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         “Finally, the dragon’s men gave up, and went off to another part of the hospital, where they could talk about what to do.  While they were there,” Ileana said, glancing at Sariel, “They raided the pharmacy, taking every pill and vial that they could lay their hands on.”
         “Why did they want those?” Chess asked, genuinely wondering.
         “Uh…”  Ileana turned to him, looking suddenly flustered.  And then she shrugged.  “I don’t know: the dragon knew they were valuable to someone, so I guess they were valuable to him, too.”
         “There are serious flaws in this story,” Sariel muttered, throwing another twig into the fire.
         “Okay, now, both of you shut up.”  Ileana straightened.  “Suspend your disbelief.”
         “Done,” Chess agreed.  “So, the dragon’s army stole drugs that they could sell, and the witch --”  He stopped, feeling suddenly cold.  Sariel and Ileana had been talking.  “Uh, what about the doctor?”
         “Well, the witch vowed grave revenge on the dragon’s men, but, as soon as she could, she ran to the doctor.  He was mortally wounded, but still able to speak to her.
         “She knelt down to cradle his head in her arms.  ‘You have helped me,’ she told him gently.  ‘And I am a friend of the goddess Lilumei.  Right now, the goddess is as helpless as a human, here in our mortal world, but someday she will regain her powers.  When that happens, she will wish to repay you for helping her friend.  Is there anything that you would ask her for?’
         “The doctor looked up at her and whispered, ‘The dearest wish of my heart is for there to be peace between all men.  No more wars, no more fighting.  Peace.’
         “The witch bowed her head and answered sadly, ‘Healer, she is a powerful goddess.  She created humans, but she gave them the freedom of their own wills.  I beg you, ask for something else.’
         “The doctor’s breathing was becoming rapid and shallow, but he said, ‘Here, in this hospital, we have helped many people who are sick but cannot pay.  All my life, I have worked to help others.  If a few more people would also dedicate their lives to this mission, I could ask for nothing greater.’
         “The witch bowed her head and answered, even more sadly, ‘Healer, she is a goddess.  She created humans, but she gave them the ability to form their own opinions.  She would not tell them what to do.  Only humans can decide what is important to them.  I beg you, ask me for something else.’
         “The witch had to lean in close to hear the doctor’s next words.  ‘I think I have a request that can be done,’ he said with a wan smile.  ‘All my life I have gathered knowledge of healing.  Take my knowledge, and my desire to help others… and use it, yourself.  For, although there is no god who can make human hearts and minds change, any human may effect the beginning of change.  If you use my knowledge of healing to help others, then you will bring a spark of hope to the world, and your actions might be repeated by other people.  The change will not be as sudden as an edict from a god… but it may be even more powerful.’
         “As he spoke, he radiated such goodness that the witch felt compelled to grant his wish, herself.  ‘Yes, Healer, I can do that,’ she answered softly.  And she stayed with him for a while.”
         As she ended her tale, Ileana settled back on the ground, appearing satisfied.
         Chess wondered how Sariel would react to the story.  His heart jumped suddenly as he watched her turn toward Ileana.  He saw Sariel’s lip curl as she bent her head close to Ileana’s upturned face.
         Sariel ran her fingers slowly over Ileana’s lips, and then down to her throat.  “Bitch,” Sariel hissed.  And then she rose and walked off into the darkness… with a backward glance at Ileana.
         Chess gaped at Ileana, as she turned to him with a faraway smile.  “Please excuse us,” she murmured, not really focusing her eyes on him.  And then she followed Sariel.
         For a long time, Chess stared at the fire.  He had not had any idea that anything like this was going on between the two of them.  No wonder Sariel had been ignoring him, he thought.  He felt like an idiot.  But his stunned surprise soon gave way to obsessing over what they were doing right then?
         Chess groaned quietly and bowed his head, pressing fists against his eyes.  And when he finally looked up, a stranger was standing on the other side of the fire.

Continued next page...

“Send out those two angels so that we can know them.”
“I won’t do that,” I said, playing Lot... “but I have two daughters who don’t know anyone, you can meet them.”
“Okay,” said Judah.
I threw open the door and led my imaginary daughters outside so they could know the Sodomites...
“Pleased to meet you.”
“Charmed, I’m sure.”
“Nice to meet you.”
- Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

         In this short passage, Christopher Moore takes what is surely one of the most disturbing parts of the Old Testament of the Abrahamic Bible and turns it into something hilarious. This is a scene in which children are play-acting stories from the Bible, in the same way children might play out a scene from the latest action movie. I remember reading this section, Genesis 19:5-8, as a child, myself, and wondering how angels could possibly stand by and allow Lot to sacrifice his daughters for them... and how Lot could suggest it. Of course, I didn’t know anything about the tradition of protecting a guest under your roof at all costs. Now I have heard of the idea in the context of incidents that have occurred in Afghanistan, Pakistan and this one, where Sodom was possibly in Jordan or Syria.
         Despite the persistently unnerving nature of this passage -- because, really, the way the Bible portrays the “Sodomites” makes them seem only slightly less dangerous than the Reavers in Firefly -- I guess the idea of sacred hospitality stayed with me because the vision of the doctor who stands in the doorway of the hospital and refuses to give up his guest, the witch, was one of the first ideas that I came up with for my story.
         And my appreciation goes out to Christopher Moore for giving me the perspective of others who also read these verses at a much-too-young age.



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