Clays Ark | Chapter 14 of 51

Author: Octavia E. Butler | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 6443 Views | Add a Review

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Past 9

WITHIN TWENTY-FOUR HOURS, ELI had infected everyone on the mountaintop ranch. He had also talked the old man, Gabriel Boyd, into giving him a job as a handyman. Boyd was not willing to pay much more than room and board, but room and board was all Eli really wanted—a chance to stay and perhaps save some of these people.

He was given a cot in a back room that had been used for storage. He was given his meals with the family, and he worked alongside the men of the family. He knew nothing about ranching or building houses, but he was strong and willing and quick. Also, he knew his Bible. This in particular impressed both the old man and his wife. Few people read the Bible now, except as literature. Religion was about as far out of fashion as it had ever been in the United States—a reaction against the intense religious feeling at the turn of the century. But Eli had been a boy preacher during that strange, not entirely sane time. He had been precocious and sincere, had read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, and could still talk about it knowledgeably. Also, Eli knew how to be easygoing and personable, a refugee from the city, grateful to be away from the city. He knew how to win people over even as he condemned them to illness and possible death.

He wanted them all to start showing symptoms at about the same time, and he wanted that time to be soon. Left to themselves, infected people feeling their symptoms tended to huddle together in an us-against-the-world attitude. If everyone became ill at the same time, he would have less trouble keeping individuals from trying to go for help. He had started what could become an epidemic. Now, if he were going to be able to live with himself at all, he had to contain it.

He worked hard on the house that was intended for the son named Christian—Chris to everyone but his father. Christian’s wife Gwyn was going to have a baby and Christian had decided that the house would be finished before the baby arrived. Eli did not know or care whether this was possible, but he liked Christian and Gwyn. He worried about what the disease might do to a pregnant woman and her child. Whatever happened would be his fault.

Sometimes guilt and fear rode him very nearly into insanity, and only the exhausting hard work of building kept him connected to the world outside himself. He liked these people. They were decent, kind, and in spite of the angry God they worshipped, they were remarkably peaceful and uncorrupted by the cynicism and violence outside. They were good people. Yet it was inevitable that some of them would die.

The daughter Meda was doing her best to add to his burdens by seducing him. She had no subtlety, did not attempt any.

“I’d like to sleep with you,” she told him when she got her courage up. He had known since he met her that she wanted to sleep with someone, and would settle for him. He fended her off gently.

“Girl, what are you trying to do? Get yourself in trouble and get me shot? Your people have been good to me.”

“They wouldn’t,” she said, “if I told them who you are. They think heaven is only for God and his chosen.”

He became serious. “Don’t play games with me, Meda. I like your honesty and I like you, but don’t threaten me.”

She grinned. “You know I wouldn’t tell.”

“I know.”

“And if I can keep one secret, I can keep two.” She touched his face. “I’m not going to let you alone.”

Her touch produced a interesting tingle. She was coming into her time. He had apparently arrived just after her time of fertility the month before. That had been a blessing. He had been able to avoid the other two young women, but Meda would not let him avoid her. Now, she had no idea the trouble she was courting. She probably imagined a romantic interlude. She did not imagine being thrown on the rocky ground and hurt—inevitably hurt.

“No,” he said, pushing her away. She was still smiling when he turned from her and began hammering in siding nails. She watched for a while, and he discovered he enjoyed the attention. He had not believed women outside the crew would want to look at him with his body so changed. Meda was trouble, but he was sorry when she decided to leave. She looked as though she had lost a little weight, he noticed.

As she walked away, her brother Christian came out of the main house and stopped her. They were too far from Eli to worry about his hearing them, but he heard every word.

“That guy been talking to you, Mead?” Christian demanded. Eli could not recall having heard Christian refer to him as “that guy” before. For Christian this was damned unfriendly.

“Sure he has,” Meda said. “I came out here to talk to him. Why shouldn’t he talk to me?” Blast her honesty!

“What’d you say to him?”

“What did you do this morning Chris? Look in the mirror and mistake yourself for Dad?”

“What did he say to you?”

Eli looked at them and saw even over the distance that she smiled sadly. “Relax,” she told her brother. “He said no. He said the family had been good to him and he didn’t want trouble.”

Christian gave an oddly brittle laugh. “Anybody who recognizes you as trouble has the right idea,” he said. “If that guy were white, I’d tell you to marry him.”

Meda watched her brother with visibly growing confusion. Living in the house, Eli had heard enough to know Christian was her favorite brother. They had shared secrets since childhood. Christian knew how tired she was of being an isolated virgin, and she knew how nervous he was about becoming a father. Right now, she knew there was something wrong with him.

“Did you break down and buy some perfume?” he asked. “You smell good.”

Eli put down his hammer and stood up. It was beginning. Meda had bathed and she smelled of soap, but she was not wearing perfume. She was simply coming into her time. If she and her brothers lived, they would have to learn to avoid each other at these times. Now, however, Eli might have to help them. He stood still, waiting to see whether Christian could control himself. He realized Meda might not be as much in control as she should be either. He would not let them commit incest. They would be losing enough of their humanity shortly.

Eli jumped down from the floor of the house and started toward them. At that moment, Christian reached up and touched Meda’s face with one trembling hand. Then, with a strange, whining cry, he folded slowly to the ground, out cold.

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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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