THE NEPHILIM AGE
A Novel By
David DeLane Snow
In trying to compose a reply to Stewart, Jacob unexpectedly found himself becoming hopeful, that he had in fact gotten in touch with his long lost family. A wave of questions came to him as Jacob wrote, asking if anything was known of their mother’s whereabouts, or about his father. He also asked if Stewart knew anything about the smell of moth balls, because they always seemed to induce a feeling of nostalgic melancholy in him.
Then about a week later he received a reply to his letter.
Dear Jacob; May 5, 1991
About two years ago, I read in the Abilene News Reporter, that our mother had drowned in a boating accident; I never had contact any with her before her death.
As for the smell of moth balls, funny that you should remember that. Our grandmother, Mamie Newsome-Price, Lucy’s mother, use to pack up their winter clothes in a cedar chest, and layer them in moth balls. She was a sweet person who unfortunately reeked of the smell.
Our father had been struggling with health issues for several years, ranging from lung cancer, then a brain aneurism; he had to be readmitted into the hospital two weeks ago, and I am devastated to inform you that he passed away last Tuesday, from complications with pneumonia.
Being the executor of his estate, and holder of his Will, I wanted to let you know that you were mentioned, and if you had ever been located ; you have a claim. Along with a check for $142,000, you are to receive the deed to a large three bed-room house, on the northeast side of Witcha Falls, as well as a foot locker.
The steel footlocker is somewhat of a well kept family mystery. It was discovered at the time of our grandfather’s death, in 1975; with a note attached; saying that if and when you were ever located, it was to be given to you, (if not, then to me). I remember playing in our grandparent’s attic as a child, and being told not to open it, even though it was always kept locked. It should be arriving at your home in the next few days. If possible, I would be interested in knowing what it contains.
Instead of a few days, it was three hours later, after Jacob had received Stewart’s letter in the mail; that a UPS van drove up, and after awhile of waiting for the driver to get his paperwork together, Jacob gave his signature. Along with the steel footlocker, Jacob also signed for an enveloped package, again addressed from Stewart. Inside the envelope was a small brass key, and a single-page note, with yet another envelope, addressed: To Jacob and Stewart.
The note from Stewart read simply:
This was the letter we found taped to the locker in 1975, and its key.
Then reopening the faded envelope, Jacob read the following letter:
To my beloved grandsons, July 12, 1974
Jacob, if you are reading this know that you were very much loved, and that your loss from our family was a grave tragedy; please contact your brother, Stewart, letting him know what you have inherited. Stewart, if you are reading this, then I know you have not yet found Jacob, please do not fail to continue searching for him.
The secret of the scrolls were too controversial for the academic community to take them seriously; yet, it was and remains my firm belief that they are, in fact what they purport to be, an authentic record from the antediluvian period.
Do not be alarmed by the dreams, by now you have both come to know who Miriam is, and have a thousand questions yet to ask. Let her answer them in her own way and time. Remember the key; also, I have kept several old correspondences, in hopes that they may yet be of some use in filling in other gaps either of you may have as well.
Christopher Moran Townsend
Jacob was beginning to feel as though he had stepped into a bad Twilight Zone episode. The unfolding of one strange event after another had his thoughts all in a whirl, but his curiosity about the trunk got the better of him as his pulled it into the apartment, from off the patio. The trunk was a green, steel footlocker with brass corner-protectors and a single padlock. The one in the middle was clasped shut with a Master lock on it.
After heaving it onto the living room coffee table, Jacob turned around and placed the envelopes on his desk behind him, then turned his attention back to the trunk. Retrieving the key, which he had slipped into his pocket for safe keeping, Jacob opened the steel footlocker.
A cluttering of items met his searching eyes as the smell of moth balls became less offensive. He saw a few photo album-sized books, a bundle of letters, a castle-shaped jewelry box, a small ornately-carved wooden box, a black-leather jacket, some letterman sweaters, and finally an unusual looking hard-leather tube-like case. On top of everything was a large manila envelope, which Jacob opened first.
