by Lyndon Perry
The little shepherd boy called to the littlest lamb under his care. “Talya, come here Talya. That’s good. That’s a good little tal-yá.” The mostly black lamb, white patches gracing her face and tail end, scampered over the rocks to her child master, already familiar with his voice and her own name.
The rugged grayish hills south of Jerusalem were already, reluctantly, allowing their stubbly texture to soften into the green of growth as the last of the winter rains fed the artesian wells and nourished the ground. Melki took up his striped and colored tunic in his left hand as he’d seen his elders do and with his right waved a small shepherd’s staff to guide the lamb along the rocky path back to the larger flock. Upon his way he gathered three more grazing lambs he’d been put in charge of.
“Melki,” his father Hazaiah called when he saw the boy round the bend of a nearby foothill, “bring the little ones back to the flock. It is getting late and we must set up camp.”
“Yes, father.” Melki, his dark brown eyes shining with the joy of life, squinted into the late afternoon sun, looming large and red along the horizon. Already he felt the warmth of the day start to slip slowly away. A gentle wind played with his black curls that slipped down from his cotton wound cap. With his shortened rod he herded the four young lambs back to their mothers.
The affectionate animals were treated well, often as pets by their caretakers, and reciprocated by following their temporary masters from place to place, pen to pen, field to field, hillside to hillside. Melki smiled as Talya found her mother and began to nurse. His father had told him not to get too attached to this bunch. The Korreti would soon be taking them offworld.
“Even Talya?” he’d asked, though he was old enough to know the answer to that before asking. Hazaiah hadn’t bothered answering. Nor did he ever mention what the Korreti did with the gentle animals. Still, while he had the chance, the boy would run with his four little lambs, lead them to water, watch over them in case a wild dog came too near, and care for them all as if they were his very own.
“Father,” he said once the sheep were within the sheepfold, a loose structure of rocks that served as an open weather pen that kept the animals from wandering off in the middle of the night, “can Talya sleep with us tonight? It is getting cold and she is the smallest of the flock.”
Hazaiah chuckled. “No, my son. That is why they sleep together, so they can protect each other from the cold. Our job is to protect them from wild animals. We must give an accounting when they come.” Here his father glanced at the heavens. “An accounting for all of them, my son, including the tal-yás. Come, help me pitch the tent.”
Four other shepherds and two more young boys, Melki’s friends, were also setting up their camps, all nearby along a small knoll overlooking their large combined flock of sheep and scattering of goats. Two tamed dogs would circle the perimeter of the pen throughout the night and alert the shepherds of any imminent danger, or if perchance a sheep were to stray through an overlooked gap in the makeshift stone fence.
Tents ready for later, Melki and his two friends gathered dry branches for fuel while Hazaiah and the other men worked together to build a fire and prepare dinner. The snap of twigs and spark of flames gave way to the pungent smell of spiced and dusty brush; the familiar and comforting aroma of the desert hills that had served as their peoples’ home for over five thousand years.
They eventually settled around the fire, drank curdled goats milk and boiled some mutton from an aged animal that was no longer of interest to their overlords. At least the Korreti allowed them that much. Then as night fell, one of the men, Moishe, took out his wooden flute and offered some ancient melodies to accompany the quiet conversations of his friends. The murmur of their low voices and the sweet and soothing music calmed the flock to sleep.
Melki still wished he could hold one of the little tal-yás next to him. With a full stomach and tired muscles from a day traversing the region’s hills, however, his eyes soon grew heavy with sleep. As he sat staring into the fire listening to the gentle sounds of the flute he soon forgot about his pet and leaned into his father, safe and content.
His head was but a moment on his father’s lap when all of a sudden the flames from the fire in front of him grew higher and higher. Sparks flew and the fire grew. Something strange, a shape, a spirit, awe-inspiring and wondrous slipped into the air before them all, then another, and a third, streaking from the burning embers into the still night sky.
The shepherds jumped to their feet and backed away from the flames and heat. Moishe dropped his flute; Hazaiah pulled his son close as did the other two fathers. Melki stood wide-eyed and open mouthed. They huddled together as much for protection as for mutual comfort against the unknown terror. Gripping his father’s hand, the boy tried to hide himself in the flowing cloth of Hazaiah’s protective cloak. The men in turn tried to shield their boys from danger.
But there was no danger. From the fire which was shooting flames ten feet or more into the air and casting light all around there came a vibration, a sound, a rumble, now a thunderous voice without words, a powerful, persistent intonation of song and music and joy and laughter. It sang, “Shhhhhh.” Be still. It whispered, “Ahhhhhh.” Peace.
The shepherds stepped forward involuntarily and looked intently into the changing shapes created by the flames and saw another figure emerge.
“A Korreti,” one of the men shouted, and drew back once again in fear.
“No, a spirit,” said another. “It speaks a different tongue.”
