Ishnara could not fall asleep.
Try as she might, she always ended up tossing and turning in bed, the linen sheets that her mother had sewn for her for use as a blanket lay bunched up in the corner. She heard the rain platter on the roof and against the closed windows and sighed exasperatedly at the sounds that were a little worse than nails on a chalkboard to her.
A cool draft eased into the house through what small openings there were and the noise kept her awake. Burying her face in her pillow, she tried to stifle the roar of the storm. She hated this time of the year, hated the monsoon season.
The month of November it was and it chose to begin in unremarkable dull fashion. While strongest at night, the rain wasn’t as absent during the days as she had hoped. There were a few reprieves when the sun would shine and she could go out to play, but they were far and few in between. How anyone could love this godforsaken weather she could not fathom.
Her father loved it despite her own reservations and her mother would always say, “It’s only the rain love.” She knew the rain couldn’t hurt her, but it was keeping her awake at night. She had no intention of sleeping past noon but if she did not get her sleep, she would. Of course, mother would come in and send her off with a brisk wakening.
Unhappy and clearly still not able to fall into the lull of the night, Ishnara reluctantly got up from bed and walked across the cold wooden floors to the window sill. She lit the scented candle and looked out of the rain-stained window. The rain fell hard tonight and thunder rumbled in the distance. The crazy priest at church would probably claim that God was angry at them and sent his wrath down on mankind in the form of punishing rain and brilliant flashes of lightning. They were his messages to his flock, that he was displeased and that they should change, lest he administers harsher vindication.
Ishnara never really believed that.
All she needed to do was climb the stone steps leading up to one of the four guard posts built atop the granite walls to see that God already had his terrible punishment carried out. The city of Jericho stood as a testament of his mercy and the Walls of Jericho kept them save and isolated from the outside. Or at least, that was what last Sunday’s sermon was about.
Yet, the decaying land outside of lush Jericho proved that there might be some merit to the old priest’s words. Years had passed and not one person could recall how life used to be, before the heavens rained fire down on all of mankind and Hell itself rose up in defiance to all things good.
Far into the crackling windswept waste land that is now known as the Land of Nod, the decadent fortress known only as Pandemonium stood alone in the twisting nether of supernatural energy. It’s very presence an ominous reminder that the fabled battle between God and the Devil truly did exist.
But what’s more is that that battle had apparently been fought and won.
And the Devil was victorious.
She had never seen the Devil of course, nor glimpsed of the demons that roamed the wild lands like ravenous hyenas. They came in all shapes and sizes, some small mimicking in grotesque fashion the form of a dog, while there were others that towered even the tallest mountains, moving slowly with each bounding footstep throughout the wasteland that remained. And while Jericho was the safe haven for humanity, Ishnara knew that the Walls weren’t meant to keep the demons out, they were built to keep the humans in.
Truth be told there were nights far worse than tonight. At least it was only the rain that kept her awake. There were nights when she would hear the shrill laughter of those fiends, hear their clawed or hoofed feet run rampant across her roof or the streets. She would hear on occasion a pawing at the door, a household name cajoled and called in a sinister voice. Shops would be broken into and the streets defiled by their filth. Yet, none had ventured into a home. They lingered at the door step calling out to the denizens or knocked on the windows with boney knuckles but none forced their way through.
But they didn’t need to come through. Their presence permeated the air with an intolerable evil that no one could shrug off. It was impossible to sleep through such madness. And through it all, a deepening sense of macabre realism sets in.
Every time they began to feel that they could gather what life they have and make more, the demons return to show who’s truly in charge. The Walls could not keep them out, it had no power over the reigning might of Hell on earth. The Walls were for Jericho’s protection, for its peoples’ safety.
They were locked in here, to prevent anyone from dying a needless death in Hell.
But tonight was normal. Only the rumble of thunder and flashes of lightning in the sky and the glimmer of silver rain on the earth. The demons never disturbed them when it rained. The priest of course, had something to say about this too; the tears of God he called it. Pure as holy fire, sent from heavens to wash the filth of the world.
He said that the touch of rain on demon flesh was as acid to a man. While Ishnara, despite being a mere fifteen years old, was more of a cynic and realist than her parents would have liked, she could not find fault with that statement. It seemed plausible that he was right, that the rain was indeed God’s way of protecting mankind as much as he could. Naturally, this brought to surface, many more questions, but none of which she could particularly care to ponder on now. She’d always been inquisitive and more inclined to question matters than her peers would. This at most times, set her apart from them.
Often times, she felt alone in the world. No one seemed ready to partake in her lengthy conversations. Her friends would laugh her off and demand she join them for a game of catch while adults simply smiled and excused themselves politely. She knew they avoided her, hearing on occasion one of them complaining to her father about her lack of trust in matters pertaining to church and state. A trouble maker, some even went so far to call her, much to the chagrin of her father whom promptly proceeded to put them in their place. She had been grateful for such a doting parent, but she knew it would only get worst. There was only so much he could do to protect her.
Yet they never chastised her for thinking too much or for questioning. For that much, she was grateful, though there were times she wished she were more like a normal fifteen year old. Someone who didn’t think too much. Someone who could believe the optimistic words of their priest and take in stride the howling of furious winds that blew just beyond the Walls of Jericho.
But she could not, try as she might.
