The List

By mgaft1 | Short Stories | 29 Sep 2019

“What are you doing Hammie?  The tablets are fragile.  You’re going to destroy the list?” Shem exclaimed looking at Ham who scattered the piles of clay tablets all over the warehouse floor. 

He grabbed Ham from behind not letting him move.

Ham was shorter than his brother and had a much smaller frame.  Nevertheless, it took several minutes of struggle before Shem was able to spread Ham on the floor face down and mount him, holding his hands behind his back. 

“Abate your rage and tell me what happened”, said Shem breathing heavily.

Ham continued struggling, emitting sounds more similar to the roar of an animal than the distinct speech of a human.

“Stop it, this is crazy!” tried Shem to admonish him.

“It’s easy for you to say.” hissed Ham turning his neck at the impossible angle and spurting a gust of rage. “You sit at home in the warmth.  It’s I who has to wander around looking for all those friken animals and it’s Japhie who has to drag all this lumber and build the boat.  Five years, five friken years since we started doing this! Why?.  Why, why, why?” 

Seeing that Ham reverted to the human speech and feeling that he passed beyond the pinnacle his rage, Shem released his brother’s hands and got up.

“What is the problem, Hammie?  Tell me what’s the problem this time?”

Ham jumped up and started circling around the room shooting his angry stare at Shem.

“The Berberic lion has escaped”.

“Male or female?” Shem’s vice expressed concern.

“The male”

“Did he break his cage?”

“No, the cage door was open”.

Shem whistled and rocked his head, appreciating the degree of the problem.

“Sabotage?”  Shem continued rhetorically.

“No. I talked with the keeper?”

“And so?”

“He said it was a dad.  He was drunk again, rumbling something about God as usual. The keeper tried to prevent him from opening the door, but you know dad. He is as stubborn as a donkey!”

“So did you order your hunters to search for the lion?”

Ham’s anger returned.

“Why me?  Why has this become my responsibility? I am young, I want to live!  I want to have fun for a change. I want to make love all night long, get up late and have breakfast in bed. But noooo, we’ve got to make the deadline! We have to make progress on the list! Hammy do this, and Hammy do that…”

Shem sat in the corner of the room sorting out the clay tablets in his hands and placing them back in the correct piles.  He was ten years older than his brother, tall and big-boned like his dad.  He was already used to Ham’s rants and gave them little consideration.  Today though, it went way overboard.


“You know “, said Shem in a conciliatory way, “I only follow the orders of our father”.

“Our father”, repeated Ham scornfully, “ the old man who went totally insane!  Just think what he proposes; to collect these friken animals from all over the place.  The notorious list was given to him presumably personally by God! And then he turns around and lets them go!”


Shem raised his eyebrows in silent reprimand. 


“Don’t look at me like that Shemmy.  I can feel your look!” continued Ham with irritation.

“Tell me”, he continued, “when he came up with all these revelations, was he sober?”

“You shouldn’t doubt your father, Ham” said Shem in the same conciliatory way. “Your father has lived a long life.  He is wise.”

“Yes, he is wise occasionally, but more often he is drunk”

Shem shook his head in disapproval.

“You are walking a dangerous road Hammy, a dangerous road.”

“Dangerous my ass,” Ham said imitating the movements of a baboon. “I don’t care!”  Continued he, with even greater zeal. 

“I’ll tell you what I think and I will tell the same to dad’s face if he is sober of course.  There is no point talking to him if he is drunk. This Ark project is destined to fail.  Think about it.” 

“Just to write this damn list took us almost a year, yep, five hundred cubic cubits of clay.  How’s that for entertainment?  And look at this list.  Well, OK sheep, goats, cows, pigs, horses, chickens, turkeys, and geese; I can understand that.  I can even agree with lions, leopards, buffalos, rhinoceros, and elephants although God only knows how hard and how expensive these African safaris were and how many sacrifices we had to make in order to get these beasts.  But where in the world did he come up with all those bears?  Tell me Shemmy, tell me.  Did you ever hear of the Grisly?  What about a Polar bear?” 

“No I didn’t” responded Shem melancholically.

“What about kangaroo, dingo and ostrich, jaguar, anaconda, anteater?  Where is the guarantee that if I go to end of the World looking for these beasts I would be able to recognize them let alone capture them and safely deliver them to Mesopotamia?

And even if we could collect them, we’d never be able to dwell them.  What were the dimensions of the Ark?”

Shem dug through the stack of tablets briefly looking at the content of each.

“Here it is”, he responded, “300 cubits length, 50 cubits width, and 30 cubits height.”

“That’s pitiful.  Look at the size of our zoo right now.  It’s already three times bigger.  And we don’t even have all the animals on the list… By the way, did ‘God’ directed us about the wall thickness?”

“No, but Japheth decided to make it a quarter of a cubit thick for the outside walls and for those partitions that encase the large animals.  For the rest, including our dwellings, he used one eighth or one-sixteenth”.