He removed a photograph, that had obviously been an enlargement of a smaller older picture, because in the corner it was dated June 1923. In the black and white picture were five men dressed in three piece suites and two in work clothes. Jacob’s interest peaked as his eyes grew upon seeing two faces he suddenly recognized as the same two men he had seen in his shop.
Flipping the 8x12 picture over, Jacob noticed, written on the back in a spidery handwriting, was: (L to R), Townsend, Hines, Morgan, Roberts, Carter, Stapleton and Martin. Setting out for Egypt. East Baker Street, Brownwood, Texas June 27th, 1923.
There it was. For the first time, Jacob made a connection to a family he never knew he even had, for he saw the face of his grandfather; a youthful twenty-five year old with his friends and peers, ready to set the world on fire as explorers. His heart raced.
Next to Chris Townsend was Allen Carter, he was wearing the same outfit and tweed golf cap, half cocked on his head and giving the camera a huge smile. Next to him was the other man, Jacob had seen smiling at him in the shop, named Dale Hines. The other two men on the right were dressed in pin striped shirts and dark-baggy pants and scuffed up work boots, the one on the end, Roberts, dangled a cigar from his mouth; trying to either look older or more prestigious than he really was. Jacob smiled thinking, This is so cool, a piece of real history, my history.
Returning the photo to its envelope, Jacob picked up one of the over-sized, white sweaters with a large yellow “P” on the front. Holding it out in front of himself, Jacob smiled, then put it on. It fit a little loosely and so kept it on as he continued to go through the treasures before him. After a quick try of the jacket, Jacob took it off and laid it aside.
Taking the castle-styled jewelry box out, he began going through it. It had a lion-headed pull-ring on the lid, and two smaller velvet-lined drawers at both ends. Opening the lid, Jacob noticed a shallow velvet-lined tray where some military medals were stored; a gold Masonic pinky-ring with the Square and Compass set in an onyx stone, a sergeant’s patch, six Silver Star Medals, along with fourteen Indian-head cents. Beneath the tray were six spent shells with names scratched on them, each rubber-banded to a rank patch; beneath them were single head-shot photos with the same bulleted-names scribbled on the back of each, as well as a train pocket-watch with its chain. In the left drawer were three weapons-expert pins, in the right drawer, Jacob saw six identical Engineer Battalion crest and Unit citation pins.
He had no idea what the items were, but was duly impressed by them. Jacob carefully replaced them in their original order; then set the jewelry box aside. Picking up a bundle of twelve letters, Jacob randomly withdrew one, and briefly scanned through.
It was a letter from Jacob’s grandfather to Jacob’s dad; one part caught his attention:
“…looking back on it, Robert, had I not gone on those middle-eastern digs I might never have met your mother, because she was one the best linguists available. Martha and I spent hours and hours pouring over the ancient artifacts and scrolls we found. It was while we were trying to decipher the scrolls that we fell in love. I was the better man for having won her away from my two best friends: Jacob Morgan, and Stewart Roberts.” Jacob figured these were the two men that he and his brother were named after.
In the folds of the letter was a black and white photo. It showed two men standing next to one another, posing beside a stair-step excavated-hole, the man on the left was holding up what looked like a small clay tablet inscribed with an eye. On the back of the picture was written: August 1924, Chris and Dale with Tablet No. 1, Inscription reads: “Balthenorn”.
Jacob went through all the letters, reading them from start to finish, in order by dates, and was amazed by the exotic life his grandfather had lived. It turned out that Jacob’s father had been an attorney in criminal law.
Intrigued, wondering what else he would uncover, Jacob went looking in the footlocker again. Next, he turned his attention to the small wooden box. It was ornately-carved with vines and flowers, and stamped on the bottom as having been made in India. He removed its lid to see that it too was lined with red velvet. Wrapped in a white handkerchief was what appeared to be the same clay tablet as from the photograph he had found in one of the letters.
