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Chapter Five Humans Rising


Marcus Decimus, Flavia and Munyah The Witch

These people believe their god has cursed them, because we’re here,” Marcus Decimus said as he washed down a fig with a cup of wine.

No, My Dear,” Flavia said, standing behind him and looking over his shoulder at the lead plate piled high with fruit that sat before him. “It is we who have been cursed by our gods to be here.”

Under the circumstances he said nothing. Such insubordinate and sacrilegious outbursts had been common in this household, even back in Rome, even before the fated voyage out here.  Flavia had not been an ordinary obedient wife, even before. He pushed the agonizing memories away. Marcus stiffened automatically as he’d been trained to do. “Caesar has honored us with this appointment.”

Flavia chuckled and walked to the side of the table so he could see her face. Flashing him a bitter smile, she plucked grapes of their stem. She feared neither Marcus nor Caesar, and, at this point, not even the gods.

“You know better than that. To be sent out into the middle of nowhere‑‑ to be surrounded by dust and scorpions and hostile peasants.” Now her attitude was heretical and downright seditious. No matter what had happened, weren’t= they still Romans?  She pursued the subject coldly and with an unforgiving tone. “Soldiers get sent out here either test their manhood and the gods you love so much enjoy doling out punishment,.”

A Punishment?” Marcus bristled.  Flavia always went too far. A For what?”

She stared at him and his soul withered.

Marcus pushed his plate away with all the other painful memories, stood up and looked around at the miserable hut they had been given to live in. Even temporarily it was beneath a soldier of his rank. At only twenty-four, he had thought he was rising in power and position. He thought of their sunny farm outside of Rome where the children were happiest.  Flavia was right.  This wasn’t home.  It would never be home.  He walked to the front door, opened it and stared into the purple dusky sunset.

Suddenly from a distance he spotted a group of women dragging what at first he thought was a goat squealing it head off on its way to slaughter.  But it wasn’t a goat at all. It was a screaming young girl. As they passed him and continued down the street, he could see that the girl was sobbing and  terrified, the women, punishing and relentless.  “I know that girl,” he murmured. From behind him, Flavia, ever the suspicious wife, said,  “What?”

“Nothing, he answered,” but he certainly did know that girl.   He knew her very well.

Marcus turned to look at his wife as the crowd dragged the screaming girl down the street.  When would Flavia forgive him?

All that evening and through the next day Marcus Decimus thought about the girl.  What had she done to merit such cruelty? Where were they taking her? Should he have intervened? Well, he had greater problems on his mind. He hated being spat upon as he walked among the people, loathed their whispers, Roman Vulture, as he passed by.  Roman Vulture. News of rising taxes leaked down the alleys. The people had no idea the pressure he was under.  They only saw his presence, all the Romans, as fangs digging deeper into the Hebrew throat, sucking their blood to nourish the whole system of the Empire. They didn’t know what it cost to maintain the world. New levees had to be imposed.  Life was expensive. They didn’t understand that to strengthen the arm of their oppressor would only protect them from barbarians who would destroy their whole society.


Marcus had to keep order despite the rumors that the most recent rise in taxes was the product of a collusion between the Rabbis and the Roman officials, in a sinister plot to unify both forces in a hideous power grip that grabbed the poor Jew by the purse and by the heart.  These people were like children, never grasping the problems parents had to survive. And here was with Flavia, restless and irritable, still grieving over the loss of their two children who died of fever on the voyage to this forsaken land.  Even the thought of children caused his head to reel these days.

But where were they taking that girl? He should have intervened, even under Flavia’s watchful eyes.


In addition to religion, the people clung to superstition, just in case God fell asleep now and then. The world was riddled with disease and wrongdoing, so while you prayed not to get fever and boils, you took every precaution available.


Munyah was not a charming woman. She smelled like rancid chicken fat and had hair in places women shouldn’t. She had even chopped off two of her own fingers once. She said it had been an accident with a leg of a lamb, but many thought it was some secret ritual. She looked like the witch she was. Her hut smelled as she did, so she received visitors only on psychic business. As twisted and wizened as an old tree, Munyah boasted an odd vitality, like some weed  that couldn’t be killed. She had a hundred women’s share of unbroken spirit. Even the Romans were drawn to her and went to her for her particular brand of Jewish witchery. The Rabbis treated her with respect,  although they laughed at all her nonsense.


Munyah had a talent nobody on Earth seemed to have.  She could elicit the absolute truth from anyone. When a liar was lying, Munyah was called in to expose the truth. Even if people didn’t even know they were hiding the facts, Munyah was summoned. If the Romans had been able to capture her policing capabilities, they would have ruled the world forever.


Munyah knew how to listen.  But not just to listen. She was somehow able to hear everything that wasn’t being said. She watched every blink, every twitch of muscle, every pause, every hesitation, every breath, every hidden morsel of information buried deep in the mind she happened to be probing.  She knew how to shut off the brain of her subjects and keep them talking, so even the most skillful of deceivers would let down all barriers as Munyah moved in to flush out the truth.

