Box of Arms
Hadad stirred in his bed. He opened his eyes briefly before rolling back over in his bed. It was still dark. Too early to wake up. He sighed in irritation at whoever had been making the noise that woke him up.
He couldn’t remember what it was exactly. A muffled banging in the distance? A faint scream? Whatever it was had woken him up with a pounding heart. He couldn’t remember what it had been exactly, but it seemed too real to have been a dream.
The dark-haired, 17-year-old lad rolled over again. Trying to still his racing heart and get comfortable enough to will himself back to sleep.
He breathed deeply and focused on the thumping of his heart beating rhythmically in his chest. It had slowed considerably and he felt a wave of sleep wash over him.
Suddenly, he heard it again. This time louder. This time closer. And he was wide awake. He knew for sure that it wasn’t a dream.
Hadad sat bolt upright in his bed. Unsure of what to do. Should he look out the window and risk getting hurt? But maybe he could help whoever was out there.
Someone needed help. That much was clear. But…
Hadad lived on the outskirts of the city in his family’s warehouse. It’s where his relatives stored their grain after the harvest. It was still early in the year, and most of the crops had yet to be harvested.
But this year, he had been chosen to sleep in the dark, dank building to keep an eye on things. The closest house was a hundred yards down the road. Too far for someone to come save him. Too far for anyone to hear his screams for help if he needed it.
Hadad threw himself back under the covers and pulled them tightly around his head. Hoping that whatever was out there would soon go away.
It was only his third night sleeping here. At first, Hadad felt that it had been an honor to be chosen for the task. Or so he had thought.
He had just turned 17 and felt respected by his family for choosing him. But now, it didn’t seem like such a big deal. It had simply been a chore that no one else wanted to deal with, so they had tossed him into it.
The thought occurred to him that he would be an easy target if someone came in and saw him lying on the bed. He wouldn’t be able to see them or run.
The spry lad leaped out of bed and arranged the pillows and covers to make it seem like someone was still sleeping there.
Then he scrambled under the bed as far as he could into the corner where he curled up into a ball.
The smell of smoke and ash wafted into the room. Hadad sniffed and tried to fight back a sneeze. But it was no use even though he covered his nose and mouth with both hands to try and smother it.
There was a pounding from somewhere in the warehouse.
“Hadad. Hadad.” someone seemed to be saying.
He crawled quickly out from under his hiding place and moved stealthily toward the front door. Not wanting to make any noise, he crept forward and tried to peek through the cracks.
There was nothing there. Hadad moved around to the other side to look out the cracks in the middle and then along the far side. Nothing. It was pitch black still.
Hadad unlocked the door and opened it as slowly and quietly as he could. Not a soul in sight. He grabbed a pitchfork and stepped outside into the cool night air. Then walked to the edge of the building to peek around the corner.
The only sound Hadad heard were the cicadas buzzing and the wind blowing through the trees.
He tiptoed softly to the other end of the building past the door to the other side of the building to peek around that corner.
Nothing there. The boy snorted at his silliness and brushed off his fear. He circled the entire building in a normal walk without trying to be quiet.
Maybe it was better to make some noise and scare off whoever had been out there.
When he was back at the front door, Hadad turned to face the darkness.
“Hello! Anyone out there? Do you need help?”
But there was only silence. His shouts seemed to have stilled the cicadas and wind.
The relieved boy chuckled nervously to himself as he turned to re-enter the building.
A dark shadow flitted silently to the side. Hadad saw it in the corner of his eye and shrieked like a wounded rabbit. He launched the pitchfork from his hand into the darkness and threw himself back outside through the door.
Hadad raced down the road, glancing over his shoulder a time or two to make sure that it wasn’t following him. He finally stopped running but still kept walking toward his home under the light of the stars.
As he walked, he rehearsed what he would tell his family, but he couldn’t think of anything convincing to tell them that wouldn’t make him the laughingstock of the city. His father would be upset at him, and his uncles would be angry.
The look of embarrassment that Hadad imagined he would see though was what finally caused him to turn around. He didn’t want to be known as the boy who ran from a shadow.
Hadad returned to the door and poked his head inside. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he could see the pitchfork stuck in the wall where he had thrown it. Something dark hung over it.
He moved forward slowly. It didn’t move. He kicked at it. Then laughed at himself. Softly at first. Then loudly as he realized it was just a tarp his uncles had hung to dry.
The boy removed the pitchfork gently so as to not make the holes any bigger than they already were from being so violently stabbed with the pitchfork. Then he hung it back up, locked the door, and went back to bed.
Hadad had just started to drift off to sleep when he heard the three loud thumps again. This time he raced to the door instead of trying to hide. But again, there was no one there.
When he turned though, Hadad notice a large, strange box leaning against the far wall of the warehouse. He hadn’t given it much thought previously, however, it did seem out of place.
He didn’t recall having seen it the previous nights. But what caught his attention was the strange, orange glow that emanated lightly from around it.
Hadad moved closer to see if he could get a better view. There was something definitely burning inside the box even though it wasn’t on fire.
