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Soul Identity - Dennis Batchelder's debut novel
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demons from the sea
By Margo Fallis 2007

They stood along the shore of the sea, looking much like walking mummies, putrefied and stiff, with rotting black flesh. I grabbed my mother’s arm. “Mom, have we come to the land of the living dead?” I asked, unable to take my eyes off the zombies standing before me. My mother laughed and ran towards them. “Come back, Mom!” I shouted. Was this woman mad? Did she have a secret desire to join them? I chased her, trying to save her before it was too late.

As I neared the water, I realized my foolish mistake. These were not ethereal beings, demons, nor specters; they were people, living and breathing, and covered in black mud. Their bodies were completely enshrouded in thick, sticky mud. Aside from their eyes, which bulged from their faces and looked like ping pong balls, no other flesh could be seen.

I glanced at my surroundings. A few people bobbed up and down like corks in the shallow water. The sky was deep blue and reminded me of something I’d see in a painting by Jean-Louis Sebastien. The sand was dry and caked with a white crust. Pillars of salt jutted from the Dead Sea. My mind wandered back to the biblical days of Sodom and Gomorra. Lot’s wife must have looked much like this.

A row of trickling showers stood near the beach, waiting with patience to wash the mud down their drains. Bougainvillea covered the chain link fences around the limestone brick Visitor’s Center, adding a splash of color to the drab red dirt scenery. The heat was oppressive. If I’d had an egg, I could have fried it on the sun-baked sand. The smell of sulfur and rotten eggs filled my lungs with every hesitant breath.

It was hot, dirty, and smelly, yet I was fascinated by everything I saw. Here I was, standing on the shores of the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. I’d spent most of my life living in the mountains, high above sea level, and now I stood 1,320 feet below sea level. I was in Israel, an ancient kingdom filled with history and events beyond my comprehension. My mother and I had both wanted to spend a day at the Dead Sea. We’d read about it on the Internet. It is ten times saltier than the Mediterranean Sea, being the saltiest sea on earth. Rich in minerals, the Dead Sea boasts to contain twenty-one different types. There are thermo-mineral springs. No fish or other marine life is sustained in the clear waters. From where I stood I could see Masada, the Judean Hills, and knew that on the other side of them stood the old city and new parts of Jerusalem.

“Come and join us,” someone shouted, bringing me back to reality. I searched for my mother. I giggled when I spotted her. She had rubbed the nigrescent paste over her arms and legs.

I slipped off my sandals and pranced over the burning sands to the others. I’d worn a swimsuit under my clothes, which I speedily removed. Within seconds my mother and her new friends were plastering my body with therapeutic mud. “It’ll do you good,” Mom said. I stood still, allowing them to enjoy the feel of the muck. squishing between their fingers. I looked at my mother, wondering if I looked as ridiculous as she did. I couldn’t laugh for fear the mud would get in my eyes and mouth. I could feel it drying, hardening on my body. My body began to tingle from the organic elements baking in the desert sun.

“Mom, look at those people,” I heard a babe say. “They look like monsters.”
Even though the drying mud cracked and pulled my skin, feeling utterly horrible, I began laughing. I trotted down to the Dead Sea and looked at my reflection. My hair was pasty and sticking up in the air like dinosaur spikes. I did indeed look like a monster.

An hour later I showered and watched the mud swirling in the water around my feet before the drain swallowed it. I went for a dip in the sea and discovered that what they’d said was true - I couldn’t sink! Floating with my arms and legs spread-eagled, I closed my eyes. I heard goats bleating as they clanked over stones, heading up the hillsides. Birds swooped overheard, cawing, in search of a meal. The water lapped onto the beach in gentle rhythm and jets soared high above.

How lucky I was to be in such a marvelous country, a land filled with history of battles and wars, and yet, it was a sacred place. My own salty tears mingled with the briny sea as I thought of Jesus. Had He walked along this very beach? I knew that in my heart I would never be the same person again after that day at the Dead Sea.

demons from the sea - israel