A Christmas Short Story
by Paul Schroder
Halim, age 12, is keeping watch over his fathers flock of sheep on a very special night. A year earlier his faith in God was destroyed when he witnessed a violent rape and murder. He has grown bitter and angry and unable to understand what sort of God allows horrible things to happen to wonderful people. Can his faith be restored? This story reminds us that the attempted mass rape in the Genesis 19 narrative of Sodom & Gomorrah has nothing to do with modern day loving and monogamous gay and lesbian relationships.
Halim had been tending sheep on his own or with his older brother since he was old enough to walk, it seems. Ishmael, his brother, was his senior by only a couple of years but Ishmael had a calling for the sheep and was trusted with the flock by their father from a very early age. No one really trusted Halim to the same degree because he was a dreamer and would occasionally allow the sheep to wander and get into trouble.
Halim's father had no choice but to trust him these days. He was now his father's only son and so there was no one else to trust with the family flock. It was just after Ishmael's thirteenth birthday that he left the land of the living. That was but a scant year ago.
Halim, now twelve, was slow to get over the shock and mind numbing malaise he felt after Ishmael's death. He had loved his older brother who had treated him with more affection and caring than even his own father treated him. His older brother patiently taught him how to read the flock and the individual animals. He learned to recognize Blackleg and scours and how to treat Fly Strike and foot rot.
But Ishmael was gone now and so Halim had to become his own instructor and carry on his responsibilities the best he was able. He'd even learned to keep his dreaming to a minimum because such a huge flock demanded that he remain alert to so many dangers. A visitor to these Far-Eastern hills would not believe that dangers could be awaiting anyone or anything in such a placid landscape of scrub brush and rolling hills. But Halim knew better. He knew that the hills were also the home of animal packs that found sheep to be easy prey. Of those packs, the most dangerous was man because the hills were also the hiding place of bandits that plagued the trade routes. There was even the occasional murderer that escaped justice from the city.
Halim had been privy to the horrors that bandits could bring upon the innocent. He had been there when they took the life of his beloved Ishmael. It was an evening such as the present one with the sky painted with myriad stars and a warm, gentle breeze that seemed to caress their skin. He and Ishmael had lain upon their backs and searched the heavens for the occasional falling star. Then they would make up stories about why that particular star no longer wanted to remain in the sky. Ishmael's stories would generally be funny and designed to make Halim giggle and say "that's so silly, brother".
On that particular night Halim had fallen asleep where they lay on their comfortable hummock. He was awakened by the sound of galloping hooves. He rolled onto his side to look in the direction of the sound and saw that Ishmael had already arose and had trotted over to the edge of the flock to sooth them and keep them from bolting. A troop of five horses and riders surrounded his brother and Halim scrunched down into his hummock with his heart hammering in his chest.
"What have we here, brothers? We came to scoop up a lamb or two for our supper and we find this beautiful 'ewe' unattended and needing to be bred."
His comrades laughed and chortled at what they considered to be a high, witty remark. And then they slid from their saddles and surrounded Ishmael. Using the curved blades of the weapons they carried tucked into their sashes they cut away the clothing from his struggling big brother. Then, naked, they forced him to the ground. They took turns doing things to him that Halim had no idea that one male could do to another. Ishmael cried out in pain and embarrassment and Halim buried his face in his hands and sobbed for his brother. He knew he should charge into the middle of them and exact justice. But he also knew the futility of such a move. He lie there on his hummock, paralyzed with fear and shame. He was ashamed of his own cowardice and inability to arise to Ishmael's defense.
Halim sang inside of himself, screaming in his mind to try and drown out Ishmael's sobs and cries. But that didn't work and it was only over a course of time that his brother's cries turned to low moans and then to silence. It seemed to take forever before the bandits remounted their horses. A couple of them had a trussed lamb tied onto his mount when they rode away. Rising shakily to his feet he ran, stumbling, towards the still form of his brother. Halim fell to his knees alongside his brother and his eyes opened wide in shock and horror. A pool of blood encircled Ishmael's head and shoulders. The bandits had thanked him for the convenience of using his body by slitting his throat.
“I'm so sorry, Ishmael. I'm so sorry. Please forgive me.”