“So what we need is “, Ham mumbled doing quick mental math, “Twenty thousand cubic cubits of gopherwood”, he whistled in astonishment. “Where would Japheth find so many trees?  Six or seven thousand of them, it’s the entire forest! And what’s left only two years. Ridiculous!”

“And you know what Shemmy, you know what people think of this so-called “flood?”  Ham changed his angry tone to a quieter and private almost spiritual. “People laugh at us. They call dad ‘a crazy old man’.  And yes “ he raised his arm stopping Shem’s question,” I certainly got in several fights defending him.  But you know what I think in my heart?  You know what I think, Shemmy?  I think they are right.  I think our dad is insane and we are even more insane for going along with his crazy ideas.  But lets even assume for a second that there will be some kind of flood in Mesopotamia.”


“The flood will not only be in Mesopotamia” retorted Shem.  “It will be all over the World”.


“Shemmy, please.  While you sat on your tuchus here in Mesopotamia, that is basically flat, I traveled.  Boy, where only was I not?  I traveled to the South where it was hot and humid like the inside of a boiling kettle, and to the North where it was so cold that your blood stands still in your veins.  And when I went far to the East where people are dark skinned and live in a great big forest where my hunters have caught tigers and elephants with small ears, I saw a mountain.  Shemmy, you think that what we have here are mountains?  No Shemmy. It’s a shame to call them mountains.  What I saw there was so lofty that a human being cannot see the top off.  Only God might live up there.  Do you think that the water would ever get as high as the sky?  No Shemmie. No.  So you know what I’d tell you to do if you really believe that there’re would be a flood.  See I give you the benefit of the doubt.  If there will be a flood, then we all go to a really high mountain with our wives and our cattle and our fowls and dwell there.  There is enough food and water and the grass for our cattle there for many years.  And I don’t mean for us to go into the remote forest in the East.  We could load our camels and our donkeys and we go 30 days to the North and we see the mountain Ararat and we can dwell there. This mountain has plenty of height to save us from the flood. This way neither you nor I nor Japheth nor dad or mom would have to make the list and deal with the friken circus and build the friken Ark.


Shem stopped sorting out the clay tablets in his hands and got up.  He stood silent for a moment, thinking as if trying carefully to select his words.


“What you say makes sense little brother.  In fact it makes a whole lot of sense.  And I agree that what dad says does not make much sense”.  A little smile of the hope of a conspirator visited Hams's face, but it disappeared with the following words of Shem. 


But that’s not the point.”


“Not the point?” said Ham holding up his disappointment. “What is the friken point?”


“The point is Hammy that we are chosen for the task. Why is it us I don't know? How is all this is going to happen?  I don't know.  Are we going to accomplish everything that God commanded us to do? I don't know.  This is not my plan, it’s his" and Shem looked up the sky and lifted his eyebrows. "But I am willing to give it my best effort".


"So you admit that there is no guarantee that we are chosen?" Ham retorted.


"There is no guarantee. You see, we might not be chosen. The whole idea of the flood and Ark and list might be fiction, Fata Morgana.  But you see little brother; I am willing to take this risk.  If none of this is going to happen people are going to laugh at us, and they already are, but put this thought against His plan.  Are you the one who is going to jeopardize His plan?"  Shem pointed his finger up.


He came close to Ham who sat silent on the chair.

"I know it's hard for you, brother", he patted Ham on the shoulder, "but a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. Come and help me pick up all these scattered clay tablets.  The list has to be in order.  And then we will make sure together that this damn Berberic lion is going to make the list.  One thing at a time.”

"Is it also part of God's plan?" asked Ham ironically.

"No that's just me, little brother.  I don't like a mess".  


“You do that big brother” Ham sad with the smirk.

“What do you mean?”

“Constructing the Ark yes, but there is no point in catching the lion or maintaining the list for that matter.  Let God worry about this.  He is sort of invested in our family already, has made his choice.  There are too many consequences are attached to his decision.  There is no turning back at this point.”

“You are walking a dangerous road Hammy, a dangerous road.”  Said Shem shaking his head.

“Come on brother, why don’t you get a life.  Let’s go with me and have fun.  I want to introduce you to a couple of ladies.  There are really fine.”

Shem smiled but shook his head in disagreement.

“Well suit yourself.  You make the list and listen to a drunk, and I am going”. Having said that Ham left the warehouse and walked towards the city.

Shem followed his silhouette until it disappeared from his vision shrugged and continued putting the clay tables inaccurate piles.  An unusual thought came to him.  How could God not to know that Ham would behave this way?  It couldn’t be an accident. And if  Ham acted according to his plan then should we really be so concern with getting the animals from the faraway lands.  Perhaps God limited the Ark size knowing that not all the animals on his list are going to make it.  The chill ran down to his spine.

“That’s a dangerous thought” Shem made an internal comment stopping himself from digging any deeper.  He finished arranging the piles of clay tablets and went towards the site where Ark was built.  “I should tell Japheth to make our personal dwellings larger and more comfortable though.  Why not?  There are really no specific directions on the list”.  

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