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Ready to Begin - A Short Story and a Writing Challenge

The candles flickered, casting a flame-gold glow over the walls of our small hut, punctuated by long shadows that stretched across the mud-packed walls to the ceiling as we prepared the dinner. I carried the meat and herbs that we were commanded to make, and sat, pulling my cloak around my shoulders. Beside me, my brother sat, too, his staff in his hand, his eyes solemn as he stared at the dish I had placed before him.

Outside, the wind howled as it moved through the street, and I steeled myself, closing my eyes until the wind passed by. Would the angel of death sound like the wind, I wondered? Would the Lord’s messenger make a sound as he passed over the house? We had done everything Moses commanded us to do. I could smell the blood on the door frames and lintels of the entire neighborhood. That morning, the bleating of sheep had filled the air, and now it was so quiet that the wind’s howling was like the roar of the sea.

“This night, we will see the power of the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob,” my brother said gently, looking directly at me. He must have seen the muscles tense within me at the sound of the wind, must have felt the fear that coursed through my veins. “We must have faith that He will see the blood and passover us, just as Moses has said, and protect this house… and everyone in it.”

My brother was the rock that the family had been built on for all these years since our father had been killed by one of the Egyptian soldiers overseeing the building of a temple that would be dedicated to one of their many gods. I barely remembered him, but my brother Rubal had been close to him, and now strived to be as strong a man as our father had once been. His calloused hands worked hard, with integrity, at any job that the Pharoah’s commanders assigned him. My mother and I often saw him at work as we gathered the straw for the brick makers. Rubal kept his back upright as he worked, and once I saw him carry two loads – his own and that of an old man whose burden was too heavy for him to bear the weight of. Rubal took it up from him, and walked with the man, so that he would not be in trouble for shirking off his burden.

Rubal was the firstborn son in our home. He should have been the one who was fearful. Yet he sat steadfast, a brave expression on his face. His faith in God was unshakable.

The shutters on the windows rattled once more and Rubal reached out his hands, taking mine in his left and our mother’s in his right, his staff leaned against the table, casting a shadow of the rod to stretch over the ceiling. “God, we are here,” he prayed earnestly. “We are Your people, and we are ready to go to the Land You have Promised our ancestors. We are ready to follow Moses, the great leader You have provided for us. You have heard our cries for help, and we are ready.” Our mother nodded her head, and I saw her fingers squeeze tightly around Rubal’s hand. Rubal squeezed back, tightening his grip on mine as well, and he opened his eyes, looking between mother and I, a smile on his face. It didn’t quite reach his tired eyes, though, and in them I could see the anxiousness lurking.

“Let us eat,” he said quietly, reaching for a piece of the unleavened bread that I had prepared. It was flat and plain, but he took it and ate of it, smiling as he chewed. Mother and I took bread as well, and Rubal served us each a bit of the meat and we ate, chewing the lamb that we had roasted, and the herbs.

All over the Hebrew quarter, families who trusted in God were doing the same, I thought, and pictured us all moving in unison as we reached for our cups and drank, then folded the meat into the flattened bread and ate.

“When we are free,” Rubal said, “What do you imagine the Promised Land will be like?”

“I hope that it has fields of flowers and trees and things to see that are beautiful,” I answered quickly. Moses had said the Promised Land would be a land flowing with milk and honey, and the most luxurious place I could imagine was a place like the Pharoah’s garden that I had heard many stories about. They said it was beautiful there, and I longed to see it, longed to smell what a flower might be like. They said they were perfumed and that there were many plants like the reeds and bushes that grew near the river, but more beautiful than could be imagined.

“As long as there is less sand!” Our mother said, and we laughed, for the sand was everywhere in Egypt. Sand covered the floor and the streets and it carried in the wind and got in our mouths and our hair as we worked.

The wind rattled the windows once more, but it didn’t make me afraid that time. I was too busy picturing beautiful rolling hills of grass and flowers, where I would smell a lily and our mother could be free from the sand. We were ready, our packs already made, our cloaks already on, and somewhere across the village I knew that Moses, too, was ready. He would lead us out of Egypt and to the Promised Land, and we would be happy and free and never again would Rubal need to lift the heavy bricks to build the Egyptian temples.

Rubal said, “I hope to have flocks of sheep. I will take them and shepherd them like our ancestors did and we’ll always have cream and meat to eat. We’ll have a home and a pen for the sheep and we will be able to make our sacrifices to God and to worship Him.” He took his staff in his hand again and held it tightly even as he ate, ready to begin the exodus.

This story was written as a response to a prompt that I worked on with my sister back in January. She is a writer, too, and had asked me to share some of the things I'd learned while earning my Master's in Creative Writing. She chose to write a story set in the time of her favorite Biblical character's life - Moses. Hers focused on the parting of the Red Sea, while I chose to focus mine on the night before the Exodus from Egypt, the very first Passover.

One of the best prompts you can give yourself is to step into another lifetime or another place and "experience" something that you've often read about through your writing. Writing allows us to put ourselves into a character's shoes and live through a particular event in their lives. If the event happens to be historically accurate, you can learn a good deal about the people who went through the real life event when you pause to analyze the things they must have felt and thought as they watched history unfold.

My challenge to you, therefore, is to select a historical event - it doesn't have to be from the Bible if that's not your thing - and write from the point of view of any eye-witness to the account. The story can be told as a current event or as something the character looks back upon. For example, my sister's story was from the point of view of a grandmother telling her grandson about her harrowing journey over dry land, surrounded by the walls of sea water.

Take the time to enrich the details of history by living through it - you'll be amazed how much more real the events you've learned about are just be humanizing it on a "personal" level through your writing!

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