02. Staying Alive B6

Chapter 1. Staying Alive

863 BCi

[Shelach’s family orchard]Plaza, Samaria City, Samaria, Israel

Shelachii – Afternoon before — picking and packing figs for tomorrow’s market. — Dad commending.

They talk of him becoming a Grove manager for Uncle Gera

How to harvest figs: step-by-step

let Issachariii, his donkey, lead the way in through the city gate, over the threshing floor.

The old donkey had hauled more figs to market space than Shelach had seen in his twelveiv years. With only the stars to guide him, the donkey padded across the plaza and stopped exactly at the family’s assigned market space.

Shelach as he whistled snatches of Psalm 57.v [detailvi?] By the light of the stars [moon?vii], he led his donkey into the pre-dawn market and looped the lead line onto a[Any insect sounds since it’s still dark? Animal sounds?] Then he reared back and belted out the psalm.

Whom shall I fear?

Whom shall I fear?” [Repeat intended? [Two times? Is someone else talking?]]

Out of the dark on his left came, “Mikey’s here.”

From the right. “Morning, Mikey!”

Twitching to the beat, Shelach circled the donkey, releasing the net draped over his bags of figs.viii [Great intro to this character. Is he bobbing his head?] He lifted his head of messy brown hair toward his cousin Hevel in the next stall and switched to Aramaic, the language of their village. “Uncle Gera bragged on my pruning. You still thinking you want to manage a grove?”

Make my old dad proud.” Hevel slung a sack of pomegranates down from his donkey.

As the sun tinted the last of the night sky, shadowy forms appeared—farmers setting up their stalls. [Roosters crowing?] Donkeys blew in friends’ nostrils, nibbled each other’s withers, and dropped fresh manure, the basic layer of market-day smells.ix x [Maybe the smell of raw fish or some oliferous vegetables.]

Rising on the balls of his feet, Shelach beamed his salesman smile at early bird customers who tipped their heads at his figs. Their neighbors would soon swarm through, filling the square with warm chatter and his purse with silver.

Between the stalls, two little boys knelt next to a circle of polished chestnuts. They flipped nuts into the circle and sometimes tucked nuts into tiny cloth bags.

It’s still there.” Shelach squinted toward the far side of the plaza and stopped whistling. In the growing light of dawn, the shadowy hulk of the Asherah temple grew more distinct.

The little boys ignored their game and gazed at the temple.

Shelach’s cousin yanked a string and let pomegranates slide into a pile on a goatskin. “And Liev and Ulam are dead.”

If it weren’t marble, we could sneak in at night like Gideon and burn it down.” Shelach laughed. “Old Joshua would organize a march.” [ [I’m wondering about his laughter here and his earlier moving to the beat. I know he normally bounces to the beat, which is a good distinctive characteristic for him, but if this is a just a few days after Live and Ulam’s deaths, I’m thinking that maybe he’d be a little bit more somber? ]

[ I agree. This could be a sarcastic, bitter laugh.]

Like a bubble, the sun edged up from behind the Gilead mountains.

A man swaggered down the palace steps. He wore a dark green robe with an outline of the buxom Asherah queen sewn on the front left shoulder.xi

That stinking temple boss.” Hevel wadded his empty pomegranate sack in his fists.

Shelach’s laugh died. He should rip that design off the brute’s robe, but the evil lay too deep for such a simple cure. The man headed their way, and Shelach glared.

As the temple boss came into spitting range, Shelach trembled. [(He just mentioned his friends are dead. Does he first try to restrain himself? His friend would no doubt follow his lead. He must remain calm. But then he doesn’t)] Nostrils flaring, he leaned into the path and spouted words from a Hebrew psalm. “The Lord hates the wicked. He sends them fiery coals and flaming sulfur.”

A scowl fell over the man’s face.

The two little boys collected their polished chestnuts into their little cloth bags. xii

Hevel twisted his empty sack and unleashed his own volley. “Blast them with your anger, Lord.”

The rodent nose twitched. “We’ll see who gets blasted.” A Sidonian accent marred his Hebrew.

Shelach set his bag of fruit down and stepped into the temple boss’s path. [[Consider adding a detail here to slow down the pace of this tense moment.]] “When?” His knuckles itched to crunch the man’s cheek bones. Slavers driving children to this man’s brothel had murdered Liev.

