Chapter 3: On A Cloud I Saw A Child
September 29, 1990
Gulf of Mexico
Ever since the sky cracked there has been a hurricane off the coast of Louisiana that never moves or decays. In its eye stands the Archangel Uriel. He is five hundred feet tall, and around him whirl colorful streams of letters from every alphabet and syllabary and abjad of every culture in history, making subtle and complex geometric patterns before they disappear in bursts of rainbow light. Occasionally he reaches out and snatches one with his colossal hand and inserts it elsewhere in the stream, and then rain falls, or empires crumble, or new islands rise from the deep. Today he is doing none of those things. Today he is looking very carefully at something no one else can see, and talking to himself.
“TIFERET,” he says. “THE SUN, BEAUTY, MIRACLES. BUT ALSO REVERSAL. A MIRROR SET AT THE CENTER OF THE TREE, REFLECTING WHATEVER IT SEES.” He stares more intently now. “A PULSE OF ENERGY FROM BINAH TO HESED, THEN A RETURN PULSE FROM HESED TO BINAH. THE LETTER KUF. BUT DOUBLED. REFLECTED.” Now he pauses. “SOMETHING IS MISSING. TIFERET ARCING DOWNWARD TO NETZACH. A YUD. TWO KUFS REFLECTED ABOUT A YUD.”
The colored streams of letters around his head whirl more wildly now.
“KUF. YUD. KUF. A KAYAK. SOMETHING IMPORTANT IS HAPPENING INVOLVING A KAYAK.”
The streams slow down. Somewhere in the wide world, something is happening involving a kayak, something important enough to disturb the subtle threads of the machinery of Heaven. Is it a prophet being carried down a river in Asia? A future king traversing an ocean in Europe? Is the kayak metaphorical? On the River of Time? On the Ocean of Knowledge? Might it…
A kayak shot out of the walls of cloud at two hundred miles an hour and missed Uriel’s head by half an inch.
“Oh God help I don’t know how to steer help help help somebody help I can’t steer!” someone screamed.
Only slightly off balance, the archangel reached out a hand and caught the errant vessel. He lifted it until it was directly in front of his face, stared at it with his giant eyes.
“HELLO,” said the archangel.
“Oh god I’m so sorry I’m so sorry I didn’t mean to do that I couldn’t steer,” she said. She was young, even for a human, maybe only seven or eight years old. She had light brown skin, dark brown eyes, braided black hair. She was wearing a life jacket. She was obviously terrified. Finally she managed to pull herself together, and said:
“My name is Sohu. My father said I should ask you to teach me the kabbalah.”
“UM. THAT IS NOT REALLY THE KIND OF THING THAT I DO. THERE ARE HUMANS WHO DO THAT, I THINK.”
“Father said it had to be you.”
“I AM BUSY,” said Uriel.
They stared at each other for a moment. The girl, sopping wet, still shaking, still holding the paddle. The archangel, taller than the hills, dressed in luminous white, with great golden wings protruding from his back, and eyes that glowed gold like the sun.
“Please?” asked the girl.
“I AM BUSY. I AM TRYING TO FIX CONTINENTAL DRIFT.”
“I…didn’t know it was broken.”
Uriel’s face became more animated, his speech faster.
“IT HAS BEEN BROKEN FOR FIVE WEEKS AND FIVE DAYS. I THINK IT BROKE WHEN I RELOADED NEW ZEALAND FROM A BACKUP COPY, BUT I DO NOT KNOW WHY. MY SYNCHRONIZATION WAS IMPECCABLE AND THE CHANGE PROPAGATED SIMULTANEOUSLY ACROSS ALL SEPHIROT. I THINK SOMEBODY BOILED A GOAT IN ITS MOTHER’S MILK. IT IS ALWAYS THAT. I KEEP TELLING PEOPLE NOT TO DO IT, BUT NOBODY LISTENS.”
Sohu looked at him dubiously, then gently laid her paddle down across her lap. “If you teach me the kabbalah, I could try to help you fix continental drift.”
