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Children of Nod - A Response to Jodah's Challenge

Mel Carriere has not met any "monsters" since arriving in Colorado, but he expects the Abominable Snowman to come knocking any moment now.

Cain Fleeing Before Jehovah's Curse

Cain Fleeing Before Jehovah's Curse

The Rules and Background

On March 11 Austrailian hubber John Hansen, often known as Jodah around here on Hub Pages, issued a random-sentence writing challenge, the rules of which he outlined as such:

  1. Find your own sentence (please don't use mine)
  2. If possible show the source of your randomly chosen sentence (name of the book, magazine etc)
  3. You can write a story or poem (I like poems)
  4. Try to use the prompt the way I have eg. each word of the chosen sentence beginning each sentence or line of your story or poem. (if you find this too challenging however just use the sentence for the basis of your story. I don't want to make it too difficult so no one participates.)
  5. Have fun, there is no time limit.

I participated in one of Jodah's challenges here several years ago and it turned out to be quite entertaining. That invitation was similar to this one, but if it worked once it can certainly work again. I wrote that story using every word of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address as the first word of a sentence, and very appropriately published it on President's Day.

Now, I rarely take part in these things, but I believe that when our brothers down under issue a call for help, Americans have to stand up. The Northern Hemisphere must represent.

When I was weighing over whether to answer the summons from the bottom half of the Earth, I think I misunderstood the rules of the challenge. Therefore, because the sentence I picked at random from author John Steinbeck's writing is very short, I am going to modify the rules a bit and use every word of the sentence as the beginning of a paragraph. Because I tend to go on a little long-winded, I believe this device will constrain me somewhat, keep me in check so I don't ramble off the rails.

Anyhow, the sentence I selected comes from John Steinbeck's East of Eden, a novel he published in 1952. The author considered this work to be his magnum opus, and it is my personal Steinbeck favorite as well. The sentence reads:

I believe there are monsters born in the world to human parents.

— John Steinbeck - East of Eden

I apologize in advance that some of my paragraphs have become unwieldy, I did this because I limited myself to only 12 of them. If I violate the rules of proper grammar or formatting in the process, so be it. This is creative writing, after all, so I will pull out my California-issued poetic license when the grammar police pull me over. Besides, Jodah's guidelines left me with plenty of rope to hang myself with. On a final note, because the first word of the chosen sentence is "I," I guess that means I am condemned to the first person singular, not immediately being able to find any other way. Anyway, let's roll with it and have some fun, as Jodah commands.

East of Eden author John Steinbeck in 1939

East of Eden author John Steinbeck in 1939

"I remember sitting in my LLV," I begin my recollection to the therapist as he eases me back from the brink. Being heavily sedated, I hope I can organize the events (I hesitate to call them facts) in my head the way he expects me too, because I'm counting on this being my exit interview. I want to get it right, but not hide anything either, needing to rid myself of this burden in more ways than one, so I can move on. "The LLV is my postal vehicle, Doctor, by the way. I was sitting in it on my lunch break, reading John Steinbeck's East of Eden. I've read it three times already, but being forcibly transplanted to Colorado gave me the urge to read it again. Why is that important, you ask? Doesn't seem like it should be, but as it turns out, it's hella important. Forgive my California-isms. I can't shake them."

"Believe me Doctor I would love to purge California from my system, but I think it's stuck in my soul forever, what's left of it. Steinbeck was from California, you know. You didn't know that? Yeah, you look a little young (I say young to him instead of "unread", or even "ignorant"). The kicker was that the book was open to Chapter Eight when it all started, Chapter 8 of all places! You could call it a coincidence, but after this I have stopped believing in coincidences. Anyway, I was parked beneath a pine tree in a cul-de-sac, pining beneath the pines I guess you could say, half-reading and half-thinking about what happened to me so unexpectedly starting last September, how my life was thoroughly uprooted, how I was exiled here to the Land of Nod forever, East of Eden. Yeah, San Diego is the Garden of Eden. I know you Coloradans get tired of hearing it - if you liked it so much why did you leave bla bla bla and all that, you say, but it is, and screw you all if you don't agree. Why are you looking at me like that? Yeah I'm angry. Do I think my abrupt departure from California and personal upheaval had anything to do with why I'm here? No, they don't have anything at all to do with it. Think what you will, I'm not crazy."