“But one we can understand,” Moishe said, receiving a nod of agreement from Hazaiah.
A loud thunderclap sent the men and boys to the ground. From the flames shot more ethereal figures, shaped but shapeless, solid but spirit, dozens and dozens, hundreds and hundreds of apparitions fanning out into the night sky, lighting the area with a brightness greater than the noon day sun.
Peace. Be still. The beings from the fire echoed again, the almost-words vibrating off the surrounding hills and fleeing into the brilliant night sky which now hosted thousands of alien visitors. The men and boys were sitting back now, open mouthed, staring into the brilliant azure sky; the stars had fled because of the brilliance, replaced by this host in the heavens.
More near words formed meaning in their minds. Comforting words. Encouraging words. Words of instruction. Words of hope and a future. There was no thought of rebuttal, no need for questions or clarifications on the part of the shepherds; they simply took it all in, enraptured.
And suddenly, the symphony of song and words and thoughts and emotions climaxed and was done. As quickly as they had arrived, the aliens, the angels, the beings who were not the Korreti scattered into the night sky, taking their glorious shimmering light with them.
We are the Ruach, was the last thing the shepherds heard echoing from the hills. Come quickly. Then the fire died down. It was dark once again.
The men and boys looked at each other and then at the sheep. Not a sound came from the herd for they were still sleeping. The two dogs in charge of the flock were not even disturbed. What had just happened? Had they been dreaming? Was it the mutton?
Hazaiah released Melki from his grip, got up and brushed himself off. The others did the same. He said, “You heard the Ruach. I think we need to go to the village. We need to see for ourselves this promised arrival.”
The others stared, wide-eyed, uncertain but Moishe said, “If this was a true vision, our families will be there, waiting.” After a moment, the others nodded and so they prepared to leave their dogs and their sheep, their tents and camp, and hurry off to the small town a few miles to the west.
Before they set out, a little lamb wandered up to Melki, who quickly took her into his arms. With a pleading look, he said, “Talya wants to come.”
His father chuckled softly and gave a sympathetic nod. “One lamb will be enough. I don’t think these offworlders are like our current masters at all.”
“How will we find them, though?” Melki wanted to know. “Where will we look?”
“We’ll know when we get there,” was all Hazaiah said in reply.
It was well past midnight when the shepherds approached the village of Bayt Lechem. Torches were lit along the narrow lanes and many lights still shone from the brick and stone houses as the men walked to the village square. The village was not asleep by any means. Some of the townsfolk noticed the strangers and their urgent step. Hazaiah and the others, however, were silent in their quest.
A few people eyed them, suspicious. “Something must be happening,” someone whispered. “They’re up to no good,” another said. “You can’t trust a sheep herder,” came a third voice. “Let’s follow them. Call a guard.”
But the men ignored the villagers. They knew they were not well liked. They had dirtied themselves for the Korreti. But the silent group had seen a vision and nothing would stop them; they had to find out if their hopes and dreams were to come true.
Soon the shepherds arrived in the square. They stopped. “I see a light,” Melki whispered, tugging at his father’s hand and pointing to the sky. The men looked up and a soft beam pinpointed in the heavens expanded to the ground before them into a conical shape, a glowing circle that enveloped them in its warmth.
The echoed voices began again, reaching out to the group that had obeyed their call, rewarding them for their faithfulness; a mix of song and words and impressions promising a new life beyond the stars. A stronger beam appeared at the center of the radiant circle and familiar voices came forth: “We are here. Your families are here. Your wives, your daughters, your sisters. Join us. We are waiting.”
Hazaiah and Moishe glanced at each other, eyebrows raised. Hazaiah nodded and grabbed tight to Melki’s hand. The boy held his lamb in his other arm and together he and his father walked toward the intense beam.
Their short journey was interrupted by a shout. A Korreti guard, with bronze breastplate and greaves and plumed helmet, ran into the village square. He drew his sword.
“Halt! What is your business here? Where are you going?”
While Hazaiah turned to face one of their overlords, Moishe ushered the other three shepherds and the two other boys quickly into the center beam of light. They disappeared from view and joyous sounds of family reunion and laughter reverberated throughout the courtyard.
“You’ll find what we owe you a few miles to the east,” Hazaiah said.
“Minus one little tal-yá,” added Melki, defiantly.
His father laughed. “Minus one little tal-yá.” He gathered both his son and the lamb into his arms and headed for the beam of light. “Come, my son. It’s time to go home.”
Tule Fog Tales, Issue 1 published by Tule Fog Press, and is available in a variety of formats from a variety of platforms including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and more.
You can find most of my collections listed here on my website. A little background to this story. I wrote a Christmas Eve devotional one year about a little shepherd boy who visited Mary's Baby in a manger after experiencing a dream-like revelation from heavenly angels. I adapted that story, reimagining it in a science fiction setting. I hope you enjoyed the above rendition.