30. Your god killed my baby.

Open Mary Pat’s Critique MP.

Elijah swung a waterskin down from a pannier. “Neetz keeps spotting new leaves on old vines, Nate.”

MP – POV? Neetz poured water onto a vine while her dreamy eyes took in Nathan’s lanky form. On the streets of Jabesh and in the shops where he delivered wine, Nathan ignored the stares of several girls. Yet he had to notice how Neetz managed to work beside him every day, asked his opinion on any topic, and let her eyes linger on him.

While Elijah drained the waterskin onto a vine, he queried his brother. “So, when can we transplant the babies, Nate?”

Zim spoke from behind Elijah. “We could transplant all the baby vines today if you weren’t so stubborn.”

Elijah turned and gave him a quizzical grin. “Huh?”

If you’d tell it to rain.”

From behind Zim, his mother nestled an empty skin back in its pannier. “That’s not how it works, little man.”

Neetz’s eyes twinkled.1 “You want to see his rain dance, Zee-zee?” She threw her shoulders back and squinted out at the barren blue canopy over the Mediterranean. “Or did you think Mr. Lijah brings clouds together with the sound of his voice?”

She set her waterskin down and hopped over next to Zim. Neetz draped her arm across his shoulders, fished a fig from her pack, and held it under his nose. “Does my Zee-zee need a nibble?”

But Zim kept his mouth closed.

Neetz knit her brow and studied Zim’s face.

Elijah tossed the empty skin into the pannier and faced Nathan. “What have you been telling this child?”

Nathan shook his head. “Don’t look at me.”

Neetz pulled Zim closer. “Really, Zee. What are you talking about?”

But Zim looked up at Elijah. “You told the king, ‘Neither dew nor rain until I say, so.’” He yanked a dead leaf from a vine. “When you gonna say, ‘so’?”

Elijah’s eyes opened wide. “Zim, do you really think—”

You said, ‘flour,’ and we have flour. ‘Oil,’ and we got oil. If you’d say, ‘rain,’—” Zim’s voice trembled, and he sank under his vine. “I’m tired.”

Elijah frowned. “Neetz?”

She stood over Zim. “The Lord sent Elijah to tell the king no more rain, Zee-zee. And the Lord sent him to give you flour and oil.” She bent down by his face. “So, when the Lord wants it to rain, he’ll give Elijah new words. Zim. Are you listening?” She laid her hand across Zim’s forehead and shot a baffled glance at his mother. “He’s hot.”

Zim’s mother knelt and held his face in her hands. She cradled her little boy in her arms and turned to Elijah, her face as pale as the dead leaves that dangled over Zim. “M-my baby needs rest.” She sat beside him in the shade and loosened the neck of his tunic. As she rocked him in her arms, a wan smile spread her lips and a faint tune hummed in her throat.

The three youngsters watered vines and stopped often to check under the vine shading Zim and his mother. She met their gaze with glistening eyes, tipped a waterskin into Zim’s mouth, and poured more onto the cloth across his forehead.MP POV?

When it was time to refill the panniers, Neetz knelt by Zim and his mother with a full waterskin in her hands. “I’m staying with Zim. You guys can get the water, okay?” She sat under the vine and scooted up next to the widow.

When Elijah and Nathan brought the donkeys back, Neetz ran her fingers across Zim’s forehead and looked up at Nathan. “Zim should be home in his own bed.”

Nathan unloaded the waterskins and panniers and pack saddle from a donkey and set Zim on the saddle blanket. “There, ma’am. Hold Zim and let the donkey take you home.”

But Elijah shook his head. “They need you, Nate. Let Neetz and me do the watering.” MP POV is clear here.

As Nathan, the widow, and Zim’s donkey plodded toward the city gate, Elijah turned to Neetz. “You know I have no power over clouds, right?” OK Open MP’s CRITIQUE. Many good things.

