The sharp wind whipped Joshua’s long hair about his face. Below, the waves crashed upon the jagged rocks. He looked over to Matthew. The brothers grinned at one another, then stepped over the edge. Joshua felt as if his stomach was rushing up into his chest and wind buffeted his bare torso. He spread out his arms and let the sensation flow over him.
To his left and below, Joshua could just make out Matthew’s laughter rising up, mingled with the crashing of water upon the rocks. The sharp rocks rose up out of the water to great the two falling boys. Joshua could feel the spray of water lick his face. He closed his eyes and let out a cry of exhilaration. That was when he heard the wet smacking sound of a naked body hitting hard rock.
Joshua opened his eyes to see his brother’s body sliding off a rock and into the churning water, just before Joshua bounced off another outcropping and crashed into the water. Pain lanced up his shoulder and along his face. Joshua gasped and a deluge of water raced down his throat, filling his lungs. His body involuntarily coughed, desperate to spew out the water.
With fire in his lungs, Joshua fought the pain and swam upward. His hands, searching for a rock to pull himself up onto, found a grip. Pulling hard his head broke the surface of the water. Waves continued to rush into him as he coughed out the water in this lungs and pulled himself higher onto the rock. At a safe height, Joshua gripped the uneven surface and let the pain pulse around his body.
It felt magnificent. It was what living was all about.
Matthew’s laughter broke Joshua out of his moment. He turned his head to see his brother, righting his dislocated arm.
“That brother,” Matthew screamed over the waves, “was the best jump yet!”
The pain, that amazing pain began to ebb from Joshua. “You should have seen yourself! It was a hard smack,” Joshua clapped his hands together for demonstration, “and you just slid right off the rock!”
Matthew guffawed over Joshua’s description. “Come, let us go again!”
This was how the brothers spent their afternoons on most days. Falling from the cliffs just beyond their fields. Or on days the lightning came, running in the fields to see who could be struck the most. Their father even enjoyed the occasional Fire Laying game with them during the evenings.
In the early days of the brother’s lives, there was only the excitement.
When they became men in their father’s eyes, he brought them out to the field. Gesturing all around him he said, “Sons. The longer I live, the more land I acquire. It has become too much to handle alone. It is time I split the tasks between you. Joshua. My youngest. You shall be given the livestock to tend. Matthew, you will be given the fields. From the cliffs to the forest.
Matthew stepped forward. “Father, I am the oldest. Yet you give the more honorable task to the youngest. Shouldn’t I tend the livestock? Let Joshua labor in the fields and sun.”
Hurt crept up into Joshua’s mind.
“No,” their father spoke. “Joshua is better with animals than you. Trust my decision. And we will all benefit from it. Now, to work.”
Matthew clenched his fist, looked to his brother with anger, and then made his way to the fields.
Joshua spent his days with the animals of their farm. He would have been happy to switch places with Matthew. But his older brother had grown distant. The longer he worked in the fields, the more he became resentful. In time, he made his own home and left the family dwelling. Joshua only longed for those days on the cliffs.
For many weeks, Joshua did not see his brother. The distance between them was too much. He decided to go and switch places with Matthew. Perhaps then, they could be like they once were.
It was not long to find his brother in fields. Matthew had become bronzed by the sun and his muscles thick from harvesting the wheat. When he saw Joshua approaching he stopped his work. “And what brings the most honored son here? Come to see how close you came to a life of hard work?”
“Matthew, please. I have come to change places. I never asked for my position.”
“Do not give me your pity. Leave me to my work.”
“It is not pity I give. I just long for our summers on the cliffs. When we were friends.”
Matthew’s face turned red. “You wish to see the cliffs again?” He rushed Joshua and gripped him by the neck. Joshua stumbled along with Matthew as he was half drug by his brother. A new feeling washed over Joshua. Something he had never experienced before. The look in his brothers eyes. The calloused grip on his throat and how his brother’s fingers bit into this neck. He could not name the feeling or describe it clearly. Only that he wanted to run away.
They reached the cliffs just yards from the field. Matthew still holding tight to his brother’s throat. “Here you go, favored son. You deserve a nice jump!” With a single thrust, he sent Joshua over the edge.
The familiar feeling of his stomach lifting into his chest was there. Wind buffeted him as before. But the new feeling coursed through him. Some how, it tainted the excitement he had felt once before. Now, it wasn’t right.
Joshua struck the rocks below, just as he had done countless times. But the new feeling changed it all. His head split open. A red liquid, that Matthew had never seen, smeared over the rock face. Joshua’s body went limp as he fell into the water below.
Fear had been unleashed. And as his first task, he opened the gates for Death.