33 Deathstalker

“Ee-yah!” Zim held his foot and hopped along.

Zarephath, Sidon, 869 BC

1 Kings 17:17-23

Elijah stopped dead in the path. “What is it, Zim?” He brushed dead leaves from the path and jumped back. Stomped twice with his heel. “Got it.” He snapped a dead vine and used the twig to hold up a flattened scorpion.

Zim dropped on his rump between two vines and held the ball of his foot. “Mommy, Mommy. It hurts, Mommy. It hurts awful.”

The widow slapped her donkey’s lead line into Neetz’s hand, dashed to Zim, and knelt by his side. “Mommy’s here.”

Make it go away, Mommy.” He screamed again. “Oh, Mommy. What bit me?”

Shamgar, the donkey, backed off, and Neetz picked up his lead line.

Mommy’ll fix it, baby.” She pried at the fingers Zim had wrapped around his foot.

Elijah knelt by Zim. “Let me see, ma’am” He unlaced the sandal and ran his fingers over Zim’s foot and paused at the arch. A red welt swelled, and on the welt, a white disc around a tiny hole. He turned to Nathan and bit his lips together.

Nathan yanked his donkey forward and held Zim’s foot in his hand. His face turned white. He lifted Zim in his arms.

I wanta go home.” Zim’s head drooped. “Take me home, Mommy. Can we go home, please?”

Yes, my sweet.” She touched Elijah’s hand with shaking fingers and flicked feverish, over-bright eyes at him. “Help us, son.”

Elijah patted Zim’s head and glanced at the sun perched over the Zarephath skyline. The water in the spring would have to wait. “We’re gonna take you home, Zim, so you can rest your foot.”

Neetz handed her donkey lead to Elijah. Her lips and chin trembled. “I’ll get my father.” She hugged the widow. “People come to Daddy to heal them from all sorts of things.” She opened her pack. “Is that scorpion dead? He’ll want to see it.”

Elijah dangled the scorpion from the twig. The body was gray-green, the legs and neck, greenish-yellow. He turned away from Zim and whispered to Neetz. Tell your father in Gilead we call this kind ‘deathstalker.’” He dropped the scorpion into Neetz’s pack. “The venom ….” He glanced at Zim and sighed.

Neetz squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, shook her head, and jogged off toward the north gate of the city.

Zim’s head rolled back against Nathan’s arm. “Why is everything spinning?” He whimpered. “Take me home, Mommy.”

She laid her hand on Zim’s forehead. Her eyes widened, white and round. Her breaths came quick and shallow.

Zim twisted and spewed vomit over the base of a vine.

Nathan held him while he finished heaving. “I’m sorry, Zim.”

The widow used her sleeve to wipe drool from his mouth and vomit from his chin. She ran her fingers over the rash covering his foot. “Does it itch, my child?” She unlaced his other sandal and tucked them both into her tunic.

Zim’s eyes roved unfocused among Elijah, Shamgar, and the widow.

Go, Nate. I’ve got the widow and the donkeys.” Elijah took the widow by the arm.

As Nathan toted Zim toward the south gate, the boy’s legs and arms twitched.

The widow surged ahead and held Zim’s legs. “There, there.” But Nathan’s long strides forced her into a jog. Her hands bounced, unable to control Zim’s twitching.

She sobbed and tripped with the fast pace.

Stay with Nathan, ma’am. I’ll unload the donkeys.” Elijah halted the donkeys between the rows and tossed the waterskins from their panniers into a long pile under the vines.

Then he fastened the lead of each donkey to the pannier of the donkey ahead. Exactly like the long string of donkeys he lead out to the King’s Highway every week for Dad. He jerked the five donkeys along at a furious trot and caught up with the widow.

She stumbled along at Nathan’s pace, a whimper escaping her with each step.

Zim will be all right, ma’am.” Elijah kept a firm grip on the donkeys’ lead and tugged the widow tight to his side. “Our Zim’s going to be fine.”

At the south gate, two women entered ahead of Nathan, leading donkeys loaded with giant sacks of pomegranates.

Coming through.” Nathan called.

The women ignored Nathan’s warning, so he shoved their donkeys left and right, raised Zim over the withers, and rammed through.

As Elijah squeezed the widow between the sacks of pomegranates, he shoved the two donkeys farther apart and led his string of five through. As each of his donkeys separated the wide-eyed women, he nodded. “Pardon us, please.”

The widow skipped to keep up.

Elijah helped her along with a firm hold on her elbow, his arm snugged around her waist, and his hand jerking the donkey lead.

As they pushed through the widow’s gate, Zim’s head lolled back against Nathan’s arm.

His face had swollen.

Nathan carried him straight upstairs, and the widow followed.

Elijah hustled the five donkeys into stalls. He bent and loosened a strap on a pannier but stopped and backed away. Zim needed him upstairs.

Never had he shut a donkey in without fresh hay, twice the water it might drink in a day, and a thorough brush-down. But he left these five with strapped-on panniers and halters, sweat-matted fur, and burrs in their tails. He ignored their empty mangers but drew water from the well, sloshed a partly filled bucket onto the floor of each stall, and pounded up the stairs.

The little chatterbox lay silent on the dining skin with his tunic crumpled by the wall, and his loin cloth covering his nakedness. His face, swollen like a ripe wineskin, forced his eyes shut. “Hul, Malmal. Hul.”

