Cain’s tattoo

Adam and Eve settled in a valley somewhere east of paradise and eventually had two sons: Cain, a farmer, and Abel, a shepherd.

Each son offered part of their yield on an altar, a gesture of faith in their God’s continued provision. Underneath a blistering sun, Cain would throw together an indiscriminate mix of berries and greens and scatter them upon the unwrought stone. Abel, on the other hand, would take from the firstborn of his flocks, carefully cut the choicest sections of meat from the bone, and burn them down to a charred powder.

Abel’s labor of love pleased God, so he blessed him with healthy flocks and herds. But he ignored Cain’s offering, and the elements of nature showed no mercy. Over time, grubs and vermin ravaged whatever fruit the sun or frost didn’t take in their season.

God asked Cain in a dream, “If you offer your best, will you not be blessed?” Then he saw a hideous serpent showing a fang through his curled lip and hissing like a hot spring. Cain inched closer to seize the viper and snap its neck, but the unholy creature struck his ankle and bit clean through the ligament.

Cain let out a visceral shriek and awoke with a start.

On a brisk morning after, Abel was leading Cain to a new field he thought might produce food for them. Cain, lagging a few steps behind, gathered his bronze sickle with both hands.

“Abel,” Cain said, a pipe of steam on his breath.

Abel turned, and Cain swung the tool swiftly and surely, lopping his brother’s head off.

Cain stood stock still and watched the blood drain from his brother’s body. The soil drank it eagerly, darkening the earth around his torso like an unholy shadow.

God haunted Cain’s nightly dreams with the question, “What have you done with Abel?”

“When did he fall under my watch?” Cain asked the wraith, writhing in a pool of cold sweat. “I’m not his guardian.”

A cold shadow emerged from the ground where Abel’s carcass lay rotting, and his blackened blood cast a spell on the new field. Soon rumors about his treachery echoed in the valley, and Cain became a wanted nomad.

Withered by malnutrition and paranoia, Cain eventually begged for God to rescue him from his misery. God met him with tenderness and mercy.

“If anyone kills you,” he promised, “I will give them a sevenfold punishment.” God burned a mark into the outcast’s flesh to deter anyone from assaulting him, and Cain settled in the land of Nod. From his family tree came some of the earliest civilized people, including shepherds in man-made huts, musicians, and smiths.

God eventually blessed Adam and Eve with another son, Seth. From Seth’s family tree came godly men such as Enoch the Consecrated One.

Enoch walked with God, just as Adam and Eve had done in the beginning. Meditating on the movement of stars, the cycles of seasons, and the withering of trees, he remembered his ancestor’s prelapsarian state. He divined that nothing in nature transgressed the laws of God, so he, too, walked the righteous path, creating order from the chaos around him. Then one day, Enoch mysteriously vanished.

Inspiration: Genesis 4

Dragon’s deception

The serpentine dragon cradled its scaly head on a branch of the Knowledge Tree one afternoon and reasoned with Eve. “You look hungry,” he garbled. “I hear you aren’t allowed to eat any of Eden’s delicious varieties. Is this a joke?”

Eve bristled at the unusual sound of a talking lizard. “We can eat anything except Knowledge.”

She pointed to the tree from which both the forbidden fruit and the dragon’s tail dangled. “We can’t even touch it, or we’ll die.”

The dragon choked on a half-chewed morsel. “Dear child, do I look dead to you?” he asked, mucous-caked eyes glinting in the sun. He dropped from his perch and crept closer. “Don’t you want to know good from evil, child? That’s what happens when you eat from Knowledge. You become distinguished and discretionary. Like a god.”

Eve regarded the sagging fruit, and the dragon saw in her gaze a well of desire.

“Why should your God be the only one who knows good from evil?”

Adam appeared from out of the brush, his brutish footfalls startling the beast. With eyes fixed on the sun-kissed fruit, he inquired, “Like a god, you say?”

“Like your God,” the coiled reptile affirmed. “He lied to you, friends.”

With that, the dragon skulked away.

Eve plucked the fibrous orb, and its limb snapped back as if pained by the extrusion. No sooner had she and Adam bit into it that they lost all sense of time.

Enchanted by the hypnotic sound of blood pumping through their veins, they swayed to a swelling melody playing in their ears. Adam drew himself erect, pulsating waves welling from his lower spine up through his crown. Eve felt her legs give way, so she knelt and listened to the harmonies playing beneath the soil.

Then, their rapture ended. Both shuddered, feeling suddenly vulnerable and exposed. A harsh wind swept through the clearing, and the sky rumbled ominously.

They patched together the leaves of a fig tree and wrapped themselves with them, then scurried in opposite directions in search of protection.

God came down that evening, but Adam and Eve weren’t answering the door.

“Where are you?” he asked, peering into the orchard. “Adam?”

Adam responded from behind a mulberry bush, his voice shrill and weak. “I was naked and afraid, so I hid,” he explained, self-consciously.

“How’d you know you were naked unless you took fruit from the Knowledge Tree?”

Adam admitted his disobedience but quickly blamed his wife. “I was content with figs and pomegranates,” he said, “but this woman… your gift to me, I should say… she wanted a taste of Knowledge.”

Eve appeared from behind the foliage of a willow, downcast and visibly shaken. Speechless, she pointed an accusatory finger at the creature who happened to be slinking along the path.

God seized the dragon by its throat and cursed it. “Eat dirt and die! From now on, you’ll slither on your belly, with misery your only company. You may strike at the heel, but in the end, your enemy with crush your head.”

God turned to Eve and said, “Now that you’ve tasted the difference between good and evil, childbirth will be painful and dangerous. As far as your relationship with the man, you’ll want to please him, but he’ll dominate you. His desire will be for wealth and power.”

To Adam, he said, “You’ve cursed the soil, whose provisions weren’t enough. You’ll bleed, sweat, and cry for your bread, grasping for food, sex, and an endless string of things until you return to dust.”

God’s countenance then softened. He presented clothes he had made from animal hide. “You’ll need more than fig leaves where you’re going,” he said, handing them their new leathers.

The first family had just experienced a most unfathomable blow. For their safety, God separated them from the Life Tree and dispatched a host of armed guards to surround it. Consuming Life straight from the source would have damned them to eternal anguish.

God escorted them to the east gate, onto a twisted path leading into the cold darkness.

“Follow closely to the way,” God instructed. “The sun will rise again, and I will bring Life back to your offspring.”

The estranged pair left the comforts of the lush garden and traveled east along the rocky road they named Suffering, and the dragon slithered behind them by the light of a fallen moon.

Inspiration: Genesis 3