"There I was," I continue when I calm down, "trying to read my book, but having to go back and reread certain passages because the static from my personal thoughts was interfering with my focus. And don't you know it, just when I got to the very sentence where Steinbeck writes about monsters being born in the world to human parents, Brad drives by in his LLV. Yes, he's another cantankerous, shriveled up old mailman like me. Brad moves his truck next to mine under the pine tree, parking the opposite way so he can roll open the side door and tell me something. What do I think about him? He's okay, I guess he's a nice guy, he kind of took me under his wing when I got to Snowmist from California, as well as maybe being the one who - well you know. But to tell you the truth, at first I also thought he was kind of a pain in the ass, lording over me like I'm a rookie. If he saw me with a certified letter he would stop me and say, here's what you gotta do, you scan it and have the customer sign for it, but if the customer's not home you have to leave a notice and endorse the letter like so. I would answer him that I have 27 years in the Post Office, and I know how to deliver a frickin' certified letter. After that he would fume off, like an old smoking steam locomotive, thinking I'm some kind of ingrate. I would hear him growling California as he rumbled away. I don't think he likes us moving here and driving up home prices, him and a lot of other people."

I was parked beneath a pine tree, pining beneath the pines I guess you could say

I was parked beneath a pine tree, pining beneath the pines I guess you could say

"Are you reading something good in there? Brad wanted to know, because I guess he saw the book balanced on my knee. I tell him it's East of Eden, by John Steinbeck, and when I said it a shadow passed across his face like a storm cloud had just darkened the landscape - not the kind that produces the gentle January snowfalls, but the big anvil-shaped thunderclouds that pummel the prairie with golf-ball size hailstones in July. When I told him the title I expected it would just bounce off him, like it does for the rest of the non-literate baboons who bother me with that question, just to make idle chit-chat. But surprisingly he had heard of the book, as this very curious, unexpected effect my mentioning it had on him."

"Monsters born in the world to human parents, Brad said almost in a whisper, then his eyes wandered down the same cul-de-sac we were both parked on, to a house at the very top of the curve. I was impressed that he actually knew the quote - this made me think more highly of Brad, for a moment. By degrees his eyes drifted back in my direction and he asked me what I thought Steinbeck was talking about when he wrote that line. I told him he was referring to his character Cathy Ames, a cold-hearted, homicidal bitch who murdered her Latin teacher and her own parents too when she was just a child, then tried to kill her husband Adam Trask to boot, when he got a little too clingy. This seemed like a pretty fair summary as far as I was concerned, but Brad shook his head slowly again, his skull apparently only able to move in lower gears, just like the LLV when it hits winter's wet, white mush. Then Brad told me that no, I'm mistaken, Steinbeck was talking about actual monsters, extra-dimensional beings that prey upon humanity, who feed themselves by sucking out souls. I wanted to tell him that he was out of his goddamn mind, but instead I said he seriously cannot believe that, he must know Steinbeck was only being figurative, metaphorical. In response he asked me if I knew the place to the East of Eden where god cast Cain after he killed his brother Abel in the Garden, and I was sort of embarrassed to admit that I didn't. How was it possible this small-town yokel knew more about such things then I did? As he looked back over his shoulder to that same troubling spot in space, Brad told me it was the Land of Nod. No, not the Biblical Nod, that the scholars place somewhere in Mesopotamia, but the Nod of legend, a place inhabited by ferocious beasts and monsters. Steinbeck studied that stuff. He was big on the old English tales, he became an expert on King Arthur and Holy Grail mythology, too. The stories about Arthur and his knights of the round table are essential to how East of Eden formed in his mind, because Lancelot and his crew actually passed through the Land of Nod on their Grail quest. I didn't utter it out loud, but my expression said loud enough that Brad was off his rocker. I thought then he had to be one of those conspiracy cooks, probably an anti-vaxxer too. Good thing he didn't pay attention to my reaction, caught up almost in a trance as he was. And his eyes continued shifting behind him, to that house at the dead end of the cul-de-sac."

