"Why? That was a pretty good trick with the stick."
"But that's not how it goes."
"Okay. No way, Moses, your people have to stay."
Joshua waved his staff in my face. "Behold, I will plague you with frogs. They will fill your house and your bedcbamber and get on your stuff."
"So that's bad. Let my people go, Pharaoh."
"I sorta like frogs."
"Dead frogs," Moses threatened. "Piles of steaming, stinking dead frogs."
"Oh, in that case, you'd better take your people and go. I have some sphinxes and stuff to build anyway."
"Dammit, Biff, that's not how it goes! I have more plagues for you."
"I want to be Moses."
"I have the stick."
And so it went. I'm not sure I took to playing the villains as easily as Joshua took to being the heroes. Sometimes we recruited our little brothers to play the more loathsome parts. Joshua's little brothers Judah and James played whole populations, like the Sodomites outside of Lot's door.
"Send out those two angels so that we can know them."
"I won't do that," I said, playing Lot (a good guy only because Joshua wanted to play the angels), "but I have two daughters who don't know anyone, you can meet them:'
"Okay," said Judah.
I threw open the door and led my imaginary daughters outside so they could know the Sodomites ...
"Pleased to meet you."
"Charmed, I'm sure."
"Nice to meet you."
"THAT'S NOT HOW IT GOES!" Joshua shouted. "You're supposed to try to break the door down, then I will smite you blind:'
"Then you destroy our city?" James said.
"We'd rather meet Lot's daughters."
"Let my people go," said Judah, who was only four and often got his stories confused. He particularly liked the Exodus because he and James got to throw jars of water on me as I led my soldiers across the Red Sea after Moses.
"That's it," Joshua said. "Judah, you're Lot's wife. Go stand over there."
Sometimes Judah had to play Lot's wife no matter what story we were doing. "I don't want to be Lot's wife."
"Be quiet, pillars of salt can't talk."
"I don't want to be a girl."
Our brothers always played the female parts. I had no sisters to torment, and Joshua's only sister at the time, Elizabeth, was still a baby. That was before we met the Magdalene. The Magdalene changed everything.
After I overheard my parents talking about Joshua's mother's madness, I often watched her, looking for signs, but she seemed to go about her duties like all the other mothers, tending to the little ones, working in the garden, fetching water, and preparing food. There was no sign of going about on all fours or foaming at the mouth as I had expected. She was younger than many of the mothers, and much younger than her husband, Joseph, who was an old man by the standards of our time. Joshua said that Joseph wasn't his real father, but he wouldn't say who his father was. When the subject came up, and Mary was in earshot, she would call to josh, then put her finger to her lips to signal silence.
"Now is not the time, Joshua. Biff would not understand."
Just hearing her say my name made my heart leap. Early on I developed a little-boy love for Joshua's mother that sent me into fantasies of marriage and family and future.
"Your father is old, huh, Josh?"
"Not too old."
"When he dies, will your mother marry his brother?"
"My father has no brothers. Why?"
"No reason. What would you think if your father was shorter than you?"
Copyright Christopher Moore 2002. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Harper Collins
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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