It looked like a fire-baked oval clay-slab 4” wide by 5” long and ¼” thick, with a mixture of sand in it. Having an interest in history, Jacob thought the writing resembled the runes he had seen from ancient Ireland. Atop the writing was a stylized Eye symbol. It looked like a circle with an hour glass in the middle, on the top line was a pointed fish hook facing to the right, and another pointed fish hook design, on the bottom, was facing to the left; like an artistic eye-lid. Taped to the back side of the tablet was a note that said: Inscription/ Khazul; reads: “Balthenorn” (Miriam’s Key).
About that time Arlene returned home from her shopping spree. Food, bags, boxes, and dresses. While Jacob assisted his wife in putting away the groceries, he told her all about his discoveries.
After Arlene finished reading the second letter from Stewart, with its mention of inheriting a house and large sum of money, she handed it back to Jacob with “Oh my God!” Then, catching her excitement, she curtailed her enthusiasm with a more practical tone, “Well, I guess we’ll have to see what’s left after the lawyers and IRS have their way. I remember all the fun we had after the reading of my great aunt Myrtle’s will. The feuding and wait lasted for years, then after all was said and done mother and everyone else got nothing.” Noticing Jacob’s shoulders drop a bit, Arlene injected, “I’m sorry, babe. I think it’s wonderful, really I do - let’s just see how it turns out.”
With that they continued putting away the groceries. After putting a bunch of bananas in a red hanging basket, Jacob leaned against the dining room table, with his legs and arms crossed; smiling as Arlene was bent over, arranging vegetables in the lower drawers of the refrigerator, “I was reading through all the old letters my grandfather left me. He was quite an impressive man: a pipe-smoking storyteller, anthropologist, archeologist, and at one time even a professor at Penn State University, back in the ‘50s.
“He even fought in Europe during World War II, both in the Infantry and as an Engineer. There was this one mission, Arlene, where he led a squad of six men to capture a German machine-gun. His entire squad was nearly mowed down. My grandfather was stabbed in the leg twice, before popping the two German gunners; he was awarded a Silver Star.
“But, from the letters I read, he never liked the idea that the Army brass gave him the Silver Stars of the other men who were in his squad. It was some kind of a secret mission or something. In one letter, my dad mentions that Christopher, my grandfather, had spent years searching for those families of the men in his platoon, so he could give them their medals. I found them still in his jewelry box, and I don’t think he ever got over their deaths.”
Arlene cut a look at Jacob, staring at her backside, smiled and said, “Yeah, like that wouldn’t be traumatizing. Sounds like pretty amazing stuff, Jay. Now aren’t you glad you wrote your brother like I suggested?”
He grinned and winked.
Looking at his new oversized sweater she interrupted him before he could continue; saying as she tugged at his sleeve, “…No, seriously, you need to take that off and let me wash it, ‘cause -- it smells.” Jacob laughed a little to himself as he took it off, and handed it to her for the laundry; he remembered Stewart’s comment about how their grandmother had reeked of moth balls.
After throwing the sweater, and a load of clothes into the washer they both went into the living room, where Arlene began visually inspecting the opened footlocker atop the coffee table. She pulled out the strange looking tube and held it up.
It resembled an Indian’s arrow case, but without the arrows, and was capped instead. It looked like it was made of some type of hide with coarse brownish-black hair in small swirls. A tight stitching ran from top to bottom, with the bottom being capped and stitched as well. A shoulder strap was still in tact. The top cap was locked with a bone-peg and strap device.
Arlene looked at Jacob and asked, “What’s this?”
Looking just as inquisitive as her he answered, “Not a clue, haven’t looked at it yet. Go ahead and open it up.” Smiling at his wife’s interest, he watched as she carefully pushed the ivory-peg through the looped strap and worked the hard cap off. From inside, Arlene cautiously withdrew a bundle of yellow parchments; they were tied with seven thin strips of sinew. The top page was inked in black with the same design as on the tablet.
Peering inside the rolled-tube of parchments, Arlene said, “Okay. It’s just a bunch of blank pages. Well, other than this eye stamped on it.” They both untied the roll, and sure enough all the pages were blank, except the outer facing sheet.
