Dark skies thundered like lions and lightning blazed as if the wrath of God had been unleashed upon the earth. Mothers with children, like Raquel’s older sister Leah, huddled in their tents and told whimsical stories about the heavens opening their gates so the spirits of their ancestors could return to the earth bringing gifts of rain to nourish the parched summer grass.

Raquel sat in her tent childless and alone. As she listened to the storm venting its fury, her envy brewed, fomenting into anger. She stepped out to face the storm. A less desperate woman would have been cowed by the convulsions of black clouds suffocating the heavens. But Raquel dared to demand an accounting from God.

“Why?” she shrieked as the heavens pelted her with cold, hard drops that stung like small, jagged stones. “You have blessed my sister and servants with children. Why have I been denied a single child?

She fell to her knees. “Why was I born? My life is meaningless!”

Lightning struck a weedy bush beside her. It burned ferociously but Raquel did not flinch.

“What must I do to have my prayer is answered?” She wept bitterly. “I wish the wind would never cease, and lightning strike the land!” she cursed the world around her.

Now a small, still voice echoed through her mind.

“Ask what you will, but ask wisely,” it whispered.

Raquel succumbed to anguish. “A barren woman has no value, even if her husband calls her a wife.” She beat her breasts. “I would go to the very gates of hell and back if only I could be blessed with a son.”

“You will indeed go to the gates of hell to bear a child,” the voice warned.

“All women face death who dare to become mothers,” she retorted.

The voice fell silent as the bush burned to a cinder. Black ashes hissed, doused in the torrential rain. A soft wind brushed the hair from her eyes and dried her tears.

Now the voice promised, “You will give birth to a child at the lambing time next spring.”

Raquel stumbled back to her tent. That spring, Joseph was born. For twelve years his mother was satisfied. Then she once again grew jealous of her sister’s many sons.

As storm clouds gathered, she dared to face the tempest, pouring out her complaint. Lighting leapt from the darkening sky to ignite a weedy bush at her feet.

“I will gladly return to the gates of hell if You grant me a second son,” Raquel insisted.

She was answered by a thunderous silence.

“I would return to the gates of hell,” she repeated. The soft, inner voice interrupted her.

“Be wary of what you ask,” it advised.

Raquel renewed her determination. “I would return to the gates of hell for another son.”

The rain pattered to the earth in a soft cascade for several minutes before the voice spoke again. This time it was a mournful whisper. “Your prayer will granted. At the lambing time next spring, you will birth a second son.”

Raquel returned to her tent elated. She lifted the tent flap then let it fall back, shocked by realization. “I did not ask to survive my ordeal.”

She ran back to the burning bush but it had disintegrated into ashes that were washed away by the pounding rain.

Published in Stories