“NO,” said Uriel. “I WORK CELESTIAL KABBALAH. IT IS BEYOND THE REACH OF HUMANS. IF YOU TRIED TO TOUCH THE EMANATIONS OF THE HIGHER WORLDS, THEY WOULD PASS THROUGH YOUR HANDS LIKE SHADOWS.”
Sohu reached up and plucked one of the letters from the cloud whirling around them. She pulled on it like a thread, and a string of other letters followed after her, bunching up into her hand. The glyphs turned first blue, then purple, then one of the three nameless colors you only see in dreams. Then they all started changing into other glyphs more quickly than the eye could follow.
Uriel let out a loud shriek. Suddenly he was all action. Dropping girl and kayak, he snatched at the glowing letters, sewing them into a new pattern with superhuman speed, working so quickly it seemed he had dozens of hands acting at once. Waves of color flowed through the vast design. Just before Sohu crashed against the ocean below, the archangel reached down and caught kayak and girl, lifting them back level with his face.
“Sorry sorry sorry what did I do what did I do?” asked Sohu, who was back to being terrified again.
“YOU MIGHT HAVE SORT OF MADE ALL OF THE RIVERS IN THE WORLD RUN IN REVERSE.”
“I’m so sorry really I didn’t mean to.”
“IT IS OKAY. I FIXED THEM.” Then: “WAIT, HOW DID YOU DO THAT?”
“I just reached out and grabbed one of those letters.”
“THOSE LETTERS SPAN WORLDS. THEY ARE BEYOND THE REACH OF HUMANS. YOU SHOULD NOT HAVE BEEN ABLE TO TOUCH THEM.”
“I was playing outside the other day, and I saw a letter like those, and I grabbed it, and flowers started growing all over, and then Father got a very stern look on his face and said I was to get in the flying kayak and find the archangel Uriel and make him teach me the kabbalah.”
“WAIT, ARE YOU THAT SOHU?”
“I think I might be the only person named Sohu.”
They stared at each other.
“DO OTHERS IN YOUR FAMILY HAVE THIS GIFT?”
“No, I asked them,” said Sohu. “But they can’t wiggle their ears either.”
“NO ONE CAN WIGGLE THEIR EARS.”
Sohu wiggled her ears.
The archangel stood there for a moment in perfect silence. All around him, strings of letters snaked and wound above his head, under his arms, through his fingers. Sometimes two strings would collide in silent flashes. Other times they would switch languages in mid-air, or shatter into their component parts, or swarm like hornets.
“Are you all right?” Sohu finally asked.
“I WAS TRYING TO WIGGLE MY EARS.”
Sohu wiggled her ears again.
“YOU ARE VERY INTERESTING.”
“So will you teach me the kabbalah?”
“YOU WOULD PROBABLY DESTROY THE WORLD.”
“Would not,” said Sohu. “I like the world. I would help you fix continental drift.”
“NO,” said Uriel.
“THE LEVEL OF KABBALAH YOU WOULD NEED TO CONTROL YOUR GIFT IS VERY DIFFICULT. IT IS NOT JUST ABOUT GRABBING LETTERS FROM THE SKY. YOU WOULD NEED TO UNDERSTAND THE LETTERS AND THE SEPHIROT AND THE ANGELS AND THOUSANDS OF CORRESPONDENCES. YOU WOULD HAVE TO MEMORIZE THE ENTIRE BIBLE.”
“I know the Bible,” said Sohu.
Uriel’s great golden eyes narrowed.
“JOSHUA 1:8,” he demanded.
Sohu closed her eyes, thought for a second. “Let this book of the law be ever on your lips and in your thoughts day and night, so that you may keep with care everything in it; then a blessing will be on your way, and you will do well.”
“I have filled you by the spirit of God with Wisdom, Understanding and Knowledge, and the ability to do all kinds of work.”
“I…There’s no Book of Jezuboad.”
“YES THERE IS.”
“No there isn’t.”
“YES TH…UH OH.”