The green-robed boss leaned left, but Shelach thrust his chin in the way. “Not your hired thugs, rat-face. You and me. Right here.”

The two little boys clutched the bags to their chests and dashed out of sight.

Red blotches spreading on his face, the temple boss ducked past Shelach. He scuttled between farmers and donkeys to the temple and slithered through the huge marble portal. [Any sounds?] [You could have him knock something over and that would be your sound.]

Hevel wadded his empty bag and dashed it on the ground. “The snake hides with the little girls Liev tried to help.”

Shelach blasted out a lungful of air. With exaggerated care, he crouched and rolled down the sides of a sack to display its fruit. Although he puckered for a tune, his lips blew only wind.

Standing, he smoothed the front of his tunic. “Hey, man! [[This phrase reminds me of the 1960’s a little too much maybe.]] We almost knocked knuckles with that creep.”

Hevel’s eyes flashed. “Great fun.”

Shelach looked down, silent. Maybe he shouldn’t have spouted off. He had set an example for Hevel that could get him dead.

As a customer scrutinized the figs lying fresh in the bag, Shelach pasted on a welcome face [smile? Or maybe he could say “welcome?”] but forgot the opening line to his sales pitch. Beating the temple boss up wouldn’t be fun. Not really. Besides, temple guards would have swarmed all over him. What did his dad say? Too soon old. Too late smart.

As the sun popped free from the horizon, the two little boys returned. Solemn-faced. Without their bags of chestnuts. One led Gera’s wife, Hodiah, by the hand, and the other, Liev’s widow, Keren.

Keren walked straight up to Shelach. “Gera needs you. Mother and I will sell your figs and pomegranates.”

Her tone was far too bossy. Shelach stepped back. When Uncle Gera needed help, he asked politely, and he asked via Shelach’s father.

We’ll help Uncle Gera first thing after we sell this fruit.” He turned and fiddled with the packsaddle.

Please go.” Keren spoke over his shoulder. “He needs you right now.”

But it’s market day.” Uncle Gera knew how yesterday he had picked, sorted, and bagged figs. How his father assigned him a strong donkey, and this morning he trudged for an hour through the dark to set up his market stall before first light. His place was right here, selling fruit to eager customers.

No, Mikey.” Keren stepped between Shelach and the donkey. “Gera needs you this moment. Mother and I have sold more fruit than you’ll ever see, and we’ll earn more for your families.” She rested her hands on the heads of the two little boys. “My helpers will take you to Gera.”

Go now, son.” Hodiah touched Shelach’s arm. “Please. For Liev.”

[more tension, pleasexiii]

Shelach and Hevel followed Keren’s helpers across the plaza and over the threshing floor.

But instead of south to Gera’s house, the little boys took them east. And at the corner they jerked Shelach and Hevel through a skinny gate hidden in the trees. The gate opened onto an alley cutting south.

Lips sealed, Keren’s helpers tugged their captives along to a recess on the right. One backed Shelach and Hevel against a gate while the other leaned his eyebrow into the alley. “Clear.”

It was the first word Shelach had heard from his captors. “Why are you kids playing at this silly—?”

A boy reached up and closed Shelach’s mouth. “Keep it shut. We have to hurry.” After they pushed them through the gate, the little guys pulled them up a path and into a stable. “Sh… Don’t talk to the donkeys.” In soft, silent strides, they led Shelach and Hevel down the center aisle to a door. One cracked the door open, peeked out, and pulled back. [[There was too much detail about how they go there. It made me think something important was going to happen relating to the details.] ] Finger to lips, he peeked out again. “Now.”

The two little fellows yanked Shelach and Hevel through the stable door and into an olive grove. Trotting them along the path like a pair of donkeys, they came to Gera’s tiny arbor. [Maybe show what Gera’s doing and what his mood is through body language?]

Uncle Gera?” As he searched the brown, weathered face, Shelach stood flatfooted and empty of song. “How can we help you?”

[Consider giving us a detail about his appearance that would give us a clue to his state of mind.]

Gera grasped their hands and looked long into each face. Then he turned to the little boys. “Thank you for bringing my friends. You may return to Keren.”

With quick salutes, the helpers left.