Halim laid with his face pressed against his brother's back and sobbed out his sorrow and what he believed was his own betrayal to Ishmael. It wasn't until the next day that their father found the body of his slain son and his catatonic younger brother. It was days of careful tending by his mother before Halim regained consciousness and weeks before the memories of that evening flooded back to him. And while Halim slowly healed, his father had to pay others to tend their flock, something the family could ill afford.
That was a year ago and over this time he had grown bitter and angry. He shunned the company of others, preferring to spend all of his time with the flock. As the boy sat cross-legged, absently chewing on a blade of grass, he once again relived that night in his mind. The flock was quiet, bedded for the night. And, as was so often the case these days, his mind dwelt upon what sort of deity his family worshiped that would allow such a horrible thing to happen to a boy that was sweet, innocent and loving. Halim made no secret of the fact that his attitude towards the Supreme Maker had done an abrupt 180 degree swing. His parents didn't punish his occasional nasty and blasphemous remarks as they once would have. Even their faith had been tested.
Halim no longer looked for falling stars. The heavens, and indeed most things no longer took his interest. He had changed a great deal since that fateful night a year ago. But something happened in the heavens that night that broke his reverie. Slowly a star appeared in the sky that he couldn't ignore even it he wanted to. A huge star blossomed in the Eastern sky that soon rivaled the brightness of a full moon. It had the appearance of a diamond with its many facets shedding light and color in every direction.
The boy stood and stared in open mouthed wonder and felt himself shaking. He was sure that this was some portent of evil that his anger towards his maker had brought upon him. As he stared, unblinking, at the changing light patterns, his ears could make out a faint chorus of voices. Halim twisted his body about and craned his neck in every direction to try and determine the source of the music. He saw nothing. But the chorus of voices seemed to swell in volume and the music was so sweet as to be mesmerizing.
"Hallelujah, hallelujah" was the one word refrain sung over and over in ever cascading and changing melody. It was a full chorus composed of a single word that never sounded the same each time it was repeated.
Then, wonder of wonders, the ethereal outline of human shapes appeared, floating below the star, slowly taking substance. A great, white robbed figure with gossamer wings - a huge being, floated before him.
"Have no fear, but rejoice, for this night a King is born." And then the figure smiled the most loving smile and pointed at the ground towards Halim's left. He glanced in that direction and saw a person walking towards him. This person glowed like the one in the sky and Halim knew this was some heavenly being.
The boy fell to his knees in awe and bowed his head towards the ground in obeisance. When his peripheral vision told him that the being was standing directly in front of him he heard...
"Don't just peer at the ground like you are playing with dung beetles you silly boy. Lift up your head and greet me, brother."
That voice! That voice! Halim knew that voice. His head snapped up and the breath rushed out of his body. "ISHMAEL" he shrieked, springing to his feet and wrapping himself around the glowing body in front of him.
"Oh, Ishmael... is it truly you?" The words came hard because they were full of sobs.
"It is indeed, little brother." Halim felt himself squeezed in response. "I love you, Halim. And God loves you too, even though you are angry with him."
"Listen to me, Halim. It wasn't God who sent those men to do those evil things. That was their own doing. But their day of judgment is coming."
"I've been allowed to come here on this very special night to give you comfort and to tell you that I am happy, Halim. So do not lament my passing. You and mother and father will join me one day and all of heaven will rejoice."
"I am also instructed to tell you to follow that star in the sky. Beneath it you will find a miracle come to birth. Also, you will find a small child standing on the other side of our flock. Take him with you, brother. The two of you are to be witnesses on this night. For the rest of your life you will tell others of what you observed on this eve. And when you are an old man and have told the tale for the last time, you will come to join me."
So, that night, little Halim deserted a flock of sheep that were being tended by an angel with a flaming sword. If they weren't safe in his care then there was nothing that could keep them safe. He was reborn inside and walked as though his feet didn't quite come into contact with the ground. Halim walked to meet his destiny and all was once again right with his world. Long unused muscles in his face formed a radiant smile and his sweet voice joined the chorus in the heavens. And as they walked, the little boy with him beat a steady rhythm to the heavenly chorus on a small drum. The “hallelujahs” changed too...
Come they told me, pa rum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum,
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
When we come.
Halim's gift for the young king? He forgave himself and he forgave God. No finer gift could he bring.
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