The Tablet of Destinies
by Glen Draeger
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Hello gods and goddesses,
The other day I had to crawl into my attic to look for some books that I keep in boxes there. As I pushed the square piece of wood upward in order to climb into that dark, hot space I noticed a pair of bare feet. I was so startled I dropped the wood, which fell back into place, and stumbled down the ladder to the floor. My heart pumped wildly and my breathing was fast and deep.
I don't know about you, but whenever I watch those movies where people hear strange noises and instead of turning and running like a wild cheetah they decide to investigate, I always find myself yelling at the television: "What are you doing!? Get out of there!" Usually about that time some creature grabs them or somebody shoots them or a little kitten reveals itself so we can all relax until the ominous music starts playing again.
But after a few seconds I realized I recognized those feet. It was the ring, on the big toe, the helped me remember who those feet belonged to. It's a gold ring, quite thin except for a flat piece that covers the top of the toe like a hat. On that piece is engraved a tree of many branches with a small door in the trunk. I scrambled back up the ladder, pushed the wood out of the way again and yelled, "Iris! What are you doing here?"
"Here?" she said in her characteristic English accent. "This is where I live."
It was. As I looked around I could see that I was on the ground floor of Iris's giant tree. I was ascending out of a hole in the ground, but when I looked down through the hole I still saw my ladder, my hallway and my wood floor. I could even hear a car honking. It was like some kind of portal to her world.
"Let's go," she said. "You've got a big day ahead of you."
Of course it's never a hard decision for me to decide if I want to go into The World of Literature so I climbed up the ladder and into Iris's world. It was strange to see my aluminum ladder protruding out of the ground in a place that had no computers, televisions, electricity or any of the things that we might call "modern conveniences," but of which I've heard Iris call "modern distractions."
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"We aren't going anywhere. You are going to visit the gods."
"You heard me," she said. "Let's go." Quickly she began climbing the spiral staircase that ascends inside the giant hollowed out tree. Though Iris looks to be at least 70 years old with her sandy gray hair and wrinkled face she climbed the stairs like a 20-year-old. The tree is so tall you can't see where the steps end. On our way up we passed the thousands and thousands of books that are not books (see the Introduction to The World of Literature to find out what they are), hundreds of doors, platforms and glassless windows. Three hours later we reached the top of the tree and to my complete dismay found that we were standing in front of an elevator.
"An elevator?" I said with some irritation. "Why didn't we just take this up here?" I asked motioning toward it.
"I doesn't come up here," Iris said.
"What? You mean it can't take us down?"
"Correct." We stood on a large, wooden platform with large tree branches for railings. The view down was dizzying, so far down that the only thing comparable in our world is a view from an airplane. The elevator sat in the middle of the platform—there was nothing above it except sky and clouds.
"But this is the top of the tree. What good does it do here?"
"This is the ground floor for this elevator. You're going to take it up to meet the gods from the story of Gilgamesh. And there's task you must complete."
"You must retrieve The Tablet of Destinies. It has been stolen by Imdugud."
"What and who is that?"
"I'll let them tell you. And by the way, you're going to have to impersonate a god—otherwise they won't see you. You are to be Ninurta." She handed me a large sack with several things in it, then she pushed a button made of granite next the elevator door. Above the elevator a kind of wheel began to turn—very slowly. To the right of the wheel a round piece of gold depicted the sun and to the left of it a smaller cylinder of silver represented the moon. When I looked more closely at the wheel I could see 12 different figures. These included a bull, a scorpion, scales (for weighing things), a fish and a dog. The door of the elevator was made of solid wood with the earth engraved upon it. When the doors opened before me the earth split in two. I walked in.
Just before the doors closed Iris said, "And one more thing. You have to kill Imdugud." The doors closed.
Kill Imdugud? I wasn't up for that. I opened the sack and pulled out a long robe. On one side of it, just below the shoulder area, was a plough, on the other a bird perched upon a branch. I put it on. I felt uncomfortable in it—out of place. In the bag I also found a bow with a quiver of arrows and a note. It said simply:
Ninurta: son of Enlil, war god (make sure you sound like you love war), farmer god (talk about farming and agriculture).