But it was a drastic act to take Miriam to Munyah’s. It gave the poor girl almost criminal status. It also stated that every other form of interrogation and failed. Reason.  Guilt.  Parental authority.  Even the Rabbi. This latest flagrant, mad burst of perverse rebellion was the conclusive piece of evidence that Miriam had become a candidate for Munyah’s courtroom. Or medicine, as Munyah called it.  She always said that the only true medicine was that which drew the truth out of deception, like venom from a snake bite.


When night fell they dragged her to Munya’s.  After the men came home and prayed and ate and the women scrubbed plates, they pulled the girl from her room and made the pilgrimage a few streets away to Munyah’s.

Miriam’s father, who kept his head down and aimed at the dark, Yusef’s mother, Becca, Aunti Na, Malkah, the whole of both families, held a momentary truce to participate in this last resort. They stumbled over the broken stones in the street passing Arabs and Romans talking and lurking in the shadows of doorways. Two old women sat on benches. Eyes everywhere. The whole town would know where they were going! To this sorceress. Doves , perched on a tiled roof, cooed in witness to the procession.

Munyah welcomed them with a warm and toothless cackle, but her tone was professional. This was business.

The family was told to sit down and each was given a slice of honey bread and lemon water.


Miriam was led sobbing into a small room. Two tapers threw shadows all around, and all she could see were two small chairs, a tiny bed in the corner, and on a table, two buckets, one filled with sheets of soaking linen and the other brimming with what looked like mud.

Munyah took a surprisingly calming tone and went through all the questions over again, all the while cleaning her gums with a splinter of wood.

How had the girl and the young man had found time to be together? No? She had never done anything like that?  Then who? A stranger? A member of her own family? Why protect a dog that has bitten you? Tell the truth.  How would a dead mother feel to hear that the daughter she left on Earth was disgracing her race? Did she know how babies were born?  Who gave her this one? How did it feel when the man was in her? No man was in her?  There was a baby to prove it. And babies didn’t lie, even if young girls did.

Miriam gained courage, because she knew this was her final test. She knew that Munyah’s word would be taken. She would finally be exonerated.

Suddenly, Munyah’s tactic changed.

Yes rest now, Munyah purred, as her eyes darted and flitted in her grizzled head. Sleep.  Lie down and relax. Here’s the bed. There. That’s better. Isn’t that better? You must be exhausted to be in the middle of all this.  Ooh, it’s so good to get your feet off the floor.  With everyone coming down on you like a horse’s hoof on a worm.  Mmm, that=s much better. There. Close your eyes like a good girl. And forget all this trouble for just a minute.  Just pretend this room isn’t even here. Pretend you’re in  another world.  No father.  No aunts.  No Yusef.  No me. Pretend you’re by the sea, Dear.  Yes, by the sea where no knock on the door could disturb your rest. It’s lovely by the sea, isn’t it?  It’s so cool.  So restful.  Isn’t it restful?  Isn’t it Miriam? Isn’t it?  All right now, can you hear me?”

Yes,Miriam answered with calm, deep, even breathing. “I hear you Mama.”

“All right, little Dear.  That’s right.  It’s me. Mama. Now tell me what happened.  Tell Auntie Munyah, tell Mama, the whole of God’s truth.”


All during her litany, Munyah had been removing Miriam’s clothes and wrapping her in sheets that smelled of berries, and covering her feet with a strange mud.  The truth is always in the feet, Munyah believed.

Miriam now lay in a scented shroud that hugged her body.  Her breathing was deep and regular, her eyes closed. Munyah put her ear close to the girl’s face, but watched without blinking as Miriam spoke from her dreams.


“Im in a room, in a house.  Is it my house? I’m not sure.”

“Are you alone?”

“I’m alone, but I’m not frightened. Then I’m not alone.”

“Who is there?”


“Is it a man?”

“Well, you can’t tell with these people.”

“What people?”

“Is it a man?”

“Yes, maybe.”

“What does he want?”

“He is not of our people.”

Munyah moved in. “What does he want?”

“I’m afraid.”

Time passed.

Only muffled sounds and cries came from the room for what seemed like hours, even days or weeks, as  the  hour grew late. The people grew restless, worried, mystified.

What was going on in there?

What was Munyah doing to their little girl?

Inside the darkened room, Munyah splashed a pail of water over the girls’s feet. Then she unwrapped her, tossed the sheets into the fire and even wet, they burned and vanished with a hiss of smoke. The fire went out, left the room dark, silent except for the girl’s breathing. Munyah was stunned, reeling. How could this have happened? There would be repercussions. That was certain.  She covered the child with a woolen blanket and flung open the door.

The family rose as one.


AI have an announcement to make to you all,she said with cold authority. “Go home. She’s asleep. I’ll bring her back to you myself when she wakes up. But from now on persecute this child no more. Put away your accusations. Give her holy protection.  Let the two marry and keep your suspicions to whispers.  Someday we will be liberated from God’s curse.”

Miriam’s father stepped forward and bellowed, “For God’s sake, Woman, what are you trying to say?”

Munyah peered sharply at them all.  They cowered as she answered, “This poor girl is indeed with child. But protect her. She has been raped.  And by one of our enemies and oppressors.  A Roman soldier.  And from the looks of things, we will never see him again.”

Text copyright michael lutin 2018

visual by Godfried Schalcken artnet

Comments (3)


all my hair is raising across my body….

Yes, keep writing!!!

More please!!

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