"Born is a stretch. If you ask me, spawned might be a better word, but into this world he arrived almost 60 years ago, could be 60 years ago to the day. Or so Brad mumbled, and I shook my head, wondering what the be-Jesus he was talking about. I used to be the mailman for this block, so I've heard a lot about him, and I've seen things. Then he asked me if I had any packages or certified letters for the circle that required a signature. This sounded like something practical, I thought Brad was coming back to Earth, and I assumed maybe he was volunteering to take one off of my hands. I gladly told him I did have a cert, and I gave him the address, after which he asked me the name on it. I told him that too, Jeffrey Nod, and I think Oh please, as I read it. Brad's face went ghostly, growing almost translucent in its transformation. Don't deliver it to him. Give it to his parents. If his parents are not home don't have him sign for it. He must not make contact with you. If you see him coming to the door, turn around and run. That's why they had the door with the big glass installed, so you can see him coming. Don't sneer at me like that. You've got to trust me. Okay, asshole, suit yourself, I did what my conscience had me do, now I'm out of here. Then just like that Brad threw his LLV into high gear and hauled ass out of the cul-de-sac, actually fish-tailing a little bit in the loose snow, such was his haste to be away from that place."

The stories about Arthur and his knights of the round table are essential to how East of Eden formed in Steinbeck's mind, because Lancelot and his crew actually passed through the Land of Nod on their Grail quest

The stories about Arthur and his knights of the round table are essential to how East of Eden formed in Steinbeck's mind, because Lancelot and his crew actually passed through the Land of Nod on their Grail quest

"In a flash Brad was out of there, and I wasn't particularly sorry to see him go. Yeah, my California brainwashing had made me feel kind of smug, sort of superior. Even though the folks here in Snowmist were way more tolerant than I expected, there existed a cracker undertow, an ugly, foul-smelling sludge that oozed in from the Great Plains to the east and particularly from the badlands to the north. A certain silent but significant element in the region had been infected by this odoriferous muck. Now that I thought about it, I had seen the man from that house Brad warned me about with his herd-mentality disparagement, this Jeffrey Nod, though we had never exchanged words. There was a walkway down by the river along which he sometimes roamed, a tall, clumsy, heavyset fellow in a long beige overcoat and a black stocking cap, wearing sunglasses perhaps to shield his eyes from the glare of the snow, wandering around in obvious aimlessness, hands shoved deep in his pockets. The dude was probably mentally deficient, he had been cursed with some congenital defect that left him unable to play with the other kids. But dammit, he was a human being, moreover he was an adult human being who could sign for his own shit, and I wasn't going to let these redneck sons of bitches dictate how I treated him."

"The house of Nod in the near distance looked abandoned, there were no cars parked in front, perhaps Jeffrey had also gone out on whatever expedition had drawn his parents from their igloo. Although my halo shined in the saintly aura of social-justice righteousness the Golden State had imbued into me, I secretly wished this to be the case. I was hoping he was gone, because after the craziness germ enters your system from the bite of a passing bug, it embeds itself into the brain like a worm, burrowing straight into your good-sense center. Once there, its hunger pangs produce tremors in your own belly, which propagate to your feet and make them feel heavier than normal, even after subtracting the resistance of the snow they are slogging through. Speaking of snow, this groundless unease had me examining the fresh powder in yonder driveway, where I observed two sets of footprints on both sides of the snow-free space where a car had recently been. One set of tracks was big and the other small, probably meaning one had been left by a male, and the other by a female. Holy shit, Jeffrey was home alone, after all. No other prints were leading away from the Nod abode to indicate the big boy was off on one of his riverside forays. Don't deliver it, don't make contact with him, I heard Brad's warning repeat in my head, but my hubris, my smug SoCal sensitivity for the downtrodden, was going to make me go through with it. Must be something in the water over there that my kidneys had not yet purged from my system, though Lord knows I had certainly pissed enough since coming here, seeing as how my sweat glands had been frozen into a useless stasis."

