by Saundra Cates
Revised and edited by Anna Cates
Decades before it started to rain, our preparations began. You cannot imagine how fervently and relentlessly we worked. Always the dread of the unknown, impending disaster lurked in our consciousness to spur us onward, lest we should waver in our tasks. We didn’t know when it would happen or how long we would have to endure, only that each day was urgent, and there was no time for anything but work, work, work.
We didn’t have many friends from the village. They found us strange, even dangerous, because of our beliefs. “Give it a rest, Noah,” the nicest of them would say with a smirk. Father and Mother made it clear that we should have as little contact with the villagers as possible. People were cruel, violent, and quick to harm. It was not a happy way to grow up. It was downright scary! But at least we had each other. At least we didn’t live in the city states, constantly at war.
As boys, we sometimes wished we could join in the hunting and sportsmanship, have time for fun or lazing about. But Father would get that stern look in his sad eyes, and we knew it was useless to even think about it. So, it was back to work.
The enormous structure we were building exhausted us. But we became experts in the timber business. We built wagons and sledges to carry the huge logs from the forest and perfected metal instruments for the cutting and tooling of great logs. We bought, taught, and trained animals for the job. We kept horses, oxen, and even some elephants for the heaviest work. They had to be housed and cared for every day.
Mother, too, had quite the daunting task of caring for animals. She tended cattle, goats, sheep, and chickens, plus many herding dogs that helped with the stock. She was very busy, and frequently children and young maidens from the village would come to work for her to help with the overwhelming tasks. It is a blessing from God that we were all such big, strong people! Mother also tended a vegetable garden and orchard. We shared delicious meals with our hired help. We did not eat meat like the villagers, but with fresh bread, milk and cheese, nuts, berries, and fruit, we were well nourished. Mother was also an expert in gathering and preparing wild plants for edibles and medicines, so we lacked for nothing. Even so, it was lonely sometimes.
Then, one day, we found Sophia. We were in the forest for another load of logs. I had heard a commotion earlier, coming from the rocky hillside, and so were watchful for trouble. Throughout the country, and beyond, roving bands of wild men trekked about, making all kinds of mischief, stealing, and destroying whatever, or whoever, they wanted. It was best to keep your senses sharp. Also, wolves and wild dogs roamed the mountains. We stayed armed and ready wherever we went.
The logging road wound through the forest, and as it came out of the trees, the rocky hillside trail led down to the valley. Looking back as we left the trees, the long afternoon shadows were already darkening the woods behind us, and the sun was low in the evening sky. It would never do to be out after dark in such times. That was when the predators, animal and human, emerged to do their ungodly deeds, so it was with some sense of urgency that we kept to the well-worn road as it led down to the village.
Then Father paused and motioned for us to stay still. He peered sideways through the trees at a large boulder. He called me to follow behind him as Ham and Japeth waited on the road. We drew closer. I could tell it was a naked body, stretched out motionless, face down. Father removed the coverlet from his shoulders and approached the still body. He averted his eyes and threw the blanket over the form and began tucking the cloth around the exposed skin. Already, though, it was not yet dark, a chill had entered the air. Father bid me help him take the body off the rock. Even in the dimming light, I could see her face! She was a beautiful young maiden, bruised, bleeding, and barely alive. Obviously, the victim of some heinous crime by the wild men, or maybe even some of the so-called monkey people who hadn’t yet been slaughtered by the Nephilim who ruled the war-troubled city states. But I doubted such persons even existed anymore.
We carried the girl’s limp body to the safety of the logs. I sat, holding her head gently on my lap for the ride back. My brothers gathered round to see her face, but all we could see was a wild mass of dark, tangled hair mixed with blood.
At last, Father drove the team into our barnyard. My brothers took care of the logs and saw to the animals as Father and I carried her in to Mother. Mother quickly directed us to place her in the spare room by the kitchen. She then gave orders to prepare hot water and bring the necessary herbs and ointments for the girl’s care. After Mother had bathed and tended her, which took most of the evening, she told us our new guest was alive but very ill-used and still unconscious.