She sighed, a long and forlorn whisper against the roaring thunderstorm. Moving away from the window sill, she hopped back into bed. Pulling the covers over her, she shut her eyes and tried desperately to dull the sound of God’s purifying mercy.
She let out a stifled yawn, her hands automatically rising to rub at her eyes. There were red and tear stained. She was sleepy, she could feel it but her mind was still active. While the body sought to rest, she could not help herself from thinking. Groaning aloud, Ishnara turned and faced the wall. She traced the uneven cemented bumps with her eyes, going so far as to count them in an effort to fall asleep.
“Go to sleep Ishnara, quickly please,” she whispered to herself.
But she remained awake as lightning flashed and thunder rumbled. The torrent continued, with no indication of subsiding.
She lay in bed with her eyes opened as the rain fell without mercy.
At first, all he felt was the bitter cold on his skin. He shivered involuntarily, unaware of anything else for the moment. His mind was still tearing off the lingering spell of sleep, even as his body readily succumbed to the harsh weather. But the cold crept up his spine like a sinuous serpent under his flesh, forcing whatever shackles of self imposed comfort his mind created for him to break.
Opening his eyes slowly and rather painfully, he felt the rain fall like icy stones on his naked body. His long dark hair was severely wet and stuck to him, rivulets of water running down his broad back and chest. He coughed and the sound was startling and frightful to his ears. Silver sheets danced before his eyes against the gray of the night and he struggled to see through the lethargic mist that blinded him.
Standing up on shaky, yet powerfully built legs, he supported his weight against the tree he woke up beneath. Coughing incessantly and shivering from the cold, he shook his head viciously to clear his mind and hopefully his vision. His ears were the first to adjust and he heard the leaves rustling and breaking under the rain. He could hear the loud hush emanating from the forest despite the cacophonous torrent that plagued him so. Slowly but surely his vision returned to him and eventually the misty gray that clouded his sight gave way to a vibrant green doused in the brooding onslaught of rain and thunder. Trees bent and swayed under the gale and the grass broke under his naked feet.
Taking a step forward, he spent a few moments getting used to his legs before shrugging off the pestilence of dreariness and moving forward with increasing determination.
He did not know where he was, the surroundings were strange and frightening to him. But what was worst was he could not recall any other place other than where he was now. His mind had long since shaken off the vestiges of sleep and was processing information at an alarming rate, but it could not remember this place.
There was no memory of him being anywhere, doing anything. It was as if he had been asleep forever, waking only now for some unknown purpose. He rebelled against his mind, struggling to remain sane. Yet, despite it all, his own enigma confounded and belittled him.
Besides having no recollection of his life, he realized he had no recollection of himself either.
His name was lost to him. All he knew was the rain that beat down on his naked body and if he did not find shelter soon, his new found existence would come to a crashing end very soon.
Cold and heavy hearted, he trudged through the dense and wet forest, his feet hurting and bleeding from stepping over and onto branches. He ignored the pain and focused on his single minded mission. He had to get out of this rain. He had to get somewhere safe. His steel gray eyes roamed the forestry, looking for a crude outline of a cave or protruding rock formation he could huddle within or under. Hunger nagged at him, turning his stomach into knots, and for a moment he wondered if finding shelter was so important. If he could find no food, he would die regardless. As soon as the thought of death crept into his agonized mind, he angrily pushed it away, increasing his pace.
He will find shelter and once he’s warm and has had time to recuperate, he will scour the forest for food, once the rain subsides of course.
And when he is safe and fed, only then will he allow himself the time to ponder this mystery.
But everywhere he looked he saw only trees bending against the wind and rain that seemed to flow everywhere without pause. He pushed on, ignoring the more cuts forming on the soles on his feet and his back and arms. His face wasn’t spared either. Bringing a callous hand up, he shielded his eyes from the piercing thorns and bushes. It was bleeding and pricked with numerous woodland barbs.
He desperately wanted to stop and tend to his aching body but his determined mind forced his weakening spirit to go on. So he persisted, until all that was left was a raw animalistic force that ignored all the calamities that befell him as he waded through the swampy forest.
His eyes saw very little beyond the dark fall of rain. Everywhere, darkness blossomed. The trees cast broody shadows and what little light the moon gave seemed to make the blackness go deeper. Therefore when at the corner of his eye he caught a twinkling of light, he ignored it. But the light never left and it danced like a candle burning in the dark.
Turning slowly, he saw it. Beyond the breaking of the bush, there was a single ray of light, like a beacon in the night. Hope flared in him and he hurried towards it. Mayhap it was a place he could find shelter, and food. His stomach growled at the thought of warm food. Pushing away such distracting thoughts, he hastened his pace.
The rain seemed to beat down on him more furiously now and he felt the icy cold drops prick him hard. Fatigue settled in gradually and as he quickened, it gorged at him strongly. His legs felt heavy and his heart beat with such a loud rhythm that he was afraid it might explode. His ears were ringing and his vision became blurred once more.
The light burnt brightly and a part of him knew that he was close.
Just a few more steps and he would reach but his mind swam with polluting thoughts of failure and death. His thighs burnt and his feet ached. His body fought against him and as he kept his sight on the light that guided him, that eventually faded. The light went out in the dark and once again, he was blinded. The shadows came and took him over.
He felt his body giving way and the rich taste of the earth in his mouth when his face collided with the ground.