The Hammer of Eden


Four Weeks

When he lies down to sleep, this landscape is always on his mind:

A pine forest covers the hills, as thick as the fur on a bear's back. The sky is so blue, in the clear mountain air, that it hurts his eyes to look up. Miles from the road there is a secret valley with steep sides and a cold river in its cleft. Here, hidden from strangers' eyes, a sunny south-facing slope has been cleared, and grapevines grow in neat rows.

When he remembers how beautiful it is, he feels his heart will break.

Men, women, and children move slowly through the vineyard, tending the plants. These are his friends, his lovers, his family. One of the women laughs. She is a big woman with long, dark hair, and he feels a special warmth for her. She throws back her head and opens her mouth wide, and her clear high voice floats across the valley like birdsong. Some of the men quietly speak a mantra as they work, praying to the gods of the valley and of the grapevines for a good crop. At their feet, a few massive tree stumps remain, to remind them of the backbreaking work that created this place twenty-five years ago. The soil is stony, but this is good, because the stones retain the heat of the sun and warm the roots of the vines, protecting them from the deadly frost.

Beyond the vineyard is a cluster of wooden buildings, plain but well built and weatherproof. Smoke rises from a cookhouse. In a clearing, a woman is teaching a boy how to make barrels.

This is a holy place.

Protected by secrecy and by prayers, it has remained pure, its people free, while the world beyond the valley has degenerated into corruption and hypocrisy, greed and filth.

But now the vision changes.

Something has happened to the quick cold stream that used to zigzag through the valley. Its chatter has been silenced, its hurry abruptly halted. Instead of a rush of white water there is a dark pool, silent and still. The edges of the pool seem static, but if he looks away for a few moments, the pool widens. Soon he is forced to retreat up the slope.

He cannot understand why the others do not notice the rising tide. As the black pool laps at the first row of vines, they carry on working with their feet in the water. The buildings are surrounded, then flooded. The cookhouse fire goes out, and empty barrels float away across the growing lake. Why don't they run? he asks himself; and a choking panic rises in his throat.

Now the sky is dark with iron-colored clouds, and a cold wind whips at the clothing of the people, but still they move along the vines, stooping and rising, smiling at one another and talking in quiet, normal voices. He is the only one who can see the danger, and he realizes he must pick up one or two or even three of the children and save them from drowning. He tries to run toward his daughter, but he discovers that his feet are stuck in the mud and he cannot move; and he is filled with dread.

In the vineyard the water rises to the workers' knees, then their waists, then their necks. He tries to yell at the people he loves, telling them they must do something now, quickly, in the next few seconds, or they will die, but though he opens his mouth and strains his throat, no sounds will come out. Sheer terror possesses him.

The water laps into his open mouth and