It was a somber supper that night as we gathered around the table for hot soup, cheese, and bread. Never had the wild men come so close to our home and the village. Father said soon it would not be safe to live here in the open anymore. Thankfully, since the ark was finished, we would start to move into its shelter as soon as God said it was time. We did not have long to wait.
The next week, when Father came from the prayer room, he announced that God had told him that it was time for us to move into the ark. Although we already stored many things there, we still would have much to do to finish the final preparations. Some of the stalls and feeding troughs needed finishing, as well as our beds and storage bins. All the furniture was made solid with the ark, so there would be no shifting during the storm we anticipated. We did not know how the animals would be brought, but Father said God would take care of that, which was always his answer, and he was always right.
Then the day came when Mother brought Sophia out to have supper with us. It was easy to see that she and Mother had forged a strong family bond. Sophia was lovely and quiet, but she seemed happy. Mother told us that Sophia would be staying with us from now on. She had no family outside the ark, and her village was far away and would soon be covered with water in the flood. We were the only safety, security, and love she had ever known, or would know, so naturally she didn’t want to leave. I was relieved to know that and had begun to believe that God had provided in Sophia a wife for me. There simply was no other answer. I was fearful that she might be frightened of all men after her horrible treatment by the wild men, so I was always very quiet and soft-spoken with her, as were we all.
One night, after our meal, I presented her with a beautiful necklace of emerald and pearl that I had made in our workshop. She smiled and seemed very pleased. I spoke to Father and Mother the next day so they could ask her to be my bride. They were glad that now all their sons had wives. My brothers had already found mates from the village girls who helped mother. Now if only my sweet Sophia would agree, we could all be as one. To my great joy, she said yes! The next day, Father married us before our evening meal. It was an especially sumptuous feast, with even some honey cakes for dessert! Father said we would move into the ark the following day.
Early in the morning, we awoke to animal sounds and ground shaking as animals in lines approached our ark. They seemed eager to board, but not unruly. We guided the larger animals in first after Mother and our wives had finished checking on the feeding stations to be sure all was prepared for the journey, however long it might be. God blessed the animals so that they came in orderly and quietly. They went straight to their piles of hay, and after eating, entered a peaceful sleep.
Dark skies and wild, unusual cloud formations grew even more ominous as evening approached and the last of the animals came. The top row of windows remained open, and birds came flying in all day like chickens arriving to roost before night. The darkness and coolness seemed to trigger a hibernation instinct among the creatures. God had prepared them to understand that they were in danger and that the ark was their only shelter for whatever was coming.
The people in the nearby villages up and down the river were not as aware as the animals. For years, curious ones had come to see the big boat under construction beyond Fara, the nearby village on a tributary leading into the Tigris-Euphrates River. Father always spoke to them in small groups, explaining that God had warned him of a great flood and to prepare for such a disaster. He said everything, all that had breath under Heaven, would die. Nothing and no one would be safe, as even the mountains would sink beneath the waves. Most laughed at him. Some found him simply crazy. A hundred and twenty years passed. The few people that seemed to listen, at first, began to shake their heads, roll their eyes, a walk away.
Lately, however, the crowds had become more hostile and abusive. They no longer listened as Father tried to reason with them. They shouted and waved their arms about. Some even threw rocks from their slings. They threatened even to tear down or burn all we had crafted, so we knew the time was near.
The last creatures came aboard. We finished loading our personal items we would need for the voyage into the unknown. Nothing would ever be the same. All would be changed. The beautiful river valley, our sunny hills, the colossal forest trees, and the majestic mountains would vanish! Everything not on board the ark would be swept away! It was too much to comprehend! We solemnly entered the big door with the last load. We carried the precious writings and artifacts from our holy forebears: Lamech, Enoch, even Adam and Eve, who walked and talked with God before he expelled them from Eden.
