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“She’s having visions,” Baraka murmured as the three sibyls sat together, waiting for the visitors to come. Through her manipulations, the other two were able to experience Mikhal’s visions too.
As father and daughter sat together in silence, she happened to look down toward the ravine. She screamed, her body shivered fiercely. Before her eyes, three figures appeared, wearing black, with women’s bodies and heavy, ass-like heads, with long, pointed ears. They were moving in a strange dance, twisting their bodies, throwing hooved legs up and sideways, turning their heads in all directions. Their ass-faces were bright, monstrous red, and their eyes were burning fire.
“What is it? What do you see?” Sha’ul cried, taking her in his arms.
“Don’t you see them, down below?”
“No, only the temple. What do you see?”
But the vision had vanished. The sun inclined in the west. “Come,” he rose, “let’s go down before dark.”
He waited only a moment for her to calm down, and then they set on their way down the slope, the boy remaining with the donkey at the top. He was afraid of the loneliness at night, but Sha’ul promised him no harm would come to Ashtoret’s beast at this sacred place; he stayed reluctantly: he had no choice.
* * *
They started climbing down. The oblique rays of the declining sun hit the steep slope, deflected from the rock surface, blinding their eyes and endangering the descent. Sha’ul went down first, marking convenient footholds for Mikhal where she was treading hesitantly. It was hard for the young girl, barely out of childhood, her legs too short to fit in Sha’ul’s long strides. A few times she slipped on the smooth rocks, loosening small stones which, miraculously, missed Sha’ul’s head; as her body shook with the effort, the squill garland fell off her head, adding to her unhappiness with the trip. At last, scratched and bruised all over but otherwise unhurt, they arrived at their destination. Mikhal found the white garland lying at the foot of the temple’s wall and put it back on her head; it might add somehow to a feeling of safety and confidence, which she lacked.
A thick, heavy atmosphere greeted them, threatening more than any concrete danger. The noise of the cluttering ravens, which could be heard clearly from above during the day, was absent now, as the sun had sunk behind hilltops; the place was wrapped in complete silence: no birds chirping, no insects buzzing. The air was motionless, no wind rustled in the dry, leafless branches of the solitary tree.
Adma came out to welcome the visitors. As she invited them to sit on the bench in the waiting room, she saw Mikhal peering out of the window.
“Don’t,” she said in a soft voice, sensing the girl’s apprehension. Mikhal turned her eyes away from the window, and they fell on the large statue of Ashtoret standing in a corner, the Goddess riding a donkey. A last sun rays gleamed on her full curves, shining on the silver crescent on her head. In answer to the girl’s pleading look, the Goddess’s closed eyes opened, full of love and compassion.
Adma turned to Sha’ul, saluting him as king, and he presented his daughter before her. With a wave of her hand she invited him to enter the inner room, which was actually a cave carved in the rock.
“Don’t worry,” the sibyl said to Mikhal as they left.
* * *
But it was Mikhal who saw Sha’ul’s vision at the Temple of the Three Asses. Left alone in the waiting room, she looked again through the window. The gathering dusk filled the abyss below, no longer was she able to discern its distance; it was as if the whole building was sinking into the abyss. Her head felt dizzy, her eyes grew misty, and from the mist a picture appeared. Black, sharp cliffs meandering, dark canyons. Dark figures loomed over depths, carved in the rocks, monstrous, menacing.
Pale, frightening ghosts roamed in the gulleys. A pale moon threw heavy shadows all over. Sha’ul’s dark figure was floating among the cliffs, groping, searching; it was a naked figure, stripped not only of its clothes but also of its skin and flesh, of all cover to its inner thoughts, a figure divested of all external accessories. It passed through the eternal gates looming among the cliffs — one gate, and another, and another — seven gates Sha’ul’s figure passed and did not find what it was looking for. Re’uma’s spirit, transparently white, floated above Sha’ul’s head and he did not notice it.
Then a small dark figure appeared, clad in a very prominent red in this dark-pale-grey world. It was the figure of Ahino’am — Ashtoret’s priestess who was Mikhal’s own mother — the sole concrete creature in that misty, insubstantial world. Sha’ul’s figure was drawn to it and they flew together, climbing up above the cliffs; beneath them, a mountain opened its mouth spitting fire, and they floated over the fire... Suddenly, Ahino’am’s figure flew up, Sha’ul’s was pushed down – down – down – into the open, red mouth which was spitting up burning tongues, licking, holding Sha’ul’s quivering figure, absorbing it into their bosom — she screamed, leaping from her seat...
Adma came in and took the girl in her arms, held her tight to her bosom. Suddenly, Mikhal realized she had never been held tight to the soft bosom of a woman... The feeling was so pleasant she became dizzy again, and the vision vanished without a trace. Eternity passed as she stayed in those soft, warm arms, until Sha’ul came out and she was released back into the harsh world.
Sha’ul’s face was deathly pale, though he was unable to say what he had seen in the cave; for him it had been more of a feeling than a vision, and that feeling was of despair. The night was very dark and thick, and there was no way they could go back. The flame in the clay lamp had died down, and all Mikhal could see was one star peeping through the window, sharp and cold. When she shut her eyes, the sights of her vision returned, pale ghosts filled the room. She hid her head in the blanket, and drew closer to her father’s body. A thin, pale moon looked through the window, in whose light she finally fell asleep with her eyes open.
In the inner room Baraka said in her grating voice, “There is no way that girl could ever become one of us.” The other two nodded their heads in agreement.
Return to chapter 1.
Proceed to chapter 3.
Copyright © 2004 by Tala Bar