"World Wars have been fought over the folly of sticking to your principles, Doctor. We cling to our stupid dogma even though our senses scream what the hell are you doing out the window as we drive away from a comfortable, climate-controlled garage on Rationality Ave, into the blinding blizzard of Insanity Blvd. In this case, the response was reverse. I was going to do something perfectly normal, my job in fact, just to give the big eff-you to some hokey, half-baked idea. Yet it had the same effect in my gut as I did it, shifting into low gear, pulling away from the pine, then looking rearward through the LLV's side-view mirror at my own tracks left in the fresh snow, while ahead of me loomed the Land of Nod. The house looked empty there, not in a harmless way, but like a skull is empty."

The house looked empty there, not in a harmless way, but like a skull is empty.

The house looked empty there, not in a harmless way, but like a skull is empty.

"To this moment, Doctor, I wish I could take it back, that I would have just dumped a notice-left in the mailbox and fishtailed it out of the circle as fast as possible, like Brad did. True, I escaped alive, with my soul at least partially intact, but there remains a permanent shadow upon it, like the A-bomb burned permanent shadows into the skeletal walls of Hiroshima's houses. All of this has shaken my jealously-held views of the Universe, it has yanked out the deep taproots of my agnosticism, my stubborn, persistent belief that there is absolutely nobody up there meddling with our lives, sometimes in a benevolent, mostly in a capricious, cruel fashion. It has made me ponder a lot of other things too as I wither away here in this cell, some eternal concepts, others temporal in nature. One of the latter is the question of who the hell would be sending a Certified Letter to an alleged feeble mind such as Jeffrey, anyway? Spurred by Brad's unwelcome intrusion upon my lunch break I looked at the letter closer after he left, and so discovered it lacked a return address. Furthermore, the recipient was hand-written in a sloppy script, not professionally printed in a clear font. It screamed out its stark contrast to about 95 percent of Certifieds, mostly sent by government agencies, medical institutions or other creditors, professionally and politely demanding your money in immaculate typeface. All of this makes me wonder whether Jeffrey was more clever than people gave him credit for, perhaps he is not as intellectually handicapped as he lets on. Maybe he mailed off that missive himself, with the precise purpose of luring the mailman in. Maybe winter is lean-pickings in the soul-sucking business - the squirrels, the rabbits, the raccoons, even the geese (yes they all have souls too) that he usually traps with those horribly hypnotic eyes - eyes I still see in my nightmares asleep and awake, are more scarce than usual. Therefore, he has to prey upon people, like he preyed upon me. Wtf, having received fair warning and interpreted the clues correctly I rang the doorbell anyway. Stupid me."

"Human he was, at least at first glance. There was a protracted pause as I swiftly scribbled the notice left slip, feeling somewhat relieved I might not have to face this twisted denizen of Nod, after all. Then Jeffrey appeared in the foyer just beyond the glass, walking forward with a normal upright posture, not that lumbering, shuffling limp I had seen him propelling himself with down by the river. Everything about him appeared normal, even the polite, soothing smile he greeted me with as he opened the door and I handed him the scanner so he could sign for the letter. The only slightly off-kilter thing about him was the pair of sunglasses he was still wearing, indoors, but this was not enough to suppress my relief that the monster prophesied by Brad had not materialized. That is, until Jeffrey took the scanner in one hand and, at the same time, removed his shades with the other. It was then that I felt the device throbbing and burning in my palm like it had short circuited and caught fire, followed by another dreadful sensation deep in my innards, like something was being yanked out of me with a twisting motion, a subterranean tooth extraction minus novocaine. This agony caused my eyes to jolt upward to meet those of Jeffrey, which were not eyes at all but swirling vacuums, exactly like those circles you see in cartoons where some anthropomorphic bunny or duck is saying you are getting sleepy, sleepy. Except it was not amusing, harmless animation at all. Deep down at the bottom of those whirlpools of the damned I could see the trapped souls of his victims, human and otherwise, their jaws agape with horror."