Sit with me, please.” Gera eased onto the bench and patted a space on either side.

They plopped down and gazed with Gera out across the hill. A raven patrolled the opposite slope. [This detail distracted me.]

Shelach tugged on his ear. It seemed Uncle Gera needed someone to sit with him and study the Shechem valley. [Ha ha, love this thought. Maybe bring in another about what he’s missing at the market?]

Gera draped his arms across the shoulders of both boys and pulled them close. “You two are what I call bubblers.”

Shelach wiggled his fingers through the air. “Bubbles?”

Bubblers. Truth bubbles from you. You’re either too stubborn or too stupid to keep your mouths shut. And I don’t care which.”

But I can’t keep quiet. This morning when that—”

I know about this morning, Shelach. I had Keren post her little helpers beside you boys two weeks ago.” xiv

Shelach glanced at Hevel and bit his lip. Uncle Gera had been watching them. Should they huff and puff, all red in the face as they defend their dignity with Uncle Gera? Silly idea.

You’ve been spying on us.” His voice was flat. He stared off across the hills.

Gera lifted his arms from their shoulders and rested both hands on his knees. “Do you boys trust me?”xv

Shelach leaned forward and opened his hands to Hevel. If they couldn’t trust Uncle Gera…

Gera’s voice cracked. “My Liev was a bubbler.”

Shelach stiffened. [Great, this moment is intense.] The week Liev died, he and his family had visited Uncle Gera’s house every evening to pay their respects.xvi

Gera slapped their knees. “You boys grieved with us for Liev, then you helped bury Ulam. So you’ve seen how spouting off puts you and your families in danger. I brought you here to keep you alive.”

Shelach turned his face up to Gera. “But —”

The Lord put it in you boys to name good and evil for what they are, and I wouldn’t change that. But since that green-robed snake has marked you, it doesn’t matter whether you let the truth bubble out or keep your mouths shut. His thugs will kill you.”

Shelach clenched his fingers and ground[Two times? Is someone else talking?] his teeth.

Hevel’s hands were fists. His eyes, slits.

Gera laid his broad hands over their teenage fists. “I’m going to hide you in Othniel’s grove.” []

Hide?” Shelach frowned. From that weasel-faced temple boss? What a ridiculous idea.

You boys are fast, but they’ll ambush you in the dark, and you’ll be dead before you fall.” Gera took a long breath. “You’ll be helping with pruning, picking, pest control, irrigation—everything you learned from your fathers about figs and pomegranates, plus the little I’ve taught you about olives. Othniel’s a good man, and he’s agreed to hide bubblers. Yesterday I sent him the cobbler’s son.” [Wilma means this line.]

The cobbler?” Shelach gasped. Last week Zophal the cobbler’s son had come through the market with his sister and stopped to announce the price of leather had risen due to the drought.

[SUB ENDxvii] xviiiSTARTING HERE for 236/260 SUBs Sept 19


  • I changed the name Micaiah to Shelach.

  • Gera’s wife is Hodiah

  • Liev’s wife is Keren

From a previous submission:

Hide?” Shelach frowned. From that weasel-faced temple boss? What a ridiculous idea.

You boys are fast, but they’ll ambush you in the dark, and you’ll be dead before you fall.” Gera took a long breath. “You’ll be helping with pruning, picking, pest control, irrigation—everything you learned from your fathers about figs and pomegranates, plus the little I’ve taught you about olives. Othniel’s a good man, and he’s agreed to hide bubblers. Yesterday I sent him the cobbler’s son.”

The cobbler?” Shelach gasped. Last week Zophal the cobbler’s son had come through the market with his sister and stopped to announce the price of leather had risen due to the drought.

Gera grinned. “He only knows shoes, but you boys can teach him trees.”

Shelach’s hands curled almost to fists then straightened. “Zophal’s a great kid, Uncle Gera, but Dad needs me home by noon to help him dig dung in around our fig trees.”

Gera wiped a tearxix from his eyelid. [Maybe have Zophal see the tear and think of Liev] “What your dad needs is you. Alive.” He stood and laid his arms across their shoulders. “I’m arranging for skilled grove men to help your fathers while I hide you.” He turned them east. “I’ll walk you to Othniel’s grove.”