Sacred writings we’d preserved and packed in wrappings and water-proofed trunks. The sacred and priceless items were the heritage and core of who we hoped to become as a people. We had to save them for those who afterwards would repopulate the world. It was a grand and awesome assignment. We were honored to be chosen by God, but with trembling determination stepped forward into the next step of the perilous journey.
God closed the big door and sealed it behind us! We gathered inside with our arms around one another in prayer for God to protect us and save us in the coming storm.
A shutter blew open near to me. I peered outside into the dark downpour. Rain beat down hard as a waterfall. Yet even through the rain, I could see the comet tear visibly across the sky—a harbinger of doom.
The pressure deepened, thick and heavy, descending. My ears popped painfully. The storm exploded with booming thunder and blinding flashes of lightening that continued for what seemed like forever. We went to our beds and huddled there beneath the soft, warm covers and continued to pray as the storm raged. Can you imagine multiple severe earthquakes, tsunamis, and hurricanes happening all over the world all at the same time? We didn’t have to imagine it. We lived through it!
Unfortunately, for everyone and everything outside the ark, it was a watery hell of no escaping! God’s tender love sheltered only us. Under his mighty wings, we remained, so that we did not have to see or fully perceive the destruction going on all around us. Like little children, we snuggled close to Heavenly Father and trusted him to care for us. It was the only way!
Daily after that, Father would rise to light the oil lamps so we could move around, eat something, and check the cargo. The creatures were all sleeping, so there was not much to do. We returned to our beds. This routine continued for days, weeks, and months.
I can still remember the strange and uneasy sensation when the waters rose sufficiently to cause the art to float. God had prepared us for this experience since we had been in and out of boats all our lives and were used to the constant rocking. Still, it was shockingly rough at first. By God’s mercies, we did not get sick but grew accustomed to the continuous motion until it was an everyday reality.
Occasionally, Father climbed the long stairway to the top deck to see if the waters were abating. I only went up a few times. Sophia did not want me to be away from her, and I did not want to cause her added stress in her condition. (Yes, halleluiah! She became with child!) We were very happy and believed God would soon give us a sign that the waters were receding. We longed to feel the solid earth beneath our feet again!
But outside, it always looked the same. Water, water everywhere, and no land in any direction.
Toward the very end of our voyage, as we held our weekly prayer vigil, Sophia leapt to her feet, tilted her head toward Heaven, and began prophesying. She spoke of a future cataclysm of fire. She spoke of a holy one who would come before that time to save all the people from their sins and the powers of darkness. I trembled. Tears streamed down my cheeks as she spoke of this future savior as the new ark of salvation. At that moment, it occurred to me that, though God’s wrath is severe and justified, his love is greater still, and he would make a way for all people to come to him, even those who didn’t deserve his grace, people like the wild men, like the ones who laughed at us and threw rocks, even like those wicked people that hurt Sophia, those who were so hard to forgive. I was flooded with conviction that it all would come to pass.
The late Saundra Cates studied elementary education at the University of Maine at Farmington. She was a Quaker minister’s wife for many years. She loved children, music, the Bible and enjoyed a number of hobbies, literary and otherwise. She died of kidney disease on July 4th, 2021.
Anna Cates is a graduate of Indiana State University (M.A. English and Ph.D. Curriculum & Instruction/English) and National University (M.F.A. Creative Writing). She teaches college writing and literature and graduate education as an online instructor. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Dwarf Stars, Elgin, and Rhysling awards. Her books include: The Meaning of Life (Cyberwit Press), The Frog King (Cyberwit Press), The Darkroom (Prolific Press), The Golem & the Nazi (Red Moon Press), The Journey (Wipf & Stock), Love in the Time of Covid (Wipf & Stock), and The Poison Tree: A Peace Play (Wipf & Stock). She presently resides in Wilmington, Ohio with her cats, Freddie and Fifi.