31. Deathstalker

Zarephath, Sidon, 869 BC

1 Kings 17:17-23

Elijah glanced at the widow trudging with him through the vineyard. “The vines will act like they haven’t tasted these tiny drinks, but the water will save them.” He patted the rump of Nathan’s donkey ahead of him. “We just have to keep carrying.”

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

Elijah stopped dead in the path. What was wrong with Zim?

Ow! Ow! Ow! Something bit me. It hurts. Oh, it hurts really, really bad. Oww.”

Neetz wrapped an arm around him. “What happened?”

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 Elijah’s hand and in several quick strides knelt by Zim. “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.

Nathan brushed dead leaves back from the path. “What was it, Zim?” He jumped back then stomped twice with his heel. “Got it.” He snapped a dead vine and used the twig to flick a scorpion into the path. His voice shook. The deathstalker, Lijah.”

Nathan took two strides and knelt by Zim. “Let me see, ma’am” He unlaced the sandal and ran his fingers over Zim’s foot. His face turned white. He lifted Zim in his arms.

Elijah yanked his two donkeys forward and held Zim’s foot in his hand. His fingers paused at the arch, where a red welt rose with a white disc around a tiny hole. He mouthed to Nathan, “It’s bad.”

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 me, son.”

Elijah patted Zim’s head and glanced at the sun perched over the Zarephath skyline. The water in the spring would just have to wait. “Mr. Nathan’s 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. “It’s what Nathan said, a ‘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. A rash covered 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. “Ready?” He jerked the five donkeys along at a furious trot and caught up with the widow.

She stumbled along at Nathan’s pace. With each step, a whimper escaped.

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

As they left the vines and jogged past the garden walls, Elijah moaned. Two men in black tunics strolled from the middle gate into the dried-up vegetable patches. “Hurry, Nate. Thugs.”

Nathan stretched his herky-jerky strides into a smooth lope.

The widow fell behind a step then leaped to keep up.

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

Coming through.” Nathan called.

Elijah glanced at the black-tunics. Had they heard Nathan? Noticed his gangling knees or elbows? No, they meandered toward Mt. Hermon.

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

Elijah glanced toward the middle gate. The black tunics sauntered along. As he 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. Each stride bumped out a tiny sob.

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 worse 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 a 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 his 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.

I’m making Zim a poultice, ma’am.” Elijah produced a piece of flatbread from his tunic. “We never stopped to eat.”

The widow’s eyebrows raised, and she nodded.

He dipped the bread in the water, placed it on the scorpion bite, and wrapped a cloth around the foot to hold it in place. “This is how my father in Gilead draws out the poison from a bee sting.”

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 tongue had swollen and poked out between his lips. He swallowed.

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 pulled a bundle from his pack and extracted a small package for Neetz. “This turmeric will 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 her the bundle. “Make a tea from the frankincense, tamarind, sesame, and mint. 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. “I cannot stay. 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 Hashabiah’s sleeve. “Pray? Now?”

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

Our spirit is overwhelmed within us, yet you knw 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 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:

the righteous shall surround us;

for you shall deal bountifully with Zim.

Hashabiah rose.

Nathan escorted him out and came 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. Help me slow down and 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 for an hour.”

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 watch my father mix this.”

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

The ingredients have dissolved, Nate. Oh, Lord. Please help Zim to drink it.” Elijah whispered for Zim’s. “This will feel so good on your tongue.”

Although Neetz hovered the spoon over Zim’s mouth, when the spoon tipped, the tea cover his lips and tongue then dribbled down his cheeks into his hair.

A tear slipped from the widow’s eye and 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 ended up 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 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, and pouring herbal tea over Zim’s closed lips.

Three times in the night, he brought water for Zim 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.

He held his ear at Zim’s nose.

No breath. [Stop here?]

Zim is dead.” [Or stop here?]

iFrom Psalm 147: 3-7

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