Of course I know.” A waterskin dropped from Neetz’s fingers. Her face reddened as she snatched it up and jammed it into the pannier. “And so does Zim. But the little guy—” She rubbed the back of her neck and swung around to face Elijah. “—he’s off his head. Don’t you understand?”

Yes, and Zim needs you with him. Go, Neetz. They need you.” And Neetz needed them.

She hesitated. “Can you handle fourteen donkeys?”

Yes. I will be fine. Go help Nathan… care for Zim.”

Neetz jogged away toward the city gate, and Elijah emptied waterskins onto vines. He tried to do a thorough job, letting the water settle three times in the basin of each vine, but he found it hard to concentrate. “Lord, I love little Zim. You love him. You must have a plan for him. Please make him well, okay? And show Nate what to do.”

Elijah emptied the skins from his three donkeys, then Zim’s, the widow’s, Nathan’s, and Neetz’s. Whew! No fun working alone. Zim weighed heavy on his mind.

He collected all fourteen lead lines, but visions of the sick boy with his fretting mother rushed before Elijah, obliterating the donkeys. Was Zim okay? How sick was he? Would Nathan and Neetz know what to do?

Elijah led the donkeys out of the vines. To wind back through the hills and into the sycamores took forever, but finally he knelt over the spring and dipped a skin in the powerful flow. “Lord? Are you with us? Do you see Zim and his mother, Neetz and Nathan? Please tell me they will be okay.”

Feet pounded the path and leaves rustled in the grove. Elijah leaned back.

Neetz dashed up to the pool. “Zim is very sick. Nathan wants you to come.” She clutched her neck and caught her breath. “Quick. You must come now.”

Elijah jumped up and stuffed the waterskin into its pannier.

Neetz collected the lead lines. “I’ll bring the donkeys. Just go, okay. Go.” She waved him off.

He stood while she picked up a lead line. Then he turned and dashed through the sycamores, swatting branches and ducking limbs.

On the path, the sweet-potato farmer opened his mouth to greet him but stepped aside and frowned as Elijah passed.

With his head down, Elijah sprinted past the seep hole, out through the hills, and into the vineyard. He shot between rows and came up against the community gardens. He planted his foot in the path and thrust himself toward the city gate.

A man strode along with a pole and buckets slung over his shoulder. As Elijah’s pounding feet descended on him, he glanced up and steadied himself as if against a torrent of wind. “Good afternoon.”

Elijah raised his eyebrows and flew past.

A flock of goats filled the gate and spilled out into the street. “Coming through.” Elijah picked his steps, leaping three or four goats at a time.

He set off on a dead run up the widow’s street, slammed through her gate, and sailed across her courtyard in three bounds.

At the front door, he burst into the foyer. “Zim? Nathan?” Elijah panted. The door to the widow’s room stood ajar, and he nudged it open.

Nathan looked down at Zim on a bed of skins. The widow sat beside Zim with her hand on his head. She tipped her head back, and her eyes met Elijah’s. “He’s not well.”

Elijah tried to control his panting. “Now don’t you worry—” He leaned down by Zim’s ear. “—about a thing.” He caught his breath. “You’ll be just fine. Get a bunch of rest. So you can be all better. Okay? Those donkeys miss you.”

The little chatterbox lay still and whispered a single sound. “K.”

The widow’s face had changed from pink to chalk.

Elijah jogged out to the well, dipped a small cloth in a fresh bucket of cool water, came back, and handed it to the widow.

Her chin trembled. “Broth?”

Nathan jumped to the door. “Yes, ma’am. Lijah, a fire.”

While Elijah kindled a fire, Neetz led the donkeys into the backyard and closed them in the pen. “Don’t stop what you’re doing. I’ll take care of the donkeys.” A tear slipped down her cheek and then another.

When Nathan came back into the widow’s room, he put a cup and spoon in her hands. “It’s warm, ma’am. Not hot.”