The widow knelt and stroked his forehead. “Rest, my baby. Rest.”

An empty cup stood by her knee, and water puddled next to Zim’s head.

Sweat erupted from Zim’s torso. Vomit clung to his chin.

Elijah dashed back to the well and brought up a fresh bucket of cool water. He set it by the widow.

Nathan brought cloths from a shelf, dipped one, and cleaned Zim’s lips and chin.

The widow wet a fresh cloth in the bucket and wiped his swollen eyelids.

Elijah produced a piece of flatbread from his tunic. “We never stopped to eat.” He dipped the bread in the water, placed it on the scorpion bite, and wrapped a cloth around Zim’s foot to hold it in place. “This is how my father in Gilead draws out the poison from a bee sting.”

The widow’s eyebrows raised, and she nodded.

Nathan moistened more cloths, crouched by Zim’s waist, and bathed his arms and chest.

Zim wheezed and gasped.

Tears dripped from Elijah’s chin onto Zim’s feet.

The rash had spread from the welt up to Zim’s thigh. His swollen tongue poked between his lips.

Hashabiah burst through the door with Neetz behind him.

Zim!” He sank to his knees by the boy and ran his fingers over his foot. “Oh, Lord, help us. Please don’t let this poison do its work.”

He dug in his pack and handed a small package to Neetz. “Turmeric, to reduce the swelling. Mix it with the garlic and the charcoal in hot water. Soak cloths in the mix and lay them over Zim’s face. Change them every hour.”

Hashabiah handed a larger bundle to Nathan. “Frankincense, tamarind, sesame, and mint. Make a tea. Spoon as much of the tea into Zim as you can. May the Lord bless your efforts.”

He borrowed the cloth from the widow and washed Zim’s face. “Neetz’s mother is extremely worried, and I must return to her. I shall continue to ask the Lord to intervene.”

Muh.” The widow moaned and touched his sleeve. “Pray.”

He paused. “Once again, Lord, we borrow words from King David.i

Our spirit is overwhelmed within us, yet you know our path.

In the way where Zim walked they have hidden a snare.

We looked on our right hand, and hoped,

but there was no man who would know us: refuge failed us;

no man cared for Zim’s life.

We cry unto you, Oh Lord:

You are our refuge and our portion in the land of the living.

Hear our cry; for this, our Zim, is brought very low:

deliver Zim from this poison; for it is stronger than we are.

Bring Zim’s life out of prison, that we may praise your name.

Hashabiah rose.

Nathan escorted him out and came right back. “Hot water. Zim needs hot water.”

Elijah jumped out to the veranda, grabbed leaves from the box of kindling, and struck the flint against the pyrite stone again and again.

A spark finally landed in his leaves.

He blew too hard, and the spark went out. What’s wrong with me? I’ve built a thousand fires. “Help me, Lord. Slow me down, so I do this right. For Zim.”

Again he struck the flint on the rock, and when the precious spark fell, he nourished it into a flame. He set the widow’s iron pot on the fire and poured in water.

When the water heated, he poured it into a bowl and stirred in the turmeric, charcoal, and garlic. On a shelf he found a cloth the right size and submerged it in his brew. “How long do I have to soak it?”

Neetz and the widow furrowed their brows.

Nathan draped the wet cloth over Zim’s eyes. “We can let the next one soak longer.”

Elijah put a cup in Neetz’s hands. “For the tea. It’s hot.”

Neetz laid out the frankincense, tamarind, sesame, and mint. “I’d rather my father mixed this.”

Nathan poured half of each packet into a cup of hot water and stirred. He held the cup under Elijah’s nose.

It’s dissolved, Nate. Oh, Lord. Please help Zim to drink it.” Elijah whispered, “Zim, this will feel so good on your tongue.”

Neetz tipped the spoon over Zim’s mouth, the tea flowed over his swollen lips and tongue then dribbled down his cheeks into his hair.

A tear slipped from the widow’s eye then another.

Neetz dipped a cloth in water and wiped Zim’s chin. “Let’s try again.”

The widow opened Zim’s lips with her fingers.

Elijah took the spoon and poured. “Please, Lord. This tea is what Zim needs.”

The tea ran over Zim’s cheeks and puddled on the dining skin.

Elijah and Nathan groaned.

Neetz bowed her head.

The widow whispered, “Oh, my Zim. My precious Zim.”

Twilight settled in. Elijah lit the candles in three of the ornate cast iron sconces. Long into the night, he sat with Neetz, Nathan, and the widow, passing damp cloths over Zim’s face and arms, pouring the tea of herbs over Zim’s closed lips.

Three times in the night, he brought water from the well. On his first trip he took the panniers and halters off the donkeys. On his second, he forked hay into their mangers and refilled their water buckets. On his third, he picked up a curry brush but laid it back on the shelf. “Sorry. I’ll have to clean you later.”

Zim’s breaths came shorter and shorter. His little chest rose and fell at longer intervals.

Shortly after dawn, Neetz held a fresh cloth out to Nathan, but he stood motionless—staring at Zim’s gray skin and still chest.

Elijah rested his ear on Zim’s ribs. No heart beat.

iFrom Psalm 147: 3-7

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