can hear you, Achish. Just like no one heard the cries of all the men and women who I slaughtered behind these walls. Now, will you do as Yahweh commands, and return the Ark of the Covenant?”
“Yes! Yes! I will, as soon as possible! Please…” Achish sobbed, falling flat on his face.
The Archangel immediately returned to his original state. “I expect this to be done within the week. If not, Yahweh will judge the land of Philistia as promised,” said Michael in his soft voice. With that, he turned to the Ark, who’s lid had just opened. Michael climbed in, and disappeared in a flash. The kapporeth slammed shut with an echoing bang, and the cherubs settled back into position.
King Saul sat upon his horse, Samuel next to him. A procession of Philistines approached the Israelite army. Saul smiled in satisfaction. This is what they had been waiting for. Yahweh’s promise was being fulfilled. Once the Ark was close enough to the army, Samuel dismounted his horse and approached with four young priests. The Philistines bearing the Ark placed it on the ground, and the priests rushed forward to pick it up. Once it had disappeared behind the Israelite ranks, Samuel turned to the Philistine king.
“I sincerely hope that you and your soldiers have learned your lesson, Achish,” he said coldly.
“Yes, I, uh, believe we have,” the Gittite replied, averting his eyes from the prophet.
“Let us hope so,” said Samuel. And with that, the two armies returned to their lands.
As the Philistines marched toward their pentapolis, Achish was already forming a plot for revenge. That “angel” wasn’t going to intimidate him any longer or insult his gods. As the king’s mind wandered, he saw a young boy dressed all in black standing upon a sand dune, watching the procession. His eyes locked on to Achish. He slowly shook his head in warning, as if he knew what the king was thinking. As the boy’s eyes bore into the king, he heard a voice in his head saying, Yahweh is always nigh. Then flames shot from his eyes, and he shot upwards suddenly, disappearing into the clouds. Nobody but Achish saw him.
It was a joyous night in Israel. The citizens danced around the Ark, shouting praises to Yahweh. Samuel stood next to Saul. Both men were beaming. “Yahweh be praised,” said Saul, smiling at the prophet.
“Yahweh be praised’ Samuel agreed. The celebration continued well into the night. All across the nation, people were being cured of their illnesses, and crops began to grow anew. Even the livestock seemed fatter. Feasts were being held all over Israel. Samuel closed his eyes as a soft voice filled him like water. Be at peace, Samuel. Victory is mine. I will never leave nor forsake the Children of Israel. The prophet smiled. Yahweh was on their side, and he knew Israel had atoned for their sins. Yahweh would always be with them to love and chastise them. As long as Israel followed Him, there would always be peace. David sat at Saul’s feet, happily playing his harp, a joyous smile on his face. The prophet nodded to him, beaming. The Ark was home.
The Glory had returned to Israel.
Written by DarthWeezer1994