When the elevator doors opened I walked out into a very large, very modern reception area. The bright lighting hurt my eyes and the white marble floor echoed the sounds of a phone ringing. Behind a large desk sat a large woman who looked anything but modern. She wore a veil over face and covered her bulk with a long, flowing brown skirt. She answered the phone.
"Siduri's bar-and-grill at the world's edge. How can I help you? . . . . . . . Oh, I'm sorry, I'm just filling in for someone and I forgot where I was. Yes, this is the Pantheon of the Gods. How may I direct your call? One moment." She pushed a button and then looked at me. "Can I help you?"
"You're Siduri? The one who talked to Gilgamesh?"
"Yes, yes. He wouldn't listen to me at the time, but he turned out okay. Most of my food is at my place at the edge of the world but you look a little tired, like you need something to drink. Would you like some honeymead or soma or sura or kawa or wine or—hey, I make a great drink out of ginseng."
"No thanks," I said. "I'm actually looking for some gods."
"Gods? Could you be more specific? We've got your Greek gods, Roman gods, Norse gods, Mayan gods, Polynesian gods—shall I go on?"
"Well, I was looking for the gods from the story you're in—the story of Gilgamesh."
"Ahhhh, yes, the gods of Mesopotamia. Down the hall past Greek gods, take a left, first door on your right."
"Thanks," I said.
The door was hard to miss. It was white with a gold handle and had these words and symbols on it:
The symbols, I knew, were cuneiform created by the Sumerians 5,000 years ago. I opened the door.
The inside was nothing like I expected. There didn't seem to be a ceiling. Above me—I don't want to call it the sky because it didn't look like any sky I had ever seen—the color was a kind of dark blue that sparkled so clear I felt I must be in space. The black floor, polished to an incredible sheen, reflected my image as if I was looking into a dark pool of water that never, ever rippled. Along the walls stood giant statues and carvings of human-headed winged bulls, giant lions, numerous kings, armies in battle and scenes from everyday life in ancient times.
From the back of the room I heard arguing so I slowly walked toward the sound of the voices—thunderous voices.
"It wasn't my fault. Everyone of you knows that I have helped build the civilization of Mesopotamia and in no way want them, even though they can be noisy, to lose what they have gained." The god speaking had a long beard and he wore a helmet that was made of four pairs of bull horns. Small fish swam in streams of water that flowed from his arms to the ground.
"I agree with Ea."
"Thanks Aruru," Ea said.
"And I didn't create these beings out of clay just to see seem sink back into a life where every waking hour is simply used to look for food and shelter."
"No one here is accusing anyone of wanting the mortals to go back to the way they were. We just need to get those—" The god who had stopped talking had a very fatherly look about him and I assumed he was Anu, creator of all the gods. I was right. However, I didn't realize it, but I was so astounded at the figures before me that I stood, open-mouthed just staring at them.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I'm Gle . . . errrr . . . I'm Ninurta. I'm ready to fight," I replied remembering what the note said.
At these words the gods burst into laughter.
"Well, Ninurta, you've really done it this time," Ea said. "Couldn't you have chosen a more pleasing shape to change into? What do you think Ishtar? Gilgamesh wouldn't have you. How about this one?"
When I turned toward Ishtar I found myself looking at the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. She wore a long, silk white dress that a woman might wear to an elegant party, but in one hand she carried a huge sword that she seemed to lift as if it were a feather and upon her head she wore a soldier's helmet from which her long hair flowed down past her shoulders. The strangest thing were her wings—she spread out two huge eagle-like wings behind her that made her look three times her actual size and quite menacing.
"Ninurta?" she said. "Looking like that? I'd sooner marry Huwawa." At this all the gods laughed again.
"The point is," a god began who had not spoken, "is that we need to get the Tablet of Destinies back. We all need me."
"Enlil is right," Ishtar said. "But who is going to challenge Imdugud?"
"May I?" I said tentatively.
"Me I? What are you talking about?" Ishtar said.
"May I?" I said more forcefully.
"Me! I!" she said.