[Shelach says his father doesn’t have money to pay for the skilled workers. Gera says a wealthy friend is paying. Shelach falls silent BEAT of awe.]

With Hevel beside him, Shelach dragged his feet behind Gera along a path through the winding valley. Uncle Gera didn’t seem to understand. Skilled grove men were no solution. Shelach belonged at his father’s side.xx

He raised his eyebrows toward Hevel. The man they trusted most outside their fathers had watched their moves and snatched them away with their fathers’ consent and the help of family. [Wilmaxxi]



Hevel shrugged then scanned up and down the path. [late?]xxiv

As they rounded the base of the third hill, Gera pointed to his left. “Your friend, the cobbler’s son.” [I thought the cobbler’s son was going to hide in Othniel’s field, not in Gera’s field, in reference to the statement at the beginning that I have highlighted in blue.]

Above them, over a low wall of rough-cut limestones, Zophal’s tuft of black curls appeared. He stood and waved. Instead of calling to them, he put a finger to his lips as he glanced left and right.

Gera hugged Hevel then Shelach. “I need you to stay put here with Zophal. No wandering the hills for spies to report you.” He turned back toward his bench under the vines.[xxv?]

Shelach and Hevel climbed between olive trees up the hill to Zophal’s wall. [Consider adding a couple setting details, sounds or touch, etc.]

Zophal [Consider giving a descriptive detail or two about his appearance, here or somewhere in the next couple of paragraphs.] gave them each a hand over the limestones [Were they rough? Consider giving another setting details.] and onto the terrace. “Gotta be real quiet. Sound carries through these hills like you wouldn’t believe.” He led them along the terrace to several large olive branches broken off and leaning against the hill. He pulled the branches aside to reveal a slight depression. Inside, two thick, wool robesxxvi lay on a pile of leaves and grass. “My mother sent the robes. They really help me stay warm at night.”

From beside the robes, he pulled a full water skin and handed it to Shelach. “There’s a spring at the base of the hill.” He pulled five flatbreads from his pack and put them in Hevel’s hands. “From my mother. Maybe she’ll send more tomorrow.”

Shelach propped the water skin on a rock close to the hillside and sat beside the skin. He stared at the olive trees on the next hill. Had Uncle Gera kidnapped Hevel and him xxviifrom a normal life or rescued them from a cruel death? Either way, their freedom was gone. [Wilma [It sounds like the thoughts of Biah, but it makes more sense if it’s Mickey.]]

After the three boys had eaten the flatbreads and drunk most of the water, Shelach went down to the spring and filled the skin.

When he got back to their terrace, the sun was dipping [[vs. the sun dipped]] into the Great Sea.

As a high-pitched howl came from the valley, Hevel shivered. “A wolf. And there’s no place to hide.”

Zophal chuckled. “You should get out more. The sound you hear, my friend, is a Hyena announcing tonight’s hunt. If you leave him alone, he’ll leave you alone.”

As the twilight thickened, Zophal wagged his head at Shelach and Hevel. “Nope. No cozy campfire to catch the eye of Jezebel’s spies.” xxviii

Shelach squeezed his eyes shut. Neither he nor Hevel had requested a fire. Had his conversations at the cobbler shop or when Zophal stopped to see how the figs were selling been too quick for Zophal to display his superior knowledge of all things? Or was there something about being stuck together on Othniel’s lonely hillside tha brought it out?xxix]

They sat. The rock had hardened during the afternoon.

As Shelach wiggled his bottom, [[This makes him sound rather young. How old is he?]] the Bear rose in the East followed by her cubs. [[Consider adding a bit more description maybe about how the stars sparkled or how cool the air was.]]

Zopal turned to the tiny depression in Othniel’s hillside. He shook the two extra robes and spread them again on the mound of leaves and grass. “Come on in, guys.” [robesxxx] He lay on his side and Shelach on his side next to him like spoons in a basket. Hevel draped their three robes over them and crawled in next to Shelach. [What do the robes feel like?]


About noon the next day Hodiah arrived on the path with two donkeys. [How to remind reader she’s dead Liev’s mother?]

The boys scrambled down to her.

She hugged each one and handed Shelach and Hevel two familiar wool cloaks from the load. “Your mothers sent these.” [Are the boys excited for the gifts? Would they ask her any questions about home and their families? ]

The boys untied a bag of flatbreads, another of roasted eggplants, and a skin of red wine—and carried them up to their depression in the hillside.