She tried to spoon broth into Zim’s mouth, but the liquid ran from his parched lips and dribbled over his chin.

Nathan wiped the broth and sweat from Zim’s face. Elijah gave the widow another cool, damp cloth from the well.

Neetz came in. “I fed and watered the donkeys.” She looked at Nathan. “How else can I help?”

Nathan stood. “It will soon be dark, Lijah, and the professor expects Neetz before sunset.” Color rose in his cheeks. “I’ll take her home.”

It’s the right thing to do, Nate. Safer at night through the city than outside through the gardens. Just keep your elbows in and your head down.”

Neetz knelt and brushed her fingers across Zim’s face. “I’ll be back in the morning.” She hugged Zim’s mother and left with Nathan.

Zim’s mother held his hand and tried to pour broth between his lips. Long after dark, Nathan returned and set to work passing a clean cloth over Zim’s face. All night, Elijah brought cool, damp cloths from the well, and the widow placed them on Zim’s forehead. But Zim’s breaths became shorter and shorter. His little chest rose and fell at longer intervals.

Shortly after dawn, Neetz tip-toed into the room. “Daddy’s friend knows all about healing, but he sailed for Carthage last month. My mother steeped these herbs for Zim. I’ll get a cup.” She tried to hand Nathan a flask, but Nathan was staring at Zim.

Zim’s skin was grey and his chest still.

The widow took Zim into her arms and croaked out a hoarse whisper. “What did I ever do to you boys? Did the Lord send you to remind me of my sins?” She stared up at them through tear-filled eyes. “Why did your god kill my baby?”

Elijah answered with a soft command. “Remember how the Lord revived the flour and the oil, ma’am. Give Zim to Nathan.”

Her eyes widened, and she gave a slight shake to her head. “You can’t….” But when Nathan knelt and reached to her, she laid Zim in his arms.

Elijah and Neetz wept as they followed Nathan to the guest room.

Nathan laid Zim on the skins and sobbed. “O Lord. You’re our God. Zim’s mother feeds us and protects us from the king. She puts us in her best room. Did you kill her little boy? Zim dying is not right, Lord, and you have to fix it.” Nathan stroked Zim’s hair and let his tears fall on the boy’s cold face. He peered at his brother. “Do something, Elijah. Do something.”

Words formed a rock in Elijah’s throat. He swallowed hard. “I need you and Neetz to leave me alone with Zim.” He wiped his face on his sleeve. “Please. Go sit with the widow.”

Neetz’s mouth flew open, but Nathan turned her by the shoulders. “It’s okay, Neetz. It’s okay.” As he led her out, he glanced back.

Elijah pulled the door shut. “Listen, Lord. This is Zim. It’s not some stranger you’ve never seen. It’s our own little Zim. We all love him and need him back.”

Elijah couldn’t believe what he saw himself doing. Yet he stretched his body out on Zim’s corpse. “O Lord. You’re the only Lord. Put Zim’s life back in his body. I insist, Lord. You owe it to Zim and to his mother, to Neetz and Nathan. And to me.”

Three times Elijah stretched out on Zim. “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

Zim gasped. He opened his eyes and grabbed Elijah’s arm. “Mmhh. Nnn. Mmh!”

Elijah rolled off the bed and grabbed Zim up in such a hurry he fell through the door.

But Nathan caught him. Nathan held Elijah, and Elijah held Zim. “Look, Neetz!” They all beamed at the color in Zim’s cheeks. Nathan led Elijah to the widow. “Look, our Zim’s alive.”

Elijah stooped and rested Zim in her arms.

She kissed Zim’s forehead and then gazed up at Elijah. Her voice shook at first but finished strong. “Young man, I see it now. You are from God, and the Lord puts truth in your mouth.”

Zim grinned at Neetz, his mouth framing words. She bent to him, but Zim sat up. “You got any more figs?”

1 An earlier chapter needs to show Neetz teasing.

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