"Parents are condemned by the self-appointed guardians of virtue when they abandon their babies at birth, or hide them away in their home like those Turpin kids in Perris, California, another Nod in the same neighborhood of the Eden from which I fled. But now I have a degree of sympathy for those people, because I have experienced what genetics can produce in four dimensions, and I have been made painfully aware that the devil's DNA not only affects the traits we can see, but the ones we cannot. Of course I wasn't thinking any of that while my essence was being uploaded to Jeffrey's voracious, soul-sucking server, like a stolen file containing all of my vital data, my very identity. At the same time I felt myself being dragged from another direction, a quarter located somewhere in the physical realm. Then, the last sensation I had before I surrendered consciousness was a voice yelling Let go of him Jeffrey, let go! After this came the cessation of all sensation, as I fell backwards into the soft snow, that sweet, soothing blanket made of life-giving water that covered and cleansed me all at once, even as I blinked briefly out of existence."

Deep down at the bottom of those whirlpools of the damned I could see the trapped souls of his victims, human and otherwise, their jaws agape with horror.

Deep down at the bottom of those whirlpools of the damned I could see the trapped souls of his victims, human and otherwise, their jaws agape with horror.

Comments

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 16, 2021:

Thank you Davika. I bent the rules of the challenge a little but I tried to stay faithful to the spirit. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 16, 2021:

Thank you Linda. I am glad I could infuse it with some drama within the constraints. I appreciate you dropping in!

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 16, 2021:

Thank you Miz B it's very nice to hear from you. I am so glad you liked the story.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 16, 2021:

Hi Mel you have created a great approach to the challenge. Impressed at your story and yo have met the challenge to perfection.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 15, 2021:

This is a dramatic and scary story, Mel. I love it! It’s a great response to John’s challenge.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on March 15, 2021:

That is a fantastic story, Mel. I am so impressed with your writing. I kind of held my breath through this one. A challenge well met.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 15, 2021:

Thank you Ann. Compared to the last story I subjected you to this one was much shorter, so you didn't have to hold your breath very long. I am really pleased that you enjoyed it.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 15, 2021:

Wow Brenda, nice words. I am glad I could put you inside the skull of my protagonist. I really appreciate you dropping by and reading.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 15, 2021:

Thank you Bill. That's all I want to do is try to entertain for five minutes while you're waiting for something else to happen. I am truly please that a true craftsman like you enjoyed it.

Mel Carriere (author) from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on March 15, 2021:

Thank you John. I am really glad you liked it. I think I might employ the paragraph limiting technique in the future to keep myself under the word limit a lot of magazines and so forth require.

Ann Carr from SW England on March 15, 2021:

Well, that was some story, Mel! Great response to John's challenge. I knew something was going to happen but....

You had me enthralled and now I have to breathe!

Ann

BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on March 15, 2021:

Mel,

This one is jaw dropping.

What a great response to John's challenge.

I love the intense feeling with each word.

I can picture the stubborn pride of having to do this...not believing what someone else says. .seems like something i would do.

Terrific ink here.

Thanks for sharing.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 15, 2021:

This is superb writing, my friend, a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend five minutes on a Monday morning. Excellent writing...excellent!!!

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on March 15, 2021:

Wow! What can I say but this story literally blew me away? A superb response to my little challenge. Having each word of the sentence begin a paragraph was a great interpretation and really helped write a complete story, and you couldn’t choose a better sentence could you choose than that one by Steinbeck.

Thank you for taking up my challenge and running with it, Mel. Great job. The story gripped me and wouldn’t let go.

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