Then, grinning from ear to ear, Jacob sounded a little giddy, “This must be the scrolls my grandfather mentioned in the letters. Some of the men he served with during the war had actually been friends of his during his archeology days, back in the 1920s. His team came across some tablets, jars and these scrolls -- all marked with that design on them. It’s not Egyptian, that’s for sure.” Then reaching over to the ornate box, he withdrew the actual small stone artifact, and showed it to Arlene, “See, here’s the first tablet they discovered.”
She took, and examined its designs, “Weird, feels like sand-paper. Wonder what is says?”
Again, smiling with information, he answered, “ ‘Balthenorn.’ There was a note taped on the back, saying it was ‘Miriam’s Key‘, no telling what that means.” As he got it back from her, Jacob carefully rewrapped it and put it back in its box.
Rubbing her fingers through his hair, like a mother who was pleased that her son liked his Christmas toys; then heading for the kitchen, Arlene grinned and said, “Well, you’ve got quiet a treasure trove to go through there. I’m just happy you’ve gotten in touch with your brother. You need to share all this with him, ya know. Maybe we can visit him sometime or have them come up here.”
While replacing the delicate scrolls back into their hardened container a million thoughts raced through Jacob’s mind. Like, how he needed to buy a Texas map, “Sounds good.” He called back in reply, “Yeah, James could take over the shop for me, while we go; how’s next weekend sound?”
Arlene’s voice smiled back, from an opened pantry, “Sounds good. Guess I’ll get started on supper now, and check on that laundry.”
Jacob had already gone back to searching through the remaining contents of the steel box. Thumbing through a photo album, he saw various pictures, all with labels beneath them, written in various ink and handwriting styles. Black and Whites, and color pictures that spanned the 1920s up through the ‘70s. Jacob saw a few of himself as a child, being held by his parents, aunts and uncles, and some at play with Stewart. Something odd struck him. All of the photographs of him, his brother and their grandfather together, all had bright spots, like an oblong star burst “standing” behind them.
Putting the album away, Jacob came across two black-leather journals. One was his grandfather‘s diary, with dates that spanned from the 1920s to the ‘30s. In another, he found the same spidery-hand writing, only it was penciled in, and triple spaced. The words were printed instead of cursive, and appeared to be in a foreign language; it was organized with indentions as if it was poetry.
Before he knew it supper was ready, and they were enjoying lasagna, bread sticks and salad with red wine. Jacob was spoiled by Arlene’s good cooking, so much so that whenever they ate out, he always stated how much better her creations were. Their conversations drifted from Jacob’s discoveries to bills, and happenings with friends from Arlene’s church. She tried getting him interested in attending a class on Biblical genealogy, but Jacob didn’t care for her pastor, who would be the one sharing information on the subject.
After the meal they both cleaned up the kitchen and table as the sounds of another thunder storm could be heard beginning its downpour outside. The electricity kept flickering on and off, and nothing on the TV was worth watching, so they both decided to go to bed by candle light. The air-conditioning had gone off, leaving the apartment warm beneath the quiet ceiling fans. After a little romance in bed they both drifted off to sleep.
Just as they had began to drift off to sleep the bedroom suddenly lit up with a brilliant electric-blue flash and a tremendous rattling of windows. Jacob sat up with a start. At hearing Arlene’s loud shallow-breathing he wondered how in the world she could have slept through all the thunderous noise. In another flash of lightning, Jacob could have sworn he saw three men walking about at the foot of their bed. For a dazed second all he could do was sit there, frozen in a speechless stare. A second later, after another flash of blue they were gone. He slowly lay back down and covered up, glad to hear that the air-conditioning had kicked on again.
Through Jacob’s closed eye lids another electric-blue flash faded into the soothing light coming from a misty-grey forest. His breath became even more shallow and relaxed as he found himself walking through the forested area at night. Rounding the blackened-greenery of low lying tree limbs sweeping the ground, Jacob saw the flickering glow of a camp fire up ahead in a clearing off to his right.
