Read The Stranger – Jenifer Jennings

Chapter One

“Now after these things it was told to Abraham, ‘Behold, Milcah also has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz his firstborn, Buz his brother, Kemuel the father of Aram, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, Jidlaph, and Bethuel.’ (Bethuel fathered Rebekah.) These eight Milcah bore to Nahor, Abraham’s brother.”
-Genesis 22:20-23

2027 BC
Wilderness of Padanaram

Rebekah used her headcloth to wind her long hair up onto her head to keep the strands out of her face. Her mother didn’t approve of the style at home, but out in the wilderness, Rebekah concentrated more on convenience rather than being socially appropriate. One of her father’s old tunics was long enough to keep her modest, yet short enough to free her legs to do her work as a shepherdess. He and her uncles didn’t seem to mind her choice of clothing. They understood that function outweighed fashion.

She stretched out on a large boulder; its smooth surface warmed by the early morning sun. The night had held the distinct chill which told her winter was on its way. Dawn broke over the land with shades of orange and red as her sheep grazed on the lush dew-covered grass.

Gazing upward she noticed the clouds drifting in a sea of cerulean reflected her flock grazing in the meadow as if she were looking in a peculiar bronze mirror. Their heavy coats matched the fluffy puffs perfectly.

Satisfied she had shaken off the cool of night from her weary bones, she reached into her pouch to produce a small flute. Her nimble fingers lifted and lowered over the openings while she blew hard enough to invoke a soft melody from the carved wood.

Her faithful sheepdog Zami trotted over and sat in front of her. His bright, almond eyes studied her as he listened intently to her simple song.

As Rebekah reached the end of her tune, she noticed one of Zami’s ears perk up and twist toward the south.

She froze. “What is it?”

A low growl started in the dog’s chest.

Rebekah scanned the horizon and then her gaze flicked swiftly to her precious flock. They lay contently under the shade of a nearby Acacia grove pleasantly unaware of any impending danger. She accounted for each one of them. None were missing.

Zami faced his body toward the south. She was sure he heard something she couldn’t. Trouble was out there somewhere.

Rebekah returned her flute to her bag and retrieved her rod. She hopped off the boulder and hurried with Zami tight on her heels.

She ran until her lungs burned and then she heard it— an awful scream of something being tortured.

Her pace quickened for several more moments before she came upon the horrendous sight. The largest leopard she had ever laid eyes on was dragging its catch away.

Seeing her father in the predator’s jaws sent her feet flying toward them. “Abba!”

Her father’s eyes widened in panic. Aware of Rebekah’s advance, the creature tightened its grip on its prey’s leg. Bethuel’s face twisted with pain, then fear. “Run!”

Rebekah disobeyed him for the first time in her life and charged faster toward her father. Zami kept up with her until she whistled a command for him to stay back.

She reached into her sack for a stone to sling, but she hadn’t refilled it from the previous day. Her fingers tightened around her rod and she lifted it above her head.

“Rebekah, don’t!” Bethuel waved her away.

She forced the wooden rod down onto the leopard’s skull. A loud crack gave her hope of her father’s release, but to her shock, the sound had come from her father’s leg. The leopard’s powerful jaws had broken through the bone, but showed no signs of giving up its prize.

Bethuel let out a heart-wrenching cry before slipping into stillness.

Rebekah lifted her rod and aimed for the animal’s head again. Another blow landed successfully, but the leopard refused to relinquish. It swiped a large paw at her with sharp claws fully extended. Thankfully, the beast was too preoccupied to hit its mark. She skirted away from the attack and was able to land another hit before it tried again. 

Realizing two battles were futile, the leopard attempted to retreat with Rebekah’s father still in his powerful grip. It stepped backward dragging Bethuel with it.

Rebekah followed, landing two more crushing hits to the animal. Blood seeped from the animal’s head and mouth. With all her strength, she struck one last blow to the leopard’s head. The crack of shattering bone and splintering wood sent vibrations up her arms. Briefly paralyzed, the horrific sounds echo off the nearby ridge causing her to tense further. As time seemed to unfreeze, she watched the creature drop onto its belly.

She tightened her grip on her rod waiting for the leopard to rise up and try another attack. She watched the still sides of the beast for several moments before being satisfied that it was dead.

She threw down her splintered rod and attempted to force open the beast’s mouth to release her father. Using all her might, she couldn’t pry open the clamped teeth. It was useless. Even in death, the animal refused to let go of its catch.

Rebekah removed a dagger from her belt. She was thankful her father was not conscious and hoped he would remain that way through what she was about to do. With quick strokes, she cut away her father’s flesh and muscle near the muzzle of the leopard. The animal’s jaw had taken care of the hardest part. She didn’t have the strength nor the heart to break her father’s bones.

Once free, the stump of what remained of Bethuel’s leg thudded to the ground. Rebekah rocked onto her heels and wiped her forehead with the back of her blood-covered hand. A pool of the same gathered without reprieve under the wound. She quickly shrugged out of her cloak and used it as a bandage. 

Plans circled in her mind about what to do next. She couldn’t leave her father unattended for fear another predator would pick up the easy meal. She wasn’t strong enough to carry him alone to her uncles who were tending their flocks nearby.

Zami’s movement caught in her vision. Standing on his hind legs, the dog was taller than she. His enormous frame and sturdy body might just be strong enough. She gave a high whistle for him to come close.

“If we work together, we can get Abba to my dods.”

She lifted one of Bethuel’s arms over the dog’s back while she cradled the other. Together they dragged him toward help.

Her uncle Buz was the first to see them approaching. “Rebekah?” He ran towards them. “What happened to Bethuel?”

She dropped her father’s bloody body at her uncle’s feet. “Leopard.” She panted, trying to catch her breath. “I killed it.”

“Stay here.” He rushed off and returned with his brothers.

In a flash, seven men stood over her examining the injuries of their youngest brother. Bethuel’s face held deep cuts across it, his tunic was in shreds, and his leg was still bleeding through Rebekah’s quick bandage.

“A leopard did this?” Jidlaph lifted the crudely bandaged remains.

“Zami alerted me.” Rebekah sat leaning against her dog. “I went in search, thinking a sheep from one of the other flocks had gone astray. When I found the leopard, it had Abba’s leg. I was able to kill it, but I had to cut off the bottom part of the leg to bring him back.” Tears spilled down her dusty cheeks. “I couldn’t just leave him there.”

Uz put a hand on her shoulder.

His reassuring grasp eased her rapid breaths.

As the oldest brother, Uz commanded his siblings, “Kemuel, gather some bandages to bind this better. Buz, fetch some fresh water for Bethuel and Rebekah. Chesed, take Hazo and find that leopard. Pildash and Jidlaph, round up the herds, including Rebekah’s and Bethuel’s, and seek out a fold for tonight. We need time to tend to our brother.”

The men spread out to accomplish their assigned tasks.

Buz handed Rebekah a pouch of cool water.

She drank long, emptying the skin sack.

He looked at her bloody hands. “Were you injured as well?”

“No.” She examined them for herself. “It’s all the leopard’s… and Abba’s.”

“There is a stream that way.” He pointed to the north. “You need to wash.”

She handed back his pouch and rose. A short whistle told Zami to follow her. Even though she knew the leopard to be dead, she didn’t want to leave herself unprotected for a while.

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