"It's okay with me," I said looking at the others. So you'll get the tablets back?" I asked feeling quite nervous.
"No, but we still need me!"
"May?" I asked.
"You're not yourself, are you Ninurta," Enlil said. "Me are the powers that allow us to enable civilized life, including religion." Then I realized when they said, 'may,' that's what they meant (The word is spelled 'm—e', but pronounced like 'may'). The strange thing about Enlil was that none of the gods looked at him. I didn't look at him either, it just seemed like the right thing to do—not to look at him. "Without my Tablet of Destinies," Enlil said, "we have no me and without me civilization is lost."
"Growing wheat is a good thing," I said remembering the note in my bag.
The gods stared at me.
"I will get the tablets back for you," I said. "Where will I find Imdugud?"
A silence fell over them for a moment and then Ea spoke. "He is somewhere in the land between the two rivers."
"The two rivers?"
"The Tigris and Euphrates. Now go, before all is lost."
I didn't have to go, rather I felt myself being carried by the wind—up and up and up. I landed on a mountain, not far from the top. On its peak stood one of the scariest creatures I have ever seen (remember I've been to this world before and once met Poseidon, the Greek god of the ocean). It was huge, like you might envision a large dinosaur. In every respect it looked like a giant bird of prey except for its head. It had the head of lion, a ferocious lion. It didn't see me, luckily, and stood on the top of the peak flapping its wings violently. As I looked out across the lands below me I realized that its magnificent, powerful wings caused the whirlwinds and sandstorms that dotted the lands all around me. I did not want this being to be Imdugud, but I had a terrible feeling that it was.
The wind rushed around me like a tornado and it was so overpowering that had I yelled as loud as possible no one could have heard me even if they had been standing right next to me. But then the creature stopped flapping its enormous wings. The wind died down and it became very quiet—a silence much more frightening than the noise because I wondered if Imdugud could hear my breathing.
"I AM IMDUGUD!!" the creature roared. "Kapp-i! Kapp-i! There shall be no more cities! There shall be no more writing! There shall be no more religion! The destiny of man is in my power now! The gods shall lose me and man shall lose civilization!"
At Imdugud's feet I spied the Tablet of Destinies. I considered trying to steal them, but then what would I do. I considered the bow and arrows, but I had never used a bow in my life. My destiny seemed hopeless.
A strange thing happened at that point. Though I still inhabited the body that now jumped out into plain view of Imdugud, it was no longer solely I who inhabited it. It was as if everything that happened next I watched and heard and felt through the eyes and ears and body of Ninurta.
"We will not desert man!" Ninurta cried.
Imdugud roared. "Ninurta, god of war, god of the plough—you have come too late, the tablet is mine now. I shall destroy it and this civilization between the two rivers shall die—and the pitiful creatures of humanity will no longer write or build or worship!"
At that moment Imdugud leaped at Ninurta (and me) with its huge, sharp claws spread and eager to crush us. But Ninurta, who was no stranger to the ways of war, had anticipated this and leaped out of the way. Real fights between two individuals rarely last long and this was no exception. As Ninurta flew through the air, he strung his bow and fired at Imdugud as he passed us. The arrow hit its mark and pierced the heart of the great bird which slumped awkwardly on the rocks of the mountain and died instantly.
Ninurta picked up the Tablet of Destinies and flew off into the sky. He would return it to Enlil and the civilizations of man would continue on with the help of the gods who now had their me and tablet back . I stood by the great bird still shaking.
"Ready to go home?" a voice said behind me.
"Yes," I replied to Iris.
The scenery before me dissolved slowly and I found myself on Mt. Helix with a view all the way to San Diego harbor and the Coronado Bridge. There is was: civilization. Freeways, cars, libraries, buildings, power plants, churches, synagogues, museums and theatres. And in some strange way I felt that Enlil, Ea, Ninurta, Aruru, Shamash and yes, even Ishtar were looking down upon the same view. I wonder what they might be thinking?
©2005-2013 Glen Draeger (all rights reserved)
Millstone Education: World Literature / http://www.millstoneeducation.com/worldLit