He moved closer and felt heat emanating from the tall, black box. Each step closer caused the box to glow brighter and brighter.
The boy pressed his face against the crack for a better view. He could feel the heat wafting over his face, almost scalding his skin, but he couldn’t pull himself away. He felt attracted to the light like a moth to a flame.
The pressure of his body pushing up against door caused the it to creak slightly. It wasn’t loud, but it was enough to attract the attention of whatever was inside.
Something slammed against the door and Hadad leaped back. But he wanted to know what was inside. Curiosity pulled him toward the light. He never wanted anything so badly.
Hadad knew he shouldn’t, but felt powerless to stop. He felt an intense longing to see whatever golden-glowing treasure lay inside.
He stepped forward and reached out to touch the door. Then pushed against it. A loud hissing soon erupted and the doors parted in the middle as smoke and heat billowed out.
An intense lover for whatever was inside filled his heart. Or maybe it came from inside the box and embraced him. Hadad couldn’t tell which. But even though he was terrified, he didn’t want to leave.
The boy stuck his finger through the crack between the doors and tugged slightly. The door gave way easily and a dark arm slid out from between and brushed against him.
A cold chill went down his spine at the touch. He stepped away from the door as the arm felt around. Looking for him. Feeling the sides of the door.
Another arm followed. Slowly. Rhythmically. Moving around in sync and flow with the first. Each feeling around at the same speed and pace as the other, but on opposite sides of each other.
Then a third popped out. And a fourth. Then more and more. Hadad didn’t understand how there could be so many arms sliding out through the cracks.
He took a step back and tripped. Hadad fell to the ground in a sitting position but remained there. Watching. Waiting. Wondering what would happen next.
Soon there were dozens of arms pushing out through the opening. They didn’t push the door open any farther though. They simply moved around as if waiting for Hadad to do something.
Should he open it more for them? Should he let them out?
Hadad imagined trying to explain to his father and uncles what he had done. He could see the pain in his father’s eyes.
He could visualize his uncle’s angry curses berating him. He imagined their fists buffeting him around the ears for messing with something that wasn’t his.
But when he thought of his mother, Hadad could imagine the pride in her eyes. Her love for him clear in her face. Setting free these poor prisoners.
The lad stood to his feet and stepped forward. He pulled the door open. The arms reached out to touch him. Stroking his face and arms. They seemed to be thanking him for setting them free.
But they didn’t come out. Hadad could see shadows moving around in the light, but he couldn’t see their faces past the glow.
He grabbed one of the arms and gave it a firm tug. A loud shriek emanated from within, and a blast of icy cold wind swirled around Hadad’s body.
The hand he tugged grabbed him in return and squeezed tightly. The glow faded and the heat dissipated as an eerie wail filled the room.
Hadad felt the arm tugging him into the waiting mass of arms. Others tried to grab onto him, and he pulled hard to get away.
On the third tug, Hadad managed to wrench himself free and turned to run toward the door. He tried to unlock it, but his shaky hands seemed to fumble clumsily, almost uselessly.
His legs grew weak, and Hadad fell to his knees. The boy’s hands were still over his head hanging on to the doorknob, but he no longer felt it.
He no longer felt much of anything, but he could sense hands surrounding him. Dragging him back toward the box. Hadad attempted to get up, but his body felt sluggish and slow.
His body slid backward over the entire length of the floor toward the large, black box behind him. He turned his head to see what was pulling him, but couldn’t see in the darkness.
“Well done, Hadad. Welcome home to the horde.” a voice whispered in his ear as he slid through the door and watched the panels close slowly behind him.
“Welcome home to the horde,” a hundred voices whispered around him as everything faded into darkness.
When Hadad opened his eyes, both of his parents stood over him. Concerned looks on their faces. He could see fear in their eyes as his mother reached down to press her hand against his forehead.
“Why are you still asleep when the sun is so high in the sky? I don’t want a lazy son.” Hadad’s father almost shouted. “Your mother dragged me all the way down here when she found out you weren’t at school. What did you do all night? We’ve been trying to shake you awake for fifteen minutes.”
Hadad raised his arm to block the blow from his father’s outstretched hand.
But before his father’s blow landed, a black arm slid out from over the boy’s back and took the impact. The older man yelped in pain and leaped back to shake his hand and nurse it gingerly.
The boy looked down to watch the black arm slide away behind him.
“What happened, Gilgamesh?” his mother asked in a startled voice.
“I don’t know, Ninlil,” the man replied poking at Hadad’s arm gingerly. “The boy’s arm felt like a bar of iron.”
“He’s just growing up and becoming a man,” his mother said.
Hadad listened as his parent left the room nervously. He could sense their underlying fear. They didn’t seem to have seen his extra arm but could tell something was wrong.
“Don’t just lie there all day, boy,” his father scolded from the doorway. “Just because you watch the warehouse at night doesn’t mean you don’t have to do your regular share of chores at home.”
The boy tried to will his third arm to show itself again but nothing happened.
He leaped out of bed and shook himself off. Everything else still looked and felt normal. He brushed the wrinkles out of his clothes and made his bed before following his parents home.