On Hodiah’s second donkey perched four huge bundles of long black sticks.

Zophal patted the bundles. “No sense attracting the queen’s thugs with flames and smoke when we can stay warm with charcoal. Oak wood makes the best.”

After the boys lugged the charcoal up to their terrace, they returned to the path and hugged Hodiah goodbye.

[keep in Shelach’s POV]

In an hour or so, Othnielxxxi will be here to line out some work for you.” She shook her head slowly.xxxii “You’re going to be fine. Just fine.” As she led her donkeys back around the hill, she wiped at her cheek. [?xxxiii] [How to show why?]

A few paces from the hole in the hill where they had spent the night, Shelach helped stuff the charcoal sticks under an overhang. He hadn’t hung around the cobbler shop all that much, but Zophal seemed free to share from his stock of knowledge. [I had to read this line two or three times. This piece of hillside in Othniel’s grove felt smaller than when they had arrived. [Is there any distinguishing smells or landmarks or wildlife sounds he’s picking up on?] How long would Gera keep them here? [Thoughtsxxxiv]

[How are they feeling about having to stay here, and not knowing how long they will be here?]

The boys draped the charcoal pile with branches and leaves. The sticks would stay dry except in a hard driving rain. [[Good details. I’m wondering what a charcoal stick is? Sticks that have been burnt until they turn to charcoal?}]

Zophal jogged off to a curve in the terrace. [yikes!]xxxv He turned, grinned, and came back. “The leaves blend into the hill very well.”

They sat on the rock. It hadn’t softened. [xxxviHuh?xxxvii] Shelach set the wineskin between Hevel and Zophal and handed each a pair of flatbreads and an eggplant.

Hevel turned to Zophal. “How did Uncle Gera capturexxxviii you? Did Keren’s two little chestnut players turn you in?”

It was my dad. Maybe the third or fourth time I went off on a rant at customers about burning babies. Dad tells me I raise my voice, so people all over the plaza turn and stare. I don’t know. I just. I’m gone.”

Shelach paused the wineskin at his lips. So, if the cobbler thought of Gera as someone who would hide a bubbler, what did the queen’s thugs think of him?

Zophal built a glowing fire of charcoal near the front of their sleeping hole.

You plan on sleeping where you can breathe that? Not me. The fumes’ll kill you.” Hevel took the spot deepest in the hole, farthest from the fire.

Fine. I’ll enjoy the heat.” Zophal lay next to the fire.

Shelach crawled in and snuggled down between the two. So, one might have a few extra fears and the other might be quick to share his knowledge. But they were his friends, the only breathing beings he’d seen on this hill.

As he pulled the thick wool cloak from his mother over his shoulder, deep inside, the eggplant, bread and wine shifted lower and pushed out a soundless cloud of gas. Then another. Ahh. [Too much?xxxix]

“Mikey!” Hevel punched him in the back.

Zophal rolled over. “Have you no manners?”

In the middle of the night, Shelach woke shivering. He crawled over Zophal, added five sticks to the glow, and crawled back in.

Uncle Gera was known to hide bubblers from the queen. They couldn’t stay here long. But Uncle Gera had friends. Maybe he would find them a better hiding place. Some place warm, where Shelach could sleep alone. His old room over the stable was warm, and no one seemed to notice if he released a bit of harmless gas in the night. But if he went home, the queen’s thugs would follow him to Mother and Dad. xl xli


Issachar is a strong donkey – Genesis 49:14

Whom shall I fear? – Psalm 27

At night like Gideon – Judges 6

Joshua…organize a march – Joshua 6:3

The Lord hates the wicked…Psalm 11

iIn 862 BC, Ruthie is eleven years old. Chapter 22. In 859 BC, Mikayhu – “couldn’t be a day over fourteen.”

iiHebrew: שֵׁלָח

iiiGenesis 49:14 Issachar is a strong donkey

iv Becca is curious about the ages of Shelach and Hevel

  • vhttps://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+57&version=AKJV

vi[another setting detail, regarding the darkness/light or chill?]

viiMoon? Stars don’t really give off light –unless they did when there was no light pollution,

viii[I love this image you give us of Shelach from the start.]