Drawing closer to the fire, he saw a group of women dancing around a huge stone slab that was resting on a rough bolder. They were all naked and holding hands singing a song that Jacob could not make out the lyrics to. As those women raised their voices in ritual chant, the bon fire blazed atop the tabled slab, rhythmically changing colors from an electric flash of blue to a bright yellow then orange, and green. A more mature, older woman stood on the table next to the leaping flames chanting out another verse altogether, something about a mighty tree, a guardian of light, and the scribe of the Fair Ones. Suddenly, all the women ended at the same time, and on the same verse they fell to the ground. Then the older woman stood erect holding a dagger skyward in both hands, and began howling at the full moon as its huge bright-orb rested on the horizon.
The fire died down to reveal the figure of a bound and blindfolded teenage girl on the other side of the burning logs. She was assisted down from the table by her sisterhood, as was the senior mother. They all laughed and embraced the younger girl as she was untied and her eyesight restored.
The scene faded into a misty blur as the fully dressed figure of Miriam came into view, and walked toward Jacob. She had a melancholy smile as she quietly informed him, “This is how we were all brought into the knowledge of the scrolls, Jacob; by our eldest mother, aunts and sisters, but it was only the first born daughter who was allowed to carry them. What you witnessed was my initiation; I was sixteen years old at the time. Three days later my mother, IL’brekah passed away, and the whole world was changed.”
He smiled, thinking of the image of her younger self, and asked, “When was this?”
Miriam began to walk past Jacob answering, “I was beautiful then, glad to see you noticed, but that was twenty-seven years ago today.”
Blushing a little, Jacob said, “Happy birthday…”
She had disappeared, but her voice could still be heard interrupting his, “Yes, it was suppose to be -- until the rains came.”
In yet another blinding flash of electric-blue light, Jacob found himself standing on the ledge of a cave’s entrance. A dry heat enveloped him as he quickly realized that he was in a mountainous desert region. About fifteen feet away, in front of him was a group of three men who were hard at work. They were busy packing up huge clay jugs with straw, and hoisting them into large, wooden crates. Their clothes look like they could be out of a 1930s movie, Jacob thought to himself.
They were surrounded by camping gear, tools, and a block and tackle rig. As they continued to sweat in the heat, loading up their supplies and artifacts, they took no notice of Jacob’s presence, but all kept talking among themselves. He knew their faces. But, their voices seemed distant, and difficult for Jacob to make out.
Just then a loud voice called up from far below the cliff’s edge. Jacob’s camera like perspective panned over to see two other men below. They were outfitted in overalls, and stood beside a model-T pick-up truck. Their arms were reaching upward to receive the next crate being lowered down to them.
Shocked by what he saw next, Jacob’s astonished eyes were transfixed as he turned around again. A voice was yelling, “Move Out of the Way, Allen!” Just then, running from the cave’s mouth, Jacob saw his grandfather’s younger self coming towards him. As though he was not even there, Christopher passed right through Jacob, like thin air. He and the two other men all ran screaming, “Carter, No!” For the rope, which two of them had been holding, snapped into two frayed segments with its load falling to a crash below.
Christopher ran and fell to the ground. He slid like a baseball player, landing with his chest and outstretched arms hanging off the edge of the cliff. The rope’s frayed end burnt past his finger tips. Jacob had never seen the epitome of total fear before; he glimpsed it in his grandfather’s face that day.
Seconds later, far below, the white man on the right was scrambling through the shattered mess beside him. He frantically tried to clear away the splintered wood, penetrating pottery shards and the mass of blood soaked straw from the remains of his friend. The man had been unmistakably crushed to death. From their perch above, the men could only watch in helpless horror as the scene below was now forever seared into their collective memories; and now, Jacobs as well.
He forced himself awake. Struggling to climb out from under the damp covers, he realized the air-conditioning had gone out again, and that the rains had finally stopped. Returning from the rest room he was glad the clock had given him a few more hours of sleep. Dreamless rest soon followed.