Uriel stood very quietly for a moment. The streams of letters ceased flowing. Then, all of a sudden, he said a very un-angelic word.
“I THINK I FORGOT TO GIVE MANKIND THE BOOK OF JEZUBOAD.”
“Was it important?”
The archangel started fidgeting awkwardly. “UM.” Some more fidgets. “NO?”
“I want to learn about Jezuboad and all the others. Will you teach me the kabbalah?”
“NO,” said Uriel.
Uriel stared at the little girl sitting in her kayak in the palm of his hand. A quick calculation. If he dropped her, it would take 4.9 seconds for her to hit the ocean surface at a velocity of 48.5 meters per second. Her energy at impact would be 29.4 kilojoules, which was more than enough to break a human skull. The girl’s father wouldn’t even be angry. What had he expected, sending her to him, flaunting a gift no human should be able to have?
If he sent her off, sooner or later she would would try something innocuous-looking and make all the rivers in the world run uphill again. Or boil the oceans. Or otherwise do something so horrible it couldn’t be solved by simple things like reloading New Zealand from a backup copy.
But if he trained her, then she could boil the oceans whenever she wanted. That was hardly an improvement. And he hated company. And he was very busy. There was never enough time.
On the other hand, he absolutely had 4.9 seconds. 4.9 seconds and his problem could be over.
The thing was, he had never killed anybody before.
Okay, that was completely false. He’d smitten some towns that he thought ruined various pleasing symmetries on maps. He’d erased Taiwan when he couldn’t figure out how to debug it. There was that whole debacle with the Red Sea. He might have sort of kind of created the bubonic plague just to see if it would work (it had). He’d caused several earthquakes to make the stupid tectonic plates line up right. There had been that one time he had forgotten to turn off the rain and large parts of Belgium ended up underwater with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands. But he’d never killed a specific human.
Wait, no, that was also completely false. He’d smitten people who were using up too many system resources. Or who were trying to go into areas he hadn’t finished simulating at the necessary level of fidelity. And of course people who were boiling goats in their mothers’ milk. Or who were planning to boil goats in their mothers’ milk. Or who looked like the sort of people who might do that.
But he’d never killed an eight year old girl before. Especially not one who could wiggle her ears.
“THIS WILL BE VERY HARD AND NEITHER OF US WILL ENJOY IT,” said Uriel.
“I’ll enjoy it!” said Sohu.
“YOU WILL HAVE TO STAY HERE, IN THE HURRICANE, WITHOUT ANY FRIENDS TO TALK TO.”
“I can be friends with you!”
“THE SYSTEM OF THE WORLD IS GRADUALLY DECAYING AND ONE DAY SOON IT WILL FALL APART ENTIRELY. THE JOB OF MAINTAINING IT UNTIL THAT MOMENT IS THANKLESS AND UNPLEASANT AND YOU CAN NEVER STOP OR ELSE EVERYONE DIES.”
“I can help!” said Sohu.
Uriel let out a long sigh.
“YOU WILL START BY MEMORIZING THE BOOK OF JEZUBOAD WHILE I FIX CONTINENTAL DRIFT.” His great fingers spun the streams of colorful letters around him into a cloud, upon which he gingerly deposited girl and kayak. From another stream he formed a book which he presented to her.
“READ,” he said.
1) And it came to pass that in the eighth year of Ahab, Jezuboad made a burnt offering in the Temple of the Lord 2) and he spoke saying “O God, whose wisdom spanneth the heavens and the earth, I am learned in Scripture, yet much still troubles me. 3) Why the many apparent contradictions? Whence the emphasis on ritual purity? And which books are literally true and which meant only to edify?” 4) Then out of a fiery cloud before him there appeared the Archangel Uriel, whose eyes shone like the sun. 5) And he said with a mighty voice: 6) “OKAY, LET ME CLEAR ALL OF THIS CONFUSION UP RIGHT NOW, SO NO ONE ELSE EVER HAS TO WORRY ABOUT IT…”