ixDonkeys blew in friends’ nostrils,They don’t blow into other nostrils, they blow through their own and make a whoosh sound nibbled each other’s withers, and dropped fresh manure, the basic layer of market-day smells. Dung is waste from an animal, manure has been processed to be fertilizer. I only know this because I did this same thing in my book and someone told me. 😊

xDonkeys blew in friends’ nostrils,They don’t blow into other nostrils, they blow through their own and make a whoosh sound nibbled each other’s withers, and dropped fresh manure, the basic layer of market-day smells. Dung is waste from an animal, manure has been processed to be fertilizer. I only know this because I did this same thing in my book and someone told me. 😊

xi [This is interesting. I like it, but putting it on the shoulder makes me wonder if this is a little modern. Is there some sort of research that would guide you as to the symbol and color?]

xii[I like their reactions to what’s going on. It heightens the sense of trouble.]

xiii[I feel this scene could have more tension here are the end. Consider ways to up the tension level and to make is seem more imperative that they leave right now. Consider if there are setting details you could bring in to up the tension, or maybe something in Keren’s face that give him more of a clue. Or he could get more nervous of the repercussions from what he did.]

xivLove it!! That’s why the boys wuit playing their game.

xv[Maybe you’ve said it already, but I’m curious about the ages of Shelach and Hevel]

xvi [I guess I hadn’t realized/thought about how much time had passed since Liev died]

xviiSUB of Aug 28 ends here.

xviiiSTARTING HERE for 236/260 SUBs Sept 19

xixEH (Is he so emotional already?) Maybe have Zophal see the tear and think of Liev

xx [Maybe added thoughts that include detail of why Shelach’s father needs him. Maybe its not just to fertilize their fig tree, maybe there’s another situation at home that causes him to feel his father’s need for his help?]

xxi[Wilma – I am not quite sure what this refers to. It sounds like his father consented to the slaver’s actions.]

xxii [I don’t remember this part from the earlier chapter – so Gera has already talked with their fathers? (Ignore me if this is clearly stated in the previous pages.)]

xxiiiKaren – Young boys might see this as a betrayal even if it is couched in an effort to save their lives.

xxivThis came a little late after the narration for me. I had to scroll back up and see if I missed some dialogue. I don’t think it’s a big deal. A casual reader might not notice it the way a critter does. Karen

xxv[But they’ve walked around three hills…this can’t be the same bench they were sitting on before Gera took them to Zophal.]

xxviBecca [Are the robes dark-colored to help them hide? Or are they more to keep them warm? I’d love a few words of description to show us what kind of robes these are.]

xxvii(I thought you meant the olive trees were stolen, at first read.)

xxviii(Is he speaking to himself? I didn’t see anyone ask about a fire, so I am thinking he is speaking aloud to himself?)

xxix[Maybe this could be a response to an action or a question – maybe Shelach or Hevel wants to make a fire?]

xxxShow them taking off their robes to use for a cover.

xxxi When do they help Othniel with pruning, picking, pest control, or irrigation?

xxxii She shook her head slowly (not sure why she’d do this. If she’s apprehensive, she’d bite her lip, rub her neck, or avoid eye contact.?).

xxxiii(another one wiping away a tear talking to these boys. Do they think the boys are going to be murdered?)

xxxiv [Wilma -These are his thoughts. There is a convention that when you use omniscient point of view, you are limited to showing only the thoughts of the main character. I am not sure about this.]

xxxv[I’ve been imagining a flat raised patio-like place, because that’s how the 18th century defines a terrace, with the exception of townhomes. Is this like a flat piece of land?]

xxxvi Didn’t we just mention that it was harder?

xxxvii[Did they put a cloth over the rock, expecting it to soften?]

xxxviii[What exactly happened to Zophal after he protested in the plaza? What does the word capture mean? I thought Gera was saving them.]

xxxix[Maybe a little too much information – SS]

xl[I like this as its own sentence at the end for emphasis… it’s a great sentence to get the reader to keep reading, I think.] Becca

xliIf you want to add more conflict and tension, maybe one of these boys doesn’t like the others? That would make the hill more uncomfortable and add a bit of drama, as I’m sure these boys would be restless. GG

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